Tag Archive | London

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.

Advertisements

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. 

Dan’s Jubilee

This past weekend the Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, 60 years on the throne. We all were supposed to ignore the fact that the 60th anniversary of her coronation is next year, or that her reign actually started back in a February. Minor details, of course. Because what is a few months in the midst of 60 years, right?

Anyway, more importantly for me, this weekend was also Dan’s Quarter Jubilee! Yup, on Friday he turned a quarter of a century old! So from Thursday until Monday, the focus was all on his birthday.

It all started on Thursday when I joined him in Acland for some birthday baking before his first performance of Guys & Dolls. It’s tradition in his lab for the birthday person to bring in some form of baked good for tea time, so naturally he did me a favor and called me up as an assistant. The lemon bars from the previous week’s barbecue had been requested, and Dan wanted us to attempt Black Forest Cupcakes for his own personal choice. Always eager to try a new recipe, I quickly armed myself with chocolate and cherry.

And unknowingly armed myself for my first baking failure in Oxford.

Neither of us are really sure what exactly happened. The batter tasted fine (I thought it was a little sugary, but it is a cupcake) and was an appropriate cupcake consistency. But they overflowed their liners within 20 minutes of a 35 minute baking time, and not just a little bit of overflow, the entirety of the muffin tin was covered in cupcake overflows that had merged together. And this made it really difficult to tell when they were done. When we finally pulled them out of the over, the middles had collapsed, the tops burnt, and everything looked caramelized over. And this was before Dan tried to take the wrapper off of one and it was shellacked to the cupcake. Or rather, the blob, since it no longer in anyway resembled a cupcake in consistency, appearance, or taste. Epic. Baking. Failure.

Naturally I refused to even consider the idea of bringing those to his lab the next day. Nothing about them was salvageable and I made him throw them out quickly because I was really angry at the cupcakes. Yeah anger never fixed a baked good, but it had already been a bad day. Luckily the lemon bars are apparently a consistently good recipe, because they went off without a hitch and had the same deliciously flavor as the first time we made them. Tried and true, this recipe will now become a staple of my baking repertoire 🙂

But one 8×8 pan of lemon bars was not enough to satisfy an entire lab of DPhils at tea time, so we had to come up with another recipe to bake really quickly that we had all the ingredients to already since the clock was ticking for Dan to leave for his show call. He found a brownie recipe that we whipped up, modifying it as necessary to accommodate our just barely running out of butter and sugar. Then he left, and I invented a blackcurrant cream cheese frosting–once again without butter–and we ended up with a much better situation than the failed Black Forest Fiasco. According to Dan, everything went over swimmingly the next day at tea, so thanks to him for some clear and fast thinking!

Friday was Dan’s actual birthday, and it ended up being really low key as he had to spend most of it in the lab and then practicing for the night’s show and I had essays to work on. I did join him after the show was over for some pub crawling though. First we went to Spoons with some of the people from the play’s band, and then met up with some Acland friends at the Something & Something, before heading back to bed by 1 am. As it was his actual birthday, I refrained from making the obligatory old man jokes, but once midnight hit, the agreement was off and I let them fly!

Saturday of the Jubilee weekend was a bit more eventful. We started the day with a murder, a murder mystery tour of Oxford that is! I found this website online that has created mystery tours of a bunch of different cities around the country and so we decided to get the one for Oxford to see how we liked them before possibly downloading others. So Jenna Holmes and Dan Watson were put on the case of the murdered Oxford Don. Most of the clues were pretty easy to solve, involving nothing more than reading a sign or looking for a date, but it was still just a fun little diversion to use up the gloomy morning. The clues they utilized were very creative. But we don’t think we will do another one any time soon. It was great to kill some time in a city that we already knew really well, but if you’re looking for a tour that actually teaches you the history of the area, these would definitely not be it. There was very little factual information about Oxford. Still, it got us up and around town, out in the fresh air before our next engagement, the Keble Warden’s Garden Party.

Somehow the topic of conversation at the garden party (isn’t a garden party just so Oxford?) revolved around cucumber sandwiches more often than not, and I tasted them and can now understand why no one likes Keble’s cucumber sandwiches! Unfortunately the day was a bit chilly and cloudy, so I didn’t get the chance to showoff my new dress, but I did get to meet and interact with a whole new group of people from Keble’s MCR. Everyone was really confused that I wasn’t in the MCR, much less in Keble, because they see me at so many of the events. Honorary member, I guess. Everything was very refined. There was a band playing chamber music, finger sandwiches and champagne freely floating around, students milling about with their parents. The highlight was definitely when they brought out the quintessential Strawberries and Cream, but I was more excited for the coffee. It was cold! We hadn’t been intending on staying the entire time, but the conversation turned out to be much more enjoyable, and we only parted from the group because Dan had his final performance of Guys & Dolls to prepare for.

I actually went to this performance (randomly joined by Chaitzi!). I was fully prepared for it to be a typical lame community production, especially as I have been hearing about the problem stories from rehearsals along the way, but it by far exceeded my expectations. It was really fun! The actors did a great job with their American accents, and we funny and clever, and the orchestra was all in tune. Unfortunately it did start pouring rain halfway through the first act, so for the second act we were all shuffled inside to a theater. Though none of us complained about that. Being dry significantly enhanced the show. I had such a good time, and was sitting there the whole play like some proud parents, beaming with pride at Dan’s cello playing.

But Monday was where the real Jubilee celebrations began. Ages ago, Dan and I made a list of things we wanted to make sure we did before term ended, and we took Monday as the opportunity cross of one…seeing Phantom of the Opera in London! What can I say? We are suckers for musicals.

We arrived in London in the early afternoon, and took a stroll around the Thames to look at all the festivities for the Jubilee celebrations. There was a concert at Buckingham Palace with a line that had to be two miles long, Union Jack flags everywhere, and street vendors selling tea towels with the Queen’s face on them. And the city was CRAWLING with tourists! I think the rest of the world is more excited for the Jubilee than the British people are! We made our way from Victoria up through Trafalgar’s Square and over to SoHo, where Dan gladly made a stop at Hummingbird Bakery with me so we could try two of the other flavors (Carrot Cake and Black Bottom Cake, yum!!!!) and then came across Paul A Young chocolate shop and bought some of the really interesting flavors of truffles. We had Goats Cheese, Pimms, Raspberry, and Peanut butter and Jelly. All delicious. Then we had dinner at SoHo Pizzeria before meandering back to Her Majesty’s Theater for the performance.

The sets and costumes are amazing! The last time I saw Phantom was by a touring company at the Pantages, and with tours you don’t get the full impact of the performance. It just isn’t feasible to bring all the sets along. But at Her Majesty’s Theater, the show is a permanent fixture. As for the acting, everyone was really great, especially Christine’s voice, though I feel like the Phantom wasn’t quite right. After a lot of debating back and forth with Dan, the best way I came up with to describe it so that others could see the image in my head was that the Phantom was too much of a model on Gollum from the Lord of the Rings. Trust me, it’s apt.

So while I couldn’t have really cared about the Queen’s Jubilee weekend, I had a great time celebrating Dan’s!

Spontaneous London Reviews from A Day Trip

I couldn’t stomach the thought of sitting around Oxford doing nothing but wait for an email that I no longer think is going to come for the third day in a row, so I decided to leave. Originally I was hoping to go to Lanhydrock in Cornwall despite the 4 hour train rides it would have taken to get there, but the price was a bit, shall we say, prohibitive? In fact it seemed like every place I thought I might travel to was crazy expensive. Now I am definitely not one to scrimp on travel expenses (remember me traipsing off to Zurich with no warning?) but if I’m going to spend the money to go to Cornwall or York, I should probably do it as a weekend trip and make it really worth my while. Which is how, at 2 am, I came to the decision to go into London for the day.

Yet it would not just be any old day in London, not one spent wandering the streets and museum aisles with headphones from either my iPad or an audio guide. No if I was going to do London alone, I was going to boldly go where this Jenna has gone before: to the theatre!!!

Apparently I picked the perfect day as well. It was indeed the third day in a row of gorgeous sun (could I perhaps get some color to my skin?!) and, since it was a Wednesday, many of the popular shows were doing their matinees, meaning that I could see not one but TWO productions all in the same day! Talk about indulging my theatre junkie 😉 As soon as I hopped off the X90 bus I headed over to a tkts booth in the theatre district of Leicester Square, crossing my fingers that I could score a seat to both of my planned shows. I know that all the guidebooks and Dan tell you to go to the “only official discount theatre ticket” place in the middle of the square, but the line was really long and after my experience of missing out on War Horse tickets by literally three minutes, I wasn’t really in the mood to take any chances, so I went to one of the imitation discount booths down a side street. Official or not, I did score some amazing seats for what I consider cheap for the theatre. Next time maybe I’ll get into London a bit earlier and use the official one to compare deals, but I wasn’t going to compromise on this sunshine day that had the makings of being one to remember.

Sunshine!

And which shows did I score those coveted tickets to, you ask? None other than Les Miserables and Chicago! Success!

Yes, I’ve seen Les Mis before, but I’m also the girl who saw Wicked six times and Billy Elliot twice, not to mention the number of times I saw each Harry Potter movie in cinemas, so obviously I don’t care about repeating. In fact Les Mis was even more incredible the second time, but I’ll get to that later.

The matinee doors weren’t even going to open until 2 pm, and it was only 10:30, so I decided to wander the surrounding neighborhoods of London, taking advantage of the weather while it lasts (it’s already cloudy outside as I’m writing this, though that could just be the morning haze). I found myself first in Chinatown and then in SoHo, without nearly getting hit by a car once, so I guess everyone else decided that walking and fresh air was the better option than sitting in a potentially stifling cab. At least Londoners appreciate the sun when they get it! Back home we almost get sick of the heat, granted ours is about fifty degrees hotter than yesterday, and eventually start seeking cover in shopping malls and restaurants. But once again I digress into talking about the weather, an apparently way too easy of a distracting topic. So I’ll move onto cupcakes.

No, I’m serious. Among the stores I came across on my traversing the sidewalks of SoHo was the London version of LA’s Sprinkles or Manhattan’s Magnolia Bakery: Hummingbird Bakery. Surprisingly they don’t make hummingbird flavor cupcakes, but I guess that is more of a Southern American thing. I’ve heard of Hummingbird mostly through that addicting website known as FoodGawker, and since I obviously make a lot of cupcakes myself, I decided to go ahead and try one of theirs. I was hoping that they would sell their cupcake mini’s in store like my favorite New York cupcakery Baked by Melissa (you have to go if you are in New York!), the perfect way to try multiple flavors and give a truly accurate review, but alas those are apparently only available online and I was forced to get a full sized in one flavor. Of course I had to go for red velvet, that ultimate benchmark for the quality of a bakery!

Mmmmmmm…red velvet

I’m no where near creative enough to write cupcake reviews like Dan (see comments section of this post for the latest one), but I can give you my highly detailed notes on the cupcake experience in case anyone makes their way to Hummingbird Bakery anytime soon. The first thing I noticed about the cupcake was that it was well proportioned, a frosting to cake ratio of 1:2, and a wonderfully moderate size, not the super-sized monstrosities guaranteed to give you diabetes in one bite that so often come out of US bakeries. The cake itself was a rich, red color with a pleasant medium chocolate flavor that complemented the frosting without either overpowering the other. A little too dense in my opinion–I prefer a fluffier cupcake, because all things are better when they are fluffy–yet still moist. I wonder how it would be later in the day once it is no longer as freshly baked as this one seemed to be. Now the true mark of proper red velvet cake in any form is the frosting. Hummingbird Bakery went the correct route with a cream cheese frosting and not that buttercream disgustingness that people use instead (it’s not red velvet without cream cheese frosting people!) and it was a good, fluffy (told you) frosting, though with too much icing sugar added in for my taste as I’m not a fan of overly sweet frostings. Overall: a solid effort that I would definitely try again if I ever find myself in SoHo with a cupcake craving, but the dense cupcake and slightly too sugary and subsequently grainy frosting led me to toss the last third of the cake part into the bin and head for a corner cafe to down a bitter coffee.

While enjoying that blissfully bitter cup of caffeine, I whipped out my sketchbook and just started drawing. I just recently started to get into drawing, encouraged heartily by my mom, and I knew that by nature of being alone in London I would have tons of free time, so I somehow managed to pack my sketching pencils and book into my already so full that half the time it wouldn’t close purse. I felt so artsy at first, sitting in the middle of Leicester Square, drinking barely sweetened coffee, waiting for a West End production, sketching the cafe patio across the way, until I became so absorbed in the drawing that I lost all that pretension and forgot everything except which direction a line had to go so that I could achieve the right depth of field. I ended up taking up that corner table for over an hour while I finished my sketch, so I left a more generous tip than one cup of coffee called for to compensate. Thanks random cafe for the extremely pleasant diversion 🙂

Leicester Square decking out for the Jubilee

With still more than an hour to kill before doors to Les Mis opened, I took to the streets of Piccadilly and Regents Street, leisurely strolling past the storefronts and stopping into a Boots to buy a pack of tissues (not going to make that mistake again!). Londoners really came out in droves at lunchtime, so it was fortunate for me that I had enough time to spare so that I didn’t have to rush through a crowd; I just let the swarms slip by me and took side streets whenever I could. After a giddy find of a brand new Whole Foods (they have my peanut butter but not Luna bars, almost success?) more crowded than the streets outside and a quick spot of lunch, I headed into the Queens Theatre and back in time to the French underworld of the 1800s.

Whole Foods! Feels like a slice of home

I don’t think I need to gush on and on about how incredible Les Mis was, though it completely would deserve another helping of exuberant adjectives. I was surprised that for a matinee it was basically the same cast as the evening show I saw back in March with my mom, with the exception of a different Cosette and Marius (funnily enough, the Marius I saw last time was in the chorus this time looking exceedingly bored). I’ve always associated matinees with the understudies or second string of performers, but I guess the West End is fortunately different. And I don’t know if it is the music or the beautiful singing or just the emotions of the story, but I seemed to tear up for almost the entire performance regardless of what was going on at the time. Has that ever happened to you? When you just become so overwhelmed by the beauty of something that you feel unworthy to experience it and just start crying? No? Okay so maybe I’m the odd girl out, but it is definitely how I felt for the majority of Les Mis. Thank goodness for foresight in buying tissues and not wearing mascara (oh no! Did I just admit to that?).

All too soon the final curtain fell, eliciting the fastest and most exuberant standing ovation I have ever seen from a London audience. The cast even came out for an additional bow because the audience wouldn’t stop clapping, myself included. But all great things come to an end, and I was shuffled out of the theatre against my will. I would have stayed and foregone Chicago for the evening performance of Les Mis, but I thought I would be making a better use of my time to see a new production as well. But Les Mis, I’ll be back!

I found myself once again on the streets of Piccadilly with two and a half hours to spare before curtain up at a theatre four blocks away. The great thing about May in England is that the sun doesn’t set until 9 pm-ish, affording me ample daylight to retake up my wanderings armed with a book of London architecture. I find architecture really interesting, probably because of its very close links with history, but I know very little about it and have picked up a few books with the intention of learning more. That is how my London architecture book ended up squeezed into my too small purse alongside my sketchbook. The poor purse’s zipper. London really is a highly navigable city by even just walking, provided you have a decent map, which I did, and therefore walking from Piccadilly Circus down to Westminster Abbey and back up through Trafalgar’s Square via Whitehall to Leicester Square is an entirely feasible plan of action. And a great, educational way to pass 90 minutes in the fresh air. Only made sense to do so, taking my time to read about every building I could find, discovering the Scotland Yard building for my brother, and really looking at the buildings to understand the elements that the book discussed. Random things like the way Portcullis House was designed in 2001 to evoke a symmetry with the Scotland Yard building despite one being made of brick and stone and the other glass and steel. I never would have even thought of something like that, though once it was pointed out to me I can completely appreciate the architect’s intent.

Scotland Yard

Portcullis House evoking Scotland Yard, can you see it?

On my walk, standing outside the Admiralty Building reading about the architect’s decision to forego the use of columns unlike his contemporaries, a random Londoner stopped by me and commented on how I picked the best possible day to be a tourist in London. I thought that it was a random statement, until I soon found out that such a conversation was really just his opening line to ask me for a shandy. With no idea what a shandy was, but knowing that in any situation going somewhere with a stranger is not the smartest decision, I politely declined with a “no, thank you”. Normally that would be the end of the conversation, but this businessman then proceeded to engage me in a cultural comparison of the polite way to refuse an invitation. He commented that it must be an American custom to simple say “No” to such a question while a Brit would say “Sorry”. I replied that in fact I was being very polite by saying “No, thank you” rather than just a flat out refusal. I then thanked him for the compliment of his attention and turned back to my book. And apparently a shandy is a very delicious drink of a blend of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. Sorry, but that doesn’t change my mind. And there was his sorry, just for him! Weird interaction.

I promise you that you are reaching the end of my saga; only three more things to go: a city, a surprise, and a fox.

I love the movie of Chicago, even if I’m not the biggest fan of Renee Zellweger, so I made the mistake of going into the stage show with high hopes of a similar sultry and well choreographed package. Lesson shatteringly relearned: No expectations are good expectations. I truly almost walked out and asked for a refund, before realizing that the theatre wouldn’t give me one since I hadn’t bought my tickets directly from them. First problem, the accents. Now I know that a Chicago accent is difficult for an American, much less a British actor, but if you aren’t going to do a proper Chicago accent at least do a Standard American English one, not a Southern accent and not a valley girl. And make it consistent, none of this switching in and out of poorly performed dialects. Second problem, the choreography and stage design. Apart from the utterly boring minimalist stage that could be the way the musical was originally intended, Chicago is based on the Vaudeville and Cabaret movements, so yes the movement should be subtle and sexy, but you can still be subtle and sexy and actually move across a stage at all much less without prancing. For example, remember Queen Latifa in “When You’re Good to Mama”? Yeah, copy her, walk around, actually swing your curves a little, don’t just stand there and occasionally raise your hand to shoulder level. And Velma Kelly? You are not a giraffe though you may be taller and skinnier than one, so don’t dance like it. Third problem, Roxie Hart. The best way I can describe her was a cross between Kristen Chenoweth in Wicked and Yzma, the villianess from the Disney pic The Emperor’s New Groove. I think that gives the most accurate depiction. Fourth and in my opinion biggest problem, where was all that jazz? Where was the sensuality and the ooze? Yes I said ooze not booze, if you are a dancer you’ll understand what I mean. It felt so little kiddish and perky. The story is about murder, manipulation, and illicit activities, not PopRocks and cartoons. To sum it all up in a quote from Derek Wills from SMASH! “Where’s the sex?!”

Which leads me to the one redeeming quality of the night, the surprise…

I had no idea who was playing any of the roles and was running a bit behind when I was approaching the theatre so I completely ignored the posters of the actors, or else I would have been more keen to sit through the show, based on who was playing Billy Flynn. But I didn’t have any prior knowledge and London theaters don’t hand out playbills so as I sat through the overly rushed performance refusing to clap at the end of any number, I had no idea what was in store for “All I Care About Is Love.” And by what I mean whom and by whom I mean RAZA JAFFERY!!!!!

Raza Jaffery and me 🙂

Yes, Dev from SMASH! was playing Billy Flynn!!!!!!!!!!!! He was by far the best (and most attractive, wink wink) actor in the show and made me believe that he has been underused in SMASH since he can actually sing and dance really well. He also kept up his accent through the entire musical thank goodness His being there was the only reason that I am glad I picked this show, and the picture with him afterwards by the stage door was definitely worth it.

And that brings me to the end of my spontaneous day in London, and to the fox. As I walked towards Victoria Coach Station desperately trying to hail a taxi, a fox ran in front of me on the Pall Mall. Like an actual fox. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a real fox before, and I certainly haven’t seen any wildlife besides those blasted pigeons in London. But there it was…a small fox. Random much? 🙂

A New Face; The Other Place

Wow it’s been quite a while since my last blog! Did you miss me? I hope not too much. I’d hate to think that I was letting anyone down with my sudden decrease in blog post prolificness. Is prolificness a word? Can we make it one? Awesome 😉

If I can remember correctly to the long, long time ago of my last real blog update about going to the Cotswolds, a lot has happened since then. I wouldn’t consider any of it all too exciting (hence the lack of immediate blog updates), but it has been quite the busy two weeks. After the Cotswolds, I took a trip into London to see the newly opened Kensington Palace, and to be honest and a little scathing, I wish it had remained closed. I really cannot stand when exhibits are hokey and geared for the uneducated tourist, preferring instead the historical artifacts and rooms redecorated as how they would have been in history smattered with important historical events and uses of the rooms. For a good example: Stirling Castle in Scotland, Windsor Castle in London, and Hampton Court Palace down the Thames. Excellently designed and informative, they stand out as my favorite royal homes. Kensington does not.

The King's Staircase, Kensington Palace

The exhibit on Queen Victoria’s rooms was the exception here, following more of the motif I quickly just ranted about, but the rest of the palace was filled with “whispers” in the windows and irrelevant decorations. Couple that with a cafe lacking enough indoor seating to protect from the cold and a million older ladies swarming about swooning over anything to do with the late Princess Diana, and I was getting cranky quickly. So the logical thing to do next was go back home, and I gladly obliged my logical brain.

A different trip I made into London was wholly different, though the weather remained not ideal, replacing the cold with the rain (believe it or not I prefer rain to cold!). This time I wandered through Regents Park and the Queen’s Garden, which was an absolutely stunning oasis, even in the wet, with a collection of the most vibrant tulips I have ever seen. I really didn’t know that tulips came in colors such as these!  Despite the rain, I couldn’t bring myself to seek the shelter of the trees like my fellow garden walkers, choosing instead to stand in the rain admiring flowerbeds. Simple things, right? And this is why they invented umbrellas. I kept walking through the park until I reached the London Zoo and saw a giraffe literally right on the edge of the sidewalk, but then detoured towards Primrose Hill Park and caught a taxi to the British Library.

Giraffe!

I was intending on admiring the letters sent between Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I, but they were gone! Only greatly devastated, I kept forcing myself not to cry and remember that the British Library houses umpteen written works and that they can’t all be on display all the time (okay so maybe I wasn’t actually crying, but I have a flair for writing the dramatic). After my book indulgence and tearing myself away from the library’s book store, I walked to St. Paul’s Cathedral and actually did the audio tour. Which oddly enough, in a testament to the evolution of technology, was given on an iPod Touch. Totally cool! Considering the number of times I’ve been to London and walked passed St. Paul’s, I’m surprised that I have never been inside for more than a quick run-through. And my goodness, what a tragedy, as I have been missing out on one of the most incredible architectural experiences one could imagine. So ornate and intricate, built by Sir Christopher Wren, and with an audio guide that extensively discusses the mosaics and other artwork, St. Paul’s became one of those places that I regretted only having two hours to spend inside before it closed for evening worship. Oh and its cafe in the crypt had a pretty decent cream tea though completely clueless and easily confused employees.

I’m pretty sure that apart from one further day trip, which I’ll get to later, that has been the extent of my travels over the last two weeks. The weather hasn’t really been cooperating enough to justify traipsing around the country. Trying to see new places is not as enjoyable in the gray and rain, especially when it switches every few minutes. There was a particularly bizarre day here where it was cold in the morning, had intermittent showers through to the afternoon, then a wonderful and warm hour of sunshine causing me to instantly shed my winter coat and sit outside at a cafe for tea, then cloud cover struck again and it began hailing for ten minutes, then some more sun, and another bout of intense hail before settling down back into the monochrome gray. I’m sorry, but is it really so difficult as to be consistent?! If it’s going to rain, fine, rain, but don’t tease me with these beautiful moments of sunshine and heat. I believe we call that cruelty.

Needless to say the weather has prevented me from going out too much, relegating me instead to lots of dance rehearsals and other inside activities. Dan, that wonderful dance partner of mine, and I now have FOUR new routines in preparation for the Varsity team tryouts this Saturday: a new quickstep where we run around half of the floor, skip the other half, and charleston/woodpecker/pendulum/penguin our way in the center; a waltz that utilizes my ballet training in some beautiful poses and a move that has me running around in circles for about 10 seconds (no joke), a jive so fast and goofy that I earned the nicknames of both a dying duck and a chicken trying to lay an ostrich egg, and a glorious cha cha with a Phantom of the Opera spin and backstory. All hard work to say the least, but also super exciting to be doing Intermediate routines having only a few months ago been Beginners. Bring it on Cambridge! But even if we don’t get the opportunity to dance for Oxford, it’s been two weeks full of quality time with Dan, so completely worth it.

Partners who bake together, stay together

And who is this new face I know you are all dying to hear about? Well in an odd twist of fate, it would be me. Because I actually got a waitressing job! Meaning that in the restaurant hereafter known as R (why the secrecy? 1. because I don’t want anyone visiting me haha 2. This isn’t going to turn into a WaiterRantEsque blog, so you won’t be hearing about customers or coworkers in detail) I am officially the New Girl from LA. I’m not positive if I actually have the job yet, right now I’m just considered a trainee and have only had two shifts, but I had so much fun during my first shifts so I really hope they hire me part time. And soon too, though not tomorrow morning since I have a fun surprise planned.

Which brings me to Sunday, my day trip that has been leaving you in suspense for 1180 words. Where did she go? I know you are all asking. I can’t handle the not knowing! Don’t worry, I’m putting you out of your misery: I went to Cambridge, not-so-fondly known as The Other Place to us Oxfordians. Of course to Cambridgers we are known as The Other Place, so it’s all fair game. It took me a solid four hours of traveling to get there and then another 3 hours back, so I really only had about 5 1/2 hours to spend in the town itself. Which was honestly plenty. Cambridge is no where near the size of Oxford, feeling more like one giant university campus as opposed to a bustling city centre hiding an ancient university down its back alleys. I had a mental running commentary not only about its differences from Oxford, but also its similarities to USC (what can I say? Once a Bruin, always a Bruin), and like USC to UCLA, Cambridge fell short to Oxford. Maybe I was immediately prejudiced by the fact that it was raining the whole first half of the day there, so I couldn’t really see anything on the bus tour I took and when I was walking around my line of vision was obscured by my now broken umbrella, but I just couldn’t see myself living in Cambridge full time like I do in Oxford. There seems to be more to do here outside of simply study, whereas I couldn’t really see that in Cambridge. We are also more of a centralized location to the rest of the country, making it an ideal starting point to traveling; to travel from Cambridge you need to first go into London, a natural barrier to a travel-addict such as myself.

Trinity College, Cambridge

Now once the sun came out at around 3:30 pm, the town took on a whole new facade, full of richly decorated brick buildings and cobblestone streets. The advantage to bus tour tickets is that they are good for 24 hours, so I hopped back on the nearest stop and retook half of the tour so that I could actually see what the recording was talking about. The town does have some beautiful buildings and interesting history. And I have no problem in admitting that their Trinity College is without a doubt the most beautiful college I have seen in my entire life, including those I visited in the States. No, I am not prejudiced because it was founded by Henry VIII and is one of the most prestigious Cambridge colleges, it is truly a magnificent campus, with a wide quadrangle and chapel housing many Tudor references. Famous alums? Isaac Newton, Tennyson, Edward VII, A.A. Milne (author of Winnie-the-Pooh) and Francis Bacon. If I were to go to Cambridge–which I won’t–I would be applying there for sure.

Beyond that, my time has mostly been spent working on my papers and research (yes Trinity term has officially begun and thus so has a workload) and exchanging baked goods with my partner. He made me carrot cake and double chocolate cookies, and I returned the favor with Earl Grey Banana Bread and Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies. Hopefully I can get through a few more new baking recipes before I have to go home in seven weeks.

But what also happens in seven weeks? I get to see my baby!!!

Returning to the Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk

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

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!