Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Lake District, York Round Two, and Last Days in Durham

A 3 day trip over to the Lake District started with a coast-to-coast drive in Josh's Nissan Micra. We had to give it some verbal encouragement to get over the fairly mild hills along the way. Even though the wheelbase is shorter than the modern Mini, there was still room for 5.

We had a leisurely hike that afternoon up to Loughrigg Fell overlooking Grasmere (pictured below) and Windemere (in the opposite direction, behind the group). There were a few fighter jets flying north through this area from an RAF base to the south. Because it is such a quiet part of the country, you could hear them from around 10 miles away once they had passed.
The group at the top of Loughrigg Fell, Windemere in the background:
Josh at the top of Loughrigg Fell:
The next day, we trekked up to the highest point in England, Scafell Point. It's not very high - just higher than the tallest point in St. Lucia and Mauritania - but it still made for a full day's hike. Some participate in what's called the '3 Peaks Challenge', climbing the highest points in Scotland, Wales, and England within 24 hours.

The first valley to climb on the way to the peak:
The fog visible in this photo would dissapate, allowing for better views at the rocky summit:

A panorama from the summit:

I arranged a quick trip to see Adam Holt down in York. I had visited earlier in the year, but only for an afternoon. We walked around the city checking out a few parks and sections of town I hadn't visited. I hadn't realized how large York was until this second time around. The weather was considerably nicer, too. Blue skies made a nice setting for a picnic in the park. It was a nice slice of English city life before a return to California.

On the city wall, looking across the bridge to the Minster:
Adam and his American girlfriend, Brianna:

I had one more night in Durham when I got back from York, so it was time to 'say my goodbyes' as the English put it. We had one last night out starting with Grey Bar, onto Jimmy Allen's and Loveshack in the city. With my bags packed the next afternoon, it was off to Edinburgh to catch a flight back to warm and sunny California after 9 months.

The 'Last Supper' (whether this one was 'supper', 'dinner', or 'tea', I'll never know):

Some parting shots from around town in Durham - St. Oswald's Church, the Palace Green, the Cloisters, and the Cathedral as seen from the train station

Saturday, June 12, 2010

World Cup: US wins 1-1

The draw between the US and England was about as good a result as the Americans could hope for (a moral victory). It was a great match, too. Lots of excitement, plenty of opportunities for both sides. It was as good as any match as I've seen over here.
Singing the American national anthem before the match was quite fun, as well. It came on after the 100 or so Englishmen in the room had just finished "God Save the Queen". Ben Baker (a Norwegian) and I were the only ones in the room to sing "Star Spangled Banner". I got a polite applause, which was much more polite than what would have happened had I been watching the match at a hooligans' bar. Although I was among friends in our college's common room, walking in with an American flag draped over my shoulders drew some harsh looks. Here's "God Save the Queen":

It took a moment to believe what I was seeing when Green, the English goalkeeper, fumbled the ball into his own goal. During the second half, I kept hoping that the Americans could pull it out, but that was wishful thinking.

For a few days afterward, the first thing that popped into my friends' minds when they saw me was the loss. I got a lot of comments along the lines of 'wipe that smug grin off your face' (all in good fun, of course). Subsequent English losses would turn into a national crisis with commentators being absolutely ruthless in their criticism.

Monday, June 7, 2010

General Election, Newcastle Trip, Grey Day, and Phoenix Ball

The Election
The general election was held back in May. It was interesting to see a different democratic system at work. There were some similarities. The TV coverage reminded me of election night in America - large panels of pundits and journalists in the studio with correspondents across the country. There was a focus on key swing districts just as there is on key states and congressional seats in the US. There was also a move in recent years to examining the personalities and appearance of the candidates in the American style.
Most students weren't too pleased with the result as the Conservative party gained the most seats in Parliament, taking over in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats after over 10 years of Labour government. A Conservative government could be the favorable outcome for Atlantic relations, however.
At any rate, it was a good excuse to get together in the common room with a few drinks to watch the results come in county-by-county. I got to compare notes with other foreign students; Ben talked about Norway's system and Andreas told me about German electoral politics. It seems that most students over here are pretty well informed and care enough to vote. Given that my only general election experience in the US had the highest turnout in around 40 years, it's hard to compare.


Grey Day
Last Saturday, we had Grey Day - a big college festival in Durham. The biggest part of the day was the alcohol, but other attractions included live music (big band, jazz, rock, pop, etc), an arts and crafts area, a bouncy castle, and sumo wrestling. Far too early for most, the drinking started at breakfast (it was lunchtime somewhere). The interesting thing was that the breakfast booze wasn't BYOB, it was provided by the college. It's not something you would see back in the US with 21 as the strict drinking age. The British really do drink more than Americans. I don't bother trying to keep up.

I'm pretty sure these two would be in frats if they were students in the US (photo taken around 10 AM):

Photo credit to Alice Tudor:

Grey's cheerleaders with the stage behind them:

Photo credit to Alice Tudor:

As Rhys put it, 'American culture in a can':

Ben and George taking it to the mat to see who gets the best room in the house next year:

Phoenix Ball
After everyone recovered from Grey Day, we dressed up and piled into buses for the Phoenix Ball, our end-of-year formal. The theme was 'Casino Royale' - identical to my senior prom back home. The scale of this one was much more impressive. There were at least twice the number of guests, giving them room in the budget for live music and entertainment, a Sean Connery impersonator and table magician, bumper cars (called "dodge 'ems" over here), ice sculpture, a 'silent disco' and casino tables.
I really liked the idea of the 'silent disco'. Wireless headphones with a choice of two channels and a volume control. It meant you could pick your music and how loud you wanted it. Ironically, the best part about it was taking the headphones off. When a popular song came on, people would sing along (often very loudly and out of key or with the wrong words - myself included). With no loud speakers to drown it out, we were left with a loud 300-400 member chorus belting out the tunes.
Having events like this which are directly comparable to high school (even down to the theme) just goes to show how much better college is. Living with people for 9 months makes a big difference. You're not just seeing each other on school days for 9 months out of the year. It's a completely different experience.

Mr. Connery performing some magic tricks during dinner:

I really like the way the color turned out in this photo. Alistair's red hair fits in perfectly:

Becky and Becky

The 'silent disco' well underway:

There's also been stuff going on in the world of sport (not 'sports' as Americans would say). We went to check out a cricket match, had a farewell dinner for the basketball team, and watched the first matches of the World Cup (more to come after the USA v. England match).

The match at Durham County Cricket Grounds was a 20-Twenty match - the shorter, more exciting form of cricket which lasts about as long as a baseball game. The longer form takes five days of of 9 to 5 play. Similar to Grey Day, there was plenty of drunken student atmosphere at the cricket match on 'student day'. I imagine that the same would happen at Memorial Stadium if beer were allowed. It might not be typical of cricket matches, but it was an entertaining sideshow for my first live match.
A student being thrown out to thunderous applause from the student section:

Some were heckled until they stood up and finished off their pint:

Alistair was my cricket tutor for the afternoon. He was the only one in our group who was a big cricket fan. Luckily for him, he got to see his home team from Lancashire get a win over Durham:

A couple photos from the Basketball dinner:
Iak "Pitcher" Bazinas and Alex "T-Bird" Turpin: