Graduation Celebrations!

Lucky me, I got to attend the graduation ceremonies for my Masters course at the University of Leicester this past weekend. I graduated with a Masters in Museum Studies ‘with Distinction’, alongside the rest of my classmates from around the world. One of those classmates happens to be from the same city as me, so I traveled with my friend and study-buddy Lauren, and to make the trip worth the effort we stayed an entire week.

Staying in Leicester with one of my CouchSurfing friends, we hit the pub to watch some football (don’t remember who played), visited our favorite tea shop more than once (St Martin’s is the best in town), indulged in Indian food and late nights out with friends, and were even treated to a homemade Sunday roast (wish I had taken a picture of it, delicious!). To top it all off, we stayed the last day in London, visiting the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studios and enjoying Thai food in London’s West End, followed by drinks on the Thames. All in all, not a bad week!

Sporting our graduation gowns in the library cafe.

Sporting our graduation gowns in the library cafe.

The three amigos!

The three amigos!

Indian dinner at Kayal restaurant.

Indian dinner at Kayal restaurant.

Enjoying a cuppa in my favorite tea shop in Leicester

Enjoying a cuppa in my favorite tea shop in Leicester

Trying on 'fascinators' at the department store.

Trying on ‘fascinators‘ at the department store.

Posing with the sets of the Harry Potter films, London.

Posing with the sets of the Harry Potter films, London.

More Harry Potter fun at the Warner Bros. Studio tours.

More Harry Potter fun at the Warner Bros. Studio tours.

Drinks on the Thames our last night.

Drinks on the Thames our last night.

The World in Postcards

I have a hobby of collecting postcards. The way I see it is this: a postcard is the cheapest souvenir I can take with me, and when I can’t travel the next best thing is to receive a postcard from some faraway place (or not so far as the case may be). Now I’ve got postcards from many different cities and countries around the world. Some I bought myself, and some were sent to me by friends, acquaintances and even random strangers.

Yes, random strangers. Without explaining how I first discovered ‘Postcard Roulette’, I’ll at least explain briefly what it is. Essentially, once a month you agree to send your random ‘match’ a postcard, and you will receive a postcard in return. It doesn’t always work, as I’ve discovered, but wasn’t it just a lovely surprise when a postcard from Malaysia turned up at my doorstep?? I’ve heard of something very similar called ‘Post-crossing’, which I haven’t tried. But there you go. If you can not go to the world, let the world come to your mailbox.

'Postcard Roulette' all the way from Malaysia!

‘Postcard Roulette’ all the way from Malaysia!


My growing collection of postcards, three continents on one page.

Adventures in Devon!

Hello everyone! As the end of my time here in the UK is just a few weeks away, I am scrambling to cram as much in as possible. My work placement at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum is going well and I get to work with curators and conservators, handle some amazing museum objects and get as involved as I can in my two months here. The box of spiders in glass jars, Victorian dresses, antique books, and early 20th century maps are the kinds of things I get to work with, which just confirms I chose the right career. The thing that amuses me most about working in a museum in Britain is how much tea and cake is involved! Every Thursday is Cake Day, and whenever I am with the conservators, we stop for tea and biscuits at 10:30am and 3:30pm precisely. Of course they warned me on my first day, ‘this place runs on tea and cake’.

I’ve been keeping myself busy on weekends going to different places in Devon. One weekend I went to Torquay on the ‘English Riviera’, which is the hometown of the author Agatha Christie. I enjoyed the place and plan to go back in two weeks time to see an Agatha Christie play at the old theatre. I’ve also ventured out on Dartmoor, a national park of over 350 square miles of moors, forests, rolling hills, waterfalls and wild landscapes. Celebrating a colleague’s birthday I’ve also taken a ferry down the river Exe for a pub lunch at one of the few pubs in the country that cannot be accessed by car, only by boat, walking, or cycling. And as a pleasant surprise to Mom & Dad who thought I had grown to dislike camping and hiking, I have done two weekends in a tent in rural Devon, taking in the sea and the gorgeous South West Coast Path.

I’m still looking forward to visiting Penzance in Cornwall this weekend (yes, the pirates of Penzance!) and having the opportunity to travel with my brother in Italy before returning home! Arrival date back in the US is set to be Friday 28.

Noriko and I at Torquay Harbour

The palms trees and pavilion in Torquay, ‘English Riviera’

At Topsham Museum, the ubiquitous tea and cake

View from Topsham over the Exe

Pub lunch at the Turf Locks Hotel

Fog rolls in along the Coast Path near Branscombe

Devon Bootlegs walking group near Branscombe





4th of July – We still celebrate in the UK

Thanks to Danielle for the use of her backyard, and to everyone for coming and humoring me. I do appreciate the irony of celebrating 4th of July in the UK, but this is all I need to celebrate Independence Day – hot dogs, beer, good weather (mostly), and friends. I’ve also learned that hot dogs do in fact come in aluminum cans in Britain.

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Jubilee weekend in Wales

It feels like summer! British summer anyway, which from what I’ve been told, equals about two weeks of great weather and a lot of rain.  Don’t expect too much. In fact if any of you were following the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London this weekend, I heard the weather during the river pageant was awful. Incidentally, all my news about the Jubilee celebrations came from a little battery-operated radio, as I spent the holiday weekend camping near the coast in Pembrokeshire, Wales.

While I hadn’t intended to escape the Jubilee celebrations, myself and a few CouchSurfing friends from Leicester had haphazardly planned a 4 day camping trip the same weekend. We explored the coast, saw the ruins of a 12th century castle in Llawhaden , and the Pentre Ifan Neolithic burial site, and even went swimming to explore a cliff cave (it was cold). And at night we either cooked at the campsite, or ate at a local pub. Our Sunday night pub dinner included a concert by several very loud, drunk men, singing in Welsh, of which we obviously understood not a single word.

I enjoyed Wales even more than I had expected, and the highlight was hiking 6 hours between Newport and Pwll Gwaelod along the coast path, with hardly a cloud in the sky. According to the trail guide, the highest point at ‘Dinas Head is 142 metres or 465 feet above sea level so it can be hard going but the views are worth the effort.’ After 4 days camping, and packing up in pouring rain, we were definitely tired and just listened to the radio on the long drive back from Wales. It was interesting again to hear news updates on the Jubilee celebrations, and old folks phoning in who had lived through the British Empire, growing up in Nigeria or India. Interesting stuff.

Meanwhile, my parents were hosting another CouchSurfer last weekend in Chicago, who will be my host when I move to Exeter in July! What a small world, and getting smaller every day! But before I can think about Exeter, this month I have to finish writing my dissertation, and begin the editing process. So it’s back to work for me.

Iechyd Da (‘cheers’ in Welsh)

The view from our campsite

Hiking the coast path

CS Hike The Peak District

I went on another hike last weekend with a few British couchsurfers. The destination this time was the Peak District National Park, and we were fewer in number because it was going to be a more intense hike… I thought I’d have no problem. I got picked up at 8:30am on a Sunday morning and we were on our way by 9am. The Peak District is north of Leicester by about 60 miles (near Sheffield), and when we arrived I checked my watch as we started off about 11am.

We began hiking along a ridge, walking through the clouds, which was rather atmospheric. I was doing ok so far, and keeping up. As we descended down a ways, my friends were having trouble deciding where we were, as we were still wrapped in so much fog. We began making our way across a bog, and I came to the realization that the boots I got for Christmas are definitely not waterproof. My spirits definitely began to sink into the mud…

We took our first break about 1pm, which is when the skies began to clear, and I discovered we were on the opposite side of the valley from our starting point. Somewhere off to our left was our goal of a pub lunch, and more than halfway to go on our route back to the car. Keep going! The scenery got prettier but short legs make for twice as many steps. Around 3pm we were making our descent into the village (pub lunch!), and I discovered it was just as painful as the ascent: I felt like a mountain goat, and didn’t have much energy left.

Finally made it to the pub! The ‘Old Nag’s Head’ has supposedly been in the town of Edale since 1577, and the sign on the door said ‘Families, dogs and muddy boots all welcome here!’ I learned that the Peak District was only the beginning point of a trail leading all the way up to Scotland called the ‘Pennine Way’. I contemplated my aching body over a beer and lamb burger before my friends told me the bad news: we had to climb back up to get to the car! In reality it was only an hours walk, and we made it back by 5pm, with a definite feeling of accomplishment. We drove back to Leicester in relative silence.

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Culture, History, Museums

Hello all,

It appears that I have gotten a little behind! The past few weeks have been quite full, as you’ll figure out. When I last wrote, classes were about to start again, and we’ve covered all kinds of very practical things about taking care of objects in museums. We even visited an off-site museum storage facility in Birmingham, where the curators led us around and said ‘don’t touch the spears, they still have poison on them’, and ‘don’t touch the stuffed animals, they still have arsenic on them’! I just turned in my essay last week on how to borrow an object from an overseas museum. How exciting!

"Look at all these stuffed birds covered with arsenic!"

As classes were winding down prior to the essay deadline, I took the opportunity to travel to Madrid, Spain, to visit a college friend. Jackie has been teaching in a Spanish school for about 2 years now and is ready to return to Chicago in a few months, so I saw an opportunity to visit her that I couldn’t pass up! She showed me the best Madrid has to offer, including visiting the famous Prado Museum, hot chocolate and churros, sitting out on a rooftop terrace, relaxing in beautiful Retiro Park, and an amazing Flamenco dance show! That’s a lot for one weekend! Two days later I turned my essay in early, and then was ready to head off on another adventure.

Flamenco show in Madrid! Amazing!

I left for Berlin on February 1st and had plans to stay with a CouchSurfer my first 2 nights. Andre was an enjoyable host, and the type of person that wants to be a student forever (it helps that German students do not pay for university). He showed me his neighbourhood and university, but the strangest thing was probably going to see an American movie at the cinema, Brad Pitt’s baseball movie Moneyball! Andre knows more about American film than I do, but I know more about baseball. We parted ways on Friday and I went to meet up with Jackie, who was coming for the weekend to travel with me. Now we could get to the really tourist-y stuff!

My CouchSurfing host Andre, with me at the Pergamon Museum

First off, the temperatures in Berlin were awful, sometimes single digits (Fahrenheit). It was painfully cold! Regardless, we visited the palace city of Potsdam, took a walking tour around central Berlin, toured the forced labour concentration camp Sachsenhausen, and saw a slew of museums, memorials and historic sites during our visit. This is a city just reeling with history! Among my top moments, I mentioned that visiting the concentration camp in sub-zero temperatures made me appreciate what working outside in flimsy prison garments might feel like. And seeing Nazi architecture still in use, and Communist monuments impressed upon me how much has happened in the last 50 years alone.

The Brandenburg Gate at night, gateway between east and west

Then and now

Alas, the cold was too much for me, and I came back to Leicester on the 6th. I’m still processing everything I’ve seen and learned, but I’m ready for the remainder of the semester as well, and having the opportunity to create our own exhibit, give a dissertation proposal, and select a UK museum for our 8-week work placement this summer. There’s a lot still to do.