The Big 3-0.

Though he still may be occasionally checked for ID at the grocery store, the Significant Otter has reached the big 30th birthday milestone in life. For the last few birthdays we’ve rather made a habit of going abroad for the big day, but for a milestone birthday you should really celebrate with a big to do. And we most definitely did! M invited all of his friends around on the Saturday before the actual day. Ended up with absolutely perfect weather for the BBQ and partied merrily on until the evening at our local pub The Ship nearby. We had such a great time, I rather forgot to take any photos! Ah well, sign of a good party then. 🙂

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The only photo I got – pre-festivities.

The following weekend we packed up the surviving decorations and drove out to the Cotswolds to celebrate Birthday Round Two with the family. The weather was not as gloriously perfect, but the day of the party held steady and we enjoyed yet another BBQ. You’ll be unsurprised to find out that most of his presents this year were BBQ or otherwise back garden themed.

He may be in his 30s now, but it doesn’t seem like anything has actually changed all that much. (Though there were vegetables at both BBQs – a sign of the times!)

It was a lovely few weekends with both friends and family, and I’m glad we’re heading back out again next month when my parents get back into the UK for a visit.

Well, it’s only taken a few months worth of posting, but as of this entry I’m caught back up into the present(ish)! From here on out, the post and the current events may actually coincide. Maybe. Talk to you next week!

 

— Kate

Tea in Tetbury

So we recently stopped over in Tetbury to catch up with the lovely in-laws and ended up going out to see one of the National Trust homes nearby – Dyrham Park. The house is absolutely gorgeous on the exterior, surrounded by countryside, but the garden is what they put the most work into. Even in the bare beginnings of spring, you could see that the garden would be astounding. Historically, a goodly bit of time and effort have been put into the garden, so the National Trust have continued the works.

The interior of the home has many pieces of original furniture for the period, as well as some well done reproductions, but they have chosen to focus more on the educational aspects of the artifacts over the visual appeal. The National Trust have also only allowed access to the ground floor, which was a total bummer as they had some amazing staircases that just beckon to be explored. Perhaps at a later time.

In terms of historical merit, the park has been in existence since 1511, but some form of manor has existed there since at least the time of the Domesday Book. Because of the charter given in 1511, it meant that a wall could be erected and deer kept inside, which the owner would have exclusive hunting rights over. The name Dyrham actually comes from the Anglo-Saxon word dirham, which was an enclosure for deer.

The Blathwayt family owned the house from 1689 until 1956 when the National Trust acquired it, but during WWII it was used for child evacuees. Multiple additions have been done over the years, including a greenhouse addition in 1701 and a 15-bay stable block that has been altered into the tea-rooms for visitors today. A section of the stables remain standing to get a feel for the space. The greenhouse is still in use today, and you can even sample some hot chocolate made with on-site grown fruits and spices!

There is a church adjacent to the property, St Peter’s, which is not actually a part of the National Trust. It has been in the area since the mid-13th century though and has many tombs and memorials for past owners of the house.

Fun fact for my Whovians – this house was used for scenes from the reboot sixth series episode “Night Terrors,” with the gigantic doll monsters. With the fog rolling in on the day we were there, I could easy see something eerie happening!

Also kinda cool was the historic recipe at the tea-room. Beyond the usual soup and sandwiches that you’ll find at any National Trust site, they were also selling a batch of ‘biskets’ that they had made off of a 17th century recipe. Normally I’m not a fan of anise in any form, but this was so faint that it made it really surprisingly lovely. It was like a mix of a shortbread biscuit and a biscotti. Would totally eat one again.

After our adventures concluded, we ended up going out to pick up some last minute shopping whilst the rugby was on and then all heading out for a super filling Italian dinner in town. We also ended up with a full sized rubbish bag full of M’s childhood stuffed toys to take home. The largest, a full sized Alsatian puppy, even ended up buckled into the back seat of the Little Red Mini. Sadly, such good news could not be said of the rugby match.

Unfortunately, the daily grind called us and we had to head back to the East of England Sunday afternoon. It was great to have a low-key catch up with the familials though. Now to plan when we can all meet up again next!

 

— Kate

 

Newark Park at Eastertime (Spring 2016)

Slowly working my way through the backlog of the year. Our next major trip wasn’t until Easter, when we packed up our bags and drove to the Cotswolds to see the family. We also learned on this trip that when you hire an automatic car in the UK, you pretty much just get whatever they have as most people here drive manual cars. Normally I have ended up with the tiny Vauxhall Corsa I asked for, but this time all they had was a Mercedes C-Class. And they would have to charge me the rate for the Vauxhall because I hadn’t requested it. Oh darn.

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It was a fantastic Easter weekend with the family and we decided to make the most of it by going to visit the nearby National Trust site of Newark House that Saturday. M had just gotten off night shift the day before and was much keener on some sleep, so we left him to snooze for this one.

Newark Park is up a windy country road on the top of a hill, but it has an amazing view of the surrounding countryside. It’s a Grade I listed country house built between 1544 and 1556. It sits on 700 acres of unspoiled Cotswold countryside and gives a view that looks similar to how it would have centuries back.

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The house was originally a three storey Tudor hunting lodge with a basement that belonged to Sir Nicholas Poyntz, a Groom of the Privy Chamber to Henry VIII. It was called the “New Work” and was partially built with materials from the then-recently dissolved Kingswood Abbey nearby. The lodge has been altered over the course of the centuries, but it still remains as the eastern part of the present building.

The home passed through a few hands over the years and eventually became a rental property in the 1860s. It stayed this way until 1949 when it was given to the National Trust. Unusually, the Trust did not open Newark Park to the public, but instead let it out as a nursing home. This continued until 1970 when the estate was declared in disrepair and it was taken on privately by an American architect, Robert Parsons. It was due to his efforts that both the house and the surrounding grounds were restored and its Grade I listing was achieved.

 

The house is still managed by the National Trust and privately occupied, but you can go visit the cafe for tea and enjoy the beautiful grounds. We took it as a chance to go on a grand Easter hunt around the estate!

 

— Kate

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

 

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