Archive | April 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake Bars

Now I know that this is not a food blog. I may mention food in passing and I am definitely obsessed with searching for the best places for cream tea around the United Kingdom (new, amazing place by the way: Granola on Queens Street). But at its core, I care more about the places I travel to and the life I live here in Oxford than what I put in my stomach.

All this belies my absolute love of cooking and baking, mostly baking, and with Trinity term not having begun yet, I’ve spent this week indulging in yet another baking kick with some new fangled recipes. Luckily for my waistline, a local coffee shop graciously took the Apple Bread off of my hands and sold it to their customers, and offered me the chance to sell some more of my wares whenever I feel like spending an hour or so baking behind their counter. The only problem with this arrangement is that British tastebuds are different than American tastebuds, so I’m a little apprehensive about what I am going to bake for them and its potential popularity. Luckily I have a valiant taste tester in my selfless dance partner who will give anything I bake the American seal of approval and some feedback before I send it off to the Others.

He went a little overboard this time with his comments on my Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake Bars. Hilariously overboard. I can’t even describe it well enough, so I am copying it here. Enjoy the dessert musings of my wonderful dance partner of Where’s Dan Now blog fame.

 

 

Partner’s Choc Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake Bars:

A Critical – and Honest – Appraisal

 When I first encountered this decadent treat, I was taken by its appearance. The cross-section of goodness was comprised of a hearty golden graham cracker core, a creamy and opaque white mystery mantle, all topped with a treacherous terrain of globular cookie dough and jagged chocolate chips. It was then that this earth-like dessert began to appeal not only to my eyes, but my nose as well. The distinct half-baked aroma filled my nostrils, preparing my mind for such a rich culinary adventure.

I delicately picked up the rectangular prism of goodness, initially unsure whether the terra firma would be able to withstand the shear stresses of its own self-weight. In the end, my precautions were justified: the resulting cookiequake forced me to alter my grip from a two-fingered to a palm-based approach.

 At long last, the cheesecake bar made its lofty ascent mouthward. After a final visual and nasal ‘all clear,’ I sank my teeth through the dessert in a bold, guts-or-glory, all-or-nothing, hope-for-the-best mindset.

 Typically, I find that the hierarchy of oral analysis proceeds from initial shock (i.e. too hot or cold?) to texture, to taste, to late flavours (e.g. spice), to after taste. In this case, no initial shock transpired (nor late flavours), and my mouth quickly set about analysing the texture. Initially, it was met with a good deal of graininess as the graham cracker crust broke and dispersed. Almost simultaneously, the smooth and creamy interior began to dissolve, causing the fragile structural matrix to collapse entirely. At last, I was left to actually chew the dense bits of cookie dough and chocolate which – while soft – still provided contrast to the grainy base and creamy midsection.

 The flavours of this dessert were really sublime, not to be confused with subs and limes. It was when the matrix broke down that I tasted the combination of buttery graham crackers mixed with delicious cream cheese. Indeed, the textures provided contrast, but the flavours provided a sweet continuity throughout the experience. Based on my olfactory experience (I had to look up that word…), I was waiting for the dessert to become overpoweringly rich, but such a moment never came around. As my teeth shredded a giant blob of cookie dough, I could feel the sugar rushing into my veins, but the bar disappeared just a moment before I would have consumed too much.

 Alas, the chocolate, cookie dough, cream cheese, and graham crackers swiftly became a distant memory to most of my senses (partly necessary due to the magnitude 7 cookiequake), yet my sense of taste still seems to be enjoying the revelry. Hopefully the party hosted by my taste buds will continue long into the night, else I may have to provoke them to life with another choc chip cheesecake bar later in the weekend.

 

Thanks, Partner.

Villages-Named-for-Their-Location

Supposedly England is all too soon going to say goodbye to that wonderful thing known as sunshine and will be struck by days of rain. As a born and bred Southern California girl, I’m obviously devastated by this potential development. What about all that vitamin D that my body needs? I need sunlight to produce that! I mean, I practically photosynthesize! Better get out in the sun as much as possible and store up those rays for the rainy days ahead (Dan frequently hears my theory that they should outfit me with solar panels that I can use the stored energy to keep me warm).

Waking up on Monday to the only day of the week forecasted to be sunny, I made the executive decision–how executive can it be when there is only one person involved in/affected by the decision?–to hop a train to the Cotswolds, those quaint villages that I visited with friends in October, for some strolling and hiking. And a few unexpected surprises as well!

The train arrives into the station at Moreton-in-Marsh, the town I explored last time, and after a brief stop-in at the Tourist Information center, I took a bus to the nearby village of Stow-on-the-Wold. Not too sure what a wold is, but I don’t think I saw any unless wold is an old word for tea room, because there were plenty of those! Just about every corner and side street had a sign advertising yet another one of those cafes frequented by octogenarians and other members of the Geritol Brigade. I’m not judging of course, because I knew that I would be joining them in probably more than one of the tea rooms as they are the best places to get nourishment in the Cotswolds.

A mere one in one hundred tea rooms

Armed with my trusty Rick Steve’s guidebook and a local walking tour map, I wandered the town, reading up on some of the historic buildings that were known for leaning at odd angles and knobbly yew trees inspiring JRR Tolkien’s entrance to Moria. It may have been only a kilometer’s tour, but it kept me out of the way of the numerous tour groups that kept being bussed in and unloading walkers and canes that sometimes seemed to have minds of their own. Nonetheless, I joined in the throngs of elderly eventually when I grabbed a spot of lunch at one of the tea rooms before heading out into the meadows for a hike.

The Mines of Moria?

Now I pride myself on my ability to follow directions and translate maps into actual locations, but finding the entryway to the footpath I was going to take was IMPOSSIBLE! The instructions were vague because everything claimed that the path was clearly marked, and if something is clearly marked with signs why describe it in detail on paper? Maybe because the sign that leads you there can only be seen from the opposite direction, so in order to see it coming from Stow, you have to get confused, walk more than twice the distance away until you reach a junction that you know is too far, then turn around in frustration and intend to give up only to then stumble upon the “clearly marked path”. Thank goodness I had the foresight to do just that!

This is what passes for "Clearly Marked"

But the footpath quickly made up for its initial angering, with its wide sweeping pastures and meadows studded with fairytale forests. Yet it was also the strangest trail I have ever followed. I was literally walking through someone’s manor/farm land, opening gates to paddocks and grazing areas for sheep and cows (which also means pooping area! Watch your step!), and the horses. Yes, some of these paddocks held the sweetest horses ever, and they just came right up to me for nuzzles and eating the buttons on my jacket. I couldn’t believe that this footpath led me straight through these animal enclosures, but what an opportunity it was to spend time with the horses. I love horses and can’t wait to go back there and go riding sometime during this next term. One of the horses whom I was formally introduced to by one of the workers name was Tiffin, and she was just an adorable ham and affection hoarder.

Tiffin hamming it up for the camera.

She kept nudging me while the worker explained to me about the horses needing help to shed their coats as they got older and other things like that. I could have stayed there for hours with the horses, but the rest of my 4 mile hike was still ahead of me and the Cotswolds closes down after the Early Bird Special hours so I couldn’t dawdle too much.

Thank you to the worker who took this photo for me 🙂

Eventually I reached the village of Lower Slaughter and then my final destination of Bourton-on-the-Water, not to be confused with Bourton-on-the-Hill which I went to last time. The two places couldn’t be more different. The latter is one street winding up a hill–hence the name–with only cottages and a church. The former is known as the Venice of the Cotswolds because of its canals, curios, and crowds. It looked like something off of a postcard for the Cotswolds, perfectly groomed for tourists seeking that charming atmosphere the region is famous for, probably because it is groomed for tourists. And there is nothing wrong with that, I just prefer my visit locations to be more natural and less put on for show. But it had one major draw besides the picture-perfect setting: a bus that would drive me back to Moreton-in-Marsh’s rail station and eventually back to Oxford.

The very definition of picturesque

Monday ended up being the perfect day to take this trip as well, as even while I’m writing this the rain is falling steadily, making it the perfect day for baking and tea and books and other creative but indoor tasks and less for hiking through a wonderland of countryside.

Disney Magique! (EuroDisney, part 2)

Returning to the scene of our second and unfortunately final day at Disneyland Paris. Days like this one are always bittersweet; you know that all too soon you will have to leave the parks and return to that horrifying place we call “reality”, but you still have a whole day of fun ahead of you. So you put the inevitable out of your mind when you jolt out of bed all too early for a continental breakfast that is only a few small steps above what you’d get at any European hostel. None of it matters–not the sleep deprivation, not the macerated fruit salad that plopped out of a gallon tin jar, not the chill of the air preventing the sun’s heat from reaching you–because you are on your way into a Disney park.

Do I sound like I’m romanticizing it a bit too much? Sorry, I’m a bit Disney deprived over here!

The entrance plaza

Anyways, as Disney Resort guests, we were able to enter Disneyland at 8 am for “Extra Magic Hours”, that turned out to be not as magical as we had anticipated. We had poured over the maps at breakfast, setting a solid plan that would allow us to ride all the major roller coaster type rides before any of the crowds swarmed in, but it all went to waste as over half the park was closed! And was going to stay that way until the park opened to the general public at 10! The tragedy of false advertising! Yet we are nothing if not quick thinkers, and some hasty rearranging still gave us a fairly solid morning to-do list.

Mickey Mouse!

We started out with a detour from the plan almost immediately when we saw Mickey Mouse! Of course we had to get pictures, because when else are you going to get pictures with Mickey without a really long wait? Then we proceeded to make up for that lost walking time by skipping down Main Street, USA (yes they kept it the same as in the US parks) towards Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and Fantasyland. If we had known how long the lines for rides like Peter Pan were going to get, we would’ve gone on those first, but our plan was to take a roundabout way into Discoveryland for Space Mountain. But again, we quickly became sidetracked by the opportunity to be on the first ride of the Teacups for the day! What luck! What a workout! I don’t know if it was because the ride’s wheels hadn’t been unstuck by hundreds of other guests turning them or if French engineers were afraid of a safety risk, but these were the hardest teacups to turn that we had ever been on. We tried as much as our strength would allow, but it was never enough to get it spinning so we soon gave up and just let the teacup meander around in its Figure 8 without any help from us. Determined to recover from that initial disappointment, we wound our way over to Discoveryland, hoping that Space Mountain would make up for it.

Teacup Fail

And did it ever! Not only was the ride amazingly fun, but we also were able to walk on it with no line…twice! The park’s designers did seem to think that every single ride in the park would be packed full all the time since the queues were the longest and windiest queues we had ever experienced. Signs at a certain point, if there was no line of people, would list a 10-minute wait time, which we think was because it took ten minutes to walk through the maze of railing. The ride itself was a blast, figuratively and literally, with a launch start, a loop, and two corkscrews! Our heads definitely were rattled after one round, so naturally we decided to immediately go on it again. Our second mission was very fortuitously located in the front of the ship, making it even more fun, though we failed to walk in a straight line for about a quarter of an hour after that one. We agreed that nice and easy rides in Fantasyland would be the best decision prior to the opening of Adventureland in 45 minutes.

Space Mountain

Not that our agreement made a difference because no sooner had we arrived back in Fantasyland then we were accosted with the sight of crowds of children! Looks like their parents were finally able to get them out of bed, and all the rides had wait times of at least 30 minutes, not worth it for Fantasyland rides. We ended up wandering around taking more Vinylmation photos before waiting for the ropes blocking Adventureland to be dropped and making our way through the stunningly designed pathways towards Indiana Jones and Le Temple de Péril. The crowd of just entering visitors was gathering forces quickly behind us, but we made it walking through that queue as well before the mob hit and were enjoying what seemed like a slightly trumped up version of Mulholland Madness–now Goofy’s Sky School–at California Adventure, and then WHOOSH! We were thrown sideways into a loop! I have no idea how they managed to throw us sideways into a loop but they did and neither of us were expecting that at all. Le Temple du Péril is not at all like The Temple of Doom; something must have been lost in translation.

Indiana Jones

Thoroughly shaken once again, we had to bypass the closed for repairs Big Thunder Mountain and take our chances with the ghosts of Phantom Manor. Continuing the day’s theme of unexpected twists, the only similarities between this attraction and The Haunted Mansion were the beginning’s stretching room and the actual path your Doom Buggy takes through the manor. The storyline was very different: something revolving around a deadened bride and ghoulish groom that we couldn’t really figure out because, surprise, the narration at the beginning was in French. Curse being in France!

Phantom Manor

It was also a lot spookier, with more grisly skeletons and a creepy forest, not to mention some weird western thing at the end. Now creeped out as well as shaken from the roller coasters, we headed back towards the innocent Fantasyland for a far superior Storybook Ride. I’m really jealous at the miniatures in their attraction, so much cuter and detailed than ours, though to be fair our is a lot older, but they have Beauty and the Beast!

My favorite movie ever!

Having hit all of the highlights of Disneyland Park and with a to-do list looming from the day before, we ate lunch on Main Street and said goodbye to this magical park, returning to the land of imitated films.

We first went by Crush’s Coaster only to find out that it too had broken down and that our nearest by alternative was Animation Studios. I don’t remember what the one in Florida is like, but definitely parts of it had to be the same as the one here, including the video of Mushu and his animators. But there was a beautiful montage of moving scenes from Disney’s animated movies that instantly added yet another Disney movie marathon to my summer plans. We only had about two hours left before we needed to be back at the train station to return to *cry* civilization, so we took in the two shows: Animagique, a live black light show that follows Donald through the Disney Animation vault and featured some of the songs translated into French, and Cinémagique, a parody medley of George (played by Martin Short) falling into movie scenes from quintessential films such as Some Like It HotCasablanca, Titanic, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Both were cute and clever, and took up the rest of our time in EuroDisney.

Heartbreaking, isn’t it? Two partial days just didn’t seem like enough, so we stayed a third!

Just kidding, real life called us back into the United Kingdom and we were seated on the Eurostar at 18:02 as scheduled and in our rooms in Oxford much sooner than either of us wished to be.

So happy that I got to spend this time with you Partner!!!

Train of Thought (EuroDisney part 1)

“If I’m thinking while sitting on a train, and the train is moving at 160 miles per hour, is that then the speed of my train of thought?”

At the train station

It was probing and philosophically inane questions like these that characterized 48 hours of pure, unadulterated, child giddiness. In a complete fit on spontaneity, Dan and I decided to maintain my now 11 year old tradition of celebrating my birthday at a Disney resort by booking a trip to the one, the only, the EuroDisney!! Also known as Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Parks. I love that I have a friend around who loves Disney just as much as I do, as well as is in the position to take two days off of his extremely important research (studying pedestrian movements on bridges, woot!) to goof off in my home away from home of a Disney theme park. Within two hours of my breaching the subject of a Disneyland Paris trip, we were booked in and counting down the days until the Eurostar would whisk us away to that magical land.

Walking into Disneyland Paris!

That magical day: Thursday morning. We met bright eyed and bushy tailed (well, his hair was bushy, mine was straightened, and I guess I wasn’t that bright-eyed since I had barely slept and hadn’t had any coffee to compensate, so Dan was bright-eyed and bushy tailed while I was bagged-eyed and straight-haired) at the Oxford train station for yet another trip into Paddington Station, a tube trip to St. Pancras, and my desperate search for a cup of coffee. Thankfully we found a Costa right before the entrance to the Eurostar terminal, but I only had a few blessed sips of the caffeine before security informed me that I wasn’t going to be able to bring the coffee in with me through the check-in. Into the trash went my cup, and my last hope of staying awake on the train ride into the Disney Resort.

Disney Village

A wonderful thing about the Eurostar is that once a day they offer a train ride that takes you directly to the gates of Disneyland Paris, and when I say directly to the gates, I mean literally two steps out of the train station and you are in front of the Disney Village (their version of Downtown Disney). Talk about Disney Magic! I was able to fall asleep before leaving England and wake up a mere 10 minutes away from Tinkerbell. Of course, unless you have done the Disney Magical Express service where they check your luggage from the train straight through to your hotel, you have to take a short bus to your hotel, check-in, and receive your all important park tickets. Having forgone the Magical Express, we joined the bus queue for Disney’s Santa Fe and arrived at the sorriest interpretation of Santa Fe, New Mexico that I have ever seen. Every building was this reddish-orange adobe copycat, sparse, none of the comforts and atmosphere that one expects from Disney (granted we did stay at the lowest tier of hotels). Basically there was nothing around. Oh wait, then it was probably the most accurate interpretation of Santa Fe, New Mexico! After confusing the Trainee employee with our check in, we dropped off our bags and headed back into DisneyTown (a literally just coined region) and bounded into Walt Disney Studios.

I told him to do something stupid 🙂

For anyone familiar with Disney World parks, Walt Disney Studios is the EuroDisney version of Hollywood Studios, formerly MGM Studios. And like many things in the resort–as we were to find out–this park felt like the diet version of its predecessor. Many of the rides were the same. There was the Tower of Terror, an absolutely hilarious experience to watch the opening video dubbed over in French with English subtitles, Rock’n’Roller Coaster with a much less interesting backstory and interior decorating, and a “Backlot Tour” that consisted of about five or six artifacts from movies, a confusing audiovisual explanation as it was done with two different actors speaking two different languages, and driving around at the hurling speed of 5km/h. To be fair, everyone knows that they didn’t film anything on this site, but they still could have put in a little more effort.  Also for some reason, all of the restaurants seemed to be undergoing renovations at this time so the line for a snack kiosk took us longer than any ride line, and then Dan couldn’t pronounce the French word for pretzel properly and confused the poor employee.

K'Nex, remember those?

But putting aside the feeling that this was a sad attempt to replicate DisneyWorld, this park had some awesome features, such as a whole little Toy Story land, complete with K’Nex fences and a Slinky Dog whirlythingy. We got to ride Slinky’s butt! In fact, the whole time, we were unleashing the five year olds within and beaming at new attractions and giggling over signs written in both French and English. Unfortunately–or maybe not in hindsight–this park closed at 7pm, so we couldn’t do everything there was to do in time before we were forced out, so we left with a to-do list for the next day and went over to the later closing Disneyland.

He told me to mimic a statue 🙂

Fortuitously we ended up going to Disneyland Paris on the EXACT date of its 20th anniversary! So the whole park was decked out in golden yellow streamers and trimmings and there were special parades and a fireworks show that had just debuted. In typical Disney style, it was recommended that in order to see the fireworks from a prime location, we get a spot….now. Dan and I grabbed a quick dinner, a quick Viennese Waltz in front of City Hall, picked up some coloring supplies, and walked over to the castle, settling in for an hour or so wait until the show began.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle

Coloring? You say. Yes, coloring. I told you we were five year olds.

I got the Princess Pack and he the Pirate Pack

The show was a really interesting experience, being in a combination of French and English. Some of the songs were translated into the other language, and from my quick retranslations back into English, the words were totally not the same. Overall, it was more of a World of Color water show mingling with light special effects (I mean lights as in lasers and stuff by the way) with some fireworks thrown in for emphasis. The storyline was so interesting and well done: Peter Pan’s Shadow lets all of the magic out of the castle’s star and ends up traveling through the movies trying to get it back in. Clever! And what would Disneyland in any capacity be without fireworks? Exactly! This did mean that we couldn’t go on any attractions in Disneyland on this day, but we had extra magic hours the following morning, so Hakuna Mattata.

Disney Dreams

We finished our first day with a stroll through the one street long DisneyVillage, stopping in at a Starbucks for hot chocolate before heading back to the deserted Santa Fe for bed. After all, early to bed, early to rise (okay, midnight is not that early) and we had a lot to do the next day!

Oh goodness, I almost forgot. Dan and I bought these little figurines called Vinylmations and had a complete and utter blast taking pictures of them in places around both parks. Dan is an amazing photographer and the pictures are absolutely adorable, though far too numerous to show them off!

At the Santa Fe Hotel

Returning to the Castle

It has been an…interesting…week to say the least, but it has taught me some very important lessons. One is that I need to brush up on my French. Two is that it is always helpful to have a basic knowledge of the language of any country you are visiting solo (hence why I may soon be learning Italian). Three, that my dance partner is a truly amazing human being.

Indulge me being sappy for a minute because trust me, he deserves a lot more sappiness than I’m about to lay on. Apart from being one of the funniest people I know (just check out his blog and be prepared to laugh), he is incredibly caring and selfless and understanding. He is there for his friends no matter what, and I cannot thank him enough for being in my life. He is absolutely a wonderful person, and I admire him so much ❤ So grateful to have you as my best friend Dan!

So in small repayment for friendships rendered, I accompanied him to Windsor Castle this last Saturday. He hadn’t been yet to this quintessential medieval castle and kindly requested a field trip for his first History of the British Monarch lesson. History? Sunshine? Spending time with Dan? Didn’t take much convincing, I quickly acquiesced. I’m a sucker for teaching someone about English history! And Dan is such an eager student, continuing to ask questions beyond my instructions to listen to the audio guide, putting up with my frequent and I generally assume annoying interjections of random and obscure and often pointless bonus facts. One day someone will smack me and tell me to be quiet, I’m sure, but until then, you have all been forewarned that I can be a walking English History Encyclopedia on Energizer Bunny Batteries.

No we didn't plan on matching. Yes we are that awesome.

Having just been to Windsor Castle with my family a few weeks ago, I chose to ignore the audio guide hanging from my neck like a corded phone (yes I’m old enough to remember corded phones!) and to take advantage of my other senses. Sometimes in historic sites I forget that sight, true and focused sight, can be so powerful, typically favoring sound from audio guides or the little voice inside my head reading aloud signposts in my thirst for more knowledge. But putting away the audio commentary allowed me to just…absorb. And it was during this absorption that I think I was really able to appreciate the State Apartments for the first time for their artistry and architecture, their sumptuous designs both in decor and textiles: the richly painted or carved ceilings and the fading tapestries, the ornately sculpted wood furniture and the engraved suits of armor, the austere white marble busts and the gleaming inlaid porcelain. Everything took on a new dimension in the absence of the continuous running of verbal information. It was such a different, almost richer, experience.

Of course, even that didn’t stop me from being on hand to answer Dan’s every whim question, and answer ones that he hadn’t even bothered to ask yet 😉

I also was able to indulge my inner child. As it was the Saturday of Easter Weekend, the Castle had set out all these little jeweled eggs for the kids to find in the various rooms. I’m sure it was a cute way to occupy the smaller and more restless children while their parents listened to the audio guides in the rooms, but I took it to the “Fun for All Ages” level and joined in the hunt. The Windsor employees, I must say, are no where near as clever at hiding eggs as my dad was. I happily found all the eggs in the Castle, but I think there are still one or two that my dad hid years ago that my brother and I have yet to find. And then there was the one I voluntarily left “hidden” as it was playing couch to a snail and we all know how I feel about insects.

From the State Apartments, we entered St. George’s Chapel, the one part of the Castle I didn’t get to take my parents into as it was closed that day, and also the one part of the Castle that I care most about. Why? Because Henry VIII is interred there. Why else? Because chapels as old as this one have a funny way of concealing gems of history and art. With Dan by my side and time on our side, I was overwhelmed by the architecture of this chapel, something that I am only now beginning to really appreciate. Standing in the back of the chapel, gazing up at the nave, was the second highlight of our trip (first one is coming up), but that may be due mostly to the fact that we were standing on a glorious heated vent and the rest of the chapel was a tad cold.

Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Charles I, child of Queen Anne (no Tudor relation)

Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Charles I, child of Queen Anne (no Tudor relation)

We paused and sat contemplating the beauty of the choristers for quite some time. St. George’s Chapel is the spiritual house of the Order of the Garter so there were a lot of heraldic emblems and banners all around. I explained to him my incredulity that tourists can be so oblivious as to what they are really seeing, evidenced by nearly everyone rushing through the choristers, exclaiming at the pretty woodwork or the marble altarpiece, and completely neglecting the fact that THEY JUST WALKED OVER THE GRAVE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL MONARCH ENGLAND HAS EVER HAD!!!! In my humble opinion of course. Yes, it is just an innocuous little slab of black marble set into the ground carved with his name and the name of his third wife, Jane Seymour, but still, if you don’t watch where you walk, you will miss these notices of where you should be crying over the memory of these amazing historical people. Not that I cried……….

But the proof of why these chapels are rich sources of nerding out for me and why I consider it paramount to walk through them and examine with care, we stumbled upon the grave of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, more widely known as Henry VIII’s best friend and brother in law, and Henry Cavill on The Tudors.

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk

All in all, another wonderful and historically enriching day in Merry Olde England 🙂

One Day I’ll Learn

What will be my new learning goal in my life? Will it be to find a cure for cancer? Become trilingual? Finally memorize all my states and capitals? Hmmm, nope, it will be much more fundamental and base than those noble pursuits. Yes, my life learning goal will be to remember that when staying at a hostel, you need to bring your own towel.

Oops.

Both times I have forgotten a towel ironically have been in Paris, where I may have been able to get away without a shower for a few days based on the hygienic condition of those around me, but I firmly believe that nothing is as wonderful as the feeling of being clean on vacation. So not showering is not an option for me. At least the first time my friend Dale was able to lend me one of his for the four days, this hostel I was on my own. And how did I manage with this predicament? Let’s just say that bedsheets are no where near as absorbent as proper towels. Thank goodness in a few days I’ll be in a proper hotel.

It then obviously follows that I made it to Paris safely! It was a long day of traveling, worse than any of the days on my epic trip with my family. I took the bus to Heathrow at 8:45 am, made it to the airport by 10, and then had to wait an hour to check in my luggage. Not check in for my flight, but literally just baggage drop. No idea why it was taking so long, but everyone was in the same boat as me, which was oddly comforting. After that, security was a breeze (no random security check on me! woot!) and I finally got to grab breakfast. I figured that I had plenty of time because my flight wasn’t until 12:35–and issues like the bag drop situation are exactly why I leave for my flights so early, so stop giving me the look of exasperation haha. But I ended up with even more time than I had bargained for.

I believe there are strikes going on right now with the French Air Traffic Controllers, so many of the flights into Paris are actually being cancelled, including Janosz’s and one of Kelsi’s friends who is joining us today. Luckily mine wasn’t cancelled, but it was delayed so I was able to make a sizable dent in my current book. I also spent most of the time talking to the New Zealander sitting next to me and we ended up traveling all the way into the middle of Paris together. Finding random people to quickly befriend and travel with make solo journeys so much better and less stressful navigating all of the train changes and stations. And then after we parted ways in Gare du Nord, I walked over to the hostel carrying a stuffed full duffel bag that somehow felt like it weighed 45 pounds even though it barely tipped 11.5 kgs. The popped blood vessels on my shoulder say otherwise.

I did get lost on the walk, but was able to bust out my limited French to ask for more precise directions, and no sooner had I showed up at the hostel then I was bowled over by a huge hug from Kelsi. I found them! Or more accurately, she and Janosz found me, but the point is that there was no stress in meeting up with the people I’m traveling which is always a big concern when meeting people in a foreign country. I quickly dropped my bags in the dorm and then we headed outside to dinner at this adorable cafe in Montmartre near Sacré-Couer basilica (seat of a cardinal, Mom and Kevin!). Dinner wasn’t being served until 7 pm, which gave us plenty of time to wait for Kelsi’s other friends who were meeting us as well, and for the three of us to roughly translate the menu written entirely in French. There was nothing weird on the menu so I was able to give a general concept of what the meal was, and anything I didn’t know was filled in by the waitstaff.

Dinner was in the typical French style, meaning it lasted about three hours start to finish. Lingering over meals is pretty much expected around here, which is totally on par with what we were feeling up to. The rest of the night we took easy because with other people starting to trickle in to Paris over the next few days, there are going to be some very late nights and this may have been our last chance to get some sleep.

More exciting things to come so stayed tuned! Though posting will be sporadic, dependent on my internet access and ability to actually charge my computer 😉

There’s No Rest in Dancing!

Sometimes it genuinely feels like you need a vacation from vacationing. After bouncing between not only countries but also hotels, B&Bs, and apartments for nearly three weeks, it has been nice to know each night that I am sleeping in the same bed as I did the night before and will be again tomorrow night. And sleep I certainly did…a lot these past few days. Apparently I desperately needed the physical recovery, though it also may be that I counteracted any improvement by this time consuming but wonderful thing known as dance. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Most of my time the first day or so that I was back in Oxford was spent doing all of those wonderful blog updates that I’m sure everyone has now caught up on (don’t worry if you haven’t, just get reading!) and sleeping; oh, and hanging out with Dan. Lunch with Dan. A walk through the park with Dan. Facebook chatting with Dan. Dinner with Janosz, and then more talking to Dan. It’s a good thing we get along so well or else our social lives would be very uncomfortable, spending so much time together! And what a waste it would be if we didn’t spend at least a bit of our time together dancing, right?

Try over 6 1/2 hours of dancing.

And that is only over three days; we have more tomorrow as well. Why would we put ourselves through these intense rehearsals and the miles of walking they necessitate? Perhaps this minor event known as the Varsity Match. The Varsity Match is the final competition of the year between the dance teams of Oxford and Cambridge, and after narrowly losing to Cambridge at every single competition this year, the Oxford team is revving to go out with a bang. Unfortunately only current Oxford students can compete at this bloodbath, meaning we lose some of our top dancers (for the university circuit in general about 25% of your team can be from sources other than your university), potentially opening up a few spots on the B team for some lucky and hardworking Beginner couples. Now Dan and I are not particularly lucky outside of our being partnered together at the start of the year, but we are hardworking to a fault and have used this week to learn a new cha cha routine and a new quickstep routine and tomorrow we are probably learning a new waltz routine! As hard as all these new routines are–in quickstep we have bypassed Novice level and gone straight to an Intermediate level routine–they are so much fun. But they also force us to put our noses to the grindstone and practice, practice, practice! Which may become problematic while I am in Paris for two weeks, but we are going to do our best.

Blenheim Palace

But what would a spring break be if all we did was dance? (Um, maybe just like every other spring break of my life?) We have done well to punctuate our skipping around the room, blistering our feet up in rehearsals with some good, old-fashioned young person fun. Our mutual friend and fellow dancer hosted a BBQ at his new house on Friday night, giving rise to a new joke: How many British Oxford students does it take to build a grill? Answer: More than they had so they called in the American and the New Zealander to do it for them! Not even kidding on that one. They can claim it was because Dan is an engineer and Emma volunteered, but we know the truth. We are just the ones who typically have the weather for BBQs and so know how to follow written instructions. Nonetheless the BBQ was fantastic fun, with me freaking out about thinking things were catching on fire, some spontaneous singing that included some drunken rapping and an a cappella version of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a quick run off to yet another rehearsal, before returning to more alcoholic shenanigans. So much fun hanging out with my friends!

It's Dan Quixote!

But a BBQ alone does not make for enough dance breaks, so Dan and I decided to go up to the beautiful Blenheim Palace for a lovely visit and stroll through the parks on Saturday, intending on taking full advantage of the sunlight we’ve been having.

Dan's stiltz success

Alas, the sun had performance anxiety and decided to remain hidden all afternoon and sticking us with quite the chill and grey skies. Not exactly good strolling weather, but we did try, and gave up after hopping from foot to foot attempting to avoid the everlasting piles of sheep droppings. Sheep are some dirty animals, let me tell you. Still, it was a nice way to cool off from dancing almost three hours that morning, even if it meant putting our poor legs through another 2.6 miles of walking.

Jenna's stilts failure (surprise!)

And because not seeing each other for every day of my short time back here just didn’t seem to make any sense, we met up again today to go see The Hunger Games. I tried beforehand to run a bunch of errands to get read for Paris, but everything I needed seemed to be closed on Sundays. Drat this seventh day of the week! Now tomorrow’s to-do list is longer than I planned for! At least the movie more than made up for any inconveniencing; both of us loved it and I just wish Dan had read the books so we could have gotten in a truly epic topic about them and the quality of adaptation, instead we had to settle for a discussion on the merits of various forms of modern art.

Dance Partners make the Best Friends 🙂

On a completely unrelated but even more exciting note for me, I FINALLY GOT HARRY POTTER ON KINDLE!! You can now download them on Pottermore and have it sent to your amazon.com account. I finally have my ultimate comfort books at the tips of my fingers and don’t need to feel deprived 😀