Sunday 31 December 2006

Airport Experiences

Sumburgh Airport is right at the southern most tip of Shetland mainland, and full of character. Approaching the airport by car, you have to cross the runway, which is closed by barriers when a plane is landing or taking off. As you drive onto the runway, there's a big sign advising "Straight ahead only" - but how tempting it would be to take a left turn, and drive down the centre of the runway as fast as you could. Of course, without the ability to take off, you'd very quickly find yourself in the water, as the runway stretches at both ends right up to the sea - as you drive across, you can see the waves breaking at the tip of the runway!

The airport is wonderfully short of taxiways, none of the Schiphol Airport 15 minute taxi to the Polderbaan here, instead you trundle on to the runway somewhere in the middle, lumber along to one end, turn on your tail, and then put your foot down - definitely the best sort of take-off experience!

Looking behind you after take off, there is a great view of the airport, and its rather precariously looking location. If only my camera had been working...

After Sumburgh, an exciting 3 hours wait in Aberdeen Airport, home of 3 shops and a small cafe, which is packed full to bursting. For want of anywhere better to sit, I made my way to the cafe, where I took advantage of what may be my first and last opportunity to sample a haggis pizza (is this what's known as fusion cuisine?).

The bonus of Aberdeen, though, is the selection of airplanes that come through here - most are propellor planes, and there are also helicopters which run out to the oil rigs. Although it's an international airport, your options for exotic travel are limited - Stavanger, Amsterdam and Dublin being your only choices.

Saturday 30 December 2006

Shetland (2)

Since today was my last day in Shetland, we made an effort to go out for a walk despite the gale that is still blowing. I had a great time driving my car again, for the first time since Jen brought it up to Shetland in August, though it did make it a little hard to really enjoy the fantastic scenery.

We headed up to Fethaland, right up at the top of Shetland Mainland, to walk up to the coast and see the sea stacks. This is one of Jen's favourite places on Shetland, which she discovered on her first stay here, when she was based up in the Northern part of the island. In the event, the weather got too much for us - brutal wind, hail and then driving rain whilst we were still a good half hour's walk from Fethaland meant that we chickened out and headed back to the car defeated by both the elements, and our wet, manure seasoned trousers.

On our way back, we stopped off in Lerwick, where we rescued Klaudia from her shackles at work and went back home to Jen's place with some much earned (and hard to find) fish and chips. We also picked up yet more wool for the scarf I'm making, which needs to keep me busy for a 3 hour stopover in Aberdeen Airport tomorrow.

Friday 29 December 2006

Shetland (1)

After a busy Christmas, I've come up to Shetland with Jen until New Year's Eve. We flew up on the 27th, painfully early in the morning, and spent much of the day recovering. In the evening we were invited to a fantastic fish supper at the friend of a friend's, where we were smothered with fish options - crab, lobster, chowder and John Dory.

Yesterday we had a walk along the cliffs to Papil. It was mid-afternoon and the light was absolutely fantastic. Sadly I couldn't bring my "proper" camera over from Holland so I only have the compact with me, which broke yesterday during the walk. Jen has offered to let me use her camera for the rest of the trip, though today it's blowing a gale, so it could be that photo opportunities are anyway limited. In the evening we had a traditional Shetland tea - sassermaet (fried, spiced sausagemeat) and fried duck eggs, with friends and a couple bottles of wine. You can download the GPS track log from our walk, and view it in Google Earth.

Today we had a quiet morning, listening to the wind howling outside, curled up with Jen's cats Sophie and Owl. We went into Lerwick in the afternoon for some shopping - groceries, wool for a scarf and a Monopoly board. Once we came back, we retreated again to the sofa to watch "Noi Albinoi" - a rather depressing Icelandic film about a teenage boy somewhere up in the North of Iceland.

Sunday 24 December 2006

Christmas Eve

Every year on Christmas Eve, the service of 9 Lessons and Carols is broadcast on BBC Radio and Televsion from King's College, Cambridge, a tradition that goes back some 80 years. The tradition has been extended to churches all around the world, who also have an annual service, following the pattern set by the original King's service. This year, since my friend Mark was visiting, it seemed a perfect excuse to make the trip to Cambridge together.

We set off from home on the 23rd at around 6pm and after a stop in Stoke on Trent to visit a friend, arrived in Cambridge at 12.30am. After a few circuits of Cambridge we finally found our Youth Hostel, and settled in for a luxurious 3 hour sleep.

By 4.45 we were back in the centre of town, and lining up outside the college with our comfy chairs and a much-needed blanket. It isn't possible to get tickets for the service - patience is all that's required, and plenty of it. When we arrived there were 3 others in the queue, and almost 15 people curled up in their sleeping bags, waiting for the doors to the college to open. By 9am the quota of 600 seats had already been reached, and people were being turned away.

Despite the cold and dreary weather, we had a great time queuing, singing Christmas Carols, being serenaded by the Choral Scholars, and nipping out of the queue occasionally for a coffee. It was also great fun to chat with others in the queue, especially our closest neighbours, who came from such far flung places as Salisbury, Japan, Australia and the USA. Whilst some of the foreign visitors had taken advantage of being in the UK at Christmas to attend the service, for others it was the reason to travel to the UK.

At 1.30 we were finally allowed into the chapel, where we listened to organ music for 90 minutes until the service started. Despite being at the front of the queue, we were still seated at the far end of the Chapel from the choir, since many of the seats are reserved for family of the choir, and other special people. Still, we were able to see the choir, unlike most of the congregation who were behind the choir screen. The service itself was magical, and the choir sang beautifully - both new music commissioned for the service, and many well known pieces which Mark and I knew from our own choirs.

After such as wonderful day, it was hard to leave Cambridge and make the long drive back up to Manchester. Despite our exhaustion, and a couple unexpected detours, we made it back home in time for a much needed cup of tea before we headed off back to church to sing at Midnight Mass.

9 Lessons and Carols, on the King's College website
More photos

Friday 22 December 2006

Home for Christmas

Finally the end of the year has come, and it's time to go home for Christmas! We're having a larger gathering than normal this year - Ian will be with us as usual, my friend Mark is joining us from Holland and Jen is coming home from Shetland with her friend Klaudia. Of course, Granny will also be with us for Christmas Day itself.

Saturday 9 December 2006

Zwei Tage in M√ľnchen

On the 7th and 8th December we had a two day workshop in Munich - the first time we managed to get (almost) all member of the software development team together, since the technical team is based in The Hague, and the specification team in Munich. The visit was very profitable, and we covered a lot of ground and answered many open questions.

Of course, a fundamental part of the workshop was also to get to know each other, so on Thursday night we went into the Marienplatz in the centre of Munich to see the Christmas Market (and of course, sample some Gluhwein) before going out to dinner. We had a very enjoyable evening, and sampled much of the local Weissbier, but perhaps the most useful lesson I learnt during the whole trip was that drinking until 2.30am is not perhaps the smartest of moves when you're due to give a presentation at 9am the next morning.

Wednesday 6 December 2006


After 5 years in Holland, this year I celebrated Sinterklaas for the first time, with my friend Fiona and her family. Sinterklaas is a traditional Dutch celebration which takes place each year on the evening of the 5th December. According to tradition, we each drew a name out of a hat, and bought a surpise present for that person. The presents are accompanied by a poem - in Dutch of course - which was quite a challenge for me - both to write, and also to read aloud.