disowning heathrow

Well, I’m still here.  I traveled for 12 hours yesterday and ended up right back at my apartment.  We successfully made it on the Tube even while carrying about 150 pounds of our stuff, took the hour long ride with no worries, got off at our terminal, went through and checked bags, went through security, and walked upstairs to the gates area which is when we first saw it out the windows.  It was blizzarding with snow and clearly had been for at least 30 minutes–there was still only about 4 inches though.  We made it to our gate, checked in again (system is really bad here at the gates) and then half of the plane boarded, including all of my friends who were on the flight.

Then I heard from behind me at the rep desk, “WHY ARE THEY STILL BOARDING? STOP BOARDING.” And I knew.  But the business consultant Jesus-loving couple beside me from Dallas have flown 4 million miles with American and were giving me the inside scoop and helping me stay hopeful for a while.  The husband explained that Heathrow makes about $60,000 every time a plane lands, and $20,000 every time one takes off, and that they should be dealing with the runways and since the snow had stopped and visibility had improved, and the de-icers were working on de-icing planes all around us, we should be fine.  So I stayed positive.

Then they de-boarded the people who had been on the plane for 2.5 hours and told us to wait until 4p for a decision as the runways would be open then. During these 2.5 hours I called my mom on some random pay phone using a credit card that probably literally costed $20, but it was worth it.  She started looking for alternatives then and kept tabs online.  It was RIDICULOUS to me that the Wifi at Heathrow wasn’t working, and that I had given away my UK phone to be nice to the UNC students who are studying here next semester.

At 3:48 the gate re-opened and we got back in line to board. I asked one of the attendants if he thought we were really going and he said, “Yes, it’s definitely looking like it.” False hope.  The crew’s time expired at 4:30, so we were in a rush as the doors to the gate had to be closed by then and we had to be moving towards the runway.

At 4p the runways still weren’t open, and now wouldn’t likely be open til 6. So it was then that we wandered back all the way through the airport to baggage claim, got our bags.  Big D had met this random other guy from Raleigh and he graciously let me use his skype on his phone to call my mom and figure out alternative plans.  After a while and loads of stress, and seeing Heathrow looking like a refugee camp, and calling our program Director, Christine and I decided to take the Tube back to central London.  We dragged all our bags halfway across Heathrow to the Tube and then had to RUN to catch the last train.  We were some of the last people they even let in the station.  Then we squeezed on this train car with some weirdos, one who distinctly reminded me of Tila Tequila–I was about to scream at her. We were stuck at the terminal station for about 20 minutes before we started moving.  Then there was some signaling issue on our tube line and so the conductor was like HOLD ON we’re going to push through the emergency brakes, so you will feel a jolt.  I still had four bags and nothing to hold onto.  It took 2 hours to get through 2 stations.  Finally it was back to normal and the last hour was fine.

Then I had to drag all four bags–one giant backpacking pack on my back, one backpack on my front, and two rollies up the stairs.  Luckily this random lady helped me. We then took the seemingly more lovely elevator to the top and got the Tube ride free, thank God people are understanding here since they know efficiency is always at about 40%.

Only then did I have the hardest and coldest walk of my life back to our apartment reception building.  I’ll just skip that part. It wasn’t pretty.

Christine then got us take-out from the ever reliable Thai Garden, and I gave my IP address so we could get internet in here, and then I slept for 11 solid hours. Most frustrating day ever.  My mom, bless her, had been on the phone with American/United ALL afternoon and had originally scheduled me a flight for Tuesday to Dallas and then Baltimore, but then got me one through Chicago to RDU for tomorrow morning.  So looks as though that MIGHT work, though Heathrow is still clearing out 30 tonnes of ice, supposedly from around all of the parked planes. No arrivals were allowed today and only a handful of departures were allowed.  So, now there are 4 of us in the apartment with most scheduled to leave Monday or Tuesday, none of us direct anymore. It’s all a giant, giant mess. And now I’m worried about my flight even going out tomorrow, and that this all re-playing for the 3rd time this semester tomorrow and I won’t be home until after Christmas because I can’t get another flight.  So, I’ve been on Heathrow’s twitter for most of the day: http://twitter.com/#!/heathrowAirport and have now been on hold with American for 53 minutes to see if I can get any information out of them.  I won’t believe I’m going home, until I’m on the ground at RDU.

But, we’re trying to make the best of it.  We got Big D settled in this morning and then went out for an AMAZING meal with incredible service (first time in Europe) at Jaime’s Italian. We walked around Covent Garden a bit and then came back as it’s freezing and we’re both exhausted, and feel like we went through triathlons yesterday. And here I am, on the phone with American. As long as I get home before Christmas, I’ll be fine. I just don’t understand how they weren’t prepared for these measly 4 inches.  As Mommy said, “they’re dealing with snow about as well as Raleigh does,” and it’s the busiest international airport in the world? Okay, I’ll stop. I’m warm, safe, and clean. Things could be a lot worse.

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owning london

I went into a tired, annoyed, Iwanttogohomerightnow craze after my exams and tried to change my flight, but finding out it would cost a minimum of $250 to do so quickly talked me out of that.  I’ve been glad to have a few days to do a few last things, hang out with friends, try those restaurants we always meant to but never did, and figuring out how to do all my packing without exceeding the airline weight limits, and considering I have to transport 3 giant bags on and off the Tube.

Wednesday after getting some much needed rest and running a few errands, I picked up a second row (?!) ticket to this play Deathtrap I’ve wanted to see.  Then I wandered through some markets to the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. I went through a “time machine” elevator by myself that started making really, really weird noises. I prepared myself for some kind of emergency evacuation before reassuring myself that this was some weirdo supposedly cool attempt of the museum.  I walked through omnibuses, horse and buggys, and trains before heading downstairs to learn all about the first metro, drive a metro car, and feel really bad about my carbon footprint at home even though I’ve taken public transportation for the past 4 months.  It was very informative, interesting, and well-done.  I forgot how much I love going to museums by myself.  Then I went on to Food for Thought, my favorite veg restaurant in Covent Garden and had the “Christmas in the Alps” special of pumpkin ravioli (how did they know?!) with some fontina and walnut sauce.  I then made one last trip through my favorite CG shops including: Urban (?), H&M (is way better here), Spitalfields, some random places, zara, and some weird place called muji. and finally to the fcuk outlet.  By then it was time to head back to the play.  I walked by some red carpet event.  I don’t know who was coming, but he/she/they was/were important.  I walked into the stalls and noticed some very weird things about the people sitting next to me in the show.  The one on the right had her watch set 15 minutes fast, took 15 minutes to get everything around her seat and herself set up so she was comfortable, turned around and gave a glare to the silly girls behind us eating candies, and even though she was about 60 had on silver nail polish.  She and her husband(?) left at the interval.  And then I ran into them afterwards walking back to my flat? Whatever. The play was great.  Jonathan Groff stars–though I didn’t really know who he was considering I don’t watch Glee, but he was amazing.  It was a comedic thriller = I laughed and screamed right after each other multiple times.  It was refreshing to be on my own and just be in London.

Yesterday I went to the Churchill War Rooms and Museum with Heather, on her last day.  It was definitely a highlight.  Many of the war rooms were closed up and only opened in the 1980s, so they’ve been preserved exactly as they were at the end of the war.  It was crazy to think about the blitz in London and the measures they/Churchill took.  I almost didn’t go, but I’m so glad I did.  We enjoyed a parsnip soup in the switch room in the middle of our tour too. Then more errands and packing, and after H, Big D and I went to this Nigerian restaurant we’d been wanting to try.  It was delicious and undescribable.  I don’t really know what I ate, but it was grand.  I’ve found that a lot on this trip.

Today was more sleeping, packing, errand running, laundry doing, keys turning in, book selling, and freaking out about not being able to fly back tomorrow considering the snow that was pouring down this morning.  Luckily it’s stopped here for now, and I just saw a plane from my window heading over to Heathrow, so hopefully all will be well.

I can’t believe this journey is coming to a close.  I don’t know how I’m feeling about heading back to Chapel Hill in a few weeks.  Reverse culture shock is going to hit for sure.  I can’t wait to see my family and celebrate Christmas.  We’re heading to DC and then Montreat with UNC over break as well, so much to be excited about.  Blessings to you all in this season!  I’m trying to decide whether or not to keep this blog.  We’ll see. I might come back to it when I travel again, or I might try to continue it to keep my day-to-day life alive.  Keep your eyes open. Love, Amy

there can never be too many santas….

The past 10 days have been filled with studying for the 4 exams I just took in 2 days.  I’ve been thinking for 72 hours straight.  But of course we managed to have some fun in there as well.  Last Tuesday, one week ago today, was our last official art class.  I was so sad.  I haven’t enjoyed a class that much since high school.  We spent it at the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery at Trafalgar Square.  The view is breathtaking straight down to the Thames and Parliament.

view from National Gallery down Southhall

We wandered through Monets, van Goghs, Renoirs, and Seurats before we had a tour given by the Director of Education and curator of the Bridget Riley exhibition we were seeing.  I know this doesn’t really make sense to you, but I want to have this info for myself later :). The director was insanely amazing.  I seriously as clicheed as this sounds, will never look at art the same way.  We walked through some of the oldies but goodies and he pointed out that visual art is a composition just as music is one.  Since I know a lot more about musical composition than visual art composition, this made so much sense to me. I could SEE the rhythms, themes, tone colors, repetition, voices, counterpoint, etc.  He then brought us around to the Bridget Riley exhibition.  Riley is a contemporary British artist in her 80s now whose drawings we saw at the National Portrait gallery.  This was an exhibition of her optical paintings, and she requested each one to be placed in proximity to a painting the National Gallery owned, for example, one by Raphael.  And thus we could see clearly how contemporary art reflects art of the past.  It’s not just a bunch of circles or lines.  I’ve really learned to appreciate contemporary art this semester, and I seriously can’t wait to go to art museums in NC when I get back.  We had our final though this morning, and I’m burnt out about talking about it all, so I’ll end there.  I love art.

Wednesday we had a behind the scenes tour with Sam Moorhead of the British Museum who was a Morehead scholar at UNC many moons ago.  It was straight out of Night at the Museum as we went after hours and were the only people there.  Eerie and awesome.  We saw the rosetta stone and the elgin marbles of course, and George III’s library among other things.  It was incredible to walk around with Sam who was a storyteller of history at its finest.  He pointed out the “humanity” in the artifacts that I never would have seen otherwise.  I of course thought of my best gal Erin, the classics major, the ENTIRE time we were wandering around there. It was beautiful.  It’s literally a 5 minute walk from our apartment and I still hadn’t been there until last week.  I’ve found I’m not really a museum girl, besides art at least.

British Museum after hours

British Museum

Wednesday was a work/chill day.  But we ended up going to get Turkish food for dinner over near our school building.  It was delicious, but way too much meat. I’m back on my full-time veg kick after that.

Thursday we hung out with Alice, our awesome Winston House manager.  We went up to her house in Kensal Green/Rise on the Overground, and then cooked a really yummy dinner, and then walked into Kilburn in North London to see a play at the tricycle theater that was my favorite I’ve seen this semester.  It was about a summer weekend when a not so traditional couple meet, and the story is told/sung/acted by the two of them.  It was hilarious, beautiful, and thought-provoking, the perfect romantic comedy. We love Alice. She’s coming to Chapel Hill in the spring!

Friday, H-Nugget and I went to the chocolate festival down at the Southbank Centre on the river, and then to a Christmas market down there as well.  After we decided to stop by the National Theatre and happened to be able to get seats for a play called “Men Should Weep” about the tenement house life in the 1820s in Glasgow.  Beyond the fact that we couldn’t understand a lot of the Scottish accent, at all, it was very well done!  I love theater..  On the way back we walked across Waterloo Bridge–my favorite night time view in London, and then happened to wander down to Somerset House where the most beautiful ice skating rink on Earth is. We spent a good 30 minutes listening to the DJ and people watching.  The “ahh-I’m-almost-falling-please help-me-I-don’t-care-if you’re-random” was a particularly amusing facial expression…

Somerset House

This weekend was unfortunately spent studying.  I did find an awesome cafe called Foyle’s which reminded me of a hybrid between Foster’s and Open Eye in Chapel Hill/Carrboro. We sat next to a guy who was doing job interviews all afternoon.  I never guessed correctly at the type of person who’d be rolling into the cafe next.  Luckily for us, there were 1500 Santas to keep us company in central London on Sunday.  It was hilarious.  They were all drunk, making up stories about why they were dressed up, and each, of course, introduced themselves as Santa. (see: http://santacon.co.uk)

Last night we had a “holiday cheer” party at our Program Director’s flat with him and his partner, Carolyn.  It was a festive, fun evening filled with mulled wine (the night before his exam??!), mince pies, laughs about British quirks, and awkward but hilarious stories from our sweet professor.

I’m just about ready then, to head home I mean.  Things have come to a close.  I’m ready for Christmastime at home. I have 3 more days here to relax and see a few more things, but I’ve been done being a tourist for a long while now.  I just want to BE in London, not be doing things in London, so that’s what I’ll be doing.  I cannot wait to see my fam at the airport on Saturday! But for now, I’m pretty sure I’m going to head to bed even though it’s only 7pm. Cheers.

Hope this finds you all well.

london diary

I had to write this as an assignment for our English class. Just thought I’d share as I don’t have time to write a real post while I’m studying for finals.

 

I am an American in London. I am the familiar stranger.  I am the familiar in the strange, and the strange in the familiar, especially if I don’t open my mouth.  I don’t speak on the Tube. I don’t look people in the eye. I stand in the queue. I don’t talk too loudly. I am polite. I drink tea in the afternoon with milk.

 

I better understand how Henry James felt when writing about the Americans in London.  I’ve tried to defy the stereotypes he and other Americans have validated.  I want to be a part of this society, and I’ve tried to quietly find my place even as it feels like a non-place.  I have found a home here, but it’s either on my own, or with American friends. This home I speak of fits somewhere in between Nancy Beck and Lady Barberina.  I’m not looking outside wishing I could be part of it all; but I’m also not using my charm and looks to get into society so I can escape my past.  I’m walking around in Kew Gardens, in awe over the jewels in the V&A, eating Pakistani food (probably incorrectly) in the East End, poking around the markets in Camden, attempting to get student day-of tickets for shows all over London, and trying to figure out why I am blessed enough to be here all the while trying to maintain an “English” demeanor. I’ve found myself forgetting I’m somewhere foreign. I’ll never forget the moment I realized American accents sounded foreign to me.  After smelling the freshly baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, I walked up to the bar in the basement of our ridiculously homey hostel in Prague to inquire about Czech beers. “What can I getcha?” was the bartenders response.  I was shocked at first in realizing his American accent sounded foreign.  I could speak in English and be understood, and there was an instant camaraderie in our American-ness.

 

I am an American in London. I am mimetic. I still listen to American music. I get frustrated when I can’t find what I consider pretty basic food items in the grocery stores.  I hate how expensive everything is.  The often bad and/or rude service experienced in the STA travel shop and Ristorante Zizzi irritates me. I miss having a phone that works. Public transportation delays and inconveniences drive me crazy; it should not take three hours to get from Heathrow to Central London.

 

I was trying and failing to find Dennis Severs’s House last week in Spitalfields when I realized I had just passed by Nazneen’s apartment complex, the Tower Hamlets, near Brick Lane. She could have been one of the people I walked past on the way to dinner in the East End. I haven’t ever been to Bangladesh, but the area I was walking around in did remind me of what a gentrified Bangladeshi neighborhood might look like. I feel as though I’m trying to make my own neighborhood out of London much like Nazneen.  While Shahana considers Bangladesh home, even though she’s never been there, Nazneen’s definition of home appears to be changing over the course of Brick Lane. What does home mean? I wasn’t forced to come here, and I don’t love it more than I love the home I grew up in, so in that way I’m very different from Nazneen. But the thought of living away from my childhood home has become more comfortable since I’ve lived here. This has been made easier based on somewhat arbitrary but also overwhelming placements of objects of my culture in this new setting, in some ways like a more widespread version of the Bangladeshi-influenced East End neighborhood Nazneen lived in.  The prevalence of Starbucks and McDonald’s is almost embarrassing. American music blares out of stores on Oxford Street.  American accents screech over all others when I’m walking down my street filled with international students. I avoid the stores, the music, and sometimes the people.  I like the camouflage I have when I’m silent.   I like to think that some people might still think I’m British if I do this.

 

I am an American in London. I am (almost) fluent.  I love saying “Hiya.” I miss saying “y’all.” I love the freedom of public transportation.  I miss the convenience of having a car. I love walking out my door directly into a bustling city.  I miss the quiet of my neighborhood and Chapel Hill. I love visiting the Borough Market in the morning, eating lunch in a funky vegetarian restaurant, and walking over Millenium Bridge at night.  I miss meeting friends for breakfast on the main drag in Chapel Hill, relaxing on the quad in front of Wilson Library, and I always miss my family.

 

I was trying to consider London as a language this afternoon.  I realized it is one. All of the differences including but not limited to the actual words themselves make up a language that is London’s own. I’ve struggled to come up with this language mosaic just as Z did in A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers.  Though the differences we’ve noticed are sometimes on different scales and subjects based on our backgrounds, we have attempted in similar ways to find fluency. We were both surprised at the increased levels of privacy and impersonal nature of people in shops, restaurants, and on the streets. In China, according to Z, everyone shares everything.  It is a much more collective environment.  In my experience in the United States, people are more open, friendly, and welcoming towards strangers, while looking out for usually only him or herself. Z and I are both at times lonely in the city because of this.  But we learn the language. We have afternoon tea, eat puddings, travel outside England like we were encouraged to do, and accept the imitations of our own cultures.

 

I am the familiar stranger. I am mimetic. I am (almost) fluent. I am still an American in London, but not for long.

 

my name is gwyzzy, and i ain’t perfect.

After recovering from my 6:20 train on Sunday, I had a busy two days of class including preparing for a debate which I am not a fan of, but it’s over.  I never want to talk about the French banning burkas or hijabs again. Tuesday night, fAnnie, Big D and I went to Street Flava for one last time to celebrate (?) the end of our gym membership.  It was a success complete with four gay guys BUSTING it out all over the place.  We didn’t really know quite what to do with ourselves.

Wednesday we chilled out and did work all day, kind of.  Then we ended up waltzing down to the National Theatre to try to get tickets for a production called Fela!  I couldn’t believe it worked out as well as it did–we went to the box office and got student tickets in the stalls for £10!  We were ecstatic.  The performance was full of amazing singers, musicians, and dancers.  It’s the story of the Nigerian afro-beats creator and political activist, Fela Kuti.  We were all fans especially when we had to stand up in the middle of the performance and start dancing.  Our hips were a clock and Fela yelled out #s, can you do the 4-1-9?  We mastered it.  The 3-6-9-3-9 was a little harder.  But it was definitely the “best 24 hours of our lives.” Teehee.

Thursday Heather and I wandered out to Kew Gardens after getting confused and waiting on the Tube which never came and then getting off at the wrong bus stop so we had to walk in the freezing snow.  We made it to Richmond and ate lunch at this wonderful French restaurant serving traditional Breton fare.  I’ve discovered I really love going out to eat. Eek! We had some buckwheat pancakes–yum-o.

wonderful lunch at chez lindsay

Then we moved onto Kew Gardens and ended up being the only two people on our tour with our sweet guide Sheila.  It was really interesting and beautiful even though it was freezing out.  We spent a lot of time in the tropical rainforests….the grade one Palm House on the grounds was spectacular and full of palms from all over the world.  We also went into the Princess of Wales Conservatory filled with different climate zones separated by glass.  There was an orchid room, a lilypad room, a room full of different cacti, a carnivorous plants room, sting rays in the saline pool, and peacocks running around?!  Then we compared the 18th century vs. the 19th century views from the Palm House.  Then we said bye to Sheila and went over to the Xstrata Treetop Walkway which was about to close.  We made it on the steps before the security guard said “YOU MUST BE DOWN IN 10 MINUTES” three times.  We scrambled up to the top, walked around quickly and scurried back down.  It was freezing, all the leaves were gone, and my IT band was screaming.  All in all though, still a cool experience.  It could’ve been cooler in other weather though–no pun intended.

under the crumbling arch in Kew Gardens

inside Palm House

finding oasis in the tropical rainforest...palm house, again

mm palm house

18th century view

princess of wales conservatory

cool cacti

water lilies!

view of the temperate house from the xstrata walkway

look who was running around in the snow..

We rushed home and Big D and I immediately ran out the door to try to find this Pakistani restaurant in the East End. It was an epic directional fail on my part, but eventually we found it.  I’m really tired of trying to find places.  But it’s okay. The food was out of this world.  I don’t know what we ate, and we probably ate it in the wrong way, but we scarfed it down.  I’m really a rather large fan of ethnic food. We then raced back out in the cold to try to find Dennis Severs’ house in Spitalfields nearby.  Well, another directional error on my part, usually I am good at directions though, okay?  We ended up in the Docklands and were late for our reservation, so I, for the first time in my life, successfully hailed a cab and we made it back over and around to the house.  It’s an incredibly special experience.  It’s a candlelit old house smashed into Spitalfields that’s decorated beautifully for Christmas and literally has the sounds as though people had just left.  The whole idea is to imagine what you just missed.  There’s a set-up in every room.  Real candles are lit, real music is playing, real food is on the tables or in preparation, dishes are in the sink, there’s spilled wine on the floor, 1/2 full cups of tea, etc.  It felt so homey, and the owner knew the author who had just come to speak to our English class on Monday!  Check him out here: spitalfieldslife.com It was a hectic but fabulous day.

the remains of our pakistani dinner at tayyabs

Dennis Severs House

Friday, Annie, Diana and I hit up the shops.  We’ve been shopping too much, but it’s so much better here than in the States.  I found my new favorite pair of jeans.  Then we met our professor in Hammersmith and all enjoyed pizza inside the theater before the pantomime…aka “panto.”  This was our favorite thing we’ve done as a group together.  It’s a Christmas-themed show geared for kids and adults.  There are crude jokes for adults that kids can’t understand as well as popular songs played by a live band with new lyrics.  It was hilarious.  We were on the front row and our professor got called out by the cross-dressing baker multiple times.  I was dying laughing. It’s kind of a dirty version of Sesame Street.  It had dressed up animals and changed scenes a million times and had silly music.  We all loved it. If you’re ever in England, you must go.

annie, big d & i at the lyric hammersmith

Unfortunately, today I spent the day researching the British occupation of Egypt in 1882.  I’ve been sitting here reading and writing all the day long.  The end is in sight. I get home two weeks from today.  As I’ve said before, it’s a very odd combo of being ready and feeling as though I’ll never be ready.  But it’s coming whether I’m ready or not.  Hope you all enjoyed your snow today if you’re in NC with it. 🙂

view from my window

i could teach you how to speak my language, rosetta stone

It was so good to see family in London! Pete, Sal, and I had a great time wandering around the Portobello Road Markets, the National Portrait Gallery, Covent Garden, and a Lebanese Deli I’d been wanting to try.  It was crazy being in London with them.  Thursday morning I took the Eurostar (Chunnel) to Paris and then realized I had to switch train stations to catch my next train.  So, I proceeded to attempt to use my French from 4 years ago, and asked for directions, understood directions, and made it without any major mishaps to this other station–this was a feat for me, in case you didn’t catch that.  I saw the Sacre Coeur from a distances, and kind of wanted to just stay in ol Paris for round two.  But I moved on and hopped on a non-stop TGV to Strasbourg where I met good ol Olive.  It’s always crazy when visits like these actually work out.  We took a tram and a little walk through the rainy town and had some traditional dessert I forgot the name of which was delicious, and then went by her class center where I read while she had class.  Then we headed on home to her host family’s house.  I was a little concerned about meeting the famous “Nou-Nou” who “has a really good heart” but is sometimes a little gruff according to Olivo. But the Nou was very nice and we dropped our stuff and headed off to the program Thanksgiving dinner on which I barged in on.  It was a great affair with lots of good interesting food and a giant delicious turkey.  Then there were performances by the program participants–everything from piano to singing to guitar to belly dancing?  It was hilarious.  All of the performers were very talented.  I enjoyed meeting some of the other host families and other students from all around the US.  Then we proceeded to spend the rest of the evening at this club called Retro.  It was very backwards to the usual Thanksgiving, but it was still fun and definitely interesting.  I had to explain to a guy on the train that today was “our” Thanksgiving!  He didn’t really care.

Friday we woke up late and walked into town in the freezing snow.  We toured around the beautiful cathedral and then walked through different districts and got excited about the lights and markets being prepared.  Then we wandered over to the modern art museum which to our surprise ended up being fabulous and warm!  Then we wandered over to the beautiful Petite France for a yummy Alsacian dinner–very German influenced. On the way home after being entirely engrossed in all the lights and displays, we stopped at Olive’s favorite little cafe for a Biere de Noel which was delicious and fun.  It reminded me of Open Eye in Carrboro. Mm.

view of European Parliament, close to Olive's house

inside of Strasbourg Cathedral

petite france!

Saturday we planned on going to a “spa” in Germany, but extenuating circumstances prevented us from doing so. That is, we slept in late, I didn’t have a real bathing suit, half of the spa is naked, it took a tram, bus, and train to get there, it was going to be a 40 Euro trip, and we’re tired of sight-seeing. So instead we slept in again, and then ate the delicious breakfast Nou-Nou left, and then wandered through all of the Christmas market stalls enjoying hot wine (vin chaud!), crepes, tarte flambee, waffles with nutella, etc along the way.  Then we met one of Olive’s friends and we all went ice skating outside near the cathedral.  I sucked as usual and they were both pros.  But they kindly dragged me (literally) around the ice like a little kid, and it was a blast.  It helped us warm up too.  Ice skating outside is infinitely better than inside.  We then wandered over to Place du Kleber where we saw the Christmas tree lighting and a little kid’s choir which was fun.  Afterwards we met up with some of Olive’s friends and all went out for Italian which was delicious.  Of course the service is bad and they get mad at you for only ordering water, but it’s Europe. I won’t miss that. Any way then we wandered through all the lights and decorations again and made our way back, me stuffing my face so full of a crepe with nutella, I couldn’t speak.  Yummm.

my fave street

me & olive ice skating

market stalls!

All in all, it was a fabulous weekend full of memories from high school, mesmerizing Christmas experiences, very French experiences, and new people which is always a joy.

This week brings lots of work?? But also a performance by a pantomime, a Christmas candlelit walk through Dennis Sever’s house in the East End, Kew Gardens, and much more…I’m going to miss it here.

we’re such a married couple right now

Brains Beer, Cardiff

The first sign we came across as we drove into Cardiff is above….they’re pretty serious about beer in these parts.  Haha, but the beer company is actually called Brains?  Any way, we had a really great visit to Cardiff to see Heather’s old camp counselor.  On Saturday we ended up waking up late and then going into town.  We walked all around the Christmas markets, the Cardiff Castle, the city centre, and then over to the Winter Wonderland.  Luckily we had connections as Sally’s husband runs the “Cardiff Winter Wonderland,” so we got to go up in the wheel and go ice skating for free!  It was beautiful and was last year ranked #2 top place to ice skate in the UK (the first of course being at London’s Somerset House).

Cardiff with the Welsh flags everywhere after the rugby match

Heather & I ice skating in front of the Cardiff Town Hall

Saturday night we ended up chilling with Sally at home which was just perfect.  I definitely fit into the ‘homebody’ category a lot of the time.  We played HSM3 Dance Party on the Wii, ordered Chinese take-out, watched X-Factor (the better British version of American Idol), and then watched Blood Diamond.  It was a wonderful evening in and we learned about cider and black for the first time ever which was delicious (hard apple cider + black currant squash).  Sunday we woke up late again and enjoyed a typical English breakfast of eggs, grilled mushrooms, sausage, ham, and potatoes, with tea, coffee, and juice.  Then we wandered around the bay, docks, barrage, and Welsh Parliament, and walked across the locks to Penarth, Wales.

Welsh Parliament

looking back on Cardiff from Penarth

On Monday we went to the Imperial War Museum with our history class to look at the exhibit on World War I and then we had the rest of our class in the cafe in the museum.  I love that.  Then we had an extended English class where a local writer came in and talked to us about writing about London–she was funny and a great speaker.  On Tuesday we went to a 18th and 19th century sculpture auction at Sotheby’s and then walked around to other schmaltzy commercial art galleries in the area.  Then Heather and I enjoyed “burgers” at the Carnaby Burger Co., in our new favorite area off of Oxford St., Carnaby!

inside the auction at Sotheby's

Sir Peter Blake's art at Waddington Gallery

Colin Self's hamburger/hot dogs at the James Hyman Gallery

LUNCH

Now, I’m off to meet my cousins in Notting Hill.  Tomorrow is France to visit Olivia.  I never dreamed I’d be in France for Thanksgiving.  It’s a little odd being away from all of my family for the first time at a major holiday.  Happy Thanksgiving to all of you who get to celebrate it! More soon.

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