Europe 2014 (Part 4 of 6) | The UK – Not London

Saturday morning we checked out of the hotel early.   We ate breakfast at the hotel each morning because it was included.  Breakfast was good, because breakfast wasn’t an English breakfast.  I ate scrambled eggs on smoked salmon on an English muffin.   This was the last morning hear so I suggested Claudine try a traditional English breakfast.  You can see she was thrilled with it but she tried it, all of it including the baked beans and blood pudding.


Then we were off, out of London and into the countryside.


Which is amazingly beautify, and again questions why in the world so many people in London need to cram into such a small place.  Spread out for crying out loud.

Our first stop (of many) was at Burton on the water.


Where we had probably the worst meal of the trip, and the worst Fish-n-Chips ever.  Extremely fishy, and just not good overall.  When the best part of your Fish-n-Chips meal is the peas, something’s wrong, seriously wrong.  So beware, the restaurant to the left of ‘The Croft” is no good, at least their Fish-n-Chips are no good.

From there we hit Chipping Campden.   Which was cool, but people like live there.



And it’s crowded and I’m talking about right on the main drag are homes.   And if you live in a tourist trap, and you are going to sit on the couch in your undies and watch the tele, you should probably close your blinds.  Just sayin.



The little market hall in the center of town was built in 1662, so older than America which is amazing.

From there more driving, we didn’t really stop for long in any of the other little towns but we did roll through quite a few as we circled back around to Bath.



Bath, words cannot describe Bath.

We got into town about 7:30pm and headed straight for the Roman Bath.IMG_3001IMG_3002

We paid our money and took the tour of the bath.


Sadly you cannot bath, in the bath and looking at the water you can see why you wouldn’t want too.  The spring still flows but I’m not sure where that water’s coming from cause it’s pretty nasty looking.   There was a late night torch lit tour of the bath that we had planned to stay for, but we got a little museum’d out on the self guided tour and hadn’t eaten since 2pm and needed to eat.

We ended up eating down the street from the bath at Bill’s I had the fish pie and it was delicious.


That evening we stayed at the Bristol Royal Marriott.  I would highly recommend this old hotel, if you want an old hotel but don’t want all the old hotel things.   This has been very tastefully renovated.   We got in late and didn’t take any photos of the hotel, at least I didn’t.

We slept well, got up and headed back to Bath.

We toured more of the town, stopped at all the highlights, the Circus, the Royal Crescent, and the beautiful park in front of the Crescent.  There was a 1700’s garden recreated behind one of the homes that was on the Circus.










After spending a good part of the morning in Bath, watching street performers and doing a bit of shopping we headed south, to the Ocean/English Channel to get Claudine some beach time.

Our travels took us through the New Forest, which is an amazing area where cattle, goats, and horses run free, in an open range habited area.  We saw a lot of cattle including bulls, literally on the roads.  I don’t think Claudine believed me about horses running free until we encountered a heard grazing by the road on the way out, some of them, on the road.

We finally found beach at Milford on the Sea.


Rocky beach, but beach none-the-less.

We stayed there for about an hour.




Then we beat feet back to the Marriott at Heathrow for an early flight to Munich the next day.   Returning the rental car was a real treat, the rental car company’s drop off is at the airport or along side of it.  They give you a free shuttle back to the airport, not to a hotel.  From the airport we took a normal bus using our Oyster card left over from the trains to ride back to the bus stop in front of the Marriott.  Thanks for nothing Eurocar/Alamo.

The Heathrow Marriott has been renovated/cleaned up since the last time I was there.  The restaurant food was good, expensive but good.

Europe 2014 (Part 3 of 6) | The UK – London

As mentioned previously, Seapine Software has an office in Kew, near Kew Gardens:



Given our office’s location, and Claudine’s desire to see the Cotswolds’ (aka Merry Old England) our sight seeing would be focused on this the highlighted area.

Our flight to the UK was mostly uneventful.  We left Dayton Ohio around 2pm headed for Washington DC.  In DC we had a short layover and boarded the flight to London on time, then were held on the runway for about an hour due to weather.

We got into London, picked up our Rental car, and headed to the office.  The first few miles driving on the wrong side of the road, after 10 hours of flying and little sleep is always tricky.

I talked with the guys in the office, and prepped the hardware that I was going to replace that evening, while Claudine visited Kew Gardens.

She returned to Kew and we had a late lunch at Pizza Express next to the office:IMG_2882

Then she went out shopping and touring Richmond area while I worked that evening.  We ate a late dinner at the hotel/restaurant.   Dinner was good.

On Thursday I returned to the Office, for the first half of the day.  Claudine returned to Kew Gardens, apparently it’s an amazing place.

That afternoon we took the tube to Covent Gardens for a little shopping, and entertainment.  It was about the only time it rained on us and it didn’t rain much.

The street performers were out:


The market was nice, very busy, and if you know me you know just how much I love a good crowd of people.

We had dinner with Ashley and his family at a pub in Richmond that evening.   The obligatory food shot:


On Friday our first real FREE tourist day we got up early and headed downtown London to the Tower.   We were told to get there early, get tickets, get in and head straight for the crown jewels so that’s exactly what we did.   It was raining when we got off the train so we bought tickets and umbrellas.


They are in the midst of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the start of World War 1 and have planted 888,246 ceramic poppies, one for each casualty in the war on the grounds of The Tower.


It was quite amazing.

Sorry, no photos of the crown jewels but you can read about them at the link.  They are rather impressive.  That 500+ carat diamond, well I didn’t think it was real, but it is.

Inside the main tower armory they have a really impressive display of armor.IMG_2916IMG_2917

After the Tower tour we walked across the Tower Bridge to another market.


That’s right, another CROWDED market, full of goodness but the lines were incredible, unless you wanted bread Winking smile


We had planned to eat there and I decided to grab a burger at one of the stands.  Claudine headed off to another vendor.  I stood there for 30+ minutes and never moved in the queue and I was only like 5th in line.  When the guy in front of me ordered basically what I was going to order and it was 20 quid, I lost it.  No way, no how am I going to spend essentially $35US on a burger and fries, it just can’t be that good.   After being ignored for about 35 minutes and bumped into about 45 times cause this particular vendor was on the main drag, that was it.  I was out.   No more crowded markets for me, just don’t see the attraction.

We walked back across the river to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.


Then up through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace



Then back on the train back to Kew to grab the car and go to one of my favorite places over there.  Pincho.   It’s like tradition for me to eat there when I visit.



This would be our last day in London, tomorrow we head out for the Cotswolds’ and Bath.

Europe 2014 (Part 2 of 6) | Planning

Travel Planning sucks, it just does.

Air Travel

For years I had traveled on US Airways, out of Dayton (closer to my home), they were price competitive and the flights were always nice.  Good clean equipment which always functioned.  In seat entertainment was better than the crap we had on one United Flight.   As part of the Star Alliance, those United miles counted.

So for years we’ve saved up miles.  We had a US Airways card at one point and racked up miles for our regular purchases.   We don’t really Credit Card, but we were playing the points game.   Every time we wanted to go somewhere and I tried to use the miles it was nothing but an exercise in frustration.  When we started collecting miles, it looked like it would take 35k miles for an international flight.   When we had 35k miles it now took 45k miles.  When we had 45k miles I needed 50k.   We now have 80k miles and I still couldn’t get Claudine’s ticket paid for.

And it gets better.   Since we’re doing a multi-city flight, not taking off and coming back to the same place, you can’t book that kind of ‘award’ travel online.   So you have to call.

I actually found the flights we wanted on US Airways, from DAY (Dayton) to LHR (Heathrow) to MUC (Munich) and back to DAY.

I called them and tried to use my miles for one of the tickets.   No can do, those flights no longer existed.   They weren’t really very interested in helping me either.  I was pissed.   And magically, the flights that I had found (Using KAYAK) actually no longer existed.  I could no longer find them, with any travel search engine.   Aggravated, I waited a day, they were still ‘non-existent’.

The next best deal was booking United Flights through Lufthansa, about $1700 round trip (multi-city for us).  Lufthansa (as is United) were Star Alliance members.  I talked this through with Kevin (who said, yeah, just book the seats and use your points for upgrades after the fact, that will probably work best for you).  He said, you should be able to get into First Class one direction for less than 70k miles.  Or so we thought.

Turns out that American had recently bought US Airways, which means, they were no longer part of Star Alliance, which means once again, no you can’t use your miles for anything good.   Grrr….

Rental Cars

Again using Kayak, I booked the best Rental cars deals I could find.  These ended up being booked through, something I’ll never do again.

First the Kayak deal wasn’t super great, it wasn’t half the price of booking direct with any of these places but it was still a deal.   Until it’s not.

The UK rental turned into a huge bait and switch.  I booked a car for almost a week (Wednesday through Monday morning and pre-paid $350.00 (US).   Upon arrival they ‘upgraded me’ from a car that cost $65 US to a car that only costs 45 a day, what they didn’t share with me until afterwards, or that I didn’t catch on too was that car was 45 GBP per day (aka $80 a day), and they charged all kinds of fees.   A fee for the shuttle, a fee for picking up a car at an airport depot, and more.  All of these things were supposed to be included in my pre-paid reservation.  They also really tried to snow me with the insurance.  In fact they initially said I had to have it to rent the car.   I explained to them, I spoke with my insurance agent, I’m covered, I’m also covered under our business policy since this is a business trip, I was told ‘Explicitly’ to deny any extra coverage.   They made me sign a waiver and acceptance that I was on the hook for a 17,000 GBP if anything went wrong, they don’t deal with any insurance companies other than their own.

This was Eurocar/Avis in the UK, and I’ll never rent from them again.   The car was fine, but the service was horrible.

The deal in the UK (with Budget) went exactly as planned.   No bait and switch, no other add-ons other than a 6 Euro fee to add Claudine as a driver.   I will happily rent from them again.

Now, do you need a car in London/UK?  Well driving on the wrong side of the road is a thrill but it’s not for everyone.  You don’t, unless you a) have a ton of luggage which we did and that makes train travel a real pain.  I was carrying some equipment in a pelican case that made train travel not worth while.   A 100 GBP taxi ride both directions, for me was 2/3rds the cost of a rental car and then I have a car.   We also needed/wanted a car to drive through the Cotswolds, and western UK.   But now, if I’m not doing those things, a taxi/or train ride will do ya.   Especially if you stay near the Office.  There’s a nice boutique hotel that’s reasonable and it’s a two block walk.

In Germany, you’re on the right side of the road, driving there is no different than here.  The Marriott is about ~20 mins from the hotel, and about ~20 mins from our office so a car is needed there unless you’re going to be with the sales guys all day and have them chauffer you around.  Since most of my work was happening off-hours for them, that wasn’t going to work.

We also planned to do a little road trip in Germany too.  Down to see some castles and drive through the Alps.  So yeah a car was needed.


We did a couple things here.  I’m a Marriott guy.  I like Marriott I have had good results with Marriott properties.   They are clean, and if you shop around they aren’t over priced IMHO.

We also play the points game with Marriott.  The other credit card I use for fuel mostly earns me Marriott points, plus for the $69 annual fee that they always waive for me when I ask I also get a free stay every year.   I use these free stays on motorcycle trips and shoots.   This year I used our free nights stay at the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel.   It was a $250 room after currency conversions that cost us $0.00.   We also stayed at the Marriott at Heathrow the night before our trip to Germany for $0.00 on points.

So in the UK we stayed at the Kew Gardens Hotel a nice little boutique hotel in Kew, two blocks from the office.   We have a negotiated business rate there and it was ‘cheap’ and it included breakfast.   The wifi in the hotel room was OK, but not great.  There was no wifi and no Cellular coverage what-so-ever in the restaurant/pub.   We stayed there for 3 nights, the last two nights in Bristol and by the airport.   In the past I have stayed at the Marriott in Twickenham but it was completely booked so Kew had to do and it was fine.

In Germany, the office is in a business park just outside of Hallbergmoos, there’s not much in Halbergmoos so we typically stay at the Marriott in Freising and we stayed there again.

It’s been recently renovated which means it now has AC, it didn’t use too and previously it sucked when it was hot out.    I have a few bones to pick with them, but overall the room was spectacular, and the service was pretty good and the price with breakfast was fair for what we got in return.    They neglected to let us know that the pool/hot tub/spa was unavailable.   When you walk 10 miles a day seeing stuff a hot tub is a nice thing to have and in fact we had looked forward to using it.

Sight Seeing Planning

We sort of had a travel agenda, but we didn’t have any plans for anything that required reservations, or so we thought.    We needed to stay flexible because this was a working vacation.   We needed to make sure that if work was required we didn’t loose any money on something we couldn’t get too.

So our loose agenda was this.

Tuesday: Travel
Wednesday: Arrive in UK in the AM
– Go Straight to the Office we couldn’t get into the hotel yet anyway, Claudine could visit Kew Gardens on her own
Thursday: Finish work in the UK, then do some evening sight seeing.
Friday (v): Do London for a day, London Tower and surrounding things.
Saturday: Drive out through the Cotswolds, then to Bath, and into Bristol for the night.
Sunday: More Bath, then south to the ocean/English channel, through the New Forest.
Monday: Travel to Germany
– Visit the Office, Office work Late Monday Night
Tuesday: More office work about half the day
– Tour Munich in the afternoon
Wednesday (v): Road Trip to Neuschwanstein Castle, visit the Austrian Alps, and then back to the hotel.
Thursday (v): Sight see around Freising/Landshut TBD, but take it easy for early Friday AM flight
Friday: Travel back to the US.

So, 2 complete days lost to traveling, 9 days in-country, about 4 and a half of those working[tm], leaving about 4 and half days to enjoy the sights, 11 days in total.   (v) denotes days taken as vacation days.

Europe 2014 (Part 1 of 6)

The company I work for (Seapine Software) has offices in the United Kingdom and in Germany.   I’ve traveled over there about a half dozen times in the past for IT and Office related things.  Most trips are pretty brutal.  In fact my first 3 trips, I spent more times on planes than I did in any country.

Flying over for basically a day’s worth of work, by the time you factor in 12 hours of flight time (between connecting flights and lay overs) and the time shift (losing a half a day on the way over).  Flying in on a Wednesday and back on a Saturday nets you more time in the air than in the country.   It kind of puts a damper on the “Oooh you get to go to (insert European country here).  It wasn’t all that.

In 2010 we (a colleague and I) visited both the UK and German offices.   The goal on that trip was to upgrade some routing equipment in the UK and physically move the German office from the Munich airport into what is now our current office.   So it was a much longer trip.  Approximately 8 days.

We were able to get our work done in the UK and in an effort to keep the flights cheaper stayed over a weekend.  That gave us two days to kick around Great Britain.  After moving the German office and getting the IT infrastructure set up, we again had about a day and a half to kick around.

We did whirl-wind tours in both places.   Driving about 1000 miles in both countries in less than 48 hours rushing around to ‘see’ things.    But we still had fun.

Fast forward to 2014.   We need to visit these offices more.  They are smaller sales offices and the guys over there don’t always feel like they are part of the bigger Seapine Culture.   It pays to visit them and help them feel loved.

At the beginning of the year we sent some router hardware over there, but not the type of gear that anyone there in the office could install.   We also needed to deploy some other newer gear that we provide them from the states.

Due to changing personnel and other economic conditions we didn’t get the opportunity to actually visit and install said hardware until now (August).

That’s what the catalyst for this trip.   My wife always wanted to tag along, but the previous trips just weren’t conducive.   Like I said, very little time to actually get there, and do much outside of working.   But this time we planned it to tack on a couple extra days in each country.  Claudine is pretty self sufficient so she could run around and see things on her own while I worked in each office.    The next few blog posts will be a retrospective of that trip.    Things we saw, things we’d do again, and things we’d pass on.



My recent trip to the UK & Germany.

My employer has offices internationally, and as fate would have it, we’re moving them.  We started with the UK office via some uk affordable movers back in January.  I took a rather condensed trip over to the UK to look at office space.  I was in the air, or in airports almost as long as I was in the UK so I didn’t get to see much other than the offices we looked at.

This trip was very similar. 

The first part of the trip was to move the office and get the internet connectivity and telecommunications setup as well as wrap up some loose ends.

We left Cincinnati (CVG) Saturday May 8th, connecting in Chicago, then straight into Heathrow, in the UK.   I was fortunate to be traveling with our VP of sales, who makes this trip once a month.  As such he’s earned his rewards and status with the airlines and the benefits that come with that.  As his traveling partner I was able to better enjoy the road warrior lifestyle for a week.  Being able to visit the international clubs in the airport and getting ‘upgraded’ has it’s advantages.

This time however we did rent a car.  Figuring we’d be driving back and forth between offices and making the occasional run to the store for something we figured this would be easier than cabs.

We picked up our car at the airport and headed to the hotel.  As things usually go, they didn’t have the car we reserved so we settled on a VW Passat, and a free GPS as compensation.


Driving on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road is interesting.  But  not nearly as difficult as I was led to believe it would be.  We arrived without incident.

While in the UK we tend to stay at the Twickenham Marriott which wraps the Twickenham rugby statdium.  It’s new so it’s still very nice.  Twickenham is on the west side of London, and honestly there isn’t a whole lot around that area in terms of quick and dirty tourist attractions.  You can hop the tube into downtown London if you have time, but we didn’t.

The room (at least the one I stayed in) is pretty straight forward:


The View


We didn’t do much Sunday, other than recuperate from the flight(s).  We did venture out in search of another US/UK power adapter and ended up a Bentalls, a shopping center and mall about 20 minutes away.  We at lunch/dinner there, and I picked up a Tea Pot for my lovely wife.

Monday morning we met Ashley at the office, got our bearings and went to the old office to retrieve our communications gear.  Loaded it up and headed back to our new office in Kew. 



Where by we commenced to assembling furniture and getting our phones system and internet connectivity up and running.  A good part of the afternoon was spent getting our phone service re-tooled from the interfaces we had at our horrible Regus office to lines we now had control over.  To this end we use eVelocity, for Cisco voice configuration we’re not comfortable messing with.   While things never go as planned, things actually went quite well.


With day 1 complete nearly everything was working as planned.

On Tuesday, we did more of the same, mostly clean-up and tweaks.  For lunch we wandered out to the Kew Greenhouse Cafe.   Ashley claimed it was simply a tourist spot and no, UK people rarely eat at places like this.

Lunch was a Tuna Bake and a Becks Beer.


Then back to the office for more office move related stuff.   Our landlord occupies the 1st and 2nd floor of this building (2nd and 3rd floor to US folks).  I took some time with Paul and discussed their business, the building and other stuff.  When they renovated the building, they added the 3rd floor.  It has somewhat of a nautical theme, seeing as how they are in the shipping business it all made sense.  The windows are like port-holes on a ship.  The 3rd floor is an all-purpose conference room and space for entertaining.  Complete with a temporary bed, shower and other luxuries.



The whole office reminded me of Apple in Cupertino.  They are Apple users and the whole place was quite sanitary looking.



We showed off our iPad’s knowing they’d be interested and couldn’t actually get their hands on them for another couple weeks.

Later in the afternoon I took about an hour to run over to the Chiswick Honda dealership.  At this dealership they have everything Honda.  From lawnmowers and generators, to motorcycles and cars.  My goal was to sit on a new Honda VFR 1200 and check out a couple of bikes that aren’t available in the states.   Mission accomplished, but I have to say, the folks at the dealership were less than friendly.

That evening, we stopped at Tesco’s, the UK version of Walmart to get a few snacks and drinks for the room so we didn’t  have to spend 5 GBP (or about $7.50) for a pepsi at the hotel.

Just like Walmart you can get everything at Tesco, including your home loan, and car insurance right at the check out.


Kevin had to get his Walker Potato chips, “Prawn Cocktail” flavor to be exact.  I’m pretty sure these are just lays potato chips.  But they had a number of really interesting flavors. I opted for a combo pack that had ‘Steak and Onion’, ‘Smokey Bacon’ which I though was extremely ironic since these folks don’t have a clue what bacon really is.  A slice of honey baked ham, without the honey or the baking is not bacon, it’s simply a slice of poorly grilled ham, and ‘Roast Chicken’.  Much to my surprise all of these flavors were accurate, and quite delicious.

Wednesday was wrap up day.  I didn’t have a lot to do, but was hoping I’d get to get out and see some stuff.

We took a quick road trip to IKEA of all places, in an effort to find a conference room table.  Kevin was fairly certain the conference room table we had in Austria came from IKEA.   On the way we stopped for lunch at the world famous ACE cafe.   Which was really an American diner/motorcycle hang out.


Cool place, lots of history.  The Ace Cafe – London, was bombed in World War II.  History can be found here.  Ashley’s dad used to frequent the place in his younger years. 

Out trip to IKEA was uneventful.  No real office furniture to speak of, thought they did have the little lantern that Matthew was playing with at home on our front porch before I left.  Which I believe was a gift we received at Christmas.  It tickled me to see them in London.


We returned around 3pm.  It was a little late in the day for me to make a run to Stonehenge, which was on my short list of things to go see.  It’s about 80 miles from the office but knowing that I’d run into traffic and that we had to leave for the airport at 5am I wasn’t much in the mood to risk it.

I took a little walk around the Kew train stop area, around our office and took some photos.


Everything here is old, including the bridge over the train tracks that I walked over and took the above photo from.  Built in 1912.



Given the amount of pure ugly people, most of whom are only ugly because they need some dental care, I was shocked to find a dentist on the other side of the tracks.  (That’s sarcasm and humor in case you didn’t notice.)

That evening we had dinner at the Inn in Kew Gardens, a standard pub/hotel.  Very much like the Golden Lamb here in Lebanon, OH.  The food was good and on a vacation visit I would probably stay there, though I didn’t get to check out any of the rooms.

The night was uneventful, I slept well, but didn’t get my 4:15am wake up call.  Grrrrr…  (yes 4:15am, necessary to get up and out by 5am, to get to the airport, return our car, clear security and all that entails to make a 7am flight to Munich, Germany).

Still we got out of the hotel in time to return the rental car, and make our flight without too much trouble.

The flight into Germany was uneventful.  We flew Lufthansa and of all the flights so far this was the worst.  The dirtiest aircraft, and the loudest.  It had a horrible buzzing/vibration.  But hey, it’s all good if you don’t crash right?

We landed in Munich and took a cab to the Munich Marriott, which is really in Freising.   We pretty much had the day to kill since it was a Holiday.  No real estate agents were working.  I had in mind to visit either the BMW museum in Munich, or Dachau, the 1st concentration camp.   But as fate would have it, we didn’t have a car, and being a holiday we feared things may not be open.   We walked down to the hofbrauhaus with the intention of eating well and having a few beers.


But it too was closed.  To be honest the whole town was very quiet.  We walked back to the hotel and had a good meal and beer at the restaurant then just relaxed in our rooms.  I watched “The Hurt Locker”, and promptly fell a sleep.

In the morning Rob picked us up and we went office shopping.

I won’t bore you with the details of that.


The bottom line though is that you could probably take someone from West Chester, blind fold them, drop them off near the Munich airport and they wouldn’t know the difference.  The drive on the right side of the road, and it’s wide open.  Plenty of farmland.  Very Cincinnati like.

Our trip was successful, at least at this point I think it was.   We viewed 8 different offices, had lunch at a little Italian bistro, then spent a couple hours at the airport office park where our current office is.


We flew back to Heathrow at 7pm, less than 48 hours after we arrived.  We spent the night at the Heathrow Marriott, then headed back to the US at 7:30 in the morning the next day.

The flight home was equally uneventful, until we needed to board our flight from Chicago to Cincy.  The plane needed some maintenance attention but they gut us underway in less than 40 minutes of our original departure time so we were only 30 minutes late.

I can’t wait to go back, but I can certainly wait to do those flights again.

12 + hours in airports and planes just kinds sucks like that.