European Travel Log – London

Quick Edit: I forgot how awesome it is to have yummy Ale served at the “proper” British temperature. ‘Muricans just don’t get proper ales.

The Austria and Germany portions of this trip went well. Successful demos and sales training. Today I moved to London for a couple days before heading to Yarnton for a seminar on Tuesday.

I am staying near Waterloo on Lambeth road at the Novotel. Pretty awesome location, near a shitload of great sights and things to do.

The weather is a LOT warmer than I expected. 50F here this afternoon. I almost was too warm with my winter coat on. Traffic wasn’t too bad, it is a Saturday after all. I got to the hotel about 1:30 and headed out for a stroll.

The London EyeI thought I might enjoy doing the London Eye. Um, holy cow, the line for that makes Disneyland seem barren. Even the “Fast Pass” line is oppressively long. I didn’t even look up how much it costs. Took a few pics and walked by.

The Parliment building is cool, and recognizable, and listening to Big Ben chime the hours was fun. I expected there to be more boating traffic on the Thames.

Lots to see and do. Of course, it isn’t all unicorns and chocolate.

Novotel hotels used to be nice. This one is not cheap ($250 a night US) and you get almost no amenities. Yes, there is free internet, but it must be a 128K fram relay line for all the free users to share. I lasted about 10 minutes before I caved in and bought the upgraded internet. BReakfast isn’t included (a rarity in Europe), and for $32US I will walk down to a bakery for a pastry and a coffee, thankyouverymuch. But, it is in a great, convenient location.

Cabs – I love the charming “black” cabs, and I got a chatty driver. Took about 15 minutes to drive to the hotel from Paddington station. Yes, I could have done it via tube, but I would have made a lot of mistakes and it would have taken me an hour or more to figure it out. So I cabbed it. Cash only (which will make it tough to expense), and 17 pounds. Yikes. I have to remember that it is ~ $1.80 to 1 pound.

Heathrow Express. An absolute joy. Certainly cheaper than a car, but I couldn’t figure out how to get it to take my credit card. So another 21 pounds flew out of my limited stash. At this rate, I will be eating McDonalds for all three meals by Monday. (I think I was just using a bad ticket kiosk)

Tomorrow I will walk the royal gardens, go to the natural history museum, stroll the riverfront, drink a few pints at a public house, and explore the tubes.

Mind the gap!

Monday I head up to Oxford for a day, then back to London (for a much cheaper hotel), and day trips for the rest of the week.

Some thoughts

I have been doing a lot of reading of history, deep into European history from the middle ages to present, as well as a pretty deep dive into US history. Sparked by a conversation with a colleague in Europe who was showing me where many historical events happened in Frankfurt-Mainz during a day of sightseeing on a trip last year. It reminded me that I knew very little about actual European history, apart from what little is covered when studying the US Colonial period.

I find that in my facebook friends feed, I have several people who are dedicated Tea Party adherents, and they love to toss out quotes from the founding fathers in support of their beliefs. However, I find that many of these quotes are so far out of context that they are contorted into precisely the opposite of the original intent. Additionally, it is clear that these folks have a pretty thin knowledge of US history, likely what they learned in secondary (high) school.

I of course had Civics in highs school as well as the required US History curriculum, and I lived happily ever after … until in my 3rd year of college I took a university level US history course. My eyes were opened. The high school level course was superficial, and outright hid/lied about many of the formative events throughout the history of these United States. The curriculum was clearly molded to make America appear to be a beacon of all that is right in the world, and that she never, ever did anything wrong. But America is made of men, and men do many dumb, and unsavory things. Much of this came out in a fairly unbiased text when I was in college. I have additionally read a few different historians to broaden my knowledge and understanding, and I remain just as skeptical of the claim that the USA is the most, bestest, and complete beacon of freedom in the world.

Unfortunately, as I stated at the beginning of this post, the Tea Party believers/adherents in my circles seem to have halted their study of history and political affairs after that biased high school history and civics course.

To truly understand the writings and intents of the founding fathers, you need to understand much more than just a high school history and civics education. You do need to understand what was happening in the world at that time, and leading up to that time, and then you will have a very different appreciation of the words written in the federalist papers, and the other formative documents of the revolution, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Jefferson certainly had in mind the lessons of the 30 year war, and how state sanctioned religion tears apart the fabric of society. How the rigid class system with ~ 5% nobility, 10% clergy, and the rest being serfs tied to a landlord. How systems of revenue generation of states by increasingly squeezing the serf population with taxes, while exempting both the higher classes.

There is much more context, and turmoil in continental politics, and people who want to have an understanding of the forces and fires that forged the American experience ought to take the time to read up on the history that preceded the revolution, and the subsequent development of our constitutional republic.

Some sources that are good reads:

European history – A complete history of Europe from the middle ages to the present – by John Merrimack – Professor of history, Yale

American history – Daniel Boorstin has a series of very approachable books that are worthy, and chart the evolution of the Americas from early colonial times through the 20th century.

I will probably not accept any comments, as I really don’t want to get into ideological rants. I just hope that I spark a few people to look more at what was happening around the time of the formation of the USA and how we fit into the world of that time, and how we have changed to where we are today.

What I am reading: History of Modern Europe

I am an avid reader, have been since I was in my early teens.  While most of my reading tends to favor the SciFi genre, I have developed a taste for history.

When I was in High School I had the usual US history, and with it a smattering of world history. Of course, my 3rd year of university, I took a college level US history course, and learned how badly we were lied to in high school. Since then I have read more granular accounts of the US experience, and I have enjoyed it.

Lately though, I have come to the realization that I have a severe deficiency in my knowledge of European history.  Late last year, I was in Germany, and one of our local people took me to the Frankfurt Christmas market, and he was explaining to me about the history of the Frankfurt/Mainz area. I realized that I had almost no knowledge of the history of the Continent.

So I have resolved to rectify that shortfall.  I first found a course on the Itunes university on modern European history, taught by John Merriman, professor at Yale.  I also picked up his monstrous tome, “A History of Modern Europe from the Renaissance to the Present” (fortunately I was able to grab a used copy for $40 on Amazon).  It starts with a smattering of important topics from the medieval time, as that laid a lot of the groundwork of the renaissance.

I am through the renaissance and into the Reformation. It is a riveting read, and John Merriman is a gifted story teller.  The pace is good, and the illustrating stories are very helpful.  As this book is more than 1400 pages long, I will take quite some time to read it, and thoroughly learning the path from feudal medieval Europe into the states that exist today.

(I also read a lot on the history of mathematics and physics, but reading about real history helps place the development of mathematics in context.)

I will drop back in and report as I am working my way through this.