Evaluating Grant Proposals for the European Commission

This past Sunday night, I hopped on the Eurostar from London St. Pancreas–and in just over two hours I disembarked at Midi station in Brussels. I love that Chunnel!

I’ve spent the week working alongside other experts from around Europe to evaluate projects proposed for funding. This is an activity I am doing to develop more skills with regard to grant writing and program design.

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Aongus took the underground over to St. Pancreas Sunday night, to see me off as I boarded the Eurostar.

This is a job that requires a great deal of concentration. We’ve each been working for weeks–studying 30-page proposals, 7-8 of them per expert,  and then creating very detailed individual reports, comparing and compiling these into group reports, and then meeting face-to-face on-site in Brussels to discuss each proposal in depth. The scores we assign will be used to determine which organizations will receive funds to support doctoral and post-doctoral researchers.

 

Through this process, the European Commission and its Research Executive Agency (REA) provide detailed, specific feedback to applicants as well as numeric scores.

Many applicants succeed and receive financial support, but I’ll admit that with the sums provided, competition is fierce.

I believe this funding is well spent. It builds the capacity of researchers to do great work and learn important new skills. It yields results that make life and systems better at the individual, organizational, national, regional, and international levels. It produces valuable research results in a vast array of fields and disciplines.

The evaluation process is extremely important. It has to be done with extreme care. It is a huge amount of work, and the experts involved take the job very seriously.

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The evaluation itself is confidential, but pictures of Brussels I can share. 🙂

Many dozen experts have been involved this week, as reviewers and quality control officers. Our purpose is to deliver accurate and reliable results.

 

As a scholar from the States, I particularly value the feedback given to applicants in this process. Great care is taken to keep the scoring open, transparent, and fair, and to yield consistency from year to year as well as between proposals.

It’s a tight-knit process with a demanding timetable. And we’ve done remarkably well at staying focused and on track.

Why do I see the results of this process as valuable? In the U.S., fellowship and grant applicants rarely get feedback. I suspect it’s a result of the litigious nature of “American” society that funding agencies don’t want to open themselves up to questioning, and they won’t let applicants know what was seen as weak about the proposal. They will provide only very general feedback if any at all. I’ve had this experience with at least three different funding agencies in the USA. It was exceedingly frustrating and turned me off from wanting to keep bashing my head against a rock (even though I had a relatively high level of success winning grants for educational/learning sciences!).

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The plaza next to the building where evaluations are conducted.

Working here at REA, our primary focus is on achieving accurate scores that can hold water. There’s much less paranoia on the part of the funders, in my opinion. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be the same fear of redress–in the case of any mistake, the program managers actually do want to address it in a way that is fair to the applicant. Transparency and proper channels for redress/appeal are foundational principles of the programs that REA funds.

 

Because REA’s process provides reliable feedback, I myself was able to improve one past proposal that wasn’t successful on its first submission. I was able to learn and to re-submit. By addressing the points raised in the first evaluation, I was able to secure funding the second time around!

In the United States, I’d have been left in the dark, making the same mistakes over and over again. In my experience (having submitted 3 unsuccessful proposals, 2 successful proposals, and one pending proposal to various  MSCA programs evaluated via REA), the European evaluation system is FAR better than the US system. A knowledgable colleague told me yesterday that the overhead costs for evaluating and managing/overseeing the quality of these MSCA programs is lower than typical of other similar programs worldwide.

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Dinner at Lyon!

I can’t say this work is pleasurable, but I do enjoy being here, working hard, and feeling satisfaction by week’s end. It’s sometimes bittersweet, though, as it is Thanskgiving and, also, yesterday would have been Dad’s 74th birthday. He died five weeks ago, right after my assignments for this job arrived. Therefore, I didn’t get to talk with him yesterday. And, since this particular review always falls on Thanksgiving week, I’m spending my fourth Thanksgiving Day in Brussels, missing turkey in the States with family yet again.

 

In the evenings of this evaluation week, however, I do enjoy dinner out with other experts and my walks through the city to the Grand Place and the Royal Arcade. Hopefully tonight, the Christmas Market will be up and running! It’s 6:40PM so I need to get going and pack up my things for the night.

On Monday night I went out and I got to enjoy Moules et Frites at Lyon.

If you are capable and interested in serving as an expert evaluator, you can set up a personal profile in the Participant Portal (see instructions at https://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/docs/h2020-funding-guide/experts/experts_en.htm). When REA needs your expertise, they may well send you an invitation to serve.

 

Meet emerging research star: Carlos Mora

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Carlos and his youngest daughter, Estela.

Back in March 2019, I received an email out of the blue regarding a researcher in the Canary Islands, Dr. Carlos Efrén Mora, looking to recruit a mentor.

Specifically, Carlos wanted help writing a fellowship proposal to conduct Engineering Education Research on social responsibility, and he had contacted a Special Interest Group I work with as a member of the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI). This particular group studies Educational Research Methods and I’d mentioned at a meeting in 2018 that I was looking to help/host prospective fellows in Engineering Education Research.

Because Carlos was proposing a topic I have been studying for Engineers without Borders UK, I jumped at the chance to help. I emailed him right away and we set to work.

Carlos emailed me a copy of a proposal he’d previously submitted, and as I’ve successfully secured the funding under this scheme twice before, I reverted with more feedback and strategic advice.

Carlos and I worked tirelessly from March until the deadline for our target program in mid-September.

It was a grueling process, but Carlos is extremely hard-working. I must say that Carlos enthusiastically accepted every ounce of critique that I and my colleagues doled out, and he used it to improve his plans and ideas. The ability to welcome criticism is rare but so very important. It’s one of the most important skills I learned in architecture school! Carlos has it, too!

To make sure Carlos had the best chance to win funding, I assembled a team of superstar researchers and advisors. Their job: to poke holes in all his arguments and make sure the content was in the right places (ie, the places the evaluators will expect to find them while they are scoring his work).

I was elated with the results. In all, I believe we have an excellent chance of receiving funding to conduct research together–I as his mentor/supervisor/PI and he as a full-time research fellow working aside me at TU Dublin, hopefully starting in August 2020.

The text of the proposal is exceptional. The scientific merit is clear, the work plan is strong, the planned secondment is second to none, and the early-stage researcher has shown outstanding promise. He has a dedicated mentor by his side–one who is working hard to build her own research record and raise the visibility and credibility of EER globally.

Since we submitted in mid-September, Carlos has already secured some financial support from his own university to start some of the work.

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Visiting London’s Carnaby Street with the Mora family

Though al that is exciting, we are currently in the no-mans-land called the grant evaluation period. Researchers work for months on end to craft a research proposal. They send it off with the greatest of hope in their hearts. And then they wait and wait, and wait–often at least half a year–to hear back.

Typical success rates for the program we’ve requested run 9-14%.

What to do while waiting? Celebrate!

After we got the proposal submitted, Carlos brought his family up to London from the Canaries to meet me. Carlos and I held a work meeting on the first day of their stay.

This was the first trip off their Islands for the Mora kids, and I was delighted to be part of their big adventure. (The whole family has been getting excited about the possibility of spending a couple years in Dublin! They came to London this time since it’s where I am currently working.)

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Pre-dinner photo shoot. Beautiful food!

I planned one of the four days of their visit, and, as usual, I packed too much in. We all did new things–I’d never eaten Ramen before but Celia said it would be “a dream come true” so we all agreed!

Our lively chatter silenced when the food arrived for dinner.

We soon unanimously agreed again: we will be eating Ramen together again in Dublin ASAP. It was delicious!

The photo album below starts with a photo from the Canaries and another taken at the airport–Carlos sends me family updates regularly and it’s fun seeing the kids grow!

 

 

Discovering Budapest with SEFI

Engineering teachers from all across Europe headed to Budapest last week for the annual SEFI conference to share state-of-the art research and cutting-edge teaching methods. SEFI is the European Society for Engineering Education and this was the fourth time I attended the group’s annual conference.

As the annual SEFI meeting is one of the most interesting, informative and welcoming conferences you can encounter, engineering teachers from many corners of the globe–notably Australia, China, and the USA– joined as well.  The conference program includes many workshops, paper presentations, keynote addresses and plenty of fun social events.

This year, I helped lead three workshops and one special interest group meeting. I’ve uploaded photos of the activities where I was most involved.

Physical Computing

Here’s a glimpse of the workshop on Physical Computing I helped organize and run with my colleagues from TU Dublin–Paula Hannon, Damon Berry, and Mick Core. The title was “Physical Computing: A low-cost project-based approach to engineering education” and our abstract explained “One of the current trends in engineering education, often due to costs, is to use simulation software for the design and analysis of systems. However, using simulation packages as an alternative to real-world equipment may lead to a lack of student engagement and confidence, thereby reducing the impact of learning. This workshop presents an alternative mode of module delivery that facilitates practice-based learning, where students get hands-on practical computing using inexpensive, yet real-world equipment and technologies that can help transform notional self-directed learning to actual learning. In this workshop, participants will discuss the philosophy, rationale, and techniques used to teach Physical Computing at one Technological University.”

Phenomenography

The workshop UCL hosted on phenomenography, taught by Mike Miminiris, with assistance from Inês Direito and me was well attended and we all learned new techniques:

Engineering Education Research group

Here are a few pics of the special interest group meeting on Engineering Education Research, led by the EER WG  coordinator Tinne De Laet:

Being an Effective Peer Reviewer

We also held a workshop on reviewing manuscripts for journals as an effective peer reviewer, lead alongside the editors-in-chief of three of the top journals in engineering education worldwide–Kristina Edström, Lisa Benson, and John Mitchell–along with deputy editors Maartje van den Bogaard and Jonte Bernhard, and associate editors Adam Carbury and myself:

The delegation from UCL

Here’s a set of photos of the UCL crew at SEFI, and some of the other presentations UCL folks made:

Fun and learning combined

And now for some entertaining pics–some of the conference in general, and others featuring the very fun gala abroad a river cruise and the post-conference city sightseeing tour led by local architects:

 

 

Vivacious Vienna: Hundertwasser

I was an exchange student to Switzerland in 1994, and my first host “mom,” Esther Sterchi-Wyss, loved the architect Hundertwasser. I arrived at her home never having heard of the designer despite having more than six years of university-level architecture education.

Hundertwasser, you see, is self-made. A craftsman-turned-architect. His work wasn’t taught in modernist schools of architecture at the time, but he had certainly hit a chord with Esther, who had postcards and posters of his vibrant buildings posted in her Ferenberg kitchen.

It’s a bit odd not to have heard of him, as his work is in the same realm as Barcelona’s Gaudi, whose work I’d made pilgrimages to visit. Nevertheless, I had not.

While I was in Vienna this past February for the 2019 MCAA-General Assembly, I had the chance to visit three Hunderwasser creations.

It was just a brief encounter, but I enjoyed the joy and playfulness I found. And I finally understood Esther’s fascination. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing some of the images I collected during my brief visit.

Sites where you can see Hundertwasser’s work

Apartment block in Vienna

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Hunderwasser Village 

Kunsthaus Wein

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Vivacious Vienna: Exploring the City

During my February trip to Vienna for the MCAA General Assembly, I had the chance to look around the city center as well as some sectors not far from the center.

Vienna is an architect’s dreamland, full of beautiful spaces and artifacts old and new. In fact, the architect/urbanist/painter/historian Camillo Sitte documented many of the world’s most successful plazas in his quest to define what makes a public space beautiful. Many of his favorites plazas are located in Vienna. I often referenced his book “The Art of Building Cities”, published in 1945, when I was an architecture student and later an architecture professor.

Although I actually only had six hours to explore Vienna after the Assembly concluded, I took in plenty of sites. Below, I’ve posted my slide shows of spectacular architecture.

The slide shows start in Alservorstadt, with the Votive Church (Votivkirche), Hotel Regina, and University of Vienna. The slides proceed downtown and show visits to two more churches (Stephansdom and Der Graben), concluding with the Globe Museum. In other posts, I share photos from Hundertwasser and Otto Wagner ‘s Austria Post Headquarters or “Osterr Postparkasse” (blog forthcoming).

Votive Church (Votivkirche) 

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Hotel Regina

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The University of Vienna

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Vienna City Center

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Stephansdom

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Der Graben

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Globe Museum

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Learning London: Enchanting Holland Park and Victorian House Museum

A couple of weekends ago, we visited Holland Park on both Saturday and Sunday. There was too much to see in the area for just one go. We had to spread it out. In fact, we’d also visited a weekend prior, bringing our 2019 total to three days.

In this blog, I’ll show you around the park and give you a peek inside one of the nearby Victorian house museums, 18 Stafford Terrace.

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On all three of our recent our visits to Holland Park, we were en route to the Design Museum. 

Walking Cards

In addition to using the handy walking cards pictures below, I also referenced my guidebooks and the internet to sketch out our trips.

Kyoto Japanese Garden

These beautifully designed and cultivated gardens boast a waterfall and a pride of peacocks.

Holland House

This house was greatly destroyed during the Second World War, but part of it lives on to delight the park’s visitors.

Belvedere Restaurant

There’s a lovely, posh restaurant in the park. We had a splurge.

18 Stafford Terrace

This is one of two Victorian house museums near Holland Park and the Design Museum. This one, on Stafford Terrace which runs parallel to Kensington Hight Street, was once home to an illustrator for Punch magazine, Edward L. Sambourne. It’s a lovely house filled with his artwork. It’s a delight to see how the stately homes on this terrace are laid out and lived in. This one is furnished in the “Aesthetic Movement.”

Learning London: Birthday Celebrations with Weekend Excursion to Oxford

Last week at UCL’s Engineering Front Office we celebrated birthdays, for my colleague Inês, and for me as well. A group of us had lunch out together on Wednesday and we also enjoyed lunch in the office together on several other days of the week.

It’s really not so bad getting old when you’re surrounded by loving friends! Even if they keep rubbing in my nearly-senior status….

At the end of the day, Friday, Aongus and I darted out of the city for a weekend away in historic and picturesque Oxford. This blog post recounts these birthday adventures using pictures.

Birthday Lunch at Sagar

On Wednesday, a group of us enjoyed a south-Indian lunch together at Sagar, which our lovely colleague, Sital Thanki, has introduced us to. In addition to a few photos of the birthday lunch, I show below some of the many kind cards and gifts I received from colleagues, friends, and family. The packages, calls from parents, and online messages I received from friends via Facebook and LinkedIn were also heartwarming.

Weekend in Oxford

As a birthday present, Aongus booked a weekend away in Oxford. We left London after work on Friday by bus (cheaper than the train, but with its own unique pitfalls). Overall, we enjoyed two nights in one of the world’s loveliest university cities before re-boarding a bus back to London.

Exploring the City

We ventured out briefly for dinner on Friday but focused on resting up for Saturday.

On Saturday morning, we wandered through the city fairly aimlessly. We wanted to see the high street areas, visit some of the shops, and get a feel for the University of Oxford.

Natural History Museum

On Saturday afternoon, we visited Oxford’s museum for Natural History, which I’d read about in one of Bill Bryson’s books. In addition to the exhibits on dinosaurs, mammals, birds, and insects, we also took in the special exhibit on bacteria. I’d need an extensive blog to tell you what I learned about bacteria, and I held off posting all the photos I took. But you’d be surprised to learn how bacteria created oxygen, photosynthesis, and cell-splitting that enabled human life to form.

Really amazing stuff!

Visiting this museum, you see the huge value that researchers add to our knowledge of everything in the physical world. Curious minds want to know! And many of these curious-minded people become life-long researchers–exploring the world to find answers to questions we didn’t even know we had, as well as questions we knew!

History of Science Museum

We narrowly missed the departure of the morning “Footprints” tour on Sunday, but we booked in for a later tour and headed into the History of Science Museum, originally a stockpile of curiosities, and now spread across three floors. My favorite parts covered sundials, photography, and penicillin–crucial research on penicillin was done at Oxford. Also fun were the measuring devices, calculating machines, and astronomical gadgets. Again, thank goodness for curious minds, figuring all this stuff out over time!

Blackwells Bookstore

To escape the cold–and take a little rest between the science museum and the planned walking tour–we stepped inside Blackwell’s Bookstore. A mindboggling collection indeed! It’s multiple floors and the basement sprawls far under Trinity College. Incidentally, at Oxford, the colleges are residential–they are where the students live, eat and sleep. Every student belongs to a college, and every student studies in a department.

Thankfully, Blackwell’s also features a coffee shop, which is optimal for a welcome and well-deserved rest.

Footprints Tour of Oxford

The Footprints company offers free walking tours as well as paid ones. To ensure we were part of a small group and could enter some Oxford sites where there are entry fees, I purchased tickets for the two-hour walking tour at £15 each. Although the plan seemed ideal, the weather turned ugly. Just before the tour started it got very cold, and shortly after the start, hail pounded down. The tour guide had to skip the first two sites and run straight into a library. Aongus was frozen solid by the tour’s end.

Divinity School

The large hall with its ornately carved stone ceiling at the Divinity School is featured in all sorts of films–from Harry Potter to the recent Mary Queen of Scots and The Favourite. Our tour guide brought us inside for a stop off–and I was thrilled to see this space.

New College: squares, dining hall, chapel and cloister

Of the 38 colleges at Oxford, we peeked inside only a few–they have entrance fees, and what you are permitted to see varies from one to the next. I wasn’t sure how to manage all that without insider knowledge, so we hired a guide! There were only ten of us in the tour group.

Our tour guide brought us to her favorite, the New College. You’ll likely recognize the dining hall, which is featured in movies. Of note, the cloister and the tree in it appeared in Harry Potter, but the dining hall used in that series of films was custom built, a near replica of a hall on campus that has only three actual long tables for the students. As Hogwarts had four schools, they made the studio version a bit wider to accommodate the extra row. Most college dining halls at Oxford also have a high table where the privileged sit and eat superior food.

The chapel in the New College is exquisite, and we heard a bit of organ practice while seated in there. Many colleges destroyed their historic old chapels and replaced them with more modern ones. What a waste. This Gothic one is stellar, though the ornate end wall was a somewhat recent addition.

Bodleian Library

Perhaps the most iconic building at Oxford is the round Bodleian Library, a reading room for students. Turns out, a cylinder isn’t quite conducive to storing books. It’s better for studying, we hope!

Overall, Oxford has a massive collection of books. This library is second only in size to the British Library (a copy of everything published in the UK goes there, similar to the Library of Congress in the USA, which is the world’s largest library collection). Like these other two libraries, you can view books only on-site here–it’s not a lending library.

Famous Folks

Oxford provided inspiration for C. S. Lewis’ Narnia and Tolkien’s Hobbits. Although I must admit I know little of Harry Potter, I did read some Hobbit stories and all of The Chronicles of Narnia.

Near the end of our tour, we saw the door that inspired Lewis’ lion, witch, and wardrobe. We also saw the Oxford lamp post he made famous.

We also learned about some very destructive and badly behaved boys who attended Oxford (David Cameron, Boris Johnson, and their political cronies). We learned about others who misbehaved in the town less aggressively (Bill Clinton) and we learned of people burned for political crimes on Broad Street, where our tour had started.

Look for the Footprints office there on Broad Street, near the shop Boswells of Oxford. Pick up some new luggage and an Ameribag while you’re there! It will take your mind off the stories of deviant behavior.

Learning London: How office trivia aboard a double-deck tour landed me “The Language of Cities”

I’ve been spell bound all day by Dayan Sudjic’s 2016 book, “The Language of Cities.” I purchased the book after work yesterday to keep my knowledge of city-building fresh and up-to-date. I made that find at Waterstones, across the street from my office in Bloomsbury, and sealed the deal with a £10 gift card I won at Christmas.

In the past 24 hours, I’ve devoured every last page.

img_3672The Faculty if Engineering held a team-building event for Christmas, aboard a private double-decker bus that toured around the city of London. I got to know other members of our faculty as I sat with three people I didn’t previously know. Our table of four formed a team for the trivia contest, developed by our Dean’s personal assistant, the marvelous Maria Speight. Maria invented all the questions, having to do mostly with the sights we were passing. Excelling in this game required in-depth knowledge of the history of this fine city, which dates back to Roman times.

My team was fiercely competitive, and the two Brits in our team knew quite a lot about their city. I worried I couldn’t contribute; but I actually was able to help out.

I earned us a whopping nine points by knowing the name of every reindeer! In the end, there was a three-way tie. It took several rounds to break, but in the final round, I knew the winning answer. I had learned the population of London via my multiple visits to the city’s Building Centre. At the time the video at the Centre was made, there were about 8.8 million inhabitants. I extrapolated to today, guessing a current 8.9 mil, whereas Maria had an official count of 8.79…. Nevertheless, our answer was the closest and we won the top prize: Waterstones gift cards for our whole team!

What a great way to spend a day before Christmas, on a sunset tour of a glorious city, surrounded by passionate people who love their work in academia. I am truly blessed!

And now, I’ve soaked in every detail of Dayan Sudjic’s “The Language of Cities.”

The book calls me back to my days teaching “urban history and theory” to third-year architecture students at Hampton University, a module we provided students prior to their summer study abroad.

img_3706Sudjic’s book is full of insight, making fascinating new connections, so the synapses in my brain have been firing furiously today! Sudjic makes plenty of reference to the history and operation of London as well as cities around the world, and I am connecting the principles to places I’ve been.

Sincere thanks to the Dean and Faculty of Engineering at UCL and Ms. Maria Speight for helping get this book into my hands so I can learn more about the city we toured by double-deck bus!

The photo gallery below shows the bus-tour day as well as an informal night out for Christmas with engineering colleagues.

Learning London: Barbican and the Design Museum

We took things pretty slow last weekend — but in addition to reading a couple of journals manuscripts in my queue to peer review, I hit the town with Aongus en route to two design exhibitions.

Saturday, we visited the Barbican’s Art Gallery for the exhibition called “Modern Couples.” It was packed with visitors since the show is scheduled to close soon. And possibly also because it was so cold outside!

I’ve uploaded photos of the Barbican complex as well as a few related to the exhibition, to give you a feel for it all. There was on display an iconic table by Eileen Gray, one of Ireland’s most-recognized designers. (I just found that a house she designed was evidently “vandalized” by Le Corbusier.)

Aongus always delights in seeing a price tag on an Eileen Gray table, since we found one in the trash one night and carried it home. It was raining that evening in Dublin, and Aongus truly didn’t comprehend the table’s value at the time I hoisted it over my shoulder to carry home. Now he does! Ours is chrome, but there’s one in black matte finish in the book store there as well as on formal display.

The things you can find abandoned in dark alleyways…. It’s always best to have a tall, fit companion when you’re transversing such places at night, I have found. Especially if you wind up carrying furniture home! He soon was doing just that — but I made a good start in an effort to convince him of my undying love for this table. Now he loves it too.

After the Barbican pics below, you’ll find videos and snapshots from our Sunday adventure as well. We went westward, to visit the newly-renovated Design Museum in Holland Park, just off Kensington High Street. It’s about time I got to the new building, especially since my Ph.D. student, Thomas Empson, has become so involved there.

We didn’t view the paid “Future Homes” exhibition as our attention was held by a free exhibition of the permanent collection and another free show on Peter Barber and company, who seek to provide affordable housing in our city and beyond. The exhibition is called “100 Mile City and Other Stories.” We also attended a tour of the building to learn about its history.

Barbican Complex

 

Modern Couples

 

Design Museum

A bit of fun

You might have to click the little arrow at the bottom left hand of the video. First, we learned to rock. Then we could spin….

 

 

The Building Itself

 

Parts of the Permanent Collection on Display

 

Architecture Exhibition

 

Urban context of the Design Museum

 

Excursions from London: Newport and Bristol UK

I might not have made use of Celtic Manor’s pool and spa during the mid-December SRHE conference in Wales, but I invited Aongus to join me out west for the weekend following SRHE so we could make up for missing out on those amenities. The Manor was already booked, but I found rooms in Newport (in Wales, for Friday night) and Bristol (in England, for Saturday night) so we could relax and explore new sites.

Newport

Knoll Guesthouse

We stayed at the quaint and reasonably priced Knoll Guesthouse on Stow Hill in Newport. It was a great value! This stately Victorian home was built in 1897, a year after my former home in Portsmouth, Virginia. The gorgeous stained glass surrounding the entry vestibule delighted us. Also noteworthy were the cooked-to-order breakfast and the friendly and knowledgeable host, Barry Peters.

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Double rainbow viewed from Stow Hill, looking across the street from Knoll Guesthouse. We knew good fortune would follow us for the weekend!

Belle Vue Park

Barry from Knoll Guesthouse suggested a visit to Stow Hill’s Belle Vue Park and gardens. Despite the rain, we admired the park’s Victorian-era bandstand, conservatories, and tea house, all restored but dating back to 1894.

 

St. Woolos/Newport Cathedral

Then we found St. Woolos (aka Newport Cathedral) which has a lovely Romanesque design. Our experience was made complete with a very talented choir singing delightful Christmas carols.

 

Downtown Newport

We wandered through the shopping streets in the center of town, admired Calatrava’s innovative pedestrian bridge, and purchased salads-to-go before dashing to the Newport train station, en route to Bristol Temple Meade train station.

 

Bristol

Mid-day o Saturday, we boarded a train for Bristol.

 

Around Temple Meads Station

Entering Bristol via Temple Meads Train Station is always a delightfully Victorian experience. The splendor of this station’s exterior is unforgettable. I’d booked a room at a luxury hotel a short walk from the station, which would give us a place to store our bags the following morning when we checked out.

 

Mercury Bristol Holland House and Spa

This Mercury Bristol Holland House and Spa are located directly across the street from St. Mary Redcliff Church. We booked in for massages in the hotel’s spa.