Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Travel Tuesdays #24: First Date


This photo was taken in Iceland, in June 2006.

I have so much more to tell you about our epic Icelandic cycling trip, it's hard to know where to start. (I'm even considering writing a book about it - there really is that much story!)

So let's begin at the beginning - unconventional, I know - with the reason why I consider that holiday to have been my official 'first date' with my husband.

By the time we actually took the trip, we'd been living together for two months, and of course we'd been out together plenty of times before that (our other first date was at the restaurant where we later held our wedding reception). But the first thing Andy ever asked me to do with him, was to cycle around Iceland! Well, you know me.... no wonder I married him!

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Gaelic Grammar

On one map I see 'mountain' spelt Ben, Bein, Beinn, Bheinn... does anyone know enough about Gaelic to tell me if this is a declension or simply indecisiveness (whether on the part of map-makers or mountain-namers)?

If, like me, you have no idea, feel free to guess & I'll look it up once I get home.

Still not enough internet to upload photos... you'll be hearing about this holiday for weeks after I get back.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Island Hopping

Just a very quick update on our Hebridean odyssey... Mull so far, Skye next and then the Outer isles. Very excited! Internet is sparse so you'll have to make do with this mobile snap until I can upload some of my real photos. But trust me, there are some stunners on the way. (modest, moi?) Back to the blogosphere as soon as I can, I miss my daily reading...

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Travel Tuesdays #23: Chester Roman Fair


This photos were taken at the Roman fair in Chester, in June 2004.


Sunday, 21 June 2009

My Cloud Obsession Continues

I've never before seen such a configuration of concentric rings in the clouds:


We're on our way up to Scotland for our holidays, and were bombing up the motorway at 70mph when I noticed the sky - so this photo was taken at high speed by leaning out of the window and hoping for gaps in the trees (I wasn't driving, obviously. I can't drive.)

We stopped off last night at my dad's house, which is on the way north, and just before bed, my husband said he wanted to have a shower. Okay, I said, but I'd like to clean my teeth first; we'd arrived late, I didn't want to have to wait up while he showered.

As I was digging through my bag looking for my toothbrush, I had a sudden thought.

I got up straight away and went into the bathroom, and looked over the bath. I was right: no shower.

I went back and told Andy. "There's a shower in my dad's en suite, do you want me to ask him?"

He walked back through to the bathroom with me.

I was wrong after all.

There is a shower, it's just in a separate cubicle on the other side of the room, so I'd somehow failed to see it when I went through to check.

(In my defence, although I have been here more times than my husband has, it isn't the house where I grew up - and I'm more of a bath girl, myself.... No, those aren't very good excuses really, are they?!)

Speaking of clouds, today I bought a polarising filter for my camera, and I've borrowed a UV filter from my dad. So I may have some interesting and experimental photos to show you later.

Posts may be a bit more irregular than usual over the next few days, I don't really know how much wifi we'll find in the wilds of Scotland. We'll see.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

In Case Of Fire...

In case of fire

... it may be preferable not to go up at all.

(This was in the hotel in America, so 1 is the ground floor... the fire exit is about three feet to the left of the photo.)

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Too old to be a child prodigy

If I was jealous of anyone when I was at school, it wasn't the 'cool' kids who were popular and good at sports. They were the ones who were intermittently mean to me for not being like them, but even at that age, I didn't want to be. No, if I could have been someone else (and trust me, with hindsight, I'm glad I wasn't) it would have been one of the children doing maths degrees at age seven, whose stories occasionally cropped up in the papers.

I think it was mostly because they had the luxury of being in a university environment, where everyone wanted to study, rather than at school where it was weird to be one of the few who enjoyed learning stuff. But also, it's partially because my self-definition revolves around being someone who's quick to pick things up, and these stories seemed to describe children who were just a little bit better at being the sort of person I thought I was (but see below).

When I was at the NAACL conference in Colorado the other week, I was listening to one U.S. academic describing a great student he had in one of his classes, who was in his sophomore year (translation? I think it might be 2nd year...) but doing publishable research.

And then it hit me: I'm now officially too old to be precocious.

I've been wondering for a while what it 'means' to be a grown-up, except for the fact that I now enjoy a nice cup of tea or the occasional glass of wine. I don't really feel any different (and that's probably fodder for another post). Yet here is one big difference: I've reached an age and stage of my life where, by default, I'll be assumed to be capable. And for any given activity, there will be someone my age who's been doing it much longer than I have, and therefore done it better.

Being "good for a beginner" is cute when you're a child - you're a beginner at everything at that age. But maybe not such a good look for an adult.

I do see with hindsight that those kids doing maths degrees were actually in the opposite of my natural state; very, very specialised, while I'll never be a great specialist. I thrive on doing a breadth of different things (you may have noticed!), and even though I'm having, in theory, to narrow down my interests for my PhD I haven't really changed. My strongest strength is still in adapting quickly to new stuff and being "surprisingly good for someone who just started" rather than ever getting to the stage of "really good on a world stage". Plus, I get bored very easily!

This is a bit rambly, I know, but I'd appreciate any thoughts. There must be scope in the world for being a breadth-first person... but it certainly doesn't seem to fit with the academic model where you're expected to specialise more as you go on.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Travel Tuesdays #22: Confused Yet?


This photo was taken in Moscow, in September 2008.

We were trying to find our hotel, and the website had said we should follow the signposts from the Metro station. Unfortunately, suburban Moscow seems to be full of advertising boards masquerading as signposts.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Ducklings and Goslings and Coot-lings, Oh My!

If there's one thing I miss from my narrowboat-dwelling days, it's never waking up to find ducklings playing outside my bedroom window any more. For some reason they just don't come to visit us up on our hill.

So when my husband & I were thinking about where to go out yesterday, when I suggested that - since it's baby bird season - it might be an appropriate time to visit our local wetlands centre at Slimbridge.

We first saw one little fella who'd become separated from his family - he was paddling around at top speed, squawking frantically.


Thankfully, it didn't take him long to find his siblings, mum, and dad:




I also had a lot of fun taking pictures of some entertaining - and adorably fluffy - goslings:




Look at the disproportionately large feet of this young moorhen:


We were on our way back to the car when Andy spotted three tiny coot chicks (I don't know of a special word for them. Anyone??) hiding in the rushes, while their parents rushed about nearby trying to find food. I spent several minutes trying to photograph them, but they never fully came clear of the leaves - however, I was eventually rewarded with a shot of some actual feeding (regurgitated food - yum!).




Even the flamingos have young mouths to feed at the moment:


Saturday, 13 June 2009

The Bee's Knees


Recently, we've had a lot of really tiny bumblebees visiting our garden. I keep noticing them, and they're quite adorable, so when the sun came out last weekend I decided to have a go at capturing them on camera.

I haven't done much of this kind of close-up photography, so I'd be very grateful for your thoughts (especially if you're an expert who can give me some tips!)





I could certainly never have got shots like this with my old camera! See Flickr for more.

Friday, 12 June 2009

All Greek To Me!

I was walking from the university conference hall down to the town centre in Boulder, hoping to find a nice spot for lunch, I caught sight of this sweet little building across the road.

AΓΩ - University of Colorado at Boulder

The sign by the steps grabbed my attention: I've heard of U.S. fraternities and sororities, mostly featured in some books I read as a child, but this was my first visit to an American university and this particular building was the first one I've seen.

As an outsider, it's intriguing. If you zoom the photo, you can also see the sign says that this is the "Christ-centred fraternity", which only made me more curious, since I'd basically heard of fraternities as social and/or residential entities, more to do with drunken parties than with God.

So, finding I had a few minutes to spare after lunch, I took a short walk through some of the roads near the university to see whether I could spot some more.

The next Greek building I saw had a much more impressive facade:

KKΓ - University of Colorado at Boulder

Indeed, it turns out that KKΓ even have an article in Wikipedia, but I didn't find that until I was writing up this post. All I could tell was that this one was huge.

Where does the money come from? Maintaining a building of this size can't be cheap. I found several streets where most of the houses had a couple of letters above the door, so the total number of people involved in these things must be huge.

ΣN - University of Colorado at Boulder

I wondered what the letters stand for, but haven't managed to find any good answers. (And as an ex-classicist, if there is some actual Greek involved, I stand at least a chance of understanding it...)

I'll also confess to a woeful lack of knowledge about what these groups are for (except the aforementioned partying), or how they're organised. But, not willing to let ignorance get in the way of a good story, I decided to quiz the next Americans I talked to. Unfortunately, that turned out to be two girls who had both managed to go to universities which didn't have 'a Greek system'. This left me even more confused, because I'd assumed the fraternities & sororities were independent of the actual university - and therefore assumed that everywhere had them. Apparently not.

They told me what they knew: that students could choose to live in the 'frat houses' instead of renting privately, and that it was (as I suspected) good for getting beer because supplies would be bought by older students who were legally allowed to buy alcohol.

ΦΚΨ - University of Colorado at Boulder

I wanted to knock on one of the doors to ask some of my many questions, but sadly it was the summer holidays and the neighbourhood looked a bit deserted. If I go back to an American campus in term-time, though, I'll certainly do some more investigating.

All I can tell you really are my impressions from outside. From the occasional stories of 'hazing' and initiations that reach the British press, they sound a bit Masonic. From the large blocks of living accomodation that some of them have, I get the impression it might be a bit like the non-academic side of an Oxford college; somewhere to live, with a ready-made social life if you want it (and, presumably, a handy alumni network). There's also, evidently, quite a lot of money involved somewhere.

I think my favourite of the Greek houses in Boulder was this one, which has a certain Old-English charm about it, and is suitably impressive while keeping its letters understated:

ΔΓ - University of Colorado at Boulder

Have any of my readers been involved in one of these societies or know someone who has? Is there anything you're willing to share?

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Through The Mist

When we were in the mountains on Thursday, just admiring the snow-capped peaks....

Snow-capped Rockies

....when it suddenly got very misty (or cloudy - it could have been low cloud).

My camera rebelled when I tried to use autofocus, refusing to take any photos at all, so I just had to put it on manual (infinity lock!) and hope for the best.

It started as a light mist in the background of my pictures...

A light mist

Mist in the background

A light mist

But it quickly became the main feature of the landscape:


No visibility

This is my favourite shot of the rolling mists filling the valley; you can almost see the motion as it sweeps across:

The mist rolls in

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Travel Tuesdays #21: Catholic China

Beijing's Catholic Church

This photo was taken in Beijing, China in September 2008.

You don't see many churches in China. Buddhist temples are fairly ubiquitous, even in this supposedly-atheist, Communist state. But churches, not so much.

You walk across the grass to the church and - particularly on a sunny day like this one - you feel like you could be in the mediterranean somewhere. Only the sea of Chinese faces gives you a clue.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Arriving in Denver

This may be a little late - but it took me a couple of days to work out the wireless in the hotel, and flying home again reminded me of a couple of things I'd meant to tell you about flying out to Denver.

Aside from when we flew over Greenland, there was nothing terribly exciting about the flight itself. The food was average (that is to say, a lot better than some airline meals) and the entertainment system was disappointingly buzzy, as well as being the kind where the films start at specific times (making it impractical to change your mind if you start watching a bad film). I was slightly mystified by the number of people who seemed to want to sleep, considering that it was daytime in both timezones.

My first thought on seeing Denver was that, for a mile-high city, the area is remarkably flat. My new theory is that Europe, being so much smaller, doesn't have space for high, flat areas - in Europe, if it's high, it's probably also pointy. The real advantage to landing so high up is that my ears didn't pop.

Getting off the plane, I had to ask four different people in the airport before I got to the right desk to buy a bus ticket out to Boulder - and then emerged into the oppressive heat outside, to look for the bus stop. There was an American family waiting at the same stop, I don't know where they'd come from but I was amused to hear the kids exclaim "At last! Civilization! Food!" when Dad came back with hotdogs.

Here are some photos of the disappointing sunrise on Thursday; I tried to make up for the lack of sun by photographing it through the pine trees, but I'm not sure any of these shots are really any good - they are, however, an accurate representation of what we saw.






Sunday, 7 June 2009

Boulder Safari

If you were really hoping to do a safari in Boulder, you'd be longing to see (mountain) lions, and bears, and apparently there are also some pretty cool deer but they hid from me.

However, on Thursday morning I went up into the mountains with a couple of other girls from the conference; we were hoping to see the sunrise, but it was cloudy and we didn't see much sun. We did see a couple of animals in the Rockies that I'd never seen before.

First, a chipmunk who was sitting on a rock a few metres away. I didn't dare try to get closer, but I had my 250mm zoom lens and I just kept my finger on the button to keep taking photos until he ran away:




Chipmunk running

And then I turned around to find a fox sitting beneath the trees, but he looks completely different to the English foxes we get in our garden. Again, I kept my finger on the button until he wandered off, and managed to get some nice shots as he rolled around in the dirt. (Click through to Flickr if you want to see more of the series.)

American Fox

American fox

American fox

At lunchtime, I went walking to where the others had seen some prairie dogs - another new species for me - living wild in 'towns' by the road.

Prairie dogs

Prairie dog

As I was returning from my walk, I heard some birds making a lot of very high-pitched noise under one of the bridges along the creek. I paused, and a mother dove flew away, leaving this nest in plain view:

Baby doves

I am now safely back home, but will probably be blogging about Boulder for at least a couple of days more, as I sort through my photos & memories!

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