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.

South West England: Hope Cove and East Prawle

I realized that I had intended to post these beautiful pictures quite a while back, and it appears that it’s been a good long time since I posted anything at all. I don’t miss the rainy weather, but I do miss the scenery. There are plans in the works to head back to the UK for graduation in January. Fingers crossed for everything to work out according to plan!

Enjoy the photos!

The view from our campsite over Hope Cove!

The view from our campsite over Hope Cove!

Danielle and Aneta at the campsite

Max getting ready for sunset

Sunset over Hope Cove

Hope Cove seen from the cliff path

The real way to cook out camping!

Grazing sheep on Gammon Head

Near Prawle Point along the South West Coast Path

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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London Rewind

As the reverend concluded his echoing prayer of blessing for the Duke and Duchess on their one year wedding anniversary, I was looking at a stone with Charles Dickens’ name on it, and reminiscing about my time there two years earlier. It has been over two years since I visited London, the first time being an unplanned week-long stay, thanks to an Icelandic volcanic eruption ( I blogged about it). I had been on my way home from a solo vacation only to find myself stranded alone without a clue. I spent much of the week with a CouchSurfer, borrowing his bike and seeing all the free museums and parks I could manage to get to. I remember sitting outside Westminster Abbey on a quiet evening, but this time I was enjoying the evensong service inside!

I had no idea two years ago that I would be living and studying in Leicester, UK this year. But a year later I remember waking in the early hours to watch the Royal Wedding, since by that time I had made the decision to get my Masters degree abroad. I made the first journey to Leicester in late September last year, but never went to London, as I was saving the visit for my parent’s arrival. This April we spent five lovely days in London, and I got to visit old and new places, playing the role of tour guide for my parents. And each time we stumbled upon someplace familiar, my memories came wandering in. It was a surreal experience.

The first moment happened the day we arrived. My mother had been dying to see the British Museum so we went there first. It was a busy Friday afternoon, and we could barely elbow our way in to see the famous Rosetta Stone, but my memory was of standing squarely in front of the piece with only a few people milling about around me. Many of my memories are rather serene like this, as if I were wandering around London in a daze, and no one intruded on my little bubble. In fact, I had been wandering around in a daze, anxiously wondering how long I might be stranded, and only half of my brain seeming to be functioning. This time I came fully prepared, highlighting passages in my guidebook, and setting an energetic pace!

Another surreal moment came when I suggested we visit the Museum of London (of course another museum). I had heard they were having a special exhibition on Charles Dickens and his muse that was London, in celebration of 200 years since his birth. When we arrived, I realized I had been here before! In my stranded-traveller daze, I had come here having heard that it was free, but only seeing a third of the place, and leaving slightly disappointed. I am happy to say that my estimation has much improved, and by the way I loved the Dickens exhibit! Near to the museum was another landmark that brought back memories: St Paul’s Cathedral. As we walked around the outside of the cathedral, I remembered having rode that fold-up bike here all the way from Notting Hill. The madness of biking around downtown London traffic does not now escape me.

As my parents and I explored more and more of London by tube, I realized just how far I had travelled on my little bike two years ago. I had gone around Hyde Park, up to Regent’s Park, all over the City, and down into Southwark. I even recall biking past Harrod’s and wondering what was so special about it; I didn’t bother going inside. This time I am glad we decided to check it out, as it rivals even my beloved Marshall Field’s (Macy’s) in Chicago. Unfortunately, the reason I have memories of biking all over London is because I do not recall it raining once while I was there. I am told that was massively unusual and will never happen again! Our recent weather was much more typically British – lots of rain, and broken umbrellas strewn everywhere.

Of course, despite the rain it was a wonderful visit for us, and a very reminiscent one for me. My largely aimless wanderings by bike had given me a far better grasp of London than I had imagined, and evenings spent in a small Notting Hill flat were calm. Now I have been able to put names to all the places I had unknowingly visited (Museum of London, Trafalgar Square, Speaker’s Corner), as well as add a few wonderful places to my list (Greenwich, Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, Theatre district). Without romanticizing too much, I felt as though my unexpected time in London two years ago had set in motion the chain of events that has brought me to the UK this year, and eventually back to London again. I hope to have more such travels in the future.

April 2010 – myself at Tower Bridge in sunny London

April 2012 – my parents at Tower Bridge in rainy London

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.

CS Hike Bosworth Battlefield

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Did another hike a few weekends ago, with a few couchsurfers. The weather was a bit colder, but we took the bus from Leicester to a tiny town called Market Bosworth, about an hour by bus. From there we hiked through fields to reach the site of the battle of Bosworth, and the visitor center there, plus a falconry demonstration! We hiked back by a different way, along the canal, the old National Railway, and ended at the pub, of course. All in a day’s work. The pictures are courtesy of Aneta.

And here is a brief description about the battle, taken from the Bosworth website (

Bosworth is a site of national historic significance, being the location of one of the three most important battles fought on British soil. It is the site where the Battle of Bosworth took place in 1485, and infamous as the place where King Richard III lost his life and crown to Henry Tudor and thus where the Tudor dynasty was born. Shakespeare immortalised Richard III, a King betrayed, unhorsed, surrounded by his enemies and finally calling out “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.”

The Wars of The Roses consisted of a series of battles fought between 1454 and 1485 by two rival branches of the same royal family for the control of the English throne. A contemporary name for the conflict was ‘The Cousins’ War’.Although some members of the houses of York and Lancaster did have white and red roses on their heraldry, the term Wars of the Roses was not used untill much later.

Between 1454 and 1471 the houses of Lancaster and York fought thirteen battles with the Yorkist Edward IV winning the eventual victory. Richard III was Edward’s youngest brother and succeeded him to the throne in 1483. Fourteen years after the last battle of the Wars of the Roses, Richard III rode into battle once more, losing his life and his throne to Henry Tudor on the 22nd August 1485.