Category Archives: Travel and Tourism

Christmas in Newcastle

This year I stayed in Newcastle over the Christmas break and didn’t have company or go to anyone’s home. I took advantage of five “Christmas in Newcastle” events in the series sponsored by the students’ unions of Northumbria and Newcastle Universities. Three of these had been on my Newcastle bucket list: the Beamish Museum, a Christmastime pantomime, and the Northumberlandia outdoor sculpture.

Christmas Dinner

A traditional English Christmas dinner is served on Christmas afternoon at a local church. We had turkey, stuffing, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, Christmas pudding — the traditional dishes of Christmas dinner in the UK. Then we watched the Queen’s annual Christmas Day speech to the Commonwealth. I sat with some Chinese students and got validation of my impression of Chinese food in Newcastle — quality costs more than it should. (IOW, the good stuff is expensive and the less expensive stuff is not good.) The Queen spoke for 15 minutes or so, mostly about good will and Christmas. I would have liked to see more personality and feeling in her delivery, but my British friends tell me that the wooden style is how the British monarchy presents itelf. Oh well.

Beamish Museum

On the Sunday after Christmas, a coach (bus) took two dozen students to the Beamish Museum, an outdoor museum that illustrates life in the North East of England in the 1820s, 1900s, and 1940s. They have a 1940s town, a 1900s pit mine village, and an 1820s manor house and church. They also have a working farm, a steam train, a couple of ice rinks, amusement-park rides, cafes, and several gift shops. The staff dress in period costume and explain to visitors how life was in that time and place. Some offer demonstrations of period techniques (see photo for candymaking). This is how I like to learn about history.

Kneading candy
Beamish Museum candymaker kneads sugar concoction while making lemon drops.

Tyneside Cinema

Although I had already seen a few films at our wonderful independent movie house, the Tyneside Cinema, I signed up for the afternoon there, with the film to be determined on the day. The selected movie turned out to be the new Star Wars episode, in 3D. The film didn’t have much of a plot (a couple of surprises near the end), but I enjoyed watching the special effects.


Dick Whittington pantomime screenOn New Year’s Eve I had my first experience of that classic British Christmas tradition, the pantomime (“panto”). I knew it wouldn’t really be my thing, but it was definitely an experience I had to have during my time in the UK. This one was Dick Whittington at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal, and it loosely followed the legend of Dick Whittington, whose cat is said to have driven the rats out of London and thereby made Whittington Lord Mayor. This production substituted Newcastle for London (of course), and it contained a lot of in-jokes about Geordie language and culture (some of which I got, to my pleasure). I would describe the panto as, basically, slapstick musical comedy with audience participation and displays of skill (e.g., magic and acrobatics). I enjoyed the comedy and the repartee with the audience. I’ve never gotten into slapstick or musical theater, but I found engaging the overall feeling of joy and fun. I doubt I’ll attend another panto, but I’m glad I discovered what it’s like.


Northumberlandia from the airToday a minibus took a dozen students to visit the Northumberlandia land sculpture, also called the Lady of the North. One cannot get an overview of this sculpture from the ground, but that’s what aerial photography is for. (This image is from the Northumberlandia site).

The face of NorthumberlandiaThe weather wasn’t ideal: I would have liked to see the place on a sunny day, and the ice on parts of the path prevented me from walking the whole thing and ascending to the forehead. At least it wasn’t raining, though, and I managed to get a few decent photos. The one here shows the face (left) and one breast reflected in the pond.

We also had lunch in the pub next to the park. I loved the atmosphere (family pubs are something I’ll miss terribly if I have to leave the UK), which was why I found the food disappointing. However, it’s one of the few pubs I’ve found in the North East that have Aspall cyder on draft.

And in the park I ran into some people I know!


Seeing my work, live and in person

No matter how many times I experience it, I always feel a thrill when I see my design work built and installed, and being used by the people for whom it was intended. Yesterday I had that pleasure again.

I returned to the US yesterday for a short visit with family and friends. As I stood in front of the Global Entry kiosk, scanning my passport and answering the questions about what I had brought back and what flight I had taken, I felt proud of my work and appreciative of the team that built and installed my design.

The Global Entry program has been around for a while. I myself joined the program in the fall of 2010, about three weeks before the project manager called to ask me to work on the screen redesign. I refined the look and improved the flow and the wording, and yesterday I got to see it in action.

I just had to tell someone. So when I handed my Global Entry receipt to the US Customs and Border Protection official on my way out, I told him, “I’m so excited to see the new screen design on the kiosk — that’s my work!” His face lit up, as did that of another CBP official nearby. “Really?” he asked, adding that they had received the email about the changes. I said yes, really, and they said thanks and “Welcome back!”

My first tourist day out

Today I took a day trip to Leeds, the first time I have left Newcastle for purely tourist purposes. (I did go to York and London in December, but those were for a concert and a Christmas visit to friends, and I didn’t do any sightseeing — and while I was in York I met with my supervisor about the paper we were writing.) Today’s trip was a coach (long-distance bus) excursion sponsored by the university’s One Planet organization; it cost me £13 (about $20) round trip, which was probably less than it would have been for a bus ticket otherwise. And I had never been to Leeds before.

The weather made things more difficult. Both Newcastle and Leeds had had snow in the preceding days (Leeds more than Newcastle), and today was sunny and several degrees above freezing. The landscape along the way was gorgeous and very romantic, with all those English houses gleaming in the snow, but the walking in town was exceedingly slushy. Fortunately, I expected this and wore my hiking boots, but I would have been more comfortable had the streets been snow-free and I could have worn regular shoes. Oh well; I did walk more than seven miles today.

I started at Leeds Kirkgate Market, much larger than Newcastle’s Grainger Market, and with an outdoor component as well, but not nearly as charming. I then decided I wanted to see the cathedral, so I searched for it on Google Maps and found it with little trouble. Leeds Cathedral was nothing to write home about — all new inside (or newly cleaned) and rather sterile in feel. While there, I realized it was a Catholic cathedral and wondered where the Church of England one was.

Well, it turns out there isn’t one… but there is a minster. And what a minster! Let me just say that Leeds Minster is everything that Leeds Cathedral is not. The minster is inviting, warm, full of colored light from the large number of stained-glass windows, and full of old, dark, carved wood. Leeds Minster is not ancient, as these things go — having been built about 1840 — but it has a solid, substantial feel to it. I took four photos of the cathedral and have kept only one of them; I took more than 50 of the minster and will probably end up keeping at least 2/3 of them.

I walked around the center of the city for a while, wandering into and out of several shopping arcades (Leeds is known to be quite the place for shopping) and looking for other churches that might be open (I found only two, and they weren’t).

I wish we had had a little more guidance regarding the city. They were supposed to take us on a short walking tour, but unfortunately they cancelled that at the last minute because of the slush. I spent my time alone, which I guess I’m used to, but I would have liked to have found a congenial student or two with whom to explore the city. I’m close to three times the age of most of these people, though, and I can’t blame them for not being interested.

If I go to Leeds again, I’ll spend time in the artistic quarter and (assuming weather permits) see what the riverfront is like.

Something else that this day made clear to me is that I’m going to have to do something about my left foot. I’ve developed a “bunionette” (also called “tailor’s bunion”) on the outside of it, and it causes me problems in doing a lot of walking — and I am doing a great deal more walking in Newcastle than I did back in the States. I am going to look for a podiatrist (called “chiropodist” in the UK). I hope we can solve this without surgery, but if not, a surgery is likely to be simpler than what often happens for regular bunions, connected with the big toe. (I’ve got a much smaller one on my right foot, but it rarely bothers me and I am confident that wearing wider shoes will be sufficient to stave it off. The problem with wider shoes is that my heels are so narrow that I have to wear styles with uppers or straps that keep the backs of shoes from slipping off.)

P.S. I’ve created a Flickr set for my Leeds photos. I’ve uploaded only a few so far; I’ll add the rest in the next few days.