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BE THE MAGPIE

PhD’ing on tactile access to microscopic objects. All about anthropology, archaeology, museums, cats and bad puns. Tell me your favourite history fact.

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  • Kate

I’ve made it to Day 7 and have managed only minimal jetlag. Sleep is a bit wonky, but turning out okay. It’s been around this time in the late afternoon each day that I start regretting not making a second cup of coffee or tea, but I have yet to learn from this. Let’s see… What have I gotten into since? Well, on Tuesday a handful of students in the program all met by the clock tower (We originally were supposed to go to the Starbucks at the university, but I got two of us lost… Thankfully everyone was fantastic and they came to the tower.) and all grabbed some coffee and lunch and chatted for an hour or so. It’s SO nice to meet people before term begins, and everyone was awesome. I’m greatly looking forward to courses with them!


After we all went our separate ways, I continued with my new tradition of wandering aimlessly around the city – half genuinely lost, half somewhat aware of landmarks and just adventuring. Not having a car and aiming to walk everywhere teaches you some important lessons pretty quickly. Firstly, you really don’t need all that crap in your bag that you always take with you. Secondly, the more you can fit in your bag, the less you have to carry in flimsy plastic bags that cut off circulation in your fingers. Thirdly and most importantly, if you cannot carry it all comfortably in a basket in the shop, you are going to have a heck of a time getting it home. The only time a shopping cart is a good idea is when you have a willing victim alongside you that can help carry things home, of which I did not. Amazing what you’re capable of when you realize it’s either sit on the street and wait for an expensive taxi to come by and take your lazy rear home or just suck it up and walk already. Needless to say, I’m gaining new callouses on my feet.


Walking back from meeting fellow students and there’s a very drunk man staggering through the streets and screeching (at 3 pm). I stopped and asked some shop staff:


“What exactly is he going on about?”


“England. And some profanity. That’s all we can understand. He just came out of the pub, so sports maybe.”


Exciting.


Back at my flat, it was time for mail call!


Have I mentioned recently that I have amazing parents? Because they not only sent me things I needed that were going to be hard to walk back from the shops with, but also a surprise with the sweeteners. I have since christened the coffee machine and can gladly dismiss the stereotype that the British do not have good coffee. Picked up a Colombian fresh roast from Tesco that tasted great.


After unpacking presents, it was a walk to the train station to catch up with one of my favourite Twitter people! I take great offence at people who say that technology is ruining our social lives and that we all need to leave the phones at home. Yes, you should always engage with those talking to you, but the internet only helps to broaden that scope. My life would be much poorer without the weirdness of social media, and I wouldn’t want to change it. Heck, even meeting everyone from the program ahead of time was due to Facebook and email. Making new friends, the millennial way. 😉 Had a massive “You’re a real person again!” squeal, then set out on the city to talk and catch up with so much that’s happened since last we saw each other in November.


I would like to apologise to the now local ( 😀 ) people in my life as the anthropologist in me has been having a field day. Coming to a new place you’ll always have new experiences to process, (sometimes happens just crossing America) but instead of just shrugging it off with a “well that’s odd,” I have an intense curiosity to find out why things work that way. It’s my motto to always look at life and new things as interesting, never weird or “not like home.” The world works around things in many different ways, and societies are fascinating because of it. Over the space of dinner my poor friend was questioned on how the bank overdraft in the UK works (you can pull much, much more over the limit of what you have in your account than in the US), the why/when/how of putting x’s at the end of text messages (best stick to loved ones to be on the safe side), and the curious absence of doggie bags/boxes in UK restaurants (though honestly, if you walk everywhere it’d be a pain to carry that around). And of course, any time you share restaurants around the world, you’re bound to get a giggle out of the menus and signs.


This leads us into Wednesday, which was a travel day. Brief wander around town, but I had also packed up a bag and made sure to wash the dishes in the sink. By the afternoon, I wheeled my bag to the train station and hopped on the first of two trains to Colchester, where I’ll be visiting for a little over a week. Trains really are the way to get around in this country, though there’d have to be a cultural shift to have something like this happen across the United States. Maybe when gas hits $10 a gallon it might become more of a thing. Be sure to bring something to read with you though, because playing on your phone will suck the life out of it and unless you’re in a first class seat, there’s no guarantee you’ll have a charging place for your plug. Also, if you qualify for a railcard and plan on doing more than a quick journey or only one ride, it is well worth the price for the card in the savings you’ll accrue over time. Train travel is still at reasonable costs, but that little bit helps.


On the train from Leicester to my change point in London, I just happened to sit across the way from two Texans visiting friends in Nottingham and heading back to London for the evening. Sadly, they were University of Texas alumni and my family are Texas A&M alumni, so we were sworn enemies. I kid, I kid! It was nice to hear a random “y’all” so far from the source. 🙂


Oh! An important thing I learned when you come in to London in one station and have to leave from another to make your connection – you don’t have to cough up cash or your Oyster card to use the Underground as long as you go from point A to point B. Make sure your ticket has a little cross printed on it somewhere on the bottom and you’ll just feed your ticket through the reader at the Underground barriers, letting you both in and out. Basically, DON’T LOSE THAT TICKET. You’ll also be using it to get through the barriers coming and going from each train station as well. Another random but important fact – there are toilets on the trains, but you can’t use them in the station because the flush system just dumps it out of the bottom of the train on older models. Eww.


So as I write this, I’m now safely in Colchester, about 2 hours away from Leicester by train. I’ve got near and dear people to pester, and as it turns out there are a few other foreigners that I may get to catch up with in London! The world is shrinking every day, and it’s pretty interesting to witness. Hope all is well wherever you are. 🙂


— Kate

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  • Kate

While my sleep schedule is still not quite on the right time zone, I think I’m slowly getting an idea of where the main places in town are. I’ve been using reference buildings and just kind of wandering aimlessly until I see one again. The Magazine Gateway and the Clock Tower seem to be my go-to’s. Have been going out and walking around the city every day so far for at least a few hours, and I’ve already seen Every Street! *wah wah waaaaaah*


There are a few buildings that really stand out, like the city’s most hated building owned by Premier Inn. It looks like a lego or something. You cannot miss that bad boy. There’s also the Leicester Markets which were closed yesterday, but looked promising, and the Guildhall that I need to go see beyond just in passing. It’s got bits from the 1390s and is still standing and it’s JUST SO COOL. And of course, there are plenty of buildings and statues and such that make excellent reference points like the clock tower!


Decided to see if I could get my student ID today, so I headed over to campus this morning and timed my mosey-ing pace along the way to get a good estimate of when I should head out for classes in the mornings. Taking my time, it’s a 30 minute walk. I’ll probably shave some time off during the course of the year, but it’s such a pretty walk too!


Seems I’m to wait until the international welcome week to get my ID or do much of anything, so after a short wander around the campus, I decided to take the scenic New Walk to the city centre and waste a few hours walking new streets in town. The Leicester Markets were open today, and they are well worth a visit! It was like a flea market and farmer’s market mixed in one that’s been operating for the last 700 years! I’m getting ready to travel out of Leicester Wednesday, so I didn’t pick up any food, but I am definitely going to at some point when I get back in.


Finally, after a few hours of walking and the rising complaints from my feet, I started heading back to the flat only to be distracted by the Leicester Cathedral. The Cathedral is approximately 1,000 years old, but still looks magnificent. There’s currently some heavy construction going on with it as they prepare for Richard III’s reinterment, but the staff were still very nice and even told me to come by for cakes and tea and evensong sometime. I’ve never heard prayers sung back and forth before. It sounds like something worth popping in to listen to sometime. 🙂


Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to so far. Meeting up with fellow students and a fabulous old Twitter pal tomorrow, so it’s really starting to feel like much more than a vacation! 🙂



— Kate

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  • Kate

I’ve made it in mostly one piece to town! All said and done, it took about 25 hours of travel from my parents’ front door to getting my keys in Leicester. The problem with leaving a teeny tiny town like my folks’ is that although it has an airport, it consists only of puddle-jumper planes that get you to your next major airport. Generally, these flights are not cheap when tacked on to an already existing flight schedule. Instead, I took the 4 hour bus ride to the airport and flew out from there. The fast-track lane for security seems to be gaining traction, though why they sent me through it I don’t know, because I ended up having to go through the backscatter machine anyway. Yay for failing the metal detector? At least I didn’t have to take off my shoes, by god.


Caffeinated and charged, I got on the plane with my window seat view. Oh yeeeeah. It was a pretty uneventful flight for the first leg, but the view was gorgeous. There’s nothing quite like the Rocky Mountain chain. Also, I’m not sure which airplane gods took pity on me, but the leg room was amazing. It almost felt wasted on my shortness.


Once in the second airport, I grabbed a sandwich as I was regretting not getting one beforehand and got to pay Starbucks $7 for a ham and swiss. Highway robbery! Waited around and charged up my phone some more and finally got on the long haul flight. I thought British Airways was actually flying this one, but it was American Airlines again. Not a bad flight, but the movie and TV choices were limited at best. Tossed and turned and maybe slept 3 hours of the 9 hour flight before giving up, utterly defeated by my seat.


Once off the plane, you have to go through the UK Border checkpoint and it seems they’ve decided to try something new for the incoming students with our own special queue. If you are coming over as a student, be prepared to wait an hour or so in this special queue as the regular entrance queue breezes past you. We all watched a few students get fed up waiting that then jumped into the regular queue and seemed to make it through, but the border guards were not people that any of us wanted to cross so we stuck it out.


Out of the airport, it’s a very easy trip to Leicester. The Underground has stations at each terminal, so you just get on with your luggage and go. The train that terminates at Cockfosters (go on, get the giggles out) means you can get on and ride for about 15 stops to the King’s Cross/St Pancras exit and then come up into King’s Cross and walk across the street to St Pancras. From there it was a brief trip to the toilets to wash my now grey hands and then upstairs to the East Midlands trains.


The train ride was uneventful, but mostly because I kept falling asleep in my seat. Having a table seat was wasted on my sleepiness. Be sure you keep your train ticket with you when you’ve gotten past the barriers, because they’ll check it when you get moving! We pulled in to Leicester and I could see my tower building from the tracks, so myself and my two suitcases hopped off and started walking to the flat. Ahead of time I had made a Google Streetview/Maps note where I had screencapped major points along the way and then attached the directions to them, figuring it would save me from eating the data on the pay as you go SIM in the phone. This helped IMMENSELY. Unlike the US, there is not always a street name marker on every corner, not are they as visible. Don’t even ask about blocks – there are no such equivalents.


While it would seem logical that the tall buildings in town would make for good visual markers, they really aren’t that helpful. For whatever reason, when you’re down on the street you can’t always see the tall buildings until you are right up on them.


Anyway, I made it in, signed my paperwork (Thank you Katt!) and dragged myself up the elevator and straight into the shower. The place looked like a tornado came through with the suitcases basically flipped to find the shower stuff. Ahh, clean feels so good. After that, it was a quick run to the nearest shop (in this case Tesco) for the absolute bare basics. From there, I fought sleep until I ended up falling asleep with Skype open. (Sorry about that!)


So this morning, the world was not such an overwhelming thing with adequate sleep. Started off with a thick fog, but it was mostly gone and only cloudy by the time I left for the city centre. The humidity though… That will take some re-adjusting to. I’ve done it before, but it’s been a few years.


From there I stopped into the Newarke Houses Museum, which is this awesome mixture of Elizabethan houses with history ranging from the 1500s to WWI. Will definitely have to go back sometime.


Getting hungry, I started to walk more into town. I ended up stopping at a McDonald’s out of curiosity and convenience, and the cheeseburger and fries/chips taste exactly the same. Once in town, there was plenty to see, and this is only a tiny bit of it!


After all this, I had a stocked bag full of flat supplies so I walked on home. Apparently DMU is having a Con of some kind, because I ran into what can only be described as anime coming off the screen.


So here I am now, writing this up after walking past this silliness back to the flat. It’s late here now, and I’m exhausted, so I will speak again in the next few days! Hopefully will be on the right time zone soon enough.


- Kate

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