Lyme Regis Fossil Festival

First major museum field trip! We were given a section at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival alongside a good handful of colleagues from around the museum. Our demonstrations were on 3D surface scanning and creating 3D images and prints within the Natural History Museum. But first, I had to get there.

Had a bit of a hiccup Wednesday evening. I had already intended on doing half a day in the office and then heading back up to Chelmsford on the train so M and I could drive down. Unfortunately, either I straight up lost my season ticket holder or someone nicked it. Regardless, I ended up halfway to Liverpool Street Station via the District Line before I realised what had happened. Apparently if you come up to the station staff at the barrier gates with a concerned look on your face and tell them you’ve lost your Oyster card, they’re really pretty helpful. Greater Anglia, not so much. The lady at the desk was lovely enough, but unlike TfL they won’t just replace your lost/stolen card. Even though it’s a SmartPass and all the details are saved in the system that prove it’s me. They were kind enough to freeze the card and let me buy a single ticket home. Ugh.

Thankfully, the monthly passes were both set to expire before I got back from travelling anyway, so that wasn’t too awful. Even better, my manager is a saint and let me work from home for the half day. Probably for the best, as we were definitely not packed the night before in any useful amounts. Eventually, the significant otter left the hospital and we packed up the car to drive the 4.5 hours to Lyme Regis.

The drive was gloriously uneventful and we made it in around 10 pm. Everyone else was already at the cottage and set up, so we all caught up and then headed to bed. It was due to be a busy day the next day.

IMG_4376
The view from our cottage room Friday morning.

The next morning was our schools day. Constant streams of small children in washes of different coloured uniforms poured through the doors. Most had the level of excitement and attention you’d expect at that age, but some were genuinely thrilled by the prospect of 3D and microscopes. It’s a beautiful moment to watch the beginnings of a small scientist. 🙂

M had of course come down with me, but obviously wasn’t part of the museum so enjoyed a nice lie in and a wander around the town while the rest of us were up at the Fossil Festival location. At lunchtime I got a break and he and I wandered around together and enjoyed the distinct lack of rain (It’s either full on or off at the English coast. I’m convinced there’s no in between.). This year, the Fossil Festival was being held across the town rather than in one location, so we went to see what other groups were doing, between strolling the beach and eating chips cautiously. (Seriously, the seagulls were downright predatory if you weren’t careful.)

It was a trip to the pub after the event wrapped up for the night and a game of skittles, then a slog up the 14% incline of a hill back to our cottage. (Views like that don’t come for nothing!) The next day was our busiest day of the weekend, and we went out in full force. We scanned objects from fossils to children’s wellies, and showed 3D images from microscopic to full size. The public engagement and honest excitement and interest was fantastic. We guessed from rough estimates that we had probably 230 people come and chat with us.

There was a brief lull around lunchtime, probably due to the lovely weather and hungry children. That was quickly rectified though with an inflatable T. rex costume and a walk down the pier. People seem to want to know where a dinosaur and giggling museum staff are headed. Who would have guessed?

Before we all set off for another trip to another pub for food, it was mandatory for me to go see the grave of Mary Anning. You see, Mary Anning was one of the pioneers in fossil collecting and helped to change the views on what prehistoric life even was. Of course, she was ignored in her own time, despite her accomplishments, and didn’t even get a grave to herself. Instead, she is buried with her brother. Still, she was a really interesting lady that you should read into if you have a free moment. She is the “she sells seashells on the seashore” inspiration behind the tongue twister!

The evening was spent roving the town with my colleagues and M, eventually ending up at a party held at the house of a local fossil collector. I’m still not entirely sure how so many people ended up in such as small area, but it was a riot of a time. Because I am an old lady, M and I bowed out around midnight for home. Most of the rest of the crew didn’t come home until gone 2ish, from what I was told. And who says scientists are boring?

IMG_4488The final day dawned and we all managed to arrive in mostly one piece. Our scanning did get a bit silly as the day went on, but the public seemed to rather enjoy it. I mean really, who doesn’t like a pork pie – digital or real? (Okay okay, maybe just me. But it was good fun!)

It was throwing down sheets of drizzle all day, so having a nice walk at break time was a bit out of the question. At that point though, I was too tired and cold to want more than caffeine and dry shoes. Lesson learned for next year – prepare to get by on a lot less sleep than usual.

At the end of it all though, we all cleared up the location and headed out for one last night on the town with the NHM crew. It was a lovely bonding moment for all of us, and I can see why people come back again and again to do it. I think I may need the year to recover, but it’d be good fun to go back again next time! Now hang on until next week and I’ll tell you about how we got in the car and drove straight for the coasts of the other end of the country.

— Kate

Americans Traveling to Norwich

As it gets closer, I have been spending plenty of time wedding planning. It has begun to creep into the fabric of my being. On top of it, I’ve also been planning and explaining travel options to my lovelies back in the US. As I’m aware that many of these lovelies already follow the blog, I thought I’d post some of this information here. Even if you aren’t coming to see us any time soon, I imagine it will give you some ideas for any future travel plans you might have for the UK outside of London. Long story short, international travel is going to eat a half a day coming in and another half coming out. Be prepared. Also, unless you’re going to be in the city your flight leaves from the night before, it is almost guaranteed to be a sleepless ordeal for you to get to said airport.

The majority of people will be flying in to Heathrow and leaving Heathrow, although I realise that some may also opt for Gatwick on one leg or another. There are even some intrepid souls who will choose to forgo both options and fly to Europe and then double back and fly right into Norwich Airport. I’ve chosen to explain flying in from Heathrow and then out from Gatwick to maximise usefulness, as getting back to Heathrow basically means doing the same thing in reverse. The same can be said of getting from Gatwick. Keep in mind, like all things, the price of transport will rise the longer you wait to purchase the tickets. Anyway, we shall begin!

From Heathrow
Bus – National Express
Your simplest, though not as pretty option. You’d literally catch a coach (read: bus) outside of the terminal that would take you straight to Norwich Bus Station. If you’re looking in advance, I’ve managed to pull up a sampling of options just fiddling with the website, leaving you plenty of time in case of late planes or long queues at customs. It stops at other places along the way, which is what will always give you the 4.5 – 5 hour journey. It is a viable option if you’d like to very briefly see Cambridge, Newmarket, Mildenhall, and Thetford – or try and sleep for a bit. Norwich is really in the backwaters in terms of flights. Also, the super cheap (~£15-£20) trip can require you to get off at a bus station and reboard another bus in the middle of London. The bus drivers will be helpful if you ask for any advice on this, but I’ll leave it up to you how good you think your mental faculties will be after a long flight.

Train – National Rail

This one could be a bit more of a challenge, as it’s not so simple as jumping onto a bus. In this case, you’d have to get through customs and then follow the signs that lead you to the Underground (it’ll probably read Heathrow Terminals 1,2,3). Once there, you’ll need to purchase an Oyster Card from one of the lovely humans at the desks if you don’t already have one. This is the reloadable card and by far the cheapest way to travel in London. It’s good for the Underground, the bus, and the river transport. It’s also good forever, so as long as you don’t lose it, you can come back any time and your money on it will still be good. (Speaking of, I should probably see what I have on mine!) It costs a grand £3 for the piece of plastic and I think they make you pre-load it with a set amount, but you should be able to put £10 on it and just be charged a grand £13 for a really handy piece of plastic.

From there, you’ll go to the barriers that you’ll see people streaming through with the little green arrows lit up. With your new toy, you just need to tap it on the little blue circle at the top of the barrier and it’ll let you straight through. Be prepared and have your Oyster ready, as Londoners are notoriously grumpy about people who hold up the traffic whilst digging for their card. They may even tut and sigh. Also, there will be a luggage-friendly barrier that you may want to use. If you aren’t quick, the barrier likes to hug your bags and you have to fight them out.

Your only option will be to take the Piccadilly line towards Cockfosters. I will be ashamed if you don’t giggle at the name when they announce it. It is hilarious. Fight your way to a seat as soon as you can and ignore people giving you evil looks for having a suitcase. They are jerks. You will then just ride deeper and deeper into central London past 20 stops that should take about 50 minutes of travel. You should then get to Holborn, where you need to get off the Piccadilly line. If there’s a crowd that won’t move, just push your way to the front and mutter sorry sparingly. They’re used to it. It should be pretty dead when you’re riding it though, unless somehow you’re on the Tube during morning or evening rush hour. After you’ve gotten off the carriage head towards the exit signs until you start seeing options for other lines. You’ll be looking for a red coloured line called Central Line, and you’ll want to be going East on whichever one comes first. Don’t worry about whatever ‘via’ line it is. That one you’ll ride for 4 stops or about 5 minutes until you get to London Liverpool Street (sometimes just labeled as Liverpool Street) in which case you jump off and follow the exit signs. Do not shorten the name and ask how to get to Liverpool Station. You will be laughed at and told you’re in the wrong city. Once through the barriers (in which you’ll need to have your Oyster ready to tap again), just follow the signs for Liverpool Street Station, or the little red rail logos with white arrows on them.

At that point you’ll be directly in the station. We’re assuming you’re a clever person and have booked your tickets in advance, which means you just need to go to one of the machines all over the middle of the station, put in the card you paid for the tickets with, punch in the code they’ll have emailed you, and follow the instructions to have them printed. Hold on to all the tickets it prints. Sometimes you’ll need them for inspection on the train. With your tickets now in hand, you need only to look at the giant board overhead that will read places and times. Find the one that matches the place and time of your ticket and wait for it to say what platform you will need. Since it’s an advance ticket, you have to get on the time you chose, not before or after. Once it has a platform number, head to the platform and feed your ticket through the barrier. Grab it when it pops back up and head to the train on that platform. Chances are that you’ll have a reserved seat because you bought an advance ticket, so look at the tickets and they should have a Coach and Seat written on them. You have like a 90% chance of being in Coach C, and that it’ll be at the very far end of the platform. If you can’t be bothered to walk that far, you can get on any Standard Coach and sit in any seat so long as they don’t have a reserved ticket on the top of them. There will be luggage racks at either end of every coach, and some overhead and under seat room as well.

From there, you just need to get cosy and sit there for a good 2 hours. Sadly, Greater Abellio don’t have a trolley service, so you’ll have to get up, grab your purse, and walk to the buffet coach (they’ll announce which one that is at the start of the journey) if you want any snacks or drinks. Even better is that you’ll be riding the train from end to end, so there’s no panic of missing your stop and ending up in Edinburgh. You can sleep if you want and they’ll wake you up to check your tickets and/or tell you the train is in Norwich. You’ll likely discover you have a magically ability to wake up right before pulling into every station along the way. You’ll get off the train, through one last set of barriers with your ticket (you can toss them at this point if you want), and you’ll pop out in good old Norwich!

Last I looked we were still about 2 weeks too far ahead to book train tickets in advance, but based off figures for a random Tuesday in November you’d be looking at about £9 or £13 for your ticket. Anyway… Now for the way back! I promise the rambling will be much shorter. Maybe.

To Gatwick

Bus – National Express
This is all under the assumption that you’ve likely got a flight back Monday morning. In that case, both the train and the bus options are grim. Because you have an international flight, you want to be there with 3 hours to spare. With the bus, you’d either want to get a hotel and stay the night Sunday night close to the airport or be prepared to leave at late hours and kill some time in the airport. And it’ll be a 5.5 – 6 hour journey either way. If you wanted to stay near Gatwick Sunday night, I’d recommend the Best Western Skylane that is currently advertising £44 a night and has 24 hour complementary shuttle service to and from the airport.

Train – National Rail
This one could be just as awful, depending on what you want to do. Really, international travel is a righteous pain in the bum. Again, you’ll have the option to go down Sunday evening or go super early Monday morning. Looking at staying the night Sunday evening, you can catch a couple different trains ranging from early afternoon to evening times for an estimated £20. Again, if you wanted to stay near Gatwick Sunday night, I’d recommend the Best Western Skylane that is currently advertising £44 a night and has 24 hour complementary shuttle service to and from the airport. There may be other hotels worth looking at, but that’s probably a similar price no matter where you end up, and these have a guaranteed ride.

If you want to go in the wee hours of the morning, there are early trains (pre-5:00 even) that will cover your travel all the way to Gatwick and includes the Underground fares. You’d get your tickets from the machine in Norwich, then take the train from Norwich to London Liverpool Street and go back to the Underground entrance. Do not throw away any tickets! Instead of using your Oyster card this time, you would feed your train ticket into the barriers. You’d get on the Central Line again, but this time going West for only one stop. You’d jump off at Bank, then look for the Northern Line (a black line instead of red) going South for one stop. You’d get off at London Bridge (of rhyme fame!) and head upstairs towards the London Bridge Train Station. From there, you’d do the whole song and dance of finding your train again. This time though, you won’t be going end to end. It’ll likely say to Brighton or similar, but underneath will be a list of all the stops along the way. As long as the time is right and your stop is on that list, you’ve got the right train. This can be explained much easier at the station help desk if you’re a bit lost. Get on that train, then keep an ear out for the conductor who will say when your stop (Gatwick) is coming up. Or just watch the time. For instance, this one should get you there at 8:24, so if you felt antsy you could gather all your belongings and stand at the door by 8:20. From there, you’ll hop off the train and should be within shouting distance of Gatwick.

So yes, there are some options. A common theme I am seeing is that a lot of folks don’t realise that just because the UK is smaller than the US, doesn’t mean that it’s small. Please plan accordingly, so you don’t miss out on any of the wonderful things there are to see and do!

— Kate

I'm good. I haven't slept for a solid 83 hours, but yeah. I'm good.

In Which She Travels Even Further

I’ve made it to Day 7 and have managed only minimal jetlag. Sleep is a bit wonky, but turning out okay. It’s been around this time in the late afternoon each day that I start regretting not making a second cup of coffee or tea, but I have yet to learn from this. Let’s see… What have I gotten into since? Well, on Tuesday a handful of students in the program all met by the clock tower (We originally were supposed to go to the Starbucks at the university, but I got two of us lost… Thankfully everyone was fantastic and they came to the tower.) and all grabbed some coffee and lunch and chatted for an hour or so. It’s SO nice to meet people before term begins, and everyone was awesome. I’m greatly looking forward to courses with them!

After we all went our separate ways, I continued with my new tradition of wandering aimlessly around the city – half genuinely lost, half somewhat aware of landmarks and just adventuring. Not having a car and aiming to walk everywhere teaches you some important lessons pretty quickly. Firstly, you really don’t need all that crap in your bag that you always take with you. Secondly, the more you can fit in your bag, the less you have to carry in flimsy plastic bags that cut off circulation in your fingers. Thirdly and most importantly, if you cannot carry it all comfortably in a basket in the shop, you are going to have a heck of a time getting it home. The only time a shopping cart is a good idea is when you have a willing victim alongside you that can help carry things home, of which I did not. Amazing what you’re capable of when you realize it’s either sit on the street and wait for an expensive taxi to come by and take your lazy rear home or just suck it up and walk already. Needless to say, I’m gaining new callouses on my feet.

Walking back from meeting fellow students and there’s a very drunk man staggering through the streets and screeching (at 3 pm). I stopped and asked some shop staff:

“What exactly is he going on about?”

“England. And some profanity. That’s all we can understand. He just came out of the pub, so sports maybe.”

Exciting.

Back at my flat, it was time for mail call!

Have I mentioned recently that I have amazing parents? Because they not only sent me things I needed that were going to be hard to walk back from the shops with, but also a surprise with the sweeteners.  I have since christened the coffee machine and can gladly dismiss the stereotype that the British do not have good coffee. Picked up a Colombian fresh roast from Tesco that tasted great.

After unpacking presents, it was a walk to the train station to catch up with one of my favorite Twitter people! I take great offense at people who say that technology is ruining our social lives and that we all need to leave the phones at home. Yes, you should always engage with those talking to you, but the internet only helps to broaden that scope. My life would be much poorer without the weirdness of social media, and I wouldn’t want to change it. Heck, even meeting everyone from the program ahead of time was due to Facebook and email. Making new friends, the millennial way. 😉 Had a massive “You’re a real person again!” squeal, then set out on the city to talk and catch up with so much that’s happened since last we saw each other in November.

I would like to apologise to the now local ( 😀 ) people in my life as the anthropologist in me has been having a field day. Coming to a new place you’ll always have new experiences to process, (sometimes happens just crossing America) but instead of just shrugging it off with a “well that’s odd,” I have an intense curiosity to find out why things work that way. It’s my motto to always look at life and new things as interesting, never weird or “not like home.” The world works around things in many different ways, and societies are fascinating because of it. Over the space of dinner my poor friend was questioned on how the bank overdraft in the UK works (you can pull much, much more over the limit of what you have in your account than in the US), the why/when/how of putting x’s at the end of text messages (best stick to loved ones to be on the safe side), and the curious absence of doggie bags/boxes in UK restaurants (though honestly, if you walk everywhere it’d be a pain to carry that around). And of course, any time you share restaurants around the world, you’re bound to get a giggle out of the menus and signs.

This leads us into Wednesday, which was a travel day. Brief wander around town, but I had also packed up a bag and made sure to wash the dishes in the sink. By the afternoon, I wheeled my bag to the train station and hopped on the first of two trains to Colchester, where I’ll be visiting for a little over a week. Trains really are the way to get around in this country, though there’d have to be a cultural shift to have something like this happen across the United States. Maybe when gas hits $10 a gallon it might become more of a thing. Be sure to bring something to read with you though, because playing on your phone will suck the life out of it and unless you’re in a first class seat, there’s no guarantee you’ll have a charging place for your plug. Also, if you qualify for a railcard and plan on doing more than a quick journey or only one ride, it is well worth the price for the card in the savings you’ll accrue over time. Train travel is still at reasonable costs, but that little bit helps.

On the train from Leicester to my change point in London, I just happened to sit across the way from two Texans visiting friends in Nottingham and heading back to London for the evening. Sadly, they were University of Texas alumni and my family are Texas A&M alumni, so we were sworn enemies. I kid, I kid! It was nice to hear a random “y’all” so far from the source. 🙂

Oh! An important thing I learned when you come in to London in one station and have to leave from another to make your connection – you don’t have to cough up cash or your Oyster card to use the Underground as long as you go from point A to point B. Make sure your ticket has a little cross printed on it somewhere on the bottom and you’ll just feed your ticket through the reader at the Underground barriers, letting you both in and out. Basically, DON’T LOSE THAT TICKET. You’ll also be using it to get through the barriers coming and going from each train station as well. Another random but important fact – there are toilets on the trains, but you can’t use them in the station because the flush system just dumps it out of the bottom of the train on older models. Eww.

So as I write this, I’m now safely in Colchester, about 2 hours away from Leicester by train. I’ve got near and dear people to pester, and as it turns out there are a few other foreigners that I may get to catch up with in London! The world is shrinking every day, and it’s pretty interesting to witness. Hope all is well wherever you are. 🙂

— Kate