Adventures in Ely and closer to home

Awkward selfie in my room after Queen's Ergs to show off the pink face paint (look how well it matches my helmet!).
One more Queen’s Ergs photo: an awkward selfie in my room afterward to show off the pink face paint (look how well it matches my helmet!).

Where was I? Ah yes, Wednesday: an exciting day because I marked some first-year lab notebooks! Just kidding, that wasn’t terribly exciting. I did get to go to an MCR/SCR Common Table, though! Translating from Cantabridgian into normal-person language, that’s a formal dinner in Hall with the fellows (SCR = Senior Combination Room) and their graduate student mentees (MCR = Middle Combination Room) sit together, as opposed to the traditional setup where the fellows sit at the high table with the Master and all the students sit at tables perpendicular to them (think Hogwarts’ Great Hall). My assigned SCR mentor, theoretical astrophysicist Christ Tout, invited me to this particular Common Table, so I got to see the inside of the SCR (the physical room this time), which was very fancy, and have some interesting conversations with fellows and graduate students while enjoying some really good food. Afterwards, I went back to the SCR and got the chance to talk to the Master, Prof. Dame Athene Donald, for the first time! I mostly managed to avoid fangirling too much (although I think the first words out of my mouth when my mentor introduced us were, “Hi, I read your blog“), and she was lovely to talk to, laughing at the idea (that I expressed) that I should have some data by now. I’m looking forward to the next Common Table very much (whenever it is).

Speaking of data, research is going reasonably well. I’ve moved to the stage where I’m spending less time at my desk and more time fiddling with equipment in the labs downstairs, which I think is a really good sign. My supervisor seems reasonably happy with my progress as well. Hopefully I can actually collect some data this week!

Whipping up some banana pancakes in anticipation of a long bike ride.
Whipping up some banana pancakes in anticipation of a long bike ride.
Not quite as nice as the full buckwheat version, but not bad!
Not quite as nice as the full buckwheat version, but not bad!
Goes well with cottage cheese and maple syrup.
Goes well with cottage cheese and maple syrup.

On to the weekend: I started things off on a high note by making banana pancakes based on this recipe, though I didn’t have any buckwheat flour, so I used my GF blend and more oats instead. They turned out pretty tasty; just the sort of thing you want in your belly before the planned 20-mile bike ride to Ely, an MCR-organized trip to see the cathedral and Christmas fair.

Our fearless leader, Courtney, trying to figure out how much longer the barely-bikeable section is (several miles).
Our fearless leader, Courtney, trying to figure out how much longer the barely-bikeable section is (it was several miles).

As it turns out, the bike route along the Cam that Google recommends has several miles of not-very-bikeable farmer’s fields to get through, so we cut across some more fields (going through a lot of mud and over a few stiles) to get to an actual bike path at Wicken.

This was toward the beginning of our "lost in the fields/fens" phase.
This was toward the beginning of our “lost in the fields/fens” phase.
Checking our navigation at the sign for the "Five Miles from Anywhere No Hurry Inn." Not terribly comforting, but we were actually pretty close at this point.
Checking our navigation at the sign for the “Five Miles from Anywhere No Hurry Inn.” Not terribly comforting, but we were actually pretty close at this point.

It took us nearly four hours instead of the planned-for two, but we eventually made it to Ely!

Cathedral in the mist. We made it!
Cathedral in the mist. We made it!
Jacqui is very excited that we're approaching the cathedral (West Tower).
Jacqui is very excited that we’re approaching the cathedral (West Tower).
The outside part of the Christmas fair.
The outside part of the Christmas fair.

Getting there was an adventure in itself, but Ely and its cathedral did not disappoint. Amanda (in her capacity of co-Academic Officer with Courtney) managed to get us on a later tour of the West Tower of the cathedral, as we had missed our assigned tour times. The West Tower is the taller of the cathedral’s two big towers, and climbing it was a minor ordeal for some, but fortunately our guide stopped a few times along the way to explain some of the architectural features.

Modern art and a Victorian-era labyrinth on the floor below. It's supposed to be the same length as the height of the West (tallest) tower.
Modern art and a Victorian-era labyrinth on the floor below. It’s supposed to be the same length as the height of the West (tallest) tower.
Nice stained glass in the lower gallery, on the way up the West Tower.
Nice stained glass in the lower gallery, on the way up the West Tower.
View from the top of the West Tower down the nave.
View from the top of the West Tower down the nave.

The fog meant that we didn’t have a particularly good view of far-away sights, but it was still pretty cool looking down from the top on the surrounding town.

Our awesome guide points out the direction of Cambridge.
Our awesome guide points out the direction of Cambridge.
These inverted roof structures were used to collect rainwater so that the inhabitants of Ely could make (reportedly really terrible) beer, since the water surrounding them was brackish (it flowed in from the sea).
These inverted roof structures were used to collect rainwater so that the inhabitants of Ely could make (reportedly really terrible) beer, since the water surrounding them was brackish (it flowed in from the sea).

Afterward, most of us spent a little more time at the Christmas fair in and around the cathedral, which was mostly arts and crafts stalls. We checked out the architecture of the building as well, of course. I think the Norman style is quite lovely; suitably impressive without being overly ornate. The main renovations (stained glass windows, ceiling paintings, huge stoves to heat the place), completed in the Victorian era, mesh pretty well with the original stonework.

Reindeer outside the food tent at the Christmas fair.
Reindeer outside the food tent at the Christmas fair.
Impressive Victorian ceiling painting and a little extra decoration to get in the Christmas mood.
Impressive Victorian ceiling painting and a little extra decoration to get in the Christmas mood.
Looking down the nave from (roughly) the center of the cathedral.
Looking down the nave from (roughly) the center of the cathedral.
Arts and crafts booths inside the nave were the main attraction of the fair.
Arts and crafts booths inside the nave were the main attraction of the fair.
A bishop looking relaxed from the grave.
A bishop looking relaxed from the grave.
More nice stained glass at the back of the cathedral.
More nice stained glass at the back of the cathedral.
Statue of St. Etheldreda, an early Christian queen. The cathedral was built on the site of a shrine to her, an important medieval pilgrimage site.
Statue of St. Etheldreda, an early Christian queen. The cathedral was built on the site of a shrine to her, an important medieval pilgrimage site.
View of the altar and stained glass windows.
View of the altar and stained glass windows.

Sunday’s big event for me was dinner with almost all of my house, which I sort of ended up organizing. I got up early to get a little bit of work done, then bike to Aldi for some last-minute ingredients. When I came back, Amanda and I started on a giant pot of chili and did about half the simmering in the morning so that when we got back from our outings at around 5pm, dinner wouldn’t take forever to cook.

Amanda did all the actual hard work (chopping) when we made this for our house dinner.
Amanda did all the actual hard work (chopping) when we were making the chili.

I also made a version of Scotch Toffee Bars in the morning so that they’d have time to set. By the time I was done with all the cooking and had eaten lunch, it was practically time to row! I’ll gloss over the details of that, except to say that I think we’re still making great progress but I’m still nervous for our first race this coming Sunday. We came back, slightly damp, and got cooking! Morgan and Amanda spearheaded the effort to make various delicious flavors of kale chips, Terence made a sweet, soupy rice dish as an extra dessert treat, and I kept an eye on the chili while nearly everyone else played poker in the living room.

House dinner!
House dinner! Meng is destroying eveyrone else at poker.

I had to rush off afterwards to meet with my boat and help make costumes for next Sunday’s race (it’s fancy dress…), but failed to get any decent photos, so I’ll end things here.

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