Monday, September 28, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
The obvious choice for dinner was Ping Pong as Tom was still in town and is very specific about his Asian cuisine. My favorite bit of dinner was the duck roll I had ordered. Each roll was stuffed with perfectly crisp and juicy duck with a succulent dipping sauce to match. We walked across the street to this bar called The Elbow Room to have a few drinks and to hang out until Tom and Brian parted the rest of us to go to SoHo. Clearly.
After the gym and some lunch the following afternoon, I walked over to the Royal Kensington Gardens with Tom so that he could do at least one touristy thing before he left London. We went to the Albert Memorial and Kensington Palace before deciding that we needed some nosh before he skipped town. We cut through the park and onto High Street Kensington when Tom noticed a little French café of sorts called Le Pain Quotidien. Apparently there are several in the States, but I had never heard of it before. I dutifully entered the establishment, smelling savory, fresh-baked bread as I walked in. Thank you, Tom. I got a pot of chamomile tea and a scone with strawberry jelly and whipped butter, while Tom ordered a cappuccino and a raspberry tart. I will be coming here often. Emily made tomato sauce and pasta for dinner, and while we ate on the floor of Jeff and Brian’s room, Rebs, Jeff and I booked our flights from Paris to Barcelona and from Barcelona back to London. Finally!
Monday morning I wrote a paper for my British Media class, giving myself a break in between for a delicious Italian panini from, where else, but La Botega! There are several restaurants of the same name on Long Island, and when I told this to the owner of this La Botega, she could not stop coming up to me to ask how I felt her eatery was in comparison. Both are charming and offer an excellent variety of Italian goodies. Since we had a way to get to and from Barcelona, but no way to get to Paris, the five of us met up at the St. Pancras station to book our Eurostar tickets from London to Paris in person (Emily and Brian are going to Germany when the rest of us go to Spain). We are all booked for our mid-semester break, now we just need places to stay! After we left the station, Emily led the way to the community library on High Street Kensington so that Jeff and I could apply for a library card. I picked up a book entitled, “How Starbucks Saved My Life.” I guess you can take the girl out of America, but you can’t take the America out of the girl. I went from the library to the gym with my new book in tow, and came home to find the one and only Brian Galm making beef tacos in the second floor kitchen! They came out excellent, but I definitely ate about 29 tacos worth of beef.
Tuesday only perpetuated my apparent red meat craze as my British Life and Cultures class took a trip to London’s East end for Indian food. I ordered a very tasty, but very spicy lamb and lychee concoction along with vegetable samosas and naan. The lunch was included in our program cost which made the meal even more enjoyable. After our meal was over, class was dismissed and we headed back to the dorms. Now, as you may know from reading this blog I have become somewhat devoted to this Tuesday night yoga class at the gym I go to. My throat had been bothering me all day, so I decided to take a quick nap that would hopefully rejuvenate me for the class. My nap was interrupted when I woke up to tell Rebs, in my sleep of course, that there was a spider on our ceiling. The spider, I told her, had been there the day before and she should not worry because it would crawl into the light bulb in the middle of the ceiling. Needless to say this nap did not go so well, and I unfortunately did not make it to yoga or to any other class at the gym for the remainder of the week (I’ve been taking a multivitamin and Echinacea, but they haven’t really helped). I extended my nap until the last possible moment before I had to wake up and boil water to make the rice for my fried rice with chicken: brown rice, two eggs, two bags of bean sprouts, one cup of fresh peas; one whole white onion, two cloves of garlic and two carrots, all finely chopped; two chicken breasts cooked in olive oil and then finely chopped, all topped with soy sauce. Dinner was good and I went to sleep early.
I slept in late on Wednesday and then did some grocery shopping before class to prepare for that evening’s dinner. After our evening Contemporary British Theatre class, I headed into the second floor kitchen where Emily was grilling the chicken for our salad with lime. We had been eating a lot of heavy foods, so I thought a salad with a bright dressing would be good for our bodies and spirits. For the dressing I placed one chopped mango, about one half of a cup of mango-apple juice and the flesh of two passion fruits into a saucepan, and let it simmer. After about five minutes I added salt and pepper, one tablespoon of Dijon mustard and a good splash of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar to the saucepan. I whisked all of the above together and let the mixture sit for another five minutes or so on a low heat. For the salad I added the lime-grilled chicken, one can of sweet corn, two chopped avocados, one chopped red pepper, about one half of a cup of sliced radishes and a mixture of Italian greens and Romaine lettuce to a large bowl. I tossed all of the above with the warm dressing and served immediately. The salad was really refreshing and I am definitely going to try and make it again if I can still find passion fruit.
Jeff and I had our theatre class Thursday afternoon after which we went to the grocery store to buy the ingredients for dinner. In order to save our wallets and our waistlines (somewhat), Jeff, Emily, Rebs, Brian and are each assigned to one night of the week at the top of each week. Each person buys the ingredients for dinner for his or her night, spending between 20 to 25 pounds. We did this so that no one has to owe anyone money, we are aware of how much we spend on food and we still get to have one or two nights out each week. Excellent. Anyway, Jeff’s night was fish. We walked over to the fishmonger and decided to pick up baby scallops instead. We would pair the scallops with a creamy risotto. You can follow the directions on the package, but I like to heat an onion until translucent in butter and add the Arborio rice with a splash of dry white wine. In a separate pot, heat chicken stock and then gradually add the stock to the pot containing the rice until all of the stock is eventually absorbed. Fold in Parmesan cheese and you’ve got a creamy side dish or main. Once the Arborio rice was on its way to becoming risotto, I gently sprinkled the scallops with salt and pepper on either side and added them to an oiled pan on a high heat. I flipped the scallops after a minute or so and then after another minute or so I deglazed the pan with the dry white wine and served. It’s crazy to think how a meal that sounds as complicated and chic as, “Scallops and Risotto” can be so easy to make. You should try it out.
Friday morning I did laundry while watching British morning talk shows, as one does, and then walked over to Le Pain Quotidien with Jeff so that we could write a paper. Emily and Brian showed up just as we were moving out of the Facebook phase and into the pretend research phase, so that paper never got written. I had a flavorful gazpacho with a chunk of baguette and an iced red fruit tea. I also had about half of the bread basket that Emily and Brian ordered... and at least five scoops of their chocolate-hazelnut spread that came with the bread basket… and about six Collin the Caterpillar gummies that Brian got for me at Marks and Spencer. One cannot always have a “good” food day in terms of calories, but I will say that it was not a “bad” one in terms of taste. Despite my fullness, I ate a heaping plate of tortellini and salad for dinner back at our dorm in the company of some of our friends from American University. They are all here with another program and just recently arrived in London. After dinner, we all headed over to the bar at Imperial College and then out to Oxford Circus.
I woke up on Saturday having missed both breakfast and lunch, but seeing as I was determined to make both of these meals up, I went to Whole Foods with Jeff. I got a beef and cheese quesadilla with pico de gallo, and actually wrote my paper for British Life and Cultures! My brunch, as you might call it, was swiftly followed by dinner at Cha Cha Moon. I went with a bunch of other people from the program, and ate delicious shrimp dumplings as well as noodles with duck. On our way back from dinner, we got off at the South Kensington tube stop so that we could go to Snog! When you stand in Snog you feel as though you are standing inside a little Japanese computer filled with enlarged mushrooms. The ceiling is a screen that changes and the floor is made to look as if it is part of nature; the tables and chairs are the mushrooms. The yogurt, however, is not as strange as it is very similar to that of Pinkberry or Red Mango. I got a green tea yogurt with raspberries and this Japanese rice cake gummy sort of thing called mochi. The day of food ended with an evening of the critically-acclaimed movie “13 Going on 30,” which I watched and loved.
Today I went food shopping for our pre-fast feast, followed by walking around at the Regent Street Festival. The festival takes place between Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus and features food, live music and several live fashion shows of which I saw one. We got there around 4p.m., only to learn that several hundred cupcakes were given out at 3p.m.! Still, I got a Belgium waffle with Nutella and sliced bananas before heading back home. Preparing dinner tonight, I sort of felt what it must be like to be my Grandma on all of the holidays during which she cooks. I made stuffing (celery, carrot, onion, apple, chicken stock and chopped bread), roasted potatoes (diced roasting potatoes, salt and pepper, dry herb mixture, fresh rosemary, olive oil and lemon) and salmon with Dijon mustard. I also bought two ready-made chickens (there is only so much stress a Jewish girl can handle the on the eve of Yom Kippur), apple sauce and angel food cake, which I served with sliced strawberries and kiwi. There were seven of us at the table (we found a table in the fifth floor kitchen so we don’t have to eat on the floor anymore!), and although only two of us were fasting, my dear friend Brian ate more than all of us combined. Right now I am about to go to sleep and wake up for services in the morning. My friend Andrew and I will be breaking our fast at Harrods. More on that tomorrow.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Jeff and I walked over to a hostel near our dorm on Monday to check out the facilities. We aren’t allowed to have overnight guests in the dorms, so we need a plan for our significant others if they decide to come visit. On our way there we noticed a ton of paparazzi outside of the side entrance of the Natural History Museum. They were still there on our way back so we figured we might as well stick around. Jeff was bugging out thinking that Victoria Beckham was inside, so I asked a police officer if she was. He responded by saying, “Would I waste three hours of my time on Victoria Beckham? Anyway, I thought we’d shipped her out to you.” OK, so not Victoria Beckham. About five or so minutes later Prince William himself walked out of the museum in all his glory. He was there to open the new Darwin Center, and he as charming as I had imagined he would be. I started clapping as he entered his car because I didn’t exactly know what else to do. My only misfortune was that I did not have my camera on me. Later that night we went to the International Students House (ISH) for a Foundation for International Education (FIE) welcome party that included staff, professors, students and a DJ who played a “Grease” medley. We got free food and two free drinks so overall it was a good time. Plus they had a bunch of really awesome bean bag chairs.
Tuesday was our first serious day of rain since we’ve been in London. The rain thankfully stopped just as I was leaving class, but started up again as I was on my way to Tuesday night yoga. I squeaked up the stairs to the gym in my rain boots, and tried to conceal my rain garb in the corner of the classroom once I arrived. The class was awesome yet again, but I was definitely dreading the rain. The day before I had gone food shopping and I bought all the fixings for burritos. I had four hungry friends in the dorm that I wanted to try to get back to as soon as the class was over, but the rain just wasn’t on my side. As I ran flailing my hands in the air in the direction of the 49 bus on my way out of the gym, I realized that the bus was probably too full to stop even if I did reach the bus stop on time. I was correct and found myself consequently running toward the further bus stop. I later realized that I probably should have just stayed where I was in order to get the next bus, but lord knows I needed to burn those few extra calories. I finally made it back to the dorm and made five huge burritos and guacamole. As I was making the dinner, I had my little container of kitchen utensils and tools on the interior window ledge. When I went to reach for something the top came off, flew out the window, and landed on the roof of the computer lab. I was too hungry and determined to care, so I currently own a topless container. We didn’t eat until 9:30p.m., but I think we were all pretty satisfied.
I went to the gym on Wednesday before class and watched some TV special on the life of Puff Daddy while I let the StairMaster kick my ass. After writing in my theatre journal (I knew he’d ask us to write in one!), I headed over to class with Jeff only to be reminded that we were going to see a show the next night. Somehow the entire class forgot that this was happening, but nonetheless I was excited to go. We stopped into Waitrose after class to buy some sides for the chicken that Emily and Brian were making, and met a Hollister employee from North Carolina who is here to train before opening up a store in Italy. He told us that one of their stores in England is the most profitable store out of the entire company. I was wondering why so many people here have been wearing Hollister! We rushed back to the dorm in fear of the chicken being ready well before the sides, and I chopped, dropped and seasoned the potatoes we had bought while Brian chopped up the asparagus and mushrooms. The chicken was delicious as were the vegetables. After dinner Emily told me that she’d be going to the outdoor market on Portobello Road the next morning, so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to go somewhere new and go to a place that I could write my paper on for British Life and Cultures. The assignment is simply to go somewhere and write about what you see, so I brought along my notebook and camera with me Thursday morning.
After getting a little lost, we finally reached a street full of amazing antique stores and thrift shops. I gravitated toward a store called Alice’s that was literally bursting with antique tea sets, seltzer bottles, sporting equipment, signs and much more. We walked further down the street and I took note of a bunch of the outdoor food and clothing vendors. My favorite stop of the day was a little place called The Hummingbird Bakery. As someone who worked at a cupcake bakery back in the States, I especially appreciated this beautiful little store featuring beautiful little cupcakes. I picked a red velvet cake that they placed in a Chinese takeout carton, and ate it while we walked back to the tube. It was absolutely delectable. It also happened to be my breakfast since the banana that I brought with me for breakfast was too mushy and brown for my taste.
Once I got back to the dorm, I quickly made a sandwich and headed to theatre class. At the beginning of the class we did a sort of playwriting workshop where we had to write a little vignette in the life of the fictional character Arnold Smith. All we know about this man is that he went to jail at some point in his life. As a Smith myself, I wrote how Arnold Smith was sent to jail in place of another Smith simply due to his last name. I think my professor found it amusing.
Thursday night we saw the play “Stockwell” at the Tricycle Theater in Brooklyn. It wasn’t actually in Brooklyn, but if you went there yourself that’s where you’d think you were. Anyway, the play was about wrongful killing of an innocent man, Jean Charles de Menezes, after the tube bombings in 2005. The play was done verbatim style and the actors took on different roles depending on the needs of the scene. It was extremely compelling and I felt that the actors did a beautiful job.
When we got back to the dorms I threw my clothes in the wash in fear of not getting a chance to do laundry the next morning (we’ve only got four washers for the all of the students in the program, crazy…). I hung out with Jeff and Brian for a bit and we watched clips of Nene from “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” I went to get my laundry out of the dryer after my clothes were done, only to find them still damp. At this point it was around 1a.m. so I just went to sleep and woke up early today to put my clothes through another cycle in the dryer. I’m pretty sure I had a dream that someone stole my clothes so I was really happy to find them all in the dryer when I woke up.
Today I went with Jeff to the St. Pancras/King’s Cross Station to pick up our friend Tom who is studying abroad in Paris. After taking a picture at the fake “Platform 9 3/4,” we got lost for a bit and then found our way to Tom’s hotel.
If we had looked at a map earlier we would have realized that his hotel was pretty close to the one we went to during our first week in London. Seeing this, we decided our best bet for lunch would be at Cha Cha Moon. We all got the same crispy noodle dish with chicken and it was delicious. After lunch we went back to Portobello Road so that I could get more information for my paper and so that I could pick up some gifts for my family. Since we were already there we just had to go back inside The Hummingbird Bakery. I got an apple-caramel cupcake featuring an apple cake with caramel buttercream frosting, and took pictures of the interior of the bakery despite a sign that indicates, “No Pictures.” After spending possibly too much money and empty calories within a two-hour period, I told myself that I could not go back to this open-air market again. At least for the next week or so anyway. Now I’ve got to run to go to the Rosh Hashanah services that are taking place around the block. Tomorrow we take a trip to Stonehenge and Bath!
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Our trip to Ikea last Monday was extremely successful and resulted in a bright yellow chair, some pretty cardboard cases for our books, kitchen utensils and cooking tools, as well as several other items to make our room look more aesthetically pleasing. I also ate their Swedish meatballs. It’s a long walk through that showroom at Ikea, so I needed an energy boost! For dinner Monday night I made a vegetable stir-fry with whole wheat spaghetti, that Marks and Spencer chopped vegetable mix that I love so much, chicken and black bean sauce. After dinner I started freaking out about classes and tried to distract myself by looking up the Royal Family on Wikipedia for several hours. It worked.
I woke up Tuesday morning at 7:30a.m. so that I could fully prepare myself for what was to come. I hadn’t sat in a classroom in over four months and I really wanted to feel studious. As I prepared my whole wheat sandwich with Swiss cheese, humus and sliced chicken, I went over Royal Family trivia in my head. Maybe one of my teachers was going to quiz us on Her Majesty the Queen?
After prepping my lunch and eating my breakfast, I went downstairs to meet Jeff so that we could head over to Foundation House where all of our classes take place. We walked up a couple flights of stairs before entering a classroom that reeked of chemicals. Foundation House is under a bit of exterior construction right now, so if you’ve got a classroom above ground-level you’re likely to see a man in a hard hat and yellow vest working on something directly outside your window. I don’t mind the men, but I do mind that smell. Our Media in Britain professor walked in at exactly 9a.m. to tell us that he needed to make copies of the syllabus and that we had the next 20 minutes to ourselves. We walked outside to catch some much-needed fresh air, and then headed back into the classroom after the 20 minutes were up. Our professor is an extremely funny man. Before I came to London I would watch these movies or television shows with British actors in them thinking to myself, “People can’t actually speak like this!” Well, it turns out that they do. I am probably going to need a dictionary for all the adjectives that he uses as he speaks, but for now I am just going to enjoy his flamboyant speech. The class seems seriously interesting as we are going to explore different mediums by which the public are reached in Britain. I’ve learned about the BBC in classes at AU, but I know very little about other British television networks. During the break, I went up to the professor to speak with him about our final paper. We had to choose our topic that day and I’m interested in writing my final paper on the influence of British celebrity chefs in British media. We somehow got into a conversation about chefs which led to him telling me that he has interviewed both the Julia Child and Nigella Lawson. After I passed out and wept, I took my seat for the remainder of the class. Monday night he e-mailed me with a list of chefs that I should read up on while I’m here. I have a feeling I’m going to like this class very much.
After a one-hour break, Jeff and I met up with Rebs for our British Life and Cultures class. Our professor was born in England but grew up in California. He therefore has an accent that is semi-British, semi-Frasier Crane, but entirely American once he laughs or speaks for a long period of time. The class involves all sorts of trips around London including a tour of Parliament and the Globe. We discussed the importance of accent (ha!) in the United Kingdom, and how one can be discriminated against just for opening his or her mouth. I guess I get that too considering I’m from Long Island (“Do you seriously call them ah-ran-ges?”), but the stereotypes based on accent are much harsher here. Once class was over, I went back to the dorms to rest for a little before taking a yoga class with Jeff. The class was amazing and I can’t wait until the one coming up this Tuesday! After a quick shower, I met up with Jeff, Rebs, Emily and Brian for Indian food at this place named, wait for it, Little India. We got naan bread and pilau rice for the table, and I had a delicious vegetable samosa followed by chicken curry for dinner. Yum.
Jeff and I loved the yoga class so much that we decided to take another one Wednesday morning. Unfortunately I read the calendar wrong and it was a Pilates class that we really did not enjoy. We got a light lunch at Whole Foods and then went back to the dorms to get ready for our 5p.m. class. I had been freaking Jeff out about this class all week as he has not yet taken a theatre class in college and according to my experience, theatre teachers can be very eccentric. This is something that I love, but something that could definitely turn someone off who isn’t prepared. So, I did my best to give him every possible scenario of what our teacher could be like. We have the crazy scarf woman who wears eight scarves and moves them around as she speaks, we have the soul-searcher who has his students write in a journal each week to find his or her true inner meaning, and of course there is always the theatre teacher who uses complicated words that mean literally nothing once you’ve written them down in your notebook only to read them later on and think to yourself, “What the hell is this?” Now, being whacky does not make a person a bad professor, it just makes the class more interesting. Our professor is just the right sort of eccentric, I think. I’m not sure if he’s trying to be funny or if I’m just American and I love the way some of the people here speak. Now that I think of it it’s probably the latter, but it still interests me. Anyway, he’s the sort of teacher who will stand with one hand on his hip and the other cupping his chin, while both nodding his head and walking around while saying, “Yes, yes, mm, mm, mm, quite right, quite right, mm,” as a student makes a comment in class. We started the class off by going over how theatre is run in Britain, and by lightly discussing Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde. Now I happen to know some things about these people and their works solely because I’ve been taking theatre classes throughout college. So as I’m raising my hand Jeff is staring at me as if to say, “Are you kidding me?” He showed me his notes during our break, which read, “Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’ George Bernard Shaw, Who The Fuck Cares?” At least I like the class. Once the session ended at 8p.m., Jeff and I walked over to Waitrose to buy a fully-cooked garlic-roasted chicken and some raw vegetables. I sautéed red, green and yellow peppers together with a sweet onion as a side, and we at the chicken (almost) in its entirety.
As you’ve probably noticed, Jeff and I have all three of our classes together. We do not have class on Monday or Friday (four day weekend, anyone?), but we do have a full day of classes on Tuesday followed by one three-hour session of Contemporary British Theatre each on Wednesday late afternoon and Thursday afternoon. Jeff and I went to the gym for yet another yoga class Thursday morning after which we walked to Foundation House for our second session of theatre. Jeff enjoyed this class much better than the first as we watched clips from “The Importance of Being Ernest” and “Pygmalion.” One huge bonus to taking this theatre class is that we will get to see plays at different venues from around the city for which I am very excited.
Every student in the program was given a ticket to see a West End show for Thursday night. The West End is the Broadway equivalent in London so we were all super-excited to go. I rushed to both make pasta (with sautéed butternut squash and spinach) and to get dressed with less than an hour to spare. It somehow all worked out and we made it to the Phoenix Theatre with enough time for me to by gummies. They were delicious. “Blood Brothers” was an interesting show, both extremely funny and, for some people, extremely sad. I’m not sure whether or not this was the intent of the director, but my friends and I found some of the parts that were supposed to be sad and ominous pretty darn funny. I later read online that the part of Mrs. Johnstone will be played by Melanie C, AKA Sporty Spice, starting in October. Bummer. Since we were already in Piccadilly and some of us do not have a Friday class, we decided that we should go out and explore this very touristy area of the city for the night. We were somehow lured into this tourist den called Sound. It was a horrible club that was only good for its bathroom and the back wall that kept changing colors. We left within 10-minutes and walked around a bit more before finally deciding on O’Neil’s.
O’Neil’s is a three-floor pub that has something for everyone. The place features food, drinks, music booming from the stereo and live music on the top floor. We grabbed a few drinks before my friend Lauren could get whisked away by three Irishmen, and headed upstairs just in time for the band to start. They played everything from Lynyrd Skynyrd to The Fray, and we all had an unbelievable time jumping and dancing around with some locals as well as fellow Americans.
Once my feet were too tired to dance anymore (as some guy said to me, “It moust be ‘ard to walk in ‘dem ‘eels.”), I took a seat at the bar until everyone was ready to go. Then things got ugly. The only thing that I want to do after a night out is eat. The group of people I was with felt the same. Unfortunately, the restaurateurs of Piccadilly Circus are very smart and have established this little thing called a minimum amount, which is displayed in a teeny-tiny font at the bottom of their restaurant’s menus. After checking out a couple of these places someone suggested that we go to KFC. “OMG KFC SOUNDS SO GOOD RIGHT NOW!” Really, Melissa? I will try to forget that this experience ever happened. It is in the past, I have let go. Namaste.
Friday was a lazy day. I walked to the pub across the street wearing my pajamas and flip-flops so that I could get change for the laundry machine. Despite the embarrassment I successfully washed two loads of laundry. I ate our leftover pasta for lunch, watched a bunch of TV (I’m taking a media class so I’m pretty sure that just counts as homework…) and went to the gym around 6p.m. Once I got back, I went to this amazing burger restaurant named Byron with Brian, Rebs and Jeff. I literally had not had a burger in about two years before Friday night, but I’m so happy that I waited! This burger was perfection as were the fries and milkshakes. Let’s just forget the fact that I somehow managed to eat a chocolate cupcake shortly after our enormous dinner. Emily met up with us later on, and I suggested that we stay in and watch “The Holiday” since we had to wake up early the next morning. That movie just gets better and better every time, but it now has new meaning since we are in England. I think we just might plan a trip to Surrey.
It was an early rise Saturday morning as Jeff, Rebs and I were off to Buckingham Palace! We arrived early to get a good spot for the changing of the guards. It was a beautiful ceremony, and it’s crazy to think that these men and women participate in it every-other day or every day depending on the time of year.
We rushed to get lunch at this restaurant called BBar (I had a salad with BBQ chicken, blistered tomatoes, avocado, mixed greens and an avocado-mayonnaise dressing), so that we could be back for our 1p.m. tour of the Palace’s 19 state rooms. After going through security, we were each given a little remote and a pair of headphones through which we could hear a lovely British woman describe what we were seeing as we saw it. Naturally, the interior of the Palace was stunning and is in unbelievable shape considering its ripe age. According to that British voice, little renovation has been done in terms of the wall colors and original moldings and furniture, and as I noticed small chips here and there I sort of appreciated how they have kept things the same.
My favorite part of the tour was the room where the Queen’s dresses from her various tours throughout the Commonwealth of Nations were displayed. The room also included gifts received by the Queen during these tours. The gifts were grand, mundane, extravagant, or dull, but as the little voice told me, “The Queen appreciates all of the gifts she receives and finds a home for them all.” Another highlight of the tour was a room through which the Queen can enter via a secret door. There was a large mirror and cabinet blocking the door, and as the voice told me, the items on top of the cabinet have been secured so that they will not fall over as she enters or exits the room. The rooms were generally deep red with gold detailing in the ceiling, but I especially enjoyed walking through this one room that was a striking turquoise. Unfortunately, we were unable to take pictures while walking throughout the state rooms, but we did take pictures in the garden behind the Palace. The exit out of Buckingham Palace conveniently led into a gift shop where one could buy royal things such as pens and magnets. Our final part of the tour was a walk through the garden past a plethora of trees and plants as well as a pond or two. The path led us to some street exit, and while we tried to figure out where we were we decided that we were hungry. We stopped into a small café for a Belgian waffle with nutella. Yum. Although very tired, we knew that we had to take advantage of the beautiful weather and we headed toward the River Thames. While we had seen the sights around this area already on our bus tour, the buildings were much more beautiful without the bus’s glass window in the way. We took a bunch of pictures of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Brian Haw’s Peace Camp, the London Eye and the River Thames.
Whew! When we were too tired to go on, we headed back to the dorms for a much-needed nap.
Two hours later I woke up extremely nauseous, so I decided not to go out to dinner with Rebs and Jeff. They went to an Italian restaurant down the block and brought me back some garlic bread which I graciously ate in one fell swoop as I was miraculously cured from my nausea due to the smell of garlic… clearly. We then met up with Emily and went over to the Imperial Bar that was open until 1a.m. because it was the final evening of the Proms. We sat outside and had a great time enjoying the company and excellent weather. I came back only to eat some delicious Cadbury confection out of the vending machine on the first floor of our building, and fell asleep after many unsuccessful attempts to buffer an episode of “The Rachel Zoe Project.”
I had a hard time waking up this morning due to a sequence of very strange, but short dreams that I had. One of them involved some sort of family function where everyone in my family was dressed crazy with big hair and way too much blush. Odd. Once I finally woke up, Jeff and I went to the gym for a while and then walked over to Whole Foods for lunch. I came back extremely motivated to write this very, very long blog entry (my apologies!), but I did stop somewhere in the middle to go to the very fabulous Gay Pride Festival in SoHo and then out for dinner at Chiquito in Leicester Square. I am currently in a food comma after sharing a platter of Mexican food with Emily and I’m not entirely sure how I am even writing coherently now. I think I’m going to rest a bit and do some reading for Tuesday.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Sunday, September 6, 2009
I could not wipe the smile off of my face as I entered this glorious haven of natural foods. I was greeted by a woman who was pouring berry smoothies into small cups for the masses, while instructing the group of people who had huddled around her prep table on how to use the blender she had been using. Once I entered the store, I became aware of a very familiar smell in an unfamiliar city; Whole Foods scones. I was only going in to get some shampoo and the like, but one delicious ginger scone wouldn’t keep my friends waiting too long, right? I quickly bagged the goodie and headed downstairs (did I mention this store has three floors? I know). I grabbed some shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, soap and body lotion and was very pleasantly surprised that the store had just happened to be having a sale on most of those items. Score! I purchased a bunch of reusable bags with the rest of the items, and blissfully dug into the scone as I exited the store.
For dinner we went to our local pub, Glocester Arms, with a group of our friends from American. I ordered a Thai chicken curry pie with mash and a Strongbow Cider. Delicious. After we got back from dinner, (around 9:30p.m.) the entire building fell asleep. I know this because Skype won’t work in the dorms until the broadband is fixed later on in September, and I was somehow magically able to Skype. Jetlag gets the best of us.
Friday we had to wake up at 10a.m. for an orientation session followed by another orientation session. Between the two sessions I went back to the hotel we had stayed last week because I left my stuffed animal monkey there (“Hi, I just checked out this morning and I was wondering if you found a stuffed animal monkey in room LG25?”). I got it back… success! I took the tube back to Kensington High Street and met up with Emily and Brian for lunch and some pillow shopping at Marks and Spencer. We went to Whole Foods to pick up some groceries and we all got this awesome Whole Foods London strawish-burlapish bag. After all of our orientations were over, I ended up back at Whole Foods (are you really surprised?) for dinner with Jeff and Rebs. I went over to the hot food bar and made myself a burrito with black beans, shredded pork, pico de gallo, cheddar cheese and roasted butternut squash. The food was great but the utensils were strange; wooden spoons, forks and knives that I’m sure could cause some sort of paper cut when slicing into hard foods. I dutifully recycled them when I was finished eating, and got a scoop of galia melon sorbet for dessert. Yum. After hanging out in the dorms for a bit, a bunch of us walked over to Imperial College. As part of our program, we are given access to the Student Union at Imperial College, which just happens to include a subsidized bar. All of you people in blog land are definitely going to be hearing more about this bar as the drinks are cheap and the Brits are friendly. We grabbed a table and mingled until the bar closed at 11p.m. After meeting some people who are in our program from Temple University, we all walked over to this bar/club named Archangel on Kensington High Street.
We had a great time making fools of ourselves while dancing to the very American music blasting over the stereo (think Bob Dylan). Jeff and I stayed to hang out a little longer while some of our friends went back, and stopped into the convenience store down the block for a 50 pence croissant later on.
Saturday morning I woke up really itchy all over my arm. I had to forget the itch and rush to get ready as we had a tour guide waiting outside the dorm for us. It was about 9:47a.m. and the tour was leaving at 10a.m. on the dot. I have no idea how we made it, but I’m glad we did. The guide took us on a historical tour of Kensington and the surrounding areas. We walked through the Royal Kensington Gardens, over to the make-shift Princess Diana memorial made for the anniversary of her death, around to Kensington High Street and back to the dorms. The guide took us through tertiary streets to get to our destinations so we could experience the quaintness of the area. We stopped at several houses where artists had once lived (T.S. Elliot, Ezra Pound, etc.), and got to learn how this area came to be so high-class and affluent. Once the tour was over, we were given two hours to do as we wished (Rebs and I fell asleep), and were told to meet outside for a bus tour at 2p.m.
We were instructed to sit at the top of the double-decker bus, and our hilarious tour guide spoke to us via a microphone from below. I was a bit distracted due to my still-itchy arm, but that didn’t take me away from seeing the infamous postcard-like sites that we all know so well. After driving past Harrods, down Oxford Street, through the financial district and over Tower and London bridges, the bus stopped so that we could all get out at Buckingham Palace. The palace is as grand as anything, and I can’t wait to take a tour in the near future while the Queen is still away.
The most interesting thing that I saw on this bus tour was a 60-year-old man by the name of Brian Haw who has lived in London’s Parliament Square since 2001 in protest of Britain’s policies toward Afghanistan and Iraq. His peace camp has garnered much attention by the media, and support from individuals both ordinary and influential. It was pretty cool to see this very, very tan man through the bus window. I took down a lot of notes during the tour, and have now got a long list of places I’d like to visit. Our guide was so entertaining that even after three hours I didn’t want the tour to end. I decided to cope with my sadness when it finally did end by purchasing a Mango-Passion Fruit frappuccino at Starbucks. Very thirst-quenching.
Back at the dorm, I made pasta with spinach and Bolognese sauce and garlic bread for Jeff, Rebs and I. We ate our dinner on the floor of mine and Rebs’ room as the kitchen is only equipped with two seats (but it does have practically everything else; pots, pans, cheese graters, proper cook’s knives, etc.). After cleaning ourselves up a bit, we headed over to the Imperial College Bar to meet up with our friends. We met some students from Imperial College as well as students in our program and stayed until close.
This morning I woke up itchy—again! I have determined that I have bed bugs after an extensive Google Image search of what bed bug bites look like. I am having my mattress and linens changed tomorrow. I met up with Jeff in the lobby of the dorm and we bussed over to Kensington High Street to go to the gym. We were planning on going to a 12p.m. class and Jeff purchased a pair of sneakers with a few minutes to spare! Jeff and I got our butts kicked at this circuit class but we had a lot of fun when we were paired up for the kickboxing portion. We got lunch at Marks and Spencer (see a pattern here? They’ve got sandwiches, salads and wraps for less than 4 pounds!), and walked our smelly selves around Kensington High Street before walking back to the dorms. After a shower and a walk to the stationary store to purchase some books and pens for Tuesday, I hung out in the room a bit (not on my bed, of course!) and am now in the computer lab. Tomorrow I’m going to Ikea with Jeff to pick up some more things for our rooms, and we both start class on Tuesday! I’m going to try not to let the bed bugs bite before then!
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Cheese. Oysters. Chocolate. Fresh-cut meats. Olives. Ugh. Yesterday I died and went to heaven at a magical, magical place called Harrods. I like shopping as much as the next girl, but I could have honestly spent the rest of my life in the various food shops within that beautiful store. It was like a museum but better because the things that you saw you could eat. Seriously beyond. Once I (somewhat) got over all the gorgeous food, Rebs, Jeff and I ascended to The Georgian Restaurant on the fourth floor.
I died all over again.
Beautifully deep pink chairs, meticulously placed settings on tables covered with white cloth, and a grand piano in the middle of it all. I nearly passed out when our Italian waiter brought out our three-tiered platter of foods that comes with Traditional Afternoon Tea. Six triangle-shaped sandwiches for each diner were placed at the bottom, followed by raisin scones in the middle and an assortment of pastries from the store’s patisserie at the top.
I ate each slowly and carefully as to not drop a crumb or bit of spread. My favorite sandwich was the lox with caper spread, but I loved the raisin scones. With the scones came a choice of orange marmalade, strawberry jelly and real (real!) clotted cream. I spread the cream and strawberry jelly on each half of the scone that I had broken into two and thought to myself, “This may possibly be the best thing I have ever eaten in my life.” At this point I was so full, I sipped my tea (Victorian Rose with a cube of brown sugar), waiting patiently for my stomach to make room for the pastries. After all, I was in no rush to get out of THE Georgian Restaurant! Just before I reached for a mini fruit tart, Rebs shouts out, “It’s Blake!” I knew that Blake, my brother, was definitely in New York, so I was a little confused when I turned around and saw a boy who seemed to be him! I ran through The Georgian Restaurant (not one of my finest moments) to catch up to this kid. Once I reached him I explained that he looked EXACTLY like my little brother. “Ne parle, ne parle,” he said. Obviously this kid is French and as I am all up in his face shouting crazy things, he has no idea what I’m saying. Thankfully the five years of French I took gave me enough knowledge to explain to him and his mom the situation… let’s forget the fact that it was very, very broken French. They both started laughing hysterically and I was able to take the picture. Phew. Back to the tea. I was able to somehow stuff the fruit tart and a profiterole into my stomach, but I simply could not make room for the pound cake or brownie. I will try them at another time if I am to be so lucky.
After our lunch we walked through the parts of the store that didn’t have to do with food. (Weird?) Although I could never afford most of the clothing that was displayed, I really did appreciate seeing brand names and designers that I had never heard of before. I especially liked seeing a picture of Victoria Beckham posing in front of her VB jeans that I was looking at in person! We eventually made our way out of the store, and walked over to ZARA where I got an awesome blue linen blazer for 10 pounds. Woo! After walking around the area a bit more, we hopped on a double-decker bus to Oxford Street. We had finally made it to the store we had heard and seen so much about over the past few days. Primark. If you go to or are in London you must, must, must go to this store. Think H&M but more trendy and at drastically low prices. I got a sick dress, bag, gloves, tee shirt and belt for 23 pounds. Amazing!! At this point (almost 9p.m.) we were tired and hungry so we got back on the bus with our new fashionable finds in tow. We went to Marks and Spencer to pick up beef, pork and crimini stuffed tortellini and a pre-made salad and dressing. Back at the room we prepped the dinner and feasted. I ate my leftover raisin scone for dessert. Yum.
Today was pretty relaxed. Jeff and I headed over to the gym in the early afternoon so that he could check it out and I could workout (if you’ve been reading this blog you KNOW I needed to burn some serious calories). We walked around the area where the gym is a bit as that will be our new hometown as of tomorrow! Marks and Spencer was the obvious choice to pick up lunch (a salad for me, a sandwich for Jeff) and we went back to the room to meet back up with Rebs and eat. We took showers, watched some TV and before we knew it, it was time for dinner. Yes! We went to this Asian restaurant called Cha Cha Moon near the hotel that we had been eyeing for a few days. It was a great choice as the food was delicious and inexpensive. The waiters had some aversion to getting us tap water but they graciously brought us our Wen Wen cocktails. I ordered wide noodles with shrimp, scallops and peppers. Yum. The walls of the restaurant were coated with long pieces of bamboo that had to be sprayed with steam that came down from the ceiling. Pretty cool. Now we’re back at the room packing up for the big move tomorrow! Our dorm is about a ten-minute drive from where our hotel is but we’ve all got a lot of luggage so we’re just trying to get everything together. Lets hope our new room can fit all of my boots!