Monday, May 29, 2017

Time with Friends and Tower of London

On Friday afternoon, Gemma took me to the town of Sandwich before I had to board my train back to London. Seeing "sandwich" on so many things made me chuckle, particularly the sign for the local library. Sure, it could be just a normal library full of books, but maybe...

Although eating bread with various fillings has been around probably since humans starting making bread,  referring to it as a sandwich came about in the 18th century through John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. Supposedly he frequently requested bread filled with meat so that he could eat without a fork and keep his hands free of grease, so that he could continue to play cards *cough*gamble*cough*  and others began to request "the same as Sandwich".

We stopped for a drink at The Crispin Inn, sitting in the sunshine with a view of the River Stour. The building dates back to 1491, but it didn't become a pub until 1790. 

You have been warned
I scheduled a mid-afternoon train back to London because on the last Friday of each month hundreds of cyclists gather for a Critical Mass ride. Critical Mass rides can be found in cities across the world where cyclists take over the street in a sort of protest for better cycling infrastructure. Austin has such as strong cycling scene where you can find rides every day of the week and CM rides are fairly non-existent (although Houston has a very active one!).

The CM London group recommended renting one of the Santander cycle share bikes, which was my plan. Upon arriving back in London, I took the Tube home, dropped off my luggage, grabbed the bike lights I had brought with me from Austin for extra visibility, and traveled south to Waterloo Bridge. There was a bike share station down the street from the meet-up point, and it was, luckily, full of bikes. I put in my credit card to start the rental process. When it came time to pay, the machine asked for a pin - which my cc doesn't have set up. It has a chip and has been fine with every purchase I have used it for so far. After several attempts to bypass it, the card was declined. Grrrr. So, I pulled out my debit/credit card which has a pin and which I have successfully used several times here. I re-started the rental process, clicked through all the screens, and when it came time to pay it declined my card outright before even giving me the option to enter a pin! Arrgghhhhh!!!! In a panic I started to Google for other options. All of the bike rental places that came up were closed at this point and anything else was more than 1.5 miles away. Frustration and depression set in as I realized I wouldn't be able to join the ride.

Riders gathering
I still went back to the meet-up point to mingle and see everyone off. I was particularly disappointed because I had been debating all week whether to do the ride or to attend a podcast taping with Richard Ayoade (Moss from The I.T. Crowd) that I had tickets to. By the time I realized I wouldn't be able to ride, the taping would have already started (and was ~30 mins away).

As I sulked back to Waterloo station, I treated myself to some Vicky's Donuts from the stand at the Kerb Market pop-up.
Spotted another piece by Invader
On Saturday, after my work trip to Cambridge, I met up with my friend Nicola and her fiance Josh who were in town to celebrate her birthday. Their hotel provided them with a birthday bottle of champagne, so we shared that and chatted until they had to head to a show in the West End. Nicola and I met early in my first year of college through the Spanish department. She was my most stylish friend and helped me learn valuable life skills like how to apply eye liner. 😂 

On Sunday I picked up a new group of students, who arrived in London on Saturday, from their hotel and walked them around central London. This was the day I was most nervous about because I had to be the tour guide and give them all the facts about what we were looking at. On top of that, when checking a few things before going to meet them, I saw that all around St. James' Park and Buckingham Palace there was a fun run which would be causing extra traffic, road closures, and other difficulties.
Luckily, we managed it fine with only a little bit of delay getting through the park and fighting some crowds near the palace.

After a break for lunch, I brought them to the Tower of London where they had a few hours to explore. First, we all opted to join a Yeomen Warders' tour. Popularly known as "Beefeaters", these are the ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. They have to have 22 years of honorable service in the armed forces to be eligible, and they live at the Tower (they can bring their families!). The tours last for 60 minutes and are hilarious, as well as informative.

The Tower of London originates with William the Conqueror, who built the White Tower in 1078, and it was expanded on by Richard the Lionheart, Henry III, and Edward I throughout the 12th and 13th centuries. Originally it was a fortress meant to defend the city, but rather than keeping people it, it was often used as a jail, keeping people in. Other uses include a treasury, home of the Royal Mint, a menagerie, and home of the Crown Jewels - which you can still view today. Many historical figures lived or were imprisoned and executed here. Most executions were performed on nearby Tower Hill, but some nobles were beheaded within the tower itself, such as Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey.

It is hard to capture the buildings with just a cell phone camera because the buildings are so large and imposing.
White Tower
We are the watchers on the wall
Big guns

memorial for those executed in the Tower
view of Tower Bridge from the Tower of London

After accompanying the students back to their hotel, I went to meet Nicola and Josh again. We went for dinner at a pho restaurant, then they took me to Cinnamon Bazaar for cinnamon bellinis.

As we walked through Convent Garden, Nicola started to tell me about a hilarious mime street performer who they saw on a previous visit to London, then she looked to her left and he was performing right at that point! We ran over and watched the last 15 minutes of his show and it was hilarious. He also rode a 3 wheeled unicycle (tricycle??)!

Today (Monday) I finally had a chance to sleep in, lounging in bed until 10:30am. After getting up, I met Nicola and Josh in Southwark so we could do the Clink Prison museum experience. The prison operated here throughout the middle ages, housing prisoners in cruel, awful conditions. The museum has a number of medieval torture devices for you to examine and it's shocking all the things humans have invented to hurt one another.

Help! Send bail money!
Actually, it's not so bad in this day and age
Next we went for lunch at the nearby Founders Arms, which overlooks the River Thames.
Street art on the way. Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is nearby.
Cider from New Zealand - fruity and delicious!

Beet and goat's cheese sandwich
Then we had to say our good-byes.

Since I was nearby, I went into the Tate Modern again to see some more exhibits.
After, as I walked back to the Tube it was drizzling and I wanted something sweet, so I stopped at Rabot 1745 which is next to Borough Market. It is known for its chocolate and cocoa-based cuisine. The restaurant was closed, but the cafe was open so I had a spiced chocolate latte with a shot of their salted caramel vodka just to try it out.
Thick, creamy, and delicious
As soon as I got home the skies opened with a fairly heavy downpour, making me glad I had called it an early night tonight.

Cambridge, part 1

On Saturday morning we had another early wake-up call, to board a bus to Cambridge. Traffic was light and we made good time -arriving in about an hour and a half.

Our first activity was a punting tour. A punt is a flat-bottomed boat designed for shallow water with a platform on the back for the punter who propels the boat with a pole that pushes against the river bed. It felt a little bit like being on a gondola in Venice. We split into 4 punts, but mine and another kind of joined forces with our punters taking turns giving us commentary and at one point masterfully turning our boats around with the grace of synchronized swimmers.

Cambridge's Bridge of Sighs

Tight squeeze!
Kitchen Bridge

The start of our tour was rainy, which kept some of the crowds away, but it cleared up about halfway through and the river got progressively more packed.

The main sights on the tour were the various college buildings that make up the University of Cambridge. They were all very impressive and beautiful.

After our punting tour, we had a walking tour of the city primarily focusing on science related history since this student group are pre-med, biology, and forensic science students.
This is the entrance to Trinity College, where notable alumni include Isaac Newton, Prince Charles, Lord Byron, and Lord Tennyson.
This apple tree is grown from a graft of the apple tree from Newton's home that is said to have helped inspire him in his theory of gravity.
Bicycles are the primary mode of transportation for many of the residents in Cambridge, as most of the students are prohibited from having cars in order to reduce congestion in the city. You see bicycles everywhere!
 This is inside The Eagle pub, at the booth where James Watson and Francis Crick would eat lunch everyday. It was here on February 28, 1953 that they had announced they had "discovered the secret of life" with their discovery of the structure of DNA. The 2nd plaque recognizes the work of Rosalind Franklin whose crystallography enabled Crick and Watson to confirm their theory of DNA's structure.

Christ College, where Charles Darwin studied. 

In Cambridge you see a number of very, very old building with sealed up windows. This is because in the 17th-19th centuries, there were taxes based on the number of windows a building had. So, if you couldn't afford your taxes (or didn't want to pay high ones!), you would brick up some of your windows.

After our walking tour, we headed back to the bus. Originally we were supposed to have a few hours to explore the city, but several of the students had scheduled early evening flights to Paris for their 2 day break and their professors were scared that if there was traffic from the FA Cup finals or other delays that they wouldn't make it. I was a bit disappointed because the city is beautiful, but luckily I will be heading back there this Thursday with another group (hence the title of Cambridge, part 1).

In the evening, I went to dinner at the Kentish Town branch of Wahaca which is a chain of "Mexican street food" restaurants. I was quite suspicious of it when I first saw it, a) because all the Mexican and Tex-Mex food I have had in Europe has been disappointing and b) they spelled it Wahaca rather than Oaxaca, so how authentic could it be? But, one of my colleagues here who lived in Texas for 5 years assured me that it was good and said the reason for the spelling is because it is owned by the same people who run Wagamama's, an Asian food chain.

I was pleasantly surprised with the burn-your-mouth chipotle salsa and everything tasted good. They even have dishes with nopales.

The receipt came with what appeared to be a match book at first glance, but it was actually seeds to grow chili peppers! Cute! 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Have I got a Deal for you!

Every day I feel very fortunate that I have been given the opportunity to come here this summer and the last two days have magnified that gratitude. By being here for an extended amount of time, I am able to use my free time to visit important people in my life, some of whom I have not seen for several years.

This week I had a couple of days together with no student group commitments, so on Wednesday morning I woke up very early to catch a train to the southeastern English coast where my former college roommate and adventure partner picked me up. Gemma was one of the first people I met upon moving to Wales, as she and I were placed next to each other in the dorms. We each had Spanish as one of our majors and did our Erasmus semester in Spain together in Granada. There are a couple of long-term friends who I consider to have had a major impact on helping me become the person I am today, and she is near the top of that list. She taught me so much about kindness, British culture, and life in general.

On my last visit to the UK we were supposed to reunite, but shortly before she went on a holiday to Spain and experienced some very scary pregnancy complications that caused her to be in hospital there for a month, so we, understandably, could not see each other. Now she has a healthy and thriving 13 month old who I was so excited to meet.

Don't be fooled, she was very smiley for most of the visit.
Gemma lives in a lovely seaside town called Deal, which has a long maritime history. When Julius Caesar came to the UK, he landed here in Deal.  The UK Royal Marines set up barracks in the town back in the 1700s and in 1989, the IRA set off a bomb at the Royal Marines School of Music here, killing 11 and wounding 21. The barracks are no longer used for military purposes, having now been converted into flats.

Deal is also part of a chain of ports, the Cinque Ports, and King Henry VIII commissioned a castle here for strategic defense of the coast. Deal castle is in the design of a Tudor rose and looks very impressive in aerial photos. It is really well preserved and this time of year was lovely with all sorts of wildflowers and flower beds all around it in bloom.

As you can see, we're still having beautiful weather and from the beach you could see France.
Bonjour! (It's the dark bit on the horizon in the middle of the photo)

My phone has gotten a little confused.

The beach here is pebble rather than sand
A bit of Deal, as seen from the pier
Deal is also only about 20 minutes from Dover, so we took a short car journey there on Wednesday afternoon. 

This Banksy mural appeared in Dover about 2.5 weeks ago. Dover is a busy shipping port, where a lot of people and cargo come from mainland Europe. The mural is located on the main road to and from the port, so it is highly visible to all who come and go. This image is the flag of the European Union with a workman chiseling away one of the stars, an obvious commentary on Brexit.

Most Americans who have heard of Dover know of its famous white cliffs.

The Instagram view
The reality view
There is a ~2 mile hike along the cliffs out to a lighthouse. They don't have anything actually marking the distance and the map they give you upon entry does not give you an idea of scale. By the time we got to the lighthouse, we were already burning a bit from the sun and I was starving, so we visited the tea room for a treat.

Feeling fancy with a cream tea
The rest of my visit has just been quiet relaxing, cuddling cats and the baby, and doing some work on my laptop. Now it's back to London for me.