Monthly Archives: August 2011

Summer Holiday (19-30/8/11)

Back after a wonderful trip to Italy. I have written a ‘travel journal’ but it is very detailed and probably a bit long for a single post, so I may make a separate blog if this short synopsis tickles your interests!

We had a relatively stress free trip to Naples and arrived mid-evening. We plonked our bags in the hotel we were staying in for one night and headed out into the Neopolitan night to, rightly, visit our first gelaterie. The array of flavours before my eyes was tantalising but I chose to relive my youth and try Kinder Bueno ice cream, I wasn’t disappointed.

We then headed to a restaurant we’d been recommended by the concierge – it was a delightful, small place – exactly how you’d imagine an old Italian pizzeria. On the menu was no less than 15 varieties of the normally considered plane ‘Margarita’, including one entitled ‘Margarita DOC’. DOC, Denominazione di origine controllata (‘Controlled designation of origin’), I was told by my father, is an abbreviation used on some wines and formaggi to infer that the food or drink in question reaches a certain level of quality. Naturally this sounds appealing but is surely expensive? Not so here, the pizzas were four euros each and this special one was seven – less than you pay for a Pizza Express meal here! It ended up, for me, being the best pizza of the entire holiday.

It must be said I didn’t think Naples was the prettiest area of Italy. Part of its scruffiness was charming but I think seeing copious amounts of prostitutes at the train station when you arrive is a bit off putting for anyone. We caught the train from Naples to Sorrento, and went through all thirty-six stops, including Pompei Scavi and Ercolano Scavi – the ruins (scavi) of Pompeii and Herculaneum famously covered for hundreds of years by ash and lava respectively.

It was then a short bus ride to the villa in Sant’Agata. It was a truly beautiful spot with a balcony overlooking the bay of Naples and Vesuvius – especially exquisite at night. We spent some days simply relaxing in the villa playing chess or a variety of pool games my brother invented and it was wonderful to simply relax and enjoy each other’s company.  However, it would be catastrophic to not make the most of our surroundings, and we went to the local area often. We visited a picturesque seaside town called Positano and rented a boat out into the lovely turquoise blue sea, saw Pompeii and Herculanium, the beach and went swimming in the Mediterranean and had a vast number of incredibly pleasant meals out! Truly spoiled, but it was an excellent occasion.

We then split as a family somewhat and headed to Rome. I had been there before but I was still taken aback by how beautiful it is. The cobbled streets and vibrant colours of the buildings are spectacular. London’s grotty side streets are put to shame by the wonderful pockets of undiscovered streets linking landmarks with exquisitely carved stone facades. It was a pleasure to be in the city. We saw the traditional sites; the Colloseum, Pantheon, Typewriter and Trevi fountain as one would expect. My casual writing does them no justice, though. What was new was a visit to the Vatican Museums which was truly mind blowing. Never have I seen so much art, so detailed and rich in meaning in such vast, vast quantity. It seemed every painting, small or large, had a huge story to tell and would have taken years to do, yet there were thousands. It was all topped off, of course, by the Sistine Chapel and Michael Angelo’s creation of man. We also went into St. Peter’s Basilica which also served to take my breath away, the sheer scale is mind-boggling.

We had a relatively sane trip back and I am now trying to work through the two thousand odd photos on my camera!


17th – 18th August, 2011

On the seventeenth I baked my batch of scones and met with my girlfriend and another friend and travelled to (fortunately my friend can drive) the highest hill of the region and had our picnic! Unfortunately the view and experience was somewhat tainted by the incessant talks on mobile phones, trying to sort out the house. After a lot of palava we’ve managed to arrange it! At last a house is sorted, and not a moment too late.

After the serious business of a Mario Kart tournament I went to my girlfriends house and we went on a really lovely walk. On the way back we were blessed with seeing the sun set, and it was magnificent. Fortuitously I had my camera and managed to capture it, though my poor photography skills do it no justice.

Upon awaking we sat, with many thousands of other teenagers, repeatedly trying to log in to UCAS Track which was engaged in its perennial lag due to the high traffic. Ultimately it was great news, with my girlfriend getting the place she wanted! So smiles all round. We then headed back to mine for a relaxing evening and now am a bit rushed trying to sort and pack everything for the impending holiday! Should be great and I will correspond with the blog when I get back (intend to create a travel diary whilst away)

Until then!

15th – 16th August, 2011

Happily Eating Away

On the 15th I donned my dark green Wellington boots and grabbed my new guide, the Collins Complete Guide to British Garden Wildlife, and went on a usual route. Whilst the route was usual, the time taken was not, since I was drawn in by so many flowers that I nearly always walk straight by and to my delight I was able to identify some of them using the book – it scratches a satisfying itch that is hard to pen down but the process of finding the plant, looking it up in the book and taking a photograph was incredibly amiable and a lovely way to spend a day and breathe a fresh lease of life into a walk done repeatedly without any new finds.

After that I was somewhat bogged down by house organising. My friends saw a terrific house but there was a slight issue with another person having to live there, more on that later. Tickets for a debate on the existence of God arrived, arguing for the motion is William Lane Craig, someone I tremendously admire and arguable one of Christendom’s finest apologists.  He’s American but doing a UK tour and I thought that too good to miss.

On the 16th I was at the labs for what may be the last time, I’m really glad I warmed to it form an initial worry and lack of interest, it was a terrific time and I truly enjoyed it. After that it was more house viewings. We have found one we all like in the bohemian borough of Camden so we may decide to put in an offer there.

By the time all this furore was dealt with it was rather late and I didn’t end up getting home until deep evening, but it was enough time for the family to sit down to the first episode of the second series of The Great British Bake-Off, one of my most enjoyed television programs of 2010! Hopefully this season will prove (ho-ho) as enjoyable as the last.

Tomorrow I’m off for a picnic and am getting up bright and early to bake (topically) some of Paul Hollywood’s scones, can’t wait!

13th – 14th August, 2011

I boarded an early train on the thirteenth, expecting to depart and go to a house viewing that was arranged. I was disappointed on the train, however, on seeing some particularly rowdy individuals, drinking at around nine thirty in the morning and, from what I could gather, heading to the first premiership match of the season, singing chants excessively loudly as to disrupt others on the train. Not only this, but the chants included explicit and excessive expletives on a train which young children were on.

No sooner had I stepped off the train but my phone rang; my friend informed me that the estate agents had just phoned her to let her know that they did not have the keys to the property we were meant to see, which was a damn nuisance since the reason I’d come down to London was to see the house which we are now somewhat desperate to get. At any rate, we decided not to make a rainy day of it and met up for some food and films at my friend’s house which great – it’s about time I knew the story of Robin Hood, even if it was the Disney version.

Off camping!

Between those times I went to Colindale to visit the GO Outdoors shop to pick up my brand-spanking new tent. GO Outdoors do a scheme whereby if you find a product they sell cheaper on any website or other competitive shop, they will sell the product to you at 10% off the competitor’s price. Having planned to go to GO Outdoors on the twelfth, I did a bit of internet researching and did indeed see another website selling it cheaper – four pence cheaper, to be precise! I mentioned this to them at the checkout and, sure enough, I ended up saving 10% for the difference of 4p! Thank you kindly, GO Outdoors. On a serious note I do recommend them; they do sell things at a very good price and have knowledgeable, helpful and friendly staff.

In the evening I met with my girlfriend to watch the last Harry Potter film – I was impressed with it, definitely. Having not seen part 1 and not being a die-hard fan I was still able to follow along and appreciate the excitement it offered. A cleverly written ending, I think.

On the fourteenth I was round my girlfriend’s house and we spent the morning pitching my tent and another 3-man that she already had. After that success we did some baking  – simple cake cases but with marmalade inside with chocolate ganache on top – they were tasty indeed. My girlfriend’s father is somewhat of an artist and he gave us a short tutorial – he is planning to put some online and so this was a bit of a practice but it was great to learn a bit from a true artist.

Now I am home and have made some shortbread and  just been informed I am not going to the labs tomorrow so have a full, luxurious day to spend in whatever I choose – I intend not to waste it.

Speak to you soon!

11th – 12th August, 2011

A comforting break

The eleventh was again spent in the lab, but it was very enjoyable today. The person ‘looking after me’ is very good in that he throws me in the deep end somewhat. This helps in that it really makes sure I understand something when I do it (for example, he requests that I write up lab notes and I need to be clear and concise on what I’m talking about in order for this to work.), but what’s good is that he is more than willing to stop and help me and explain things so that I’m not left dumbfounded.

In the evening I went for a run up a local hill and saw a tremendous sunset, which gave me a very satisfying amount of time to sit and think about some of the philosophy I’ve been pondering recently. I can never overstate how important I think it is to take time to stop from the busy world and do nothing, even for a short length of time.

I spent a long time perusing the internet into the wee hours and as a result awoke late on the 12th. My Mum and I had planned to go to the local town and we did and got some shopping done. I stocked up on some much needed socks and bought a most peculiar polo in that you can detach the collar which binds to the body of the shirt via buttons. It seems the old style is making a comeback! We also ventured into Starbucks (somewhere I hardly ever go), but they do a nice Latte.

On arriving home I tried to install a ‘Hackintosh’ which is where you try and get OS X running on a PC (please forgive me if my terminology is slightly off!). I do have Tiger on my laptop but I thought I might give it a try on my PC, thus far no luck, however. The family pottered to the local pub and enjoyed a drink outside, which was pleasant.

My brother and his girlfriend have taken part in the ‘my fitness pal’ website which helps you lose weight by giving you a ‘calorie target’ for the day. It’s worked very well for them (even if they do rattle on about it a bit!) but I did have my frustrations about it today since they wouldn’t eat the main meal made by Mum due to the fact the calories would be ‘hard to calculate’! Goodness, there’s watching your weight and politeness. Fortunately their frequent talk about it seems to have had a positive effect on all of the family with my father now being the latest one to sign up (He’s just got a new smartphone, and my fitness pal has an app – he loves combining tasks with technology! So perhaps that’s why he’s started. Whatever the reason, it’s good).

Off to see some houses tomorrow and perhaps pick up a tent, ’till then!

9th – 10th August, 2011

Both days spent in the laboratory, taking up pretty much all of the day. Getting to enjoy it more as I get to know the people in the lab, and get to understand what I’m doing a little bit more.

Found a very interesting (if somewhat gory) game called LIMBO. My girlfriend, not much of a computer nerd before we started going out, finished Portal 2 the other day and now, after I casually inform her she may find LIMBO interesting, has already fishished it! Before me! What influence have I had?

The news has been depressing the last few days, it sometimes makes it hard to think of all the good in the world when there’s relentless bad news given by the press. I was touched to hear about the #riotcleanup organised by twitter users and will hold the following Spanish proverb close: ‘There is not enough darkness in the world to extinguish the light of one small candle’

Also found some very interesting websites combining the frictionless duo, science and faith, especially the American Scientific Affiliation and this blog:

7th – 8th August, 2011

Monet - Lady with Parasol

First light on the 7th brought fourth a run with my brother, fortunately my ‘gammy knee’ didn’t play up and we had a good chat about the USA’s goings on with its ‘AA+’ rating, rather than ‘AAA’.

On arriving back Mum and I had a trip to M&S and it made me, oddly, appreciate family. We got our goods and headed back to meet some heavy showers (good old British weather). We had an umbrella but it was pretty small and we couldn’t avoid getting a bit wet, but far from being a frustrating experience (as one might have on their own) we couldn’t help laughing and I found myself with a big smile on my face, and happy to be home.

After this I tried (and failed) to have a go at some painting. I was rather taken by this piece by Monet and inteded to try and brush up my skills by copying it. Needless to say it’s not gone well thus far. I just seem unable to replicate his brush strokes. They look so easy and effortless but nigh-on impossible to replicate. I suppose I can’t really expect to be anywhere near as good at even copying him, being very new to painting. Hopefully I’ll learn some new techniques and improve somewhat.

The mentioned weather rather spoiled the opportunity to play golf, but in the evening a session of Mario Kart with the brother was in order, which again helped me to appreciate the small things that make up a happy family life.

Today my girlfriend came over and we began baking some cake cases (as we call them; commonly referred to as cupcakes!). I headed off to London to meet with a very friendly PhD student and arrived home to see her efforts! Pretty impressive, I thought!

Off to the research lab again tomorrow, ’till then.

Flower Cake Case!