London, UK

The first semester at Harvard over (phew), I have been thoroughly enjoying my winter break. I cheekily booked two and a half weeks away without asking for permission, since I figured that I’m a newbie and am likely to be able to get away with it now, whereas in future I will have to have shorter holidays like a proper grown-up.

On Christmas eve in Boston I made my way to the airport to take the red-eye to London Heathrow for my Christmas break. On arrival in London at 6.45am Christmas day, I managed to locate my pre-booked taxi driver (no public transport on Christmas day) and then spent a rather uncomfortable hour trying to steer the conversation away from my personal life and failing miserably. My Sri Lankan taxi driver was in an unhappy arranged marriage, and was whinging about how he couldn’t go clubbing with his mates any more because his wife was a drag, or something. The WHOLE DAMN TIME he kept asking me about boyfriends, why I didn’t have a boyfriend, and whether I’ve ever been with black men, or asian men. I dodged most of them but stopped short of telling him to mind his own business, because I’d already paid for the cab and just really had to get to Katie’s flat. Anyway I got there safely, obviously, and now that public transport is back to normal I will never have to have an awkward taxi conversation again. Thank goodness.

Katie and I have been exploring London on the cheap, since we are both short of cash. And contrary to what I’ve heard previously, it’s actually very easy to get a fantastic experience without spending more than £10 per day. We buy a £36 seven-day public transport ticket, which gives us unlimited travel on zones 1-3 (all you would really ever need to see the majority of London!). We’ve mostly been eating at home, and occasionally buying coffee, hot chocolate, or fries to stave off hunger while we’re out.

On Christmas day we watched British telly and had a roast chook. It was great. On boxing day we ventured into the city and had a browse around while there weren’t too many tourists about:

The London Eye

Oxford Street

The following day, I caught up with my friend Nick, who by chance was in London for a few days on a travelling adventure before he moves to Dublin to work as a doctor. Being nerdy types we went to the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. It was frightfully busy and the museums are huge, so it was hard to get good photos (too many children spoiling the shots) and we didn’t get through all the exhibits (too exhausted). I hope to head back to the Natural History museum before I leave, because it’s gorgeous and I’m sure I missed loads. Both of these museums are free, so a lot of entertainment for no money (just don’t buy food from the in-house cafes).

The fantastic entrance to the Science Museum

The beautiful Natural History Museum main hall

The next day Katie and I were too tired to leave the house so we slept a ridiculous number of hours and watched even more telly. After such a lazy day we were able to get up early the next day and go to Borough Market, which was operating at half-capacity but was still magical and fun and I loved the place. I did kind of regret not being able to afford the beautiful cheeses and veges on display, but we treated ourselves to a hot spiced apple cider and sat outside the Southwark Cathedral.

Freshly killed game being admired by this gentleman's dogs

Such pretty vegetables

Romanesque broccoli. I've never seen these before - I must go back and buy one to see what it tastes like!

More strolling through Southwark led us to The Clink Prison Museum, which wasn’t free but was worth a wee look anyway. We were supposed to get photographs in chains at the end but the camera mechanism wasn’t working so we didn’t quite get our money’s worth, but I was having too much fun to be bothered.

I can't remember exactly what this was but it was close to the Clink.

My only picture from the Clink Museum - it was a bit too dark to take any decent pictures.

The famous tourist trap The Anchor.

St Paul's Cathedral from the South Bank - it looked so beautiful in that light!

Enjoying chips with salt and vinegar at one of Katie's fave places - The Fishcotheque.

I have family near London who I had never met before – My Aunt Sarah had moved to London when I was a kid and I had never met her husband and three children. On the 30th of Dec I travelled out of town to spend the day with them, and I had such a lovely time. Sarah cooked me the most spectacular roast dinner (I reckon she could rival my mum in the roast-dinner-with-yorkshire-pudding skill, and that’s saying something). I was so glad to meet her family, and also sad that my own family couldn’t be there too, but hopefully I can drag Mum and Jess over here some time and go and visit together :). Sarah has the nice family photos of us so sadly I don’t have any to post right now. The train trip to their place (at Southend-on-Sea) took about an hour from Central London and on the way I spotted Hadleigh Castle – although we were travelling too fast for me to take a picture.

On New Year’s Eve we decided to forego the crazy partying in the city and stayed at home, since Katie lives at the base off the tallest hill in London. So we enjoyed some nice ciders and at about 11.45pm we ventured up the hill and watched the central city fireworks display from there.

more to come….

 

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It’s been so long…

 

The semester is nearly over and I’ve done no updates for weeks and weeks. Shameful. So here are some bits and pieces.

1. We just had Thanksgiving break here in the US, and although I worked for most of it I also took some time to eat great food with great people. And I’ve had leftovers for days – perfection.

2. I keep thinking that winter has arrived, and it gets extremely cold, and then it warms up again. At the moment it’s in one of these warm (and by warm I mean I can tolerate two layers of clothing) patches but I expect that won’t last too much longer. I have had some snow experience here already:

Snow at Harvard Forest, where we had a class retreat.

3. Autumn here is as lovely as they say it is – I captured the progression of “the fall” outside my department during downtime at the lab bench. I think it’s interesting how the trees in the centre were first to change colour and lose their leaves, and it progressed outwards:

6th of October

15th of October

22nd of October

11th of November

4. I have settled into several favourite places here in Cambridge and Boston, most of which revolve around food. Two cafes with delightful baked goods and espresso coffee, with real ingredients in the food and none of this sugar-coated-sugar-laden Starbucks nonsense. The North End in Boston, which is a little Italy and is full of incredible food and naughty treats…

Cannoli from the legendary Mike's Pastry in the North End

Another new favourite haunt is a yarn and fabric store called “Gather Here”, where people sit on the couches and bring their knitting/crochet projects and chat or find help from the lovely people who work there. The store sells the most beautiful selection of quilting fabric I  have ever seen – all very cute and modern – and good quality wool and tools. (Good quality = not the cheapest, but I feel like it’s worth it). Also they have several solid Bernina sewing machines that you can spend time on for $10 an hour – luckily my lovely host family will let me use their sewing machine if I want to, but it’s nice to know the Berninas are there, anyway. I was so inspired the first time I stepped foot in Gather Here that I decided on the spot to make an Afghan blanket. My spare time is now often spent crocheting and I think I have made good progress:

My completed granny squares. The blue is actually more of a turquoise but it's hard to get a good picture in artificial light.

5. Work is very tiring and I am looking forward to Christmas break, when I head to London for two and a half weeks. I enjoy my classes and my lab work is fun, but trying to do it all at once is less than ideal. It’ll be great when I am done with classes (in a year or so)…

6. Choir is super great – I have one christmas concert with the Grad student choir, and in the undergrad choir we are rehearsing Rachmaninov’s All Night Vigil, which is over an hour of a capella singing. Amazing. In January the undergrad choir (“Collegium”) will be touring NYC and singing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Soooo excited.

It’s my bedtime now so that’s all folks, but I will try to set aside a bit more time in future to post more frequent updates. I miss everyone at home (and abroad-but-not-here). xo