Thursday, September 30, 2010

Walking Tour: Cambridge Past and Present (Part 1)

I have been in Cambridge for three whole days now. The experience thus far: walking and shopping. On Tuesday I strode out confidently into the city dressed in a short-sleeve top, thin jacket, jeans, and flip-flops. Interestingly enough, there are NO other pairs of flip-flops in the entire city save for one man who is an OSU alum and understands the flip-flops-in-the-dead-of-winter fashion style. My close-toed shoe supply is woefully short at the moment, but I have crossed my fingers in hopes that my boxes of clothes arrive from the US soon. Also because I refuse to pay over $50 for a pair of shoes (can I get an amen from the ladies?). BUT, I finally got fed up with the whole situation after yet another blister popped up on my feet, and I went in search of sneakers suitable for walking many miles. I ended up with these, which were 70% off (ha!):

Every job starts with the right tools: if I'm going to be walking all over creation this year, I should have the appropriate footwear.
My original plan for Thursday was to travel to Ely, which is a small town about 15 minutes from Cambridge. Reportedly, there is a beautiful cathedral and a stained glass museum (so says my guidebook :p). My OSU alum friend told me that the cathedral is free on Sundays, otherwise it's about $10. Well heck - I'll hang tight for a few days and buy a latte to drink on the train instead! So stay tuned for that trip later...

In lieu of Ely, I hopped onto and looked up self-guided walking tours. Turns out, there are quite a few tours available with different themes. Each have handy maps and audio tracks for free that one can download to an iPod and listen to while walking around the city. There are four available here and another eight available here. I chose this one, which took me to these locations. If you're interested, you should be able to hear the same audio I did by clicking on the pictures in the previous link. But, I will do my best to give you the nutshell, along with pictures.

Stop #1: Great St. Mary's Church

This church was built in the 1400's, and for a while all the university students were required to attend services at least 6 times a year and live within the sound of the bells. Although that standard has been relaxed, the church is still considered the university church.

What is NOT shown is the gift shop area to the left of me, which unfortunately ruins the church feel somewhat. As do the gravemarker floor stones that the pews sit on top of - who wants to worship with THAT under them?

Beautiful stained glass windows, but unfortunately the light was not cooperating with me.
Stop #2: Senate House

This is where important university governing bodies meet and is also the site of my eventual graduation. Along with being a beautiful building, it was one of the first to utilize the iron fence idea. Fortunately, the fence made it through both world wars when most others were torn down to supply iron to the army. My OSU alum friend took me to the labs he works in the other day and pointed to the senate house roof through a top-floor window. 

"Do you know that building yet?" he queried. I replied, "no, I haven't had a chance to see it." He shrugged and said matter-of-factly, "you will soon." True enough...

My apologies for the tourist who would not move. Perhaps he was trying to find the Senate House too and couldn't see it for the trees..err...fence in front of him.

Stop #3: Gate of Honour (yes, "honour." Don't ask - it's an England thing)

Directly to the right of the Senate House is Gonville and Caius College.  For graduation, students from that college walk through the Gate of Honour, across the lane that runs down the right side of the Senate House, and onto the lawn of the Senate House. There are actually three gates in the college: the Gate of Humility (which is the entrance and the first one new students enter), the Gate of Virtue (which is on campus so that students pass through it often), and then the Gate of Honour (which leads to graduation).

Cambridge builders like sundials a lot - I'm not sure why.

Apparently there is also a Gate of Necessity, which leads to the bathrooms. I don't believe it is as ornate as this one is :)
Stop #4: King's Chapel

King's Chapel would be on my must-see list for those visiting Cambridge. Student status got me in for free - yay for keeping ears open for travel tips. King's College is by far the most renowned and stunning example of gothic architecture in Cambridge. Also, King's College was commissioned by King Henry VI (hence the name, heh).

Between stops 2 and 3 I slipped into a coffee shop and grabbed a mocha to sip during the rest of the walk. Life is just so much more enjoyable with a coffee or tea in hand :). However, I was halted at the entrance to the chapel by the nice doorman (everyone is very nice here, actually): "um, excuse me, but we can't allow drinks inside."

Having expected that requirement, I asked, "can I leave it ouside?"

He gestured to a small table near the door that already held several other coffee cups and drinks and said, "yes, if you think you can remember which one is yours. We seem to be opening up our own cafe over here..."

I left my drink, but when I walked back to the entrance door to leave, a sign said "no exit." Oh. The exit is on the other side of the chapel and spits you out onto the interior greens of King's College. Well that's handy, unless of course you had a DRINK! Ah well - I walked ALL the way around the college again and figured I was burning the mocha calories off...

The chapel was built four stories high when no other building during that time ever went past two or three.

The chapel is incredibly large - note the people as a scale reference.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I Made It!

My trip has commenced! Saturday was my designated packing day, and when I surveyed my room I saw this:
Who knew that living at home for two weeks could result in such disarray?
By the time I left for the airport, I had managed to squash all my belongings into three pieces of luggage and a purse.

Both of my bags weighed in at exactly 50 lbs, but my carryon was woefully overweight. I spent time trying to decide which ones of my books I would leave behind if I were caught. However, I have never before in my life hefted my carryon onto a scale, so I figured no one would check. Well, at least I hoped so, because I couldn’t for the life of me decide which books to toss. I cross-compared weight and personal value (love of books is a side effect of being a Hale...), but my matrix was too complex to solve so I just crossed my fingers. Turns out, they didn’t check. My 501 Must-See Destinations book is still trucking along with me :).

My flights were uneventful, and the immigration and customs processes went smoothly. I enjoyed the layover in Frankfurt, as it was my first taste of an “international” experience. People spoke a myriad of different languages, and I enjoyed sitting and listening to the strange words flying around. Some of them were completely foreign, but others (such as German) held elements that were vaguely familiar. I was reminded that English is one of many European languages that diverged from a common point many years ago and have continued to intertwine themselves together in unique but subtle ways ever since. I was comforted by the sense of familiarity that realization brought even in the midst of a foreign country.

As I waited to board the flight to England. I was entertained by watching a couple with their three young children. Two girls and a boy, around ages 8, 5, and 4. They were all well-behaved, but what amused me most was their luggage. Each child had a personal suitcase: blue with trucks for the young boy, a light pink for the young girl, and a more mature shade of pink for the older girl. The mother took the youngest two to look at the airplane out of the window, and the father had to move the luggage up in line. He easily grasped the two smallest pieces in one hand and lifted them effortlessly. I thought about my 125+ lbs of luggage and chuckled to myself, “oh, the days where all you needed was a few pairs of undies and a couple of shirts, not a violin and piles of books you can’t decide to leave behind...”

My first view of London from the plane.
After my plane landed in London, I had some time to breathe before the bus ride to Cambridge. I decided to fill my time with this:
Ah, the simple pleasures in life.
I arrived at Cambridge around 8:00 in the evening, but it was dark and I was in no way presentable. So, I dragged my luggage up a flight of stairs  to my room and crashed. Tuesday was spent shopping and exploring the city. Among the items purchased: cell phone, bedspread, sheets, and outlet converter. Among the items NOT purchased: hangers. I cannot for the life of me find cheap hangers. Oh, and the scissors I bought came attached to its cardboard mounting with zipties. Think about that for a moment. If I HAD a scissors to cut the ties off with, I wouldn’t be buying a pair in the first place!

Note the zipties. They will probably stay there until I leave England because I have absolutely no use for two pairs of scissors.
And a few pictures of my room, which is about as large as a standard dorm room.

View from the door.
View from the shoe corner.
View from the sink.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

New York City

One of the major requirements for studying in a foreign country is obtaining a visa. Through a series of events, I was not able to procure one until this morning. Actually, last week-turned-yesterday-turned-today (don't ask). There are three British Consulates in the United States, located in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Student applicants are allowed to make an in-person appointment at one of the consulates, and they usually receive their visa later the same day. I opted for this route and took the liberty of exploring the Museum of Modern Art for an hour or two. Note that I do not claim to be an artist, but the museum was in my book of "501 Must-Visit Destinations. " Therefore, we go.

I believe this is somewhere on 53rd St.
Abbreviated MoMA (pronounced mo-ma? I was never brave enough to try...)
The museum was founded in 1929 as an educational institution and is esteemed as quite possibly the best collection of modern masterpieces in the world. Paintings, sketches, photography, architecture, sculpture, and contemporary pieces were all included. My first stop was the information desk to pick up a free audio commentary. I was desperate for any interpretive help I could get since I felt slightly like a fish out of water. I didn't mind having a personal tour guide that looked like a cross between a walkie-talkie and a cell phone - at least it only talked to me when I wanted it to...

The sculptor was originally criticized for appearing simplistic, but oftentimes the simplest things are the hardest to create. Similar to engineering or ballet: the mark of an expert is seemingly effortless beauty.

There is probably significance to these, but my commentary was silent so I have no clue what it is.
Up close of one of Monet's Water Lily paintings. The scaly texture is the result of many layers of paint applied over months.

The full version of the above painting, which spanned an entire wall.
I really enjoyed looking at Monet's paintings. One of his water lily paintings was a single mural and the other was three murals strung together. As soon as I stood within hypothetical painting range, the colors blurred together and I completely lost where I was - lost the "bigger picture," if you will. Stepping forward and back gave me a new appreciation of the skill required to paint in the impressionistic style on such a large scale.

The MoMA had a plethora of gift shops, as you can imagine. My favorite find was an item meant to hold hot serving dishes or pots on a dinner table.

The holder is designed to impersonate a school of fish.
The holder scissors out to whatever size you need, creating the effect of swimming fish. Very pretty.
After I finished at the MoMA, I met up with a friend of mine from undergraduate. Unfortunately, I did not have much time to spare before my return train. He and I talked as fast as we could during the walk from 53rd St. to Grand Central. I had the pleasure of playing at his wedding this summer and was looking forward to seeing his wife, but she was busy with law school and interviews. I wish I had time to catch up properly with both of them, but I was able to snag a quick photo with him.

Good friends are such a joy in life.
To end the trip, I would like to share a few photos from the train ride. The Metro-North Railroad runs alongside the Hudson River quite a bit, and the trip from upstate to the city is one of the best ways to catch a glimpse of New England glory.

West Point (faintly)
The pointed right side of the gap is the Point of West Point
Bannerman's Castle. I always thought it was a sunken castle because of the turrets in the water, but perhaps it was designed that way.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Module Options

I have been sent a detailed course list for my program, including instructors, course syllabuses, course objectives, and the like. I suppose they are avoiding making the first class day "syllabus day," but on second thought that tradition didn't make it past junior year of undergraduate, much less across the pond... In any case, I found the list very helpful and have several choices to make in the upcoming weeks. So, I would like some feedback from the peanut gallery. Here is the gauntlet:

Required Courses:
    Numerical Methods in Chemical Engineering
    Molecular Aspects of Chemical Engineering
   Management of Technology and Innovation (which includes stints on finance and accounting, high-tech marketing, entrepreneurship, and management of technology)

Elective Core Chemical Engineering Courses:
    Colloid science
    Electrochemical engineering
    Fluid mechanics and the environment
    Modern metrology
    Particle technology
    Rheology and processing

Elective Engineering and Business Courses:
    Computational fluid dynamics
    Sustainable water engineering
    Nuclear materials
    Materials and processes for microsystems (MEMS)
    Sustainable development
    Sustainable energy
    Nuclear power engineering

    Technological innovation: research and practice
    Management of technology
    International business economics
    Strategic management
    Project management

I believe that I choose one core chemical engineering module and two elective modules for the Michaelmas Term, and three elective modules for the Lent Term (one or maybe two of which can be core chemical engineering courses). Unfortunately, not all of these courses are available at the same time, and each one is offered only once a year. So therefore, I must choose my pairings carefully. I have some ideas about which ones I will select (based on an evaluation of my of interests and NON-interests), but the chips have yet to fall completely into place.

The Beginning

Greetings! I have created this blog for all those who wish to stay updated on my activities in England. I am still finding my way around, so bear with me as I explore.