Tuesday, July 31, 2012

BBC on Naughts and Zeds

BBC News Magazine has posted a guide to the quirks and characteristics of the British Isles. It's supposed to help out visitors during the Olympics to follow proper etiquette or to understand various discussions or faux pas they might make. Each of the twelve descriptions is 212 words long, presumably a contraction of 2012. It's pretty entertaining reading and definitely seems pinched from my naughts and zeds concept. Check it out here.

Garden Flowers

One of the nice things about renting a house is inheriting the gardening successes of previous tenants or the owners. Like these lovely flowers that are blooming right now.

Lovely pink rose

Flowers and berries!

Many birds come to visit our yard and at least one bee always seems to be hanging out somewhere, buzzing around lazily.

I wish our thumbs were greener but we were smart enough to request someone come in for semi-annual caretaking of the garden. It meant an extra £10 a month but is totally worth it to keep things in good condition, or better condition than we can maintain. I still have to mow the lawn, but it is only a small patch and not a big effort. And the front garden has no grass, so no mowing!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Playground at our Cambridge Hotel

Though we did not go to any playgrounds in Cambridge, we did use the playgrounds right by our hotel. The kids loved the variety of equipment that we hadn't seen elsewhere and were always eager to give them a try.

An original style for a see-saw

Jacob joins in the fun

Lucy did plenty of climbing as well on all sorts of challenging steps.

Lucy climbs the loops

Lucy steps up the platforms

She was rewarded with a rather fabulous slide down.

Lucy slides

Not to be left unphotographed, Jacob crossed some challenging platforms that hung on chains and moved around a lot.

Jacob carefully makes his way from right to left

If they had their way, we'd spend all of our vacations at playgrounds. I think we've been able to strike a good balance of historic sights and hysteric fun so far. Hopefully we will keep up the good work.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

King's College Chapel

The must-see place in Cambridge is King's College Chapel.

The west front of King's College Chapel

Detail of the west door

King Henry VI laid the foundation stone of the college in 1441, intending it to be the most magnificent school and chapel in either Oxford or Cambridge. The chapel took almost 100 years to complete, including breaks from construction like the War of the Roses (1455-1485). Many different kings were sponsors of the project, so the college really could be called Kings' College.

The chapel is 289 feet long and 40 feet wide, reaching a height of 80 feet. It is famous for the fan-vaulting, which enables such a large open space and is quite breath-taking.

Fan-vaulted ceiling

Many heraldic symbols are found throughout the church, mostly centered around the Tudors, i.e. the family that wound up with the crown after the War of the Roses. The Portcullis and the Greyhound are symbols of the Beaufort family (Lady Margaret Beaufort was mother of Henry VII). The Tudor Rose incorporates the red rose of the House of Lancaster and the white rose of the House of York (Henry VII married Elizabeth of York, uniting the two families, so the symbolism is especially significant). The Fleur de Lys emphasizes England's claim to be monarch of France (which claim was maintained until George III). The Coat of Arms is the Royal Arms of England. The Dragon of Cadwallader (Wales) is from Henry VII's father. Leopards and Lions have been symbols of the English monarchs since William the Conqueror.

Some of the heraldic symbols

These symbols can be seen almost immediately right over the west doorway.

A greyhound as big as a dragon?!?

Above the door is a splendid stained glass window.

West Window

The windows (with the exception of this one) are 16th century and are all quite glorious.

Above the choir screen is the organ, a gift from Henry VIII that includes his and Anne Boleyn's initial (so it dates between 1533, when they were married, and 1536, when he had her executed).

A glorious organ and more of the ceiling

In the choir area is a lectern with a small figure of Henry VI and some well-carved stalls.

That's a very small figure

Choir stalls

On the eastern wall is a grand stained-glass window featuring the passion and death of Christ.

East Window

Below the east window is the main altar, which is rather simple. It has Ruben's Adoration of the Magi, painted in 1634 and donated to the college in 1961.

Ruben's Adoration of the Magi

Several side chapels are found in King's College Chapel. Toward the front is the Chapel of All Souls, dedicated to members of the college who died in the two world wars.

Chapel of All Souls

The Tomb Chapel has several memorials in it to various college members.

Tomb Chapel

The Whichcote Chapel was interesting for me. It's the only place I've seen with stained glass featuring lots of Greek, more than just the typical alphas and omegas elsewhere.

Whichcote Chapel Greek window

One side of the chapel has a long exhibit describing the history of the church and the various symbols used.

We were a bit sad that we didn't get to see the choir, so we will have to come back again during the school term to hear the famous voices.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Punting on the Cam

One of the quintessential things to do in Cambridge is to go "punting on the Cam." The Cam is the river that runs through Cambridge (hence the name "Cam+bridge"). The current varies between lazily slow to nicely paced. The boats are flat-bottomed and have plenty of room to laze about while one person stands at the stern with a big, long pole, pushing off the bottom of the river to propel the boat forward and to steer. Tourists and students have the option either to rent their own boat or to rent a seat on a chauffeured boat. We chose the later, in order to avoid the embarrassment that would follow from our athletic deficiencies.

We bought tickets from Scudamore's Punting Company, which has two locations: just south of Queen's College or just north of Magdalene Bridge. We were already south of Queen's College, so the choice was easy. One of the punters made a deal with us where the kids could ride free. I guess with the rain-threatening weather, it makes more sense to sell three tickets for five people than no tickets for five people. We had to wait a bit while they sorted out all the traffic at their docks.

Too many punters not in a a row; where oh where should they go?

We shared our boat with some UK natives and some Asian women. We all knew English so our boatman didn't have to translate for anyone as he described the various sights we traveled past.

He didn't do any singing since we weren't in Venice

Jacob and Lucy had been feeding ducks earlier in the day, so I think this guy was either a previous customer or word-of-beak traveled fast on the Cam.

"Surrender your crackers or prepare to be boarded!"

Our first sight was the Mathematical Bridge, originally built in 1749 not by Isaac Newton (who died about 20 years earlier) and not with bolts (though later reconstructions did use bolts).

Pointing out Queen's College and Mathematical Bridge

We saw King's College and Clare Bridge from the water, which we had just seen from land.

King's College Chapel and the Gibbs Building

Clare Bridge

Further on we saw Trinity College's Bridge and one of the college's more modern architectural contributions.

Trinity's Bridge and their punting service

Interesting but I don't know that I'd put it on the waterfront

Trinity is also famous for the Wren Library, completed in 1659 according to the design of Sir Christopher Wren. It houses some books from Isaac Newton's library and the originals of A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. And some early Shakespeare editions!

One view of the Wren Library (they wouldn't let us in!)

Another view, also inaccessible by boat

Further on, we saw St. John's College in the distance, including the New Court building, which is affectionately known as the "Wedding Cake" building for its Victorian Gothic styling.

A tower in the distance, belonging to St. John's

The Wedding Cake building

St. John's other notable feature from the water is their "Bridge of Sighs." Patterned after the famous bridge in Venice, though the guide books all say the only similarity is that both bridges are covered.

Cambridge's Bridge of Sighs

Venice's Bridge of Sighs (stolen from Wikipedia)

Oxford's Bridge of Sighs (picture also stolen from Wikipedia); not that they're competitive

Another less famous though perhaps more interesting sight from the river is a delivery door built into the side of one of the buildings. The punter said that back in the day it was used by businesses to deliver goods to the college. At night, students often snuck their girlfriends in or themselves out through this door.

Not much use now that they've gone co-ed

St. John's also gets the award for "Most Ivy Covered Building" with this stunner.

You don't need to be Spider-Man to crawl this wall

After St. John's, we came to the Magdalene Bridge and our turning point to go back down the river.

Magdalene Bridge, Cambridge

We heard a lot more stories and got to see things from a different angle, including this less slanted view of the Wedding Cake building.

New Court, St. John's

The boatman told us about all the Nobel prize winners from Cambridge and how they have many more (88) than Oxford does (48). Recently a prestigious journal ranked universities and Cambridge came in first place. The boatman said that was nice, but the really important thing was that they ranked higher than Oxford (which was fifth place). Not that they're competitive.

The rain came and went several times, as did our umbrellas. At the end of the trip we thanked him for a pleasant ride and he complimented us on our well-behaved children. Lucy and Jacob were mostly quiet throughout the trip and didn't rock the boat metaphorically or literally. A good time was had by all!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Book Review: Nutrition Zombies: Top 10 Myths That Refuse to Die

Nutrition Zombies: Top 10 Myths That Refuse to Die: (And How to Keep Them From Sabotaging Your Diet) by Monica Reinagel

Being a fan of many of the Quick and Dirty Tips podcasts, I found out about this Kindle book from several of them. Since the title talks about zombies and it is fairly cheap ($2.99), I thought I would try it out.

The introduction lays out her basic approach: after careful research, she writes about ten popular misconceptions about nutrition. Getting rid of outdated and incorrect information is important, so she encourages a healthy skepticism about "conventional wisdom" when it comes to food. In that spirit, she encourages readers to check her resources (provide on her web page).

The tips cover a variety of topics including the following: caffeine is bad for you, microwaving destroys nutrients, we're all dehydrated, juice is good for kids, whole grains are highly nutritious, etc. Having a focus on parenting issues, let's look at the "juice is good for kids" myth.

Most people think fruit juice is a good substitute for eating actual fruit and even the USDA says you get credit for eating one fruit if you drink half a cup of fruit juice. The problem is most fruit juices are processed and lose a lot of their nutrients and fiber. Sugar (and calories) still remain, making for a tasty drink. This results in a second whammy, getting children to prefer sweet drinks, rather than healthier options like milk or water. An unhealthy habit can develop under the guise of a healthy alternative. I looked at the documentation and it is pretty convincing.

We typically cut the juice we give to our children, filling their cups half with water and half with juice. I will be shifting the amount to more water and start offering just water, especially when we are out and about.

I've never listened to The Nutrition Diva podcast by Monica Reinagel, so I can't comment on how this compares to the regular fare she serves up weekly in audio format. I did find this book entertaining and informative. Her style is not overly technical; the advice is straightforward and concise. The book is not very long and can be read quickly. I recommend it!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Visiting Cambridge

Our recent trip south put us very close to Cambridge, so we went in a few times to see the colleges, churches, and other cherished spots in town. I'll have longer posts on King's College Chapel, St. John's College, and punting on the Cam, but this post covers a bunch of our wandering around and seeing stuff at random. There's plenty of such things to see in Cambridge.

We drove to a park and ride lot east of town and road the bus in to the center of town. There we had a snack (as we usually do) and found the tourist information center, which did provide a map but not for free. They also recommended several spots of interest and even some playgrounds. Amazingly, we didn't make it to any playgrounds in Cambridge. Luckily our hotel had that covered.

We did see a few churches that were not open. The first was to St. Edward King and Martyr, right across the street from the information center.

St. Edward King and Martyr, Cambridge

Amazingly, the side of the church on the road had no entrance! Walking around a small path brought me to the front door which was locked and also unphotogenic (at least from the confines of the little path). We walked over to the market square and saw Great Saint Mary's church, which was also closed, alas.

I think they had some sort of service going on

From there, we followed the info center's directions to get to King's College Chapel. We went down a narrow alleyway to come to the entrance. Along the way we saw the most interesting clock.

Just around the corner is the entrance, just like St. Edward's!

Not sure how practical a sundial is in England

The chapel is famous for its singers, all of whom were out on summer vacation, so we did not hear them. The chapel was so glorious, it will get it's own post soon.

Right next to King's College Chapel is Clare College. Founded in 1326, it is the second oldest college in the university (the oldest is Peterhouse). It was endowed by Lady Elizabeth de Clare (also known as Lady de Burgh), a granddaughter of King Edward I. Her cousin King Edward III gave her license to establish an endowment for scholars to study at Cambridge. The building is quite picturesque and the college spans the River Cam.

Welcome! No really, welcome!

Clare College, Cambridge

Clare College, Cambridge

Bridge to the other side of campus

Here was our first sighting of people punting on the Cam. Flat-bottom boat cruising is a very popular past time and a thriving tourist trade. People have the option of hiring a punt for themselves or getting on a chauffeured boat, meaning you get descriptions of what you are seeing along the way.

Chauffeured also means strangers on your boat!

Punting with geese and King's College Bridge

We also had a good view of King's College and the chapel from riverside.

King's College, Cambridge

We crossed the Cam on the King's College bridge and walked down to Silver Road. Crossing the river back to the heart of town, we saw another one of the famous sights of Cambridge, the Mathematical Bridge. Built in 1749, it was renowned for not using bolts to hold it together. Pins and screws were. Later it was rebuilt and bolts were used, though stories abound of not using any bolts, screws, or nails in its first construction. The other warning everyone gives is that Isaac Newton had nothing to do with its construction since he died in 1727. Apparently some tour guides embellish the truth. Shocking, isn't it?

Mathematical Bridge, Cambridge

We then proceeded on a rather wet punting experience, though not because we fell out of the boat due to our own incompetence. No, we had a chauffeured boat. Our chauffeur wasn't incompetent either. We were wet from the rainy weather. Luckily our boat had plenty of umbrellas in it. Though that's a story for another, later post.

After our trip up the river, we went to The Anchor pub for lunch. We were right by the river and had some wonderfully warming food. We wound our way back through the streets of Cambridge to find our bus. Along the way we saw the gates to Pembroke College.

Pembroke College

Finding the bus was pretty easy and we were soon on our way back to the hotel for nap times. We were one of the first people on the bus so we snagged the premium seats at the front of the top of the bus. I took a picture from up there. Lucy asked to take a picture, so I let her take one too.

Usually there weren't these many buses around

Lucy-eye view of Cambridge

The next day we went in and used one of the public toilets, which was pretty horrifying. Not that it was dirty. But it cost 20p and would only open if you had a 20p piece, no other coins would be accepted by the machine. Luckily among the five of us, one had the right coin to get in. So we all took turns using the toilet. Also, this sign inside was pretty horrifying to me.

Um, who's using needles and razors in a public toilet?

Another item of interest was this saggy-roofed house.

Actually, it doesn't look so saggy in the picture

We had a lot of fun visiting Cambridge and we look forward to visiting again maybe in the future.