anarchist_nomad: (Default)
( Oct. 3rd, 2016 12:37 am)
Another collaboration meeting over. I am writing this entry whilst sitting in Haneda Airport and waiting for my flight from Tokyo to Beijing.

Beijing is just a stopover on my way back to Sunny Olde England. After a short stay at home in Sheffield, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I will be off to New York for the Sooper Sekrit Pagan Gathering... and then I will be on to Chicago for another meeting at Fermilab.

Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom all in the same week. (Plus a cameo in China.) I'm starting to get déjà vu here... because it all sounds a lot like this entry!

It has been two thousand four hundred fifty-six year -- nearly seven years -- but compare for yourself how similar things can be. Many things have changed... but I guess others stay the same.

Back then, I shared a photograph of the contents of my wallet. Six bills (or notes) -- none of which were the same -- representing the "coin of the realm" for three different countries. This time, my wallet had only five notes (or bills)... but, again, none were the same and the represented currency from three different countries.

Take a look for yourself:

January 2010

October 2016

Time to go through security and get ready to board. If any P**T***ns are reading this, I can't wait to see you next weekend!!!

ETA: By the way, that is indeed the brand new plastic five pound note that debuted less than three weeks ago. If you caught it, kudos for the sharp eyes!
Gentle readers,

Ten days ago, your friendly neighbourhood Nomad hit the big FOUR-OH. Wowza -- how did that happen? Seems like only yesterday that I was celebrating my 30th birthday at the Event Horizon!

I firmly believe that if one is going to grow older, one should do it in style. Ten years ago, I resolved to throw the biggest Event Horizon party to date... and I succeeded.[*] For forty, I raised the stakes and decided to make it my absolute bestest birthday ever!

So what does that mean? What are the ingredients for a spectacular birthday?

Well, first is location. I love Oxford, but celebrating at home wasn't going to do. I wanted somewhere that would be warm and sunny in mid-March. No point in partying somewhere cold... and, besides, I wanted to go scuba diving! My first thought was the Mediterranean, possibly Corsica or Sardinia. Maybe Sicily. Then I checked: Average highs of 50F? That won't work!

Further South, then, which brings us to the Canary Islands. Yeah, that could work. Average highs in the mid-70s? Now that's more like it!

A plan began to take form: Rent a large villa in Lanzarote and invite everyone I know to join us there for a week. Although not the largest of the Canary Islands, the volcanic landscape and the César Manrique architecture was highly appealing. What's more, the entire island has been designated as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

In the end, I didn't end up inviting everybody I knew. We topped out at sixteen people, filling two private holiday villas. That seemed like a wise place to stop; coordinating an international week-long trip with sixteen people from two continents was one heck of a lot of work! Lots of logistics to arrange, including accommodation, transportation, and activities.

Lots of work... but it was totally worth it!

So what did we do in our week on the "Island of Fire" (as Lanzarote is known)? Well, we rode camels over the volcanic landscape:

(click on picture for full version)

and we ate food cooked with geo-thermal heat:

(click on picture for full version)

The picture above was taken at the El Diablo restaurant in Timanfaya National Park. The grill is set over a hole in the ground. That's all. No fire below; the heat of the volcano cooks your food for you!

(Also acts as a nifty underfloor heater, too!)

What else? Well, I got my scuba dives -- two off the coast of Playa Blanca (one day dive and one night dive) and another from Puerto del Carmen. We spent time on the beach at Arrecife, the capital of the island. We also took a bus tour around Timanfaya National Park. On another day, some of us went horseback riding (not me), whilst others took a bicycle tour (me!).

On one afternoon, we chartered a private pleasure cruise for five hours; on a different afternoon, we visited a few of César Manrique's architectural masterpieces. My beloved [ profile] cheshcat lined us up an excellent sampling of his work, including his Volcano House, his Cactus Garden, and the lookout point Mirador del Rio.

Some of us also made time for hiking. I went on three hikes, around the Montaña Caldereta, along the Timanfaya Coastal Route, and a sunset hike on my birthday itself, climbing the red mountain Montaña Roja, which was just behind our villas.

Here is a shot of yours truly atop the Caldereta (a volcanic crater):

(click on picture for full version)

Plus, there was lots of chill out time at the villas. Besides the two heated pools, we had a jacuzzi, sauna, and steam room. So it became a regular pattern to go out and be active during the day, then come together for a big meal in the evening -- coordinated by my darling [ profile] miss_amaranth. After dinner, we would soak up the amenities and be social in the evening.

By chance, the folks who went horseback riding ran into a masseuse; she was then hired to come to the villa on two separate days, working on half of our party during that time -- some people used her twice!

The penultimate day of the trip was my actual birthday, March 13th. After days of rushing about, the big day was spent at the villas. Pancake brunch, afternoon tea by the pool (served by [ profile] miss_amaranth in a bikini), and lots of good company!

Was my plan a success? You betcha! As you may recall, dear friends, the goal was to make turning 40 my best birthday ever. Spending a week on a subtropical volcanic island with more than a dozen of my closest friends? Riding camels and scuba diving and eating geo-thermally cooked food? You bet this was the bestest birthday ever![**]

Now then, what can I do to top it for turning 50?

[*] Eventually, as I made more friends in Chicagoland, the regular parties would grow to be larger than that special one... but at the time, my goal was met with 25 people celebrating in a two-day party.

[**] Sixteen hours before I left for this awesometacular holiday, there was one extra development that made it even better. "What might that be?" you may ask. Ah, but that's the subject of my next LJ post...
anarchist_nomad: (Loch Ness Monster)
( Jan. 17th, 2015 11:20 am)
Even after all these years, it looks like LiveJournal can still surprise me!

My previous post, about my passport expiring, garnered more comments than anything I've written in years. More than trips to Taiwan, Spain, Japan, Korea, and so on. More than my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I becoming British.

And this is in these waning days of LJ. Baffling.

I believe this post about probability, from nearly three years ago, was the last time anything I wrote stirred up such a response.

Of course, my most commented on LJ post ever, garnering over 200 responses, had to do with traffic roundabouts. So maybe it's not a failing in my understanding; maybe LJ just really doesn't make much sense.

In any case, the unusual situation described in the previous post -- that of being able to travel to nearly any country in the world except the one of my birth -- has now been resolved.

Twelve days ago, my application for a new US passport was collected by courier. Today, that new passport arrived. Once more, I have two passports and can travel freely where I will. Huzzah!

Also, a hearty shout out to the US Embassy in London. Colour me impressed with them for processing the application so quickly!
anarchist_nomad: (Intrepid explorer)
( Jan. 5th, 2015 11:59 am)
Just over ten years ago, I posted this entry, entitled "Grounded". It starts off by saying:

As of today, I no longer have a valid US passport. As alien as it feels to me, I can no longer leave the [United States].

Ten years on, the passport that I applied for at that time has recently expired. Once again, I no longer have a valid US passport. The weird part is that I can now go to just about any country in the world... except the United States.

My British passport is valid until 2023, and this is the primary passport that I use when travelling these days. However, US citizens are not permitted to enter the United States on a foreign passport. This is true even if they hold multiple citizenships and citizens of their other country (or countries) may travel to the United States without a visa.

The United States does not forbid dual nationalities (like, for instance, Japan), but they don't recognize them, either. To quote from the webpage of the United States Embassy in London:
Under U.S. regulations, dual nationals must enter and leave the United States on valid U.S. passports; they are not eligible to apply for visas or travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program.

So I find myself in the strange situation of being able to go anywhere except for the country where I was born and lived most of my life. How odd.

Thankfully, I have no upcoming travel planned for the United States. Next trip, in three weeks, is to Japan, and the one after that will be to Spain.

Meanwhile, the passport renewal application was collected by courier today. I expect the current oddity will be cleared soon with the arrival of my next passport.
(Not to mention three days before Yule!)

Good evening, gentle readers! I hope that you are all having a lovely holiday season so far and that -- whatever Decemberween festivities you partake in -- your plans are coming along swimmingly!

Life here in the City of Dreaming Spires is good, if a bit hectic. Our own preparations have been coming along well, though there is much buying of gifts left to be done! About a fortnight ago, we purchased our Yule tree -- a beautiful Nordman Fir -- so Chiron Beta Prime is well decorated for the season.

Speaking of which, here is a virtual Yule card for all of you who are still out there in LJ-land! This picture was taken in our living room three nights ago, on Sunday evening. Please to enjoy!

(click on picture for full version)

Actually, tis very similar to a shot that I posted in 2011. You can find that entry here. Heh. Is actually somewhat amusing to look at the two side-by-side. Remember those games in the newspaper when you were a kid? The ones where there would be two cartoon panels, and you were supposed to spot the subtle differences between them? This is sort of like that. Go on, click the link and check it out for yourself! (It's okay; I'll wait...)

What else have we been up to besides decorating our flat? Well, last night, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I went to the carol service in the Chapel Royal, at Hampton Court Palace. Built for Henry VIII -- and currently the property of his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandneice, Elizabeth II -- the chapel is a breathtaking setting, with a particularly magnificent ceiling. Again, don't take my word for it; see for yourself here:

The next two days, I will be attending the NuPhys 2013 meeting in London. After that, the festivities really kick in. Yule ritual in Oxford on Friday; Solstice morning at Stonehenge again on Saturday, followed by a carol singalong at the Royal Albert Hall; then a screening of "It's a Wonderful Life" in Greenwich with friends on Sunday. My darling [ profile] miss_amaranth is hosting a holiday feast at the House of the Rising Bun on Monday evening... which takes us to Christmas Eve and Day. Those will be spent celebrating in Oxford with my dearest [ profile] cheshcat; then on Boxing Day, we jet off to the States.

For those who are interested in seeing everyone's favourite Nomad during his 2013/14 USA Winter Tour, here is my planned itinerary:

  • 26 Dec - 28 Dec: New York City with friends
  • 29 Dec - 30 Dec: New York City with Mom
  • 31 Dec - 01 Jan: Philadelpha for New Years at Asylum House
  • 02 Jan: Driving to Michigan (with [ profile] gyades)
  • 03 Jan - 04 Jan: East Lansing, Michigan (to visit the wonderful [ profile] tawneypup and the rest of the Lansing Pagan Village crowd)
  • 05 Jan - 07 Jan: Chicagoland
  • 08 Jan: Flying back to Merry Olde England

Most of this time has already been planned, but if you want to catch me as I zip on through your area, drop me a comment and let me know!

Chicago people -- take note! The Chicagoland portion of the trip is the only bit still entirely unplanned... so that leaves three free days to grab a Nomad! Due to the 2012 decomissioning of the Event Horizon, it has been over a year since I have been back to the great state of Illinois, and there are lots of awesome people there that I miss. So if you are one of them, and you want a visiting Nomad, do speak up!

Right. On that note, I'm going to call it a night. Need to wake up way too early tomorrow morning. So sleep well, dear friends, and I hope to see many of you soon!
After ten days in Moscow[*], I left that metropolis behind me yesterday to spend my last few days in Russia exploring some of the cities in the so-called "Golden Ring". On the excellent advice of [ profile] ms_redcat, I decided to get out of the capital and see a bit more of what some would term the "authentic" Russian experience.

Thus, my dear friends, I am currently writing this entry from a lovely little rustic hotel in Suzdal, with plans to move on to Vladimir later today. This is a sample of what Suzdal looks like, from a picture that I took of one of the many picturesque sites at dusk yesterday:

Sunset Suzdal

(click for full-sized version)

The Golden Ring is a modern name for a group of eight cities that form something vaguely resembling a circle, or ring, to the NorthEast of Moscow. They were founded in roughly the same period, about the eleventh and twelfth century, as invading tribes pushed people out of Kiev, which was then the capital of Kievan Rus, a proto-Russian nation.

Moscow was one of the settlements founded during this period. I suppose one could say that, technically speaking, Moscow is a Golden Ring city. In the medieval period, the Golden Ring settlements were rather wealthy, flourishing on trade with the West. Indeed, Vladimir was once the capital, instead of Moscow! Eventually, though, Moscow emerged dominant -- and remains so to this day.

That said, I must comment on how beautiful the Golden Ring area is... and what a difference it makes to get outside of Moscow! In the capital, there are many impressive sights. It is well worth visiting. However, most people there are dour and unfriendly to foreigners.

Before travelling to Moscow, I was warned that it was a dangerous city. I now believe that this is an exaggeration. My travel book concurs with my experience; the section on "Personal Security & Health" begins by saying: "Moscow is a safe city for tourists, despite its reputation." As with many places, petty crime -- like theft -- is a concern, but this can be avoided with basic precautions. At no point did I feel like I was in danger of any real harm.

That said, I was also warned -- by two friends who have spent considerable time in Russia -- that Moscow is not a friendly place for foreigners, particularly those of non-Russian ethnicities. This was definitely my experience. With a few notable exceptions, I found most Muscovites to be scowling and unhelpful. Twas was even true at places one would not expect, like at my hotel. For example, when I checked in on my first night, at 22:30, I asked if there was anywhere nearby I could get food after my long journey. The woman behind the counter dismissed me with a curt "no." I learned the next day that there is a restaurant right next door, which stays open quite late! Oy!

Lots of other examples like that, but I won't dwell on it. I saw many excellent and beautiful places in Moscow -- some of which shall be featured in upcoming LJ entries -- but you do get tired of people being rude and surly after awhile. In contrast, outside of the capital city, I have found folks to be much more welcoming. Some will chat with you randomly, others will return your smile with a smile, rather than a scowl. Strolling the streets, there is a pleasant feel, with sidewalk cafes and pubs open late into the night. A rather welcome change!

Off to go explore more of Suzdal now, before moving on to Vladimir later today. More later, gentle readers... including an answer to the mystery of Nomad's missing hair!

[*] This includes the conference! Twas not all sightseeing -- a fair portion of my time there was spent at LomCon-16.

In Moscow right now, attending the 16th Lomonosov Conference on Elementary Particle Physics. Feels somehow appropriate to finally write an LJ entry in Russia.

Wallet currently contains €28.97 (Euro), £200.45 (Pounds Sterling), and руб 1400 (Russian Rubles). None are there for "historical" reasons -- all three are currencies that I have spent within the past twenty-four hours. It's a fun life!

Post with first impressions of Moscow to follow later, including view from my hotel room. Right now, the second session of the morning is about to begin. My talk ("Recent Results from T2K") is third in the session.

ETA 1: Am well aware that the "Current Music" is doubly inaccurate, as (a) I've never been to Russia before, and (b) the USSR ceased to exist in 1991. Still feels like an fitting choice, though. (Er, the title of this entry -- taken from Roger Waters's Radio K.A.O.S. -- might be somewhat inaccurate, too; I may be British now but am most definitely not Welsh! Zeroth order approximation?)

ETA 2: Talk went reasonably well. Only got one question, from a fairly argumentative woman who refused to actually listen to my reply. Got a couple of compliments afterward, though... and one person who expressed sympathy at the unreasonable questioner.

ETA 3: After lunch session has started with Higgs boson talks. Never thought I'd see the day when Higgs talks had become downright boring. "There's a Higgs. It's completely consistent with the Standard Model prediction. Have a nice day." Still, should probably stop typing on LJ and pay attention, though...

When last we left our intrepid Nomad, dear friends, he was setting off to hike Fujisan. As the subject line would imply, the objective has indeed been completed!

I started my journey in the town of Fujiyoshida, which lies at the base of Mount Fuji. I disembarked from the train at the town's Fujisan rail station, which is at an elevation of 850 meters (2800 feet) above sea level. From there, I made my way onto the mountain and up to the summit -- a height of 3776 meters (12,380 feet) -- exclusively by the power of my own two feet. Thus, I have hiked the entire height of Mount Fuji. This is, without a doubt, the highest thing that I have ever climbed.

I will note with some pride that I am the only person I know who has hiked the entire height of Fujisan. The vast majority of hikers start at one of the mountain's "fifth stations", which are easily accessible by bus. These stations sit at an altitude of about 2300 meters (7550 feet), cutting the climb in half. Indeed, on whole of Tuesday afternoon's hike -- from the Yoshida-guichi trailhead at the mountain's base to my mountain hut accommodations near the fifth station -- I did not see a single other hiker on the trail.

Now -- exclusive to you, gentle readers -- here is a first look at two of the pictures from this journey:

View From Above

(click for full-sized version)

I took this picture on Thursday morning; it was shot from a vantage point high up the mountain, between the 8th and 9th stations. Pretty, isn't it? I love the way that the clouds frame the lake below, with the mountains in the background.

A Place To Lay My Head

(click for full-sized version)

This picture was taken on Wednesday evening, at the end of the day's hike. The building that I am standing in front of is the Goraijou-kan mountain hut, at the 8.5th station. This is the highest accommodation on the mountain, and where I rested before the pre-dawn trek to the summit on Thursday morning. You may also note the Fujisan walking stick -- mentioned previously by [ profile] xirpha -- in my hand. Said stick was quite the helpful travelling companion to me on my hike!

More photos and tales to come later, my friends. Right now, however, the final boarding call has just been issued for British Airways flight 8, to London. Thus, tis best that your friendly neighbourhood Nomad signs off and gets on the plane!
Longtime readers of this journal may recall that, about three years ago, I made somewhat spontaneous plans to hike Mount Fuji.

Said plans were hatched during a conversation between me and one of our PhD students. They eventually expanded to include several other colleagues. As those spontaneous plans evolved, they got pushed back by one week -- from right before a collaboration meeting to right afterward. Ultimately, this change meant that I was not able to join the expedition. Twas somewhat irksome being scheduled out of my own plans, but these things happen.

In any case, I have not forgotten the goal of ascending Fujisan. Circumstances may sometimes necessitate the postponement of plans, but I am not one for giving up on a goal. Witness, for example, when the impending publication of T2K's big result caused me to cancel my May 2011 four-day trip to Korea. It may have taken some time but in May 2013 -- two years later -- that trip happened.

Similarly, nearly three years after the original plans were scuttled, I am about to ascend Fujisan. I finished my Super-Kamiokande shifts at the end of Sunday, flew to Tokyo on Monday, and am now ready to go up the mountain! This time, I am going it alone, so there plans depend on nobody but yours truly.

In many ways, this will actually be a superior trip to the one that was planned in 2010. For one thing, as noted by [ profile] xirpha, that hike was to take place place right around the Obon holiday. A very crowded time to hike! Going in July -- and before the school summer holidays begin next week -- will make for a somewhat less busy mountain.

For another thing, I intend to hike the entire height of Mount Fuji. Three years ago, my colleagues did the hike in one night, using the common method of taking the bus to the fifth station[*], hiking to the top in time for sunrise, then coming down afterward. Whole thing done in under twenty-four hours.

[N.B. For those who don't already know, the hike up Fujisan has ten stations, with the first at the base and the tenth being the summit. There are paved roads permitting cars and buses access up to the fifth station[*], so many (most?) people begin their hike from the fifth station.]

I have allocated more time for this trip -- I will set out after posting this entry (Tuesday morning) -- and expect to return at about mid-day on Thursday. That gives me roughly forty-eight hours, and I intend to make good use of the extra time.

For instance, I intend to start at the base of the Yoshida-guchi trail, where there is a Sengen jinja shrine at the first station. From there, I will hike the whole of the mountain. Today's goal is only to make it as high as the fifth station. Tomorrow, I plan to reach the eighth station during the day; after resting in one of the mountain huts there, I will make a night hike to the summit to watch the sun rise from the mountaintop on Thursday morning.

This is a rather leisurely schedule and, besides permitting me to climb the whole of the mountain, it has other advantages. For one thing, spreading out the ascent minimizes the odds of altitude sickness -- I know at least one of my colleagues was afflicted with such in the 2010 climb. For another, the longer plan gives me more time to explore more fully on my way up the mountain. Case in point: At the fifth station, there is the Ochudo (or "middle trail") that goes around the mountain. With no plans to go above the fifth station today, I should have time to walk that path. At the top, there is the Ohachi-meguri trail -- about 4 kilometers long -- that goes around the crater and includes Japan's highest point. Again, tis on my list!

If I have time on Thursday after coming back down, I shall seek out an onsen (or "hot spring") in Hakone or near Lake Yamanaka before making my way to Haneda Airport for Friday's early morning flight.

So lots to do, and should be good fun!

[*] There are actually four main hiking paths, which means that there are four different fifth stations.

In a comment to yesterday's entry, the super-spiffy [ profile] cjtremlett asked me about posting photographs. In doing so, she reminded me that I have a large backlog of photos that I've been meaning to post -- from January's ascent up the Tokyo Sky Tree to March's birthday outing at Hampton Court Palace to May's adventures in Seoul to my bank holiday weekend trip to the Broads and Fens. And more!

Well, catching up on 2013 pictures and travelogues will take some time. Even so, here is a gem that I thought you might appreciate now, dear friends. Enjoy!

Land of the Setting Sun (2013-JAN-29)

(click for full-sized version)

I am rather pleased with this picture. Perhaps you can see why?

This photograph was taken from a height of 451 meters -- the topmost observation point of the Tokyo Sky Tree. The folks who designed the 634 meter Tree were rather innovative. There are two observation decks; one at about 350 meters and the other at about 450 meters. The lower deck is about what one would expect -- it is large and flat. The upper deck, in contrast, is less spacious. When you step out of the lift, you find yourself at the bottom of a sloping floor, with each direction bringing you upward. The two parts rejoin together at the zenith, which is a small area of level floor at 451 meters. There are windows all around the upper level, so you can see out from anywhere on the sloping floor. However, the figurative high point of the visit comes at the literal high point; the 451 meter level ground looks out to the West, providing a gorgeous view of Mount Fuji.

I am rather a fan of tall urban structures, and make a point of ascending them whenever I have the opportunity. In the past nineteen months, I have been up the Empire State Building (86th and 102nd floors), the Sears Tower, Berlin's Fernsehturm, Taipei 101, the Tokyo Sky Tree, and Seoul's Namsan Tower. In general, I try to ascend about an hour or so before sunset, so that I may first appreciate the view in daylight... then watch the beauty of the setting sun... then enjoy the lights of the city at night -- all in one visit!

In this case, my strategy was particularly rewarding. As you can see, gentle readers, the design of the Tokyo Sky Tree was particularly clever. Not only does the highest viewing point look directly at Fujiyama... but the location of the Sky Tree means that, at dusk, one sees the sun set right behind the mountain. This was completely unexpected, and a delightful surprise. Absolutely breathtaking!

The plan is to hike up that mountain next week. Looking forward to taking more lovely photos from the top!
Back in Japan now. I flew out first thing Saturday morning for a week of shift work at Super-Kamiokande, followed by three days of holiday.

As is usually the case on the day before an intercontinental trip, Friday was rather busy. I took the Oxford Tube into London to work during the day; in the evening, I went to the Oxford Playhouse with my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and my darling [ profile] miss_amaranth to see a fairly dreadful musical adaptation of Golding's Lord of the Flies.

After the show, we went to Indulge to indulge in some going-away dessert. Then we dropped [ profile] miss_amaranth off at the House of the Rising Bun and stopped in to visit our lovely girl, Stumpy. Those of you that know Stumpy will not be surprised to learn that she was very happy to see us. Although, to be fair, any three humans petting her would have been welcome to this attention-seeking kitty!

Next, [ profile] cheshcat and I headed back to Chiron Beta Prime. We got in at about midnight and ate dinner. Yes, gentle readers, we had dinner after dessert -- is there a problem? Following food, it was time to pack for Japan.

All of this was finally accomplished around three o'clock in the morning. With one exception, all of the pre-flight items on my "to-do" list had been ticked off. That exception? My third -- and final -- Bridge-to-10K run. Oooops.

I've done nighttime runs before. Actually, when I first started Couch-to-5K last Summer, I only ran at night. I'm not too proud to admit that I was fairly self-conscious back then; as an obese and out-of-shape bloke struggling through sixty second bursts of running, I preferred to minimize any "audience" of onlookers. That hasn't been true for many months now, though, and the timing of my runs is dictated more by scheduling than anything else. I prefer to run during daylight hours, but I am also comfortable running after dark if necessary. Between work, theatre, and bell ringing, it is often necessary. I have done plenty of late-night runs, with the latest being a couple where I set out at about half past one.

Even so, there is a big difference between going out at half past one and starting at half past three -- especially when my running workout has grown to 70 minutes[*]. Also, I needed to leave for the airport bus at six o'clock, to be reasonably sure of catching my 9am flight. Thus, I must confess, I entertained the notion of not running. It would certainly be easier and would allow me to get a couple of hours rest before my travels. If I did run, I would need a shower after; together, the two would consume nearly all of my remaining time before setting out. I would have a few minutes to stock up on snuggles with [ profile] cheshcat... but that would be all.

On the other hand, this was to be my graduation run! My final Bridge-to-10K workout! After months of effort, overcoming the major setback that was January's torn muscle injury. Yes, I could do the final run in Japan... but there seemed something fitting about completing the programme before my travels.

Thus it came to pass that, at a quarter past three in the morning, I did my pre-run stretches and changed into my running gear. Mere moments before I set out, I received an e-mail from the ever-awesome [ profile] tawneypup. She had written to tell me that she had just returned from her final Couch-to-5K run. Her graduation run sounded lovely, running into the sunset and passing a couple of deer.

Well, that clinched it. If I had not been certain about this run before, I certainly was now. T'would be a beautiful symmetry -- [ profile] tawneypup finishes Couch-to-5K with a run into the sunset; minutes later, I set out on my final Bridge-to-10K workout with a run into the sunrise. And that's exactly what I did.

When I left the house, the first glimmers of twilight were beginning to show in the night sky. When I returned, seventy minutes later, it was well past the dawn. I enjoyed a fantastic run, feeling fast and strong, as I ran a variant of my usual East Oxford route whilst watching day break. It was, in all ways, an absolutely amazing run. At that time of the morning, there was a certain serenity in the air. Alas, there were no deer on my path, I'm afraid. On the other hand, the unusual hour meant that there were also very few people -- and cars -- to watch out for.

Crunching the numbers afterward, the numbers bore out what I had felt during the workout. This had indeed been my best run ever. Twas the fourth time that I had run for sixty minutes -- and only the third time that I had done all sixty minutes in one continuous stretch.[**] Of the four runs, this was my best speed and distance yet: 10.7 kilometers (or, if you prefer, 6.66 miles). That's an average pace of 5:36 per kilometer (or 9:01 per mile). Were I "only" aiming at 10 km -- rather than 60 minutes of running -- this average pace would have meant crossing the finish line at precisely 56 minutes. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself!

I returned home in triumph as a Bridge-to-10K graduate, with just enough time to shower and change before the aforementioned pre-flight [ profile] cheshcat cuddles. Then it was six o'clock and time to catch the coach to Heathrow.

And thus it was that the Nomad became a 10K runner...

[*] Five minutes of brisk walking to warm up, sixty minutes of running, then five minutes of not-as-brisk walking to cool down.

[**] Week 5 Run 3 of Bridge-to-10K consists of two 30 minute runs, with a 1 minute walk separating them.

anarchist_nomad: (Look Like An Egyptian)
( May. 22nd, 2013 11:39 pm)
Final night in Korea -- I fly back to Merry Olde England in the morning. My last full day here was excellent. I didn't manage to see the DMZ, but I did have a very intense tour to the RIMZ[*] in the first half of the day. Got back to Seoul in time to visit Seoul Plaza & City Hall, see the Royal Tombs at Samneung Park, take a nighttime stroll through Deoksugung Palace[**], then walk by the newly restored Namdaemun gate[***] -- National Treasure #1.

I'm hoping to write up daily travelogues for this trip, as I have much that I would like to share in terms of both words and pictures. For now, though, I will just note that the highlight of the day -- the trip to the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom[****] -- went better than expected. None of the bad things that could have happened did happen (e.g., tour cancelled by United Nations Command... or getting shot by a member of the Korean People's Army), and what I had thought was a longshot did happen -- I got to cross the border into North Korea!

Okay, it wasn't far across the border -- just a matter of feet. Also, I didn't get to stay for long -- just a matter of minutes. Even so, I was in North Korea today. Pretty cool, huh?

So the clear winner of today's Picture Of The Day Award is a shot of your friendly neighbourhood Nomad on the northern side of the Military Demarkation Line (MDL) that serves as the border between the two countries:

Nomad does North Korea

(click for full-sized version)

Actually, whilst reflecting on the experience en route back to Seoul, I realised that this was probably less like visiting Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin and more like visiting Checkpoint Alpha -- the crossing between the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, or "West Germany" in the old days) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or "East Germany" back when it still existed).

To wit: Checkpoint Charlie was in the middle of a major city. The Joint Security Area is in the middle of a four kilometer zone that, except for one village on either side of the MDL, is nearly uninhabited by humans. Not being in a major population centre means that there is more room in the vicinity for things like, oh, anti-tank walls... and live minefields. To the best of my knowledge, neither the Soviets nor the Americans ever set up a minefield within Berlin! In contrast, I imagine that the conditions around the crossing between the two halves of Germany was a lot more like the Korean RIMZ.

One final note before bed: As has been mentioned in the comments of my recent posts, the empty zone between the two Koreas has become a bit of a wildlife refuge. With no major human activity there for sixty years, endangered species are making it their home. This includes types of cranes, leopards, and so on. At this point, the Korean government even gets requests from scientists to study some of the wildlife developments in the zone. Our tour guide today noted that when Germany was reunified, no area of uninhabited border was left behind. She said that she hopes when (not "if") Korea is re-unified, the RMIZ will be left untouched, like it is now, for nature. I think she is on to something -- if you ignore the minefields and high security in the zone, it really is a beautiful place!

[*] That would be the Really Insanely Militarized Zone. Don't know where the Demilitarized Zone is located, but there was nothing demilitarized about where I went this morning!

[**] Deoksugung Palace brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department, as "gung" means "palace".

[***] See above footnote, since "mun" means "gate". Er, excuse me whilst I go visit the ATM machine and input my PIN number.

[****] Strangely enough, we had to pass several checkpoints on the way into Panmunjom. Three of them, to be precise. The first, as you might guess, was Checkpoint Alpha. The second was Checkpoint Bravo. And, of course, the third was Checkpoint Charlie. The irony was not lost on me.

anarchist_nomad: (Intrepid explorer)
( May. 22nd, 2013 01:26 am)
Off to bed shortly. Need to wake up early tomorrow morning; my tour guide is collecting me from my accommodations as 07:30. Before I sleep, however, I have a few thoughts about tomorrow that I want to write down beforehand. May be interesting to compare after the fact.

I've been in Korea for three days so far. I'm having a great trip. I have toured Royal Palaces (particularly Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung); I have visited the Royal Shines (Jongmyo). I have seen the Presidential residence (Cheongwadae, the "Blue House") and strolled through an astounding garden (Huwon) and ridden a cable car up the mini-mountain of Namsan to look out from the observation deck of N Seoul Tower. I hope to write a travelogue, complete with pictures, about all of this -- and more -- when I get back to Oxford.

Tomorrow is my last full day for this trip to Korea. Being me, there is a fair bit left that I want to do here in and around Seoul. First and foremost, though, is the tour that I leave on in about six hours -- a visit to Panmunjom, the Joint Security Area in the Korean Demilitarized Zone.[*]

Last March, I spent five days in Berlin. I remember visiting the mock-up of Checkpoint Charlie and thinking about what it must have been like in the old days, when it was the only crossing point between the "American sector" of West Berlin and the "Soviet sector" of East Berlin. I think that tomorrow I am about to find out.

Actually, the similarities between the two are quick striking when one thinks about it. The two halves of Berlin came about because the Western Allies and the Soviets split the city between them after World War II; the two halves of Korea came about because the Americans and the Soviets split the country between them after World War II. Tis true that Germany had been an aggressor nation, whilst Korea had been an occupied land for decades before the war. Even so, the long-standing split was mainly the result of nascent Cold War politics coming into play as WWII wound down.

Of course, Germany has been reunified for decades now, with the Communist GDR (East Germany) dissolving and joining the Capitalist FRG (West Germany). In contract, the Communist DPRK (North Korea) is still going strong, and still at odds with the Capitalist ROK (South Korea). Thus, the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom -- Korea's "Checkpoint Charlie" -- is still in full swing.

I suspect that this is going to be a very interesting experience tomorrow. Technically, there is the possibility of injury or death -- I will be up against the North Korean border with armed DPRK soldiers present. There have been incidents at the JSA, like in 1984, when a Soviet citizen -- on tour from the North -- ran across the border to defect. That said, approximately 100,000 tourists per year visit the JSA, and the overwhelming majority of tours experience nothing unusual. Despite having to sign a form acknowledging that I am entering a war zone and could be injured or killed, I'm not really worried. It's true that I have never actually been in a war zone before. On the other hand, I have had to sign similar forms before jumping out of a plane (minus the part about the war zone). No, I'm thinking that the experience will be a nice counterpart to last year's visit to Checkpoint Charlie... and that the two should bookend each other nicely. Will almost certainly provide me with some good food for thought on the long plane ride home.

[*] Ironically enough, the Korean "Demilitarized Zone" is the most militarily fortified border on the planet.

anarchist_nomad: (Default)
( May. 18th, 2013 08:33 pm)
In Japan now. Today's big adventure was a magnitude 6.0 earthquake that shook us up quite impressively during the last session of our T2K collaboration meeting. Earthquakes in Japan are normal, and I've felt at least three during the nine days that I have been here this trip. Even so, today's episode was strong enough -- and went on just long enough -- that we started to suspect it might be something more than a routine shakeup.

Happy to see that we were wrong about that.

Tomorrow morning, I am off for Korea. For my next adventure, I am scheduling a tour of the DMZ...

ETA: I leave for Korea in five hours. I just noticed this article in the New York Times. Hmmmmm.

anarchist_nomad: (Default)
( Sep. 29th, 2012 03:16 am)
Looks like the September / October transition has become an annual Time of Travel for me; I appear to be well-positioned to follow in last year's "footsteps".[*]

To wit: I am currently writing this from Tokai; it is late Friday night, my last full night in Japan. On Saturday, I will still be in Japan. On Sunday, I will fly 6000 miles and return home to Oxford. I will get to see my UK kitties, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat, my darling [ profile] miss_amaranth, and so on. I will be there for all of forty-eight hours... after which [ profile] cheshcat and I fly 4000 miles on Tuesday morning, making our triumphant return to the Event Horizon.[**] We will spend less than forty-eight hours in Chicagoland -- time enough to start packing and lavish attention on our US kitties -- before we embark on the 900 mile drive to New York.

"New York?" you ask, dear friends? Indeed, for tis that time of the year again! The time when we gather for the Sooper Sekrit October Pagan Festival! In fact, one week from right now, my favourite annual social event will be just beginning! HUZZAH!!

So here comes a very, ah, mobile week. Three continents, ten thousand flight miles, and over one thousand ground miles. Looking forward to seeing many of you soon, dear friends!

[*] Maybe "footsteps" is a poor word choice, as nearly none of the upcoming travel will be done by foot.

[**] Side note: Are there any spiffy Chicago people who might be able to give us a ride from O'Hare on Tuesday afternoon? Points, cuddles, backrubs, and donuts are all on offer!

anarchist_nomad: (Intrepid explorer)
( May. 30th, 2012 08:48 pm)
Hello, World! (Or at least the little portion of it that belongs to LJ-land!)

Looks like I've done gone and left my poor journal to languish in obscurity for a fortnight or so. In times like this, I believe the convention response is: Whoops!

To be fair, I have had the best of excuses. The day after my latest entry, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I had a visit from the effusive EB -- a fellow attendee of the Sooper Sekrit October Pagan Festival who, alas, has no LiveJournal. EB popped over from New York City to spend six days with us in Merry Olde England. We had loads of fun in and around Oxford, then he and I wrapped up the time with a weekend trip to Old York City.

Three days after EB departed, I followed suit. Not in the same direction, though! With the sweet & adorable [ profile] miss_amaranth for company, I hopped a flight to Spain for five days in Catalonia. Two of those days were spent attending OpenCon Catalonia, a lovely weekend event for polyamorous people. The other three were for exploring!

We visited Barcelona[*], splashed on the beaches of Costa Brava, climbed the city walls in medieval Girona, and hiked the serrated mountains of Montserrat. Each of these remarkable destinations deserves a write up of its own, replete with photos. Time will tell if they get the travelogues which they so richly deserve. In the meantime, dear friends, I give you a single photograph, taken yesterday from an altitude of nearly 1100 meters, near the very top of Montserrat. Enjoy!

Then we got high...

(click for full-sized version)

I take my leave of you now, gentle readers, as I am writing this from Ye Olde Oxford Tube and have very nearly arrived home. Once I arrive, I am off to enjoy a delicious dinner the the Pink Giraffe with my dear [ profile] miss_amaranth and my beloved [ profile] cheshcat. Have an awesometacular evening, everyone!!

[*] Which I had been to before, albeit briefly, in July 2001.

Four fun-filled days in the Republic of China have now passed, and your friendly neighbourhood Nomad is slowly making his way back to his friendly neighbourhood in Oxford.

The previous entry promised pictures, so let me not disappoint! A full photo-travelogue is in the works, and shall be posted in due time. For now, gentle readers, I shall tease you with this teaser:

Behold: Taipei! (Pretty, isn't it?)

(click for full-sized version)

The building in the distance, towering over the rest is Taipei 101. It held the title of "World's Tallest Building" from its construction until about two years ago, when the current champion -- the mythical Burj Khalifa -- took the record.

Continuing with the theme of tall buildings, I should note that, as I write this entry, the Freedom Tower is setting the record for tallest building in Manhattan. Still under construction, the new One World Trade Center is expected to surpass the Empire State Building today.

Meanwhile, this trip has been both fun and productive, but I am happy to be homeward bound. There are some lovely people (and kitties) back home that I shall be very happy to see tomorrow!
At Narita Airport now. The T2K collaboration meeting ended yesterday, so now the second leg of my trip has come to a close. I left Tokai this morning and, in about an hour, I will be leaving Japan.

The third, and final, part of this trip will be spent in Taiwan, where I shall be visiting with the lovely [ profile] bonzifan. I am rather bouncy about this! I've never been to Taiwan before. As far as visiting parts of China go, I have been to the People's Republic of China (specifically Beijing and the Great Wall), and I have been to Hong Kong (back in 1996, about a year before it was re-absorbed by the PRC). But I have not yet been to the Republic of China (i.e., Taiwan). Exciting! Plus, of course, there is the added bonus of spending time with the awesometacular [ profile] bonzifan -- truly a classic win-win situation!

Before I leave Japan, here is one more picture for you, gentle readers. This year's sakura season has well and truly passed in all but the highest portions of Japan. Yet I leave you -- and the country -- with one more photograph taken whilst they were still in bloom. Enjoy!

(click for full-sized version)

On that note, I had best close the computer and pass through security -- boarding begins soon!

The weekend started with a most excellent party on Friday and Saturday, courtesy of the lovely R and the awesome [ profile] wolfpeach. Many fantastic new people to meet, cuddle, et cetera! Plus cake and sauna and cabaret and ritual! Huzzah! As best I can tell, a fantabulous time was had by all!

After everything wrapped up, the rest of yesterday was spent at home, sharing some quality alone time with my beloved [ profile] cheshcat. We stayed up until nearly three o'clock in the morning, playing games, sharing pictures from my recent trip to Berlin, and other stuff.

This morning, I got up early again. These days, it seems that the nights where I get more than four or five hours of sleep are few and far between. I think it has happened once in the past week, on Thursday. As the observant [ profile] wolfpeach noted, it seems like I'm not only burning the candle at both ends... but taking a flamethrower to the middle, as well. One of the reasons that I love the man -- he says the sweetest things![*]

Today, the early rise was motivated by the need to pack. As I mentioned last month, the bulk of April will be spent in Japan, splitting my time between Mozumi (for shift at Super-Kamiokande) and Tokai (for the T2K collaboration meeting). After it all wraps up, in about three weeks, I will be popping over to Taiwan for a four day holiday. Exploring a new country is always fun -- I am particularly looking forward to ascending Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world from 2004 to 2010.[**] As an extra special bonus in my travels, I will get to enjoy the splendid company of the lovely [ profile] bonzifan, who will be showing me around during my stay in Taiwan.

As I write this, the adventure has already begun.[***] Right now, I am sitting on the Oxford Airline bus, making my way towards Heathrow. I expect that we will arrive in just a few minutes. Nearly time to check in and buckle down for the long[****] flight. Next stop: Tokyo Narita!

Happy Easter, everyone! See you from the other side!

[*] Odd as it sounds, I'm not actually being sardonic here. For one trying to live life to the absolutely maximum, complements on productivity are a sure-fire way to bring a smile to my face and warm the cockles of my heart! (One of these days, somebody is going to call me an "overachiever"; when that happens, I may just melt away!)

[**] Currently ranked #3, behind the newly completed Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower and the record-shattering Burj Khalifa -- the latter of which is the tallest structure of any sort every build by humans. Tis nearly as tall as one Sears Tower placed on top of another!

[***] Albeit the less adventurous part of the adventure.

[****] Twelve hours.

Thanks to all who left birthday wishes in comments to the last entry. I received a plethora of birthday greetings, both on LJ and elsewhere. I am lucky enough to have awesome friends. And a spectacular partner, my beloved Cheshcat, to subtly remind them.

At the present moment, I find myself at Heathrow once again. My flight to Berlin takes off in just a few minutes. I've never been to Germany before. Should be fun!


anarchist_nomad: (Default)


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