Sunday, May 31, 2015

London Life

I left Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon (5/26) to go to London! I landed at the London airport early Wednesday morning, and decided to take the tube (what we call the subway) to unpack at my place in Stratford in East London. Taking the tube during London's rush hour with two luggages is probably the dumbest thing I'll do this entire trip. After an exhausting way home, I arrived.

fish and chips- not good here!
Virgin Atlantic flight to London

In the afternoon, I grabbed a meal of the famous British meal right around the corner of the house I was staying at- fish and chips. Not to my surprise, it was not very delicious. My sister told me many of the affordable restaurants in London is small or bad or both... and I'm starting to believe this is true.

University of East London Stratford Campus.
I met with my PI here at University of East London Stratford and the PhD student I will be working with, Alessia. Alessia showed me around the lab I'll be working at starting next week. Unlike the lab I work in at Emory, many of the labs share a lot of the facilities and machines that are in difference rooms. Also, there are lab technicians whose specific jobs are to autoclave stuff and make/find chemicals that the students and researchers request- which I thought was really cool because those jobs take some time to do yourself. The lab did not have a lot of people, probably because it was later the day during the summer, but everyone I met was nice. I still cannot handle how awesome British accent is!

Liverpool Street Station
For the next few days, I became a London tourist. The area I'm living in, Stratford, is not central London, but is right next to a huge shopping mall and the Olympic Park for the 2012 London Olympics. But London has so much more to offer- museums, galleries, parks, churches, and a handful more of the common tourist attractions. I was amazed even with my first trip when I went to exchange my dollars for British pounds (Thomas Exchange Global has the best deal- for any London travelers). I arrived at the Liverpool Street Station, and the station was so beautiful. Outside, the Liverpool Street's busyness and the people walking in suits reminded me of Wall Street of NYC, but with more historical architecture.

Panoramic view from the dome @ St. Paul's Cathedral
I then walked to see the St. Paul's Cathedral. The grand cathedral was decored with incredibly delicate art and architecture- from moldings to ceilings to floors (pictures were forbidden, unfortunately). I was in awe that this beautiful place has been used for almost 1500 years (although rebuilt after the Great Fire) to worship the same God that I believe in. I took long winding stairs to the dome- and the view from the top of the dome was amazing.

Queen's birthday parade rehearsal (Near the ending, in front of the Buckingham Palace)
I also tried to see the Changing of the Guard at the Buckingham Palace on Friday morning. The event takes place every day at 11:30AM. I followed my guidebook's advice and got a good spot to see at 10:30. But... rain started pouring and the event was canceled (Oh London..). On Saturday, I was walking by St. James Park, where I luckily made it just in time to see the horse guards and the marching band guards rehearsing for the Queen's birthday parade in two weeks. How awesome!

My museums experience in the past few days has also been incredible. Unlike the majority of London where everything and anything is expensive, most of the museums are free. I went to the National Portrait Gallery, the ICA Gallery, National Gallery, British Museum, and the British Library (I still have not visited about four major museums). One visit to the National Gallery and the British Museum was probably not enough- I'll have to come back. I noticed that in front of these big museums and tourist sites, there are many protesters.

Few things I have noticed about London:
-It is a lot more ethnically diverse that I had imagined. (Even areas without tourists)
-American Starbucks "tall" is not British Starbucks "tall."
-Some places charge for using the bathroom.
-Coffee/meals "For here" often cost a bit more than "to go."
-The driver's seat is on the right.
-There are a lot of smokers.
-It's summer, but it's cold. And rainy. All the time.

So far, life at London feels surreal. I am so excited for what this experience will have in store for me, and I am especially excited to start working with Alessia at the lab this week!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Berlin's Unterwelten (Underworlds)

I am currently leaning against a tree in a rather plain parking lot. In all directions, there are tall apartment complexes that were constructed during East Berlin's communist era. It turns out that directly below my feet, under 13 feet of concrete, is Hitler's subterranean bunker. In this bunker, Hitler sat in front of his strategy boards moving ghost armies, smoked crystal meth, and ultimately took his own life. The German government intended to not recognize this historical location in order to avoid commemorating Hitler.

Earlier today, I visited remnants of the Berlin Wall at the Berlin Wall Memorial. Although looking at the memorial site was interesting, what truly struck me was that if you look at the ground, you see subtle stone steps that lie perpendicular to the wall. Upon further research, I discovered that each array of stone steps follows the path of secret tunnels that Berliners dug underground in order to escape from the eastern sector into Western Berlin. There are over 40 known attempts; however, most of these attempts failed.

Yesterday, I visited a beautiful park in the northern part of Berlin. It seems nearly untouched. It was filled with trees and a manicured rose garden. However, beneath this forest is one of the few remaining massive anti-aircraft Flak Towers built during WWII. Three were built in Berlin. When Berlin was divided up after WWII, one tower was located in the French sector, one in the British sector, and one in the Soviet Union sector.

How does one destroy a massive modern fortress, which has walls of concrete up to 11 feet thick and housed 30,000 Berliner during bombing raids? Furthermore, how does one remove the rubble after destroying the fortress. Where is the rubble transported to? Would it be more efficient to leave it and place more rubble on top of it?

After numerous attempts and enormous sums of money, the Soviets, British, and French each used over 35 tons of TNT to destroy the towers. While the Soviets removed the rubble, the British extended the Berlin Zoo and constructed a Gorilla exhibit atop the rubble. The British government believed that the rubble could be integrated into the gorilla exhibit and that the gorillas would climb atop the rubble. However, the Gorillas did not take a liking to the rubble and the British consequently removed the rubble. In contrast, the French's Flak Tower did not fully collapse. As a result, the French attempted to bury the half-destroyed fortress under leftover rubble from the war. Trees grew out of the rubbles, and there now exists a forest.

Berlin is a mind-blowing city. Yes, nearly every European city is fascinating and has extensive history; however, Berlin is different. It is difficult to encapsulate all the societal and cultural changes that this city has experienced during WWI, WWII, capitalism, communism, the Weimar Republic, Nazism, and reunification, since the formation of the Prussian Empire. Luckily, many of these changes have been engrained both above and below the streets and the forests of Berlin. The only thing I can really tell you is to come and visit Berlin and experience the history for yourself.

Volkspark Humboldthain
Below My Feet
Berlin Cathedral Under the Third Reich
Berlin Cathedral 2015

Friday, May 29, 2015

Legoland and travels


I have started working on a study at work that looks at autobiographical memories and life events in people from a small town in Africa. It is an incredibly eye-opening experience to see that the major events that they report from their lives include things like "good harvest for survival" and "cholera outbreak". We live in a totally different world. Also, the memory card game project I am supposed to work on for the summer is almost ready, so we should be getting started running participants soon!

I have also really gotten a chance to explore the cafes and restaurants of Aarhus, as well as many museums and a lot of nature. I took a walk down to the water (the water is never far away in Denmark!) and the Queen's Palace, and I also took a bus ride down to visit Legoland last weekend because I am a small child at heart. Tomorrow morning I get on an early train (6:00 am!) to Copenhagen for the weekend. It's supposed to be beautiful, so I can't wait!

Everyone at the lab I work in and at my dorm are incredibly welcoming and really act like the want to get to know me, which is in some ways similar to America, but also very refreshing. We have weekly dinners for our hall of my dorm, and everyone in my lab eats lunch together each day at noon, so it is very much of a community.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

¡Hola España!

      I have been here in Spain for about two weeks now and it has all been amazing! The first week my parents came with me and we took a grand tour of Spain. We arrived in Madrid in the morning, unpacked in my apartment which is centrally located to all in Madrid and hit the ground running with traveling. Before coming to Madrid we had purchased Eurail passes (which for anyone coming to Europe and planning to do a lot of traveling is a great idea), these allowed us to easily take trains from place to place for a really great price. We spent the first two days in Madrid going all around the city. We saw the Royal Palace, Museo del Prado (with works of Goya, Velasquez, Picasso and more), ate a lot and did a large walking tour around the whole city. I have been taking Spanish classes all through high school and college so it was amazing to me to finally see the history and art that I had only learned about in classes actually in front of me.
One of the many elaborate ceilings in the Royal Palace

The outside of the Palace

      Two days later we took the train to the Basque region in the north of Spain. This area was called San Sebastián and was right on the coast/border of France-- absolutely beautiful. It was also interesting because Spanish is not their primary language. I have learned that Spain has about 5 different dialects/languages other than Spanish. None of these languages resemble Spanish in the least in their sound nor spelling.
The beach in San Sebastián
       After spending two days in San Sebastián and enjoying their beach, tapas and scenery we took the train to Barcelona. Another gorgeous city right on the Mediterranean sea. Barcelona is known for a lot of artwork from both Gaudí and Picasso. One of Gaudí's most famous works is the Basílica de la Sagrada Família. We took a tour and it truly is an architectural masterpiece. The details from every inch of the church outside to inside are amazing. We also visited Parc Guell, another one of Gaudí's masterpieces. The mosaics were absolutely beautiful, not to mention the view from the top which overlooked all of Barcelona. My family and I also visited the Picasso Museum. This boasted one of the largest collections of Picasso and was created while he was alive so he directly donated some of his pieces. We got lucky because there was also a special Dalí exhibit going on. We also spent a lot of time near the beach for meals, the water had some of the clearest blues I had ever seen.
Inside of the Basílica de la Sagrada Família

The outside of the Basílica de la Sagrada Família

 Park Güell
     After a few days in Barcelona we took the train south to Valencia, the third largest city in Spain and one famous for its paella. Paella is a typical Spanish rice dish that usually has meat and seafood in a saffron rice. Being that it was a town famous for its food, most of the time spent in this city was spent eating as well as sightseeing.
Valencian Seafood Paella 
      After Valencia we took the train back to Madrid and the next morning took a day trip over to Toledo. Toledo is a medieval town just south of Madrid with a lot of extremely old history and architecture. One of the oldest churches in Spain was located here (built in the 1200's!). From there we walked through the streets looking at the old buildings and spent some time in different museums. One of the things that's very nice about the museums in Spain is that they are usually all free on Sunday's and every day after about 5 or 6. After Toledo we came back to Madrid and the next day my parents left and I began my research!
View of Toledo from one of the highest points in town
         Having finished my first full week in the lab I can tell it is going to be a great and productive summer. Everyone in my lab is extremely kind and offers to help me in any way the can both in and out of lab. I'm waiting for the mice for my project to come in so I spent the past week shadowing the different people in the lab. For the most part I am able to communicate in Spanish and some of the members are able to converse with me in English. The trickiest parts have been trying to explain certain scientific ideas and concepts whether its the lab members to me or me to them. Luckily most things are visually learned so there isn't that much of an issue. One of the things I am most surprised about is the way of life not only in my lab but in Spain in general. People are very kind and welcoming wether its a stranger on the metro or in a store. The biggest adjustment for me so far has been the eating times. Generally lunch is around 1-4 in Spain. At my lab we all have lunch together at two and everyone in the lab comes together to eat (in Spain lunch is the big meal of the day and dinner and is served later in the day around 8:30-10:30 but is usually just a light snack (tapa)). Most restaurants close after four and don't open again until 8/8:30 for dinner. So even if you want an early dinner it can be difficult to find anything open. Overall this city and country has a very comfortable and calming feel. I'm excited for what's to come! 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hello, Uganda!

After 23 hours in the airport and planes, I have finally arrived in Uganda!

I landed in Entebbe where I spent the night at a hotel, then in the morning I rode to Kampala where I met my advisor, Dr. Innocent Rwego. Some team members and I will travel to Kasese (a town just outside of Queen Elizabeth National Park) where we will stay for a few weeks.

I wrote my IRES proposal on collecting mosquitoes in QENP and for the whole Spring semester I thought that was what I would be studying, but one week before I left for Uganda I met with Dr. Gillespie and he told me plans have changed. I think will now be working on a few different projects while I'm here: one is studying leptospirosis in rodents and another is looking at schistosomiasis in baboons. Plans might change again, though.

This morning I took a two hour taxi drive into Kampala. The roads were terrifying -- the middle yellow line separating the traffic seemed arbitrary and lanes were nonexistent; I saw a small motorcycle accident just 15 seconds after getting into the taxi. After the drive, I walked through the street markets to arrive at the One Health Central and Eastern Africa office. On one road there were loud horns and yelling, then when I turned the corner to a different street, there was music playing and everyone laughing. It felt as if those 10 steps took me to a completely different country!

I unfortunately won't be staying in Kampala long, but I hear Kasese is a fun town, so I hope to do some exploring while I'm there. Dr. Rwego told me Kasese is one of the hottest cities in Uganda... and I have a feeling Uganda heat is very different than Atlanta heat.

Internet will be very scarce, so I do not know how often I will be able to post, but I am really enjoying my first day in Uganda. I will also take many many pictures while I'm here -- I hope to upload some in the near future!

Leo R.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Allison Carr - Week 1 in Denmark!

I've been here a little over a week and I finally have the internet connected in my room! That has been the biggest struggle so far. Before this, I had to go into my office at night and steal the Wi-Fi to be able to Skype back home, but now I have an Ethernet cord in my room.

Everything else is good so far! The food is gross for a picky eater like me, so I've been snacking on a lot of nutella and microwavable pasta, but eventually I will force myself to branch out. The most pleasant surprise so far has been how NOT touristy the city is. Because it is not the largest city in Denmark or an extremely well-known city, I feel like I am really immersed in the culture here instead of the image that a they want me to see (like some of the most popular tourist destinations). It is much more authentic this way.

Also, the weather is much colder and windier than I expected. I see what Dr. Shreckengost meant when he said to make sure you plan ahead and be aware of things like the weather :)

Pictures to come!