Wednesday, April 25, 2007

This week's weird food things

In the U.K. package of Starburst, there's a purple one. It's flavor? Blackcurrant. Taste? Icky.

Next: Sushi.

Here's my receipt from sushi lunch at the sushi restaurant in town:
1 California roll: 5.60 (which was rolled in piles of roe and contained creamy goo that is not, in my opinion, supposed to be there.)
2 pieces unagi sushi: 3.60
2 pieces tuna sushi: 3.80
1 diet coke: 1.80

So that's 14.80 -- close to US $30 -- for mediocre sushi lunch. So, guess where I'll be having the happy hour whenever we visit Washington? I suppose that the sushi was decent enough, but maybe I should eat before I go to save money!

Also, I suppose I shouldn't make the pounds/dollars comparison. Fish & chips lunch at the Eagle will set you back close to US $14 -- and that's without a pint. Which is cheaper than Diet Coke.

Shall we play guess where KT and JT are going this weekend? We'll be eating a lot of chocolate and drinking a lot of beer. That narrows it down for you, doesn't it? :)

ta for now! -kt

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Moooove Over

There are a bunch of green areas in Cambridge. In the U.S., these are called "parks." Here, they're usually a "piece" or a "common" or a "green." Oh, and there's usually a backstory. A short six-minute walk from our house gets you to Midsummer Common (above), a 33-acre (13.5 hectares for you metric freaks) grassy area along the River Cam that, in 1211, was designated by Charter from King John to be the site of the Midsummer Fair. (June 20-25 this year, for anyone planning ahead.)

(If you are planning ahead, it's worth noting that Jesus Green, which neighbors Midsummer Common, is the site of the Cambridge Beer Festival, which I believe I have now mentioned 750 times.)

Anyway, I set out one afternoon to go to the butcher on the other side of Midsummer Common (because my regular butcher is closed on Mondays), and came across a bit of a puzzling site:

I'm not in general puzzled by cows, but I am when they're in a park in the middle of a city. Sure enough, every description I can find of Midsummer Common describes it as grazing or pastureland. I later found a laminated piece of paper artfully attached with zipties to the entrances to the common:

Please be aware that as from Friday 6th April 2007 the cows will be back grazing on Midsummer Common.

Initially there will be eight Red Poll steers (native rare breed cow found in the eastern region).

They will be on the common from April until October (excluding times when the events take place on Midsummer Common)

This breed of cattle is generally very calm and docile, they have no horns, and therefore are very suitable for grazing in this location.

To report any problems with cattle, please call the Street Scene help desk.

The Wikipedia entry on Midsummer Common adds that meat from the cows will be available in November. Nice. If that's indeed true, the meat won't go very far -- the cows are pretty little. Their cow patties, however, are not.

Anyway, apparently there haven't been cows grazing since the last foot-in-mouth disease scare, so it's exciting to have them back. Still, it was a bit puzzling to encounter livestock as I cut across the common. Of course, if I would have thought about it for just a minute, I would have realized that it's a mini-cattle grate that I'm bicycling over when I enter and exit the common. Duh.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Softly Call The Muster

Any good Texas A&M event begins with a barbecue, and a solemn occasion like Aggie Muster is no exception. The London A&M Club met yesterday for Muster in Kensington Gardens on an exceptionally beautiful day. The barbecue came from a London restaurant that, I must say, has better barbecue than anything I ever had in DC.

We were the newbies in England. We met a couple here on a US/British army exchange 3 months from the end of their two-year appointment. The organizer is an accountant who has been in London for 7 years. Another woman is in her second year of working for an international PR firm. Then there were people who made quite a trek for the event. A mechanical engineer came in from Lille, France. A legal consultant who splits his time between Lisbon and Dublin flew to London because there was no Muster in Dublin.

Our Muster speaker was Don Powell, who we all knew in one way or another. (dp cartoons, the Texas Aggie Band Show, etc.) His wife Mary Jo, who worked for University Relations for forever, was with him. They're in week 4 of a 6-week European tour. They've both committed their lives to A&M and it was fun to have them there.

We met some great people, and by the end of it, I was somehow committed to hosting a punting trip this summer in Cambridge. We shared some Aggieland stories, kvetched about the size of closets here, complained about washers and dryers (or lack thereof), and shared favorite pubs.

And we also called the Muster. Every April 21, Aggies gather, have a barbecue, reminisce about A&M, and remember their fallen comrades. As the roll call is read, we answer "here" for that person, and light a candle in remembrance. Among the names called at the London Muster were the six Aggies killed in combat in Iraq. And we lit a candle and answered "here" for the people killed this week at Virginia Tech. We hold them all in our hearts and prayers.

Softly call the Muster,
Let comrade answer, "Here!"
Their spirits hover 'round us
As if to bring us cheer!

Mark them 'present' in our hearts.
We’ll meet some other day
There is no death, but life etern
For our old friends such as they!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Visiting the Palace

Ok, it's actually Parliament, the equivalent of our U.S. Congress. But it's a former Palace. The royals used to live on the site until a fire in 1512 so it's known as the Palace of Westminster (history here). And I did walk by Buckingham Palace on the way to Parliament [[Not that we are obsessed with the royals, Sarah!]]

The view above is standing in the security line to enter the members area. I and some colleagues trained down to London to attend a reception for the International Polar Year (Update: press release). Wine, small sandwhiches, a few scientists and politicians talking about research at the North and South poles, all with a nice view of the river Thames. Malcolm Wicks, the Minister of Science and Technology, had to run off to vote--he's a member of the House of Commons, the elected body that laregly makes law--but he gave a nice talk when he got back. And he took a jab at the House of Lords (the appointed folks that used to be mainly dukes, earls, etc--they have little power). The bell indicating a vote started ringing and Wicks quickly remarked that it was "just" the House of Lords and everyone knows their votes don't matter. Everyone around me laughed. It felt like a U.S. Senator had just made fun of a Representative.--jt

mmm, donuts

Captured a bit of Americana at Stansted airport with my phone camera--you can't escape the fast-food nation. God save the Queen and Krispy Kreme.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Last week, while attending our second Cambridge United game, we heard an announcement for buses to the following week's game in Exeter, in southwest England. Hmm, we thought. That'd be a good way to visit other towns. Other than the fact that 1) we'd be traveling on a bus with English football fans, 2) you drive up, get off the bus, watch the game, get back on the bus, drive home, and 3) the bus was 28 pounds per person, and that doesn't include the ticket to the game.

So, being the devoted Cambridge United fans that we are, having seen them twice and all, we rented a car and drove 270 miles one way to see Exeter beat them. But, gosh, it sure was fun.

For starters, I went to pick up the car on Friday night. We were getting a VW Golf automatic. We'd been driving a VW in the US, so I thought the brand similarity might be useful in the whole everything's-backwards driving thing. "Oh, you've been upgraded," the woman at the rental counter says. "To what?" I ask.

A Mercedes Benz.

Right. Okay, then. I have exactly 2 hours of driving experience in the UK, and now I'm driving off in a Mercedes. Brilliant.

It turned out to be OK -- both of us drove, and we had only a couple of scares. The hardest part of the whole thing was probably parking in our own narrow carport.

Anyway, off we went on Friday night to get some miles behind us. After a night at your average Best Western equivalent in Swindon (home of the Magic Roundabout), we had some time to meander before pressing ahead to Exeter. Also, we have, uh, borrowed National Trust passes, so we definitely wanted to go to some National Trust sites while we were wandering about.

First stop: Avebury, a stone circle that's 4,500 to 5,000 years old. It's 14 times larger than Stonehenge and older.
(You can read more about Avebury here, and see more of our pictures in the album linked at the bottom.)

Next stop: Lacock Abbey, a 13th century abbey.

I should mention that John drove all day Saturday, and this was his first time driving in the UK. Straight away he was on narrow, twisty, turny roads and at one point got caught nose-to-nose with a little old lady on a single-lane bridge. For future reference, B roads on the map only loosely mean "road."

Both stops were beautiful, but now it was time to make our way to Exeter for the game. We got into town, parked, and walked straight to the stadium. The turnout from our side?

Pretty low. Ok, I'm being unfair. There were about 100 people there with us in the visitors stands, but, alas, U's lost 2-0.

After the game, we made our way to our hotel (a room above a pub!), where we could hear the bells of the Exeter Cathedral, which rang for more than an hour. We finally wandered over there to check it out:

On Sunday morning, we made our way back, stopping first at Sidmouth, right on the coast.

It's a sleepy little beach resort town this time of year, but it gets absolutely jammed in the warm weather. We had a lovely time here walking the beach and lingered for two hours, as much as we had paid for parking. Then, it was time to make the long drive home. We were home by 6:30 or so -- making it exactly a 48-hour road trip. We can't decide whether the experience made us realize how easily we can rent a car when we want to, or whether we should buy a car. The 65 pounds (about $120) in gasoline that we spent will likely factor in to that. But we're very happy that we took our first UK road trip, and no doubt there are many more to come.

[Full photo album of the Exeter Road Trip here.]

Monday, April 16, 2007

Don't Kiss Me Kate

No, no trouble in our household, it's just time for


Prince William and the fair Kate Middleton, his girfriend of 5-plus years, have "amicably split" not long after rumors they would soon be engaged. Of course, the night before this made front page news everywhere, the cad was out partying with other women til 3:30am in a London nightclub, according to the reporting I've done by reading all the tabloids. She can do so much better than "Wills", don't you think? I guess the souvenir dishes and teamugs were a bit premature.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Travel Report: Lindau, Germany

Through a strange fluke, I got invited to give a talk at a conference for young scientists. The conference was to be held in Lindau, Germany -- where Nobel laureates meet each year. Lindau is on Lake Constance, which borders Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. The area is a popular tourist destination -- for Germans. We had a tough time finding any information in English about the area, and not many people around here knew much about it.

I arrived in Friedrichshafen, Germany, on Wednesday morning after coming entirely too close to missing my flight. (Beware of train stations with similar names, especially when the one you actually need is twice as far away as the one you thought you needed.) I was greeted at the airport by a man holding a sign with my name on it. He didn't speak any English and drove a big Mercedes. This is one of those cases where even if you feel like you should ask questions, you can't!

Anyway, as you've probably seen by now, Lindau is just as cute as a button. You can walk the whole island in about an hour, and the place makes you feel like getting a beer and sitting and staring at the water, which I suppose is a hallmark of a vacation destination. The meeting started that night with a short talk and a reception. Now, most scientific conferences offer a chance for scientists to catch up with their colleagues, meet new people in their field, that sort of thing. This conference was 142 people from 71 countries who were from all different fields and had never met. So, everyone figured out pretty quickly that they were going to have to be proactive about meeting people to make the conference enjoyable.

At dinner that night, I mentally rolled my eyes when I realized that I had sat down across from an American, which was of course a silly thing to do because she's not someone I would encounter in any other context. She's a young professor at MIT in materials science and was absolutely lovely. We ended up hanging out for much of the meeting. We were sitting next to a theoretical physicist from Berlin and his wife. She grew up in East Germany and was 8 years old when the wall came down. She told us stories of going to West Germany with her family and people walking up to her and handing her money, and other people giving the family gifts and inviting them to dinner. So interesting.

The next two days were standard-issue conference days, and I met a lot of people and got plenty of story ideas. On the last night, Friday night, we took a sunset dinner cruise on the lake that was absolutely gorgeous. I went on the cruise instead of taking the train up to Friedrichshafen to meet John, meaning that he had to navigate the German train system on his own!

John arrived without incident, and so began our weekend in Germany. You may recall the phone call with the B&B; yeah, still no English. But the woman owner knew the right 10 words, so between those and some sign language, we did alright. Also, breakfast was a buffet, so I was not called upon to use my fine command of German words for breakfast foods.

Overall, it was a lovely weekend. We strolled, ate ice cream cones, strolled, drank beer, strolled, ate meat, strolled, ate more meat. A few of the memories we cherish from the trip:

We came across the Saturday market in Lindau, full of cheese, meat, flowers, bread, delis, and assorted crafts. I recognized the sausages at one of the stalls -- landjager, which my dad used to make. There seemed to be a menu of landjagers, though, and wasn't sure what kind I might like. I asked the vendor if he spoke English -- not really. I confidently asked, "Ich hatte gerne landjager, pero no se que tipo." I would like landjager (German), but I don't know what kind (Spanish). Am Huge Dork.

"OK," the vendor says. He says a word I don't recognize, then puts his hands up in zombie formation and pushes them down quickly. I figure he's probably not trying to sell zombie sausage. "Uhhhh. Horse!" he says proudly, motioning again with his hands, which were, of course, supposed to be hooves, not zombie hands.

"Oh! No," I say. "Not horse." We settled on good old fashioned beef. I hope. Well, it was tasty anyway.

On Easter Sunday, we were trying to decide whether to to go church. And then the bells started:

The bells seemed pretty insistent that we go to church, so we did. There was a sign on the door of the Protestant church that we couldn't read, so in case it said, "AMERICANS STAY OUT," we went into the Catholic church, which we hadn't been in yet. It was standing room only for mass, which was, of course, in German. It was nice, and it's a beautiful church.

Also on Sunday, we took a cruise around Lake Constance, which gave us a glance at Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Apparently the big thing to do is to cycle around the lake -- 280 km, usually broken into a six-day trip. I like our way better.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Yel-low, Yel-low

Well, Manchester United might be the best soccer team in England, and DC United back where we lived in the U.S. has won the MSL championship several times, but I have a new team to cheer for now: Cambridge United, the Yellow and Black! Last weekend, as part of the "perfect Cambridge weekend" we have yet to blog about, we on the spur of the moment decided to hop the bus to the local soccer stadium. We planned to pay 15 pounds each (about $30 each) but some guys had free tickets they sold us for 5 pounds each. Voila, we were in.
Now good old CU isn't the best team in the land. In its glory years it made it to the 2nd division of English soccer twice. English football puts the top 70 plus or so teams in 3 tiers with the top one, the Premier league, being the like our NFL or MLB--the big money-makers. But Cambridge United has fallen on hard days. The bottom 4 teams in a division get "relegated" s(ent down one division )and CU had been kicked down into a smaller league called the Nationwide conference. And they're in danger of falling even more as they battle to not be among the bottom four this year.
So we had few expectations. Then, lighting struck--CU scored in the first 5 minutes, then scored again, and again, and again. By the time it was over it was 7-0, the largest win in their history--and against a team way above them in the standings. The old stadium, which holds between 7000-9000, was rocking. The announcer got a great roar when he announced that the man of the match was: the whole team!
It was a great, sunny day and we quickly became United fans--and not just because of their legendary bacon rolls (below), which as one might expect is a lot of bacon on a roll!

When we got home around noon from Germany yesterday, we quickly decided to try to catch the day's game against the leagues top team. CU was still in danger of being relegated since the teams below them had extra games to play, but an American investor had made news by deciding to sink money into the team so people were more hopeful about the team's future. That didn't last long. The dreaded Dagenham & Redbridge Daggers quickly jumped out to a 2-0 lead and the crowd sat stunned--except for the visiting teams fans jumping, chanting and playing drums in the corner of the stadium where police watched them carefully. Still, CU had been playing well and the Daggers had just scored on their only 2 shots. Slowly the tide turned. CU goal! The visiting fans still chanted. CU gooooooaaalll! Tie game. CU gooooooaaaaalll and the stadium went wild as the home team jumped in from right before halftime. The Daggers fans were quiet finally. Then United kept up the pressure in the second half and scored yet another goal for a final tally of 4-2. The chant of "Yel-low, Yel-low" had finally drowned out the Daggers' fans. Now we're debating whether to take a road trip to Exeter to see the team's away game next Saturday!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Happy Easter Monday, and Happy Birthday to John!

We're just back from Lindau, Germany (above) on Lake Constance. The picture above is Lindau's harbor, looking across to Austria (click on pictures to see bigger versions). More blogging and photos to come later, but for now, Happy Easter and Happy Birthday to John!

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Friday, April 6, 2007

Happy Easter--gimne the chocolate!

One thing I've noticed here is that Brits are daft for chocolate Easter eggs. You should see the variety and quantity at the various supermarkets. We're talking one side of a whole aisle! There are all sorts of flavors and the hollow eggs contain more eggs, toys, candy bars, etc. This newspaper story will give you a sense of the price war and general egg craziness. Maybe when we get back from Germany there will be sales on the eggs since the holiday is over!


Thursday, April 5, 2007

Guten Morgen from Deutschland!

This is the view out my window this morning at Gasthof Engel. Lovely. I didn't have time to walk over and look at the mountains this morning, and now it's cloudy. Oh well -- hopefully I'll have other opportunities. Anyway, you'll see I'm very high up -- yep, gotta go up quite a few stairs. It's a nice, big room -- and a traditional European B&B. That is, no tv, radio, clock, soap, shampoo, hair dryer, etc., and the towels are the texture of sandpaper from being line-dried. It's very charming, though, and I'm definitely seeing the differences of life on "the continent," as they call it in the UK.
I give my talk this afternoon, and I'm putting the finishing touches on my presentation right now. After that, I can relax!
Also, Blogger has decided that since I'm in Germany, I should blog in German and so all the commands are in German. I'm going to now push the button "Veroffentlichen" and see what happens. :)

Monday, April 2, 2007

Sprechen Sie Spangermanglish?

I practiced the phrase a couple of times, amusing myself with what I fancy to be fine German pronunciation. Once I was satisfied, I called the hotel in Lindau, Germany, to extend my reservation by two days. I'll be there for a conference Wednesday to Friday, then John will fly in and we'll stay until Easter Monday.

KT: [dials phone]

Hotel: [answers and says ... something.]

KT: Guten Tag! Sprechen Sie Englisch?

Hotel: No.

KT: [Uh oh. I didn't plan for this. But. Um. Help? I'm not prepared to ask anything else, and even if I was, what would I do if, God forbid, he actually ANSWERED me? All I know in German is how to count to 10, say certain days of the week (but I'm not sure which ones), and, strangely, name breakfast foods. Schinken und Eier, anyone?]

[The few times I've been in non-English speaking countries and am confronted with saying something, I have this tendency to revert to Spanish, instead of English, even though my Spanish really isn't that good either. (Jamon y juevos, anyone?) Anyway, I tell you this to at least partially explain the idiocy that then came out of my mouth:]

KT: Esto es el Gasthof Engel?

Hotel: Yes.

KT: Hay un otra ... Is there someone else there who speaks English?

Hotel: No.

KT: (silence.) Danke. [Hangs up.]

Crap. Now what?

It ended up being pretty easy, actually. I emailed the organizers of the conference and explained my situation. Someone there called the hotel for me and wrote back with the price and reservation number, and I can confirm when I arrive. Whew.

Now I just need to practice a few phrases to explain myself when I arrive on Wednesday, and hope he answers using the German words for Monday, Saturday, ham, eggs, fork, spoon, or Biergarten.

Auf wiedersehen!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Who needs D.C'.s Cherry Blossom Festival?

Rumor has it the cherry blossoms have bloomed in Washington DC already. Well, we're not homesick at all. Yesterday, we passed by a few cherry trees that have popped AND we didn't have to deal with masses of tourists.