Tag Archive | Paris

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. 

Disney Magique! (EuroDisney, part 2)

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

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

The entrance plaza

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

Mickey Mouse!

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

Teacup Fail

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

Space Mountain

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

Indiana Jones

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

Phantom Manor

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

My favorite movie ever!

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

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

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

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

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

Train of Thought (EuroDisney part 1)

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

At the train station

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

Walking into Disneyland Paris!

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

Disney Village

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

I told him to do something stupid 🙂

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

K'Nex, remember those?

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

He told me to mimic a statue 🙂

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

Sleeping Beauty's Castle

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

I got the Princess Pack and he the Pirate Pack

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

Disney Dreams

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

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

At the Santa Fe Hotel

One Day I’ll Learn

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

Oops.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paris, Je T’Aime, but not as much as Oxford

I woke up at an ungodly 5:15 am to catch my train into London Paddington Station, then hailed my first cab over to St. Pancras International Terminal for the Eurostar to Paris! Yes, for those of you who didn’t know, I went to Paris this weekend. My friend from all the way back in junior high French class, Dale, has been studying there this semester so what better excuse to visit?

I was exhausted from the week so I pretty much slept through both train rides. Oops. Dale met me at the train station and we dropped my bag off at his place because the hostel didn’t open until later, then we traipsed off to meet some of his friends, talking nonstop because we have about five years of our lives to catch up on. Now that I think about it, we kind of never stopped talking the entire weekend.

We met his friends at Angelina for supposedly the best drinking chocolate in Paris (drinking chocolate is different from hot chocolate, look it up!). Also the most expensive, though everything is more expensive here than in Oxford. It was pretty amazing, dark and rich, you literally felt the inside of your mouth coated with dark chocolate. it was so decadent that I had a stomachache for hours. There was a line out the door and down the street, reportedly taking about an hour just to be seated. Luckily Dale’s friends had done the waiting for us and we sat right down. As for the chocolate…you could tell that they used quality dark chocolate in their drink (I believe it was from Africa) from the bitterness that practically reached black coffee standards. The texture was wonderfully smooth, but oddly drying; this was definitely not a drink to quench your thirst with. Now I can handle chocolate at 85% cacao with a smile on my face, but this drinking chocolate was so intense that even I had to use some of the flavorless whipped cream to cut into the richness. And then of course there was the resulting chocolate coma. Then we walked through the Christmas market on the Champs-Elysee. it was literally covered with people and the smells of food nearly made us puke during our chocolate coma. I swore off chocolate for the rest of my trip (that totally didn’t last).

Walking around the entirety of Paris sounded like a good idea, so we wandered down to the famous and gigantic shopping mall called the Galerie Lafayette. I’m not really one to care about shopping sites, but the Galerie Lafayette had two convincing draws: a public restroom and an incredible view of the city at night. The city stretched beneath us like an impossible maze, glowing from the streetlights placed every ten feet on the ground. The Eiffel Tower sparkled in the distance, Notre-Dame rose from the streets and the Seine wound its way through, dividing the city in two. it was magnificent. Then we continued to walk back to the hostel so I could drop off my bags, grabbed sandwiches from a random boulangerie, picked up a bottle of wine from Dale’s home stay place, and headed back to meet his friends at Pont des Artes. There we drank wine on  a bridge over the Seine as Dale and his friends explained to me what their lives in Paris have been like (they are on the UC program so not as much immersion as they had hoped). Lastly, we walked back to the hostel where I completely crashed after an obscene amount of walking.

It was weird to wake up the next morning and remember that I was in France, not England. Dale and I met at a cafe that turned out to be closed so we went to a patisserie for coffee and the best chocolate croissants that I have ever tasted. Flaky, buttery, chocolatey, so yummy. Two Asian tourists asked to take pictures of us, which I thought was really bizarre, but it wasn’t going to hurt us so who cares. I didn’t want that breakfast to end, but we had other places to go than a bakery.

We took the metro (which I kept calling the Tube like a true Brit) and then walked up Montmartre to Sacre-Coeur, the basilica of the Cult of the Sacred Heart. Churches are so hard to describe in enough detail to do them justice, especially in Paris where everything is so ornate. We wandered around Montmartre a but before heading down tot he anticlimactic Moulin Rouge.  The red windmill looked new and tiny and the theater is surrounded by buildings built in last 50 years. I couldn’t really imagine what it would have been like in its heyday and not looking like a tourist attraction along the lines of Madame Toussouds. The most interesting thing about it was that it was completely surrounded by every kind of sex shop you could imagine. We passed on visiting any of those obviously.

From there we walked (shocker) to Paris’s famous cemetery Cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise. It is gigantic and this beautiful mix of old, decrepit, large family graves and the newer, granite, single person gravestones. Most famous people who end up buried in PAris are here. They have a few maps that attempt to guide you to the most famous ones, but even the maps they provide are inaccurate and we spent a few hours searching for everyone. We saw/sought out Balzac, Chopin, Isadora Duncan, Haussman, Moliere, Edith Piaf, Pissarro, Proust, and Oscar Wilde. Yeah it’s a bit morbid to visit a cemetery as a tourist attraction, but I see it as a way of paying my respects to these amazing people and their contributions to the world. But we didn’t think about how hungry we were until we decided to WALK to the best creperie in Paris.

Breakfast had been at 9 and we made it to the creperie around 3:30. We were lucky that it was open because most restaurants apparently close between 3 and 7 to prepare for dinner. I ordered a crepe of emmental cheese, blue cheese, goat cheese, and grapes. Delicious because it’s a crepe in Paris and because we were starving!! We stuck around for a long time, talking and quenching our dehydration, before ordering dessert crepes (c’mon, it’s PAris). Mine was stewed apples, caramel, and apple liquor set on fire. I swear the crepe could’ve made me drunk. Dale’s was an amazing chestnut cream.

We then walked over to Notre-Dame so we could go to mass and I could check that off my bucket list. It was a worthwhile and beautiful experience, regardless of my inability to understand anything said because–of course–it was all in French! Now my French was actually passable and quickly coming back, but nowhere near enough to follow mass. The service and rituals were beautiful though.

We were completely exhausted but it was only 8:00 so going home felt like a waste of time. Dale has kind of made friends with this guy who runs a movie theater so we got to see the Rum Diaries with Johnny Depp for free. It was a surprisingly good movie that made me want to read Hunter S. Thompson. Thank goodness it was in English! We called it a night after that though; it was midnight after all.

Originally, I planned to go to the Musee D’Orsay by myself Monday morning, but I read a brochure over the hostel’s version of breakfast (bread, butter, jam, and coffee) that said it wasn’t open on Mondays so I went back to sleep before walking to another museum called L’Orangerie 90 minutes away to meet Dale. L’Orangerie is a pretty small art museum, but it has 8 of Monet’s water lilies covering two room that alone are worth the 5 euro.

After the L’Orangerie, we walked to Rue du Rosiers for the best falafel either of us have ever tasted. We chose to continue our walking streak all the way to the Paris catacombs. We went through the Jardin de Luxomberg, which is so different than the English style. The sun was finally shining so the garden looked very vibrant. We made it to the catacombs only to find out that they too are not open on Mondays. So then we had to backtrack to the Pantheon, another famous church with a crypt housing Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, Rousseau, Voltaire, and Joan of Arc. The crypt wasn’t creepy like I expected it to be, probably because it didn’t look very crypt-like, or at least what I expected a a crypt to look like.

Next we went to the Paris Mosque for once again amazing and warm mint-honey tea. I love going to these hidden gems that people don’t normally see on vacation. I mean what tourist seeks out a mosque for mint tea? But it’s little things like that that are special in my book.

We were going to attempt to get standby tickets for the Paris Opera so we stopped by a chocoleterie for macarons (I’m so spoiled) and picked up sandwiches before hopping in the queue. Definitely a very stressful experience as we watched the lines crawl through ahead of us, our potential tickets dwindling away. We made it to the ticket booth 15 minutes before the opera was scheduled to start and literally scored two of the last 15 tickets. They also turned out to be amazing seats! The opera was in Italian with French subtitles above the stage, but I was impressed with myself for how much I could remember and read. Dale googled the storyline later and it turns out that we actually correctly understood the entire opera! Pat on the back for us! I still can’t believe our luck and that I got to see my first ever opera in Paris.

I was not going to endure another hostel breakfast regardless if it was free, so we went back to the amazing chocolate croissant and coffee place that we went to the other day. Somehow it was even better Tuesday than Sunday. I think it was warm so the chocolate was more melted and gooey. Our legs were exhausted and time was running out so we took the metro to the catacombs; thankfully they were open this time. I can’t really describe how it felt to be down there surrounded by bones other than simultaneously eerie and peaceful. Dale and I became very philosophical, talking about life and death and appreciation. Next we made a quick trip to the D’Orsay before a final macarons and sandwich stop as we parted ways at the Bastille metro station.

It was an exhausting trip,  but it was also perfect. Because we walked around so much, we really got the chance to catch up and discuss everything under the sun. Thanks so much Dale!!!