Our first visitors in Cambridge were Viral and Aparna. We showed them around town, and then they treated us to a trip to Bath. The hot springs of Bath have been considered a source of healing for hundreds of years: the Romans built a bath complex and temples to Minerva on the site (which was already known for its springs), and today it is the site for the National Hospital for Rheumatoid Diseases. We tasted the water, which was mineral-y but not all that different from Cambridge's, and also took a walking tour where we learned about Jane Austen's Bath during the high-society Georgian period.

After Viral and Aparna came, we continued to receive several slug visitors in our new flat (unfortunately of the limacene variety, not fourth-easters!).

In October I flew to Stresa, Italy, as part of McKinsey's Insights 2008 program. I'll admit that I was mostly drawn by the free trip to Italy, but I guess it succeeded as a recruiting event because I'm now seriously considering consulting. Between the mini-case sessions (which was wicked fun), we didn't have much time to explore, but who needs to explore when your hotel (center) is a museum, which each floor containing artifacts from a different period of Roman and Italian history? Seeing the statues (right) of, as one participant put it, “naked people doing naked things,” reminded me of the Light in the Piazza. We had a free afternoon to see the sights of the town. Its narrow streets and quaint shops were like many others along the Mediterranean, but it'll be a long time before I grow tired of white stucco and red tile roofs (left).

On a rare sunny weekend later in October, we took the train to Cardiff, Wales. Cardiff itself has many market arcades (left), and a fun museum that gives the geological and artistic history of Wales (though Celtic art seemed strangely absent). The next day we walked over the hill to Caerphilly, which has the largest castle in Wales. The moat is really a small lake, and the castle has a secondary island for cattle and peasants for times of seige. A little museum details the history of Baron of Glamorgan and Llywelyn the Last (non-British Prince of Wales): we see notes from the King Henry III simultaneously encouraging the duke to build the castle and apologizing to the prince for the duke's aggression. Finally, of course, a visit to Cardiff would not be complete without a little homage to Dr. Who (right). I think I'd like to be Dr. Who when I grow up… if only I had a sonic screwdriver :)

November 5 is Guy Fawkes Night in the UK, where the Brits celebrate the fact that Guy Fawkes did not blow up Parliament by blowing up lots of fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes. In typically nerdish fashion, we burned the icosahedron that we had built the previous fall (physicists model cows as spheres, so the fact that we approximated Guy Fawkes with a 20-sided polyhedron is a sign of our sophistication). It was also the day after the elections in the US, and I was amazed at how many of my friends had stayed up until 5am to hear Obama's victory speech. I was showered with congratulations for my country on this “momentous occasion in world history.” There's a feeling somewhere between pride and mortification that describes how I felt about these accolades, but it remains an open question.

Later in November, we went to France, first stopping in Paris (left) for a walking tour, fresh crepes with nutella (mmm!), and a visit to Notre Dame. Then we proceeded to Plum Village, a Buddhist monastery in impressionist-picturesque South France. Their motto is “breath and smile,” and we passed an incredibly peaceful and mindful week with the monks, nuns, and Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. One day we were walking past a field of sunflowers (right) when a sister asked me if I had seen the fields in summer. I told her it was my first visit. They are beautiful in the summer, she said. Then she added: but I think they're beautiful now, bowed in contemplation, full of seeds. When I gaze on these fields, I see the flowers that will be in the summer, just as in the summer, I see the mature plants we see now.

Our December visit to Barcelona had slightly more worldly objectives: to have churros con chocolate, chocolate so thick you could stick the churro in it and it would not fall over:

Mission accomplished, we continued to explore the Ramblas (left). We made it our goal not to speak English during the day, to teach each other Spanish and Gujarati. One evening we saw a traditional guitar concert, where, as an encore, the duo played one guitar (right). Barcelona is a city throbbing with energy, a city that never sleeps, a city where you'll find nativity sets next to erotic shops next to traditional music stores next to billboards of cartoon sheep smoking various substances. It's a city of Gaudi (center right), Miro, and Picasso; modern art museums where strange wardrobes lead to lands entirely unlike Narnia (center left) and amazingly preserved archaeological digs where you can see how laundry was done and wine was made from Roman times to the present.

We stayed in Cambridge over Christmas, checking out the local fairs and advent carol services at various churches. On Christmas Eve, we queued from 8:30 in the morning to get (almost the last) seats to hear to King's College Choir's Nine Lessons, which is broadcast live to millions all over the world. The choir sung (somewhat solemn) medieval carols with beautifully artistic flourish. In stark contrast to the King's service, where children were forbidden and the pamphlets warned us to cough only if extremely necessary, the Christmas Day service at St. Barnebas was hugely informal, with kids running down the aisles to play maracas during the carols. We had a quiet holiday at home, baking and watching movies.

Last modified: 2012/04/09 11:33
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