Reporting on my semester in London
Sunday, October 10, 2010
I caught the Northern tube line up to Charing Cross (after a switch of trains at Kennington Station). At Charing Cross I purchased a national rail ticket to Battle (and back for 22.50 pounds. The one-way price and the return-the-same-day price are the same, sweet). The train ride lasted about 1.5 hours and the Battle rail station conveniently had signs posted for directions to the Battle of Hastings reenactment. After a short walk from the rail station to Battle Abbey I had a ticket in hand and was wandering the grounds of Battle Abbey. Battle Abbey was commissioned by William the Conquerer to recognize those that died during the Battle of Hastings; to include the Saxon King Harold Godwinson.
1066. A year that was a crossroads in history. Harald, Viking King of Norway attacks England near York with 15,000 men. On 25-Sept-1066, King Harold Godwinson defeated Harald at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. 28-Sept-1066 is when William landed at Pevensey Bay. Harold is way up north having just defeated a significant Viking invasion that had the potential to take his crown. Now he has to high-tail it down to Hastings. Pretty bad timing for Harold--or pretty good timing by William, Duke of Normandy. Within just a couple of weeks the fate of England turned from being Saxon, to maybe being Norse, to being Norman. Remember that Norman means Norse Men, which are Vikings that took over part of France; so the Vikings pretty much kicked ass in England.
Visiting Battle during a reenactment made the visit all the better. There were 300-400 reenactors on the field to include about 15 mounted troops. The reenactors did several skirmishes and demonstrations throughout the day that led up to the big battle at 3 pm. After the battle I headed back to the train and caught the 4:45 pm national rail train back to London. I returned to the ICLC house at a decent hour, where I whipped up some dinner and started working on my photographs from the battle. All 1,300 (24 GB) worth of photographs....all of which are pretty good.
I'm still working on getting all of the photographs processed. You can check out the ones I've posted so far on my Flickr site....keep checking back for more updates to the photographs.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Friday night: the ICLC get together at the ICLC house. Bill wanted to have a gathering at his house, but I knew that he and his wife Lynne are packing up to head off to visit family in British Columbia; so I volunteered to host folks at the house. I decided to cook up Gumbo, which is an easy dish to alter for different dietary needs. I spent the morning having breakfast and relaxing at the house. I then headed over to the hypermarket (aka supermarket) to do some last minute shopping. Back at the house I got to cooking and preparing for guest.
I did much of the needed house cleaning yesterday, but I took care of some last minute items this afternoon. I then got the veggies into the oven to roast before putting them into some water on the stove to make my own veggie broth. Next came the prep of the gumbo ingredients. Chicken and spices marinating in one container, and shrimp and spices marinating in another container. Lots of veggies minced up and ready to head into the cajun rue. My mise en place was set.
I put out some mixed cheeses with sliced baguette and crackers, and an assortment of olives. Sainsbury has a small, but decent olive bar (nothing like Wegman's olive bar), and a great mixed cheese pack that had just the right portions of some decent cheeses. This made pre-dinner munchies easy to do. Folks started drifting in around 18:15 hrs and we hung out and chatted in the kitchen/dinning area that handles six diners easily. I got my rue going, finished up the broth, added the veggies to the rue, dumped it all into the broth, added tomatoes, and spices....and simmered away. Everyone ate chicken, so the chicken went in next. I then pulled out three portions to another pot to add the shrimp for the omnivores. The gumbo came out okay, but it is definitely not the same without Andouille.
Lynne baked up a plumb crumble for dessert that was quite tasty. We had lots of great chats throughout the evening and it was nice to host folks at the house. Bill presented me with a gift of a Welsh Rugby Jersey to add to my collection. After the ICLC team departed I prepped for my trip to Battle for the Battle of Hastings Reenactment tomorrow. I got a boxed lunch ready, my camera batteries charged, my memory cards backed up and cleared, and my bag packed. Check, ready for the trip, now off to bed.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Today was my day to find Andouille Sausage in London. I did much websearching before heading out to track down this tasty cajun treat. Buggles on Marylebone lane had promising reviews online, but the store disappointed me. It sounded like THE place to get "worldly" sausages in London, but they only had five types of sausages for sale. To give them credit--with no evidence of my own--these five types of sausages might be the best of their type on London, but expected a sausage shop with a wide selection.
I then checked out Selfridges and Harrods, both of which are huge department stores. Harrods looked promising due to their large selection of German "wursts," but no andouillle to be seen. During my andouille hunt I took a detour to visit 221B Baker Street. This address does not exist today nor has it existed in the past, but it is a famous address. To handle all of the mail to this address the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street now has the duel designation of this address. Baker street has very little Victorian Era feel to it, so I didn't quite feel like I was amidst Sherlock Holmes's playing ground. Wikipedia has a decent discussion of the history of 221B if you are the type of person interested in all things Sherlock Holmes.
I'm still glad that I ventured this way because I discovered Regents Park, which has amazing flower gardens. This is also the home to the London Zoo, but as I get older I find zoos far too depressing. Critters put in display cases for our viewing pleasure is weird to me. After heading out of Regents park I hopped on a bus that took me to Harrods--where I looked for Andouille-and then walked to the main ICLC building.
After a short stop at the ICLC building I walked up to Kensington High Street to see if Whole Foods might have andouille. They have a sausage that might work, but Andouille really is a particular flavor. I did pick up some of the Whole Foods sausage, but ultimately choose not to use it in the Gumbo. My Andouille hunt was important in-and-of-itself, but I also liked having a reason to wander London in a non-tourist fashion. I've been walking the city lots, but also using the bus system pretty extensively. I like how easy it is to get around London. There is no need to have a detailed guide of the bus system. Simply check out the local bus stop and pick the bus going your desired direction. You do need to understand the city layout a bit because the bus stop you are at may not have a bus to your final destination. Instead, you need to determine a destination that you know will get you to where you eventually want to go. I also like how many of the London buses are double decker buses, which allows me to see where we are going better when I'm on the upper deck. Something I have found interesting about the buses is that they do not wait long at the stop. You barely have time to hop on and start moving toward a seat before the bus is off. If the line to board is longer you have a chance of getting to your seat before the bus starts moving. Heading to the upper deck is always interesting due to these quick departures. This also means you can't be late to the stop; but usually another bus will arrive in 15 - 30 minutes so you never wait very long.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Some of my biggest deadlines this fall are writing, contributing to, editing, and responding to reviewer comments on several scientific manuscripts. I spent the morning working on several manuscripts. I had a very productive day. In the afternoon I headed out to check off some of the items on my 'to do' list. I dropped off my new suit at the dry cleaners just around the corner from the ICLC house. I ordered a new battery for my camera at Jessops. I did some shopping for the ICLC get together at the ICLC house on Friday.
For dinner I had some Sainsbury chicken goujons and pan seared halloumi. I spent the evening processing photographs and watching Hell Boy on the tele. I've enjoyed how they show full-length features with limited commercials on regular TV here. I've also been watching lots of British TV as well, but the movies are nice in the evening.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
After a quick breakfast of Kelloggs and a shower, I headed off to the ICLC main building. I wasn't ready for the severe delays on the tube. The Victoria Line stopped for 5-10 minutes at every stop. This got seriously old, fast. I jumped off of the tube as soon as I was north of the Thames, and headed to the ICLC main building on foot. This gave me a chance to head down to "north bank", do they call it "north bank" like they call it South Bank?
I wandered past the Royal Hospital, which is the retirement home for soldiers in the England (they call them Chelsea Pensioners), and the place where my step-dad John Miller got to visit last year (as a soldiers home visit between the two countries). I also located Gordon Ramsey's three-star restaurant along Royal Hospital Road so that I know how to get Anna, her mom, and I to our dinner reservation when they visit. I'm glad I wandered down to this area, because it is not close to any tube station...we might use a bus...but a cab ride might be in order.
I wandered my way back to the ICLC main building. I really like walking through London. I feel that I'm starting to get a sense of the landmarks, the road system, and the general direction I need to head in. A serious challenge is that you cannot go from point A to point B in a straight line. I also like being out on my bicycle for the same reasons, in that I get to see the road and landscape. I didn't take my bike today because I knew that I would be doing a bit of wandering in and out of shops, which is not a bicycle sort of activity.
I spent the mid-afternoon at the ICLC main building. Claire and I chatted a bit about how to preserve all of the previous faculty notes that have been left at the ICLC house and ways of helping new visiting faculty prepare for the hop over the pond. I then hung out for the Tuesday coffee and tea hour, where Bill enjoyed that I was wearing a Celtic football shirt (remember that football = soccer). I picked up some football shirts and decided to stay with the national team jerseys to not support a particular team. This way I avoid any controversies. I was half tempted to pick up a Chelsea shirt just to piss Bill off!
I then walked over to Kensington High Street to meander along the shops. I walked this area previously, but it was nice to return. I am looking for waterproof gloves, a good waterproof bicycle jacket to use here and at home, a back-up battery for my Olympus Tough-8000, and a back up memory card for my Olympus. Along with these very specific items to be shopping for I'm also looking for some inexpensive dress shoes to go with my new (used) suit for the upcoming trip to Ramseys. TK Maxx (yes, I typed TK Maxx....They use TK instead of TJ here in the UK to avoid confusion with another store of a similar name) seems like my best option. There are lots of TK Maxx's in London, so I should find shoes that fit me in a style I like for a reasonable price.
I took the Kensington High Street station train to Wimbledon and then walked back to the house. This route only took me 10 minutes longer than switching tube lines right back to Colliers Wood. This took a bit longer, but I got in some walking and seeing more of London. For dinner I cooked up some Chicken Vindaloo from Sainsbury with some rice and broccoli. Very tasty and this dish has a nice spice. Recall that these types of pre-made dishes have zero preservatives and nasty stuff. They are quite fresh and locally made. After dinner I worked on changing my return flight to NY from December 14 until something closer to the end of October. I've been able to front load a lot of what I planned on accomplishing while in London. Now that I'm heading home sooner--not an easy decision, but a relief at the same time--I now feel much more free to be a tourist. I'll have time during November and December to bust my butt in getting work done....and I'll have high-speed internet and high-powered computers!
Something I encountered when working on changing my return flight was a bit of glitch in the arrival times--for flights departing the same time from Heathrow--depending upon the departure day. All of the flights take about 8 hours, but some flights arrived at 1 pm and others at 2 pm. Very weird for flights that depart at the same time. What the heck is going on here? Ahhh, daylight savings time. England switches at a different time than the US. Once I figured out what was going on I decided to find a flight prior to the DST switch so as to not complicate things when needing to get to a flight on time. I'll now be home in time for Halloween, which Anna will be glad to hear, because we get several hundred trick-or-treaters stopping by our house on Halloween. This is a two person job!
Now that my time in England is six weeks shorter, I am polling folks about must-do-things before I depart. Send me your comments on what one site I must see before I leave.
Monday, October 4, 2010
London is in the midst of yet another tube strike. The weather channel is also predicting heavy rains so I decided not to bicycle into the main ICLC building. I ventured out on bus and foot instead. I took the 219 bus over to Clapham Junction to check out the shops there. A bit of internet searching made this part of town a hopping place to visit with a Whole Foods and Jamie Oliver's Recipease. I was also hoping that the Jessop's would have the battery I'm hoping to find for my Olympus-8000. I was generally disappointed with this part of town. The Whole Foods store is more of a bodega--when compared to the Kensington High Street store--and the Jessop's is smaller than the Colliers Wood store.
I did have one success in Clapham Junction. I wandered into a thrift store and found a suit for 40 quid that was in good condition, quite stylish, and fit me nicely. I now have a suit for the big dinner out when Anna and her mom visit. I was able to snag a reservation at Gordon Ramsay's three star restaurant in London. I packed a shirt and tie, but I'll need to pick up some shoes. I may also shop for some new shirts. The shirt selections here are so much better than in the US. They have lots of double cuff (French cuff) shirts and a wide range of neck sizes. I can also hit the hip men's fashion street for custom tailored shirts if needed.
I took a bus from Clapham Junction to Wimbledon. While on the bus I tried out a UK Sat Nav program I downloaded for my iSlate. This one works without a 3G connection and does a pretty good job. The one I purchased for travel in the US needs a 3G connection if you deviate at all from the pre-downloaded route, which makes it pretty useless. It would be nice to find one that works similar to the UK one.
I checked out the Jessop's store in Wimbledon for a battery for my Olympus Tough-8000, but they don't have it either. Looks like I'll need to have the Colliers Wood store order me one. I then walked back to the ICLC house. For dinner I baked up some breaded fish and onion rings in the oven (both were frozen products from Sainsbury). Not bad, but definitely felt like eating frozen food. The tartar sauce from Sainsbury was pretty tasty. So who invented tartar sauce and why? It is so tasty and so odd at the same time.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
I whipped up an egg sandwich for breakfast then headed off to Crystal Palace Park. It took two buses to get from the house to the park, but I'm glad I didn't ride my bicycle out to the park. I had read that Crystal Palace Park has a big transmitter tower in it, you get great views of London, and my UK maps showed some topography. The ups and downs were not quite the Alps, but enough that I would have found the cycle ride with my boot-sale bike challenging.
During the ride on the second bus I noticed that it turned away from the road heading toward the big transmitter tower. The sign on the bus also showed it ending at a spot I was unfamiliar with, so I hopped off of the bus. I don't know the bus system here that well, but the tube system has trains that are on the same line, but go to different places. Weird, I know. I walked back to the nearest bus station heading in what I thought was the right direction and checked out the bus map. It turns out that I was on the correct bus for my ultimate destination; the lower park, but I wound up hopping on a bus to the upper park.
This bit of second guessing turned out to be brilliant. I wound up at the upper park, which is up hill from where I intended to be, and I had a reason to walk through the park. If I had stayed on the original bus I doubt that I would have walked up hill and therefore I would have missed some great views. Crystal Palace Park is named after the Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace--made of cast-iron and glass--was erected in Hyde Park in 1851 as part of the Great Exhibition. In 1854 the building was moved to Sydenham Hill (now Crystal Palace Park) and resided there from 1854 to 1936 where it was destroyed by a fire.
This vast building is gone, but all of the landscape and access elements remain. Grand stairs that go from a grassy field to another grassy field. Sphinx statues that go nowhere. Very weird, and very cool at the same time. While walking down to the lower end of the park I discovered the Maze. This is not so much of a maze, but rather a labyrinth that takes one from the outside to the inside along a predetermined path. Continuing my walk downhill I checked out the Athletic facilities and finally made it to the dinosaur park. The dinosaur park contains sculptures revealed in 1854 and are the first attempt at representing dinosaurs and extinct species. Keep in mind that these sculptures were done six years before Darwin published On the Origin of Species. We've modified our view of what dinosaurs looked like a bit since these statues were created, but they got quite a bit right. During my visit it was a bit rainy, which added to the ambiance. It was fun to think back to the time when these Victorian Era statues were first displayed. Think Dickens and Sherlock Holmes and you have the right London in your mind.
After a bus ride and a bit of walking I was back at the IC house. Dinner was some breaded chicken fingers from Sainsbury that I had in the freezer and some steamed broccoli. Very tasty. Anna and I spent a bit chatting over Skype, and it was nice to catch up. I spent the evening working on more photographs in an attempt to get caught up. I'm still two weeks behind, but making ground.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
I cooked up some eggs over easy, potatoes, and rashers for breakfast and then headed off to Covent Garden. At the heart of this trip was my pilgrimage to the largest Apple store in the world, but it was really an excuse to check out a different part of central London. I took the Northern Line, which was running this weekend [recall that the underground has lots of engineering works going on each weekend so many lines are shut down], to Leicester Square tube station. Also recall that the Northern line is one of the more complicated tube lines in London, so I had to switch from the Northern line train I was on to another Northern line train at Kennington. Weird, I know, but I've gotten the hang of it.
After arriving at Leicester Square I checked out Chinatown before heading over to Covent Garden. We had some misty type rain so I didn't bring my big cameras, but I must return to Chinatown with the good cameras. Lots of cool photographs to take here, and lots of interesting colors. I started out as a B&W film photographer and I tend to see compositions. I've always found color--really good color--photographs hard to take. This trip has definitely inspired me to see more color.
I did a bit of wandering through the Covent Garden area before I pulled out my Marauder's Map to find out where I was and how to get where I wanted to go. My intended destination was the old fruit and veggie market (Covent Garden Market), which is interesting in and of itself, but also the location of the Apple store. I found my way toward the market (I previously took a left when I should have hung a right). The Apple store is huge, but I found the Reagent Street store more visually impressive. Of course all of the stores have the same stuff...only more of each as the store gets bigger. After visiting the Apple store I wandered through the market and enjoyed looking at all of the different crafts and products.
What I found more interesting was the stores just outside of the market and back on the streets. I found the heart of hiking, camping, skiing.... in London. Nearly every store on Southampton Street. After checking out all of the outdoor stores for a pair of waterproof gloves (Northface had a nice pair, but they did fit quite right) and for a rain proof bicycle jacket (again, none in my size) I wandered off to check out the area. I found my way back to Jermyn Street so that I could purchase some proper shaving soap at the shaving shop I visited the other day. I grabbed a double espresso at a Caffe Nero on Jermyn Street before heading back toward Leicester Square. I spent a bit more time wandering through Chinatown and also keeping my eye out for a Jessops (recall that this is a camera store) or another camera store. I must be blending into the local scene because I was stopped and asked directions. Unfortunately I did not know how to help these folks get to where they wanted to go, and I suspect that they were a bit surprised by my American accent when I started chatting with them.
My wanderings took me down to Charing Cross tube and rail station, to Trafalgar Square, and then a quick stop at Scotland Yard. Yes, the Scotland Yard of Sherlock Holmes fame, but the police no longer reside here, but it was still cool to walk down the street proper. I then wandered my way over to the Jubilee Pedestrian Bridge that took me over the river Thames. I arrived at South Bank near the London Eye and wandered my way to the Waterloo station, which is on the Northern Line, and caught a tube back to Colliers Wood. It was a really fantastic day out even with the rain.
I cooked up some "pulled pork" in BBQ sauce on a tortilla for dinner. I took the leftovers from the ribs I made the other night and simmered them in BBQ sauce with a bit of water added for about an hour. Once the pork started to fall apart I cooked down the water and piled the pork onto a steamed tortilla. Very tasty and a nice use of leftovers. I also watched the first Harry Potter move on my iPad. It was cool to see the scene where the first year students enter into the dining room for the sorting. Having been at the dining hall of Christ Church Oxford I now see how the staircase and the dining hall were filmed at Christ Church. Think about how cool that scene looks in the movie--subtract the floating candles--and this is the dining room that Christ Church Oxford students eat at every day. Pretty cool.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Friday was another serious work day; I can tell because I didn't take a single photograph today. Quite unusual during this trip for me not to take any photographs on any given day. I have a few deadlines coming up next week so I hope to bust out the necessary work and get on to having fun. I plan on taking the weekend off to enjoy London and then get back to it seriously on Monday; although there is another tube strike planned, so I may head out to explore via bus.
I did head over to the local marts to track down another battery and memory card for my point-n-shoot Olympus Tough-8000 camera. I'm finding that I use this camera a lot due to its small size (fits in my pocket) and durability (crush proof, drop proof, and most important water proof). Due to frequent use I run out of battery and memory before the day is out, so having spares of both will be nice. The local Jessop's store (camera store) didn't have what I was looking for, but they suggested that the Wimbledon store, which is bigger, might have what I need. I'll need to head over there next week.
Anna called while I was out shopping and after chatting with her for a bit I headed to Sainsbury to pick up a frozen pizza and some fresh mozzarella for dinner. While shopping I discovered that Sainsbury carries Halloumi...and at a fair price. Halloumi is a very specific Cypriot cheese that withstands grilling (much to the delight of one's tastebuds). After dinner I processed a bunch more of my photographs. Mainly entering descriptions into the metadata and then updating my photojournal.