Saturday, September 29, 2012

London, Days 12-14

After a day off Wednesday, it was back to the classroom Thursday afternoon for my hardest class, which is an IR session that deals with national security.  Apart from having to read about seven books a week for this class, the teacher is a PhD student at the London School of Economics who insists on treating us with the same level of distance as his professors do.  It will prove challenging.  After classes, we returned to the flat and I bought some groceries before having a large group dinner.  One of my flat mates, who is an excellent chef, made us all a huge dinner and we all ate together before heading to bed.
Friday was spent as a tourist day.  After waking up early and going for a run, I went downtown with three of my friends to watch the changing of the Queen's guard at Buckingham Palace, which I had never seen before.  After, we walked to the horse guards parade for a bit before heading north to Trafalgar Square and spending some time at the National Gallery of art, inside which I saw Van Goh's "Sunflower" and Monet's "Water Lilly Pond."  At 4 PM, as it started to rain, we headed back to Buckingham Palace to take our tour of the summer state rooms, which was incredibly cool.  We toured the throne room, ballroom, dining room, and other famous rooms inside the working palace before closing in the giant palace garden.  After dinner, I did some work before heading to bed.
Saturday after my run, I went to the famous Portabello Market with two friends. The market is an almost mile-long stretch of shops and food vendors along a side street in the south part of the city.  It's an experience in itself, and the food was amazing.  After heading home, I tried (and failed) to watch the Manchester United game at a pub before we all went out to see a movie, "Looper," which was very good indeed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

London, Day 11

Wednesday was a free day, as my class schedule slots so that I only have classes on Tuesday and Thursday.  After sleeping in, I went for a run and had breakfast before taking the bus down to Piccadilly and walking to Buckingham Palace.  I had planned to take a tour of the royal residence with my friend Jack, but we learned upon our arrival that we needed to book tickets in advance, meaning that we had to do something else in the afternoon.
In order to cure our boredom, we took the short walk down the Mall to the Horse Guards Parade and looked at the household cavalry museum before getting on the tube and heading down to Knightsbridge to visit the famous Harrods department store.  Harrods is an institution, a one-of-a-kind, one-square-block, upscale store that has anything and everything from all corners of the world.  It is ridiculously overpriced and contains all kinds of luxury goods - for example, I saw a £29,000 (US$47,000) case of wine and a £5,000 (US$8,100) cell phone on the racks.  When you're walking around, you also get the feeling that you're doing something wrong because of all the security and attendants.
After Harrods, we took the tube home and I did some homework before we had dinner.  I finished up some reading before heading to bed, and watching a little South Park (America).

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

London, Days 9-10

On Monday, after my run, I went down to the school office to get some books to complete my reading for the classes that I had on Tuesday.  After doing that, I went with a fellow member of my program even further downtown to check in to the library that we are members of because we are enrolled in the program.  That was quite an experience, as the library is a long stop from the nearest tube station and it was a cold, windy, rainy day.  When we finally got to the library and registered, we walked around and realized just how different libraries in the UK are from those in the US.  For one, they are stone silent.  For another, they close at 9 PM on weekdays and are not open at all on Sundays, which will take some getting used to.
After leaving the library, we took the bus home before I headed back downtown to hang out with some friends and do more reading.  One of my flatmates, Kevin, cooked a big dinner for all of us, and we closed the day with a quick trip down to a local pub.
Tuesday was class day, with lessons meeting from 10 AM until 6 PM straight through.  But after classes, we had a social gathering as an entire program, with the director and teachers all gathering with the students at a wine bar in central London.  There, we had some delicious pizza, which we enjoyed as a group before heading out for a night near Piccadilly Circus.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

London, Day 8

Today was a very quiet and slow day.  After a trip earlier in the weekend and spending Saturday night downtown, I wasn't up to do much.  As usual, I woke up around 10 and went for a quick run, just barely avoiding my first London deluge of the fall.  After grabbing a quick lunch, I headed downtown on the tube to watch some soccer, as Manchester United played Liverpool in the most storied and decorated rivalry in the English Premier League.  Watching the game in a giant sports cafe was something else, especially with all of the fans of Liverpool that were there.  United won the game, albeit controversially, but three points are three points.  Even better, Manchester City were held to a draw at home by Arsenal.
Following the game, I returned to my flat and had a very nice dinner of chicken, potatoes, and mushrooms that one of my roommates cooked from scratch.  After dinner, I relaxed for a while, watching movies and football as the rain continued outside, before heading to bed.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

London/Krakow: Days 5-7

On Thursday, I began the day with a run before heading downtown to tour the International Students House, a resource center for people like me studying abroad with a bar, cafeteria, and gym.  With some time between then and my flight for Poland, our group went down to the waterfront and had some lunch underneath the London Eye.  After that, I hopped on the tube to Liverpool station, from there taking a train to London Stanstead airport, where my flight to Krakow would leave from.
The airline I took, Ryanair, is a European carrier that caters to people like me: short, cheap, international flights.  Everything was similar to air travel in the US, except for two differences: you board after walking on the tarmac, and refreshments on board are not free (even water, which was somehow three pounds sterling).  Upon landing in Krakow, I took a bus to the main train station downtown and a short taxi ride to my hostel.  At the hostel, I checked in, booked my tour for Auschwitz the next day, and climbed the stairs to my bed, one of ten in a large room.
Friday dawned bright and cold, and I woke up at 9:30 local time before heading down to the reception and having some breakfast for 5 polish zloty, which is about US $1.50.  After a short wait, I took a bus out to Auschwitz with other residents of the hostel, which took about an hour.
I won't say much about my visit to Auschwitz I and the bigger, more lethal Auschwitz II other than to say that the whole complex is very simple.  Not much is trussed up, the camp is sort of just there.  You walk under the infamous Arbeit Macht Freit sign (although it is no longer the original wrought iron), you walk in to the only intact gas chamber.  You walk through the infamous brick tunnel and on to the same rail tracks that carried convoy after convoy of prisoners to the SS's "selections."  I will say, however, that I am glad I did it.
We took a bus back to Krakow, arriving at the hostel around 7.  After a short break, I walked to the city center with some young English students who I had met to have some dinner.  The city center was beautiful, with a large clock tower and several churches surrounding it.  It got cold very quickly, however, and we regretted our decision to sit outside a little bit.  Still, watching this historic and modern city center on a Friday night was something to behold.  After dinner, we returned to the hostel and went to bed.
I awoke very early on Saturday morning to catch my flight at 10 AM local time.  I over planned, like I always do, which meant that I arrived at the airport nearly two and a half hours before I needed to.  That's the other thing about these European flights: preparations for a 10 AM flight begin at about 9:35.  It's actually quite cool how it all comes together.  Anyway, my flight to London was quite uneventful, and I landed and headed back to my flat on the train.
I went for a run after returning home before doing some homework and having dinner at the pub.  We closed the evening by heading out to downtown for a bit before calling it a night.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

London, Day 4

Today was another relatively quiet day.  I was able to sleep in for the first time during the trip, dozing until around 10 AM local time before getting up and going for my run, which was colder than usual as the temperature reached 39 the night before.  Following my run, I had breakfast and checked my email, pretty standard for that time of day.
After breakfast, I headed downtown on the tube in order to buy a pay as you go phone, which is exceedingly less expensive than just using text and phone on my iPhone.  I had a lot of time between when I bought the phone and my only class of the day, so I wandered down to Buckingham Palace and Clarence House to look at the guards and talk up some other tourists before heading over to class.
Following class, I went back to my apartment, had dinner, and hung out with some friends before heading to bed, preparing for my trip to Poland on Thursday afternoon.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

London, Day 3

I got up very early Tuesday in order to go for a run before classes.  Because of orientation, I had three classes today, which stretched from 10:30 AM to 6 PM with some short breaks in between.  After class, I took the tube home before cooking dinner and relaxing in our friends' flat next door.
I also managed to schedule my first trip: to Krakow, Poland from Thursday to Saturday.  Then, I have to work, because the British school system is much harder and more independent than the American one.

Monday, September 17, 2012

London, Day 2

We had orientation this morning, taking the subway or "Tube" down to the Victoria station and then walking a small distance to our lecture hall. There, I was given my class schedule and realized that I only have classes three days a week and four day weekends, which is excellent.  I do have three classes every Tuesday, however, which is a tad unfortunate.

After orientation closed, I went for a walk around downtown London with some of the kids in my program.  We walked to Big Ben, the Horse Guards Parade, St. James's Palace, and Buckingham Palace before returning to our apartment. Following an afternoon run, I returned to the apartment and went for a long walk around London, finally finding the bath towel that I had failed to back back home after nearly 90 minutes of searching.

I ate a small dinner after getting home before heading to hang out with friends at the pub, called "the Eagle" until around 11.  The bartender, Ross, was a masters student at LSE and really a nice guy who made an effort to get to know us. Overall, a very nice day.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

London, Day 1

Good morning/afternoon/evening.  Today marks my first day of my semester abroad in Europe, where I am studying at INSTEP in London.  My plane arrived almost an hour early, at 6:30 AM local time, for probably the first time in recorded history.  That meant that I got off the plane in a completely empty Heathrow Airport, with all of the signs from the Olympic Games still shining brightly.
I had to sit in Paddington station for about two hours while waiting for the appropriate time for me to arrive came, as I was well early from my plane's arrival.  I finally made it to my flat at around 11 AM London time and did nothing but hang out as I waited for the rest of my group to arrive.
After everyone got to the flat, we went out grocery shopping before meeting some of the other students in the same complex as us.  We closed the day with a trip to a local pub, the Prince Alfred.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Clay Matthews Went Madden on the Bears Tonight

The Green Bay Packers, who lost week one at Lambeau Field, were not about to lose twice at their hallowed home, especially during a primetime game.  Pity the poor Chicago Bears.
Star linebacker Clay Matthews III recorded three and a half sacks for the Pack, in a 23-10 win, beating the Chicago offensive line like a drum and getting penetration inside easily.  It was a spectacular performance from the USC man, who fell short of expectations last season but is off to a roaring start on this campaign.  
Green Bay now has a full 11 days before their next game, away to Seattle on Monday Night Football.  Chicago returns home to face the Rams in their next contest.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9.11.01 - We Will Never Forget

Eleven years have now passed since since the second coming of the "Day that will live in infamy."  It was a Tuesday just like every other fall Tuesday.  But from my school in Potomac, Maryland, I was told in the middle of our all-school assembly that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  From my classroom, I watched United 175 crash into the South Tower.  Then came the news of the Pentagon and rumors about the Capitol.  My mom worked then, and still works, at the Capitol.
Eventually, I got word that my mom was all right.  But as I made my way home from school that day, I could hear the fighter jets flying over the District.  I could see the smoke from the Pentagon in the distance.
Classmates of mine lost their father on American 77, the plane that crashed in to the Pentagon.  I've learned more recently that another friend of mine lost a father in the North Tower.  Experiences like this make you realize just how precious life is and how lucky we are to have our freedom.  Let us always remember those who died on that day and admire the strength and resolve of those they left behind.
9.11.01 - Never forgive, never forget.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Andy Murray Wins Breathtaking US Open

Andy Murray became the first Briton in almost 80 years to win a Grand Slam singles event Monday night, upending defending champion Novak Djokovic 7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 in Flushing Meadows, New York.  The win was the first Grand Slam victory of Murray's career, and put a huge exclamation point on the end of the Scot's year.  After losing in the final at Wimbledon, Murray would then win gold at the London Olympics and close at the season's final major with a win.
This is a tremendous accomplishment for Murray, who seems to be one of the only men left who can beat Roger Federer or Djokovic.  With Rafa Nadal's knees and back in shambles, Murray is at the top of his game at the moment and a class champion.  It must be well worth the wait for the 25 year old, and is sure to be one of many.

Week 1 NFL Roundup

I know there are two more games left to be played on Monday night, but enough happened on Sunday and Wednesday to warrant me writing this now.  Plus, it's not like the Monday night games are exactly toss-ups.  Some observations from week 1 of the NFL season:

I said before the game that I was very excited to see what Peyton Manning could do in his first game action in almost 20 months.  After a slow first half in which he only passed for 98 yards, Manning was his old, hurry-up, surgical self in the second half.  The $80 million man completed 19 of 26 for 253 yards and two scores, controlling the game when the Broncos got the football and making use of a lot of receivers.  With Manning at the helm, John Fox won't have to do much brain work on offense, allowing him to focus on improving Denver's already impressive defense.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Seriously Though Meals?

According Jerry Meals, Mark Teixeira was out on this play.

I mean I don't like the Yankees or anything but you have got to be kidding me. Human element, I guess.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Saints Bounty Players' Suspensions Overturned; Goodell Cuckolded

In a literally shocking turn of events, the bounty penalties on some defensive players from the New Orleans Saints have been overturned and nullified, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.  This means that Saints players, including linebacker Jonathan Vilma, are eligible to play this season and are not banned, as they had been previously.
Whoever the guy is that did this just strong-armed Roger Goodell so hard I can't even stand it.  Just absolutely went Ray Lewis on the guy.  Goodell comes out with these huge suspensions to try and send a message when there was clearly a bounty program, and an independent arbitrator overturns the penalties?  Unreal.
Oh, and RGIII: Run.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Nick Saban Doesn't Give a Damn

This showed up on Around the Horn today so I went and looked it up.  Nick Saban went off during his Wednesday afternoon press conference in Tuscaloosa.  It's worth the view.
Basically, the entire national media has been talking about how good Saban's Crimson Tide is since they embarrassed Michigan on Saturday night during the Cowboys Classic.  People are already predicting a second consecutive national championship, and Saban, like always, wants nothing to do with it.  Predictably, Saban laid in to the media that are writing off Alabama's next opponent, Western Kentucky, already.  And people have a problem with it. Here's the thing about Nick Saban: he literally could not care less what anyone thinks about him.  Saban wants to coach his team and the only people whose opinion he cares about are Kirby Smart, Doug Nussmeier, his coaches, his athletic director, and his players.  He know's he a jerk.  But being a jerk is what's made him the best college football coach of his era and arguably the greatest of all time.  BREAKING: the Alabama football team is really, really good, and it's because of Nick Saban.  He can do what he wants in that city.  We now return you to your regular weekday programming.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Andy Roddick Says Goodbye

American tennis player Andy Roddick played the final match of his career on Wednesday afternoon, falling to Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarterfinals of the US Open, the tournament Roddick won for his lone Grand Slam championship in 2003.  Roddick won the first set in a tiebreak, but was unable to carry over his momentum in the final three sets and fell 6-7, 7-6, 6-2, 6-4.  He enters retirement with 32 career titles.
Roddick has always been my favorite tennis player.  I grew up watching him and it was because of Roddick that I caught the tennis "bug" - I played more and more after his US Open win in 2003.  Even through his struggles, Roddick was incredibly entertaining, not only because of his thundering serve but because of his attitude and his humor.  There was never a dull moment with him on the court, and he deserved better than to lose to Roger Federer four times in grand slam finals. Leaving the sport as his body breaks down, Roddick will be remembered as a player who was not blessed with the incredible quickness and gifts of a Federer, but instead ground out wins based on heart and the pure desire to win.
Now 30, Roddick figures to begin a family with his wife Brooklyn Decker.  And really, how can he lose in that situation?
Thanks for a great career, Andy.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Colorado Avalanche Name Gabriel Landeskog Captain

Tuesday, the Colorado Avalanche hockey club announced that they have named 19 year-old Gabriel Landeskog as permanent team captain, making him the youngest player to attain such an honor in history.  The Swedish forward broke Sidney Crosby's previous record by 11 days.
Landeskog fits the bill perfectly.  He's young, very talented, hard working, and has been a captain before - he was the first ever European captain of his junior club, the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers. He is an excellent figurehead for the media as well because of his wit and humor.
Some may say that he's too young.  But the last two teams to name a player that was then the youngest in NHL history - Vincent Lecavalier in Tampa Bay and then Crosby in Pittsburgh, have won the Stanley Cup in the last decade.  A third, the Chicago Blackhawks, named 20 year-old Jonathan Toews their captain in 2008 before winning the Stanley Cup the next season.  Landeskog was the second overall pick in the draft, so it's not like he couldn't be as good as those players.  It's worked for them.

Alabama Takes Over Top Spot in AP Poll

The Alabama Crimson Tide have leapfrogged the Southern California Trojans in this week's college football AP Poll to the #1 position in the country.  The Tide, who embarrassed Michigan Saturday night on national television, were the #2 team in the nation to open the season but their domination of the Wolverines, who were ranked #8 entering the season, apparently changed the mind of the voters.  Alabama got excellent performances from quarterback AJ McCarron, running back TJ Yeldon, and their complex, pro-style defense on Saturday night in their 41-14 win.
The 2011 National Champions begin their home schedule with a game against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Saturday afternoon at Bryan-Denny Stadium.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Top 15 NFL Quarterbacks Heading In to 2012

As the NFL season draws nearer and nearer, now just a few days away, I've decided to help kick off this new blog of mine by doing top player lists for different positions in the NFL. We conclude at quarterback with a top 15.

15. Jay Cutler, Chicago - Cutler is supremely talented but has never turned in to the star that the Broncos thought they were getting when they drafted him in 2007.  The Vanterbilt product has a cannon arm and has used it to throw for 4,500 yards once in his career and at last 3,200 in every full season he has played. Unfortunately, he also throws a ton of interceptions, with a career 117-86 TD-INT ratio that is less than stellar.  He takes unnecessary risks and can get his team into trouble with bad decisions, but Cutler can still sling 'em with the best.
14. Philip Rivers, San Diego - Rivers, at one point arguably a top-10 statistical quarterback, took a nosedive last year with a below average season, especially in the interception department.  The 30 year old signal caller threw away 20 balls last season, by far a career high, and set four-year lows in touchdowns and completion percentage.  He still threw for 4,000 yards, as he has each of the last four campaigns, but the Chargers came up with another mediocre season.  Simply put, Rivers has to do it when it counts now.
13. Joe Flacco, Baltimore - I'm not wacko for Flacco, but I give him credit for putting up better than average numbers in a run-first offense.  Flacco has thrown for between 3,610 and 3,612 yards each of the last three seasons and has also had 20 or more touchdowns in each of the last three campaigns.  Flacco also wins games, never failing to make the playoffs and twice reaching the AFC Championship game.  Still, he has yet to win a ring and has not put up the game breaking or even significantly better than average numbers in any individual categories.  Can he with the Ravens?  I doubt it.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Manchester United 3:2 Southampton; RVP Hat Trick

Manchester United reached deep down into their barrel of magic Sunday morning/afternoon to steal a massive last-minute Premier League win away to Southampton.  New signing Robin van Persie, plucked from Arsenal a week before the season started, was sensational, scoring three goals for his first United hat trick and marking Sir Alex Ferguson's 1,000th League game in charge with a win and an exclamation point.
Saints were excellent for the first 60 minutes, taking the lead twice, with a van Persie strike in the middle equalizing for United before the home side drew ahead in the 55th minute.  United were energized by the introduction of Paul Scholes after Southampton's second goal, and built tempo and possession continuously until they were awarded a clear penalty when van Persie was hacked from behind. Inexplicably, however, the Dutchman's spot-kick was saved when he tried to chip the ball past the goalkeeper.
But because they are United, the 19-time English champions continued to build off of their pressure despite the miss and drew even when Javier Hernandez, seeing his first action of the season because of a Wayne Rooney injury, crossed inside to Rio Ferdinand.  Van Persie was there to clean up the garbage and level in the 87th minute.  United would get their winner five minutes later as their leading scorer rose to flick home a header with 92 minutes elapsed, capping a remarkable comeback and giving them crucial, crucial points.
On to the next one.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Football Season Starts Today

Image from Wikipedia Commons
I don't care what anyone says.  College football season doesn't start until Alabama plays their first game.
As you probably know, Alabama, the 2011 National Champions, lost about half of their #1 ranked defense in the first two rounds of the NFL draft in April.  They also lost running back Trent Richardson, a Heisman Trophy finalist, to the NFL as the Cleveland Browns took him with the 3rd overall pick.
And yet, the Tide enter their opening game against #8 Michigan as the #2 team in the country.  Why? Because Nick Saban is the baddest cat in all the land - probably the best recruiter in college football and arguably the best coach of all time.
Roll. Damn. Tide.