Family time in Cornwall

HostUK is an awesome program designed to give international students a “real” taste of Britain. I signed up at the beginning of the year and after completing form (something that I imagine would resemble an eHarmony profile) was matched with a lovely couple in Cornwall.  My host mother’s background was in healthcare, ergonomics, and nutritional medicine; my host father was a semi-retired engineer, music enthusiast, and excellent cook; and both enjoyed outdoor activities.  Win, win, win.  Something to be said for those matching algorithms!

Cornwall is ~4.5 hours SW of London and since it is on the peninsula it is blessed with weather that blows in from both coasts.  Translation: it rains a LOT.  And although a newcomer may initially focus on her thanksgiving for packing an umbrella, it doesn’t take long to realize that this rain is necessary for rainbows and green pastures.  A good life lesson.

The following pictures will give you an idea of my weekend.  The captions will be described by their location on the clock/collage.

 Some sights from the road

Cornwall 1


– 1:30 — Putting the window down seemed like a pretty good idea to take this photo… until the rain picked up. The smudges in this photo are from raindrops hitting my camera… and me, and all of the inside of the car. Oops.

– 3:00 — Golitha Falls. Only snapped a picture from the entrance. The road was flooding when we came in, so we didn’t stick around here very long.

– 4:30 — Along the North coast, between Padstow & Newquay (pronounced N00-kee, one of the many fun pronunciations in Cornwall haha)

– 6:00 — Sheep!

– 7:30 — Hedges & winding roads are a signature feature in Cornwall.  This is pruning season, but as shown in this picture, some of them haven’t had their grooming appointment yet.  I’m told that these hedges are covered in flowers.

– 10:30 — On the road again, now with some glorious sunshine!



Padstow Rainbow


– 10:30 — Walking up the coastal hill at Padstow

– 12:00 — The plaque on the cross at the top of the hill

– 1:30 — We saw **FIVE** rainbows at Padstow. Not 1 rainbow that was covered and uncovered by clouds 5 times. Five rainbows that showed up at different parts of the sky at different times throughout the day.  Is this real life??

– 4:30 — Low tide

– 6:00 — Following my host parents down the hill

– 7:30 — In the harbor


Eden Project

Eden Project 3

– 12:00 — One of our big adventures was going to the Eden Project, a really cool sustainability / educational project that has developed into its current flourishing state over the past 15 years.  Read more about it on their website.

– 1:30 — taking a rest on the tire bench in the Rainforest Biome.

– 6:00 — An overview of the whole area. The white bubble-ish things on the right are the biomes.

– 10:30 — My host parents taking a swinging break.

Eden Project 2

– 10:30 — A proverb from the giftshop

– 12:00 — The outdoor cafe. The table centerpieces are made from old pots and pans and feature quick facts about the environment and sustainable living.

– 1:30 — Tobacco facts from the Mediterranean Biome.

– 3:00 — One of the many different types of chili peppers featured in the Mediterranean Biome

– 4:30 — One of the many oversized friends of the Eden Project.  (My picture of the 10′ tall bumblebee didn’t have very good resolution, so it didn’t make the cut for blog pictures.)

– 7:30 — Info on the WEEE Man

– 9:00 — The WEEE Man in all of his glory

– Center — A picture of the quarry used to be here before the Eden Project was developed.

Eden Project 1


Other snapshots from the Eden Project. Note, the description of driftwood provided at 10:30 corresponds to the horses shown at 7:30. The bucket displays shown at 4:30 and 6:30 are from the water conservation display.

Eden Project 5

A few of my other favorite pictures from the Eden Project. The pigs (7:30) are indeed made of cork (description at 10:30)!

A summary of the weekend

Cornwall 2

– 10:30 — Out to lunch with my host parents

– 12:00 — A lovely sign in my host’s kitchen…

– 1:30 — …which was demonstrated throughout the weekend, especially around the table. My favorite dish was a lentil lasagna which featured homemade noodles made with almond flour. I wasn’t kidding when I said my host father could cook. YUM.

– Center — Quintessential panoramic from Cornwall.

– 4:30 — The final tea time before leaving Cornwall. The more tea that I drink in England, the more appreciative I am for having learned how to navigate tea time at Martha Cook. 🙂

– 6:00 — Remembrance Sunday in Looe, a small coastal city in Cornwall

– 7:30 — Goodbye Cornwall! Snapshot from the train ride back to London

Bristol: England’s Ann Arbor

Quick snapshots from Bristol! This trip was planned as a detour en route to my Host visit in Cornwall, so it was only 6 hours long.

Some brief observations:

On three separate occasions people came up to offer help.  I’d like to think I don’t look that helpless, but I suppose looking at bus routes or consulting a map in a small-ish city is a good indicator.  Not only did these people stop to ask if I needed help, they even offered to go out of their way to walk to a key intersection or otherwise point me in the right direction.   I’ve made a habit of being rather self reliant in London.  Even if I did ask for directions, there is a pretty good chance that the person may not know where Such-n-Such place is because (a) London is so vast and (b) there are so many “transients” (people like me that have just moved here, tourists, etc) that you may end up asking someone who is more lost than you are.  Beyond that though, the pace of life in London is faster.  If someone is power-walking in a tailored suit and heels, she is probably not going to want to break stride to see if you need help.  No time for that.

I also might point out that I wouldn’t necessarily describe this helpfulness as friendliness.  (That’s not a word I would use to describe an initial encounter with many Brits.)  They weren’t interested in starting a chat about my American accent, why I in Bristol, or other questions you may get in a small town.  Rather, they saw a need, fulfilled it quite cordially, and went along their merry way. Combine that with an abundance of street art, the type of people that like street art, delicious food, the University, students… and, well, it was almost like being in Ann Arbor for the afternoon. 🙂


Around Bristol Collage
Strolling the city. Clockwise from top left: 1 The bankside; 2 St Nicholas Market; 3 A pub that would have fared well in A2; 4 Clifton suspension bridge– celebrating 150 years!
Banksy etc collage
The left panel features 2 pieces by Banksy— Mild Mild West & Golden Earring.
Love and Light Collage
Stained glass window is from Sts Peter & Paul Cathedral.
MShed collage
Snapshots from the MShed. Top center is represents the annual hot air balloon festival that Bristol hosts.
Street Art collage 1
Easel: dumpsters, apartments, convenient stores…
Street Art collage 2
A final sampling of my favorite street art.


God save… me? (Sung to the tune of America)

This weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of participating in a retreat organized by the KCL Chaplaincy team.  The retreat was just a short train ride from Central London at Cumberland Lodge.  (Click here to read more about the Lodge and it’s educational mission.) The beautiful royal grounds (and surrounding Windsor Park) presented an unique backdrop for the retreat’s theme: “Awareness: Meeting God in the Everyday”.  Fun fact: it also served as a nice backdrop for the King’s Speech. The captions in the following pictures tell a bit more of the story.

Click to enlarge and view the full caption.

On the continued topic of interfaith dialogue, I’ll note that KCL is affiliated with the Church of England, and thus members of the Chaplaincy team are Anglican.  As far as I know, Christianity was a common language for all the participants, but the participants’ specific faith traditions varied (many Anglicans, a few Catholics, and at least one Baptist.)  So often we focus on our differences OR overcompensate and create a homogeneous bunch devoid of the flavor by which we are defined.  This weekend seemed to defy that status quo, which is quite in line with the mission of Cumberland Lodge’s mission.

A good example of this was receiving an invitation to attend Sunday morning (Anglican) church service at the Royal Chapel. The invitation to join worship was not contingent on you being Anglican or even Christian* for that matter. The only rules / requirements were:


Why these rules? For one thing, this establishes a certain request for respect.  When encountering a faith, culture, or even just idea that is different from what you are used to, it is worth refreshing all participants on Michigan’s catch-phrase: “Expect Respect. Give it, get it.”  Furthermore, since the Queen was at Windsor Castle that weekend, there was a good chance that she would be at the church service on Sunday morning. Thus, when we received our clearance pass, we also were given a basic tutorial in the proper interactions with the Royal Family (curtsy, bow, Your Majesty, Duch, Duchess… )

Since the Lodge staff misspelled Berkemeier, (surprisingly not an issue with the 4 E’s this time, but rather with the I) I had to request a 2nd chapel pass since part of the Security check involvedverifying that you had an ID… which matched your pass… which matched the name on the list of attendees provided to Security by the Lodge.  It wasn’t until I was a few yards away from the gate that I realized my second pass also had a misspelling, this time with my first name:


Too late to do anything about it now!

Andrea: Good morning! (Enthusiasm trying to mask the slight fear of being turned away because of clerical errors…)

Security Guard: (Steps back a bit) Goodness, you sure are chipper this morning!  What are you, American?

Sheesh, just when you think you have stopped sticking out as a foreigner…  Well, if enthusiasm and happiness are the new stereotypes for Americans, I suppose I’m ok with that.

If he noticed the misspelling, he didn’t lead on, and I was soon on the Royal side of the gate.  Another ~1/3 mile walk later, I was at the Chapel.  Upon entrance, I was given 2 worship aids: 1 for the general words used, and 1 with the specific readings of the day.  Although the chapel was rather small, every seat was filled.  I was in the 3rd row on the right side with pillars to my left and a draped area in front: in the theatre, they might consider this restricted viewing.

In “good student mode” I previewed the worship aids and quickly noticed a few things:

  • There were three options for each segment: (1) very formal speech with ~2 paragraphs of thee-s, thou-s, brethren-s, and beseech-ing for each passage, (2) still formal, but less flourishing speech lasting only 1 paragraph for each passage, and (3) direct 21st C language, only 1-2 lines long for each response.
  • There were cues for singing different passages… but no music was given.
  • The service opened up with their national anthem: God Save the Queen.

Since I didn’t know the words or the tune of their national anthem, I was a bit sad that the words were not provided in either worship aid.  Leaning over to a fellow retreatant next to me, I whispered:

Andrea: I’m going to be following your lead on this God Saving the Queen opener… I don’t actually know the words.

J: Ohhhh… that might not be a good idea. I’m not really confident in them either!

“But you’re British?!” almost slipped from my lips, but having just been singled out for being a stereotypical American, I thought it would be rather uncharitable** of me to direct nationality-assumptions on J. Within a few minutes, I had found the words in the Book of Common Prayer located in our pew.  As the congregation stood to sing, I was quite relieve to find that I did in fact know the tune: America, or My Country ‘Tis of Thee!

God save our gracious Queen
Long live our noble Queen
God save the Queen
Send her victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the Queen

The whole idea of a monarchy is so foreign to me, so in some ways, I found these lyrics to be quite jarring.  If the Queen is present, would she sing: “God sa-a-ave me-e-e, Long li-i-ive me-e-e” ??? Since the Queen was no where in sight, I can’t confirm the answer based on lip-reading, though I’ve been told she just refrains from singing altogether.

Even though the language was rather archaic English (minister elected for the 1st version of the service–full of thees and thous) I found the experience to be simultaneously comfortable (the Gospel passage was the same as it was for Catholic mass that week) and novel (there was no 2nd reading, almost everything was sung but no music was provided) which created a unique worship environment.  Contemplating all these thoughts as I left the chapel after service, I almost missed the fact that Her Majesty was walking in front of me!

:O    <– what I would have looked like if my insides were speaking

Her physical attributes are just as they appear on television complete with matching coat and hat. But if I were to describe her aura, I suppose I would liken her to Mary Sue: she displays a warm smile and manages to make deliberate individualized eye contact.  Gives a certain understanding to “the Monarch of the People”. I managed a polite head nod and kept walk so as not to create a traffic jam in front of the chapel.

So… I suppose I can add that to my two truths (and a lie): I’ve been to church with the Queen of England.  😉

* The perceptive reader might challenge that claim by referencing back to my “Christianity was a common language”.  True, but the invitation was given not only to members of our faith based retreat, but also to the University College London students who were at the Lodge for a Physics / Astronomy Society retreat of some sort.

**I’m currently reading CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity and realized this probably scored me some points among my Anglican friends. 🙂  All jokes aside, it is a great read and particularly interesting when considering the content within its historical context: a collection of radio talks given by a non-theologian, during WWII.  Unless you are Joan Campau (one of my close, very eloquent friends), “uncharitable” is probably neither heard nor employed in your day to day life.  CS Lewis gives a thought-provoking explanation in this segment regarding the difference between the virtues of chastity (absolutely, objectively defined) and propriety (defined in relation to era and place): “When people break the rule of propriety current in their own time and place, if they do so in order to excite lust in themselves or others, then they are offending against chastity.  But if they break it through ignorance or carelessness they are guilty only of bad manners.  When, as often happens, they break it defiantly in order to shock or embarrass others, they are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are being uncharitable: for it is uncharitable to take pleasure in making other people uncomfortable.”

*** Correct you are– this doesn’t lead back to *** within the text! I didn’t want to spoil the surprise. 🙂 Remember the draped section in front of the pews on the right hand side that I mentioned? That’s where the Queen sits during service.  She also has a separate side door for entering and exiting the chapel, hence the reason why I didn’t see her until the end.

Featured Image: One of my favorite of the many pieces of art that were hung throughout the Lodge. (#76, I’m not sure who the artist was.)

Hogsmeade (Cambridge) in the Rain

The International Student House (ISH) organizes a number of events designed to help international students get acquainted to life overseas.  This includes a “travel club” with weekend outings– sometimes just a quick ride to a nearby city and other times to a different country in Europe.  I’m a bit skeptical of most tours, but ISH manages to put some pretty neat outings together that cost less if you just sign up and show up than if you were to do the work in organizing your own trip.  The “Candy & Cambridge” trip caught my eye, and I decided that the £25 investment was about as risk-free as I could get for a pre-planned Saturday getaway.

Our group of 14 students from various London universities met at 7:30am which required a 6:30am sunrise walk for me.* We took a large van, which felt quite odd since it had been nearly a month since I had been in a “proper vehicle”.  I’ve summarized the day through pictures below. Be sure to open the pictures to view the captions!

Part 1: Strolling the park

We arrived a bit before our punting trip was scheduled, which gave us time to stroll in the nearby park.

Part 2: Punting!

I originally thought this punting business was reserved for gullible tourists, but it turns out that it’s a rather common past time for students, too.  In fact, most of the colleges that have river frontage own their own rafts for the students to take out by themselves.

Note: I say college because Cambridge is made up of many different colleges which are similar to a fraternity / sorority house… or, let’s be real, one of the 4 houses at Hogwarts.

Part 3: Foot tour of the city

The rain began just in time for our tour.  I was very happy to have my umbrella with me, but my feet (in Birkenstocks) were about numb after a few hours.  Nevertheless, walking around the city was time well spent!

Awesome Prank: Car on the Senate House

The engineer in me was thrilled to see the Cambridge kids know how to put those physics lessons to good use. Read this article to learn more about how 13 students managed to get a vehicle on top of the Senate House (probably most comparable to UM’s Michigan Union)… in 1958.

Most adequate engineering principles at use. (Courtesy of Daily Mail)

Part 4: Honeydukes

The last part of this tour was spent making fudge at a local fudge shop.

The trip home passed rather quickly– as does most any activity when you attempt to participate whilst in a sugar coma.   Twas a wonderful (but quite wet) day, and I definitely hope to return to Cambridge again!

*Tangent Re: Transportation

Though public transportation runs reliably and frequently, in general, I walk unless my commute is going to be more than an hour.  Even though the tube ride would have only been a few minutes, by the time you:

  • walk to the tube station (4 minutes– I’m lucky enough to live next to Waterloo Station which is a pretty big hub, with connections for ),
  • walk through the station to the correct platform (6 minutes),
  • wait for a tube (2 minutes… up to 10 minutes if it is on the weekend when the routes run less frequently OR during a peak time when the tube is more packed than a Bursley Bates during lunch hour requiring you to wait for a few to pass before there is enough room for you to squeeze aboard),
  • ride the tube (7 minutes),
  • walk through the station until you are above ground (6 minutes), and finally
  • walk to your intended destination (5 minutes),

the ~45 minute walk looks quite pleasant.


Notable exceptions:

1. Don’t attempt to walk if you wish to look presentable and it is currently or will soon be raining. For all you London weather savvy people, you’ll realize that this instruction is a bit silly– how should this principle guide your life if:

  • a. the sky looks to be threatening rain ~90% of the time
  • b. the weather report is about as reliable as looking at the clouds
  • c. the rain swiftly changes from drizzle to very windy downpour and then back again.  This was the demise of my umbrella:

Feeling quite like a wet cat...

2. Don’t attempt to take the tube when there is a strike.  The next one has been announced for next week (Oct 14-16); read more about it in this article which states the reason for the strike as Tube ticket office closures.

“The axing of ticket offices and station staffing grades would render the Tube a no-go zone for many people with disabilities and for women travelling alone. The cuts ignore the realities of life that we saw when services broke down last week and the recent surveys which point to an increase in violence and sexual assaults.”

– James Rush, The Independent

Hmmm… any Tube traveler can tell you that some stations are quite unfriendly for people with disabilities regardless of whether or not there is someone in the ticket office.  (Recall my move-in adventure with 2 bags and multiple flights of stairs without an escalator or lift.)  Compare this apparent apathy with the care that the museum directors take to make culture accessible to people of all different backgrounds and abilities. I’ve been pondering this rather stark contrast over the last few weeks and will update you if I distill further thoughts…