Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Gates Retreat

I spent the last four days at the annual Gates Scholars Retreat in Ambleside, in what's known as "the lake district." Made me realise it's been a year since I turned up in Cambridge as I had many good memories from last year's trip. This year brought more fun and (many) more new people to meet.
Here we are hiking. You can see the type of countryside in the Lake District, lots of green hills, clouds, and rain, though much less rain than last year.

Lake Windermere is one of the main tourist attractions, it's an enormous lake that's long and has many narrow inlets to explore by kayak, supposedly it inspired William Wordsworth and the Lake Poets. We had more fun playing kayak polo, trying to pass a tennis ball around and score goals.
The town is very nice as well, with a nice river and some old buildings and a cemetery with Wordsworth and some other famous residents.

Finally we stopped at Tatton Gardens on the way back, a traditional and well-kept garden complete with a hedge maze. I'm here at the center, of course I couldn't pass up the opportunity to climb up the statue in the middle. Should be a fun new year, meeting all the new people has me feeling invigorated, though I'm reminded how much social distraction comes about in the fall.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Chariots of Fire

Today was the annual Chariots of Fire relay race in Cambridge. It's named for the movie, but is actually a 6 x 1.7 mile relay which I think is unlike anything run in the movie. There were almost 400 teams running so the handover point was pretty hectic.

To be honest I didn't want anything to do with this race but I agreed to run a leg because Churchill's MCR team was short on runners. I normally don't enjoy distance running too much and particularly not races, but I actually surprisingly enjoyed this. I liked the relay aspect of it, the course was beautiful and weaved through many famous Cambridge sites (and downtown Cambridge is pretty spectacular).

I also didn't have nearly as many problems as I was expecting. I felt pretty strong and passed lots of people, I finished my leg in just over 11 minutes which is much faster than I would have expected, and our whole team had a strong showing. I don't think I'll take up running seriously anytime soon but it was a nice day out.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Killer Glass Attack

I've been taking my bike out frequently, and loving it, but I had a freak accident today and managed to simultaneously puncture both of my tires out on the road going down to Linton.

The damage was pretty bad. Neither tire is salvageable.

I took the culprit bottle home as a souvenir. It was fractured exactly in the worst way, with a razor-sharp edge angled directly into the oncoming tire and a very solid base on the ground so it didn't give way at all. Hopefully I'll ride bikes the rest of my life and never see that again.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

New Apartment

Over the past year, I slowly posted interesting items I collected on my bulletin board. It worked out nicely as the board was full just as it's time to move into a new place.

I only moved about 100 meters so I carried everything in one trip in a big wagon. It was a simple move but unpacking all this took a while, it's amazing how fast you can accumulate clutter from the original two suitcases of things I took here.

My new place is a three-bedroom flat, originally designed as housing for a college professor and his family, but opened to grad students this year so I jumped on it with my friends Andrew and Matt. We have a lot more space now and it's very nice to have a place all our own like this.

The balcony is probably the best part, it's big enough to play soccer on and has a great view of college. Not quite like my roof in San Francisco, but it's a nice upgrade for the year.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I didn't really know what to expect from the last 4 days in Poland. Poland has always been the far-off land of ancestors in my mind, and the reality of hopping on a plane from London and being there in a few hours was a bit strange.

Fortunately, I was pretty impressed with Warsaw as I walked around. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and there was a festival in town so the main street had crowds milling about for miles. The city was surprisingly beautiful, with parks and monuments all around downtown, and it also seemed to be buzzing with new buildings going up everywhere. The festival was celebrating Warsaw's international community and there was an interesting diversity of foreigners about, I even found some Senegalese selling jus de bissap who were happy to chat in French. Not what I was expecting I guess, but Warsaw is a very modern city, partially as a result of being almost entirely destroyed in the war. We learned all about it at the Warsaw Uprising museum, which was fascinating. The perspective on the war is obviously quite different in Poland, it seemed from the way the story was told there remains a bitterness about Poland's fate and the lack of aid the "west" provided despite being allied with Poland. Visiting on the seventieth anniversary of the German anniversary, it seemed to be a constant backdrop for the trip, not just in the museums but in the graffiti on street corners which still mentions the uprising of '44. The Polish today seemed remarkably friendly, especially our couchsurfing host Agata, who gave us a great place to stay in Warsaw just outside downtown despite having exams this week (thanks Agata!).

The food was a mixed bag. There wasn't too much for vegetarians but I did get to try a few new things, like the dumplings here, a fried-cheese dish sold on the street, and of course a Pierogi.
The necklace of mini-bagels was a pretty bizarre item. I'm thinking it's a tourist thing, or at least only tourists were putting it around their neck.

Krakow had a quite different feel, with more of its historic buildings preserved. There was quite a lot to see at the main castle, including a few museums on Polish history, a few royal collections, and a bell bigger than I could have imagined. The Zygmunt bell here weighs 11 tons and takes 12 people to ring.

There's also a statue below the castle of a dragon which actually breathes fire. These are the reasons you travel. I just never would have thought of building such a statue, but it fit in quite well with the area.

We wrapped up the trip by going to the Auschwitz concentration camp outside Krakow. It seemed appropriate as the war and the Holocaust seemed to be a sad subtext to the trip. The experience of visiting a former extermination camp is quite different from reading about things or going to a museum. It was more raw but also more banal. The grounds of the camp are huge and minimally maintained, big sections are essentially ruins, and the tour seemed to focus on small details of the period in place of presenting any overall narrative of morals. To me this was much more powerful, as the site stands quietly in the woods as an eerie testimony to the past.

It was a great trip and wrapped up quite a nice year of traveling around Europe for me. I probably won't get much travel in until the spring due to work, the Christmas vacation, and the weather. But it was the best kind of trip in that it pushed me to a range of new experiences in just a few days.