Touring Cambridge (Spring 2016)

In what is perhaps a running theme, M had a conference to go to and I’d not seen Cambridge, so I went along. The train out from Norwich was not overly remarkable, and the train station into Cambridge lets you out into a fairly modern bit of town. So far, I was not seeing the magic that everyone says is Cambridge. We dropped our bags off at the hotel and split up, and it was from there that I began to get a better idea of what people meant. My goal for the day was the Fitzwilliam Museum that I had heard so much about. On the way, I ran into a house that Darwin used to live in that seemed to merit a blue badge?

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For an entire year!

After a short bout of confusion and getting lost – a standard feature of leaving me alone in a city – I did find the museum. The Fitzwilliam is a stunning piece of architecture in the centre of Cambridge founded by the 7th Viscount FitzWilliam in 1816 and built in 1848. For such a magnificent looking building, they only receive about 470,000 visitors a year. I suppose you really go to London to see most artwork and history, but still. There is a lovely collection of Greco-Roman and Egyptian artefacts, so I was all on it. The museum also hit the news back in 2006 when 3 priceless porcelain vases in a window were accidentally destroyed by a tourist when he tripped and fell into them. The public at large thought that repairing them would be impossible, but after a year of painstaking work from the conservators at the museum, they were able to repair and restore the vases. Unsurprisingly, they are no longer housed in an open windowsill.

After my wander around the museum, my favourite human and I met back up and then headed out for dinner at the famous Eagle pub in town. It is one of the larger pubs in Cambridge and has been on site since 1667. In the back of the pub there is a bar with graffiti from WWII airmen covering the ceilings and walls, earning it the nickname of the RAF bar. Whilst this is pretty cool on its own, the most recent claim to fame goes back to the 28 February 1953. It was in The Eagle at lunchtime that day that Francis Crick and James Watson announced that they had discovered the structure of DNA. The pub serves a special ale in honour of this occasion, called Eagle’s DNA. When we went, they were in full dinner swing and we were absolutely stuffed into a corner table to manage a seat for food. It was really good fun though, and I’d definitely recommend popping by if you’re in the area sometime.

The next day we decided to have a wander around central Cambridge together and see all the famous colleges. Honestly, they truly are stunning. However, you cannot stop very long to take a photo before you are quickly swarmed by salespeople trying to sell you tours of the city or punting journeys on the river. It really does ruin the moment a bit, but unless you’re in the mood to constantly be barking “no” at someone, there’s not much you can do but snap a quick picture and scurry along.

All in all, I can see why people come to visit Cambridge, but I’m glad we only stayed 2 days. Unless you have business there, you’ll find you can see all the touristy bits pretty quickly. I’d definitely go back though, as there were a few more museums I didn’t get time to see. Maybe this year!

 

— Kate

 

Christmastime in Kensington (Winter 2015)

So at this time I wasn’t working and the significant otter was due at a multi-day conference in London. It therefore stood to reason that if he was going to need to rent a hotel room for a night that I might as well come crash and have a wander whilst he was at work. He was centred around Westminster, but we ended up finding a nice place near Kensington, so I took it as a sign to go see a few of the things I’d been meaning to there.

I decided to try and skip the crowds and go to Kensington Palace first. Had a brisk walk across Kensington Gardens and right to the building itself. I have to be honest, it doesn’t look particularly palatial to me, but nice enough. Pretty majestic statue of Queen Victoria near the entrance to be certain.

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Kensington Palace may best be known for Queen Victoria, as she spent most of her childhood in it under a strict regime put in place by her mother. Though they’ve turned it into a beautiful museum area based on her entire lifetime, it was said that Victoria never really went back to the palace after she became queen. Regardless, it’s highly recommended to see if you’re a Victoria fan, especially after the recent show Victoria has aired. It’s a very intimate look at her personal and regal lives. I regret that I don’t have many photos from the exhibit, but they’ve got a lot of dark lighting for conservation purposes. Plus I was really just enjoying the experience of it all.

Of course, the palace wasn’t just built for Victoria. It was originally merely a Jacobean mansion built in the early 17th century by the First Earl of Nottingham and thusly called Nottingham House. It was when the joint monarchs William and Mary began to look for a healthier location to live for the unwell William that it was purchased and transformed into Kensington Palace. Sir Christopher Wren (the same architect who designed and built St Paul’s Cathedral) was put in charge of its expansion. In order to save on money and time, he kept the original mansion unchanged and added pavilion extensions at each of the corners. For the next 70 years, Kensington Palace was the favourite palace of residence for British monarchy. However, King George II allowed the palace to fall into disrepair after the death of his wife. After his death, the ascending King George III left the palace and it was only used for minor royalty after.

Next of course, were the Kensington Gardens. I had darted through them earlier through a chilly fog, but it has since lifted and exposed a lovely winter scene. Closer to the palace is the Sunken Garden, which was actually only planted in 1908. It was modelled on a similar garden at Hampton Court Palace downriver and follows 18th century ideals of gardening.

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Next was a walk through the wider gardens. Being December, the flowers were all gone, but it has a mystical feel about it, which is something to be admired in a garden in the centre of London. Be brave with any snacks you might eat here though, as the squirrels are so fearless that they have signs warning you of them. They’ll walk right up to you. This is a more recent phenomena, as through the Palace’s heyday the gardens were closed to the public except for Saturdays. Even then, only the ‘respectably dressed’ could come in. If you walk the gardens now, I can assure you that this is no longer enforced. Regardless of dress code, Kensington Gardens are well worth an afternoon stroll and you’ll have plenty of room to do so with over 240 acres! It was originally part of Hyde Park and is still right next to it, so one can easily cross between the two and not realise straight away.

At the edge of the parks if you’re heading towards the museums, you can’t miss the Albert Memorial across from the Royal Albert Hall. It was commissioned by Queen Victoria in memory of Prince Albert after his death in 1861. It was officially completed in 1875 and cost £120,000 at the time (approximately £10 million today). It is 176 feet tall and took over ten years to complete. It had fallen into disrepair over the century and in the late 1990s work began to restore the monument to its former glory. For 80 years the statue had been covered in black paint, which theories believe may have been an atmospheric pollution that destroyed the original gold leaf surface. Following the restoration, it is now recovered in new gold leaf.

 

Finally, finishing the Victorian tour I had accidentally set myself on, I went to see the Victoria & Albert Museum, just south of the gardens. The V&A is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and designs from around the world and throughout 5,000 years of history. Normally I’m not a huge fan of art museums, but I will always make an exception for the V&A. It is just phenomenal. It was founded in 1852 and is (obviously) named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The region it’s in has been coined as “Albertopolis” because of so many things in the region being associated with the Prince. Again, I didn’t take as many photos as I would have liked, but I was enjoying myself far too much. I’ll have to take more photos to share later.

 

After all this, I was exhausted and quite pleased to find my sweetheart and plop down in a pub. Managed a record pedometer tracking of 11.8 miles in the day. I perhaps wouldn’t recommend doing all of this in one go like I did unless you’ve got really good footwear and a good night’s sleep, but it was a really good day!

— Kate

‘Round and ‘Round and ‘Round She Goes

As per usual, I have disappeared off the face of the earth when it comes to blogging, and as per usual, I will catch you up with photos to tell the highlights of the last few weeks. We begin with the end, as my lectures have wrapped up and we put together our mock up exhibition case. With only £150 and a single car badge as our object, we put together what I’d like to think is a fabulous gallery case. It had its literal and figurative ups and downs, but it finished on a high note! 🙂

I now feel fairly well versed in a long-defunct car company, let me tell you.
Save money – the Clyno way!

The next day after our “opening night” of all the teams’ cases, I had to go down to London to speak with St. Paul’s Cathedral about my possible internship this summer with them. I got the placement!! 😀 I’d love to have photos up for you, but as it’s an active cathedral you aren’t supposed to take photographs indoors. That and the day I was in was an important blessing day for the guilds of London and it was jam-packed with official people in fancy attire. Let me just say that it is going to be SUCH a great summer and I’m looking forward to turning in my dissertation so I can get on to the internship. 🙂

Tickets to London don’t always come cheap, so I spent the day with a friend roaming the streets of London and visiting some museums we hadn’t been to yet. Had a Chipotle burrito for the first time (yes, I had to leave the country they come from to try one), then went to the Hunterian Museum. I would not recommend doing this in that particular order, as the Hunterian is almost entirely animal and human bits and pieces suspended in alcohol. I have no photos because it just felt kind of wrong to take pictures of most of it. If you’ve got any interest in anatomy or the human body though, it’s a free visit and definitely worth the time. If I’d known ahead of time, I would have brought my medically inclined one to come explain some of the diseases in more depth than the museum had.

After the Hunterian, we popped over to the Cider Tap by Euston Station. There are two guardhouses on either side of one of the entrances to Euston, and one sells only craft beer while the other only sells craft cider. It’s good fun and we needed a drink and a chance to rest our feet a bit. After a pint, we visited the Wellcome Collection. (We didn’t intend to make the day a medical museum day, but it kinda happened after we saw the £17 entrance fee for the Transport Museum.) Most of this museum you cannot photograph as well, so I only got a few, but I’d definitely go back. We only had an hour and a half to see the place, but you could easily spend 3 hours in there. The collections rotate, but for our visit they had Forensics, The Institute of Sexology, Genomes, and Modern Medicine. This is another free museum, and right down the road from the British Museum if you want a change of pace.

Back home in Leicester, King Richard III was finally reburied. The city went MAD with Richard decor. A couple weeks on and they’re still peeling Richard themed things off posterboards and signs. God knows Leicester could use the tourism though. For a city this size, a lot of people don’t realise it even exists, and it’s really a shame.

While the festivities for Richard III were still going on, I took a break from my research to finally visit Jewry Wall Museum, just a quick 10 minute walk from my building. Jewry Wall is kind of a misnomer for the place, as it was actually the Roman bathhouse when Leicester was under Roman rule. Most of the building has been carted off over the years to build other structures, such as St. Nicholas’s Church behind it. Parts of it have been visible its entire existance, but the underground structure of the building and the underfloor heating portions were buried and only rediscovered in the 1930s, oddly enough when they were digging to put a community pool in. Needless to say, the pool did not happen. The museum obviously doesn’t get much money, but they’ve got really great artefacts and the staff were some of the friendliest I’ve ever met. It’s a free visit, but toss a pound or two in the donation box. 🙂

The week before Easter four of us all chipped in for a private box at the Royal Opera House in London to see Swan Lake, and we were not disappointed! If you ever get the chance to see something performed there, take it immediately. Though try to not be in a rush to get on the Tube afterwards. That was a whole new level of chaos and shoving.

Over Easter break I got to spend time in lovely Wiltshire again, so we took the opportunity to go to Avebury and let the little one go Easter egg hunting while M and I wandered around the Avebury henge. This stone circle is vastly larger than Stonehenge, and you can get right into it – even touching the stones! I’ve still not been to Stonehenge, but I’ve been told by a lot of the locals that this was the better option of the two anyway. I definitely came away highly impressed.

Finally, on our last day in Wiltshire, we took advantage of the perfect weather and went to spend the afternoon in Bath. As it was a last minute decision, we didn’t have tickets to see the Roman baths yet again, but the city is so pretty that you can easily just enjoy the view and have a nice walk around town for a few hours and be completely content with it. We also tried a microbrewery in town this time, which had some appropriately Roman named brews. I can vouch that the Brutus is indeed delicious.

So there we are. I’m now back in Leicester for a little bit and working on my dissertation all week. It’s funny when you’ve finally got all the open time in the world that you’re not going anywhere exciting, but I’ll try to remedy this as soon and often as time will allow. 🙂

— Kate

Revenge of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

So I cannot tell you how many people felt the need to mention to me before I left the US, “Oh Kate, I bet you’re really gonna miss having pumpkin spice lattes in the UK. They don’t have those there.”

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For the record everybody, they do. About it in terms of pumpkin flavored anything though, so don’t start packing your bags too quickly. Oh, while we’re griping, let us discuss the grocery delivery fiasco. In the UK, it’s geographically small enough to feasibly manage grocery delivery orders. Yes folks, you can order all the groceries and household goods you’d buy on a regular trip to the store online and have them bring it to you. Depending on the time of day, this service runs you £1-£5 and an hour slot that you will definitely be in the house for. You can even look online at places like Tesco, Asda, or Sainsbury’s for an idea of how it all works. Super spiffy stuff honestly.

The fiasco began when my things were due up to be delivered. The delivery truck was about 5 minutes over the hour time frame, which I was fine ignoring, but then it just went downhill. The Tesco delivery guy finally calls my phone to say he’s here. Little odd he’s not using the intercom, but I buzzed the door open. Wait 10 minutes. Call the number back, it says the phone is off. Wait another 10 minutes. March downstairs to see if the van is here. It’s not, and the ever-patient security guard tells me there hasn’t been one. Call Tesco customer service line and explain this. They call the driver and then tell me that his phone is off. Of course it is. They tell me deliveries only run until 11 and that he may still show up (it should have been here from 9-10 that evening in the first place), but they can rebook the delivery for tomorrow just in case. Then rebooked “just in case” for 9-10 the next morning.

It did finally show the next morning at about 9:45. The delivery driver that morning let me know he was a few minutes away and so rather than wait around more than 5 minutes, I just marched downstairs. (Well, took the elevator. Nine flights of stairs is a bit melodramatic to march.) The delivery driver was just waiting in his truck for me to come down, though no one had told me this was the deal. He said he couldn’t leave his truck alone with where he was parked, so he then gave me my baskets and a moving dolly to take them upstairs myself. The maintenance guys were checking smoke alarms on my floor and were as confused as I was about why I was taking my stuff up myself. They said I should have kept the dolly. I briefly considered it. However, it wasn’t that particular driver’s fault, so I brought it down nicely and then grumbled back upstairs to put away the spoils.

Otherwise, it’s been another fantastic week here in Leicester, with a lot more hands-on experience than previously. On Tuesday we had an object handling session with bits of the Wellcome Collection that have ended up in the department here to get a feel for objects outside of their information. Using touch, smell, sight (and perhaps a little Googling), we had to try to pull together some information on objects and what made them so fascinating. It was difficult for some things, but others like this sawtooth nose were pretty easy to do.

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The crumbly bits at the bottom of the photo were actually news articles pasted on to the artifact when it was collected in around 1906.

There was rain on and off throughout the day with some impressive 40-50 mile per hour winds coming in from the leftovers of Hurricane Gonzalo. This didn’t seem to deter any students though. I personally witnessed a few sitting at the tables outside of the library, hunched over their plates and mugs, determined to have their lunch regardless of whether or not it tried to blow away. It also didn’t deter any of my fellow students from showing up to our first Museum Society meeting to vote on what all we’d like to do as a club for the year. There were some fun ideas like the upcoming trip to Liverpool or an ugly Christmas sweater party, as well as more practical ones like an essay-swap read-over day or a motion to get a microwave for the students to use in the building. (We’re far enough away from the Student Union to make it difficult at lunchtime if you need to heat a meal.)

Wednesday was a study day in the flat for the most part, but by mid-afternoon I had to wander up to the building for a Think Tank session about cabinets of curiosity through time and how they’ve influenced modern museums today. Did you know the word ‘cabinet’ used to just refer to a place (usually a room) that held objects in it, and not just what we consider cabinets today?  These privately owned cabinets, or kunstschränke, were the precursors to museums today, and some big name places like the Ashmolean and British Museum started as donated kunstschränke for the public to finally have easy access to visit. Also (and surprisingly), most collectors were actually from the professional class – apothecaries and merchants and such, not kings and princes like many people would think. Towards the end of the lecture we were put into groups and set loose to create very quick mock-ups of exhibits that behaved like cabinets of the past using objects we’d brought into the room and some provided to us. The group I worked with were all so creative and clever, and I think we were all pretty pleased with how it turned out with only 10 minutes and a dead wasp. (It’s nigh on impossible to see in the photo sadly, but the narwhal tusk is pretty obvious.)

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Thursday evening was a really cool experience in which quite a few of us from the department went to the Diwali celebration on the north side of the city. What is Diwali you ask? To quote Wiki, “Diwali or Divali also known as Deepavali and the ‘festival of lights’, is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn every year. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. The festival preparations and rituals typically extend over a five day period, but the main festival night of Diwali coincides with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika.” It just so happens that Leicester has the largest Diwali celebration in the world outside of India, so of course it was a must-see!

Friday was another evening of celebration. Four people in the department all had birthdays in close succession with one another and decided to just have an event of it. This ended up being the perfect conclusion to the week with dinner at the Marquis and hopping over to The Pub afterwards. (Let us not discuss how confusing this pub’s name is. It’s like an Abbott and Costello scene all over again, but worse because the English are unfamiliar with Abbott and Costello and trying to explain this just gets you looks of deeper confusion.)

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Otherwise, this has been a quiet weekend in with lots more reading and outline sketching for the impending essay due up in a few weeks. It’s getting nippy outside and the sun is setting much earlier, but all is still fine and dandy over here! Hope all is well wherever you’re reading this from. 🙂

— Kate