Thursday, June 30, 2011

On to Bulgria!

My Easyjet flight was to leave Gatwick at 0640; I had to get to the North Terminal, check my bag, and go thru security.  I expected this would be easy at 0400, but I was wrong.  When I got to the Easyjet check in line, there must have been 500 people in line!  Seems like there was a threatened public worker strike today, and everyone wanted to be the slowdown so they got to the airport early.  After waiting in line for awhile, Easyjet opened another dozen windows and the line began to shrink noticeable.  Within 40 minutes, I was thru and on my way to security. 

Security was a piece of cake; I practically walked right thru.  It was just a hassle taking the netbook, laptop, and K3 out of the carry-on baggage and then restowing it all.  Then on to breakfast and an hour or so of sitting.

I had forgotten that Easyjet doesn't have assigned seating (oh, so THAT'S why there was no seat on the boarding pass!), and they don't release the gate assignment until 0600 for a 0640 flight.  I got busy doing the morning Sudoku, and looked up to see it was already 0609 and the gate had been assigned for 10 minutes!  In a panic, I scooted to the far ends of the North Terminal (gate 105) and was one of the last dozen people to board the plane.  Needless to say, I was in a middle seat sandwiched between two large Bulgarians, neither of whom seemed to know much English.  Such is life.

We arrived in Sofia right on time, at Terminal number 1.  That was fine, except my ride was expecting me at Terminal 2, the new terminal.  While I was prepared to wait awhile as I had been told that two other ops were arriving after 1pm and the ride was going to bring all 3 of us down to Pirin, I was just about ready to call when he showed.  We hopped in the car and 100 miles later unloaded at the Pirin Golf Course and Resort.

Hey, this place is nice!  I have my own little condo, with television, phone, washing machine (!), and fridge.  After tidying up, I ventured out and found Krassy K1LZ.  He told me to be at the Clubhouse at 8pm for dinner, so having sat all day I decided to walk the 2/3 mile to get there.  The evening was beautiful; when I arrived there, I helped get the antenna installed and feedline run, and made the first QSO using LZ/W1UE with JY5HX.  I was all excited with working the JY, until I realized I was in the same CQ zone as he was!  JY isn't Dx from LZ.

Dinner was good, followed by a few beers. Its now just past midnight here, and my body is beginning to feel it.  Time to turn in and get ready for tomorrow.

Wednesday- Life is Good!

It was almost as good a day as Tuesday was bad.  Got up at 7AM, still baggage-less, but took advantage of the breakfast at the Hostel. Typical British food but it filled me up and the coffee was hot, then I was off to sightsee.
Made it to the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace (Christopher Robin went down with Alice, after all).  Also made Trafalgar Sq- with 4 lions to guard me, fountains and statues all over the place, and the Metropole staring me right in the face- and it was good enough for Nelson. 

What struck me most about London was the traffic.  They are hosting the 2012 Olympics in London; they couldn't do any infrastructure work until after the Royal Wedding, so it seems that every major street has some kind of construction project going on.  Many streets were closed off, and the streets that got the diverted traffic just couldn't handle it.  I think I'd like to go back to London some day, but not until after 2012.

I ended my sightseeing about 3pm, picked up my carry-on luggage from the Hostel, and proceeded out to Gatwick Airport.  First task was to check in at the Yotel there, and had a neat 8ft by 8ft room with private shower and TV right on the airport grounds.  Second order of business was to shake enough trees to get my missing luggage.  If I didn't come up with the luggage, it was going to be very difficult to put together a station for the Saturday competition.  A call to the baggage company, GBS, netted little other than "we're too busy to look at what's been sitting here all day".  I simply wasn't going to stop at that, so I went to the Information Desk.  They called Airport Service, who then called GBS; it was true Catch 22.  I couldn't go down and look thru the luggage they had because it was in a secure area, and no one would let me in.  Someone from GBS or Airport Service could escort me in, but they were both too busy.  So I remained without luggage.  The biggest positive of this go-around was that I could verify that my luggage was indeed there!  After waiting an hour and still not having the luggage brought up, I was told to go to the Airport Sky counter and ask them to contact GBS, so I did.  They called on the phone, and got the run-around for 20 minutes of phone tag.  GBS said they would bring the bag up "when they had time".  Finally, 2 hours 10 minutes after I first started trying, someone from GBS appeared, unannounced, with my bag.  Yippee!  With the baggage now in my possession, I got some dinner and settled in for the night at 8pm knowing that the 4AM wake-up call would come quick.

All in all, a good day.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Wednesday Plans

Woke up in the middle of the night, couldn't go back to sleep.  Pretty jet lagged right now.  Had a nice meal with Kazu JK3GAD/M0CFW and we talked about a wide range of subjects about and for radio contesting.  Tipped a few pints, also.  He'll be on in IARU as MJ0CFW, so will be looking for him.

What to do today?  Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, get some clothes, find my lost luggage.  That should do it.

More later.

Believe Me, I Couldn't Make This Up!

I always think of travel as an adventure; unexpected things crop up that can never be anticipated.  Boy, wasn't that ever right for this trip!

I got on the train in Southboro Ma at 1656, as scheduled.  The train made it one stop- to Ashland- and the locomotive stopped running.  I mean, it just quit.  An hour later, another train diverted and picked us up, but instead of being at Logan Airport at 1830 I got there at 1920.  Okay, the plane wasn't to leave until 2120, so I had plenty of time.  Wound my way thru security, then proceeded on to the gate.  I noticed a blinking light on the Departure display, so I stopped to check it out and noticed it was MY flight that was now DELAYED.  It wasn't going to leave until 2250, according to the board.  But that's okay, as I had a 2hr 25 min layover in Iceland anyway.  The layover would be shorter.  All part of the adventure.

The plane, however, didn't leave until 2336, 2hrs 16min late.  Now my layover was 9 min, which really can't be done.  I checked with the flight crew, though, and they assured me that the plane from Iceland to England would wait for me, as the pilots on our flight were going to be the pilots on the next flight.  Reassured, I relaxed, and thought it was all part of the adventure.

As I look outside the window I can see the approaching daylight.  The moon is just a sliver in the sky.  The turbulence we're going through isn't too bad.  I had no idea what time it was, as I didn't carry a watch.  I was still tired from FD this past weekend, but my mind was winning the battle that "its light out- time to get up!"
over my body saying "More sleep!  More sleep!"

We got to Iceland late, transferred planes and took off.  Very smooth, trouble free.  Walked right through passport control, right through customs.  Estimated arrival in Gatwick was now 1400 local, about an hour later than scheduled.  \Even the landing in a thunderstorm- with lightning and pouring rain- didn't faze me. See, its just an adventure!

I still had to go through Passport Control, and it was a breeze.  Then I went to the carousel to pick up my bag.  And waited.  And waited.  Finally, the bags stopped coming, and I and about 30 other people were still waiting.  30 other people that had all got on the plane in- uh oh- Boston.

We trekked over to the Baggage information area, pretty secure that we had made the connection in Iceland but our baggage didn't.  Of course, the airline didn't know anything about it, but we filled out our paperwork and eventually left.  The only thing I'm sure of is that the baggage wasn't there.

I eventually wound my way through Gatwick, and found where to buy the train ticket to Blackfriars.  When I bought the ticket, the clerk told me that, due to a lighting strike that took out the main Control Panel in the Central Dispatch, the trains were all running late.  Sure enough, an hour later I was still waiting for a train to Blackfriar Station. One finally did come, and I got to the Hostel at shortly past 1700 local.

Even though it was threatening another thunderstorm, I was able to walk the 3 blocks to the Hostel and didn't get wet.  It was the first time I really smiled today.

I still have my K3, USB level converter, and headphones that were packed in my carry-on; everything else I need for my station was in my checked luggage.  I sure hope it shows up tomorrow!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Departure Day!

Just a few hours from now, I'll be on my way!  Packing is about 40% done, although the list on what I'm packing has been done for several days.  I go to London first for 3 days, then on to Bulgaria on the 30th. 

My  K3 developed "ERR 12V" in the last 5 minutes of FD.  Manual says to see if there is a short on the Power Amp +12V line, and if there is the problem is in the Power Amp.  It also says to try resetting the PA circuit breaker, and see if that solves the problem.  Haven't looked at it yet, but I'm getting a bad feeling on it.  When I turn the K3 off, then on, then key it at the 50w level, I immediately hear a "click" inside the radio and the power scale on the display shows I'm back in QRP mode.  Since this is, in essence, a QRP contest, the K3 will still be usable at the QRP output level, so I'm taking it.  No other radio choice at this point.

Had fun at the Algonquin Amateur Radio Club Field Day this past weekend at the local EOC.  We entered as 4F, with 4 stations available.  Antennas are always somewhat of a compromise, but our setup this year resulted in absolutely NO interstation interference.  Late in FD, we even did a test to see if we could transmit RTTY and operate CW on 20M at the same time, and it actually worked.  Now, next year we'll have to try it for real during the contest.

Back to packing.  I have to be on the train at 4:45 to get to the airport for a 9:20pm flight.  Hope to work lots of you guys from LZ during the IARU in a couple of weeks.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday June 24- The Journey Nears

Just 3 days until I leave for Bulgaria.  Have finally gotten all the kinks out of the itinerary- looking forward to getting there.  I'm going from Boston to London on Monday, have a few days in the London area, then on to Sofia Bulgaria, and then to the Pirin Golf Course, on Thursday 6/30.  Not being much of an international traveler, it kind of makes my head spin.  Bulgaria is going to be completely alien to me; not only do I not speak the language, but I can't even read the alphabet!

I've been doing some research on Bulgarian food and, of course, Bulgarian drinks.  Some of it sounds less than exciting, but, what the hey!  When in Bulgaria, do as the Bulgarians do.  One thing for sure- its going to be a unique experience!

The LZ Field Open is also going to be a unique experience.  If you aren't familiar with it, their website is  Choose your language, then you can look at the rules, etc. having to do with it.  It looks like their goal of filling the 100 slots for competitors has been realized; a look at the competitor list shows ops from 16 countries on 4 continents will be there; US ops include K1ZM, K1LZ, W6OAT, K3LP, K1VR, and AI6V.  The rules are also slanted to provide a pretty level playing field: QRP stations, 80M only at 1100-1500 Local time, an impossible-to-guess, always changing exchange, no multipliers, and points awarded only if the exchange was copied correctly by both stations.  I understand that the Europeans have been doing things like this for some time, but this is the first time I've been involved with it.  My expectations are rather low, but I do have my game plan for the contest in place, now only need to execute it.