Category Archives: UK Travel

Friends from Home, take 3: Kelsey!

This week was a very special week as one of my longest and closest friends came to visit. Kelsey took her spring break to fly into London to spend a whole week with me! Yes, but why? Good question. I can barely stand to spend time with myself as it is, why would anyone fly 4,000 miles to voluntarily spend 9 days with me. She probably just had frequent flyer miles that were about to expire.

She few into London on Friday and went around and toured different museums while I finished off my work that afternoon. We had arranged to meet when my train got in around 6 at King’s Cross. To be honest, it really wasn’t real that I was getting to spend that time with her until I was able to spot her, dazed and exhausted, in between a few people at the station.  We welcomed each other with a warm embrace as if no time had passed since I last seen her. In fact, it had been exactly a year since I had seen her.

We got to do a lot in London over that weekend, even having a productive day on Sunday before heading to Cambridge. We ate dinner at an Asian fusion restaurant and then turned in early Friday night. Saturday was seeing Big Ben, Westminster, Green Park, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Millennium Bridge and London Tower all in one day! Kelsey got to see her friend from Clemson, Katie, and hang out for the afternoon. Before heading in for the night, we were able to walk around a giant mall at Sheppard’s bush. It’s YYUUUUGGGGE, the biggest. Jokes aside, it was so huge and filled with such fancy stores that it was just out of this world. It was a neat and mesmerizing walk.

Sunday we walked around Notting Hill, which was amazing. It reminded us of the prettier parts of Charleston and me of some of the quieter parts of places like Wilmington. The colors were lovely. I was able to capture what our trip looked like.

Typical image of us.

After Notting Hill, we went and rode the London Eye, which was much better than the Brazilian guy made it out to be. I enjoyed it during the day as much as I did during the evening* when I went with my family. After that, we headed back via Waterloo station where Kelsey proceeded to run into a bollard while taking a photo followed closely by me wearing half my sparkling water from Pret. We were on a roll there for that 20 minutes. After that we headed to a store that her friend point us to and stumbled across a place called Kingly Court. A neat little place that we immediately decided was going to be where we came back to eat next weekend.

Since I had Head of the River to prepare for, our mornings in Cambridge were much earlier than either of us really wanted them to be. I’d leave her in the morning, cox my crew to victory, then head to work before meeting her for lunch. Our favorite lunch was probably Peterhouse. It wasn’t so much the food as the fact that we showed up too early and spent 15 minutes walking around the gardens that I didn’t know existed.

Thursday night, Kelsey attended her first Formal Hall. Connor was able to book us, him, and his mom  as part of the Engineering Formal Dinner for Churchill and they sat us away from them.  We had a great time with good food and even better company.

Friday we went into London and I was kind enough to bring her stuff in for her so she didin’t have to carry it around all day… I figured this meant her suit case but I found a backpack when I came back for her stuff. -.- So I traveled to London on the train with her backpack, my backpack, and her suitcase – I was a sight to have been seen. We had our dinner at Kingly court and a restaurant called Brown and Whyte.

Saturday morning we had time before Kelsey had to head to the airport, so we went out for a late breakfast/brunch. I couldn’t convince her to order one herself, but I ordered the full English breakfast and got to show her what it was. She seemed convinced that she wouldn’t eat that much food for an entire day as I devoured the plate in front of me.

After our breakfast we had some time before she had to leave so we walked around a park near our AirBnB. It was interesting to sit and watch families in the park. The dogs that played and were well trained, the one that was not so well trained and ran off as the owners casually watched and followed later. It was interesting to see how independent the children were, riding around on their scooters – a stark difference between US and UK parents.

After the park, we walked to the tube station and headed our separate ways – her to the airport and me back towards King’s Cross. It was sad to watch her ride away on the Tube, but it’s nice knowing she’ll be back in May! Until next time!


*Evening = 4:30 when it got dark…


Friends from Home, Take 2: Mackenize

This weekend, I had the lovely opportunity to host a friend from USC, Mackenize, as he finished off his spring break Europe trip.

This was the first time I was able to show someone from home a true tidbit of my life here in Cambridge. When he got in, we picked up food and then went to a Tequila tasting event at Claire College’s MCR Bar where he got to meet a lot of my chemical engineering friends. On Sunday, we had a couple friends take us to brunch at King’s College – a first trip to their dining hall for both of us. This was just after the International Women’s day celebration Hall and all the portraits of the men were covered by cardboard. A neat but worthless and meaningless gesture IMO. We all toured their chapel and went for ice cream. That afternoon, I headed out for rowing (preparing for Head of the River!) while he continued to explore town and figured out how he was getting back home. Our evening was filled with some good food and watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail, something I had been meaning to do since arriving.

Monday morning was more rowing (he really got the full experience here) and hanging out with Mack before he had to head off. We meandered around the city and stopped for lunch before we had to say goodbye. As always, it was a pleasure to get to spend time with him. Can’t wait to see him next.

Gates Cambridge Weekend

The Gates Cambridge weekend was truly one of a kind. The group of individuals are all dedicated deeply to their work and won’t be satisfied until they make a difference at the end of the day.

If I were to recreate a team building exercise, it would be heavily based off of the formula that the scholars set in motion: Lots of activities, lots of time together, but not tiresome. But, in all fairness, it would be really hard to recreate such an environment for two reasons: (1) we didn’t know each other before Friday and (2) over half of us are from very diverse backgrounds.

We were all strangers on Friday morning. The 90 new scholars plus the 15 returning scholars who made the weekend possible resulted in about 5,350 handshakes, assuming the returning scholars all knew each other and no one shook hands twice (which totally happened — I introduced myself to several people two or three times, even in the same day). Each handshake went a long with an introduction that went something like “Hi, I’m Eric. What’s your name? … Nice to meet you; what are you studying, and are you MPhil or PhD? .. Fantastic, where are you from? … Neat, I’ve never been there before. What college are you in?”  It honestly got a little repetitive to hear yourself speak those words and answer in return, but you were meeting such an interesting and diverse group of people, it was enjoyable. The hardest part was keeping all the names and faces straight…

The diversity of the group of strangers made the ice breakers quite enjoyable. Here’s a list of some of the questions that were used, each question with a different, group of people:

  • How many unique countries has your group lived in?
  • How many unique languages can you speak?
  • How many siblings do you have as a group?

Honestly, these questions would be duds with friends back home. The answer would be one, two, and something irrelevant because I already counted before anyone in the group needed to speak. That honestly is no fun, but with this group, the answers were so unique with people who know ancient Greek and Latin, who know 7 languages, who had families with twelve siblings, all of which you’d never have known just by walking into that room.

The weekend trip to Ambleside was just one giant continuation of our introductions — it was a chance to talk about our projects, our coursework, our backgrounds, etc. in greater detail while doing things like rock climbing, gorge scrambling (trekking through a flowing river), kayaking, and hiking. There were more games, dancing, food, and of course, alcohol. The surprise that was planned for us on Monday night was sure a pleasurable one, and was only made more fun by the fact that it wasn’t revealed, so in turn, it won’t be revealed here.

All in all, the weekend was quite indescribable. A group of strangers were thrown together in small rooms, buses, kayaks, and hostel rooms and came out the other side great friends, close friends. The only bad part about the weekend is that it ended — the holiday of fun and games with 100 friends had to come to an end — and there will be very few times where you’re gonna be with even a quarter of them again.

A somewhat random occurrence was the fact that I got to meet Craig Mathieson, the current “Explorer-in-Residence’ by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, and hear all about his life story and the work that he does with the Polar Academy. He seeks out a group of the “forgotten children” — the one’s who are average kids who feel like they can’t accomplish anything great in their lifetime —  as he put it and trains them to run their own polar exploration. It seemed to be a very neat and life changing experience for those who were strong enough to be selected.

All pictures together:

First Visit to Cambridge

This is at the end of a week of an amazing opportunity. As I had never been to Cambridge or the UK, the South Carolina Honors College offered to support a trip to see what I got myself into… I came here with a few objectives: (1) meet my lab group (2) figure out the Robinson College graduate housing (3) learn about the University and its history (4) figure out miscellaneous living questions and (5) take a picture for mom so she can do the graduation announcement like she wants it.

After a typical overnight flight – a few moments of sleep, abysmal food, battling the temperature – I arrived in Heathrow and began my journey to Cambridge through the tube (metro) and the train system. All of this was much easier in English than it was in German my first time arriving in Germany. I picked up a SIM card and plugged it into my phone, which mean I have been connected to the web like every other college student around and have no trouble looking things up to get myself figured out in a bind – a big comfort and makes wandering around a new place a little easier.

I checked into Sidney Sussex College where I’m spending the week and spent the rest of the day exploring the town, watching punts (flat bottom boats on the Cam River) collide, being startled by traffic passing me on the other side of the road and seeing little kids in the driver’s (left) seat as they passed, and meandered my way out to look at Robinson College. Unsure if the college was actually open to the public, I left the exploration for Sunday.

Since I was fed prisoner’s food for breakfast, and was on the train during lunch, I held out as long as I could for an early dinner at… Nando’s. I think I confused the girl bringing the food when I ordered a half chicken with two sides for just me. Hey – it was only 1500 calories in one sitting but basically all I ate that day.

After experiencing a traditional English breakfast in Sidney Sussex’s castle of a dining hall, the ceiling of which is decorated in ornate gold leaf artwork, I spent the morning reading in Jesus Gardens by the river and made my way to Robinson College to have a look around for real. Although the architecture is not the “castle” and “gothic” style like St. John’s or Trinity, I think it’s more fitting for me. Robinson College is the newest college in Cambridge, immediately allowing women membership upon opening; the people that I talked to around the college seemed more open and kind than I expected – quite similar to the “Southern Hospitality” feel.

Monday I decided to drop in, unannounced, to the Gates Cambridge offices to say hello and ask a couple questions. They were surprised to see me, but happy to spend some time chatting with me before their meeting. The rest of Monday was spent with Dr. Kevin Lewis from USC. He took the time to show me around and tell me stories of when he was here, the history of some of the buildings, walk me through the churches of St. John’s and Trinity, share a pint with me, host me at dinner at Wolfson College, and spend the evening with me. It was an absolutely pleasant time and really began to give Cambridge a sense of ‘home’ by meeting people and spending time with a group of people.

Similar to how I did the Gates’ office, I dropped in on Robinson College as well to answer my questions about housing. They were kind enough to show me around the common areas of the graduate housing as well as take me through the college to show me around. I spent some time walking around the city center again, stopping in shops to begin purchasing Cambridge things – both for myself as well as family and friends. I also decided to participate in the local food of “Fish and Chips” at one of the more recommended restaurants.  After a minor hiccup of being the only table in the downstairs seating and thus was forgotten about, my meal was delicious and I look forward to eating there again, just not downstairs.

I also decided to go to the movies here, Arts Picturehouse, and see the movie “Stalker”, a Russian film with English subtitles. For a film with so many questions and so few answers, it is strikingly impactful. The visual elements create a reason to dive deeply, in thought, into the movie in a way that I have not experienced in another movie.

Wednesday was left for more exploring and meeting a current Gates Scholar, Ian. As it turns out, we lived in the same neighborhood, just down the street from each other in Gig Harbor, WA. I was in preschool at the time and he was in elementary school, so there was little reason for us to have met at the time before I moved away… but what are the odds. It only took 17 years, both of us wining a Gates Scholarship, and coming to Cambridge for us to meet; what a small world it is…

I think the last point to mention is the weather and how it’s not that bad – at least right now. The days seem to follow a pretty consistent cycle: cold mornings with drizzling rain and dark clouds, clears up around mid to late morning, cloudy afternoon – maybe a sprinkle of rain, ending the day with evening that gets cool. It honestly hasn’t been bad weather, a good windbreaker and an umbrella would do you well.

Today, I set out to answer my complete my final objective – meeting my lab group. With everything else I have encountered, and learned, this week – I can tell that I will be in the exact environment I sought out: an interdisciplinary, intellectually stimulating environment filled with opportunities to travel and experience a wide variety of cultural experiences that I would not have if not for being here. I cannot wait to be back.

My next question to answer… Why are they called punts? No one I’ve asked yet has known.