Monday, 30 April 2012

Travel Wrap

I had been doing so well with my reports on my trip through Europe, with 6 blog posts directly about it and another which was pretty strongly linked. Today, though, I'm abandoning what hopes I may have had of fully documenting the trip, with a hastily compiled summary of a time period which probably represents almost half of the time I was away.

I've already blogged about my weekend in Rennes and, like the weekend, much of the week that followed was spent in similar vain, in that it was a revisitation of my old life in Rennes.

My days were spent at Beaulieu, working with my old team. I say my old team, but times have moved on since I was there. Jean-Marc has moved up in the world, to be director of the laboratory, and Benoit B has moved into his role as team leader. There are a few more permanent researchers now - Benoit B, Benoit C, Olivier, Arnaud, Johann, Gerson and Noël (off the top of my head) - and it seems like a lot more doctoral students. The project as a whole faces an important year ahead, as the old project comes to an end and they prepare a proposal (or proposals) for new directions.

In the evenings I mostly hung out with M, who came over to visit on Monday. I had really been looking forward to showing her "my town", and some of the things I really like about it, but it was a very vague ambition, and I'm not sure to what extent it was met. We tried a range of crêperies and restaurants, including some that I'd frequented in the past. We met Nono - by chance, actually - for an apero, and had dinner with the Benoits. We tried a few new things too (new to me as well), most noticeably some really delicious macaroons from a chocolatier which I'd often walked past but never walked into. Oddly, we only went for one run, but it was a good one, along the canal

On the Friday we took a train, then a taxi, then a plane, then a bus, in order to get ourselves to Hammersmith, as I made a return to London (the previous visits having been 2003, 2004 and 2007, I think) for the trip's one week of true vacation (on my part - M was back to work).

Saturday was largely given to the Boat Race, the annual rowing 8s competition between Oxford and Cambridge along the Thames, in no small part because the house in which I was graciously hosted was ideally placed to watch the event. Being just a few yards from the river, and with a rooftop view giving both up and down the stretches graced by the boats, had lead to a call - well made if not well heeded - for a barbecue to celebrate. It was impressive to see just how many people turn out to watch, and with what enthusiasm they do so. I was on the light blues for the day, courtesy of my cousin's involvement in a few instalments, many years ago now.

In the end, the race itself was equal parts spectacle and debacle. About 2/3 of the way through the race, with Oxford perhaps ahead by a nose and well placed in light of the remaining bends, a swimmer emerged directly in front of the Oxford boat, and both crews were instructed to stop rowing. The guy, an Australian purportedly demonstrating against elitism, was unharmed, but what followed was a curious half hour in which the boats moved back up the river to eventually restart from just before where the incident had occurred. After the restart, a clash of oars left Oxford one blade down, which allowed Cambridge to cruise ahead to a comfortable win.

What was perhaps more curious about the event, to me at least, was the nature of the crowds. In the evening, hours after the official proceedings had mutely wound down, we headed to a local pub for a pint. What we found was a curious mix of would-be toffs (though I remain unconvinced that they weren't regular punters wearing velvet jackets out of irony) and others who fit to a T the drunken stereotype of the drunken English soccer fan, people who I would never have thought of as being interested in such a historically elitist event.

A week in London would, to someone else, represent an enormous opportunity for tourism, but I made little of it, really. I got to a few attractions - a morning in the national gallery, a lunchtime concert at St Martin-in-the-Field (Piazzola!), an afternoon at the Victoria & Albert - but left rather more unattended. I did manage a very pleasant day travelling out by train to Moreton-in-Marsh to see some family friends - whose acquaintance I was long overdue to make - for what turned out to be a very enjoyable and affable lunch.

What I spent most of the week doing, in reality, was running and reading. I managed 4 runs: one out to Richmond Park and back along the Tow Path, one past Craven Cottage down to Putney Bridge and back, a third down past Barnes and Chiswick Bridges and almost to Kew Bridge, and another short one to Mortlake, for a coffee, before coming back again along the Tow Path. I suspect that over the journey, I played the role of anchor to M&T, who were both in training for much longer (some would say preposterously long) events, and were clearly much fitter than I was.

The other activity for the week was reading. I borrowed up a book on arrival in London, from one of my absent hosts, and an iPad during the week, and alternated during the week of reading the former while at "home base", and the latter while out and about. I have since finished one, and will soon finish the latter, but I will leave a discussion of the merits of these and other books to another post. It is quite likely that, with my return to Australia, this blog will return to its regular programming of apologetically delayed book reviews. Still, hopefully this travel diary has served as an amusing distraction

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