Tag Archive | family

Tea Room Review: Chado Tea Room in Hollywood, CA

I feel like my blog is having an identity crisis. It started out because I was going to England and needed a way to keep everyone back home updated easily and in a mass quantity. But I’ve been back from England for nearly a year, and sometimes I go for longish gaps without posting because, well, I’m not in England anymore. There are no new experiences every day, no traveling nearly every weekend, no crazy study abroad stories. There is just life.

Now life has some fun updates right now: engagement, new job, business, and birthday fun stuff coming in a later post (this one has a very specific purpose). But can these kinds of general life updates sustain a blog’s popularity? Am I too scattered to engage readers? Is it harmful that when you come to my blog you aren’t sure what kind of post you are going to get, or is that part of the charm? I’ve been wondering this a lot lately and since I don’t know a ton of bloggers–and the blogs I read myself are very specific topics like baking and cooking–I don’t know who to ask for their opinions. So if you have any feedback, I’d appreciate it. After all you are my reader and you are the best one to tell me whether or not you enjoy reading whatever I write. Let’s get interactive people!

In the meantime, I wanted to harken back to the England days with a cream tea review. I haven’t done one in a while because, again, not in the UK anymore and until recently I didn’t think there were a lot of tea rooms out here beyond where I work. It’s tough also when you have had the best cream teas ever in the UK and you make really good scones yourself to enjoy American style cream teas. Maybe that will be some of the fun of my new quest: the Quest for the Best Southern California Cream Tea…QBSCCT if you will.

First up: Chado Tea Room in Hollywood, CA

Opening statement: If it wasn’t for having a Groupon, I would have been more upset about my experience here. I have really high standards for afternoon teas, but I knew going in that Yelp reviews were mixed so I went in with automatically lower expectations, thank goodness.

Made a reservation easily for mid week, and when we arrived there was a table set for us, but we had to find the ONLY WAITER in the whole restaurant and ask if that was our table. This was their biggest problem I thought. The restaurant isn’t huge, but it’s enough tables and enough work per table to justify a minimum of two servers on the floor. A great server could handle the whole restaurant by himself/herself with only the two bussers but unfortunately today’s server couldn’t handle it. As a server, I felt bad for him so I didn’t deduct his tip because it isn’t his fault management understaffs.

The decor isn’t like a typical quaint tea house. It’s very minimalistic with a twinge of Asian (I’ll update with pictures soon). At least there were white tablecloths (funny story I saw one of the bussers “clean” a table by literally flipping over the tablecloth) and the place was very clean. Not overly girly either which can sometimes get to be too much.

Tea menu is overwhelming, but the overwhelmingness doesn’t come from it being extensive (because plenty of tea rooms have 100+ teas on their menus and are manageable) but from it being disorganized. Six different sections for Darjeelings, Assams, tisanes and the teas that most people are ordering were in the back, and the descriptions all said “a perfect breakfast tea” without much else to tell me. Plus, every tea was “tippy”…uh okay. The waiter gave me a weird look when I asked to smell the tea before choosing it, a pretty standard practice for those who know tea and I had told him upfront that I work at a tea room. I eventually chose the Raijin (Indian tea with lavender and roses) which was great plain, but my mom ordered Lavender Earl and it was too much lavender and it was overbrewed. Aisha got the Sencha Rose and she seemed to like it. Plus the teas were cold by the end of the service. And they were out of a lot of teas. Which was a problem when we went to order our loose leaf teas and they were out of our top three choices. We settled for the Raijin that I had and then Sencha Cherry that has a promising smell for an iced tea to break in my new iced tea maker (thank you Joseph!).

Groupon was for afternoon tea for 4 and $25 of loose leaf tea. As we only had two people eating afternoon tea, we wanted to know if there were any alternative options. The waiter was very courteous and after he stopped being confused as to why we had a coupon for four people but there were only two of us, offered to package up the rest to take away. Great idea. Great point for service.

Food
Finger sandwiches were the best part. I liked how the bread was slightly toasted and the smoked salmon sandwich was awesome. Chicken and cranberry also good. Cucumber was odd since it was made with butter and a cream cheese/onion garnish. But butter can be traditional British.

Scones were somehow simultaneously sweet and flavorless. I’m used to the only scone flavor being plain or currant from my time in England, but Yelp reviews say that they offered flavors like blueberry or ginger, but I guess not for us. They were average sized. Unfortunately after eating the finger sandwiches, the scones had cooled and were hard as stale biscuits. Previous reviewers said to just eat the scones first while they were still warm and fluffy, but you shouldn’t have to eat the scones before the sandwiches. To me that says the scones are either not fresh or not properly stored. “Cream” was whipped cream (no idea why people keep calling this stuff Devonshire cream since it isn’t) and apricot jam. Had to ask twice for strawberry jam.

Desserts were dense and not tasty (mini carrot cake cupcake, pineapple upside down cake, two plain cookies). We left them there.

I also think that since they are located in California and more Americans are choosing gluten-free diets, I think they should have offered some gluten free options. The place I work does. Of course I’m only aware of this today because Aisha is with us and she doesn’t eat gluten so she had to have a salad.

Overall, I won’t go back there on my own dime, but with a Groupon deal it was worth trying. They really need to properly staff the place so that the poor service can give better customer service and not look like he wants to cry. I felt guilty asking for anything beyond placing our order because he looked that overwhelmed (and the restaurant wasn’t even full).

Pictures coming soon.

Disneyland’s Fantasy Faire

It’s a well known element of the restaurant industry: you never have or really want a weekend free. Weekends are prime time for the rest of the world eating out, so we humble waiters accept that we will be spending our Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays by our customers’ sides and at their service, rather than with our friends or family.

Sometimes, however, something glorious will happen and a server will get a “weekend” midweek. I was lucky to have Tuesday and Wednesday off this past week and it felt like a true weekend. Immediately I called up Mom and asked the most important question any person ever asks another…

“Do you want to go to Disneyland?”

Answer: Duh.

Disneyland recently removed the Carnation Plaza Gardens, an area…a restaurant…a garden…a stage for not Disney sponsored entertainment…you know what, I’m not really sure what CPG was to begin with, but I know what it is now. It has become a mecca of Disney Royalty, the Fantasy Faire.

The area is so well-decorated and quaint that not only does it blend in perfectly with the neighboring castle and Fantasyland, but it feels like you are straight out of Tangled or Beauty and the Beast. Which is fitting since the shows are based on those movies, but more on that in a minute.

The square is dominated by a twenty foot stone maypole carved into Rapunzel’s tower. It’s definitely a picture spot, probably the best outdoor spot for a photo, but other than architecture it doesn’t really serve a purpose, yet. I think they are planning on adding some type of maypole show eventually, but it isn’t on the Fantasy Faire schedule yet. Behind the pole and up against a stone wall is a little framed bench, another great photo opportunity for kids who want to feel like the characters and couples who want to look all cutesy. Next to the bench, though, is what I thought was the highlight of Fantasy Faire’s exterior look: Clopin’s Music Box.

Clopin is the gypsy from Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the favorite Disney character of Fantasy Faire creative director Michel Den Dulk (well, he is French). His music box has a wonderful hidden surprise beyond the crank and dancing Clopin and gargoyles. The background of the crowd is all Disney characters from other films! See if you can name them all becomes a cute little distracting game for us older children when there isn’t a line of kids behind you waiting for their turn to crank the box.

There is also the requisite princess dress gift shop and a snack cart called Maurice’s Treats, presumably Belle’s father selling French pastries that are really just chocolate, strawberry, or cheddar twists. And some slushy juicy thingy.

The Royal Hall is to the right of the entrance, basically a covered queue to meet three of the Disney princesses at a time. Apparently the princesses stand inside this ballroom and little girls get to meet them and take pictures. It’s a good idea, except I know that if I had been a little girl I would’ve been upset not seeing the princesses I wanted and the princesses can sometimes change during the 45 minute wait.

The highlight is really the shows. Based on Tangled and Beauty and the Beast, the shows feature two characters from the movies and Mr. Smythe and Mr. Jones narrating and playing the remaining supporting characters. There are actually a lot of funny “older” references that keep the adults laughing (more in the Tangled show which I felt was far better) and go straight over the kids’ heads. No worry. We all know they are just there to see Rapunzel, Flynn Rider, and Belle.

Mom and I went first thing to Fantasy Faire, and saw the first Tangled show, then walked around the Main Street shops and Downtown Disney before making it back for the Beauty and the Beast show. And then we left. We have passes after all and the whole point of going was to check out the new area. I may also have been more tired from my five straight days of waitressing than I had thought. At times it felt like I could barely move my feet!

Basically, you won’t spend a ton of time in Fantasy Faire unless you are waiting in line to see the princesses, but it is a must see destination on its quaint merits alone.

Ode to the Stand Mixer

School has been taking up the majority of my time here over the last four weeks, so once again I am at a loss of what interesting stories to tell you. I could tell you about the time that I ran into a friend from Oxford wandering around Westwood, or catching a foul ball at the Dodger game on Monday, or my booking a skydiving trip for next month. I could tell you any of those stories, but then I’d be lying and lying isn’t really in my nature, despite all of those stories being more interesting than my life has been this month. I get bored sitting in my lectures (okay we do learn some really interesting stuff) and through my exams and reading my textbooks, so I won’t subject all of you to the same plight.

But I also don’t want anyone to feel abandoned, because no one like to be abandoned. It’s not fun either. In fact, my Hollywood Myth of the Romans class would definitely be more fun than being abandoned. At least in class there are some really over keen classmates to silently giggle at and interesting factoids about Rome to absorb for later random knowledge uses. There is none of that in being abandoned. Being abandoned is just…awkward. And awkwardness is even less fun than being abandoned! So the moral of the story is that sitting in my classes is better than being abandoned which is better than being stuck in an awkward situation like the one I probably just made you all stuck in.

So I’ll make it up to you with some baking. Everybody loves baking, right? I mean baking is better than sitting in class which is better than being abandoned which is better than being in an awkward situation! Best of all four worlds! And there has been a lot of baking going on in the house between this weekend and then today.

Despite having a paper and a midterm early in this week, I forced myself to find time to de-stress by baking. (Took a lot of forcing 😉 ) Let’s see, it all began with Friday afternoon tea with almond scones, or as they are adorably being called almond bliss scones, since everything needs an adorable name. The recipe is posted at the bottom of this post. They may have been some of the best scones that I have ever had! And Mommy loved them too, which is always important for a sous baker to approve of the goods being baked as well. These scones were surprisingly sweet and moister than the others–probably a result of my undertaking them a tad–with a slightly crunchy and slight chewy texture from the chopped almonds permeating the dough. Yup, no almond extract in these delights, just pure all natural almonds. Served with some unsweetened freshly whipped cream, the scones made a special treat out of our normal cream tea in the afternoons.

Saturday’s baking was a new one for me: a cake. This cake was actually my mom’s brilliant idea, and it utilized plenty of math skills, proving the age old adage to stay in school. That might relate more to staying away from drugs, but since this cake might be a little bit like a chocolate drug, I’d say that it’s an apt expression. Think about it…four layers, each getting progressively more chocolatey, light with a moist crumb, glued together by more chocolatey buttercream frosting, and decorated with a rich brown chocolate buttercream with my first ever white piping decorations. Drooling yet? Yeah, thank my mom for that one! It took forever to bake the cakes, freeze them, assemble them, and frost them, but it allowed me to get a lot of studying done in the resting time so that the weekend wasn’t an entire wash other than the dishes.

Now you’d think that between the incredible almond scones and the Everybody’s Happy cake (see? cutesy name is a must) I’d be acknowledging that I needed to spend some time studying or else I’d fail my midterm. Right? WRONG. Baking is an addiction, I swear. And with my parents off doing their own things around the house on Sunday, I had no one to distract me from my homework except for Peyton and Byrne, the authors of my British baking book that I ordered as soon as I came home to the States. Hence the second attempt of the Lemon Curd Swiss Roll.

Second attempt, you say? Why weren’t you made aware of the first attempt? Well that answer is easy: it failed. And not in an “Oh I used salt instead of sugar in my apple pie filling but luckily I haven’t baked it yet so I can just rinse off the apples and redo the filling and crisis is averted” fail. It wasn’t even a “Darn my macarons came out wrong, guess I’ll just throw together some Eton Mess and pretend this didn’t happen” fail (that hasn’t occurred yet but I know it will when I finally get around to trying to make macarons). This was a used the wrong size pan, forgot I had a stand mixer, didn’t grease the inappropriately sized pan properly, baked the cake in this said wrong pan for too long, and ended up being able to hold the cake up in front of me like it was a piece of cardboard. Absolutely nothing salvageable, but absolutely embarrassing to behold. It was quickly thrown away and I vowed never to speak of it again. But apparently that part of the event failed as well since I just spilled my guts.

However, I REDEEMED MYSELF! I made the same cake on Sunday but this time with a stand mixer and a properly sized and properly greased pan. And while it may have been a very challenging and time consuming cake to make, it came out perfectly. No mistakes. Some filling gushed out the side when I rolled it out, but according to people who have made similar cakes before such a thing is typical. And the reviews…they warmed my heart on the dreary Monday. According to my mom the entirety of my dad’s office raved about it, a few even went so far as to talk about hiding it so that other office mates wouldn’t finish it off before they had seconds, and I have two requests for the recipe lined up already. That is really the best compliment a baker can get, and I am super lucky to have willing taste testers so accessible.

Riding high on that success, I was placated in my baking for a whole two days, until today. For some reason, I thought today was a good day to not only make blueberry scones, but also Mommy’s Chocolate Chip Cookies AND a new banana cinnamon chip oatmeal cookie recipe. Why? Because I had spare time before my dad was ready to watch Gladiator with me for my film class and I’m hanging out with some friends tomorrow night and nothing says party like freshly baked cookies. Looks like the Office Ladies are going to be subjected to more sugar tomorrow, so I hope they all went for a run today!

Oh and I guess I never did explain why I would want to write an ode to a stand mixer. That little appliance is the hardest working appliance I have ever seen besides an air conditioner in Las Vegas. Seriously, it was invaluable in making TWO batches of cookie dough today, as well as THREE cakes this weekend! When I think back to the days of this last year at Oxford, creaming butter by hand and attempting to fold chocolate chips into a gigantic blob of cookie dough, I am even more in love with my mixer and wonder how I ever lived without it last year. The cookies came out so much better since they didn’t have to rely on my lack of elbow greasing ability to properly blend!

Almond Bliss Scones

 

Almond Bliss Scones

200 g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
50 g soft brown sugar
70 g ground almonds
200 mL double cream (heavy whipping cream)
teeny bit of water
Preheat the oven to 220°C (450°F). Sift together into a medium mixing bowl the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add the ground almonds. Rub in the cream. Add only enough water to bring all the mix together (barely a teaspoon!). Knead until almost smooth, about 5-6 times.
Place on a heavily floured surface and press down to desired thickness (1 cm). Cut out into desired scone size (5 cm). HINT: dip the scone cutter into some flour before cutting dough for easier removal.  Place scones on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Bake about 8 minutes until lightly browned or until you lack self control anymore.
Serve with plain, unsweetened whipping cream.
* additional ideas: add in chopped dried cherries when add in almonds.

Apologies Hopefully Accepted?

The blogs have not been posting as regularly here as they were in England, I know, and for that I apologize, though I promise that I am mostly thinking of your sanity and enjoyment when I choose not to post every day or so. You see, the majority of my time is spent either in a lecture room, or reading books and articles, or filling out worksheets, or ignoring the 2 billion emails from my research group, or watching Roman films, or writing papers, or…well, you get the idea. Basically it’s back to the not all that exciting life of a UCLA student, and I’m aware that such a repetitive account week after week of nothing  but school work would probably bore you all to tears as much as I am in lectures and would probably lose me some readers, a compromise I am not willing to make! So the posts may not be as frequent in the next four weeks, but I promise that there are some fun things around the corner.

However there has been some play mixed in with all that work. I’d go crazy if I didn’t have some breaks to see the light of day. Monday I met up with my Sophomore year roommate, Michelle, whom I haven’t seen in nearly a year, for dinner and a massive catch up session. We sat around CPK for about two hours just updating each other on school, new roommates, Oxford, diving, and the traditional most ridiculous story of the last six months. Those, of course, do not get passed on to anyone else, for the sake of our clean criminal records! Kidding 😉 But anyway, catching up with old friends is probably the second best thing about being home, second to Brinkley. I mean, no one can really compete with my love muffin of a dog.

Tuesday also had a dear friend pop into it, but this one was a complete surprise! My mom and I were out walking Brinkley and my friend Amy texted me asking if I was in town. Luckily I don’t drive out of town simply to walk my dog, so we were able to meet up for an extremely late night coffee at Starbucks for the second in a row multi hour catch up. She gave me some great advice on clubbing in Vegas and LA, and told me some amazing news regarding her work. I am so happy for her and everywhere her life has been taking her. Amy is probably one of my oldest friends. We danced together when we were younger and it’s all ancient history from there. We used to dance a lot in Hollywood together as well, but with her currently living in a different city and me being in summer school, that has been put on hold for a bit.

Wednesday was the country’s 236th birthday, which just made me laugh because of how old all the things I saw in Europe were compared to my entire country. I mean, I’m pretty sure in Brussels we saw an iron that was twice the age of the US on sale for 15 euro. The school schedule and pet sitting my uncle’s dog really put a damper on any potential shenanigans, so it was a low key holiday of appointments in Westwood and homework. Everything revolves around homework at the moment. Next year, I’ll do something cool…maybe…probably not since I seem to neglect to make plans for holidays. Oops. I think that means that some of my friends should just make it a policy to have me tag along with all of them. Especially if it involves traveling 😉 I fit in a suitcase I promise!

Oh, I nearly forgot, there was something significant that happened on Wednesday. Mommy and I made a semi-traditional cream tea! Obviously we couldn’t import scones and clotted cream from the UK, so we made do with what we could adapt. But I did make my first batch of scones out of a baking book I bought in the UK and my mom put on a pot of Earl Grey, and we sat down on the anniversary of the day our country declared independence to a tradition from the country we separated from.

Sweet Cream Scones with Strawberry Jam

I believe they call that irony? Regardless of the wrong cultural custom being observed, the scones were fantastically light and sweet, almost just like what one would get at a British teahouse, with some of the best strawberry jam around (McClarens in case anyone wants to replicate our cream tea. Find them at the Farmer’s Market at COC Sunday morning!). Definitely evoked some nostalgia for the last year on my part. (recipe at end of post)

Sweet Cream Scones with Strawberry Jam

Since then, the weekend went by pretty fast and uneventful. I saw Spiderman with some friends–and surprisingly LOVED it!–did all the above homework that I already ranted about, made another batch of “Crunchy Butter Scones”

Crunchy Butter Scone with Lemon Curd

to compare to the “Sweet Cream Scones”, had dinner with some family friends last night, and then have been working on yet another paper today. It’s just about tea time, so I may bust out some leftover scones from yesterday (never as good as fresh out of the oven, but I’d feel bad making more scones when these ones haven’t been finished off yet) and curl up with yet another book on Roman films. Talk to you all soon!

 

Sweet Cream Scone Recipe

200 g self rising flour

1/4 teaspoon salt
50 g caster sugar (plain white sugar)
200 mL double cream (heavy whipping cream in the US)
—>if the dough is too dry, add up to another 50 mL cream, but our dough has always been super wet and sticky with only the 200 mL
Preheat oven to 220°C (450°F). Place rack as high as possible in oven. Sift flour and salt together in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the sugar and 200 mL cream then work in by hand by rubbing in the cream trying to incorporate as much air as possible until fully mixed. DO NOT OVERMIX. If the mix is too dry, now add the extra cream until the dough is wet enough to hold together.
Place dough on a heavily floured surface and knead a couple of times until relatively smooth. Dust top with more flour and pat down to desired height (we did 1 cm). Cut out 5 cm circles with a crimped circle cutter and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. HINT: dip the cutter in flour before cutting out each scone. Knead the extras back together and repeat until most of the dough is used up.
Bake for 6-8 minutes (we did 8) until they have risen and are slightly browned around the edges and on top. Serve with clotted cream if you are lucky enough to be in England, but with red fruit jam no matter where you are.

Everything is Better in Mini Part 2

I realized that I never finished the mini series! I left you all hanging with the question: What else is better in mini? Mini Europe cannot be all there is that minifying improves! The suspense has probably been killing you, the agony of not knowing tainting the enjoyment of your everyday life. For that, I apologize. You’ll understand my MIA later in this post once I explain my first full week back in California, but for now I will reveal the other thing that, when mini, takes on a whole new amazingness.

Cupcakes.

My baking obsession has been a well-documented phenomenon throughout the year’s posts, and I was giddily prepared for the wonder of having a fully stocked kitchen once again (Partner constant heard me lament about missing a stand mixer). It was probably only one, maybe two, days before my house was filled with the smell of freshly baked cupcakes and heat from the oven. And the baking has been consistent since.

Blueberry and Cream mini cupcakes

Peanut Butter Chocolate mini cupcakes (fondly called Coma Cupcakes)

Devils Food with Pomegranate Buttercream mini cupcakes (newly named Wistful Poms)

Peach and Vanilla Pie

Chocolate Mousse (okay that one didn’t require an oven)

Chocolate Covered Digestive Cookies (yes like the British biscuit!)

And then of course there is all the cooking I’ve been doing as well, but that’s more of just throw together meals rather than noteworthy baking amazingness. It has been awesome having all this freedom in the kitchen, and my brother’s coworkers and my dad’s office mates are all being really spoiled by their freshly delivered goodies.

Unfortunately I can’t spend all day everyday baking; summer school waits for no girl and my first week was upon me way too quickly. I’m taking General Psychology Lab, Psychology of Gender, and The Hollywood Myth of the Romans (yes we are watching Gladiator!). So obviously that means that I am taking three classes during A session of UCLA summer school. I mean that doesn’t sound too bad, right? WRONG. It’s absolute murder. Here’s to put it into perspective a bit: UCLA normally has 10 week terms, but summer sessions are only 6. In one 10 week term, a full load is considered 3 classes with anything more than that being considered an overbooked and stress inducing schedule. The most people usually take in a summer session is two classes. Therefore I am a psychotic masochist in taking what is a full regular term load in a shortened term. Okay the masochism is not really all that surprising to my friends, but this may be taking it to a whole new level. The majority of my week has been spent either in lecture or doing readings and assignments outside of class preparing for the next lecture. No sooner do I finish one thing on my to-do list than I have to add another three. Luckily I have Brinkley and baking and crafting and reading for reviews on my other blog to break up the monotony of body image lectures and readings.

Thankfully I survived my first week, partly because of the opportunities to catch up with some old friends that will now probably be taking center stage on this blog/platform. Monday night I went to dinner with my best friend from high school, Laura, where we had one of the most awkward waiters we have ever had. It felt like he was trying to usher us out of the unbusy but still with a few tables left restaurant as fast as possible. That has never happened to us! Then on Wednesday, after breakfast with Laura at our favorite place The Tea Garden, my college best friends and I reunited in our foursome for the first time in over a year. It is really difficult to work around the schedules of four people, but thankfully we did as Aisha, Keith, and Aaron are amazing and we all had so much to catch up one (haha their initials make the acronym AKA, so calling them that from now on!). It can be such a relief to just see these people again; they have been with me through so much and being around them all just warms my heart. Of course it is all twinged with homesickness for England and missing Partner and Pippa and all my other friends in the UK, but I can worry about how to make it back to England once I graduate in five more weeks.

Until then, it’s all about university work, baking, and spending quality time with my incredible family and friends (and hopefully some blog-worthy shenanigans!).

Cheers!

The Big 100th Post

Isn’t it amazingly fitting (and completely coincidental) that my 100th post is my leaving Oxford to return home to the States? This was never my intention; I didn’t plan out all of my blog posts for my entire year to make sure that I ended on the 100th post. I can’t even really believe that I’ve had 100 posts!

In fact, this post is truly the last part of me in England at the moment. In case no one noticed, the time stamp on this one is 4:15 pm, GMT, which means that as this is being blasted into cyberspace, my plane towards Los Angeles has just taken off and I am now in the air, eleven and a half hours of a plane ride ahead of me. Let’s hope there are no screaming children!

So as this is my 100th milestone, in typical blogosphere fashion, I thought I would do a little fun listing, an almost sum-up of my incredible time abroad. Nothing is in any particular order. Enjoy!

25 Great/Funny Experiences

  1. Meeting my amazing dance partner, Dan, is probably the best thing that happened to me here!
  2. Being pelted with snowballs outside the Sheffield competition. First time in the snow!
  3. Disneyland Paris
  4. Harry Potter Studio Tours in Leavesden
  5. Seeing Les Mis on the West End…twice
  6. Dan running into a bollard at Blackpool. This was mostly funny because of the email his dad sent him afterwards, but it’s a favorite inside joke with the two of us now.
  7. Blackpool IVDA!
  8. Thinking that Iguanadons were the same thing as Iguanas (you’ll understand this one later)
  9. Baking parties in the Acland kitchen
  10. Dan’s birthday BBQ
  11. Days spent at the Missing Bean
  12. Keble Ball
  13. Meeting up with Dale in Paris
  14. The Port Meadow Photo Challenge
  15. My family visiting!
  16. Driving in Ireland
  17. Finding Charles Brandon’s grave in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle
  18. Becoming friends with all the people on the dance team
  19. Dancing on a table in Wahoo with Ania 😉 and nearly getting kicked out
  20. Flying off to Zurich alone, completely random! Sidenote: Awesome zoo
  21. Seeing the town that  my family has lived in for hundreds of years (Harlech, Wales)
  22. Walking through horse pastures in the Cotswolds
  23. Varsity Match for OUDC
  24. Going to tutorials in a room that is older than any of the original 13 colonies
  25. Stonehenge in the pouring rain with my brother

25 Things I’ve Learned

  1. The Rose has the best cream tea in Oxford
  2. Custard, cream, and mayo might as well be their own food groups here
  3. Pants=underwear, not trousers
  4. Pimms is awesome. There is always an excuse to drink Pimms.
  5. The instant the sun comes out, expect the streets to get very, very crowded.
  6. Blackwells is the most deadly store in the world.
  7. Sometimes it is cheaper to take a train to a foreign country than to Cornwall.
  8. You can get to Brussels or Paris from Oxford faster than you can get from Oxford to Cambridge (they must have planned it like that!).
  9. Awesome words like keen, overkeen, and knackered should be incorporated into our everyday vocabulary.
  10. British people think that all Americans are gun-toting, obese rednecks.
  11. Cobblestones do not mix well with high heels.
  12. Punting is not just a type of kick in football.
  13. At a BBQ, Brits bring their own meat. Americans bring desserts and sides. Plan accordingly.
  14. Stand mixers are necessary to avoid baking catastrophes.
  15. 14lbs=1 stone. This is how they measure weight. But then they use kg? Wth?
  16. Fancy dress means costumes, not cocktail attire.
  17. Stealing ties and bow ties makes night clubs into a game.
  18. You never wait for a cross walk to cross the street.
  19. Buses will run you over and they get really close to the curbs.
  20. Salad means assorted vegetables that you can have put on your baguette at lunch or lettuce with delicious toppings. However, salads are rarely meals.
  21. You need a television license just to stream a show online.
  22. Everyone, and I mean everyone, watches and loves Downton Abbey.
  23. I know more British history than a lot of British people.
  24. Waffles are dessert, not breakfast. And for that matter, pancakes are basically crepes, not the fluffy goodness we get in the States.
  25. If you forget an umbrella, you’ve guaranteed that it will rain. If you brought an umbrella, it will still probably rain but at least you will be dry.

25 Things I’ll Miss

  1. Nightly tea parties with my dance partner
  2. My friends on the dance team
  3. Olives (the sandwich shop not the food item)
  4. Cream teas
  5. Being able to walk everywhere
  6. Saying Cheers instead of Thanks
  7. Spur of the moment day trips into London
  8. West End shows for cheap!
  9. Being surrounded by history everywhere I go
  10. My bay window
  11. How happy everyone is when its sunny
  12. Oxfordshire Public Library
  13. Free entry to museums and galleries
  14. Everyone in the Keble MCR/Acland
  15. The collective understanding when someone mentions Jamals or Park End
  16. My scouts (aka the women who clean my room every week and empty my bins. They were the nicest people!)
  17. The accents
  18. Ease of travel, unless you want to go horizontally across the country. Good luck with that.
  19. Baking for Dan’s friends and Keble events. Love easy taste testers
  20. Laughing as Dan and I attempt to Quickstep/Waltz/Jive/Cha/Foxtrot/Viennese Waltz
  21. Hearing everyone’s opinions on LA
  22. Dirty Chais
  23. All the literature and film links in the city
  24. Feeling like I’m constantly at Hogwarts
  25. My coworkers

25 Places that I Didn’t Get a Chance to Visit, But That I Definitely Will Someday

  1. York
  2. Cornwall
  3. Dover
  4. Calais
  5. Norfolk
  6. Budapest
  7. Prague
  8. Vienna
  9. Pompeii/Rome/Venice/Naples/Italy
  10. Warsaw/Other Places in Poland
  11. Berlin/all over Germany
  12. Geneva
  13. Istanbul
  14. Marrakech
  15. North Carolina
  16. Athens, basically all of Greece
  17. Slovenia
  18. The Netherlands
  19. Northern Ireland
  20. Brighton
  21. Denmark
  22. Russia
  23. Bruges/Antwerp
  24. The Caribbean
  25. Portugal

Yeah, it’s a long list, but hopefully I’ll have a long life in which to fulfill it, with wonderful friends and family by my side. Now don’t think that because I’m back in the US that this blog is ending. I’m still going to be traveling and I’m working on finding my way back to England for a bit longer of a term. So stay tuned!

And thank you to everyone and everything in England that made this the most amazing year of my life.

A Week of Lasts

Warning, it’s a long one. My advice: Grab some tea and scones before settling down to read this novella. Trust me, tea and scones makes everything better 😉

It has been a week for lasts. Which is completely fitting as this was 8th week, meaning my final week here in Oxford. Pardon me for waxing nostalgic for a blog post, but what a year it has been. Right now Dan and I are exchanging stories of our favorite memories from the past nine months via Facebook chat, and it blows my mind just how much has happened since I stepped off that plane back in September. But a full reminiscing might wait until a milestone blog post, so I’ll refrain for the time being. Not only is it my final week, but it has also been a crazy busy one! So let’s begin with the list of Lasts. Head’s up, it’s a long one!

Last Shift at Work

Sunday afternoon I ended my time waitressing. Ironically it was one of my toughest shifts; I was far from focused and we filled up the entire restaurant for about 90 minutes. With only two waitresses, two bartenders, and one chef, a full restaurant can get overwhelming really quickly. And although I can normally handle a busy shift, for some reason my brain was just not turned on enough to manage it. I choose to blame it on having three long and busy shifts in a row (Friday-Saturday night-Sunday morning) and being once again plagued with insomnia, two things which would make any waitress a little bit off her game. The breakfast/brunch crowd is also a bit more difficult when everyone orders omelettes and you end up confused about which table ordered which omelette because there are two waitresses managing the same tables. So if I didn’t take a table’s order, I didn’t necessarily know that they had ordered food–the specific table in question had told me they were waiting for one more person to join them, who never showed up–and Table 15’s omelette and yogurt and granola ends up at Table 16, and Jenna gets a lecture from the other waitress. All in all though, it was a fun shift and I am surprised at how much I’m going to miss waitressing. Though the tips have a lot to do with that! 😉

Last Essay for Tutorials

It also happened to be my longest essay of the term. My major tutorial is an Independent Research Project, and because we didn’t have time to actually run the study during term (I’m supposed to figure out a way to run it over the summer from the opposite side of the world?), we decided that I could at least make progress on the eventual final write up by writing the Method section and the Introduction of the paper before we even made the stimulus. The Method section was turned in a few weeks ago, so the Intro needed to be written by Thursday’s tutorial. When I set my mind to finishing an essay early, I rarely rest until I do, hence why this week’s essay was researched, outlined, and written between Saturday and Monday afternoon. Granted, three paragraphs were copy-pasted from a previous essay that was a foundation essay for the Intro (so it wasn’t cheating to reuse it), but the majority of the research was new articles and the paper ended at a concise 2200 words. Not really sure how I was able to churn it out that fast, but I certainly wasn’t complaining as it allowed me more time to experience and appreciate the remaining Lasts as there wasn’t an essay hanging over my head.

Last Ballroom Practice

Only ten people showed up! So disappointing as I was planning on using this last Tuesday at Wychwood to say goodbye to everyone. The rest of the week was shaping up to be a crazy busy one, so I wasn’t sure how much time I would have to make the rounds among my friends (as it turned out, I was right in thinking not much) and really wanted to see as many of them as possible at rehearsal. Unfortunately exams are going on for a lot of people and as such the crowd was small. Sadness. Guess I’ll be leaving without notice for many people. I guess this is the advantage of Facebook; at least I can stay in touch as much as possible.

The actually dancing was exactly what Dan and I wanted. Bruce started with our new favorite dance: Foxtrot. I bet my ballroom coach back home will laugh when he hears that I love International Foxtrot, since he practically had to bribe me into practicing it back home! But Dan and I love the smoothness of the music and the technique seems to come very naturally to us, always a bonus. After 90 minutes of Foxtrot, Bruce switched it up to teach us Viennese Waltz. I’ve done Viennese Waltz before, and after spending an entire academic year watching the main team couples dance it, Dan was able to pick it up really quickly. The steps themselves aren’t difficult, it’s all about the speed and stamina. We found it easier to dance when the tempo was quicker, rather than the slowest Viennese that Bruce had, possibly because the slowest Viennese switched timing so often through the song that it was difficult to keep in time. Our last Viennese was the perfect ending to an incredible year dancing with my best friend: it was the theme to Harry Potter!!!! Couldn’t have chosen better myself 😀

Last Baking Experiment

I insisted last week that my making a gigantic batch of sugar cookies to distribute was going to be my last baking day of the term. It just goes to show you that sometimes people eat their words, literally in this case. I blame my mom’s telling me that our peach tree back home is bearing an insane amount of peaches and asking me for some peach dessert recipes to try. She blames Dan for suggesting that we try out one of the recipes ourselves. He blames my telling him about her plans to make peach pie and other assorted peach desserts and sending him the recipes to tempt him. Basically, it’s a blame circle that worked out for everyone in Acland on Tuesday night after our rehearsal. We started off making Strawberries and Cream Pie (recipe below), and it would appear that I still haven’t learned my lesson to read a recipe all the way through before I attempt it, because I neglected to notice that the pie not only took 1 hour 10 minutes minimum to bake, but also needed to chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours before serving. Darn it! I really wanted to try something we baked, but I was not about to stay up until 3 am for a slice of pie. I am definitely not that crazy! Luckily for the little petulant child in me, we also had had the foresight to bake a Honey Almond Cake (also below) that did not need chilling for eternity and was delicious right out of the oven. Our friend Pippa came over after her law dinner and was greeted with huge hugs and a slice of cake. Yeah, she likes us. Plus both desserts ended up great successes, though I found the cake too simple of a recipe too eliminate my baking craving. Guess I’ll just have to make a really challenging recipe next week at home! In my own, fully stocked, clean kitchen!

Oh and did I mention that since neither of us had a pie pan, we made the pie in a 8×8 square pan? Do you know what that means? That Pie R Squared! Sorry, math joke. Dan came up with it.

But really, making a pie in an 8-in square actually was super convenient and came out just as tasty, if a tad unconventional. It was a lot easier to cut it into even slices as well.

Last Spontaneous Weekend Trip Booking

While I won’t reveal where we booked a vacation to, just know that Dan and I booked a last minute trip to somewhere and leave tomorrow morning at 5:30 am!!! So excited though. And I realized that now all three of my terms ended with me spontaneously leaving Oxford on a vacation. Michaelmas I went to Paris to visit my junior high school friend, Dale. Hilary term I flew off to Zurich alone. And tomorrow we head to…like I was really about to reveal it! I will give you a hint though. We are not flying 😦

Last Day Trip into London

With all my work for the term completed, I had a few free days to lounge around Oxford if I so chose. Of course, the weather not being the greatest lately, that would literally entail lounging around my room while all my friends were either in their respective labs or exams. Not exactly the way I wanted to spend my final Wednesday in England. Traveling around the UK, while easier than in the US, can actually be quite difficult and time consuming for simple day trips by yourself, so I just copied what I did a few weeks ago and caught a bus into London with the intention of snatching some discount tickets to some West End productions. I really wanted to spend the evening with Dan, so I chose to only do a matinee and not a double feature (plus I wasn’t really keen on walking around London alone at night again or getting back at 2 am). After buying a ticket at Leicester Square–I tried to get a ticket to War Horse, which would have been the only show I’d have stuck around for a double performance to see, but unsurprisingly it was sold out–and resisting the urge to make it Les Mis for the third time, I walked to the National Portrait gallery to kill some time. Free museum entry is definitely something I am going to miss when I go back to California. I love how England has made it accessible to visit a museum or gallery multiple times because entry is free. I rarely feel rushed through a collection, frantic to see every single piece, because I know that I can return for only the cost of transportation into the city. Unlike in the US where we have to pay an arm and a leg just to visit a pretty garden (not that it has ever stopped me…). After the Portrait Gallery I ate lunch in the National Gallery’s cafe, sat in yet another bookstore adding to my list of books to look up when I get back in the States, and then made my way to the Adelphi Theatre for the matinee of…

Last West End Show

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet…Street! I never saw the movie with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, but I really wanted to, and now I want to even more after seeing the stage show. My ticket was great (middle of second row orchestra!) though I ended up with a slight crick in my neck from having to crane it up a tad to see the whole stage. It was a great show, truly. It was different from anything else I have seen in that there wasn’t a big fanfare before the show began. No overture, no entr’acte after intermission, not even a curtain rising. In the ten minutes before the actual start of each act (five for the second act) the chorus actors just meandered on stage as if they were going about their daily lives, chatting to one another, doing laundry, writing a letter, fixing a door. Really a unique way of beginning a show. The music was great and some of the songs were absolutely hilarious. I actually laughed out loud multiple times, which was unexpected as I had been under the impression that Sweeney Todd was a really dark musical. And it was, even the colors were mostly darker neutrals, but it was darkly humorous as well. And bonus! Imelda Staunton was playing Mrs. Lovett. Recognize the name? Yep, Professor Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One can actually sing and be comedic. I’ve had such good luck with my spur-of-the-moment musical selections yielding the opportunity to see some famous talents. I mean, Raza Jaffrey in Chicago (as much as I hated that show) and Imelda Staunton now, not to mention a few years ago seeing Daniel Dae Kim in The King and I at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a great and very satisfying last show to experience in London.

Last Tutorial

I don’t really have much to say about this other than yesterday (Thursday) was my last tutorial here in Oxford. While I was definitely far from happy about being left in the rain as the tutorial before mine went 20 minutes over, it was a productive meeting. I really like the tutorial system of education and have no idea how I’m going to readjust into massive lectures and multiple choice exams this summer at UCLA! Here’s hoping my GPA doesn’t take a sudden plunge because I’m used to creating my own research topics.

Last Performance at the New Theatre

This might actually be my last performance in the UK, unless some unforeseen tickets come mine and Dan’s way this weekend. The show was a really unique one, titled Against Time, and it was a joint venture with the England National Ballet (my second time seeing them) and Flawless, a UK hiphop/breaking troupe. The story of the production was kind of meh, but I really couldn’t have cared less what the story or the message of it was because the dancing was so incredible and the music was amazingly fun to listen to. The choreography blended hiphop and ballet, with the two styles mirroring and complementing each other and the music was almost all contemporary music. “Moves Like Jagger”, “Party Rock”, “Sexy Ladies” by Justin Timberlake, as well as a bit of Swan Lake and some other classical stuff thrown in. There was also the requisite hiphop/electronic/house/whateverpeoplebreakdanceto music. Absolutely loved it! And now I can’t wait even more to get back into a dance studio.

Last Tea Night with Dan

After the play, Dan came over to Isis for possibly the last time, well at least for a tea night (and pie. He brought me a slice of our pie. Good Partner). The guy really is a godsend; I’ve been freaking out a little bit because repacking up my life to return to LA is stressful, especially when you only have two duffel bags and a carry-on in which to do it. Dan was great about keeping me company while I made the tough decisions about what stays in Oxford for trash, what gets donated to bookstores/libraries/Oxfam, what goes to Dan for either consumption or safe keeping (he was excited about that part), and what gets packed up for this weekend or going home. I had to harken back to the day of the amazing Ziploc bag and “vacuum seal” everything in them once again to make it fit, but Dan seems to share my dad’s incredible packing skills and fit everything I needed in, without me having to through away my unused toiletries! Quite an accomplishment! Dad would be so proud of us. After I was completely packed up, we had some tea and talked about our weekend plans, trying not to think about my leaving in five days. It was 1:30 am before he finally left with two of his four bags of new stuff and a plan of what to do with every item in my room set out. The guy is such a blessing to have around when you are stressed.

Last Full Day in Oxford

It finally came. It still hasn’t hit me that it has, that today was my last consecutive 24 hours in Oxford for this time around. And I definitely spent it all around the city. There were errands to run, banks to visit, people to say goodbye to. To give just an overview of my day: wakeup at the ungodly hour of 6:30 am yet again (curse insomnia!), grab items to donate, go to Teddy Hall to donate items, go to Missing Bean, go to NatWest, go to Barclays, go to Covered Market, go to Library, go back to Isis, meet Dan there, move refrigerator that had melted all over my carpet from Isis to the taxi downstairs, move refrigerator from the taxi downstairs to Dan’s room in Acland, go to a High Street shop to finally buy a new iPhone case that I’ve been eyeing for weeks, go back to Isis, grab more items to donate, go to Sobells and Oxfam to donate items, go back to NatWest, go to The Rose, go to IT office at Teddy, go to Collections at Teddy, go to Sainsbury, go back to Isis. Lots of running around! There is so much to do today since I obviously won’t have the weekend because I’ll be in…gotcha, not giving it away!

Last Dirty Chai

So sad that I had my last Dirty Chai at the Missing Bean. I met a friend from the dance team there for breakfast and coffee and a two hour catch up session before I go to the US and she studies in Paris and Brussels for the summer. But it was such a great 2 hours. And a great Dirty Chai.

Last Cream Tea

All that cream tea tasting and reviewing practically necessitated me going to tea for the last time this year at the place that I consider to have the best cream tea in Oxford: The Rose on High Street. It is the entire package of delicious and warm scones, real fruit in the jam, smooth clotted cream, and a delicious loose leaf vanilla tea in a minimalist but warm atmosphere. And all for a great price in my opinion. Had to end with the best.

Last Time at St Edmund Hall

It’s a little bittersweet ending my time at this college. Granted, I really didn’t spend a ton of time on the site since I lived out for the year, but I still felt like I belonged to St. Edmund and loved that the place had such character. But I left it completely satisfied and with some beautiful pictures in my head from all the seasons. Bye Teddy! Thanks for welcoming me into your quaint world for a great year.

Now all that’s left is a super awesome trip with my dance partner and a twelve hour flight.

Strawberries and Cream Pie (aka the Pie R Squared pie)

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: 1 pie

 Ingredients
  • 1 refrigerated pie crust (I highly recommend making your own pie crust as I find the pre made ones really bland. You only need a bottom crust, so make a single crust or else the crust will be too thick in my opinion.)
For the Filling
  • 2 pints strawberries, stems removed and halved
    • Other fruit options to try: Strawberry-Banana, Peach, Blueberry with Lemon Cream, Cherry (though not having tried them myself I can’t vouch for them, they are just ideas I had)
  • 1 cup sugar (I used just over 2/3 cup)
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
For the Crumb Topping
  • 2 1/2 tbs. brown sugar
  • 2 tbs. sugar (I used 1 tbs.)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 1/2 tbs. all purpose flour

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Roll out the raw pie crust and press into a pie dish. Shape the edges in to desired shape. Set aside.
For the Filling
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour and sugar together.
  2. Add in the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla extract. Mix for about 3 minutes. (Not having a stand mixer, I whisked it by hand for 5 minutes)
  3. Place the strawberries into the pie crust. Pour the filling evenly over the strawberries.
For the Crumb Topping
  1. In a bowl, combine the brown sugar, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir in the melted butter.
  2. Add in the flour and use your hands or a spatula to combine until the mixture has a crumbly texture.
  3. Distribute the crumb topping evenly over the top of the pie.
  4. Bake the pie for approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes.
  5. Let pie cool for at least 4 hours before serving.

Honey Almond Loaf Cake

4 eggs

2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream (38% fat) *Note: This is whipping cream in the UK. Single and Double Cream have too high of a fat content*

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups (280 grams) self-rise flour

For the topping

200 grams slivered almonds

3 teaspoons honey

Turn the oven on to 170°C/350F. Combine all the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ones in another (eggs, vanilla, cream). Mix the contents of each bowl, separately. Pour the cream mixture into the flour and mix well with a whisk (no stand mixer needed). Pour the batter evenly into one large loaf pan and one small one, or pretty much whatever type of pan you want to bake it in (just adjust cooking times accordingly). Scatter a handful of almonds over the top and drizzle a spoonful of honey. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until toothpick/knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cover top of cake with aluminum foil if top is browning too much before the cake is finished baking.

Serving suggestions: As is! Drizzled with a bit more honey. Any way you would serve Angel Food Cake (cherries instead of strawberries would be really good). With bananas. 

Last stop…

…London! Were you waiting for it? I told you to wait for it, so we now know your inability to follow directions if you didn’t. *Sarcasm Sign*

But it began with a day in London just us girls. Kevin and Dad went to Stonehenge, Old Sarum, and Bath so we had the whole day to ourselves. Mom and I checked into The Rubens at the Palace, a hotel full of memories for us as it was the same hotel we stayed at when we came three years ago. They kindly pretended to remember us, but we know that they don’t (except our favorite doorman Nathan who actually DID remember us!). It’s cute though. The first thing we did was take a tube to Piccadilly Circus to snag two of the last seats to that night’s performance of Les Miserables. They were in the Upper Dress Circle, aka the nosebleed seats, but they were tickets and that is all that mattered. I’m willing to suffer through a lot for the theatre.

Our first real activity of the day was going to the Victoria & Albert Museum in the Burrough of Kensington. I loved the museum, and it’s something I had wanted to do in London for a while and just hadn’t gotten the chance. It was full of decorative arts exhibits, so things like clothes, furniture, jewelry, plate ware, and my personal favorite, snuff boxes.

A snuff box, makes more sense why I like them now doesn't it?

Basically a ton of sparkly things which everyone knows I am attracted to like a fish. We lingered over the items from the Tudor era obviously, and while the ball dresses exhibit wasn’t open yet, there was a wonderful exhibit on theatre production that put us in the mood for Les Mis.

We spent a long time in the V&A and then went to the famous department store, Harrods, which nearly ruined my beautiful day. It was gaudy and crowded, hot and smelly, and not just because of the perfume counters. Everything was a disgusting shrine to excess and overindulgence. We barely walked in before we got lost and asked an employee for a map just to find an escape from the place. It was one of the lower points of the entire trip and I have no idea why anyone would want to step foot in there. And then once we ahd escaped, we couldn’t find a nearby place for tea so we went back to our own beautiful and calm–as well as tea providing–hotel for scones and Early Grey. Definitely an improvement, bringing me back to the happiness of spending time with Mom, going to the V&A, and basking in the beautiful sunlight.

Tea Time

We went back to Piccadilly around 6 pm to grab dinner before the play. Because we were on the border of SoHo, most everywhere was clubs or cocktail bars and we ate at Le Pain Quotedienne. Our waiter was awesome. He was funny, liked Harry Potter and Disney, and even watches Downton Abbey. Unfortunately we didn’t get his name and will never see him again because he really was a sweetie. But Les Mis was calling and the theatre waits for no diner.

Les Mis was even better than I could have hoped for. The singing, the staging, the singing (yes, it deserves multiple mentions). I can see why everyone becomes addicted. I pretty much sobbed the entire last third of the musical, which was problematic as I had forgotten tissues. I was stunned, speechless, and streaming tears for a while after curtain.

At Les Mis

But all good things must come to an end; all too soon we were joined at The Rubens by the menfolk and nighttime gave way to morning of our first day in London as the four of us.

Kevin really wasn’t feeling well on this new morning so he elected to forgo going to Windsor Castle with us in exchange for an extra four hours of sleep. It was Dad’s first experience with the Tube, so we were lucky that it wasn’t as crowded as it generally is so Dad wouldn’t get separated from us. We got a much later start than Mom and I are used to or wanted to, so by the time we made it to Windsor we ended up waiting in quite a long line than we would’ve if we had arrived earlier.

Windsor Castle, the Queen was in residence

And St. George’s Chapel was closed for Sunday services so no Hency VIII grave for us (thankfully Mom and I saw it last time). All we ended up being able to do was Queen Mary’s Dollhouse, the State Apartments, and the outside areas. We did all of that three years ago on our Tudor Tour, but that time we had arrived so late in the day that we had had to rush everything. This time we were able to take our time, but with the chapel closed there wasn’t much else to do. We listened to the entire audio guide of the apartments and grounds, ate lunch, and walked back to the rail station. Dad loved the castle and went on and on about how cool it was. Our first train back was cancelled so we waited around for another 20 minutes for the next one. Once at Waterloo Station, there was a lot of security ushering us out of the station; apparently there was a fire report at one of the cafes.

We ate here last time we were at Windsor

Our initial plan was to do another cream tea and then catch a Hop-on-Hop-Off tour so Dad and Kevin could see more of London without needing to walk around for four days. As the train was later than we had anticipated, in fact the whole day was later than we had anticipated, Mom and I chose to graciously give up our precious tea in favor of catching one of the last tours. It turned out that the last live guide bus was leaving from Green Park at 5 and we were at one of last stops (Victoria) so we could get on the last tour IF we made it to Green Park in 20 minutes. We ended up making it with literally a minute to spare. Then while everyone went upstairs, I had to deal with a broken credit card machine preventing me from paying for the tickets. When it was finally worked out I went upstairs and snagged a spot at the very front of the bus, prime picture taking location. The rest of the family was in the back of the bus, abandoning me to be surrounded by Mafia men (no joke).

Rare photo of Dad and me at the Windsor Governor's House

Back at the hotel, Kevin and I sent Mom and Dad off to have dinner together while Kevin was stood up by a friend who was also visiting in London and I slept. Then Dad swapped places with me and slept while the three of us went downstairs for dinner and pudding 🙂 A lot of funny moments came out of that pudding.

For our last full day together (sadness) we went to the Tower of London, one of my favorite places to visit. I’ve been there twice already, so the immediate reaction would be an eye roll because there is a theoretically finite amount of things to do and see at the Tower. I mean I can basically spew off most of the same information about the history of the Tower that someone would get from the audio guide, so it isn’t like I can learn a whole lot more by continuing to visit.

Tower of London

But Dad had yet to go there and there was a huge draw for Mom and me as well. Thinking that it opened at 9:30, we took the tube, arriving at 9:15. Turns out that the Tower wasn’t open until 10 am. I was huddling on a bench in the sun because it hadn’t warmed up enough yet and Kevin and I practiced our British accents on each other to the embarrassment of our parents. I think we are getting pretty good at them to be honest. The gates opened at 10, but the first guided tour wasn’t until 10:30 (which once again further threw off our time game plan) so we beat the crowds to the jewel house and awed at the sparkliness of the Crown Jewels. Again, bored boys, starry eyed girls. That took all of 15 minutes and we made our way back to the entrance of the fortress to meet up with the tour guide.

The tour, as it was the first of the day, was incredibly crowded, probably consisting of 75 people. Thankfully the tour guide could project, because his jokes were hilarious and his history engaging (learned some new things! See? Totally worth revisiting). But as great as our guide was, he paled in comparison to the whole purpose of taking the tour: access to the chapel. Specifically, entrance to the site of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howards’ graves (always a Tudor reason behind my thoughts). Yes, I actually got to see the graves of those two tragic women, and was completely overwhelmed, as I often become when faced with the reality of history. Completely satisfied with my time at the Tower, I waited on a warm bench (are you sensing a theme yet?) while the rest of the family breezed through some of the other Tower exhibits, and then we all left and headed for the Tate Modern.

Here is where Kevin received his reward for being an awesome brother on this trip: we all went to a modern art gallery with him despite Mom and me hating modern art and Dad’s back not really able to handle standing around galleries. But the guy earned it, so we all kindly sucked it up and allowed him as much time as he wanted to explore the exhibits. Which honestly only took about an hour as the gallery is really only one floor, so we soon moved on to the National Gallery, a place I was much more interested in. The National Gallery has over 150 hours of audio commentary, meaning that renting one for the second time was worth it. I made sure not to listen to the same paintings as before, choosing instead an entirely different genre of works, and I also made sure that I wasn’t wandering on an empty stomach! Greatly increased my enjoyment and focusing ability. This time I was the last one done, but there was a cafe downstairs so everyone had agreed to just meet there and no one got lost. Then we walked back to the hotel, where Mom and I were greeted by the wonderful Nathan holding out an envelope for us containing our incredible seats for Billy Elliot.

Obviously Mom and I have no qualms about seeing productions more than once, note our 6 time experience with Wicked, but we had attempted to get last minute tickets to the eternally sold out War Horse. Unfortunately, those did not pan out so we consoled ourselves with the brilliant Billy. Definitely one of the best productions in London, and highly recommended by, well, me. Also, tidbit for those in LA, it’s coming to the Pantages! So buy a ticket, you won’t be sorry, I promise.

Unfortunately this left us with only one more morning to share before they had to leave me in the UK for their lives back in California. We chose to spend this melancholy morning in a melancholy place, a church. Specifically Westminster Abbey, fittingly surrounding ourselves with illustrious but dead people. I took my time even more than usual here, because last time Mom and I were both able to find the resting places of some important but relatively obscure Tudor people (Anne of Cleves and Anne Bolyen’s niece Katherine Knoylls), so I was hoping that I would stumbled across more of these people if I was just patient and didn’t zip through the Abbey like Dad did. I was rewarded as well, finding Anne Boleyn’s nephew and Elizabeth I’s counselor Henry Carey. Even cooler, I bumped into a friend from UCLA! Completely random, unintentional, and kind of surreal. We started at each other for a solid minute of confusion before realizing neither of us was hallucinating and yes, we were both real people standing in Westminster Abbey. Her friend just got accepted to Oxford so she came over to visit on her spring break. But how amazing that we both were in Westminster at the same time and able actually could catch up for a bit? So bizarre how small of a world it can be!

Nathan!

Following the conclusion of Westminster, we took a massively scenic route up towards Trafalgar’s Square before heading back to the hotel for our farewells. As all taxis seem to be in the UK, my family’s ride to the airport was 15 minutes early, so the goodbyes were a little more sudden than I was expecting. I am so grateful that they came to visit and that I had the chance to spend two weeks with my dad and brother and three with my mom.

Now for a week of school work and dance and rest before I set off on another trip to Paris with my friends!

The Last Day of Scotland (anyone get the movie reference?)

Last day in Scotland, and although it was a little hazy, the sun was still shining and it seemed like the air would be warm, but I am perpetually frozen so it wasn’t enough warmth for me.

Having done the Royal Mile two days earlier, we decided once again to leave Edinburgh, this time going to get our Braveheart on in Stirling. I donned my tour guide hat and led the way around the city to the train station, hearing every five seconds a question along the lines of if I knew where I was going (I did) and then once at the train station if I knew what I was doing (again, I did). We took a taxi from the station in Stirling up to Stirling Castle, another imposing former royal residence on a striking hilltop. The Scottish seem to love castles on rugged hills, but they afford such expansive views that you wonder if they foresaw the tourism industry and the invent of the panoramic shot. After all, they did use fortune tellers back in those days.

View from Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle ended up being more of another stately home for royals than a defensive castle exhibit, so Mom and I were content, though we feared that Dad and Kevin would be bored. Most of the history discussed on the excellent audio guide revolved around James V and transitioning into Mary, Queen of Scots before ending with her son James VI of Scotland and I of England. The really great thing in my opinion that set Stirling apart from other royal palaces of the era is that in addition to adding the furniture and tapestries from the time period, they even recreated the painting of the walls and ceilings, really giving a sense of what these rooms would have looked like in the 1540s. With the rooms coming alive like they did, you can understand why these rooms were considered luxurious. I don’t know what you would have done if you got a migraine however; all the paint was bright and colorful to the point of being overwhelming.

There was also a really cool opportunity to watch a team of weavers recreating some of the older tapestries using the same techniques from the era. Apparently each weaver can only complete 1 square inch a day and each tapestry takes between two and four years to finish. Talk about patience.

KITTY! So cute 🙂

Leaving the castle, we walked back down the hill (I got them to walk somewhere, win!) in search of a taxi to the William Wallace Monument on the hill on the opposite side of Stirling. This time I told everyone that it was such a nice day that I was walking up to the monument and would by no means be hurt or insulted if they took the courtesy shuttle. My speech of one sentence, however, seemed to inspire everyone to walk, which I was fine with having the company. The walk was as lovely as I had anticipated.

William Wallace Monument through the haze and sun

The monument was gigantic, and to get to the top we had to climb 247 spiral stairs that were cramped and dark and only allowed one person to go up or down at a time. The climb was broken up with three exhibit rooms that I found very dull and not at all improved by the terrible audio guide. I quickly decided that I would rather go straight to the top and appreciate the view for longer than drag myself through the exhibits. And what a treat it was! The saying goes that on a clear day you can see all of Scotland from this summit. Of course this is an exaggeration but you can see quite far and it was well worth the claustrophobic stairs. Even the more frightening trip down the stairs, and that was pretty terrifying.

Top of the monument

It was about 4 pm and that seemed too early to return to Edinburgh because face it, we just would have been chilling in the apartment and we certainly didn’t come all this way for that. So instead we hopped on another train to Glasgow, just to say we went there.

Glasgow

A few hours there seemed like plenty. There wasn’t really anywhere cute to walk in the city centre and Dad’s back was bothering him too much to travel to the areas that would have been nicer. Yet the buildings were enticing despite the feeling that the town never shook off the Industrial Revolution. We “meandered” until we found the Glasgow Apple Store (something you do solely because you can) and then wandered around looking for a place to eat. After dinner it was back to Edinburgh to worry about packing everything up for our 6 am exit by taxi to the airport.

Where did we fly off to this time, you ask? Well by taxi, by plane, by bus, and by foot, we arrived back in my native Oxford. Yes, I was home! Only for half a day, but it was refreshing none the less. I noticed something about each family member and how different they each were when they arrived in Oxford and I showed them around for the first time. Kevin asked me about the history and the literature references such as Tolkien and Lewis. Mom asked about what my life was like day-to-day, where I do this and that, my favorite hangouts, etc (in case a certain person reads this, yes that included The Missing Bean). Dad asked only questions of why or how certain things were built the way they were. At least I knew the answers to Kevin’s and Mom’s questions.

In order to preserve his back for the next few days in London, Dad checked into the hotel, sending the rest of us out into the Oxford world to explore, make my day, and then take Kevin to The Eagle and Child, something he missed out on last time he was in Oxford. Then we headed back to the hotel the boys were staying at to meet Partner for dinner! Dan and I agreed that Fire & Stone, that Oxford Thursday night institution, was an excellent choice, a guaranteed hit. Then we took them to G&Ds–the real Oxford institution at this point–for ice cream. It was such a breath of relief to be back with Dan. He got along easily with Kevin and my dad, and he is good at keeping me calm when I get anxious (as evidenced by our surviving dance competitions!). Kevin and Dad joined the club of people who call him Matt Damon, secretly christening him Dan Damon, though I don’t think Dan knows that yet…well he knows now. Oops.

Partner meets the parents

Next and final stop (sad isn’t it?) on my family vacation will be…wait for it…

No, Dad, Nessy Does Not Live in that Loch!

I keep wanting to say “Oh today we did x”, but as I am relaying our travels about a week after they actually occurred, beginning a post with that introduction doesn’t really work. If I was going to start with “Today I did …” I would be obliged to talk about my making it to Summertown from my apartment in 23 minutes (those of you in Oxford will understand exactly how incredible of a feat that was), my shoe shopping, my wonderful lunch with Partner, and my walking through University Parks with aforementioned Partner discussing baseball (Magic Johnson bought the Dodgers! There is hope in the world after all!) enjoying THE MOST BEAUTIFUL DAY IN ENGLAND!!! Sorry, sunlight makes me a little giddy. But alas, I am not writing about this rejuvenating spring day, I am writing about a different, though nearly as beautiful day back in Scotland last week.

On this day, we took a ten hour bus tour up to the Highlands. Honestly, it was such a relief to not have had to plan out an entire day. Instead Mom and I got to be led around and could sit back and just enjoy ourselves. Our driver, that silent Scottish man behind the wheel, was named Gus and our actual guide was Mav. One syllable names, easy enough to remember, enabled maximum mental checking out capabilities. Mav was hilarious, as well as extremely well-versed in history so I was actually able to learn a lot about the Scottish history that I didn’t know. He also made plenty of digs at the English and Scottish alike, so we were often laughing. I became a little nauseous a few times from motion sickness; the roads were much windier than even the Ring of Kerry in Ireland.

Dunkeld Cathedral

Our first stop was a one street town called Dunkeld. There was a small path through a swatch of woods that let out in front of this cathedral, tiny compared to all of the other ones I’ve seen, which was built beginning in the 1200s and is now half ruins. The weather was one of the most beautiful days I’ve ever experienced in my time here (though definitely surpassed by today’s). And the banks of the river were so calm and warm that I wanted nothing more than to lay on the grass and rest, warmed by the sun, surrounded by the Highland mountain views.

Looks fake doesn't it?

Of course the peace was shattered by a fighter plane roaring overhead. What a way to kill a moment of tranquility. The rest of the town was straight out of a postcard. The buildings all date from the Georgian era because in 1689 a battle between the Catholic Jacobites and the Protestants destroyed most of the town.

Stop number two was a bit more north, a village called Pitlochry. On the way there we kept seeing these caws that were so shaggy I would sooner call them wooly mammoths rather than Highland Cows. Pitlochry became one of those towns buoyed by tourism, and its hydroelectric dam and salmon ladder. We walked down there after grabbing lunch (Mom and I finally got our pasties and yes, they tasted like the ones my grandfather would make when my mom was a little girl), and while the dam was just another dam, the walk there was just as picturesque as the rest of the town.

It is seriously so difficult to pick out which photos to post, they are all so beautiful!

Most of Scotland is subject to preservation laws, meaning that people who buy a property must maintain the place’s original architecture and exterior design. Therefore the villages maintain their quaint facades. Yet another reason why I love the UK! They want to preserve their history and look. We also started talking to two other people on the tour, two girls named Natalie and Cat.

Typical shot of my family

Back on the bus we headed to Aberfeldy for yet another distillery tour (so boring as they all are!), but we stopped a few times along the road so we could get pictures of Loch Tummel. I have so many pictures of gorgeous lochs, but all too soon for my taste, we arrived in Aberfeldy for the Dewar Distillery tour, just as dull as I expected and triggering hours of commentary about whisky from the boys. I am never going to a distillery again. We left too late for me and my sanity, but I regained it as the rest of our stops all revolved around nature.

Loch Tay

The first of these final stops was along Lock Tay, which is an endpoint of the River Tay, the largest in terms of water volume flowing through it river in Britain. The real stop during this final leg was the Falls of Dochart. When Mav said “falls” I pictured a short hike to a Hawai’i type waterfall in the Highland crags, but the Falls of Dochart are more accurately described as rapids flowing under a bridge and over some rocks. Not what I was anticipating but just as beautiful albeit in a different way. Unfortunately that marked the end of our tour and we headed back in to Edinburgh just in time for dinner.

A bridge over mildly annoyed water

We ate at the conveniently located Pizza Express. The two girls from earlier, Natalie and Cat, joined us and I swear that Cat was the perfect girl for Kevin. Devastatingly we didn’t exchange Facebook information so I’m pretty sure we just missed out on the love of my brother’s life. A tragedy if there ever was one.