No one woke me up when September ended!

But seriously, that Green Day song has been the bane of my birthday for YEARS now. Oddly enough, no one mentioned it this year. This was finally the year I was allowed to sleep through September ending. Wild. So, what’s been happening?

Well, for starters we have a new and furry family member in our house! Her name is Ophelia and she’s the prettiest kitty in Colchester. (Significant Otter will argue the prettiest ever.) She spent the first week in our house hiding behind the sofa, and the next two only hanging out with us when we were sitting. Nowadays, she goes where she pleases and loves hanging out with us. This does lead to some comedic moments, like this morning when she accidentally fell in the laundry basket and nearly destroyed it getting out. However, she came out unscathed and came to purr on M’s legs whilst he tried to sleep a little longer.

I’ve also been on a bit of a museum binge (Surprising, I know.) recently and been to some new ones. My colleague managed to score some tickets to the Bart’s Pathology Museum, which is only open a few times a year. It’s a room filled with jars of human bits and skeletal remains. Basically, it’s disgusting and fascinating in the same go, and each jar has a little blurb of information on it, so you could easily spend a lot longer than your allocated hour there. It was originally used by the university as a teaching collection, but now the room is only ever used for exams. M says he’s sat some there and was wholly unimpressed. I loved it. Unsurprisingly, they don’t let you take close up photos of the specimens, but you can take room-wide shots. The room itself is cool just for its architecture.

Next was a staff field trip to our satellite museum in Tring. Someone described it to us before going as a Dead Zoo, and that’s actually a pretty apt description. Not in a terrible way, but I wouldn’t go if you have issues with taxidermy. It’s a small museum, but absolutely stuffed to the gills with specimens, and really helpful and friendly staff. Tring is a bit out of the way, but it’s definitely worth a stop. We got a fascinating backstage tour of the collections, and saw more eggs and bird remains in one room than I’ve probably ever seen alive in one area. They’ve got one of the best and most diverse collections for each, so if you’re researching birds, you’ll likely end up in the little town of Tring.

After a museum binge, I had two different work trips through September. First was the ToScA 2017 meeting, in which I had to give a talk on my work with the blue whale. It was only slightly terrifying, and I think it ended up okay. Over the three days, I met a load of interesting new people, learned some new tips and tricks in the tomography world, heard some cool new work going on, and got to have dinner on the HMS Warrior – the first ironclad ship built in 1860!

Towards the end of the month, I got to fly on one of the few uncanceled RyanAir flights up to Edinburgh to attend a Standing Up for Science workshop. While there, I learned all about working with the media as a scientist and how best to get work across to someone who will inherently not know what the topic is on. It was a really handy course, and I met even more cool people in varied fields with some fascinating works. It was a good month for meeting people! Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to wander Edinburgh as I’d hoped, and was on the last flight of the evening home for a weekend with the family.

Towards the end of September of course, is my birthday! I was working late on the actual day, but the Saturday morning M and I had a nice lie in and then wandered over to the nearby village of Coggeshall. It was such a cool place, with over 300 listed buildings and two National Trust sites. I spent the day blissfully looking at old things, and my beloved M came along for the ride, enjoying a scone with me in the garden of the Paycocke’s House and a pint of beer at the medieval pubs I had earmarked. We ended the adventures with dinner at one of the pubs, which had a steak so good that I think we would both gladly go back the 13 miles to have it again. The weather behaved, my gifts from everyone were fabulous, and it was all in all a really good day.

Sunday morning began October, and with it my Sober October challenge. I’ve signed up to be sober for the entire month in order to raise money for the cancer support charity Macmillan. It’s a great cause and a good reason to give up alcohol for the month. I suspect by the end of it I will be a bit healthier and Macmillan will have a bit more to put towards helping people whilst they fight cancer. I’ll be taking donations all month, alongside of sorry looking photos of me in pubs with friends and a soft drink in my hand, so if you feel charitable, donate a pint’s worth to the cause. ūüôā

And most recently, there was the car wreck outside of the Natural History Museum that had everyone in a tizzy. Turned out to be just a really bad taxi driver, and nobody had serious injuries. I wasn’t even at work when it happened as it was on a Saturday, and got woken up from a nap with my phone blowing up to ask if I’m okay. Grumpy yes, but okay. Honestly though, don’t let these things put you off coming to London. It’s a wild city with so much to offer. And if you want to see us here at the NHM, we’ve still got the Whales exhibition open where you can stand next to a flipper for a sense of perspective – and the ice rink will be opening soon!

All in all, it’s turning into a fine autumnal season. I’m looking forward to seeing what October will hold. ūüôā

 

— Kate

April weather means friends flock together.

Or something like that. Over the last few weeks of March and the beginning of April, it seems the stars all aligned and everyone was able to meet up. And so meet up we did.

First and most far flung award goes to the lovely D, all the way from California! She and I met and became fast friends during our course at the University of Leicester, but sadly she had to go back to America at the end of the year. She’d come back for a week to see friends in both England and Wales, and we were graced with her presence for a few of those days. She swears we only let her stay because she brings us American junk food, but she’s welcome even without the Ranch dressing packets. ūüôā I can’t wait until we get to meet up again next – and hopefully it’ll be because she finally got a museum job here!

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Truly a fashion statement.

Next up we had the kitty couple from Leeds only a few days after D had to leave us for Gatwick. Sadly, the kitties were not in tow with them, but it was still a great weekend out. The sun even made a glorious appearance on Saturday, which was well received regardless of the temperature. Ended up going bowling, which I couldn’t even tell you when I did last! Thankfully, they seemed to know I was coming and had the gutter guards up on our lane. I still managed to lose spectacularly in both rounds. It was all good fun though, and you sure can’t beat those shoes.

To round out our meet ups to a respectable triad over the period, we were back up in Colchester to see M’s old friend Dr¬†and Mrs¬†Anaesthetist and their baby, who is quite possibly the cutest child in Colchester. They were currently working on making the back garden a nice English landscape and not the muddy war zone it looked like when they first moved in. The trellis is nearly complete and it looks like grass will be coming in soon. I imagine it will be more than summer ready soon enough.

Speaking of summer ready, we also did some lurking to see how our house is turning out. We couldn’t see much as they’ve done extensive building on the houses in front of it and the security panelling is still up, but it looked to be coming along nicely. The good Doctor later managed to capture a photo through his walk in the nearby woods, and it looks like everything is right on time. So excited!

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Photo courtesy of Dr Anaesthetist and his ability to find loopholes to the building site rules.

 

The good times can never last forever though, and the significant otter and were quickly back in the daily grind, with the poor thing having to work a weekend on top of it! Of course this meant that Saturday was glorious for having a BBQ. Alas! But hey, we have nice weather and the house is still on time. Can’t ask for too much right? ūüôā

 

— Kate

Trip to Milan (Autumn 2016)

Shortly after moving in, we got word from my parents that Dad had a conference in Milan the week of my birthday and that Mom was thinking about going along too so she could visit Italy. We did some quick research and found that flights from London to Milan are relatively cheap, so booked it up and planned to meet up with them at the end of September! Time flew past and soon we were through customs, off the train, and walking into central Milan.

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Our base camp for the next few days.

The bit of the city we were in was relatively modern, but there was a wide array of history to be found in Milan during the week. M and I had arrived a day before Mom and Dad, so we had a little tour around the centre of the city to see what there was to see – without visiting all the touristy bits we knew Mom and Dad would want to come along to as well. We stumbled upon a statue of Leonardo da Vinci, whose famous Last Supper painting is in Milan. (We regretfully didn’t book tickets far enough in advance to see it. ūüė¶ ) We also had a nice wander through the massive¬†Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is one of the oldest shopping malls in the world. It’s named after the first king of the Kingdom of Italy and was built 1865 – 1877. It’s still actively in use today for the same purposes.

M and I called it a quiet night with just the two of us and waited to catch up with the parentals. The next day we went hunting for history with Mom (Dad was at his conference) and found a rather macabre church nearby that of COURSE we had to go see – the San Bernardino alle Ossa. The church itself is standard Catholic beauty, but the small side chapel is a whole other ball park. The chapel was originally built as an ossuary in 1210 when the nearby cemetery ran out of space. A church was attached in 1269, but the bones were left be until 1679 when it was transformed into a chapel and the bones collected over the years were used as decor in the Roccoco style. You have to ask to be taken to the chapel, but it is still open to visitors today.

From there we thought it might be best to take a trip back to the living, so we headed out for lunch and then left M at the hotel so Mom and I could check out our very first cat cafe. It was all you could hope for and more! The cats were all very sociable and we had little furry friends hanging out on the sofa with us as we drank tea and split a slice of cake. The staff have to give you a warning not to feed the kitties, but that was easy enough. Man, if I had a cat cafe within easy reach of me, I would definitely be there all the time. So much fun!

 

We spent the evening back in the¬†Milano Navigli district where Mom and Dad were staying and all met back up for dinner at a Texas themed rib joint. (Hey, why not?) After dinner, we strolled around the canals and had a nice night outdoors. It’s a really trendy part of the city, and a great place to go in the evenings – though very popular, so book ahead.

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Bright and early the next morning, we dashed across town via the Metro system and made it to the train station just in time to catch a train to Switzerland. We’d heard Lugano was just as lovely as Lake Como and only half as busy, and Mom thought it’d be fun to check two countries off her list in one trip – so off we went! Mom and I were rather disappointed that they didn’t bother to check passports, as it meant no new stamps for us.

Still, Lugano proved to be exactly as gorgeous as everyone said it would be, and very quiet.

 

We mosey’ed about for the afternoon, had lunch, and then climbed back up the side of the foothills to the train station to go back to Milan. Went out for dinner, then got the parents into an intense round of Pandemic back at their hotel. If you haven’t played this board game, you really should give it a try. You can play with 2-4 people, so it’s great for couples or groups. There’s also a ton of expansion packs, so you always have something new to add to it. For this round though, we just went with the original so we could teach everyone. It was a good night. ūüôā

The next day was my birthday, and a day Dad had off from the conference, so we went out to do all the touristy bits in the city that we’d been wanting to see. It wasn’t even breakfast before I was dragging people to look at some Renaissance era buildings that we walked past.

The big deal for the day though had to be the Duomo, or Milan Cathedral. This building took nearly 600 years to complete and is the largest church in Italy. The roof is open to tourists and allows a close up view of some of the beautiful architecture that would otherwise go unnoticed at such great heights. The view of the city at the top is nearly as breathtaking as the building itself.

 

Inside is a world of history. The construction began in 1386 with the demolition of older buildings on the site. Construction began quickly and already famous artwork was created for the site, including the tomb of Pope Martin V in 1424. In the 16th century the building was still not completed, but the Spanish domination of Milan put it to a standstill and made the cathedral usable in most respects. The next major works did not begin again until the 17th century. Due to this, the cathedral contains a wide array of styles bridging through the time periods. The cathedral was finally declared completed in 1965, even though there are still some uncarved blocked that are meant to be statues. Regardless, this is an impressive building, and it even contains the remains of not only a saint, but reputedly one of the Holy Nails from the Crucifixion of Christ.

The cathedral is not only the centre of Milan now, but apparently is on the spot of the centre of the Roman Mediolanum. A paleo-Christian basilica was discovered underneath the foundations of the current building that date to 355. You can still see and even walk into the remnants of the old octagonal baptistery.

Feet utterly aching from walking for hours, we took a breather and then all regrouped for birthday dinner at this hole in the wall place that looked authentic as all get out and proved to be utterly delicious. Let me spare you talking about all the food we had during this trip and just give it to you all at once. Good lord, I think I gained ten pounds, but it was all so good!

The morning dawned, and we were on our last day. Determined to go find something Roman whilst in Italy, I then dragged my beloved family across town to go look at the Roman Museum and nearby amphitheatre remains. Got my Roman fix, and got some bonus Etruscan artefacts in there as well. Score!

With that, M and I had to head out before Mom and Dad did, so we all got in a ton of hugs and parted ways towards the airport. It was such a great trip being able to catch up with my family and see some history on the side! We flew back to the UK, which was significantly cooler than the Milan we left. We were coming through customs and I told the guard how glad I was to be home, with which his response was a gloriously sarcastic, “Well you say that now.”

Never change Britain.

 

— Kate

Essay Week

Blood, sweat and tears have been spilled, but the word count has been reached and the grammar has been checked. The module one essay was turned in Monday morning and I’ve been trying to recover since. Have finally gotten to the tail end of whatever gunk I caught, just in time to start a new module. The lesson learned from this? I should never, ever become an ethicist. If it’s not practical and real world work, I’m out of my element.¬†Needless to say, it’s not been an exciting week of traipsing the English countryside for me, though if the weather isn’t too miserable I may go check out Abbey Park this weekend. The Weather Channel is predicting only a 20% chance of rain Saturday, but trusting the weather forecast here that far in advance is lunacy.

Aaaaanyway… I was lame and did not go out for Bonfire Night. Instead I wrote on my essay and watched fireworks in the distance from my flat whilst hacking up a lung and going through obscene amounts of camomile tea. Actually, I watched fireworks go off for the next 3 nights after and got the most spectacular text from it:

I mean, I feel it'd be a reasonable excuse.
I mean, I feel it’d be a reasonable excuse.

For most of the week it was some variation on this grumbling, but somehow between the frantic bouts of inspirations and the frequent breaks for Buzzfeed articles a miracle happened and a paper appeared. From this point I’m just choosing to not think about it any more and start focusing on the next looming deadline – presentations.

Back home, it seems that my parents have gotten SNOW already, and tonight the weather is threatening -20 to -40 F with the Arctic chill sweeping through the North American continent. I will take drizzle any day over that, thank you very much. In fact, I’ve¬†gotten to the point of walking outside without a jacket when the sky is grey because “it doesn’t smell like rain outside” and it’s accurate. I’m impressed with myself.

Oh! Speaking of dying, I got to visit a real-live NHS doctor’s office this week. Was actually just for the routine check up I booked before coming down with plague, but that’s life for you. Of course, this is only one clinic in one city, but I was really impressed with the service. At the front desk I signed in through a touch screen that told how many patients were ahead of me and then sat down in the waiting room. In the room was a scrolling marquee that would chime whenever a patient was¬†to be seen with their name and the room they should go to on the screen. When it came to my name, I walked to the room and was greeted by a friendly nurse who took my vitals and asked what I needed to be seen for. She updated my prescription and even helped me out with it because there’s no direct version of it here in the UK. (Definitely check your medicines before studying abroad for this!) ¬†It felt really weird just walking out of the building after without talking to the front desk about billing. It felt even weirder filling the prescription. It literally consisted of me handing over the paper, the pharmacist finding the pills and putting the data in the computer, then handing them to me. No insurance fuss, no dread over what the final bill was going to be. Granted, I didn’t have to pay for my medicine in this case, but not all medicine in the UK is free. It’s a complicated system, but it’s still much clearer and less dread-inducing than medicine in the US.

Otherwise I’ve been more resident than tourist, so I tried to get a few photos of just everyday things around town that stood out in one way or another. Some of the things that get me the most are the food products. Sometimes the food is exactly the same as in the US, sometimes it’s arbitrarily renamed, and sometimes you’ll find something completely unique. I’ve learned to not go into the shops for groceries with any preconceptions.

I’ve also been really missing my fuzzball kitty and I’ve been told he misses me, though it seems Mom and Dad have been excellent cat keepers thus far as he’s snoozing behind their heads on the couch in the evenings. It made me sadder to see this poster on a street coming home, but it gave¬†me some faith in humanity to see what people had added.

Lost Cat Poster

My kitty, safe with the parentals, looking surly as usual.
My kitty, safe with the parentals, looking surly as usual.

And to end this fascinating blog update, there was this weirdness I ran into today walking to the Fees Office on campus and laughed harder at than I probably should have. There were no gardeners in sight and though overcast it wasn’t raining. However, it looked like someone just kinda thought, “Meh, this is good enough for now,” and just walked away from it. Maybe it’s just the adjustment of living with what feels like a ‘meh’ mentality here from most people, but I found it hilarious. I dunno.

"Meh, this is good enough for now."

I guess if I’m laughing at a lone lawnmower it’s probably time for me to get some sleep. Hope all is well where you are, and I hope to write again this weekend!

— Kate

Onward!

I am getting into the week of Lasts. Of course there’s the big obvious ones like¬†Last Time to See Friends and¬†Family,¬†Last Chance to Find Something Important I Need, or¬†Last Experiences in America. However, there¬†are also the little ones like¬†Last Laundry Day, Last Night of Cat Purring on My Head,¬†or¬†Last Time Just¬†Sitting in the Living Room with Family¬†that seem to make me even more emotional. The big things you can¬†mentally prep for – it’s the little things that will get you unexpectedly.

It felt kinda weird hanging out and saying goodbye to everyone over the last week because I wasn’t bursting¬†into tears when we hugged, but it’s slowly starting to creep in. I think some of it is also because even though¬†I won’t¬†see¬†everyone again in person for some time, I’ll still be very much in contact with them. Moving across the country¬†four years ago helped with this process immensely. In my last major undertaking I¬†moved thousands of miles to a place where I knew no one and definitely suffered some culture shock.¬†With the last move I didn’t want to particularly be there, but I wasn’t ready to stay alone in the old state at the time¬†and I knew it. However, I’ve since made lifelong friends, grew up a lot emotionally, and had opportunities I¬†would never have gotten back east. I also got the chance to learn who my real friends were back east very¬†quickly, unlike some folks who go years until they realize that they were only ever school friends and not so¬†much in the real world.

With this round, some of the challenges will be the same – thousands of miles away, new school/town, and¬†some culture shock. However, I have distance tested friends in the States, in England, and a good amount spread across Europe and Asia that I know¬†will always be there. I’ve also had some help in acculturation beforehand, and have a great desire to be there and make the¬†absolute best of it. There may be a lot of yes’s and not as much sleep and I may not see much of my flat, but¬†if this isn’t a jolt to go out and enjoy life without hesitation or fear, then what is the point of going out so far on my¬†own? I am both sad and happy, scared and excited, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. ūüôā

— Kate