Friday, November 28, 2008


SIS people at Thanksgiving dinner

My dinner table/Pub trivia team

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
So yesterday was Turkey Day, and the first major holiday I've ever spent away from my family. I was slightly apprehensive of the idea to say the least but the transatlantic plane ride and no time off left me little choice in the matter. I decided to go to the International office's catered Thanksgiving dinner rather than try to cook my own after getting out of lab at 5 pm. I was pleasantly surprised to see about a dozen kids from the Sussex in September program when I arrived. I was so happy that I would at least be sitting and eating with people I knew before sitting down at the table.

The food couldn't compare with the feast I usually cook with my grandma but it was still pretty good. I was disappointed that we didn't have pumpkin pie. They served Pecan pie instead. One of the girls was telling me the only place they could find canned pumpkin to make a pie was in the exotic foods section of Whole Foods in London. I never would have thought of pumpkin as an exotic food before.

After dinner, they had a trivia contest. Lucky for us most of the trivia was about American movies, music, and history, otherwise we would have done horribly. As it was we did really poorly on the music section. We did manage to identify 20 presidents from pictures. I was really impressed by how well we did on that one. In the end, my team had the highest score so we each got a box of Lindt truffles. It was a lot of fun. I'm so glad I was able to spend time sitting around the table with friends. Coming from a family that lives 'round the kitchen table, I was really starting to miss that part of my life and was dreading spending most of Thanksgiving night in my room trying to do homework. Luckily that wasn't the scenario that played out and I had a very different but still enjoyable Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An Old Friend and the RPO

It occurred to me today that this term is really almost over and I should probably put some more effort into learning my course material since I won't have much contact with it for the next six months or so until the final. Then I bought my eurail pass for my trip with Leanna and all motivation went bye-bye. I have a lot of fun things mixed in with school for these last few weeks and it's going to be difficult to keep the fun from completely overshadowing the work.

Last Saturday I met up with my friend Peggy in London. She is studying at the University of Greenwich this term. Back in the States we live maybe 10 minutes away from each other but for one reason or another we haven't seen each other since about when we graduated from high school some two and a half years ago. We spent some time poking around Camden Town, a marketplace just north of the city center. We also went to the British Museum and then went Christmas decoration hunting. Oxford Street has the beginning of what will be incredible decorations. While hunting for dinner we came across a Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. It was very picturesque with fairy lights, food and crafts stalls, an ice rink, and a few rides. The hour we spent wandering amongst the stalls put me in such a holiday mood I forgot that Christmas was over a month away. Hopefully Peggy can make it down to Brighton before she goes back to the States so she can see me corner of the country.

Last night I went to see the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The music was phenomenal. I didn't realize that the concert was a performance of choral pieces so I was surprised to see the chorus file in. I was a little skeptical about how much I'd enjoy the choral music since it was the orchestra that I really wanted to hear. I was pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed how the two complimented each other. The hall was also awe-inspiring. It was so huge that the full-sized pipe organ actually looked small in comparison. On the way to and from the performance I saw flyers for The Nutcracker Ballet. I was really hoping I'd be able to be but closer inspection revealed that I'll be on mainland Europe when the tours come to Brighton and London. Oh well. These last few weeks before my trip will be a whirlwind without adding the Ballet into the mix.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Day 74

Today is the 74th day of of my time abroad which means that one quarter of it has passed already. With the holidays coming and the end of the semester near, I find myself wishing these next few weeks would hurry up already! It feels like I've been here forever and for no time at all. I tried dozens of new things, gone places on a whim that I had only ever dreamed of going previously, and met scores of interesting people. I've taken enough pictures to develop a serious scrapbooking addiction and probably will. It's really impossible to truly explain what this experience has been like for me. It has it's ups and downs but ups have definitely outweighed the downs. These adventures will stay with me for the rest of my life and I'm very lucky to be here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Punts on the River Cam

Street view of Kings' College

Shopping Area where we had lunch

Part of St. John's College

River view of Trinity College

Yesterday I went to Cambridge with the International School. Cambridge is really the ultimate college city in that it has 31 colleges and some 18,000 students. The University of Cambridge is actually made up of all the independent colleges in Cambridge instead of one massive university. Very interesting concept for someone who is used to campus-colleges. I think every block we walked had at least one building devoted to higher education on it. The first thing we did was go on a walking tour of the city. Our tour guide was this batty little old English lady. She was very amusing and knew a lot about the city. She was just a little....odd as well and pretty anti-Oxford (although I guess there's a pretty stiff rivalry between Cambridge and Oxford). She definitely took my tour into the plainly marked "no visitors" section of Trinity College. We weren't complaining but it was a little different than the 'by the book' tours we're used to getting. As we toured the colleges we saw probably half a dozen plaques commemorating breakthrough scientific discoveries. It's easy to forget that all of those discoveries actually had to take place at a place before they could go in a textbook. It was still a little weird to stand next to buildings where J.J. Thompson, Isaac Newton, and some many others worked and sculpted modern science. Cambridge University has some 83 Nobel prizes associated with it; 31 of which are from Trinity College. After the tour, some of the other girls from the September program and myself went to get some lunch. We went to a little cafe with a lunch special to grab something warm to eat. I ordered a chicken and mayo sandwich and the homemade soup. The soup was very good and the sandwich was infinitely better when dunked in the soup. The description said char-grilled chicken so I thought the chicken would at least be hot. No such luck. I'm still adjusting to some of these sandwich ideas.

After lunch we wandered around a couple markets and the University of Cambridge shop. The outdoor markets we wandered through were pretty cool. The first one had a lot of clothes and food and the second one was all handmade crafts. There was one vendor in the craft market who made jewelry out of recycled metal such as spoons, forks, and coins. He was using a coping saw to make new pieces while sitting at his booth. It was very cool.

One of the last things we did in Cambridge was go punting. A punt is a long flat boat that is very close to the water. The punter uses a long pole, gondola-style, to propel and steer the boat. We went of the River Cam and got to see The Backs or the backs of several of the more famous colleges in Cambridge. The Backs are also supposed to be some of the betters views in the city. There are also several moderately famous bridges associated with the colleges that cross the River Cam, so we got to see those too. The sun was just starting to set when we went on our punting tour so we had a beautiful autumn dusk as the backdrop for many of our photos. I've really been lucky as very as weather goes in my travels, and have the pictures to prove. I hope it keeps up. *knocks on wood* After the tour, we had to make a pit stop at Caffe Nero, Tim Horton-esque chain, before going back to the bus to get something to fight off the chill we picked up from being on the water. This trip was really impressive, not because to the arichtecture, or cultural, or food, but because of all the scientific discoveries, which have directly affected my education, that happened in buildings right off the streets we walked on.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Warwick Castle and the Cotswolds


Today I figured out why people go on about the English countryside. Up until now I haven't gone into the countryside very much, and when I did it certainly was not quite as beautiful as the countryside I saw today. We had to leave at around 8:00 in the morning and I ended up falling asleep on the coach to our first destination so I missed the first leg of our scenic drive through "The Cotswolds." The fist stop on our trip was Bourton-on-the-Water, picturesque village known as 'the Venice of the Cotswolds.' It's called that because of the shallow river that runs through the center of the village and footbridges that cross it. Most of the buildings in the town center were stone and looked like they could have been built centuries ago. The streets are lined with small shops and boutiques which goes to show how many tourists actually come to the village. We were only there for an hour but I couldn't have spent much longer just sitting on bench with a cup of tea watching the ducks with the autumn leaves all around me.

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle reminded me of a castle you would see in the movies. You walk through a small wooded area and then *BAM* giant castle complete with moat right in front of you. Warwick wasn't the biggest castle I've been to but it was definitely one of the better kept castles. From one side of the castle retaining wall you looked out over the countryside and from the other side out over the village of Warwick. I prefered the countryside because it was easier to think by 1068 when William the Conquerer built it. The castle is right next to the river Avon and the view of the castle grounds with the river running through them was awesome. After spending most of the day surrounded by goregous scenry, the Great Hall and state rooms of the castle were not as impressive as they may have been another day. The Great Hall had maybe half a dozen sets of armor and a collection of swords on display. I still have a hard time picturing people actually wearing suits of armor. It really doesn't look like you could move in it; let alone ride a horse or fight. One of the state rooms had mannequins of Henry VIII and his many wives. I found that exhibit rather amusing just because they portrayed Henry VIII as being about as fat as he was a jerk.

Without a doubt, my favorite part of this trip was spending all day outside in the beautfil autumn weather. Driving through the farmland on our way from Bourton-on-the-Water to Warwick reminded me of driving through Livingston County in late October. I'm really glad I was able to get out and spend some time surrounded by natural beauty before the dreary English winter sets in.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bonfire Night (Lewes, England)

Starting the night at The Rainbow
A Bonfire Society during a procession

Guy Fawkes effigy
South Street Bonfire Society fire site

"Remember, remember the 5th of November..."
Thanks to V for Vendetta, American society has been exposed to the story of the Gunpowder Treason and Guy Fawkes. The Bonfire Night that I went to in Lewes is one of the largest celebrations in England and could only be described by putting Halloween, Fourth of July, and Marti Gras in a blender and leaving it on high for a while and then adding the English love of fire and booze. We left Sussex just before 4pm in order to get to Lewes before the crowds completely took over the city. We arrived about an hour and a half before the festivities started. Just in time to watch the shop keepers put plywood over their store windows and have the pubs move all of their tables out of the main rooms. Food choices had already been reduced to take out and fast food carts.

Somehow our initial group of eight people from the September program was able to get a small rickety table in a pub called "The Rainbow," which became headquarters for everyone to meet. Over the next half hour our group grew from eight to over 20 people. The combination of cheap food and moderately cheap drinks probably contributed to why we stayed at the pub so much longer than we had planned. I had my first boiled hot dog in over a year. Unfortunately it couldn't compare with the hot dog vendor from Boston Commons, but it was a decent attempt.

Once the processions started our massive group fractured into slightly more manageable sections. Bonfire Night Processions are made up of groups called Bonfire Societies that dress up in certain costumes/uniforms and parade through the streets of Lewes, with torches, floats, effigies and firecrackers, before going to their fire sites. At the fire sites, they have giant bonfires and firework displays. I went to the South Street fire site and their bonfire must have been made up of at least fifty pallets and looked like it could be a small house at first glance just because it was so huge. I was actually really excited to see a substantial fire because it had started to rain. I was able to dry off or at least warm up a little from a mere 30 feet away from the flames.
Guy Fawkes was part of a group of Catholic dissenters, so Bonfire Night is traditionally an anti-papal event. Bonfire Societies carry flaming crosses in processions, and a "non-descript" pope joins Guy Fawkes as popular effigies. I'm not entirely sure if these are legitimate anti-Catholic actions, or resurrections of old practices that have lost their meaning. Rumor has it that there was an effigy of Sarah Palin somewhere north of here so they may not have completely lost their meaning. Whether or not you honor the political past of Bonfire Night, the dominating attitude of the night is "Let's get drunk and burn stuff/light fireworks." Which is exactly was people where doing. Once the processions started, at 6pm, every pub was packed and people on the streets were downing cans of beer and cider, and cups of who knows what else. If two minutes past without a firecracker going off, at least two were immediately set off just because things were getting to quiet. It's impossible to accurately describe the insanity of the streets of Lewes.

Getting home was another adventure in itself. I had gone to an early fire site so I decided to leave around 9:30pm since I had seen everything I had wanted to see, it was raining harder, and they were predict queues for the train. We joined the queue at 9:30 and didn't make it onto a train until almost 10:30 and all the while the queue was getting longer. The rain was the worst part of waiting, but I was back in my nice, dry flat before 11pm after only an hour of waiting so I guess I was better off than the people in queue behind me.

For anyone interested in how the English are reacting to the election results: The vast majority of people that I've talked to are thrilled with Obama/no Palin. General outlooks towards the States have definitely become more pleasant. The next largest group are the people who don't understand US politics/don't care. I guess some of my fellow September term participants had a job explaining red and blue states, the difference in the democrat and republican parties, and the electoral college to some people at the on-campus pub Tuesday night. I think I've spoken to a total of three Brits who really wanted McCain to win which is something like 15-20% of the British people I hang out with regularly. After talking to other people from the September Program, it sounds like I've met an usually high precentage of British McCain supporters. The bottom line is that a big majority of Brits like Obama.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hallowe'en UK Style

Halloween, or Hallowe'en as is spelt over on this side of the Atlanitc, was a lot of fun but nowhere near as exciting as it is in the States. Stores had already moved on the Christmas except for an aisle cap with some meager Halloween decorations and nothing to compare to Wal-marts Halloween candy/costume aisle. In fact, it took some searching and luck to get the costume I ended up wearing and even then it was not very good compared to what I usually would put together. I borrowed a purple wig and sought out a witch's hat, and paired with a skirt and tights to get a sort of teen witch costume. I made sure I got my Halloween candy, although I was very disappointed that I couldn't find three musketeer bars or reese's peanut butter cups.

I went on a pub crawl with the Chem society people on Halloween night. I had a lot of fun hanging out with everyone. I was surprised that the people we saw in the pubs really weren't that dressed up and the pubs themselves weren't that into the Halloween mood either. Some had spider webs up and I think one had drink specials but that was about it. The houses around town generally didn't have any decorations out either. The night was still a lot of fun regardless of decorations or costumes.