Traveling: The Science Museum

During our study abroad in Scotland and Ireland, we had a free weekend.  We had three things we wanted to visit: Hampton Court Palace, The London Comic Con, and the Science Museum.

Being a computer science teacher, the Science Museum was definitely a must see for me.  We only really had an hour to visit the museum but that was enough to see what I wanted.

The museum is located in South Kensington in London and the entrance is free.  Some of the items that are there are the first jet engine and a reconstruction of the Francis Crick’s and James Watson’s model of DNA. We took some time during the first floor and toured the Power exhibit which helps tell the story of the Industrial Revolution in Britain.  We also looked as some of the space and flight exhibits.

However, most of our time was spent in the computing section.  There they have examples of Napier’s Bones and other computing devices.  I was in awe when I came across Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine.  The science also has the coolest odd exhibit I’ve ever seen in that they have Charles Babbage’s brain on display.

Here are some pictures of our trip to the Science Museum:

 

It was truly great to see some of the items, such as Babbage’s Machines fully built after years of reading about them and teaching about them.  If you want to learn more I highly recommend The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua.

Many of the great museums of London are publically funded which means they are free to go.  They do accept donations which we gladly gave.  If you plan a trip to London, plan a museum visit.  And we highly recommend the Science Museum.

ComicCon-ing: How to have a successful con

We have attended Comic Cons all over the place. We have been to Star Wars Celebration in both California and Florida. We have even attended the London Film and Comic Con. We love New Orleans Comic Con by Wizard World and look forward to Pensacon every year. Dallas and Houston have great cons. One of the best cons we ever attended was in Galveston. We haven’t been to San Diego…yet.   However, we have learned from each con on how to make the most of them.

Comic Cons can be stressful for an introvert. I have social anxiety. Large crowds in a small space stress me out. I don’t like it when people bump into me. Most people that attend Comic Cons, though, are introverts themselves. Remembering this reduces stress of a con. This is a safe place for nerds and geeks and it allows us to assert our extroverted side. We often run into former students at Comic Cons. Often, they were the quietest students in our class, but when they are cosplaying at con, they are stopping every five seconds to take pictures with strangers. Cosplaying allows people to step out of themselves and be someone else for a day.

Another source of stress of attending a Comic Con is trying to do everything. You can’t. There are too many things limiting you, mainly time and money. To have a successful con, figure out what is a priority. If you love collecting autographs, you may have to miss a panel. To help with this, study the website of the con. Figure out what people are going to be there on specific days. For example, at the upcoming Pensacon, Natalia Tena (Tonks from Harry Potter) is appearing Sunday only. If we didn’t read the website, or follow on twitter, and we only planned on going on Saturday, we would have been disappointed.

Making a schedule can also lead to successful con. You can’t be in two places at once. You have to figure out what your priority is, and schedule everything else around that. For last year’s Star Wars Celebration, our priority was getting autographs. Our schedule was based around that. By not scheduling a panel in front of an autograph, we met everyone we wanted to meet. Remember you have limited time at a panel, so planning helps.

Finally, budgeting is important. Besides paying for autographs and photo-ops, there is many other things on which to spend your money. I always describe Comic-Cons as “jewelry shows for nerds.” Planning helps. If you really want to get autographs, budget the amount of money you want to spend. Most cons list the prices of autographs and photo-ops on their website. Of course, you are going to make impulse purchases, just make sure you spend your cash on what you planned on spending it on as well. In fact, bring cash. While Square is appearing more often at Cons, cash is often the quickest way to do some transactions, and in some cases, the only way.

The most important advice we can give for a successful con is to have fun. Make small talk with the celebrities, ask the artists questions, attend panels. Most of us attend cons to remind ourselves of that little person inside of ourselves. Let that person out.

Traveling: London

As you may know, especially because of the lack of recent posts, Kurt and I are both enrolled in grad school. While Kurt is focusing on Educational Technology, I’m focusing on History. It’s been a bit crazy at times between teaching high school and taking two graduate classes a semester, but I’ve managed to retain a 4.0. When the opportunity arose for me to go on a study abroad trip to London, Normandy, and Paris this summer, and take two classes in the process, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. Luckily, Kurt was able to come with me and instead of auditing the classes, he decided to get credit for them as well. Thus, we left on a week long adventure in England and France, chock full of history and adventure.

After a long flight and a six hour time difference, our study abroad group landed in London. With barely any sleep on the plane, we were all exhausted, but in order to beat jet lag, our professor thankfully forced us to stay awake. As soon as we got off the plane, we met our guide through Ambrose Tours, Mark, and our awesome Dutch bus driver, Hiei. They would remain with us throughout the rest of our trip.

Our first stop was England’s National Army Museum. Inside, we saw all the major British Campaigns throughout history. One major missing campaign was the American Revolution; we all thought it was funny that they left that one out. We got to see different uniforms, paraphernalia, and even the skeleton of Napoleon’s favorite horse. Though not one of the top things to view in England, it was interesting to see England’s history through it’s wars.

 

Napoleon's Favorite Horse: Marengo

Napoleon’s Favorite Horse: Marengo

 

We then went on a driving tour of London, viewing Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and some other various sights. We stopped to eat at Covent Garden, a little shopping district. Still feeling tired, I didn’t want anything heavy, so I opted for some hummus, goat cheese, olives, and pita bread. Yum yum! Covent Garden looked like a fun place, right on the fringe of West End, with plenty of cool shops, but since we only had a little bit of time there, I didn’t get to experience much. Oh well, something to save for our next London trip, right?

 

Cooking Paella at Covent Garden

Cooking Paella at Covent Garden

 

When we finally made it to the hotel, I forced myself to stay awake as long as possible; however, by 6pm (London time), I could not keep my eyes open. I slept until the next morning, where I was wide awake and free of jet lag.

The next morning was the Queen’s Official Birthday. Our destination was the Churchill War Rooms, which was right next to the horse yard where the Queen’s presentation and such was occurring. We were able to see the grand stands, the royal guards, and the long lines of people, though we didn’t catch a glimpse of any royalty.

 

Queen's Official Birthday

Queen’s Official Birthday: The Closest I’ll Ever Get to British Royalty

 

Churchill’s War Rooms were extremely interesting and well worth it. They were a secret underground headquarters for the British government throughout WWII. We were able to see the maps Churchill used, his bedroom, other official’s bedrooms, and many of Churchill’s personal effects in the Churchill Museum also located there. Extremely cool to see, it is highly recommended, especially if you love WWII or secret, underground headquarters that aren’t *quite* bombproof.

Churchill's War Rooms

Churchill’s War Rooms: Dining Room

Churchill's War Rooms

Churchill’s War Rooms: Conference Room

Churchill's War Rooms

Churchill’s War Rooms: Hitler Graffiti on the Map in the Conference Room

Churchill's War Rooms

Churchill’s War Rooms: Churchill’s Bedroom (he almost never slept there, except for his daily nap)

 

We then went to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Kurt and I had done St. Paul’s when we came to London in 2010, so we didn’t climb the steps or do the catacombs again. Instead, we opted to take a quick tour of the church itself, then head to Westminster Abbey, which we did not go inside last time. As we’re about to enter, we see all these planes flying overhead, which included a Lancaster bomber and Typhoon fighter, and ended with the Red Arrows, leaving a trail of red, white and blue smoke across the sky. They were part of the Queen’s birthday celebrations.

Fly Past in honor of the Queen's Official Birthday

Fly Past in honor of the Queen’s Official Birthday

Fly Past in honor of the Queen's Official Birthday

Fly Past in honor of the Queen’s Official Birthday

 

We then enter the Abbey, final resting place of dozens of monarchs and British nobility. Highlights of the tour included the tombs of Edward Longshanks, Edward the Confessor, Henry V, Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Margaret Beaufort, Winston Churchill, Charles II, Mary I, and Henry VII, among others. They also had a poets corner which included Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, John Keats, Rudyard Kipling, and Oscar Wilde, among others. I very much enjoyed seeing the final resting place of the old monarchs, since I love British history, even if I was not allowed to take pictures of their final resting places. There was even a small museum showcasing some crown jewels, Queen Mary II’s coronation chair, and the oldest surviving altarpiece in England. I would definitely recommend it if you love British monarchs.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey: Pyx Chamber

Westminster Abbey: Pyx Chamber, one of the oldest parts of the Abbey, built after the Norman Conquest in 1066

Westminster Retable: Oldest Altarpiece in London

Westminster Retable: Oldest Altarpiece in London

 

We finished with the Abbey in just enough time to make our 3pm appointment at Westminster Palace, otherwise known as where the House of Lords and House of Commons presides. Though most of the original palace burned down in 1834, it was still an impressive sight. The Lords and Commons are completely separated, and it’s hard to imagine conducting work in such an exquisitely beautiful complex. Once again, photography was not allowed, so I bought many postcards to remember and scrapbook it. One funny memory is that Kurt was tired of standing, so as we’re listening to the tour guide talk about the House of Lords and we’re standing in the pews the Lords sit in to debate and such, Kurt decides to sit down in the pew and rest. Well, another tour guide saw him and fussed him for sitting where the Lords sit. Not many people can say that they sat down in the House of Lords!

Westminster Palace

Westminster Palace

Westminster Palace

Westminster Palace: It was a very cold and rainy day

 

After a brief jaunt to the hotel to drop off our wares, we then take a stroll around London. We made our way down Fleet Street, even finding a demonic barber, found Twinings, which sells some of the best tea, though it was unfortunately closed, walked across Black Friar’s bridge before eating at Doggett’s on the Thames River, walked to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, walked across the Millennium Bridge (remember Harry Potter?) toward St. Paul’s again, then made an impromptu decision to find Abbey Road. After attempting to invoke the Beatles, we went back to Westminster for some night shots. Since the sun doesn’t set until around 10:30pm, and we are always so tired after long days touring, we had never seen London at night. It was pretty all lit up, I must say. Finally, we headed back to the Regency Hotel for some sleep.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Millennium Bridge with St. Paul's Dome

Walking across Millennium Bridge with St. Paul’s dome in the background

Abbey Road

Abbey Road

London Eye at Night

London Eye at Night

 

Tomorrow, we leave London and go to Portsmouth before crossing the Channel on a ferry for Normandy. I can’t wait!

 

 

Drinking: A Tea Education

Coca-Cola and I have come to a point in our relationship that is no longer beneficial to me. I must leave it behind. Water is a fine replacement, but where do I go when I want a pick me up drink? I do not really care for coffee, except expensive craft coffee that I do not have the time or the money to get into.

Brewing Tea

Brewing some Blueberry Bliss tea

This leaves me with tea.

Like most geeks my age, our introduction to the non-sweet, non-iced variety of tea dates back to the first time we saw Jean-Luc Picard drink an Earl Grey, hot. Like most impressionable college aid students, I tried it. I liked it, but quickly forgot about it.

Then came early this year. While shopping, I noticed in the tea section the herbal teas for the first time. Intrigued by the one claiming it promoted digestive health, I picked up a couple of herbal teas. I had some Earl Grey and Green Jasmine tea at home. The next day started my tea obsession.

I started with Earl Grey. No headaches that day. The next day I tried the digestive health tea. No stomach aches. Practically everyday of my adult life, I have had one or the other. Since I started drinking tea, I have had neither. Well, at least on the days I drink tea. The two days I did not, well…

This could be just power of suggestion with me telling myself that because I am drinking tea, which I know has healthful benefits, I fell better. I know correlation does not always mean causation. In this instance, I do not care. All I care to know is that I feel better on the days I drink tea.

tea brewing Kit

My Tea Brewing Kit

I have since added Lady Grey to my bagged tea collection. I have also started exploring brewing loose tealeaves. I purchased a perfect tea maker form Teavana that allows for easy home brewing. I also purchased some Blueberry Bliss Roobios Tea from them. While not a true tea, it is delicious. For my caffeine fix, I have been drinking English Breakfast by Twinning’s.

As with any new obsession, my goal is to learn everything about tea. I have started scouring steepster.com and teaviews.com to find out about teas. I have even checked out a book from the library about the history and culture of teas. While the staff at the Teavana was exceptionally nice and helpful the day I visited, I am really looking forward to visiting a few of the local merchants to learn about new teas. In addition, with a trip to London looming this summer for graduate school, well, let’s just say I am planning to get a few teas through customs.

I would write more, but it is time for a cuppa.

Traveling: Passed the Pub That Saps Your Body (or Our Last Day in London)

Before I start this entry into our Europe Chronicles, I just want to make you aware I’m doing this mainly from memory. These events may or may not have happened and if they did could be completely out of order. Cristina took lengthy detailed notes everyday in her journal. She does plan on writing for this website, but right now she is putting more emphasis on our wedding website.

As two former geography teachers, we knew the concept. However, it wasn’t until we were in London we completely understood it. In fact, it wasn’t until I went to the bathroom at around 4:30 in the morning that I fully understood the earth’s tilt. The sun, about to rise, was giving off enough light for the day to start. Also, it was well after 9:30 that it was completely dark at night. Having not traveled much, it was a hard concept to get my head around. The sun set mostly after nine pm for most of the trip, which means we didn’t really see much of Europe at night. We were just too tired.

Continue reading

Traveling: Castles, Stones, and Baths

The morning after our day tour of London, our legs were mad at us. They felt insulted that we had the audacity to try to climb that many steps without their permission. So they decided to get back at us by being extremely sore. We were prepared though. Excedrin was called in to rescue us from our misery. The mixture of aspirin and caffeine is a perfect cocktail for the out of shape traveler. Seriously, if you plan on going to go to Europe use the stair master for about a month or two before embarking.

The next tour Cristina planned for us was a trip to Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath. This is when Cristina lost her jacket. Also, we learned tube escalator etiquette at this time. Let’s face it, we are almost all lazy Americans. When we ride an escalator, at least in my part of the world, we just relax and talk. It doesn’t matter where you stand. Well, don’t do that in Europe. If you just want to enjoy the ride, ride single file on the right hand side. Do not go over into the left hand side. You will be trampled. People who are in a hurry will climb up the escalator on the left to get through it faster. By the way, everyone that did that was very skinny.

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle: Fit for a Queen

Fortune smiled on us again and we had the same tour guide as the day before. It didn’t take long to get to Windsor and was aided by the necessary background knowledge. Usually, I get bored in touring homes, but this one was different. First of all, Windsor is a castle. Second of hall, the rooms had a good flow to them. We also toured the grounds and the St. George’s Chapel. Henry VIII is buried underneath the chapel. Cristina had to have a picture but photography was forbidden. I’m not proud of this, but I distracted the kindly docent, so Cristina got her picture.

No you can't pull a car right up to StonehengeNext was a lovely drive through some of the English country side. Then we arrived at Stonehenge. My first thought: oh great, rocks, yay. Then you notice how they are put together and wonder how did they do that. There is an excellent free audio tour that goes with the walk around Stonehenge. Yet, I found myself just putting the audio device down and just letting my mind form it’s own conclusions.

We then at lunch in the small, well preserved touristy town of Lacock. We ate at the George Inn which we were told was the second oldest pub in England that sells alcohol. The steak pie was very tasty and filling. Cristina ordered the fish and chips but was suffering from a little motion sickness. We explored the town for a couple of minutes after we finished eating seeing a medieval (?) abbey where apparently scenes from Harry Potter were filmed.

Roman Baths

A Lovely Day at the Roman Baths

Finally, we arrived in Bath. We headed straight for the Roman Baths. I really enjoyed this museum. The water, which you can put your hands or feet into, felt really nice. Again, this tour had very good audio guides. On the way out, you can try some water from the spring. There are legends of it having mystical and medicinal properties. Cristina did claim she felt better after drinking it. After the museum we went to a local ice cream parlor. I, being lactose boy, opted for just a PowerAde. On the way out of Bath, Cristina saw the dairy farm from that was used to make her ice cream. When traveling, it’s those little moments that just make your day.

We didn’t do any more all day tours after this day. We chose these two tours to basically not have to work so hard the first two days at least from a planning aspect. I know some people say tours are waste of money, but it was one of the best decisions we made. We learned how to tour quickly, and when you want to see a lot of things you need to learn that. Now, we did get lucky making by having a very good tour guide. We now had the confidence that we could handle this on our own. We knew we could wing it if we needed to which is exactly what we did for the rest of the trip. And that might have been our best decision.

Traveling: London, Giddy London

We visited fourteen cities during our Europe trip. The only city I don’t need to visit again is Brussels. But in the defense of that city, it was the last stop on our tour. In fact, it was probably the best city to visit last because we didn’t feel any pressure to see anything. We could just relax and enjoy the mussels, fries, and waffles.

Our first city didn’t allow us to relax. London could take years to explore. While we used our time wisely and saw quite a bit, the list is much longer of things we didn’t see compared to what we did see. That’s what return trips are for.

London is the perfect first city for an American visiting Europe because there is only an accent barrier. The tube is very easy to use even it if is a bit expensive. Taxis are a great way to travel because the drivers have to go through a great amount of training to become a cabbie. Public museums are all free. In other words, it’s a very accessible city for a foreigner.

When we arrived in London, we had been up for about 24 hours. Cristina slept a little on the plane; I didn’t sleep at all. After we got through with customs, we went to the underground station at Heathrow. Luckily, two tourists were returning home but still had a day on their travel card (however, we recommend the Oyster Card as it is pay as you go) so they gave them us. I think we both knew at that point fortune was smiling at us on this trip. We knew we were going to be ok.

Buckingham Palace

Our First Day in london

Our hotel was right next to the Euston station. I mean right across the street. We immediately went take showers to refresh ourselves. We were determined to stay up until at least seven or eight London time. We knew if we took a nap, jet lag would be a major problem. We had to get out of the hotel, so we headed to the Victoria Station. We were taking a tour the next day, and I figured it would be a good idea to see where we needed to be the next morning. Also, Victoria station is in a nice starting point to see some sites. It was a little chilly out, high 50’s, and it was misting quite a bit. This was another fortunate thing because the weather helped keep us alert and awake. After finding the bus station, we walked to Buckingham Palace. It wasn’t crowded at the time, so it was easy just to walk right up and take pictures. This was, by the way, my first time out of the country, unless you count Shreveport as another country. I wish I was a good enough writer to tell you what I was feeling the moment I saw the palace and the guards. Basically it was a “oh my god this is really happening” type of feeling. I studied history in college with a focus on European history. This was really one of those moments I had waited my whole life for.

We then walked to the area of Big Ben getting to see #10 Downing Street on the way. We got a bite to eat at a small café that may or may not have been called Churchill’s. I got fish and chips; Cristina may have ordered the chicken. At this point we were so tired we were both getting a little delirious. We made it back to the hotel, and around 7:30, with the help of Tylenol PM, a deep sleep found us. The next morning we were refreshed and ready to see London.

Tower of London

Cristina and I in front of the Tower of London

Cristina’s sister Cara and her husband were with us for the next day. We had signed up for a tour that included a trip on the London Eye. Luckily, our tour guide was excellent. First stop was the Tower of London. Cristina has given enough money to Philippa Gregory for the author to buy half of Wales which means this was a very exciting moment for Cristina. Our yeoman was very knowledgeable and told us how to make best of our limited time. We did get to see all the parts of the tower we wanted (and were allowed) to see. We then took a river cruise on the Thames which was great for picture-taking. After viewing the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, we then had lunch at the Saint near St. Paul’s Cathedral. I ordered a crayfish salad sandwich (menu spelling not mine) which was better than I expected. Cristina ordered a meat and cheese board. In all the research I did the one thing I didn’t come across was that when you order lemonade in England you will get a Sprite. We then went in to St. Paul’s. Our tickets included a visit to the Whispering Gallery. A climb of two hundred and fifty-four steps. Seriously, for those of you looking for advice for your own European vacation, I have two words: stair master. At the top, we did separate and we said the word “New Orleans.” Why New Orleans? Because every other couple was saying I love you and we want to make sure that this thing worked, that’s why. After driving through the city, we then went to the London Eye.

Big Ben

The Peter Pan Shot: A View from the London Eye

Now, I didn’t mention this when talking about the gallery, but I’m afraid of heights. Actually, I’m afraid of falling. Unless I’m enclosed, heights are a scary thing for me. However, the London Eye wasn’t horrible. Actually, I highly recommend it. In fact, pay the extra money and get a fast pass. The lines can be very long. The views are breathtaking.

Fish and Chips

Fish and Chips

We then went eat in the theater district with my future in-laws at a Garfunkel’s. The food was ok but like the website says it tries to be all things to all people. That doesn’t really seem like a good idea. We parted ways with Cara and Darin and headed back to the hotel on foot. This was a great idea. We got to see pretty much all of West End. We wanted to see a play but we were tired and the next day we would be heading to the English country side to see Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath.