Posts from England
- Cream Tea and High Cliffs on May 12th, 2013
What’s the connection you might ask? Well, cream tea refers to an afternoon treat here in Britain. It’s regular tea (black with milk and sugar if your feeling very British), a scone with jam and clotted cream. The latter item probably does to your heart exactly what it’s name suggests. It is thick, gooey cream made from evaporated milk. High Cliffs are what surround the South West Coast of England in Cornwall where this gastronomic delight is at its best. Add to this the Cornish penchant for meat and cheese, buttery pastries and you have all the ingredients for a slow moving but very satisfying holiday.
My absence from blogging has been a result of just such a holiday in Cornwall where I backpacked along the South West Coast Path. No schoolwork, television or Internet, just beaches, sun and wildly indecisive temperatures. Although I value a productive days work, opportunities like this allow one to step back and introduce a little reflection into ones routine. Combine the quiet and the solitude with a hard days walk (week’s total of about 43 miles) and some well earned comfort food and you may just have the perfect vacation.
There are a lot of things in Cornwall, and by extension the British countryside, that I from my American perspective found fascinating. First, the entire trail wound through the backyards, gardens and farmland. If I did this in the states, I think I’d risk getting shot at. There is an unwritten understanding that if something has been used for a trail in the pas, it should always be used as a trail. I passed many a disinterested pony in those few days and more than once yielded the path to a herd of cows. Because of this, you find something that you really don’t see in the states, styles. These are clever inventions, allowing a human to pass between fields but keeping livestock from doing so. There are a number of varieties, with some as old as the slate walls they often decorate.
Another feature of this area is the small port villages dotted along the coast. They have the most deliciously unhealthy food and the most typical old Cornish villagers selling it. Much of Cornwall was roadless and remained so until the Second World War, when American groups, practicing for the D-day landings built roads and set up a lot of the infrastructure you see today. Also, it’s a perfectly idyllic setting for TV shows like ‘Doc Martin’, which I saw them filming in Port Isaac.
Also, King Arthur was born there. No, not really. There probably was a Saxon King Arthur but no Merlin, Camelot or whatever. That story really didn’t exist as we know it until it was codified by the 19th century romantics. However, the village of Tintagel still makes a big deal out of it.
- London Spring on April 21st, 2013
If I believed in jinxes, I wouldn’t respond to spring’s delayed arrival with a sigh of relief. I wouldn’t go out without a coat and I wouldn’t take some time off and go see the London Marathon finish and I would probably get a bit more schoolwork done by shutting myself indoors and waiting for the inevitable. I don’t, I did, and I have. Its only in the mid 50s here but given the wet and insidiously chilly spring we’ve enjoyed here so far, the lawn chairs and t-shirts are out all over London, and just in time for the London Marathon.
Even by London standards, I am told, it has been a downright gloomy spring thus far. At Margaret Thatcher’s funeral on Wednesday, it was still hovering in the low 40s and cloudy, but by yesterday there was outdoor revelry in Soho (Block party in full swing by mid afternoon) and (turns out, myself included) over zealous coat ditchers all around. Yesterday was the Feast of St George, England’s patron saint, in Trafalger Square where it was refreshing to see an abundance of good food treated as something exceptional rather than a given. Perfect timing, as it turns out, for the London Marathon, which I caught only the end of (I say end, but I arrived only about two hours after the start, and the first finishers had already come in). This 36,000 strong event is one of the “Big 6″ Marathons, for which to qualify is an achievement in itself (Boston, for example, requires times that only about 10% of marathoners have achieved).
Anyway, things have picked up here now that the weather has improved, and as the last few assignments for school are finished, Ill be traveling yet again before I head back home in about a month. I hear the weather is improving back home, so enjoy it (it is, I have found, a better bet that it will stay good there than it is here).
- aye, Scotland on April 18th, 2013
Again I have neglected to update this blog for some time, but I think you’ll forgive me this time. A marathon in the Scottish highlands and hiking through weather that seems to struggle daily with a crisis of identity have not afforded me ample opportunities to sit down and write about it all. Now, I’m on the train back to London. No, not just that. I’m on a sleeper train on the same route used by the Hogwarts Express (you know, with the scene over the arched rail bridge on which they drive the flying car? That’s the Glenn Finnan viaduct, and is just outside of town). Yes, there is a sweat view; there’s even scenery from the newest Bond movie.
We’ve been staying in Fort William. Although unimpressive I. Itself, it is located at the heart of backpacker heaven, at the end of the West Highland walk and the beginning of the Great Glenn Way and nested at the foot of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the British Isles at over 4000 feet. Now, I’ve been to some very high mountains, but when a mountain goes from sea level to 4000 feet in the space of a few miles, it makes for some pretty amazing scenery. There is still snow on top and skiing is still possible for die hard thrill seekers.from here it is just a quick pop over to the coast and the Isle of Skye, itself a sought after destination for backpackers, myself included. An then there is haggis.
Now, British food has a reputation, often oversimplified as being, well, just god awful. This is based on the equivalence of starchy, carbohydrate and fat rich food with the bland and one dimensional. It can be, but if your prepared for it, it can be a comfort food seekers dream (and I do mean the naughty kind). I, for one, like haggis I.e. pork, lamb, liver, onions and suet stuffed in a sheep’s stomach and boiled to perfection. I mean really, what’s not to like? It goes sinfully well with fried eggs and toast and will fill you to the brim. However, a steady diet of this can become a bit old. Nothing else seems filling after this and if your not hiking a mountain every day this kind of stuff is likely to accumulate until your own stomach looks a lot like that sheep’s. so, nowthat I’ve sold Scottish food so well, lets talk about Scottish alcohol… For about ten minutes until were too smashed to appreciate it. This stuff will knock you down fast, so don’t believe that bullshit on Mad Men where there drinking full glasses of Scotch at 11 in the morning, you (and they) would be on the floor before that glass was half empty.
Bottom line: Scotland is pretty damn great. Good food, breathtaking scenery and a resilient stalwartness that doesn’t quit and isn’t afraid to put you in your place, vocally unambiguously and with a refreshing (compared to the english) regularity.
- Spring Break (or London’s version of it) on April 1st, 2013
It still cold, cloudy most days and rainy here in London. Yesterday it snowed for 5 minutes in Bloomsbury and was clear and crisp two miles West. The weather here so near to the coast has remained agrivatingly consistent for the past two months. In fairness, it was a bit colder in early February, but I do wish spring would just make up its mind about showing up or not.
On a completely different, but still very British note Doctor Who premiered last night! Now I’ll spare an American audience the history of this cultural institution, suffice to say the show will be celebrating it’s 50th anniversary in November, which is impressive for a plot-driven sci-fi television show (the longest running of these). I’m a fan, and have been since before the new series aired in 2005 (take that my fanboy contemporaries!) back when the special effects were … transparent to say the least (think Ed Wood with a better plot). I mention all this because, in a rare occasion to get out of the city and see the sights, where do I go? “the Doctor Who Experience” in Cardiff (Wales) of course! There are some pictures below, it was all good fun and the sci-fi nerd in me was tickled.
Anyway, I finally got my camera working and have been taking pictures of some great London sights, like Regents canal and Little Venice north of the City in Camden. Given how congested many of the more traditional tourist attractions allong the Thames can get, these little jewels are a nice reprieve for any semi-tourist/short-term resident and best of all, are free. Plus, getting out and walking around offers great opportunities to just sit down and read while enjoying a cup of tea (I just started “Hitch 22″ the late Christopher Hitchens’ memoir, one of my favorite social commentators and an incredible mind).
Next time I write, I’ll be on my way to Scotland, land of (some of) my forefathers and the inspiration for my high school graduation attire (yes it was comfortable, no I was not “fully authentic” as I was on stage facing 300 people). I’ll be running my first Marathon in the Highlands, which I still pinch myself over and we’ll see where I’m at after that’s through with.
- UCL Final Weeks of Class on March 27th, 2013
Its been some time since I last updated this blog and the truth is that I have not felt in that time that I have experienced very much worth writing about. This is, of course, all a simple matter of perspective. I am biased by my own and limited to a superficial view of other’s. Still, these past few weeks have been filled with the last bits of coursework here at UCL and that is worth mentioning
I have already written a bit about the differences in course structure here at UCL. The trimester system essentially allows for two terms of in-class contact hours, themselves shorter than those I am familiar with, and one term devoted exclusively to examinations. My problem is this; I have no examinations. When we arrived at UCL I chose those courses (unintentionally I might add and 4 to be precise) which were assessed by essays or submitted work only. Other affiliates have had similar experiences, but by chance my coursework has been particularly light and because of this, I have most-of-a-term in which to do what I like.
A large part of this concerns the fact that we are, after all, affiliate students here at UCL. We can only experience a small sample of the coursework available. Still, I have found myself wishing that there was more of it, more time more coursework and more opportunity to explore the academics that I came here to experience. For example, there is a 4 day course in experimental archaeology (reproduction of archaeological tools and materials) that all first year archaeology students are required to take. This is taught in September. There is a course in Lithic (stony tool) technology. This is a two part course that extends from term 1. In order to get the most out of the coursework here, a full year abroad experience may just be the most appropriate choice.
That being said, if one has the time and resources London is a fantastic city from which to travel all over the region. All of my fellow affiliate students have taken weekend trips to Paris and continental Europe and seem to have really enjoyed themselves. Im going to Wales tomorrow for a little Doctor Who nerdery and without good public transportation this would never be possible. Britain is also an ideal place to go for long hikes and camping trips. One can really camp anywhere in the countryside and people are generally pretty friendly when it comes to pitching a tent in their field. Courses are finishing up here at UCL but the long Easter Holliday and third term should a great time for seeing a bit more of this Island. Ill keep you all posted in the coming weeks.
- London Markets on March 3rd, 2013
London is a great place to pick the the occasional odds and ends, In addition to hoasting the best food markets around. Most notable of the later is the Burough Market in Southwark (pronounced SouthARK, because the one who decided on Worcestershire and Happisburg (HAYsburough) just hiddent quite had enough of a laugh yet.
This is the destination for the organic organic food loving middle class of London and, although not entirely unreasonable, the prices are enough to make you think twice about how much you really like cheese (I REALLY like cheese, so common sense is rarely a factor here). Having said that, the food is absolutely delicious when you can get it and the start vendor sandwiches are more reasonably priced.
Camden town, although the home of many, many different food vendors, makes its name in the vintage, goth and slightly offbeat market. You can buy a leather bound journal, wool and leather corset and get a tattoo all within 5 minutes of each other. Many punk rockers made their name here and this legacy is alive and well in the stream performers. This is one of my favorite places to go and people-watch; there are more hair colors in a 1 block radius of here than in the rest of London combined.
Portabello road is THE place for antiques and even some nearby celebrity watching (Kingsington is the upper east side of London, but with Royalty) and any fans of the old Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks will find this a romp down memory lane (cudos to those who got that one). Streat foods and the ability to haggle (rare in London) make this a fun place for antique lovers.
There are other smaller markets, but these are the largest. Not exactly the places to save money, I only go for the cheep start vendor foods, but staples of London and good places to catch as a tourist (although avoid the mid day crush if you have any sense of personal space).
- Archaeology, the British Museum and Ice Age Art on February 24th, 2013
Last week I followed a bit of a tangent when I talked about saving money when living in London and today I’m going to shift gears again. Ill try to explain some of the reasons I came here in the first place and to describe some of the great opportunities I’ve had over the past few days.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m studying archaeology here and back home at Stony Brook. I came here to learn about the subject in an international context and to experience the discipline from a new perspective and it is for this reason that I recently attended a 3 day conference on Paleolithic (pre-10,000 years ago) archaeology at the British Museum. I find the subject a fascinating one because every human on the planet traces their ancestry to this period and eventually, all those liniages converge (specifically at around 200,000 years ago in eastern Africa).
I think it puts our societies into perspective in really important ways For many centuries, western ethnocentrism (the interpretation of societies in terms of the standards of the society of the interpreter) perpetuated the concept of primitive or exotic hunter-gatherers when in fact, 90% of all humanitie’s time on the planet had been shaped by these lifestyles and many were getting allong perfectly well even then. We evolved as hunter-gatherers and the shift away from that lifestyle is the abnormal state, as modern chronic illness and population pressures often demonstrate
Anyway, the archaeology of these populations can provide a window into their lifestyles, adaptability (arguably the single most important and essentially human characteristic) and more rarely, their symbolic lives. The collection now at the British Museum “Ice Age Art: The Arrival of The Modern Mind” is a beautiful snapshot of symbolism in the upper Paleolithic Europe (“the ice age” 40,000-10,000 years ago). However, that is a VERY loaded title to give to an exhibit like this, not least because it assumes that this is characteristically “modern human” and by implication, other forms of symbolism are not. What about later hunter gatherers after 10,000 years ago, who never produce this kind of art? Are they not fully human? What is the variable human approach to symbolic representation, why is it important to adaptability and how does this small regional representation (Europe is not, after all, a very large part of the inhabited planet) fit into the wider story of our species?
It’s a beautiful exhibit, and the conference on the European Paleolithic this past weekend was a great experience. All the researchers addressed interesting questions; I’ve just reiterated some of them. Alot of people are asking them and I think that this is what makes the field so interesting, because it asks the question of what it means to be human both in the past and the present and how the material record can start to answer this (I’ve just reiterated the mission statement of pretty much every anthropology department in the world so don’t think for a minute that I actually know what I’m talking about).
Link to the Exhibit’s website:
- London on a Budget on February 17th, 2013
London is expensive. At first glance the 6.95 buffets and 1£ cups of tea seem like a steal, but consider the conversion rate between the British pound and U.S. Dollar and that buffet becomes $10.75 and that tea 1.55, which isn’t outragious but it adds up for a college student studying abroad.
So, I’ve come up with a few money saving techniques that have helped me keep my weekly expenses to a minimum and still allow me to enjoy the ocasional night out.
1. Eat in. Those little creature comforts you get with you’re morning coffee add up, especially in London and dinners can quickly get very pricy. If one has a kitchen in ones flat, or has a residential meel plan (I myself do not), at least keeping breakfast and dinner as in-home meals can go a long way towards saving for the rainy day fund.
3. Eat a substantial breakfast. I cannot properly express my frustration when people tell me they do not eat anything for breakfast. That old saying about its importance is absolutely true. Not taking this to heart throws oiff your metabolism for the rest of the day. Im not saying indulge in a full-english every day, blood pudding (it’s like soft meat loaf) beans, fish, eggs, toast, sausage and mushrooms is pushing it. I’ll fry up some toast with olive oil, some melted cheese, the ocasional egg or two and a fruit and am usually set untill lunch (although I do eat bigger breakfasts than some, as I usually run in the mornings).
3. Economize your out-of-residence meals. Now, this one may not work for everyone and I am of course not suggesting you eat an uncomfortable amount of food in a hurry; food is best when slowly and comfortably enjoyed. This being said, a hearty and satisfying lunch for a reasonable price can be found if one knows where to look. Those buffets I mentioned (think Indian buffet with breads, spinach, potatoes etc. not greasy buffets) offer alot of food for a reasonable price, which I find minimizes my hunger for a large dinner. My dinners are often far simpler, consisting of (depending on the size of my lunch) bread, olives, olive oil and vinigar and occasionally fried veggis or fish.
4. Reduce and reuse. If one needs to stock a kitchen and cook for oneself, frying pans and uensils can get very expensive. It is actually quite surprising just how many uses different utensils can be put too. My primary drinking glass is an old olive jar and boiled potatoes can be just as delicious if cooked in a high-rimmed frying pan. It’s not glamorous but having worked in a kitchen with a number of utensils at my disposal before, the food is no less tasty if the cooking method is a little less glamorous.
5. Walking is free. Also, its great exercise .
6. Alcohol is very much neither of those things, an observation only and not a suggestion, just something to keep in mind.
Eating in every day can be very fun and bolsters your cooking skills, which will invariably come in handy at some point in your life. Enjoy!
- Running (around) in London on February 10th, 2013
Time is really flying by here in London as we approach the halfway mark in the term. As I mentioned before, the term system here essentially means that while this term is comprised of classwork, the next will be reserved exclusively for exams and assessments. Reading week, during which period there is no class, begins tomorrow and as I have an essay due on tuesday, it will be nice to curl up in the library and basically ignore the outside world for a little while (its raining and insidiously chilly here anyway).
I myself am keeping myself busy by training for a marathon in April (Que. eye role and immediate boredom on your part… I don’t blame you, I once read about a study that demonstrated that more than any other subjects friends hate hearing about other friends exercise schedules) and i only mention it because my weekend route takes me past some of London’s most memorable sites. Its essentially a long route along the thames that takes me past cleopatras needle, westminster, parliament, vauxhall bridge (mi6 headquarters and the setting of that scene in Skyfall) the London eye, Tower Bridge the Tower of London, all those wierd shaped building in the financial district and a lot of pidgin poop (one might even say a crapload… eye role #2.). Its a great way to see the sights and I’ve been enjoying getting out and doing it each weekend.
Other than that, Bourough market and other delicious sources of food have furnished my kitchen with an obscene amount of smelly and delicious cheeses. I have gradually incorporated each into my breakfast, creating first toast cooked with olive oil, then adding stilton and sharp cheddar, incorporating an egg and then removing the egg, indadvertedly resulting in just a damn good grilled cheese sandwich. I haven’t experienced cheeses like this since I studied in France and Im loving every delicious minute of it. Im sure you realize by now that running is really just a necessary result of gorging on english food. if I didn’t do the former, the latter would send me into a delicious coma I think. That and the drinks-that-count-as-a-meal like guinness and Old Engine Oil ale (It’s really called that, I swear). Very tasty!
- So much to see, so much time. on February 4th, 2013
I am really very fortunate to have had so many opportunities to travel abroad. I am fortunate that most of these have been for periods of time log enough to see at least one season change. Speaking with fellow affiliate students here at UCL I often get the impression that they are treating London as a staging point for further travels; to ireland, throughout the UK and over to Continental Europe. Having arrived at what equates to the midpoint in the teaching curriculum here at UCL, it is often surprising just how much of the coming months will be taken up not by days in which we are expected to attend class, but reading weeks, easter vacations and an entire term dedicated to essays and end of term examinations. So, it is understandable that the attention of my fellow affiliate students has been caught by the reasonably priced train tickets, flights to the continent or school-organized weekend trips. Maybe its just my attempt at budgeting in an expensive city but I find myself wondering more and more what there is in London that has the potential to speak to the heart of British Culture. It is an international city no mistaking it and this in and of itself is fascinating (and delicious), but Im still curious what more London has to say about itself.
I have been able to attend both the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Ballet in the past few days and if one is looking for culture, these are certainly brimming with it. The home of the LSO was built in the post-war boom of the 1950s and the theater has some of the best acoustics I have encountered. The orchestra itself is famous for a lot of things, most recently performing with Mr. Bean at the Olympics this summer. The Ballet, whose home is at the Royal Opera House overlooking Covent Garden, gives the impression of tradition. The building itself is grand and intimidating. I felt underdressed when I walked in and I was wearing a jacket and tie. The students sitting next to me in fleece pullovers and sweatpants made me feel a little better though.
Today I got out of the center of town and went for a walk in Hampstead Heath, a large park with enormous green spaces, very old woods and year round bathing ponds (I plan on trying these next week). Here are just a few recent photos. Enjoy.
And yes, there is a female bathing pond. And one for nude bathing…