Thursday, 30 July 2009

GRC and Montreal

Hi Everyone!!!

Its Freddy here and I have returned to Oxford after a week and a bit in Montreal and the Gordon Research Conference in Andover, New Hampshire. I left on Friday (over two weeks ago now) with sam and ben (pictured below). Ben is Sam's PhD student and they are part of the larger experimental/social evolution group but are theoreticians. The journey was pretty standard except we were late leaving heathrow by two hours due to the rain?!? I guess that explains why most flights are late arriving and departing seeing as england is pretty rainy? The highlight of the flight was definitely watching In the Loop, a very funny political satire (probably more/only funny if you have lived in england).

We arrived in Montreal in the evening, and Gabe (a PhD student in my lab who started his PhD at the same time as me, and who is from Montreal) met us in town. We stayed at his sister's place and the picture below is us in the metro system making our way to the Biodome. The metros there essential buses, underground... I thought they looked kinda cool.

This is the olympic stadium built for the 1976 olympic games. Largest inclined tower in the world and is a great example of organic modern architecture (at least thats what wiki tells me). It is actually pretty cool looking as is a lot of the montreal architecture especially the stuff from the 60s and 70s (I recommend wikiing Habitat 67 another cool building).

The athletes accomodation.

Mickey, Sam, Vero (gabes sister), Gabe, Ben
So we went to the Biodome, which is the olympic velodrome which has been convereted into an indoor zoo. What could be more fun for a group of 5 biologists than a day at the zoo?... well nothing, really... It was actually a pretty cool place, saw lots of indigenous animlas including this porcupine. Apparently they dont "shoot" their spines they just let them fall when they are climbing trees.

Later that day we sampled some of the local cuisine at a diner where they didn't speak a word of english, only french. I was pretty impressed overall at how well everyone spoke english (unlike the real France), although I was told that in the countryside no one speaks english. The meal below is putine: chips, gravy, and curd cheese... its amazing. we must have had it at least once a day (its montreal's equivalent of a kebab).

We spent the rest of the day sightseeing and lounging around in the park.
At some point we were apparently hungry (it felt like all we did was eat). So we went to a jewish deli.

The sandwiches and cherry coke were really good.

Then on the sunday we set off to Andover, NH. It is a five hour drive from Montreal and we were in a car essentially they size of a golf but with a bigger boot. It was pretty cramped in the back as everyone is over 6 foot tall (i think the shortest people were in the front). The journey was a bit like something out a of a family holiday holiday, parents arguing about directions in the front, kids fidgeting and shouting in the back. So after being told that I didnt look like my passport picture at the US border and hassled for ten minutes (Mickey, the one with the dreads, got no questions at all!! he could be smuggling anything in that hair!) and a further two hours of driving we stopped in Burlington, Vermont.

Trying to scrape together some change for the parking meter. Turns out Canadian quarters also work.

Us eating sandwiches that took the staff at the Red Onion 30 minutes to make, needless to say they probably hadn't experienced the wrath of impatient europeans before that point.

After a further 2 hours of some pretty stunning countryside we made it to Andover, population... 300? including two hundred conference guests. The conference was held at a boarding school for high school kids. As you can see our dormitory was modelled on Stalag Luft and the showers were also reminiscent of german concentration camps. School fees are extortionate so I can only assume the make the accomodation so spartan in hopes of teaching the kids valuable life lessons?

As you can see the rest of the campus is quite pretty.

The conference itself was very good. Lots of interesting talks, lots of boring and irrelevant ones too. Many interesting people (a few weirdos), good ideas for new experiments, good feedback on my work, good food. In general I would label it a success. Went swimming in a nearby lake (we had the afternoons off), went on a run, and also played some football, so it wasnt all work. I suppose the highlight was winning the poster prize. I was in the top five best posters (they didnt announce which one actually was the best... but we can all be pretty sure it was mine ;) ...). I won a tshirt and was told to summarise my poster in 20 words in front of all the conference guests. I ended up making a joke about how long it took me to photoshop Sprite into Spite, people laughed (a group of evolutionary biologists is probably an easy crowd).

By the end of the week I was exhausted from all the early mornings and late evenings and was glad to get back to Montreal. Here are some pics of the skyline driving onto the island (Montreal is located on a giant island where the St. Lawrence river splits in two and then joins again).

McGill University.
St. Catherines... the main high/shopping street.
I thought these were amazing and completely ridiculous. A street vacuum, why not just use brushes like the rest of the civilised world?
We also visited Gabe's parents who have recently built a house in the country side.

They love Christmas so much that they built a special storage room to house all their decorations.
The house is next to the Richelieu river with their pool over looking it.
Crossing the river on our way back to Montreal.

Driving around the Gilles Villeneuve gran prix race course which is located on an artificial ilsland on the St. Lawrence. Gabe's sister can most likely be expecting a speeding fine (we borrowed her car).

The old port where all the fur trade was conducted. Looks almost european.

And finally... yes Inglis is one of the premier white goods manufacturers in Canada. All in all it was a great trip. I really like Montreal, enough so I would consider living there. It has a very cool feel and is unlike anywhere else I have been in North America. They also hold the international fireworks competition there every year, so saw some great fireworks during my trip (forgot the camera on those evenings). It was great having Gabe as a tour guide as ended up seeing loads of stuff.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

The ebaying begins!

The race to sell things on ebay has officially begun. Yasmin and I have decided to clear out our closets and sell the unwanted items. Four years of racking up Jigsaw uniform has amounted to a lot of clothes that I haven't worn in ages... so we started taking photos of our items today after work.

Presently I've sold 4 items to Zoe (our shop manager) which came to 47 pounds. Which I am pretty excited about. Watch this space, because I will keep you updated on how my items do.

An example of our beautiful manikin dressed in stock to sell.

Pinning the skirt in the shop.

All our items lined up in our staff room.

Wish us luck!

Friday, 24 July 2009

When we asked me dad how he was feeling this was his response...

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Locked-down in London-town

So my parents thought they were leaving tomorrow (Friday) to fly back to Cairo. They are all packed and ready to go... were simply waiting on a phone call to tell them what flight they were on. But, it turns out that they can't fly back until 10 days after my dad's surgery (which means the 28th). Even though no one bothered to tell them that... and everyone said he would be flying out tomorrow. They only have just found this out... I had to call AIG twice, and although they were very polite, made me very angry. They will find out in the morning where they will be going and for how long... but until further notice they seem to be stuck in lockdown in london - because no one will let them go home.

On a slightly brighter note - we had a great day today (before we found out this unfortunate news). I woke up early (6am) and caught the bus. Because I was so keen and early I got a free newspaper and breakfast. The trip wasn't as fun as last time: I was really tired and kept falling asleep and waking up panicked that I had forgotten to get off and was on the wrong side of London. Luckily that didn't happen.

We had a really lovely day. My mom and I walked towards Harrods, had some coffee, and then got caught out in the rain. Then we went to have a burger for lunch, and then walked around some more. We got pizza hut for dinner - a spontaneous but very real craving that my dad had. Oh, we even got a video of my dad describing his horrible and almost unbearable pain. I will try to get it up on youtube or facebook for you to see. Ok, enjoy the photos... hopefully some good news about their trip home will come tomorrow!

My goodies on the bus at 6:30am.

Beginning our walk the right way... with some starbucks.

With our coffee before we got soaking wet in the rain.

On our walk over to burgers...

We had some pretty cool chairs at McDonalds.

Walking back from our burgers...

Having a little peek at a bridal fitting.

London Easter-egg coloured flats.

Outside the hospital.

No casualty here. That's rrrright.

Would Grace like this to be Mom's next car Stephanie?

Mmmm... pizza hut. De-lic-ious.

On the bus ride home the sky was really beautiful.

p.s. my two favourite songs at the moment are 'supernova' by mr. hudson & kanye west and 'beautiful dreams' by beyonce.