England

driving through England

[…] nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower”
-Wordsworth

England flowers

Hi guys! It’s, um, been a while. I just kept putting off writing for the blog until I thought I’d never post again, and then I ended up writing a report for a newsletter and decided to write this post after all. It’s a bit of a whopper, and I’m going to come right out here and say that after this I’m going relapse into being a terrible blogger again. But if you’ve borne with me for this long, you might as well stick around (and I am grateful for it!).

So, the last week I was in Cambridge (I’m not going to say when that was, because then it will become so apparent how long I’ve waited to do this- but alright, it was mid-June), I spent mostly preparing to go back to Berlin, which included sorting out items to donate or sell, trying to sell those items (the bike being a biggie and the biggest failure), trying to gather the remaining research and figure out how to pack it all or digitize it to spare suitcase space. My suitcase still ended up four pounds overweight, but that somehow got ignored during check-in (thankfully), and I came back to Berlin with most of my stuff, an hour of jetlag, and a lot of memories.

I used my 5 hour layover in Cologne to write my official reports about my experiences for Erasmus and my Uni, and here is a redacted version, plus the recap of my England trip with my parents.

As I’ve posted already, running around Cambridge has introduced me to a lot of the surrounding countryside: Grantchester, Waterbeach, Horning Sea, and Lode, with these explorations ending on the day before the trip home with a 23 miles round-trip visit to Anglesey Abbey. Anglesey Abbey is a country house, formerly a priory, in the village of Lode, and the beautiful house and grounds are owned by the National Trust. I wish I had planned more time to visit, but it was a good experience for my last day in England.

Anglesey Abbey

But traveling beyond Cambridgeshire all through England has given me deeper insight into the political, literary and social history of the country, and being near London allowed me to visit thrice, two times for research and once for fun. I had used running a marathon in Blackpool as an excuse to visit a friend in Newcastle, and gotten to know a little of England’s north. I learned even more by going back a second time and seeing more of it, this time with my parents.

For the end of May, a week after my parents landed in Europe, my parents and I had planned for a trip together that was to start in Edinburgh and end in Cambridge. Originally, we were going to spend one night in Edinburgh, two nights in Windermere, one night in Nottingham, one night in Bath, two nights in Looe, one night in Brighton, and two nights in Cambridge. We ended up skipping Brighton and spent the night in Shrewsbury instead of Nottingham, skipping the Peak District (driving through the hills/mountains of the Lake District was harrowing enough!), and spent the extra night we saved from skipping Brighton in Cambridge. It was a whirlwind of a tour, and very literary (both my mother and I are English Lit majors, so you know we visited all the places we could).

I wish I could give the rundown of the trip in a way that is both detailed and entertaining, but I’m going to settle with “complete.”

Edinburgh gave my family a taste of Scotland, and driving down to England allowed us to see the lowlands, take a stop in a quaint Scottish town, and also see Hadrian’s Wall, which, as I’ve mentioned before, was built by the Romans to keep the northern Ancient Brits out of their lands.

The first stop of our journey was Windermere, which is the name of the town on the largest lake in England (it’s not very large looking on a map, but its length makes it pretty big). Getting there was quite an adventure, as Scotland and northern England are very hilly, and the Lake District especially so, and the roads there are very narrow. Add to all that the fact that my father was driving on the left-hand side of the road, something he hadn’t done in thirty years, and you can imagine the rate of all the hearts in the car.

Windermere is a lovely town (filled, of course, with tourists) that was near Beatrix Potter’s (author of the lovable Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-Duck, and other tales) home across the lake in Hawkshead, but also to the famous Romantic poet William Wordsworth and his sister, who was a poet in her own right. We missed a few of the attractions in the area, such as Dove Cottage and his grave in Grasmere, but we didn’t miss Rydal Mount and the walk to Ambleside, which was also William and Dorothy’s favorite walk.

After spending a pleasant non-driving day in the Lake District, it was time to drive down to Nottingham. Except my parents decided they’d rather drive less than more, so we drove more directly south to Shrewsbury, which was a beautiful little town that was also home to Charles Darwin at one point (he was born there). Our stay there also marked the first of many days in English rain. On the way to Shrewsbury, we decided to stop in South Port, which, as it turns out, is just within sight of Blackpool. My parents weren’t that impressed with South Port, but maybe because they compared it too much to our north German sea-side cities.

Dorothea and Shakespeare

Dorothea and Shakespeare

Shrewsbury put us about in the middle of west England, and Day Four was going to be a long day of traveling, driving over Stratford-upon-Avon through the Cotswolds (absolutely beautiful! one of many tips for this trip from Mike at Alittlebitoutoffocus) to Gloucester (not so much), through the Forests of Dean (again, beautiful) to Tintern which, you should know, is home to Tintern Abbey (there are no words, or perhaps 1229 of them, this poem). I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that seeing the abbey in the stone was one of the highlights of this trip.

Tintern Abbey 3

That long day of traveling ended in Bath.

Bath, named after the site of ancient Roman Baths and also home to Jane Austen, at one point, was worth a visit and we enjoyed our morning there.

But we were anxious to settle into our next multi-night home, so we booked it through south west England through Exeter, which was another pleasant surprise (and my only exposure to a non-Oxbridge university in England) to Cornwall. Cornwall!

Exeter

Cathedral Church of Saint Peter in Exeter

My mother and I were really excited about Cornwall, since it is supposed to have some of the most beautiful sites in the UK. But it turns out that Cornwall is very big, and the beautiful cliffs, blue skies and green grasses that Cornwall is famous for aren’t on all sides of Cornwall. But they are easy enough to find. And Looe, as an old fishing port had a charm that was all its own.

Looe

But while Looe was not an Area of Outstanding Natural beauty, AONBs were within a few hours’ drive, and having had Tintagel recommended to us by the nice landlady of our B&B, that’s where we went. (I forgot to mention this earlier, but we had a wonderful time in B&Bs… the only hotel was the one in Windermere, since that had been a bank holiday and it was all that was left, and my parents stayed for cheap in one of my college’s guest rooms in Cambridge.)

Tintagel is the purported birthplace of Arthur, yes the King Arthur of all the legends, and it is beautiful place to hail from, to be sure.

Walks and delicious meals filled our time in Cornwall, until it was time to leave, heading for Cambridge as we had decided when we all decided we wanted a few days of rest and no driving.

So after a day of driving through the parts of south west England we hadn’t seen before, as well as those we had (stopping again in Exeter), we barely missed the cut-off time to stop in Amesbury to see Stonehenge, which was – other than a lot of rain days, the only real disappointment of our trip (for the record, the cut-off to visit is two hours before closing time, which is 5pm), but we still made it to Cambridge before it got too terribly late.

And then it was two glorious, sun-filled days of showing my parents around Cambridge. I showed them the famous library in Trinity College–the Wren Library, home to Winnie the Pooh rare editions, Newtonian notes and poet manuscripts– the University Library (of course), my working spaces, King’s College and its chapel, the whole of town, part of the Grantchester Meadows walk, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s grave, Jesus Green, and we heard evening mass in St. John’s College, as well as a lot more that I’m sure I’ve forgotten.

In fact, you can be sure there’s a lot I’ve left out of this report, but you’ve now got the general gist. It was 10 days of English, Scottish, and Welsh history, culture, literature… a trip of a lifetime for not only me, but my parents as well, and it was really special to also share it with them.

p.s. While being a goof off the web, WordPress celebrated my fifth year of blogging. I guess that’s a bit of a milestone!

Advertisements

north of the south

As a kind-of-joke (but possibly a legitimate suggestion), someone in the audience of the “Lessons of Brexit” event I attended at the end of March (I talk about it in my last post) asked during the Q&A whether moving Parliament out of London to Leeds, Manchester, or somewhere up north would address some of the demands of the “leave” voters. A lot of people who voted for leaving the EU were motivated by their day-to-day realities and a feeling that EU funds, just like national funds, continued to end up in or around London, which is where the seat of the British Parliament is located. This point about the distribution of wealth in the UK is clear, even to an outside observer: health services are less available, bus services much less frequent and more irregular, etc.

There also seems to be a general kind of snobbery in the south of England towards the north, especially by people in London and Cambridge. When I told people I would be visiting Newcastle upon Tyne and Blackpool for the weekend, I was asked why I would want to go up there…. several times. It was done in a joking manner of course (even by a girl who comes from Manchester), but the fact that the south is seen as the sophisticated, cultured region while the north was good for the Industrial Revolution, walking tours and farming, but very little otherwise, is a seemingly pervasive stereotype.

Not one to be dissuaded, not least because I was running a marathon in Blackpool and knew someone in Newcastle, I headed out on my three-day journey Saturday before last and had quite a good time, I must say. The people I met were friendly, the landscape beautiful, and there was more than enough to do.

It started with a ride through the heart of England with a stop in Peterbough, which I didn’t see much of, because, well, you know, I had another train to catch. I arrived in Newcastle mid-morning and found my friend J., a virtual running teammate, waiting for me. He has a car and was born and raised in Newcastle–aka a bona fide Geordie–, so I was lucky that he had time and wanted to show me all the sights– not to mention that I could get to know him a little better as this was our first time meeting in-person.

Newcastle Map

a map of Newcastle upon Tyne and its surrounding Buroughs. Wallsend refers to the Hadrian Wall whose ruins run through the north of England (originally a Roman defensive wall) and end here.

IMG_3127

St. Mary’s Cathedral /first thing you see when you leave the station

These already began with St. Mary’s Cathedral immediately outside the central station. We then proceeded to drive through the boroughs of Newcastle, with J. pointing everything out along the way and happy to stop whenever I wanted to see something more closely. And I wanted to see a lot up closely, a lot because of what he had said about it. Take for example the relatively newly renovated Tynmouth Station. It’s glass roof and intricate rafters made for a beautiful space to host a weekly flea market that featured regular and nomadic sellers. It’s not far from  the ruins of the Priory and Tynmouth Castle, which were the most fortified area in England since they had to protect the headland at the North Sea Coast.

We then drove on bit further north to Whitley Bay where I could see the St. Mary’s Lighthouse and smell the North Sea coastline. I could swear it was the same as the German side. The day was a bit overcast and windy, but thankfully dry and I was enjoying what I saw so far- a lot of water and a lot of green, which is just how I like it.

After checking off the North Sea, it was time to get to know the River Tyne a little more. Newcastle benefitted throughout history as being one of the northernmost ports in England and the city developed from being important for wool trade in the 14th century, its port and shipyards in the 16th century, and of course its coal mining extending from the 15th to its important role in the Industrial Revolution to its height in the early 20th century.  In fact, the shipyards a little further down the river was amongst the largest shipbuilding and ship-repair centers in the world.

Being on a river, there are of course several bridges joining Newcastle and Gateshead on the other side, and these are world famous.

Especially the Millennium Bridge. It’s one of three tilt-bridges in the world and perhaps even more famous than its older partner, the Tyne Bridge, that you can see in the background in the photos above. The Millennium Bridge will be rotated several times a day for tourists and extended periods of time for special events. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in town long enough to see the bridge, but you can watch the bridge tilt here. 

J. showed me a few other things on the river- the Sage and the Baltic Mills cultural and arts museum, which also had a few great viewing platforms, before we sat down for lunch. Unfortunately it was not fish and chips, which would have been ideal here, since I was running a marathon the next day, but he did know a delicious Italian restaurant that was in one of the busiest restaurant and bar streets in the city- and also up a pretty steep hill, which I concluded would have been easier to walk up if not sober.

After that, we saw a little more of the city center. It was pretty busy, being a Saturday afternoon and a lot at once! I really should have paid more attention when J. was telling me everything!

Finally, after seeing so many amazing things (not included here: St. James’ Stadium) and having a lot of fun chatting with J.,  it was almost time to get back to the train station. However, he made sure I also got to see the one thing I had mentioned before coming to Newcastle that I’d be interested in seeing: Newcastle’s namesake. Of course it’s named after a castle and I’d read online that one could visit it. J. was surprised when I mentioned it, as apparently Newcastlians kind of ignore it, but this also meant he was just as curious as I was to see it.

IMG_3154

very castle-y. The Castle Keep

He found the place where it must be, and we both got out and ooh’d and ah’d, and then he brought me to the station and I was on the next leg of my journey. It is only in writing this post that I realize that the Castle was built on the site of a fortress, and the fortress is the city’s namesake. Also, the only remaining structures of the Castle were the Castle Keep, a Tower and a Gateshouse (with the imposing name of Black Gate). Turns out, we were able to see the Castle Keep, which I still find impressive. You can still see what is old and new here.

However, onto Blackpool. I’m going to actually do this in a separate post, since WordPress is complaining about how much I’m trying to squeeze into this one. See you again soon!

 

A week in the life of a visiting Cambridge student: Saturday

So, like any college student, I like to go out on a Friday night and sleep in, at least a little, on Saturday mornings. However, a) I’m a PhD student, so these generalizations don’t really apply. And b) how can I sleep in when there’s a parkrun to go to?

parkrun

parkrun is a really cool event that was initiated by British-Zimbabwean-South African Paul Sinton-Hewitt in 2004 that has spread out from his little local park in London to 1400 locations world-wide. It’s a free 5k timed race that happens every Saturday and while there’s a lot of glory involved (speed, how many you’ve run, how many you’ve volunteered, etc.), it’s not about prizes or being the fastest. It’s meant to be an inclusive event, and I believe it rather is. While it arrived to the US in 2012, no one has tried it yet in the swampy parks of Florida or the finicky forests of Berlin, so I haven’t had the opportunity to join in on the fun-yet. Last week I jogged across the invisible starting line along with nearly 500 others for the first time and had a great time. This week the same. If I don’t get pulled away by other events on a Saturday, the parkrun is definitely going to be a staple.

Another thing to do on a Saturday is take care of some shopping. This can involve a venture into the almost scarily busy city center for groceries and other supplies. Coming from my own personal Hogwarts a mile away, I sometimes think of the center as Hogsmeade (and the associations are not just mine!). I can see the appeal of Cambridge city centre on a mild winter day. There are a lot of great stores, there’s the market, and there are the gorgeous buildings all around to look at. I was tempted to pull out my camera to take a few shots, but I have an annoying self-consciousness of looking like a tourist when in a new area, so now my blog will suffer for it. When I’m no longer such a dork, I’ll take some photos, I promise!

Speaking of groceries: the first weeks after being in a new place, I tend to go overboard with buying food, mainly because I haven’t figured out my go-to shopping list yet (you know, the standards that one needs to have in the cupboard/fridge to get through a week). Some things I have bought over the last week to keep me alive and running are:

Crumpets, scones, Nakd bars, Cadbury chocolates, and the aforementioned microwavable haggis (I cannot emphasize enough that it’s actually quite good. I think it’s the spices that transform it from a weird mix of sheep intestines and oatmeal to something I actually look forward to eating). I’ve heard the expressions “tea and crumpets” or “tea and biscuits” for ages, but I never actually new what a crumpet was. It’s a small griddle cake that tastes great toasted with cheese or almond butter. I’ve already gone through three bags of them, and I could probably live off those for the next five months. The scones are self-explanatory, though I think they’re probably much better in a café than pre-packaged in a grocery store, and the Cadbury chocolates are a treat that I, unfortunately have to keep as far away from me as possible, because they won’t last a day in my possession.

But the Nakd bars are actually a pleasant surprise, because they are a no-sugar added fruit/nut bar that I discovered in Germany, but never wanted to give my arm for, so I never got them after I found them at a health food exhibition once. Here they run for 50 pence, so it’s easy to stuff a bunch in my backpack to have as a sweet snack during the week.

nakd

from eatnakd.com

Once the shopping was taken care of, I spent a very boring, but productive! afternoon/evening in the library. It is a super nice working space and the lighting is much better than in my room. Not the most amazing way to spend a Saturday, but with some plans over the coming weekends, it’s actually okay to have a quieter one getting things done.

img_1669

I’d never seen the desks on the stair-cases before. It’s really cool to ‘perch’ at the desk on top. And during the say, the view outside is nice too.

Now comes the main question. How did you spend your Saturdays while in school? I’ll admit, it’s only the convenience of having a 24/7 library within 5 minutes walking distance that gets me in a library on Saturday. I never did that in Florida (except maybe while living on campus as an undergrad) or in Berlin.

A week in the life of a visiting Cambridge student: Thursday

American pragmatism and opportunism are what happens when you take the sensibilities of the -English, used to taming their lands over millennia and their people over centuries, and throwing them into wilderness and self-governance. At least, that’s one way of summarizing it if one wants to generalize two completely heterogenous groups. But the point is, although the US and the English speak the same language, they are not the same people (and the fact that it’s the same language is also debatable).

img_1665

road on the way to King’s College, Cambridge

So, some things I’ve noticed, since being here for a week, range from the very obvious (driving on the left side of the road!) to the subtler and more unique to Cambridge.

Since these first weeks of being here are all so unique and there’s a lot to comment on, I’m going to break it down into daily observations.

Thursday:

The Cambridge University week begins on Thursdays. It’s how they set up their timetables and my guess is that it has something to do with Maundy Thursday in the Christian tradition and the Last Supper. It’s not a off-the-wall guess, seeing as the terms are named after Christian periods: Michaelmas, Lent, and Easter, but I could also be totally wrong.

There are lectures to visit all week, usually in the mornings, and there was one I wanted to visit today on “the creation of Britain and the appearance of “others.” My main take-away: the Brits were interested in religion more than blood-line when it comes to “othering,” though conflating skin color with virtue was starting to happen in the early medieval era. Unlike lectures in the US or Germany, which usually run 80-90 minutes, these are 50-minute lectures and involve, as it seems in the English faculty, a list of quotes that the lecturer incorporates into a general talk about a specific concept. My lecture today had the lecturer incorporate some questions to his students that even I, as the most senior in there, didn’t quite know how to answer.  But it was over quite quickly and I can understand now that this is just the impetus for students to go off and write their weekly essay for their tutor.

So, the afternoons in Cambridge seem blocked off for reading, writing, or for graduate seminars, for which I’m thankfully not signed up for this term. I used some of this “free” afternoon to get my bike looked at.

bike shops in cambridge

For a town as small as Cambridge, there is an unusually high number of bike shops. They range from high-end, bike sport enthusiast shops to the more expensive bike department store type place. And then there are a lot of second-hand bike shops that trade heavily in student bicycles. I had opted to find mine online, on a local Craig’s List type service, but I got my helmet, bike lock, and lights from a second-hand shop. The bike I bought shortly after arriving in Cambridge was put together by a guy who takes second-hand parts and builds his bikes from scratch and I have to say, it’s probably the best deal on a good bike I’ve ever gotten (other than a slight mismatch of the rear-quick release, which he sorted for me today). The frame and tyres (I like how the English write it this way) are excellent quality and I may even attempt a bike tour on them before leaving.

Since the bike fix went so quickly, I had time to meet with a PhD student I’d gotten in contact with while still in Berlin, since we are interested in similar topics. We met in the Buttery, which is a university-run café/cafeteria that can be found on all the college campuses and serves warm paninis (if you get them in time!).

I rounded out the afternoon with a visit to the University Library, which is an impressive building not far from the English and Modern and Medieval Languages Faculties. It’s hard to describe the library. One can tell it was built in the 1930s, but it smells of books and manuscripts much older than that. I really like walking up its narrow staircases and between the rows of books. It feels cozier than most libraries I’ve been to, and I’ve figured out the book-order system they have, which, although they have an online catalogue and requesting system, is still quaintly paper-bound in the physical room of the main reading room, which looks like those libraries you see in movies.

Finally, before heading home to do more work there, I stopped by Aldi. I love getting my groceries at Aldi in Germany, and it’s quite cool that it’s also in several locations in the US now, but it’s really good to have in Cambridge where the pound outweighs my other familiar currencies and I feel like I’m going broke, even though I know it’s just a side-effect of starting somewhere new on a mere 23 kilo of suitcase filler.

And now here I am, sitting in my room in a graduate dorm, having eaten my share of veggies and microwavable haggis (going to have to find the real thing at some point), and trying to figure out how I’m going to read all those books I’ve checked out in the past few days before they’re due back to the library.