Fiedler a's Blog

Glastonbury. 10 December.

My friend Rachel had told me about Glastonbury, how there are tons of spots regarded as holy there and myths and legends to go along with them. Another friend of mine, Jen, and I, decided to check it out a couple of weeks back. There were cute shops there:

– tons of new age books and shops with tons of crystals. I loved it. We headed to the impressive Glastonbury Tor, which is a deposit of “hard midford sand”

that, in contrast to the surrounding area, wasn’t worn away over time. The surroundings used to be wetland (which you can see here still even though it’s now drained agricultural land). Before advanced technology for wetland drainage, the Tor was the only farmable land for awhile, so it was terraced for that purpose.

There were phenomenal views from the top of the Tor – which I managed to catch on camera between cloudbursts of icy rain.

You can see how the surrounding area used to be a wetland until it was drained in this one:

And to the left of center here there’s a hillside with terracing on it, similar to that on the Tor:

The tower at the top is from the 15th century, part of a church that stood at the summit of the hill.

There was this monument (note all of the ribbons hanging from the branches) at the bottom of the hill. We weren’t sure what it was for or about . . .

And there are two wells with healing properties in Glastonbury. One, the White Spring, has high calcium content, runs through awell house so it’s dark in there (hence no photos), but the other, the Chalice Well, has peaceful gardens surrounding it, which Jen and I enjoyed.

And this spring is high in iron, evidenced by the orange color where it runs:

And finally, if you have a hankering for “Father Christmas pulled by reindeer on his Harry Potter sleigh, carollers around the tree, druids on parade, bands, fairground roundabout, morris dancing, hog roast and much more. All the usual shops and a variety of street stalls.” head to the Frost Fayre in Glastonbury this Saturday December 12th!

S.S. Great Britain. 8 December.

This is the first of several post-trip posts I’ll be adding to the blog – just didn’t want you all to miss these great things I saw!.


A few weeks back I paid admission to see this impressive boat, launched in 1843:

Which was the first all iron boat, which could be, stronger, lighter, and have more cargo space than wooden boats that predominated at the time. It was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Cool name, huh?

Here’s the line drawing of the boat, for those of you interested in those 🙂

It used a novel design in more than one way: it also had propeller that stayed in the water, rather than paddles at the side of the boat (think Mississippi River steam boat) which couldn’t propel the boat effectively in high seas, because the paddles didn’t stay in the water then. This design was all the rage – it was mentioned many times throughout the museum. Apparently, the original iron blade couldn’t withstand the force created by the rapid movement of the boat through the water, so the super efficient blade had to be replaced by “more robust and less efficient ones”.

The boat is actually sitting in the dry dock where it was built along a side cut of the River Avon in Bristol. The dry dock has been expanded a little, and is actually covered by glass, then water, which is impressive when seen from below ground level, like this (or click here for a really cool image from the homepage for the boat):

Since the Great Britain is old, and iron, and spent lots of time in contact with salt water, there are problems with rust on it. To conserve the part that was below-water, it’s got super dry air (relative humidity equal to the Arizona desert) pumped on the hull year-round, since moisture is required to create rust.

The Great Britain is a passenger steamship which originally ran from England to New York. For awhile it regularly transported passengers to Australia. The boat was retired in 1933, and had sailed over 1,000,000 miles by that time. It ended up at the Falkland Islands, where it was used as a storage space. In 1970 it was returned to England, carried on another boat for much of the journey but floated down the River Avon back to where it was built, with thousands of onlookers watching it.

Goodbye Bristol. 4 December

Today’s my last day in England – for now, at least. I have an early flight out of Bristol tomorrow and will get back to Lansing in the afternoon – my goal for tomorrow is to stay up til 9pm.

I am really glad to have made this trip, made new friends, most of who mare also scientific colleagues, and seen new places. I just bought a pair of boots I had my eye on for awhile and went to the bank to close my account here. I was feeling nostalgic until I ran into the kind of rigamarole I ran into when I set up the account: I had to go to the cashier, then customer accounts- where I was told I still owed the money on the purchase I’d just made that had already come out of my account (which I didn’t actually), then back to the cashier to collect  £0.08 which was owed me in interest. The account simply couldn’t be closed with that 8p in it. I had trouble not laughing aloud as the cashier I went (back) to said he’d have to have his colleague handle the transaction. In some ways, I’m really glad to be leaving, to not have to deal with the small things that are different here. I’m also really, really ready to see Jake and hang out at home with the cats.

A couple of weeks back I took photos on my walk in, my morning commute, so you could see what I pass by each morning. Here they are:

This is crossing the River Avon.

Then walking across the floating harbor- the same water as the River Avon but the water level is controlled here.

Up some steep stairs next to the cheesy Christmas decorations they lit on Nov. 14th.

And across a square

Up Park Street – the steepness of which I found simply doesn’t transfer to photographs.

Past the City Museum

Up yet another hill once at the University

To the Biological Sciences building,

Then down a pink hallway, where I have a desk in an office shared w/ seven others. The office has nice windows (though drafty), as well as houseplants, a table in the center for lunch, and the all-important electric kettle.

This is the part of town (and my commute) closest to my house on Exeter Road, but in the evening:

And my street- Exeter Road – these row houses were apparently originally constructed as coal-miners homes in the late 1900’s. The coal mine is directly below them! Don’t worry, the area below the house was inspected for subsidence and is safe.

Rodrigo y Gabriela ROCK!

I just got back from a show that a friend of my housemate’s couldn’t go to – Rodrigo y Gabriela – click here for more, too. It was AWESOME. I was beside myself just as much as I have been at full on rock shows, and they play flamenco-inspired music – 2 people on stage with acoustic guitars (although if you close your eyes you could swear it was at least 4). It was really, really cool. Jo and I nearly ran home in all our residual excitement.

Fences. 29 November.

I did some calculations yesterday and discovered that I have more blog posts I’d like to post than days I have left here – I leave for the US early next Saturday, December 5th. So, I’m going to give it a gallant effort this week, but will see whether I manage to post daily.

I noticed when I arrived here that there are a number of different ways to keep people out of places; many more than I’ve seen in the U.S. So today I wanted to show you a few images of pokey things that are meant to keep people from climbing fences, mostly. Some of them would really result in some gruesome outcomes if people actually tried to come into contact with them:

This red one is between the street and a house just down the block.

Here are three others that are at the top of walls or fences that are already present:

I love that this one is down the block behind and Aldi store – protecting their huge wastebin:

More London. 25 November.

A couple weekends back when I was in London, I visited the tourist spots. It turned out I wasn’t the only one with this idea. Despite a really, really windy and rainy Saturday, the bridge by Big Ben was packed with people:

and I found myself laughing pretty much the whole way across the bridge at the fact that we were all there, seeing Things People See in London, with our umbrellas getting turned inside out by the wind, faces pummeled by it. I passed by the London Eye (a giant ferris wheel)

which apparently costs 10 pounds to go around once in (that’s just to sit in it while it loads and unloads people all the way around). I walked along the Thames,

found a lovely hot sandwich in a little spot amongst tiny shops, saw the outside of the Globe theatre, which is the 3rd incarnation – this one was built in the 1980’s. The first was built in 1599 and burned down in 1613. The second was built in 1614 and closed in 1642 – when puritans closed all theatres in London. The building costly to tour (so I chose not to)

but there was this really neat gate outside of it:

I crossed the Thames and found myself at the London Monument (by happy accident)

which has text on the side of it describing in latin the Great Fire of London in 1666, and how the fire started at a distance 202 feet east of the monument (which is the height of the monument) and destroyed much of the city. Friends of mine were talking the other day about how careful people are about fires here, with multiple fire drills, etc. Possibly that fire is one reason for it . . .

The end of the text is a  bit about how the city “most prosperous and no longer in being, on the third day, when it had now altogether vanquished all human counsel and resource, at the bidding, as we may well believe, of heaven, the fatal fire staved its course and everywhere died out.”

and then this text, verbatim:

“-(But popish frenzy, which wrought such horrors, is not yet quenched)

-these last words were added in 1681 and finally deleted in 1830.”

Keep in mind, this is in large letters on the side of the monument, in stone.

Picadilly Circus. 20 November.

It turns out that Picadilly Circus is pretty much the London version of Times Square: lots of lights, advertisements, and tourists, lots of shopping. The main difference (no big surprise here) is that it’s in a more compressed space. There were tons of Christmas decorations up when I was there last weekend. Yep, Christmas. It seems decorations are going up earlier and earlier each year here, just as they are in the U.S. It’s totally ok here to talk about Christmas parties; I haven’t heard anyone talk about “Holiday parties” since I’ve been here. Maybe that’s in part because for the majority of people here, I’d say a greater percentage than in the U.S., Christmas doesn’t have a religious connotation. Here are some photos of the cheesy yet fun decorations from Picadilly Circus:

London Natural History Museum. 18 November.

Oh, Natural History Museum in London, I love you! If I felt like taking the time to write a rhyming ode to the Museum, I do believe I would. This non-rhyming descriptive one with photos will have to suffice instead.

Last weekend I went to London, and spent Friday in the NHM. I passed by the building on the bus on the way into town. I was honestly entranced before it before I even knew what it was. It was so rainy out on Friday that I didn’t pull out the camera to take a photo of the outside, but it looks like this in the inside main entrance.

That’s a huge dinosaur! (I forget which type. Likely any 3 to 4- year old who you know would be able to tell you. I can think of two incredibly cute ones that I know!) Anyhow, the museum is FREE! I got tickets (also FREE!) to two special things: one was the Darwin Center, which is not actually about Darwin. It is about science and how it’s carried out. I got a huge kick out of it. I think it would’ve been really beneficial to go there while I was still in college: I would’ve learned a lot about what doing science really is. The building itself is not the same one pictured above, it’s a giant egg-shaped thing they call a “pod” which houses the Darwin Center on 2 floors and the Museum collections on 5 others. That part of the museum is really intended for adults, and there are several real scientists (whoah, right?) whose perspectives on their work are represented, and they’re sort of virtual guides as people go through the Center. It was all really interactive. I got a little card to scan at different stations to save things to check out on the internet once I returned home (again, FREE!). I love that way to engage people in the learning process after they leave the museum. I haven’t registered mine online yet, but am looking forward to it.

The second special ticket was for a behind the scenes tour of the collection of organisms that’s curated at the Natural History Museum. There are over 22,000,000! This one focused on animals, most of which were stored in alcohol. One of them was a giant squid 8 meters long that had tentacles the size of silver dollars, each of which have a hardened ring of teeth around the edge. Gruesome.

After that, I managed to get the last seat in the house – right on the floor of the stage – for a show that the BBC was recording on eating insects. I’ve been involved in these things before, and it was interesting to see how the scientist they had doing it handled the questions. There was quite a bit of audience participation (i.e. tasting insect treats), which was fun.

The ceiling in the main part of the museum is all painted with different plants. Here’s a part of it.

How cool is it to have such a beautiful building house so many really neat, sciency things? There was also a room called “The Tree”. This is what the ceiling looks like in it:

There was also a slice of a 1300-year old giant Sequoia tree that was cut down in about the 1850’s.

And (Laurie, hold onto your hat) there was a huge room filled with gems, minerals, and elements.

And at the end, was a room called “The Vault” which houses extra special things, like the largest emerald in the world (not shown below).

There was a huge dinosaur exhibit, in which they went through some of  the comparative anatomy (with species that are currently living) stuff that paleontologists use determine what different dinosaurs did. I also saw a really neat exhibit about primates, which drew many parallels between humans and other primates in terms of our behaviors.

I loved the whole thing so much that I closed it down; more than one guard suggested that the museum was closing and I needed to leave.





Transportation. 10 November.

Since I have a number of thoughts on transportation and how it’s different here than in the U.S., especially in Lansing, I thought I would devote a (quite wordy) post to the topic.

First of all, people walk lots here. They generally seem pretty fit, as well. My walk in to the office in the morning is 1/2 hour long  at a good clip, and ends in a steep hill. I’ve grown to really enjoy it. People don’t seem to think much of a half hour walk to get somewhere, although 45 minutes is regarded as a bit long. Sidewalks are quite small, and people often walk 2 across, and when it’s raining, have umbrellas, so sidewalks get really tight. It annoyed me at first that people don’t move completely out of the way for oncoming walkers, but now I’ve grown used to stepping into the edge of the street while I pass someone, just as people here do. Pedestrians don’t have the right of way in the same way as they do in the U.S. Once I’m in a road at a signal-less intersection, if a car comes along, I generally hurry across the street, and even if I’m on a sidewalk with a driveway that crosses it, it’s normal for cars to turn in front of me on the sidewalk. There are, however, marked pedestrian crossings with flashing yellow lights on them, called “zebra crossings” – imagine pronunciation of zebra with a short “e” – at which drivers are required to stop.

zebra crossing


Second, people bike lots here, in all weather (i.e., raining or not). In addition to a front and back light and bike helmet, many bikers wear bright yellow vests with reflective tape on them. Seems quite useful, especially since it can be hard to see much on rainy days. In contrast to pedestrians, bikers seem to be able to take more liberties than peds in the U.S. They are more likely to ride in the center of a road, and generally less likely to get honked at. Although that may not be a big deal for two, car-related things: the first is that British drivers seem quite polite, and the second is that roads are often too narrow to fit more than one lane of traffic (in any direction) without one car pulling off to the side and slowing way down or stopping. I have a bike for my use here, thanks to a friend of a friend! I have managed to ride it safely, so far, and rarely end up on the right side of the road. I do a lot of stopping and crossing intersections and roundabouts on foot, and generally bike slowly.

Public Transport: Public transport here consists of trains that go from the main train station to other cities, and buses. The bus system in Bristol is expensive (a round-trip ticket for an adult is the equivalent of $6!). I’ve used the bus a few times. It was all right; I prefer walking or biking when possible.

Cars: many families have one (instead of multiple) car. Neither of my housemates own a car, and I’ve only been in one a handful of times since I got here. Did I mention the roads are narrow? It’s really quite amazing. It’s often difficult to find parking, which is another reason people walk or ride their bikes or the bus. There are lots and lots of roundabouts here. I find them really confusing, especially since the roads coming off them are rarely at right angles to one another, and many have 3 lane options and if you’re not in the correct one you get shot off in a random direction! Car models are different here, as well. I realized yesterday that I’ve grown used to the much smaller, often more boxy, cars here. I’ve spotted to Toyota Priuses, and one Honda Civic. All looked giant. Most are not U.S. brands, but there are a lot of these:

Ford aspire

– the Ford Aspire. There’s no person in this photo to show you how tiny it is, but trust me, it is tiny.

In general, people jump red lights, whether pedestrians, bikers, or motorists. In addition to a yellow light between green and red, there’s a yellow light before a green (which I find very sensible), which is pretty much used as a signal to go, even though that’s not likely the legal intention.

Guy Fawkes day. 5 November.

I’m technically posting this on 6 November, but Guy Fawkes day was yesterday. Here’s the scoop:  he was a Catholic (gasp!) and the executer of the Gunpowder Plot 0f 1605. Basically, he was part of a group who tried to blow up parliament while King James I and the aristocracy and nobility were inside. The idea was to displace Prodestant rule. Unfortunately for him, he was caught – the story goes, pretty much about to set a match to a bunch of gunpowder under Parliament, then tortured until he gave up the others in the scheme, and burned.

So, in honor of his burning, people in England have celebrated Guy Fawkes day with a number of fiery activities every November 5th for something like 400 years. One of them is the creation of a scarecrow “guy” who’s burned in a bonfire while people (mostly kids) chant “burn, guy, burn!”. It’s realy quite gruesome, but a girl I met last night actually did it when she was a kid. The other fiery activities involve fireworks and bonfires in general.

I gave a talk yesterday in the Biological Sciences Department on my research. It went really well – and I realized afterwards how much more comfortable I now feel in the department; people now know who I am and a bit of what I work on, and I’m much more excited about talking with them about their work, as well. I’m really glad to have done it, and I have 4 more weeks here to take advantage of talking with all of these people outside of Jane’s group (as well as those in it)!

After the talk, a particularly adventurous group of us found ourselves on the roof of the building (I didn’t lead the way – hadn’t even considered whether it was possible!), where we watched fireworks go off across the entire city. It was really beautiful! Then that was followed by a drink in a really great pub called Highbury Vaults – one that authentically has the feel that Claddagh is trying to create with their small rooms within a giant new restaurant. I loved it.