Pithering in Portland (part 7)

April 28, 2008 § 2 Comments

A busier week than most. The working week was cut short (although some days were much longer than others) because I’d arranged to head over to Chicago. It’s a “home-office day” aka a “mini away day” for ThoughtWorks. Essentially I get to travel over to one of the offices and meet other folks from the company, to hear our chairman say his thing, and to hear what my fellow developers have to say on the subject of developing software.

I missed the first part of Roy’s speech because the night before I’d arrived in the city in a somewhat exuberant fashion, eager to get cracking on the city’s nightlife scene. After an hour and a half sitting in horrendous traffic from the airport to the hotel, and then for what seemed like an eternity getting Lotus Notes to agree to open up an email of where my company’s party was, and after a brief stint of getting lost, and a verbose exchange with the doorman who wouldn’t let me in because I’d left my passport back at the hotel, I finally managed to make it in to a trendy underground venue which promised to serve up free booze and great conversation. I met lots of new people and a couple of old friends from times gone by.

The next day I woke up with a bit of a sore head, and a feeling of revulsion when I looked over the side of the bed and saw a giant, mostly uneaten delivery pizza on the floor covered in ants. Hmm. I’ve now learnt good and proper that alcohol measures in the US are a lot stronger than in the UK; best to avoid the G & Ts that lack the T.

Anyway the mini-away day was good, I enjoyed some of the sessions that gave me a chance to learn what ThoughtWorks studios were up to. Dennis Bryne from my ThoughtWorks immersion days gave a good insight into Erlang. All interesting stuff. In the evening I felt strangely rejuvenated, and after accosting our chairman Roy with my theory of how we ought to have general elections once a year – during which as a fellow idealist he was very receptive and helpful – I wanted to hit Chicago’s nightlife again. How could you not want to, when it’s this beautiful?

chicago night

It looks even more fantastic in real life. With a couple of colleagues, we hit a snazzy little restaurant:


and I picked up a truly American proportioned steak:


After we hit a jazz bar and had a couple of cocktails. I had a fun time hanging out with a couple of colleagues soaking up the atmosphere. Before long I realised it was getting late and so made my way back to the hotel, stopping along the way to take another picture:

chicago night2

The next day I woke up determined to make the most out of a day in Chicago, before my flight was due to take off at 8pm. I hit the ThoughtWorks office, which is vastly superior to the UK one. For the hell of it I sat in on a couple of interviews during a “super saturday”; a big recruitment drive. Then I embarked on a river cruise – an ‘architectural tour’ of Chicago.

sky scrapers 2

Chicago’s skyline has a similar history to that of Seattle in that it was first built with wood before a big fire came and levelled it to the ground. Chicago then proceeded to invent the sky-scraper, and they’ve never stopped building them since. During the tour we road along a couple of rivers that cut through the city’s centre and learnt about the evolution of these buildings from Gothic, Art-deco, ‘Modern’ and now postmodernism. It was good to get an appreciation.

trump tower

Trump’s new tower.


Some buildings are older than others…

sears tower

That big-un is America’s biggest tower, the sears tower. It lost the crown as the worlds biggest and is now third. There is another one being built in Chicago though – The Spiral – which will be over 2000 feet (the Sears is around 1300). It’s a pity though that there are pesky people in Dubai who are building the world’s tallest at 2300.

After the tour I made my way over to check out one of Chicago’s suburbs – Lincoln Park – which was very nice. Then I got my flight home, picked up my funky-ass red car (did I mention it has a sun-roof?) and then woke up the next day in trendy Portland.

Pithering in Portland (part 6)

April 20, 2008 § 2 Comments

Yesterday was a day of reckoning. If one were to come out to Portland in the first quarter of the year, then the logical reasoning would be that one really ought to go skiing or snowboarding down the side of Mount Hood. I’d been aware of this implicit challenge for some time, noting that as the weeks were passing and the season was drawing to a close that my chances for actually getting on the mountainside were fast receding.

Fed up of inaction on the subject, phone calls were made, equipment bought (end of season deals!), and before I’d really considered what I was doing I was driving in the direction of Mount Hood on the back of a 7am start.

After a while driving the trees became white, the roads took on an incline, and a couple of blizzards came and went. I was definitely heading into the land of snow. After a short duration of driving round the base of the mountain it occurred to me that the roads were becoming icy, and the signs demanding that people to use snow chains were starting to sink in. Unfazed by a brief interruption to a smooth flowing morning I pulled into a pit-stop and inquired as to where snow chains such as these could be bought:


“Three miles back the way you came sir” was the response. Ah well, these things happen. Three miles back the other way there was indeed a motor-repair place, and the friendly chap there said “it’s end of season sir, you have to go three miles back that way” he pointed to the road back to Portland. Three miles later, same story. Fifteen miles after that… same story. Finally, after about five or six different motor places at staggered distances on the route between Mount Hood and Portland, I found somewhere that sold the correct size that was required. Phew.

So, unscathed, and after paying some guy a few bucks to fit the snow chains, I finally made it up the mountain:


Glorious isn’t it? The ski-lodge is halfway up 12,000 ft of the mountain. The views were plentiful:

hood views

With no further time to waste, I got my gear:


and hit the slopes:

me snowy

This is the view from the ski-lift:


I had a great time. I think I actually took to snowboarding, and was able to make it down the slope doing a few twists and turns without falling off (which is quite an achievement I think). Unfortunately though my trainer perhaps over emphatically embraced my natural ability and insisted I tried doing crazy stuff like going down backwards and mixing it up the whole time. After a while I started to get confused with all the techniques he was teaching me about and I started to fall more often and harder. I cut the lesson a little short eager to get away from him, and I was tiring fast anyway. The ski-lodge bar beckoned where a small glass of beer and nachos could be enjoyed before starting the trip back down the mountain. I want to try again snowboarding; for the period in between being learning how it works and then been overly optimistic about my ability the experience was thrilling.

Another enjoyable weekend in Portland. Next weekend I’m off to Chicago for a ThoughtWorks home office day (a day where consultants that are normally out on the road get to spend a working day near their ‘home office’ with everyone else).

Pithering in Portland (part 5)

April 20, 2008 § 1 Comment

Another week has passed. Last Saturday I awoke to one of the most beautiful days I’ve ever seen. The sky was bright and blue, the temperature was t-shirt weather and crisp… Wonderful. I decided I needed to get out and see some rugged countryside, so I made my way over in my funky red car to Multnomah falls. This time of year is perfect for it; the snow on the mountains is starting to melt and is sending masses of water down into the Columbia River.

Sunglasses on, music pumping through my satellite radio, the trip to the falls was brilliant. The highway twisted and turned alongside the river, exposing mountain ranges and ‘western’ styled hills.


It wasn’t long before I encountered my first waterfall:


Caught up in my excitement of waking up on such a fine day with loads to see and do, I made the mistake of not packing any boots or trainers. So upon taking up the challenge of what I perceived to be a short trail, I ended up climbing up the side of a mountain with jeans and shoes. I thought I looked very british against all the hikers springing along with their water bottles. The trails were fantastic though, and if I get a free and clear day I’ll go back. They score through dense forestry alongside streams and rivers. I mused at one stage that this is the kind of place that fairies and elves would hang out…


And always there are falls:


And hikers better prepared than myself:


Some of the trails revolved around falls such as this:


There were some good views too:


After I’d tired on the trails (I kept going mile after mile before realising I might actually be going up a mountain…) I returned to the car park and briefly stopped at the actual Multomah falls, one of the highest in North America:

multnomah falls

And here’s the bottom bit just give a sense of scale:

mult bottom bit

I had a very enjoyable day. I topped if off by driving out to a town called Hood River, where I found a ‘brew pub’ which served a tasty burger and chips with a glass of house beer on the side.

hood river

The view from the brew pub of Hood River.

Pithering in Portland (part 4)

April 12, 2008 § Leave a Comment

I’m sitting in a trendy Portland coffee house on a beautiful sunnily crisp day. Across the street I can see an Elvis impersonator doing his thang; indeed I think I’ve seen him or a colleague of his quite a few times hanging around various parts of the city. On a day like today Mount Hood is clearly visible. I think the picture below (I didn’t take) sums up the old mountain’s dominance of the Portland skyline.


I can’t wait to get up there and do something (either hiking or snow-boarding). It requires a bit of planning though and as ever during my stay here I’ve been quite busy.

So, a couple of weeks ago I woke up full of enthusiasm for how I could spend a weekend in Portland after my previous trip to Seattle. Unfortunately though I woke up on Saturday morning with a dodgy stomach. I ventured out as far as the nearest coffee house I like, but then I had to retreat and spend the rest of the day in bed with a toilet close by. Sunday was likewise. My mother is suggesting that my stomach can’t handle such an overdose of rich food as I’ve been subjected to, and I may agree with her, but I had a dodgy steak in a nearby restaurant that makes my stomach churn just sitting here thinking about it. Ah well. I certainly had a good opportunity to catch up on some American TV, of which the amount of adverts is really starting to frustrate (they even adertise programs that have limited advertising in).

The next weekend however I had planned a trip to Florida to see my father. On thursday night I red-eyed it to Fort Myers (‘red-eye’ is what us tough consultants call the night-time flights). It wasn’t a pleasant trip. I had babies screaming all around me like some sort of personal hell. I presume that parents of such babies cannot be widely appreciated by red-eyers. Well, despite all that I made it to the airport where I found out my luggage was a flight behind me. It did though catch me up in the end, roundabouts as I was chilling out poolside appreciating the long lost sunshine.

The next day I bought a load of new clothes at a ridiculously lower price than what they’re available for in the UK, and promptly hit the beach.

florida beach 1

It was a glorious day. I did a bit of swimming, some walking. My US born colleagues have been urging me to try an ice-cream sandwich. I suggested at first that what they really meant what was we English had more descriptively labelled the ‘choc-ice’, but they assured me it was something quite different. Eager to bridge the gap of cultural differences a little further, I set about trying out the delicacy:

ice cream sandwhich

Hmm. Tasty. After the beach outing we hit a restaurant and a bar or two in Naples. Florida is an interesting place. They call it God’s waiting room and it’s easy to see why. Clearly the average age is 75; I felt quite a few generations removed. Still, I think that when I get as old as these people ostensibly are that I’ll head on out to live in Florida. The weather’s perfect, the bars and restaurants seem pretty good – what better place to chill out?

me and dad

Even my Dad’s a spring chicken out in Florida!

Just I as was appreciating the sunshine and was cracking through the odd game of tennis, I began to realise that my English tolerance of the sun had indeed let me down. Without my wife around to repeatably coat me in layer upon layer of suncream, I sizzled. For the rest of the weekend I sported the good old lobster look. Thankfully to-date I’m just about past the peeling phase and have finally taken on a non-red tan.

The returning leg of the trip was just as bad as the red-eye. More screaming babies, and one mother I was sitting next to kept on lifting up the armrest so that the baby could sprawl out and rest it’s head on my thy. As I politely tried to lower the arm-rest as to not crush its head she’d constantly ask me questions like ‘Sir, what time do we land sir?, is this plane OK sir? What’s that noise?’. When I was asleep I was jolted awake when she flung her arms out at me because of a slight hint of turbulence. I couldn’t wait to land.

I’m halfway through my stint in Portland. It’s definately been a worthwhile experience – I’m really glad I travelled out here. This weekend I may visit some nearby waterfalls and devise a plan for finally getting up close to a volcano (and maybe snow boarding on it). I’ve also loads of tedious work to do like expenses and admin for my company. Ah well, as long as there’s hippyish coffee houses in new-age Portland I’ll be fine.

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