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New Blog Officially Launched!

Yep I finally set up and posted on my new tea-devoted blog Once Upon an Afternoon Tea. I’m giddy like a child over this blog! I love the concept, I love the design, I love the potential, but most of all I love the field research ūüėČ

So start checking it out and be front and center to watch it grow: http://www.onceuponanafternoontea.com

Yayyyyyy!

Leeds Castle and Maidstone

Today is beginning to feel like one of those days where you just deflate. After six days of walking around, touring small towns and big cities, rushing to catch trains and tubes, and reading signposts describing historical sites, I can barely get out of bed. Honestly if I’m going to have a complete bum day, today is the day to do it since other than grocery shopping and maybe making a trip to Carphone Warehouse to buy a new phone charger, I have nothing else to do that would require leaving my apartment. No essays to write, no research to read, no dance rehearsals to attend, just plain old boring stuff all completable in Isis. Including continue to update this blog and work on my surprise, so let’s return to the morning of our last full day in England.

It was quite the luxury to not have to set an alarm to ensure that we catch transportation on time. Maidstone may be a minuscule town, but Leeds Castle is a decent number of miles away along a highway so we had to take a cab and we could call one at any time in the day. We ate breakfast at the buffet at the hotel which was absolutely no better than dinner the night before. A basic buffet centering around a mass produced English breakfast (I wasn’t even going to try to get Kevin to taste black pudding) with overcooked eggs. At least fruit and toast is pretty much fruit and toast anywhere so I can adapt pretty easily. Though we quickly made up our minds to find a Sainsbury or Tesco and buy breakfast stuff there for tomorrow.

While it would begin raining later in the afternoon, mid morning was another crisp and blue skied day (just as it is in Oxford at the moment; pity I have nothing to do outside) and the walk up to the castle led us through some beautiful expansive grounds. I am constantly awestruck by the picturesque gardens and fields and ponds that grace not only the stately home grounds, but also the simple towns and the views from train windows. So perfect that they don’t seem real. A few sights into the country and you understand what drew artists like JMW Turner and John Constable to England. If I lived in one of these stately homes, only rain would force me indoors and out of my gardens and fields. Luckily Kevin also found the grounds mesmerizing so he didn’t make a fuss when I later suggested a stroll through the gardens and taking our time walking the path to and from the castle. In fact, I think he was just thrilled that I was backing down from speed walking everywhere so easily.

Leeds was another one of those castles built in the generations immediately following William the Conquerer. Most of the original castle was demolished over time so the newer castle doesn’t look like it would have back in it’s first form. It was further renovated and updated by its last private owner, Lady Baille, so half of the rooms we were allowed into were decorated in a more modern style than those rooms would have looked in the castle’s heyday.

Leeds Castle

The first half of the rooms on the tour were focused on the castle’s history pre-Lady Baille and so were kept looking like they would have in the earlier centuries. I really like this stone mantlepiece carved for Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon (don’t look so surprised, I’m predictable) for their overnight stay at Leeds on their way to France for the Field of the Cloth of Gold summit with the French King, Francois I. But for me, yes the castle was full of great history and I had that overwhelmed by history feeling I get whenever I go to these places–that awe that you are standing in the same exact spot where people have been standing for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years–the grounds were the highlight.

Castle grounds

Castle grounds

There was a pretty interesting aviary with exotic birds that were mostly hiding in their pens to escape the biting cold (lucky birds) and a flock of extremely annoying young macaws. We made friends with a cockatoo and saw a blue and gold macaw for Kevin. And the toucan’s beak was so long and colorful! Oddly it kept hitting its beak on a nearby branch, like actually smacking it on purpose, so I wonder what that was all about.

Our friend, the Cockatoo

Kevin had remembered a few days back that my friends and I always do a cream tea when we travel, part of our not-very-scientific search for the best cream tea in England. I was rather touched that not only did he remember, he offered to go to a place and have a cream tea with me. Understand, readers, that Kevin does not even like tea, hates raisins (which is a common fixture in scones), and I’m not really sure of his stance on jam, so his suggestion was all the more awwwww¬†inspiring. I’m the worst judge of timing that there is, and I didn’t know if anywhere in Maidstone proper would do a cream tea, so we took our last opportunity and had tea at the castle.

I keep debating whether or not to make a separate category and posts for the cream tea reviews so that I can go more in depth for anyone who is really that interested or is looking for a good cream tea in the places I’ve visited in England. Comment below and let me know if you would like me to do that, or if I should just keep the reviews quick and concise within the location posts.

Basically, the tea was a make-your-own kind of deal in the castle’s cafeteria. The tea was a decent loose leaf pot, but since you couldn’t remove the tea leaves the second and successive cups were very over brewed. The scones were the largest sultana scones that I have ever seen, too large for a cream tea but fine since tea basically replaced lunch. I was disappointed that the clotted cream and jam were the same individual buy in bulk packets and jars that we’ve gotten at other places and that I’m sure you could find at a well stocked Tesco. But the worst part about it was that this was Kevin’s only experience with a cream tea, and it was far from being impressive. I wish I had brought him to The Rose in Oxford as that is a fantastic tea, but it was closed until the 4th and we were not going back to Oxford.

Kevin's first cream tea at Leeds Castle

After tea we headed back into the small town of Maidstone and to their town museum. I have never been in a more eclectic museum in my life. It was a massive hodgepodge of artifacts and exhibits: from calvary developments to a mummy, from the history of the town’s beer manufacturing to neolithic tools and ancient coins, from fashion to dinosaurs and taxidermy. But the most interesting room was their photography exhibition called All Change. They had photos taken around the town from the invention of photography in the 1800s and beneath those, there were photos taken in the exact same locations over the past two years so you could see how much the town has changed and where are some places that have remained relatively the same. I thought that room was the coolest in the whole museum, and there were a lot of rooms considering that Maidstone is such a small town.

Somehow all of this only took us until 3:30 in the afternoon and we were suddenly stuck with nothing to do for an entire afternoon. I had thought that the castle would take much longer to do, and Kevin didn’t want to go on the historic Maidstone walking tour, so we were at a loss. We literally meandered (I told you, vacation catchphrase) through the town, down towards the Archbishop’s Palace (Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest clergyman in the Anglican Church) and along the river, before it started raining again and we ushered into a shopping mall to regroup. There, we came up with…nothing. It seemed that there really wasn’t anything to do in Maidstone. We were left with finding a cheap restaurant/bar and lengthening out our dinner as long as we could so that we could avoid sitting in our hotel room reading books and watching TV on the iPad on our last night. Which, because like I have iterated multiple times there is NOTHING to do in Maidstone, we ended up doing anyway. I had a book I really¬†wanted to finish so I wasn’t all that upset. But it was a pretty anticlimactic way for Kevin to end his trip to England because he won’t have time to get in anything else before his flight leaves tomorrow, and that made me a little sad. Guess he’ll just have to come back though!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!

Mom, before you read this, grab some tissues just in case. Everyone else, I apologize for the sappiness.

So obviously, today is my mom’s birthday. Because I’m in England I won’t get to spend it with her for the first time, and by the time any card I’d send her would get to California, I’d already be home. But that won’t stop me from thinking about her all day.

I really do have the most amazing mother in the entire world. She is the most important person in my life, and for good reason. She has been there for me through everything in my life, happy or sad, good or awful, calm or dramatic. And she never stopped showing me that I was loved and safe. I don’t think that most people really appreciate how important that can be. But sometimes, just the knowledge that one person out there loves you unconditionally can be enough to get you through hard times. And I had that knowledge every day of my life.

Now, a lot of people say that their parents are the best, willing to do anything for them. But no one compares to my mom. I’m in awe of how generous she is, how she is the first person to help someone out, how she does not judge people for anything, how she holds our family together, how she loves my dad and with him has given my brother and me a warm and stable home, the list goes on and on. And she really has done more for me than anyone can possibly imagine or understand. I don’t know what I would do without her.

Mom, I love you so unbelievably much, and I wish I could be there today on your birthday, but know that I am thinking about you and miss you and am so incredibly thankful to have you in my life.

‚̧

Oh Internet, How I’ve Missed Thee

Try going an entire week without any internet, I dare you. ¬†I wouldn’t say that it’s impossible (obviously since I am sitting here alive) but it is unbelievably frustrating and inconvenient when you are trying to contact someone in the States and you can’t make international phone calls. So sorry that pretty much no one has heard from me, but as you can obviously now tell…I’m safely in England and officially moved in at Oxford!!

New York was a crazy hectic, but awesome, trip. ¬†We saw the World Trade Center Memorial, walked to Central Park and the Met, the UN, took a dance at Broadway Dance Center (EDGE is better!), and saw a Broadway play. ¬†Don’t be too jealous but we saw How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying¬†with the incredible Daniel Radcliffe. ¬†It was surprisingly fantastic and funny, and I got his autograph and a picture!! And we ate these adorable little cupcakes from Baked by Melissa. ¬†They were mini ūüôā

Wednesday night I flew out to orientation in London for the past three and a half days. ¬†Almost all of us are going to Oxford, so it was a great way to bond with other really down to earth Americans before heading off to the college. I made some really cool friends whom I hung out with most of the time. ¬†Only one (Sam, just in case he ever comes up again in stories) is going to St. Edmund Hall with me. ¬†Everyone else mostly (Dorothy, Bryce, Josh, Kenny, etc) is going to St. Catherine’s College. ¬†We went to a pub the first night ironically named The Cambridge for our first legal drinks! The second day was mostly orientation type seminars on safety, English politics, student services and individual college meetings. Then they took us to see a play on the West End called The Woman in Black¬†(coming soon to a theatre near you) that was a horror play. ¬†And they definitely accomplished the horror! I kept jumping, screaming, and grabbing Dorothy’s leg, but it was fantastic acting and totally worth it. ¬†Though afterwards, we needed to settle down out of our terror by going to a bar and a club ;). ¬†Yesterday was my last day in London, and we mostly had free time to explore the city (which we did for a very very long time). ¬†I tried Indian food for the first time and loved it! Unfortunately, Sam and I left this morning for Oxford and the others won’t follow us until Tuesday.

I’m already in love with Oxford. ¬†My room is a single that overlooks the entire street in front of our building and looks like something straight out of a Jane Austen novel.

Bed and desk

Bed and mirror

Sink and Dressers

The bay window that overlooks the street and a boarding school

Sam and I explored High Street after unpacking and plan on going again tomorrow because we need linens and towels. We did see an amazing street performer on Cornmarket Street. Then we had dinner with the other visiting students as we are called and hung out in the college pub where I met my first other British students.

Well that’s the basic update! It’s crazy and beautiful and apparently I mispronounce the word zebra but I’m having a blast.

Done with Daddy-Daughter Date Day at Disneyland…Depressing :(

I’m trying for the longest alliteration I’ve ever written.

Today was an amazing day with my dad.  It was our last full day together so we obviously went to Disneyland and had a blast.  Perfect weather thank goodness because it would have been terrible for my California tan to turn into a California burn the day before I leave for New York. Which, by the way, is in 8 hours.

It still hasn’t hit me yet that this is my last night in California for about three months. ¬†No more perpetual sunshine, complaining about heat, shorts and tank tops, flip-flops 24/7, and saddest of all, no more of my friends and family until December (apart from those who have Skype: my name is jennaedzant so find me!). ¬†The good-byes were really difficult and I may have purposely avoided some people because I didn’t want to say anymore hard good-byes. ¬†Sorry to everyone I did that to, but don’t worry I thought about you a lot. ¬†I’m really going to miss everyone.

But this is the adventure of a lifetime and it starts so soon that I really cannot believe it. Next stop…New York City!!

One of the hardest goodbyes I have to make

The Power of the Ziploc Bag

Never–I repeat, NEVER–underestimate the awesome power of the Ziploc bags. ¬†I may end up sounding like an infomercial for the company for a few lines, so bear with me. ¬†They really do come in all sizes and have multiple uses besides food storage. ¬†Today, the Ziploc bag ranging from sandwich size to 10 gallons found new life as vacuum sealers for my entire life.

Anxiety is obviously running at a pretty high rate with my leaving in 72 hours and trying to pack enough to survive on (stylishly of course) for an entire year staying under the 50 pound limit.  As such, Mummy and I decided around 4 pm that we were going to conquer the suitcase and completely start and finish packing.  We figured this way I would be able to enjoy the next two days of final goodbyes and Daddy-Daughter Date Day at Disneyland (the alliteration continues to grow!) without the stress of packing.

I’m happy to say that we did reach our goal and that I am officially packed and ready to go to Oxford and newly in awe of the Ziploc company. ¬†We rolled up every article of clothing I’m bringing with me and basically vacuum sealed them into these 2 gallon bags. ¬†I’m pretty sure we fit about ten shirts into one of those baggies. ¬†Then there were all the toiletries because apparently shampoo runs you a small fortune in the UK (if toothpaste is the same situation, that would explain all the bad teeth). And then my shoes. ¬†I showed restraint, I promise! Only 3 pairs of high heels! Finally, there was all the paperwork and vitamins and fun stuff like that. And then came the weight check. It bounced around a bit, but settled at 48 lbs! Woot! I guarantee about 10 of those pounds were the Ziploc bags alone. ¬†I will be known at orientation as the Bag Girl.

One week and counting down

Today is the official beginning of my year abroad! Okay, so technically my flight for England doesn’t leave for a week, but today was the day when I really began to get the final things together and said more of my good-byes. ¬†The first one was the 5th grade class I’ve been volunteering at for the past three weeks. ¬†The kids are so great, and I can’t wait to come back in December and see them all again. The second was my friend Sarah who thankfully came back to LA for a few days so that we could get coffee one last time! (Okay, so that may not be the real reason she came down here, but that’s the excuse we are using.) Laundry was started, packing clothing commenced, it’s all going to have to come together really quickly.

Three days from now, Sunday, my mom and I are leaving for New York for a few days before I fly to England. ¬†But first, more packing, more craziness, more good-byes, and a Daddy-Daughter Day at Disneyland! How’s that for an awesome alliteration ūüėČ