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

Into the Medieval District, Part One

It has been raining continuously today since I woke up at 7. I didn’t have any particular desire to go anywhere today, and this rain has really just confirmed that. However, I’ve become a slave to my FitBit since it arrived on my birthday, and it’s showing an embarrassing 738 out of 10,000 steps today. Reading and writing may be good for the mind, but they are poor on the body. It’s far too grim to take photos of the outside of old buildings today, so I may pop back up to the Cathedral and take some photographs inside. They’re still doing construction on the outer gate, so the Ethelbert and Erpingham Gate photos will have to wait.

In the meanwhile, I still have a stockpile of other places in the city that I’ve visited. Norwich is a city that offers so much, but is also infinitely walkable in the same go. Though the city was targeted by the Germans during WWII for its cultural importance, a healthy amount of the medieval district still stands. Today we shall focus on three of the older structures in town – Cow Tower, Adam & Eve, and Elm Hill.

Cow Tower

I suppose I probably shouldn’t have done Cow Tower without explaining the Great Hospital, but there we are. Regardless, Cow Tower was built in 1278 by the monks of the Great Hospital. It was meant to be a tollhouse and later was used as a prison. By 1378 it was given to the city and was repurposed yet again as a freestanding artillery tower. The name is believed to come from the water meadow on which it sits, which was known as Cowholme. Sadly, no cows have ever lived inside the tower as far as anyone can tell. Unlike the castle, this tower has not been kept up during the years or restored to what it might have looked like whilst it was in use. This means that only the stone shell is standing and that they’ve put a barred gate at the entrance to keep any would-be climbers out. As you can tell from my photos you can still get a great view, but it’s now been reduced to a nice brief stopping point along the Riverside Walk through the city.

Adam & Eve Pub

The Adam & Eve is supposedly the oldest pub in Norwich. It has been mentioned in documents as far back as 1249, and was originally meant to be a brewhouse for the builders of Norwich Cathedral, only a few minutes away. Archaeology suggests that the spot has been used for much longer, and evidence of a Saxon well has been found underneath the pub. My American friends will be disappointed that the interior doesn’t look particularly ancient, but I promise they serve a great selection of beer, ale, and cider. They even do lunch and dinners, though we’ve never gotten around to trying them. It’s worth popping by for a drink after you’ve visited the Cathedral.

Elm Hill

Okay, so technically Elm Hill is an entire street and not just one building. However, Elm Hill is the city’s most famous medieval street. Among its fine collection of preserved Tudor buildings is the Briton Arms – the sole survivor of a city fire in 1507 and one of only five thatched buildings remaining in the city centre. Also, the Strangers Club at 22-24 Elm Hill was once the residence of a wealthy Norfolk family, the Pastons, who are famous for their letters describing everyday life in the 1400s. Do not wear heels on this street if you value your ankles, as they are still steep and covered in cobblestones.

With that, it sounds like it’s time for me to fortify myself and get my rainboots on for the walk to the cathedral. Wish me luck!

— Kate

A picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll try to keep it brief.

Since last we spoke, M and I have moved to the lovely city of Norwich! It was nothing short of a miracle getting it all in one moving van and was only feasible thanks to his fantastic family taking time out of their schedules to help us lug our lives northwards.

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We’ve still got boxes to be unpacked. They’ve just been moved to the cellar.

After moving in over the weekend, it was straight back to work for M and starting work for me. St Paul’s Cathedral was an amazing experience and a gorgeous building, and if you haven’t been there you need to go already. Shame on you. I mean, look at this!

In two months so much happened, but it can be most accurately be described in simplistic numbers. The eight weeks summed up as:

  • 1 bookshelf purchased
  • 14 books read on trains
  • 2 Tube strikes occurred
  • 250+ objects catalogued for potential accession
  • ~3800 miles commuted
  • ??? cups of tea imbibed
  • 150+ books checked for mould and packed for renovation
  • 7+ BBQs cooked
  • 4 houseplants acquired
  • 3 pairs of shoes died
  • 9 station stops between Stockport and Norwich on our journey back from an epic 90s birthday party
  • 2 bouquets of surprise flowers
  • 1 proposal

Oh yes, it finally happened! He asked and I said yes and we’ve been looking at wedding arrangements ever since. 🙂

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We’ve got the venue sorted and the registrar booked and hopefully dresses should all be done by the end of the week. The next big event will be the Notice Of Marriage appointment, which will be next week. Here in the UK, you can’t have an overnight wedding. You have to give notice with a set amount of time before the day. It’s kind of like an elongated version of the officiant asking if anyone sees any reason why the couple cannot be married. Also, it’s only for civil ceremonies that they do this. I believe if you have one in a church that they have their own version of a waiting period to make sure you want to proceed. Really not a bad idea to consider in the US.

On that note, I’ll likely be going on about weddings and the ASTOUNDING amount of rain there’s been in Norwich as of late, so be prepared. I’m so excited for this! (The wedding, not the rain!) 😀

— 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

And so it begins…

I have been wanting to get back to England for years. I was fascinated with the history of the country since childhood, and finally got to visit in 2007 as a senior high school vacation with my family.

I’d never felt at home in America,, but getting into London was just… It just felt right for once. And it’s not the case of “little girl in a big city” for the first time. I’ve been to major cities before. Some I really like (Washington D.C.), some are nice to visit but not to live in (Atlanta, Paris), and some I just didn’t like (New York, I’m sorry, but I’m looking at you). There was so much to see and so much to do, and even though we tried to cram in as much as humanly possible, there was still just so much to go to. And I have a feeling there will always be something new or exciting to see in that city. But the country as a whole has even more.

So fast forward a few years. I started college and learned about a study abroad program offered. It would be a semester abroad for the cost of living on campus for most of the places available (though of course London was easily double the cost). I happened upon a program in Swansea, Wales that looked like fun and applied for the program. I had gotten really far into the process – got a new passport, researched travel and costs… but then it all fell through when I couldn’t get the last bit of funds for it. There was a period of major bummer, but I kinda just moved on and didn’t really give it another thought for awhile. Around late 2009, I had briefly entertained the idea of going to the UK to study for my master’s program, but I always just kinda figured it would take way too much money to do, so never really looked into it.

Fast forward again to 2012, when I started looking into grad schools for museum studies. O.o I don’t know if it’s just grad school in general, or that particular program, but the prices were rather high. Of course there were fantastic looking programs in New York, but it was looking to be around $30,000 A SEMESTER. Even state schools like the ones in Louisiana or Arizona were going to be around $25,000 to $35,000 a year, and the programs ran 2-3 years. At this point, I thought I’d look into England again just for kicks. Obviously, London was still insane (but this is to be expected of that city), but the further north you started to look, the more reasonable the schools became. From there, I narrowed it down by focus, and found the University of Leicester.

I was fortunate to find in Leicester a quality program that integrated my chosen emphasis in technology and digital heritage in museums. Leicester was the first to establish a Museum Studies Program in the UK and had stunning credentials. The department also had a Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, dedicated to researching what changes need to be put into operation, as well as producing educated, innovative, and experimental designs in implementing what is new in technology. Add to it that it would only take me a year to complete and it incorporated an internship – I was in!

However… It was still going to cost me about $35,000 for the degree. Really a good price considering I could get it done in a year, and as an international student to boot, but still a lot to ask for a loan in a single year. As a graduate student, you can apply for $20,500 from the federal government loans, but after that you have to go private. So while I could pull the loans and make it happen, I thought that it reeeeally wouldn’t hurt to look into some scholarships.

That’s when I found the Fulbright Program. I had never heard of it before, but by goodness it was definitely something to apply for. From the official Fulbright website:

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides grants for individually designed study/research projects or for English Teaching Assistant Programs.  A candidate will submit a Statement of Grant Purpose defining activities to take place during one academic year in a participating country outside the U.S.

During their grants, Fulbrighters will meet, work, live with and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences.  The program facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction on an individual basis in the classroom, field, home, and in routine tasks, allowing the grantee to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things, and the way they think. Through engagement in the community, the individual will interact with their hosts on a one-to-one basis in an atmosphere of openness, academic integrity, and intellectual freedom, thereby promoting mutual understanding.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant numbers are subject to the availability of federally appropriated funds. The United States Department of State reserves the right to alter, without notice, participating countries, numbers of awards, terms of agreement, and allowances.

Grant benefits for all Fulbright U.S. Student grants include:

  • round-trip transportation to the host country
  • funding to cover room, board, and incidental costs, based on the cost of living in the host country
  • Accident & Sickness Health Benefits


In some countries, grants may also include
:

  • book and research allowances*
  • mid-term enrichment activities
  • full or partial tuition
  • language study programs
  • pre-departure and in-country orientations

 

Basically, if you are crafty and smart and have an idea that would make a contribution to the world, give it a go. Okay, at this point in my life, I think I can do this! So I applied for the Fulbright (I won’t go into gory details unless y’all really want to hear it) in October with many, many revisions and discussions with the Fulbright representative on campus. After jumping through the proverbial hoops to get the application in, I then just had to sit on my hands and try not to fidget too much in the meantime.

Come November, I had the chance to go back to England and went over Thanksgiving break. Long story short, it was just as amazing as I remembered, and the school sounded even better talking to the people there. I applied for the university as soon as I got back, and with nothing else to do until the end of January, I have been slowly pacing a hole into the floor and surely driving my loved ones just a little crazy.

— Kate