Monday 18 July 2005

A day in Kew Gardens

I had seen the advertisements for the Dale Chihuly glass exhibit there, and they looked amazing.  According to the advertisements:

Gardens of Glass: Chihuly at Kew is the first exhibition of its kind to be held in Europe. A spectacular sequence of organically shaped and vibrantly coloured glass sculptures will be set throughout Kew’s 300-acre garden landscape and inside the great glasshouses. The exhibition has been specifically designed to respond to Kew’s living collections, landscape, architecture and vistas and the visitor’s experience of the work will alter dramatically from day to night and from season to season.</i>

I had seen his work previously at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, and was impressed then, but nothing could have prepared me for the amazing beauty that the natural landscape could provide.  Perfect compliments, there were several that you would walk by thinking they were plants!  The gardens themselves are impressive even without the glass, but the two together could absolutely not be missed!

This is mostly going to be a tale in pictures, as they do the gardens and the glass the most justice.  We spent most of our times in the <a href="">glasshouses </a> where the installations were. . .and it still took us over 5 hours!  There is plenty to see, and probably one of the few places in London where the yearly membership would be a fantastic bargain.  (by the way, clicking on the link above will take you through virtual tours of the various greenhouses themselves)

We started with the world renown Palm House.  One of the oldest greenhouses in the world.  It was completely rebuilt in the late 1980s, but the overall architectural style is identical to the original Victorian structure.  As the name indicates, this is the main tropical greenhouse.

Around the corner is the Princess of Wales Memorial Conservatory, the next stop on our tour.  It houses the arid and semi-arid plants.  Stephen with a much larger selection of cacti than we saw at Oxford.

After the Diana Conservatory, we stopped for lunch under a huge oak tree.  Little did we know it is one of the few accidental hybrids of this particular type in existance.  

I'll be uploading the full-sized versions to snapfish over time, including all the ones I didn't resize for this narrative.  Drop me a line if you want me to send you the link to that album.

Sunday 10 July 2005

36 hours in Dulbin

And what a whirlwind tour it was!  Due to travel schedules of our friend James, we didn't actually get into Dublin until 10pm on Saturday night.  We took the bus from the airport to the hostel (<a href="">Avalon House</a>), located right around the corner from the Temple Bar area (main party scene) and near to most major sights.  Needless to say, we didn't do much Saturday night aside from walk around and see the buildings lit up.  Mercer and his mother were also on board and we made plans to start bright and early Sunday morning.

Sunday morning rolls around, and after a rather small breakfast (the hostel only offered toast) we headed over to <a href="'s_Green">St. Stephen's Green</a>, a large park in the city center.  It was a pretty morning, though a bit chill and quite windy.  It's easy to forget how far north some of these places are!  

After spending a goodly amount of time walking and enjoying the flowers (including some irises the size of my head!), we headed over to <a href="">Trinity College</a> to see the <a href="">Book of Kells</a>.  

To be honest, I wasn't really anticipating much from its, but was astounded at the artistry and the beauty of the illuminations as well as the sheer amount of history tied to this set of the gospels.  Obviously, we weren't allowed to take pictures of the book itself, since it is kept in a very strictly controlled environment for preservation purpoased, but <a href="">this site</a> has some amazing scans.

After seeing the book, the exit route took us through the Reading Room.   A huge old section of the library filled with the oldest volumes in their collection that don't require special care.  
<img src="">
(borrowed from the university website)
If you look very carefully in the picture above you can see the marble busts of famous philosphers and thinkers that line the main gallery.  Talk about an impressive space!

After that, we wondered around Trinity College before finding ourselves in a lovely little coffee shop for a late breakfast and bit of tea before heading back into what was turning into quite a chilly and blustery day!

Next on the list was <a href="">St. Patrick's Cathedral</a>.  A really impressive stone church with a lovely garden attached.  On our way, we stumbled across a fantastic mural that depicted various Irish folk tales. And then on the steps of the green itself a very spirited dog playing with a ball.  We seriously watched this little guy for ages playing with the soccar ball.  Too cute!

Unfortunately, like many stone churches, the light is very dim and iffused, which makes picture taking difficult.  Still, it was an incredible space with many nooks and crannies.  I counted at least 4 different chapels in addition to the regular and high altar, though I'm sure there's more.

After filtering out of the church, we decided to stop by the oldest lending library still in active use, Marsh's Libarary, founded in 1701.  Unfortunately, it was closed for refurbishment.

After that, we headed over to the <i>other</i> large church, Christ Church.  It's divided into three parts, 1/3 of which spans one of the busiest intersections

Then, Stephen and I went inside, while Mercer, Mercer's Mom and James explored the surrounding area.  We were really lucky, because during our visit the church choir was practicing with the organ for the following weekend's concert.  Talk about breath-taking!  We sat in the pews entranced by the acoustics, amazing voices and incredible organ for what felt like an enternity.  Time truly stood still.  Once we shook ourselves loose, we explored the rest of the church, even bigger than St. Patricks with a full crypt underneath.  Probably one of the most amazing crypts I've ever seen.  Unfortunately it was too dark for the pictures to turn out.  

After poking around the church for a while, it was definitely time for lunch (at a pub!) and then only an hour until James, Stephen and I had to head off to catch our flight back to London.  

So that was just our first taste of Dublin and Ireland in general.  Needless to say we are very much looking forward to going back and getting to romp through the country side.

Mercer and his family spent the following week doing just that.  His pictures and commentary can be found here:
<a href="">Mercer's pictures</a>

1-36 coincides with our trip, the rest are his family's adventures.  Talk about amazing countryside!  This very well may be our trip next summer.

Tuesday 19 April 2005

Weekend in Oxford

I already had plans to meet some people in Oxford on Saturday (what prompted our trip), so Stephen got up and left a bit early (just before 10) with the luggage to get us settled in the B&B and then off to do his own thing while I met my friends.  I met up with the rest of the London group at Paddington Station for the train ride to Oxford.  We thought we'd be smart and catch the 11:03 train instead of the 11:21 and get there early, but no this one turned out to be the slow train and got us there a little late.  Not quite sure how that worked, but we had a really nice conversation on the way.  Once there, we met up with the other group members, had a fantastic lunch in one of the University parks and did a bit of shopping in the main shopping district.  So much fun!  

Afterwords, I met back up with Stephen for a quick cup of tea, before heading up to the <a href="">Wolvercote Cemetary</a> for the obligatory pilgrimage to Tolkien's grave.

Then, Stephen thought he knew of another Tolkien landmark not too far away that our friend Branson might like to have a rubbing of.  Unfortunately it was located over someone's garage.  So no rubbing, but a picture instead.  Not quite as nice, but we figured the locals didn't want us climbing up their garage. *grin*

From there we were both quite hungry and it was off to The Eagle and Child, otherwise known as <a href="">The Bird and Baby</a> for dinner, a few pints and deep discussion in honor of the inklings.

Understandably, we were there rather late and headed directly back to the Bed and Breakfast for a good night's sleep before embarking on the next day's adventures.   

While the B&B suited us for our nocturnal needs, it was in something of a state of disrepair and haphazardness.  After a quick glance in the kitchen, we decided that our health might be better suited to breakfast elsewhere.  Fortunately, cafes are quite easy to come by in Oxford and after a very satisfying, but not overly large meal, we were on our way to the Botanical Gardens.

While the beds weren't in full bloom, they were amazingly beautiful.  So many different kinds of plants layed out in really accessable and pleasing arrangements.  And the gardens are HUGE!!  We also ended up finding another Tolkien landmark. . .his favorite tree in Oxford, an enormous pinus negra. We spent a good two and a half hours wandering through the various gardens and greenhouses, saw some really funky plants and in general just enjoyed the beautiful spring morning. 

After the gardens we headed towards the Pitt Rivers Museum, walking through the Science quads including a bit building that has been the subject of some animal rights protests recently.  I'd never seen an injunction against protestors before, but there it was posted <i>very clearly</i>.  Despite that, I'm still amazed at the variety and quality of architecture in the city.  

<a href="">The Pitt Rivers</a> was, in a word, CROWDED.  I have never seen a museum with so much random stuff in it in my life.  They only had one floor open and I barely got through half of it!  You name it, they have it on display.  Musical instruments, models of boats, houses, temples, looms, cloth, sculptures, full size canoes and other miscellanious boats.  Everything and anything was either mentioned or shown in one case or another.  Since only the one floor was open they were letting visitors use the audio guides for free.  Even if they hadn't I would have rented one, as I wouldn't have been able to really see any of it properly.

It only took about two hours for us to go on information overload and decide that our bellies were feeling a bit neglected and headed off to catch lunch at Cleo, a crapery that was really tasty.  They had a special going where if you bought one savory crepe, you got one chocolate for free as dessert.  Definitely couldn't pass that up, and it turned out to be the best food we've had since coming to the UK.  I had the lamb buckwheat crepe with an onion and mint sauce, Stephen had a chicken buckwheat crepe with calvados and cream sauce.  MMMMMMM.  The chocolate crepes, weren't just drizzled with chocolate syrup, oh no, the chef had melted very high quality milk and white chocolate and drizzled THAT over the crepes instead.  I was in culinary heaven to be sure.

After such a heavy dinner we headed over to the Spire of <a href="">St. Mary's church</a> to get views of the city.  

By this time, it was getting rather late in the day, and the sun decided to retire behind rain clouds for the rest of the day.  So we took a leisurely walk through <a href="">Christ Church meadow</a> back to the B&B to collect our suitcase and then a bus to the Oxford rail station to come back to London. 

I'm still in awe of the sheer beauty and elegance Oxford exudes from every stone.  Maybe it's all the churches or the narrow streets and hidden alley ways.  Maybe it's the pervasive presence of the University.  Whatever it is, I highly recommend it to anyone wanting a day (or two) trip out of London or a summer study program.  Kind of makes me wish that I had been able to do the <a href="">Honors at Oxford</a> as well.  

Needless to say, it was *exactly* what Stephen and I needed to get us rejuvenated for the week(s) to come.

Sunday 27 February 2005

Life Since Christmas

So what's been going on since Christmas? A lot and a little all at the same time.

Me: Still temping, though in a little bit different capacity. The work itself isn't really all that interesting--mostly just data entry work in Excel, which I am learning to loathe. There must be an easier interface for all of this, but the team I'm helping like it despite the flaws. This week I'll find out if they have a permenant place for me and what that might be like. To be honest, the longer I stay in the company the more I realize that it's not the path that I want to travel. I've still been filling out other applications, but no other serious bites since the International Development Agency debacle. Oh well, I can always go back to temping.

 On the upside, I did finally manage to get a bank account!! At last! It's with Lloyd's who has been very helpful up to now. It's going to be very nice to be a full fledged memeber of the adult universe again.

 Stephen: Classes seem to be moving right along. They seem harder than last term, but he also seems to have things well under control. He's in the running for an internship that may turn into a summer job with a brand new (as in started last week) hedge fund. He's very excited and it should be a great opportunity for him to see how one would work from the ground up.

 Socially: We've met with some of Stephen's classmates for dinner a few times, and they're a great bunch of guys and many of them are fabulous cooks.

Travel: In January, two of the groomsmen from our wedding, the best man (Pyrex) and the one with blue hair (Branson) came to visit for a bit over a week, and we had a fabulous time. One Saturday we headed out to Salisbury to see the tallest masonry structure in England, the local Cathedral, which also happened to have one of four remaining originals of the Magna Carta. The rest of the time was spent in museums and generally bumbling about the city. So refreshing!

London: February was slower month, though we had a lovely Valentine's Day with dinner in Cafe in the Crypt and then followed by a strings' concert in St. Martin in the Fields itself. They played some old favorites (Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Boccherini's Minuet in A, a Chopin Nocturne) and some new things of interest (Puccini's Chrysanthemums, Borodin's Nocturne from String Quartet No 2 in D) sprinkled with classic love poetry in between. Very nice evening indeed. Relaxed with beautiful music. . .and in London. Doesn't get a whole lot better than that.

We also got to see the parade for the Chinese New Year! We got a great vantage point from the steps of St. Martins. We could see everything as it came round the bend in the road from Chinatown towards Trafalger Square. That was a lot of fun to see.

 The next weekend we went to see the The British Library and were very surprised at what we found! First of all, it's in a brand new beautiful building with lots of room for exhibitions. They had three going: Writer in the Garden, A History of the Printed Word, and Treasures. We spent most of the time in the Treasures exhibit. They had some incredible volumes on display on all kinds of topics, though the coolest bit by far was the Turning the Pages section. From their website: Turning the Pages is the award-winning interactive program that allows museums and libraries to give members of the public access to precious books while keeping the originals safely under glass. Initially developed by and for the British Library, it is now available as a service for institutions and private collectors around the world. Turning the Pages allows visitors to virtually 'turn' the pages of manuscripts in a realistic way, using touch-screen technology and interactive animation. They can zoom in on the high- quality digitised images and read or listen to notes explaining the beauty and significance of each page. There are other features specific to the individual manuscripts. In a Leonardo da Vinci notebook, for example, a button turns the text round so visitors can read his famous 'mirror' handwriting. At one point, I sat down at one of the terminals and the next thing I knew, they were ringing the bell announcing the close of the museum. . .two hours later!! Definitely something that I'm wanting to go back and play with some more. They have it on the website as well, but it's not nearly as satisfying on a tangible level. The way they have it set up on the touch screens at the library it actually feels like you're turning the pages. Very, very awesome. I'm curious if they've done a similar thing with the more precious items in the British Library. We haven't spent much time in the reading room there, and now I'm thinking we should.

To come: In two weeks, our friends Adrianne and Andy from Austin will both be coming to visit and that will be fabulous. Also by then I should have more job news to report. We're also planning to resume our twice monthly rambles in March, so lots of good stuff to come.

Sunday 2 January 2005

A Year of New Things - Christmas in Cologne

This Christmas was special for a number of reasons:
1) Stephen and I's first as a married couple.
2) It was our first in Europe
2a) Our first more than a reasonable distance away from our families.

Fortunately, Stephen's family decided, since they missed the opportunity to come in October, to come spend Christmas in Europe with us! The Dicke's in Cologne were amazingly hospitable and invited all of us to spend the week of at their home. Such an amazing time!

 Here are the highlights:

Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmarkten) (Medival Market)! Fantastic! We wandered about some on Wednesday after Gib, Jenn & Cherrie arrived by train, but the weather was quite awful. The snow that was falling when we landed had by this time turned into a slushy rain that soaked us to the bone, despte wearing warm layers. There were at least four different markets scattered throughout Cologne: one under the Dom, the old market, the new market and a medieval style market near the chocolate factory. A very nice mix of traditional kitsch and newer crafts of all sort. Most of Thursday was spent roaming through the various markets seeing all the things on sale and picking up last minute Christmas gifts and candies that Stephen hadn't had since he was a child. We even found our first ornament for our tree: a small nutcracker style soldier. We're very much looking forward to going for a whole weekend for next Christmas and getting to go through all the stalls a bit more leisurely. They had some of the most beautiful linens and crystals that I had ever seen!!

The Dickes Really went above and beyond to make this Christmas a special one. I really can't put into words how nice it was with them. We got to learn a lot about their customs as a family and just had a really nice time relaxing and enjoying ourselves. I think we all ate more chocolate in those five days than at any other period in our lives. They even included us in their family gift exchange, much to our surprise and delight. Christmas morning, they had laid out huge plates filled with all kinds of chocolate treats for breakfast!

Christmas Mass at the Dom Gib was kind enough to go to mass with me Christmas morning at the high altar in the Dom. Supposedly, the Dom is where the relics of the three wise men are laid and is a common place of pilgrammage. Christmas morning mass wasn't overly full, but had a very nice attendence. Unfortunately, my German wasn't quite good enough to understand all of the sermon, but the mass itself was quite beautiful and very nice. As we were leaving the church after mass was finished they began to ring the large bell, Fat Peter. Talk about amazing! The sound of that one bell, deep, round and rich, visably vibrated the pavement at our feet and the walls of the cathedral itself! Beautiful indeed!

The Town "Zons" On Monday after Christmas, the Dickes took us to visit this old medival city, the town of Zons, first established in 1288!. We were the only non-locals about, but there was plenty to see and wander though. It's always amazing to see such old cities still alive with residents. It was well laid out with lots of plaques detailing the history of the city, which unfortunately I can't remember much of (teaches me not to bring a notebook with me on trips!).

Kaffeetable After wandering about Zons for most of the morning, the Dicke's took us to a lovely local resteraunt for a traditional kaffeetable, which is kind of like English tea, only with much more food! It consisted of a samovar-type vessel each of coffee and tea, several different kinds of bread, a selection of cold meats, two different kinds of jam, honey, molasses, fresh butter, a sweet rice pudding, waffles, cherry sauce and whipped cream. Talk about amazing! The food was all really good and, of course, the company was excellent! The indoor decor was lovely as well, a kind of country cabin set in the rolling hills. Very picturesque. A great way to end a stunning trip and Christmas season.

I'm sure that there are plenty of things that I'm forgetting, but those are all the bits that come to my mind right now. Next time I must remember to take a notebook along and update much sooner after the visit! But those are the highlights at any rate. Gib and Cherrie, feel free to jog my memory!