Saturday, December 1, 2007

Santa Suit Season


You know it's Christmas season when you see freshly laundered Santa suits being wheeled around. These beauties were being delivered to a costume shop in London.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Best Charity Shops


I've been rather disappointed with the thrift stores, or charity shops as they are called in the UK, in Oxford. Most have a limited amount of clothing and the rest of the goods are more trinketish. I'd given up hope of good deals and fun finds while in England...until I went to Bristol
Bristol has a funky vibe not found in Oxford. The closest comparison is Cowley Rd., but even its bohemian nature can't compete with the eclectic mix of shops on Broadmead and Park Street. This could be due to Oxford's large population of affluent students who don't seem to be interested in second-hand.
But Bristol was a treasure trove of charity shops and bargain boutiques. I found the purse pictured above in a British Heart Association shop for 1 pound! Make sure to check out Blaze, a ceramics co-op that has reasonably priced, hand crafted ceramic pins, tiles, cups, etc. and Shop (on Christmas Steps), a little boutique with vintage clothing, accessories and music.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Schmap Guide: Bath


A Schmap is a travel guide, including interactive maps, photos, and reviews. Places of interest are marked on an easy to read map of the city. You can click or browse through the recommended places and read historical information, practical information, and reviews from the Schmap makers and other travellers.
Schmap's online services are easy to navigate. Go to their website and pick from thousands of destinations.
Recently, a photo from my Flikr account (the one above) was chosen to be included in the Bath Scmap guide. The photo was taken in the Assembly Rooms. Check out the Schmapplet on my sidebar to see the picture and others from this location.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Switzerland Interary: Day Six


Bundle up - it's a cold morning walk to the train station.

Grab a pastry from one of the early - opening bakeries on Bahnofstrasse.


  • I got what looked like an icingless cinnamon roll. Turned out to be a orange - hazelnut roll with a thin layer of orange glaze. Quite tasty.

Take the train to Geneva. Another beautiful ride. Takes about three hours.


If you have time, spend a few days in Geneva. Ang said it was better than Paris. I unfortunately did not have time, so I headed all the way into Geneva airport.



  • Make your way up the stairs and out of the arrivals terminal where the train station is. I flew easyJet. The Geneva airport is small and mellow, so enjoy the leisurely wait until your plane takes off.

Bid adieu to Switzerland out the plane window and settle in for a short flight back to the UK.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Switzerland Intinerary: Day Five


Matterhorn Hostel will provide breakfast for 7 CHF. You could probably get cheaper elsewhere but you'd have to brave the early morning cold and it wouldn't be all you can eat. Two nicely arranged place settings were waiting for us in the cabin like restaurant attached to the hostel. A plate of foil wrapped cream cheese wedges, honey, jams, and butter were laid out. When we arrived, our host set about cutting slices of bakery bread. Made us unlimited cafe au laits.
Head up to the Gornergrat. Don't expect to stay long. It's worth it, but be prepared to hop out, take a few pics, and hop back in the train. It is COLD up there!
Buy a sandwich at Biner Bakery (Bahnhofstrasse 23) for take-away. I highly recommend the foccacia - tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil pesto on tomato and olive foccacia.
Eat your sandwich on a bench before going on a hike. Keep going straight on Bahnhofstrasse. It will take you on the right of the river. Stay to the right and you'll see a little trail leading up the mountain. Take that to Blatten, an abandoned cow-town, and then circle back to Zermatt.
Rent ice-skates and use the outdoor rink. Make sure it's open before you do though. We tried and they were setting up for curling...
Go to the Zermatt Coop for a large selection of Swiss chocolate at cheaper prices than at specialty shops. (Make sure you get a Toblerone - they are so tasty and taste better than the ones sold in other countries). Also take home a packet of Rosti that you can make at home.
Grampi's Pub for dinner (bar on first floor, Italian restaurant on the second). Pizza was good and very large, but with the thin crust, I managed to eat most of mine without help.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Limericks by Katherine


Ever reading was Miss Emily
Of dear Anne, Emma, and Lizzy B.
Austen books she'd devour -
Feel their rapturous power -
And she'd long for a man like Darcy.
My ever so skilled housemate, Katherine, makes up limericks to help herself fall asleep. One very sleepless night she came up with one about Rachel. It was received with so much enthusiasm from all of us, she decided to write one for each Brie and I. This afternoon, I found a green 3 x 5 card stuck amidst the soup in my cupboard, decorated with cut out lace and flowers. On it was this limerick.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Switzerland Itinerary: Day Four


Get up and do some shopping!
  • Schuh Chocolateria for amazing truffles. I got four: Caramel, Baileys, Vanille, and Dark Chocolate. Only 4.60 CHF.
  • Merkur Confiserien for even more chocolate. This place is a chocolate warehouse. I bought 28 CHF worth of chocolate here. They have bars, cookies, and truffles of every sort. Check out the back of the store for good sales.
  • Heidi's Souvenir-Shop: I found my Switzerland charm (I collect charms for a charm bracelet from every country I go to) here. A good selection of Swiss souvenirs at a very reasonable price.

Train from Interlaken to Zermatt. Change at Spiez. If you have enough time, walk outside the station to see beautiful changing colors in Autumn.

Zermatt is a resort town. No cars allowed so hotels and construction companies use these little carts as "taxis."

Stay at Matterhorn Hostel, about 5 minute walk from the train station. Free Internet, cheap breakfast, and really friendly staff. It gets really cold at night so be prepared with flannel p.j.s or borrow any extra blankets from unoccupied beds. I used three.

Dinner at Hotel Derby Restaurant. Dining room has a mountain elegance and staff is pleasantly attentive. Soup is excellent and well priced. Comes with bread. Ang and I split the "Croûte au fromage Valaisanne" or Cheese on toast Valaisanne style. Excellent!

Zermatt seems to shut down pretty early and our legs were feeling yesterdays adventure so we took advantage of our private (only occupants in a 8 person room) accommodations.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Switzerland Itinerary: Day Three



Enjoy the nice hot shower (with good water pressure) at the hostel (Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof).

Also take advantage of the tasty breakfast provided at the hostel: two types of fresh bakery bread, butter, individual packets of Nutella, jam, orange juice, milk, cereal, hot drinks. They make a great coffee with steamed milk. It's all you can eat.

Train to Lauterbrunnen. Bus to Stechelberg. Wander a little around Stechelberg. Small path leading over the river and up the hill a ways.

Start the gondola trip up to Schilthorn from Stechelberg. Several changes, but they are nicely timed so you don't have to wait in between rides. Just hop off and hop on.

Take in the breathtaking views on top of the Schilthorn. Plaques around the structure point out different mountain peaks that you are looking at like the Jungfrau.

Eat lunch at the Piz Gloria, a rotating restaurant on top of the Schilthorn. In honor of 007 ("On Her Majesty's Secret Service" was filmed on the Schilthorn), I had Spaghetti a la James Bond. Very good.

Take the Nordic Walking Trail from Murren through Gimmelwald to Schleg. Be prepared for some hefty down-hill walking. Catch the bus anywhere along the road or continue walking from Schleg to Lauterbrunnen.

Train back to Interlaken and collapse after a long day of walking - well worth the sore knees!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Switzerland Itinerary: Day Two


The Grand Suisse Hotel provides a nice continental breakfast for guests. If your accommodation does not, there are multiple cafes and patisseries along the Lake.
Two mile walk along Lake Geneva to Chateau de Chillon. Don't miss the surrounding are of the Castle. Walk down to the crystal clear water and along a small rock jetty near the "island."
  • We got in for free but tickets are reasonable and they offer a student concession.

Two hour self-guided tour of the Chateau. You get a pamphlet with explanations corresponding to numbers sprinkled about the property. They follow a logical order and end in the tallest tower of the Castle (where the photo was taken). Breathtaking views despite the perilous climb.

Take-away lunch and chocolate from Lucien Moutarlier, a patisserie on Rue 44. My baguette dur fromage was excellent (soft French bread with butter and thick slices of a nutty cheese) as were the "Noir" truffles.

Golden Pass train from Montreux to Interlaken Ost.

Five minute walk from the station to our hostel - Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof.

  • Really clean, friendly staff, breakfast included. Rooms are small. Day lockers for bags on the day you checkout.

Interlaken, as with most Switzerland towns, shuts down early. Walk around a little as the sun goes down. Listen to the cowbells ring.

The receptionist recommended Des Alpes Restaurant for traditional Swiss food in a relaxed environment. Ang and I had cheese fondue. Our waiter delivered a bubbling pot of melted cheese (prepared with garlic, white wine, and kirsch) and a basket of baguette chunks. He demonstrated the proper way to eat fondue: spear a piece of bread with the small pronged fork, completely submerge in cheese, and swirl to coat. Let it cool on your plate briefly and heave ho.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

US Debate at The Oxford Union



"This house looks forward to seeing a Democrat in the White House."
I went to my first Oxford Union debate tonight. Didn't want to miss the much anticipated US Debate. I'm not sure it was a worthwhile way to spend almost four hours of my time. I probably could have finished the essay I've been putting off all day. Instead, I got to listen to a politician who embodies everything I don't particularly enjoy about politics: avoided questions, made a few marginally slanderous comments, and was pointedly rude for the sake of humor.
Tom Delay, former Majority Leader US House of Representatives, concluded for the opposition tonight. He believes that 1. Hillary Clinton will probably be elected President and 2. like the term of her husband, a Democratic executive officer will ultimately usher in a Republican majority in the House.
Aside from his overall manner, I didn't like his attitude about Hurricane Katrina. Delay said that it was the Democratic governor and mayor of Louisiana and New Orleans fault that things went so poorly in the aftermath. He cited an incident (which I don't believe is fully true and if it is I think he recast it in a weak light) where a woman Democrat leader burst into tears saying she didn't know what to do in regards to recovery efforts.
My bum had really started to hurt at this point which might have lent a more belligerent spin to my thoughts, but I was embarrassed to say I generally vote Republican after Delay spoke. I consoled myself with some B52 ice cream at G & D's...

Switzerland Itinerary: Day One

EasyJet flight from London Gatwick to Geneva - 1 hour 20 minute flight.
Open seating, but a generally nice airline. Plane was clean and has a large overhead compartment that was able to hold my large (and stuffed) backpack.

Train from Geneva airport to Montreux. Trains leave regularly.

  • I highly recommend purchasing a "half-fare" card (50% off all train/funicular/gondola tickets). They cost 99 CHF which seems a bit steep, but I recouped my money and started saving on day 3.

Met Ang at the Grand Suisse Hotel, right across from the train station. Her work conference was held at the hotel so we were able to spend Friday night in her room. Probably a bit pricey for budget travel, but if you have a cushy accommodation allowance, this has great views and location in the city.

Walk around Lake Geneva. Paved path right across from hotel. Beautifully landscaped and the water just glows in the evening light.

Dinner at La Rouvenaz.

  • Excellent Italian restaurant just a bit off the main street running along the Lake. Get reservations if you want to eat any later than 6pm (when it opens). We snagged a table before they started turning people away. Funny, efficient, and authentic wait staff. The owner circulates throughout the dining area.

Montreux is part of the French speaking area in Switzerland. Most people speak English as well, but be polite and at least say Bonjour and Merci instead of the English equivalent.

Switzerland


I just got back from a six-day trip to Switzerland. My future big sis, Angie, was in Montreux for work so I met her and we did a three city tour. I'm going to outline our itinerary in the next few posts. I highly recommend it with the addition of spending some time in Geneva, which Ang thinks is better than Paris. We both concluded that Switzerland was the most beautiful place we had ever been to.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Oxford Halloween


A Greek goddess (me), 3-hole punch Jim (Rachel), and a frog princess (Katherine) at Western Road's Halloween party.
Our Halloween turn out at Faulkner was rather pitiful. Only two groups of kids came knocking at our door. AND they didn't even say "trick-or-treat!" Just asked if there were any rules. We told them to go for it since Brie had bought 7 pounds worth of candy at Sainsbury's specifically for this reason. We also snuck in our left over Turkish Delights. What luck - they were the first things to go! We do have a large bowl of candy left though; I'm not counting on any of it being left over when I get back from Switzerland (11/2 - 11/7).
P.S. I made my crown out of Ivy and Hawthorn berries I clipped from trees near Sainsbury's! Katherine went with me on my snipping expedition so I wouldn't feel so creepy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Noel Coward's "Present Laughter"


"What is love? tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth's a stuff will not endure."
Shakespeare's Twelfth Night
Our second theatre performance took us to London again to see Present Laughter written by Noel Coward. The title comes from a song in Twelfth Night which urges a "seize the day" mentality. Garry Essendine's (the main character) often outrageous concerns about aging and mortality makes the idea of living for the present aptly ironic.
The plot, regarded as semi-autobiographical, enfolds during a few days in the life of Garry, a successful and suave matinee actor who is about to embark on a tour in Africa. Within the short span of the play, Garry entangles himself with three women (1. a starstruck young girl, Daphne Stilington; the devious wife of his manager, Joanna Lyppiatt; and his own estranged wife, Liz Essendine), is stalked by a crazed amateur playwright named Roland Maule, and must face his impending fortieth birthday.
Although set in 1939, it was quite refreshing to see a more modern play (compared to Shakespeare). Some cultural references that were supposed to be humorous got past me but the play lived up to its title.
Alex Jennings was a superb Garry, delivering his melodramatic monologues with exaggerated finesse. My favorite character, however, was the fawning Roland Maule. Perhaps his slightly unhinged personality hit a little close to home after a certain train acquaintance turned out a little unstable. Regardless, Pip Carter was hilarious. It wasn't just me that thought so - someone behind us would occasionally let loose a deep snort. Didn't seem to disturb the old lady in front of me though who practically bent over in REM sleep except during the applause.
Well worth the 2.5 hour journey into London - that traffic....

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

British Candy Tasting

My housemates and I have been wanting to try all the British sweets that are novel to our American palettes so we staged a Candy Tasting last night. After a trip to Sainsbury's we came up with 11 candies we had never seen before.

Jelly Babies: a soft confectionery shaped to look like babies, similar to sour patch kids, but these gummy candies are not sour. About an inch tall, the babies have a soft texture and an unsavory powdery substance (corn starch I suspect) dusted on the surface.
  • Rachel - "The texture is disgusting. Tastes like raw squid in my mouth."
  • Katherine - "Sick, kinda like these weird rice candies from Japan."

Fun Fact: Each Bassett's Jelly Baby has an individual name, colour and flavour: Brilliant (red - strawberry), Bubbles (yellow - lemon), Baby Bonny (pink - raspberry), Boofuls (green - lime), Bigheart (purple - blackcurrant) and Bumper (orange - orange).

Milky Bar Buttons: These little white chocolate rounds weren't very special. Turns out, Milky Bars are just a white chocolate candy bar produced by Nestle so it tasted exactly like the white chocolate crunch bars (sans the crunch) we have in the States. Smooth and sweet though.

  • Katherine - "Tastes like an Easter bunny."
  • Brie - "I would put the whole bag in my mouth."

Fun Fact: The Milkybar Kid has been used in television advertising promoting Nestlé Milkybar in the countries where it is sold. The Milkybar Kid is a blond, spectacle-wearing young boy, usually dressed as a cowboy, whose catch phrase is "The Milkybars are on me!".

Turkish Delight: The package of these chocolate covered squares of Turkish Delight reads "Full of Eastern Promise" - the promise of nausea. None of us had eaten Turkish delight before. It's a mixture of sugar and corn starch, often pinkish in color. This particular version looked like red jello wrapped in chocolate. No one in the group took more than one bite. Rather tasteless but revolting at the same time.

  • Rachel - "Like Jello mixed with gummy bears." (about the consistency)
  • Brie - "That was like poison."

Revels: We thought this bag of chocolate covered spherical things would be like bridge mix. I think it evolved out of the same concept but the components are different. The bag read "milk chocolate with assorted centers." The centers included: malt balls, raisins, peanuts, hard caramel, and a powdery orange substance similar to pixie stix. We weren't overwhelmed by the good factor but it saved our taste buds from the Turkish Disgusting.

Happy Hippo: made by the Ferrero company, Happy Hippo's are a thin crispy wafer cookie shaped like a hippo filled with two creams. We had the original which has milk flavored cream and hazelnut cream. The cocoa flavor replaces the hazelnut with chocolate cream. It tasted like white chocolate Nutella - a good thing in my book. The bottoms are dipped in a crumbly frosting/meringue mixture.

  • My Opinion - Super sweet. Good balance of textures with the crispy cookie and smooth center. Overall a pleasing treat.

Fun Fact: Happy Hippo were made famous by a smash-hit commercial where an animated Hippo sang "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" while a dog tried to distract it/catch its attention by dancing to the music in increasingly funny and bizarre ways. It has an unusual name for a biscuit, stemming from the character "Happy Hippo" (a cartoon hippopotamus) created by the french designer Andre Roche for the Ferrero chocolate hit "Kinder Surprise Eggs".

Poppets: Katherine grabbed this small purple box of chocolate covered raisins on a whim while we were checking out at Sainsbury's. My mom thinks (and I agree sometimes) that cigarette cartons smell like raisins. Well, these raisins tasted like how cigarette cartons smell - dirty with a burnt raisin undertone.

Fox Echo (mint crisp): I guess the mint Echo is a relatively new Echo flavor (2004). I haven't had the original but I would say stick that. Our individually wrapped sticks consisted of a chocolate biscuit topped with bubbly mint crisp covered in milk chocolate. The biscuit and chocolate were good, but the mint was so overpowering it tasted like you were eating toothpaste. I would recommend a Double Take (chocolate mint kit kat) if you want chocolate mint flavor.

Magic Stars:
  • Rachel - "Dirt cheap chocolate" in small star shapes.

Party Rings: The party ring is a British cookie first made by Fox's Biscuits in 1983. It is a circular biscuit with a central finger-sized hole topped with a thin layer of colored icing with wiggly lines in a different colour. A pack comes with four or five rings in each of the five different color combinations. Tasted like a crispy animal cracker with hard, crackly royal icing on top.

Fun Fact: Party rings were a product of the 1980s fashion for the newly developed chemical food dye system that enabled more lavish colours to be incorporated into the manufacture of biscuits. This made them a very popular choice for children's parties, where not only could the colours amuse, but the holes in the middle enabled them to be placed on a finger, often resulting in "ring races". These involved each child taking five rings and placing one on each finger of a hand. They would then proceed to eat them as fast as possible.

Mistletoe Kisses: Two milk chocolate rectangles filled with soft chocolate and caramel. Nothing too exciting.

  • Katherine - "I'm reasonably pleased."

Cadbury Crunchie: Milk chocolate covered honeycomb toffee. The innards look like a golden sea sponge. Very odd texture - slightly powdery but sticky like a Butterfingers. Neutral taste.

  • Katherine - "Like a cross between a malted milk ball and a Butterfingers."

Fun Fact: In the UK and Republic of Ireland, Crunchie is marketed as "The fun, feel good chocolate bar". It was advertised from the 1980s onwards with the phrase "that Friday feeling", although it also became associated with the phrase "Thank Crunchie it's Friday".

The Verdict:

  • Me - Happy Hippo
  • Rachel - Crunchie
  • Katherine - Mistletoe Kisses
  • Brie - Poppets

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hot Air Balloons


I took this photo leaning out my window on Sunday afternoon.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Crepes O Mania

For being such a Francophile, I have never had an authentic crepe - until yesterday.

On my second jaunt around University Parks, I noticed a small mobile food stand boldly advertising sweet and savory 'pancakes.' Intrigued by any gastronomical adventure, I made a point of making my next Uni Parks walk during the noon hour.

Crepes O Mania is a mobile creperie service for corporate events, weddings, etc. with outside units like the one I visited. They offer Crepes, sweet pancakes, filled with tempting combinations of lemon and sugar, maple syrup, chocolate and coconut as well as Galettes, savory pancakes, stuffed with equally enticing fillings.

I had already perused the website and predetermined what Galette I was going to try so I wouldn't expose my novice crepe status to the world. No line (at 12 on the dot) hindered my immediate indulgence of La Forestiere filled with mushroom, onion, bacon, bechamel sauce, and cheese.

The man, who I assume was a France native by his accent) started right away by pouring batter onto a piping hot crepe iron. A great sizzle emitted from the large round surface as he artfully spread the batter about with the twirl of a T shaped wooden tool. Almost instantly, he was able to run a long, off-set spatula under the crepe to ensure it wouldn't stick to the surface.

On went the mushrooms and large clumps of bacon (British bacon so more like diced ham chunks). A large helping of caramelized onion drowned in a thick creamy sauce and a handful of cheese (or fromage as the bucket was labeled) was then folded into a rectangle and left to become hot and gooey.

I stood at the cart waiting for this culinary creation for a few more minutes as my galette finished cooking. It was handed over the counter barely contained in a rectangular Styrofoam container. Plastic fork and napkin in hand, I walked to the nearest bench and dug in!

The crepe is very thin, not brittle, more like a crispy cage holding its filling for ransom until your fork initiates the jail break. Le fromage melts completely into the bechamel, making a rich gravy to suspend the mushrooms and bacon. The filling is salty, but not offensively so. Each ingredient was distinct but the sum flavor was very pleasing.

It won't be long until I head back for round two. The only dilemma - orange marmalade and chocolate or candied lemon and sugar?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The University Parks Oxford


Located just behind Oxford Natural History Museum, University Park could be the prettiest stretch of green in Oxford.


The parks consist of about 70 acres of parkland on the west bank of the River Cherwell and a 4 acre piece of land known as Mesopotamia because of its location between the Weir and Cherwell rivers.


When I was there this morning, a University football team was practicing on the large fields in the middle of the Parks. Joggers, dog walkers, and strollers are always out and about. Benches scattered throughout the multiple "walks" within the Parks are perfect for reading or admiring the general splendor.


I've been three times this week and still haven't seen all of the grounds. I did however notice a Crepes O Mania stand...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Market at Gloucester Green

I finished writing my paper (due today...) ahead of schedule so Kat, Brie, and I took a housemate field trip to the antique market on Gloucester Green that happens every Thursday.

It was the first time I made it down there since we've been here. Most of the stalls were either old books or jewelry. With no Jane Austen to be found, I turned my sights on antique jewelry.

One booth in the middle had a particularly Emilyish array of Victorian broaches and chokers. The man and his wife doing the selling were quite friendly. He said we came on the right day, they were giving discounts to students and people wearing green...

Brie bought a pearl necklace with aurora borealis added to it. I couldn't resist this pin. Twelve pounds, said he'd give it to me for ten. Usually I am too petrified to haggle, but (maybe on a high after finishing my paper?) I said eight and we settled on nine. I don't think I would have paid eighteen dollars for it in the States but the man was nice. He said it's from the 1930s - not sure I'm totally convinced, but I prefer to run with that thought.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Saint Mary the Virgin church tower

The tower at Warwick Castle was bad, but it has nothing on this tower. They try to psych you up for the actual tower with a rickety old wood staircase and uncomfortably see through wire stairs. It helped, a little... The stairs are crumbly and skinny, oddly spaced and steep. Somehow the spiral seems extremely tight. It might be because the only thing provided to help you keep your balance are a few limp ropes attached to the middle post.

I made the ascent alone, which ended up to be a good thing. I had time to stop occasionally and talk myself into going a bit further. All the near panic attacks (and two pound admission) was well worth the view. Go in the morning on a sunny day. I was the only one up there and was able to take my time sucking up the scenery.

Once you recover from the harrowing experience of going up, you are faced with the task of making it down - possibly more frightening than the former.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

After Eight

Somehow my pound to dollar conversion doesn't apply when it comes to George and Danvers. Rachel, Katherine and I went there last night for a mid-week fix.

Since I had Baileys last time I decided to venture further afield. I tried one of the petition flavours (flavours that are on trial for regular status) - After Eight. My vote: YES!

After Eight - Vanilla ice cream with chunks of after dinner mints, the kind that have a chocolate coating and a soft minty interior. Nicely refreshing but not overly minty with a steady stream of chocolate chunks.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Chocology

I still have a hard time not making the pounds to dollar conversion when I'm considering how and where to spend my money. This habit makes my love of food and trying different eating establishments a little tricky. I've been wanting to try the Cream Tea at Cafe Loco, an eatery down the road from my house, but haven't been able to fork over 10 bucks for a scone and tea.

A friend and I were commiserating about this and she mentioned that Chocology in the covered market had a tea and cake deal for 2.50 pounds. I popped in around 11 this morning to try it out. A glass case displaying a mouthwatering array of truffles and other chocolate delights greet customers. An intimate set up of table and chairs are settled at the other end of the store. I ordered a scone and cuppa English Breakfast - 2.25 pounds. Not a bad price comparatively. The girl who took my order said she would bring it to me so I chose a table nestled in a corner and took out a book.

Chocology wasn't busy. One older couple was already seated when I arrived and a young woman, who seemed more interested in checking her outfit in the mirror than enjoying her cup of chocolate, spent five minutes flipping through the times. I only waited a couple minutes for my snack to arrive. The tea was good - hot and strong - accompanied by a small square of dark chocolate (nice touch I thought). I was disappointed by the scone: small and obviously not their specialty. It was heated to the point of toughness and constituted only a few bites.

I wouldn't go back for a scone, but I plan to try Chocology again. They have a tempting array of hot chocolates like mint and Baileys. I probably should have ordered something that included the store's namesake.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Cowley Road


Kathrine and I finished stopped obsessing over the minutia of our papers and sent them in today! I'm extremely relieved to have it done. Even though I'll be writing 12 more papers this term, none of them have to be that long and I'll actually be interested in the topic.


To celebrate, we decided to go thrifting. Thrift stores are called charity shops in England so I guess I can't say that... Kat brought the Cheeky Guide To Oxford which said Cowley Road was home to the best thrift stores, so we headed that way.


Cowley Road was interesting to say the least. A little bit more grimey than the city center. Sex shops, middle eastern markets, and bars line both sides of the street. The first second hand shop we found was more vintage (meaning pricey) than we had in mind. Two other misses and we had to console ourselves with an Oxfam which is always a winner.


My big purchase: Jane Austen and her world by Marghanita Laski and a fair trade "cotton shopper" (see pic). Grand total: 3.98 pounds

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Large Scary Bugs

You can't really see him properly, but Katherine was brave enought to capture an enormous spider that was wandering around our house. I'm impressed that she didn't kill it - she had misgivings later about her kind gesture to nature but decided she did the right thing after considering how crunchy this one would have been.

Our house seems to attract large bugs. One of the first nights we were here, two of the biggest Daddy Long Legs I have ever seen were buzzing about my room. Could have been because my window was open and my light was on...

Regardless, Mr. Spider provided a small spark of excitement to a house mostly silent except for the tap tap of computer keys as we all write our essays.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Twelfth Night in Stratford-Upon-Avon

After a full day of sight-seeing (Warwick Castle, Anne Hathaway's cottage, Shakespeare's birthplace and grave) we saw Twelfth Night directed by Neil Bartlett at the Courtyard Theatre.

Twelfth Night is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays and was on our required reading list for the introductory course at OOSC. Overall, I wasn't too thrilled with Bartlett's interpretation. I'm kind of a traditionalist which could have swayed my reaction to this play. Bartlett cast a man to play Viola as well as having women play the drunken pose of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian. In a play already saturated with mistaken gender and subdued sexual tension, those reversals were over the top. The cast also used mirrors to portray a sense of introspection that I found distracting.

However, the play had one shining character that makes seeing this production well worth the time - Malvolio. John Lithgow (Just the fact that I saw John Lithgow on stage in England would have made me happy) gives a phenomenal performance as Olivia's steward who is endlessly tormented and tricked by other members of the household. The vision of him in cross-gartered yellow stockings will be etched in my mind for quite a while.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Jon Whiteley


One of our lectures this morning was on Pre-Raphaelites in Oxford, given by Jon Whiteley. During tea, Penelope informed us that Mr. Whiteley was actually a famous child actor. He is one of the few youngsters who ever received an Academy Award. He gets embarrassed about it, so the Warners didn't mention it when he was introduced. Whiteley stopped acting around 12 and later perused a career in art history.


Here's what it said on Wikipedia:


"Jon Whiteley (born February 19, 1945 in Monymusk, Scotland) was a briefly successful child actor in films. Whiteley appeared in five films during his brief career, and it was for the second of these, The Little Kidnappers (1954) that he, along with co-star Vincent Winter, was awarded an Academy Juvenile Award for this film. He only appeared in three films after this, including The Spanish Gardener (1956), before his acting career ended. Whiteley is now a respected art historian at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Puccino's



Rachel, Katherine and I grabbed dinner out a couple nights ago and ended up at a little cafe right outside of the Covered Market. Puccino's turned out to be a very off-beat establishment - not in a bad way though. The menu, walls, and cups are sprinkled with odd hand-drawn characters and funny sayings. We were there just before closing so the place was virtually empty. When the owner showed us to our table, he took some home spray and spritzed it about the room, I guess to freshen it up a bit...

The menu was small but relatively comprehensive - mostly devoted to "jacket potatoes, cibatta, baguette or panini" but Puccino's also serves breakfast. For the former, you pick the filling, mainly named after locations like Alaska, Manhattan or New Orleans) and your desired carb option.

I had a New Yorker Panini - chicken, bacon, sweet corn and mayo on toasted cibatta bread. The bread was great; the filling was a little dry and would have benefited by some salt, but the overall effect was appetizing. It came with a side salad of romaine, some other red hard lettuce, cucumber and tomato with honey dijon dressing. Great dressing - made with whole grain mustard. Had the perfect blend of spicy and sweet flavor. Rachel had carrot cake which I condescended to eat the dregs of. More like a spice cake with cream cheese frosting. Okay but I wouldn't spend the money for it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Carfax Chruch Font


This font used to reside in St. Martin's Church (the Carfax tower is the only remnant of the church which was demolished to improve traffic flow) on the corner of Cornmarket and Queen's Streets. It now lives in St. Michaels, a church down the road connected to the oldest building in Oxford.
The reason I'm touching it (I know, my hand looks kind of creepy) is because Shakespeare once stood next to it and touched it at the christening of his godson, Sir William Davenant. William is rumored to be more than his godson. Some circles believe he was Shakespeare's illegitimate son.
Font (according to dictionary.com)
1. a receptacle, usually of stone, as in a baptistery or church, containing the water used in baptism.
2. a receptacle for holy water; stoup.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Oxford Daily Photo

Check out Oxford Daily Photo - a site that shows a photo of Oxford (taken within 5 km of Carfax Tower) every day. I found it a month ago while I was searching for blogs about Oxford. Now I actually get to participate in this great blog. Percy, the blog's original contributor, is off for a few weeks so I'll be posting pics every day while he is gone.

Have a look...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sung Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral

I've never been to an Evensong service before, which could account for my accidentally stealing the program. I'm guessing since it says "please do not take away" on the front that they reuse them. So, most of the service must be the same everyday?

The service was beautiful, albeit different than what I'm used to. Because it was an open day, the cathedral was packed and we couldn't get a seat in the main area. Regardless, the acoustics carried the choir so it surrounds you.

A short explanation is printed on the front flap inside the program. It reads: "Worship in the Cathedral continues a long tradition in which the choir sings much of the service. Yet our participation is not limited to those occasions when we are doing or saying something. We may listen, follow the words and respond to God in many different ways."

Although I am not Catholic and really don't consider myself Anglican (I just keep it a simple relationship with my Savior), I found many parts of the service very worshipful. I plan to make it back during the week to experience the whole thing when it isn't so crowded.

The photo is of the Cathedral's ceiling.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Christ Church Open Day

Today was Christ Church Open Day. Normally, only the grounds surrounding Christ Church are free and open to the public (you can tour the inside for a price). Christ Church has the largest college in Oxford and also has a functioning church body. As witnessed by the surging mass of humanity that swarmed the grounds today, it's necessary to keep them closed for the sake of student's ability to live and study.

It was very difficult to pick a picture for this post. The weather could not have been better and the church and grounds are beautiful. What you see is Tom Tower and in the middle of Tom Quadrangle is Mercury Fountain. Multiple old men with bowler hats were stationed all around the middle lawn to prevent access to the fountain.

After walking around the extensive gardens, we toured the actual cathedral and hall (where parts of Harry Potter were filmed - filled with portraits now, it looked nothing like it does in the movies).

Many special programs were planned for today that I mostly avoided to just wander but I'll be heading back for Evensong at 6 - probably along with the multitudinous amounts of other tourists who came to visit Christ Church today.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fish and Chips

Appropriately named, this fish and chips joint serves up freshly made fish and chips as well as other standards like bangers and mash and pucca pies.

I must admit I was fairly sceptical about this place. F and C is located off of High Street, down this dingy alley (see pic). With only a small street sign to entice hungry patrons, F and C caught our attention by sheer availability. We were hungry and it was the first place we came upon.

A typed paper at the end of the menu informs customers that items are made (in my case with the fish and chips, battered and fried) to order for "extra" taste. My small fillet of cod was relatively tasty, but mostly hot and greasy. The chips were good, crispy outside, melty center. You do have to pay 20 pence for a small packet of ketchup.

The ambiance didn't seem too British - just three tables crammed in a fluorescent lit room painted a light yellow (or was that grease residue coating the walls?...). English soaps were playing on the tube. The owner was quite friendly and a steady stream of customers were in and out while we ate.

I'm planning on trying fish and chips at multiple other places. I did overhear Penelope (OOSC coordinator and Oxford resident) say that the best place for fish and chips was down an alley off of High St... I'm hoping that isn't the case.

My First Oxford Fish and Chips

Eaten at Fish and Chips (see above pic).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Five Senses of England: Touch

Some odd touch sensations here in England:
  • The Currency - Paper money is made of a different fiber than in America. It's crisp with a waxy undertone. Plus, it has shorter and stubbier dimensions. One and two pound coins are quite heavy and the pence system does not go by size.
  • Greasy Food - I had fish and chips today that were the greasiest things I've ever had in my life. My fingers were slick with grease, I can only imagine what they were doing to my gullet.
  • Cobblestones - A free foot massage wherever you walk.
  • History - Go to evensong in Christ Church or sip a pint at The Eagle and Child and know that famous people did famous things there.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Five Senses of England: Taste

I've only had two meals in England so far.

Dinner: The Crown, a pub on Cornmarket St. It was 8:45pm by the time we found this place. Aside from another small group having a few beers, we were the only occupants. Without inquiring into the flavor, I asked for the soup of the day. It turned out to be a carrot puree with flecks of parsley. Appetizing texture and semi-sweet carrot flavor. Usually I would have been revolted at the thought of carrot soup but I recently have turned a new leaf with carrots. The soup was served with a piece of hearty white bread, slightly cold and hard around the edges. Our waiter forgot to give me a spoon and pleasant about me asking for one.

Lunch: La Croissanterie, sandwich and pastry shop on St. Aldates. On recommendation, Rachel and I went here for lunch. They obviously do a hoping business in this small shop. I wasn't quite clear on how to order a sandwich so I went for something in the display case - a mushroom and cheese croissant. The man behind the counter (owner, I believe) warmed it up in the micro and then toasted it on a panini press. Croissant was tender and flaky, mushrooms were firm and flavorful. I can't quite put my finger on the type of cheese. A couple I think - something sharp and grainy with cheddar. After sitting at their small bar for awhile, I am now clear on how to order. You say what type of meat (chicken and mayo) on type of bread (baguette, ciabatta, etc.). They ask you if you want salad (lettuce and tomato) on it. I will definitely go back. The pastries looked amazing.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Five Senses of England: Smell

As of July 1st 2007, there is one thing that residents and visitors in England will be smelling much less of - tobacco smoke.

The new smokefree law, introduced this summer, iterrupts life as England has know it for quite a while. Smoking was a huge part of England's social and cultural history. Now, smoking is against the law in almost all 'enclosed' and 'substantially enclosed' public places and workplaces. Which means no more smoking in taxis or lighting up in a pub.

According to Smokefreeengland the majority of reasons behind the new law are health related. Key factors are:
  • a person's right to be protected from the harm of secondhand smoke and to breathe smokefree air.
  • providing supportive smokefree environments to help people trying to give up smoking.
  • reducing illness and the number of deaths from medical conditions caused by secondhand smoke.
  • improving life expectancy because fewer people will take up smoking in the first place.

Opposition to the ban believes that the law infringes on a person's right to choose where and when to smoke.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Five Senses of England: Sight

Nothing beats seeing a place with your own eyes, but thanks to an electronic world and a techno-savvy generation, we can view the world from our computer chair. Travelistic.com is the source of over 5,000 travel videos. From tourist to amateur director, these films are made by real people from around the world not travel industry executives. Some are wacky, others educational but they all give a slice-of-life picture of the location.

Scroll over the map on travelistic's homepage to pick a location (where you're traveling or where you want to see). For my purposes, I checked out
Europe (929 videos) and then narrowed my search to the UK (96 videos). At the bottom of the UK page, there is a list of videos by city or you can search all.

Here are a few of my favorites for the UK:
  • A Street in London - Shows the dichotomy between the upper and working class as well as great views of Portabello Street and Notting Hill.
  • Tube in London - Short clip of what everyone experiences in a tube station.
  • Oxford Graduation - Real students at one of the most happy events in their lives.
  • A Viking Barbecue -How the Vikings used English mead to fix everything from poultry to cake.

Not only can you watch other people's videos, Travelistic allows you to upload your own.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Five Senses of England: Hearing

I don't pretend to be music savvy. It's almost a guarantee that the lyrics I blare forth with in the car are nothing close to what is really being said. Luckily, my brother is a wealth of musical knowledge. He also happens to love England. So naturally I went to him for recommendations on how to acclimate my eardrums to the Brit's way with sound.

He set me up with a great playlist of highlights per decade/music movement (with a little history thrown too - he can't help it).

Early 60s: Merseybeat a.k.a. the Mersey Sound or the English Beat - named after the River Mersey running through Liverpool were the movement originated.
  • "A Hard Day's Night" The Beatles, A Hard Day's Night
  • Michael and the Messengers

Late 60s/Early 70s: in London

  • The Kinks, The Kinks Are Well Respected Men - perfect little slices of Englishisms
  • "Waterloo Sunset" The Kinks - consistently voted the best song of all time by Brits
  • My Generation, The Who
  • The Rolling Stones

Glam Rock (70s):

  • "Ziggy Stardust" and "Rock and Roll Suicide" David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
  • T.Rex
  • Roxy Music

Punk - Late 70s:

  • "God Save The Queen" The Sex Pistols
  • The Damned
  • The Clash

80s New Wave: was inspired by punk rock. Began in Manchester.

  • Happy Mondays
  • "Love Will Tear Us Apart" Joy Division
  • Depeche Mode

Early 90s: Brit Pop

  • Pulp
  • "Don't Look Back In Anger" Oasis

Currently...

  • "LDN" Lilly Allen
  • "A Grand Don't Come For Free" The Streets
  • Pipettes
  • Long Blondes

For a Slice of English Life:

  • "Song Two" Blur, Park Life

Also Recommended: radiohead. franz ferdinand. coldplay. the rakes. the kooks. doves. keane. damien rice. stranglers. buzzcocks. the easybeats. ladytron.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Packing Riddle

The Riddle: What is an object that you can add things to, but it doesn't gain weight?

(keep in mind that I thought this up in the shower today, so it's a little rough around the edges...)

Answer: A computer!!

I'm a list maker. I like the organizational factor and I like the fact that I can see what I need to do or what I haven't done or what I want to do. Hence I have accrued multiple pieces of paper with lists on them for my upcoming trip. Different lists like: What to pack, Places to go, Things to try, People to buy gifts for, etc. But traveling with a stack of mismatched papers is both ungainly and unorganized.

That's where the riddle comes in to play. Why not type out all of these lists and save them as word documents. Not only are they easily accessible, but they also don't add any more lbs (and useless paper waste) to my luggage. And this rule of thumb applies to much more than lists.
Check out a few other things you can add to your computer and save poundage in the process:
  • Music Collection: Download CDs onto you laptop. Programs like iTunes or Windows Media Player are free and keep a large collection organized. This way, all your music is easily accessible even if you don't have an mp3 player.
  • Address/Phone Book: Friends and family will appreciate a quick handwritten note or postcard once in a while.
  • Study Notes: Bring your computer along to the library and take notes directly into a word doc. You'll save some trees and the trouble of toting tons of random papers with you.
  • Recipes: Cookbooks are pretty darn heavy, but you may want to make your mom's famous Chicken Marsala with Braised Vegetable for your new friends (or maybe that's just something I would want to do...)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

In-N-Out

I'm excited to flex my foodie muscles in a different country, but I will miss In-N-Out burgers. It's safe to say I've eaten there at least 3 times a week this summer... Cheeseburger with no tomatoes and whole grilled onions, diet coke, and well-done fries (if i'm feeling particularly hungry) - doesn't get much better than that!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Wallpaper City Guides


I won't claim that Wallpaper City Guides are the most comprehensive guide books around but I like them for three reasons:


1. They are so darn cute. Actually, this isn't a purely superficial reason. Size matters in a genre that tends to be more tome than tidbit. Each guide condenses the most important info into a 4" x 6" booklet weighing less than a pound or two. You get all the particulars without the superfluous jabber.


2. Cool features that are easily navigated. The front and back covers are foldable maps, one satellite version, the other a street map color coordinated by district. Labeled tabs indicate different chapters dedicated to shopping, architecture, landmarks, etc. for easy flipping. One of my favorite features is the 24 Hours chapter in each guide: Sometimes you don't have much time in one place. The 24 hours section gives the lowdown on how to see the best of the city in just one day!


3. An unbeatable price. At $8.95 a piece, you can afford to start a collection. Even if you don't make it to a certain city, they are fun to peruse. They also make great gifts.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Unique Travel Guides

I love to read and I love to travel. Thus springs my small obsession with guide books. What could be better than books about different locales around the world - other than actually traveling there yourself. Even then, I might go as far as to say that some places are better visited through a guide book while sitting on your couch than actually going there.

Knowing a little about the history and culture of a certain place enhances the experience when you, say, take a tour of that cathedral or talk with locals about their political views. And then there's the good insider's tips you glean from someone who has already been wherever it is you're reading about. But with people like Steve's and Frommer's dominating the mass guide-book market, it can be hard to get a fresh perspective on where to go and what to see.


In the next day or so, I'll be highlighting the guidebooks I'm especially enamored with.


"A Rambling Fancy in the footsteps of Jane Austen" by Caroline Sanderson

For all lovers of Jane Austen and her novels, Sanderson hearkens back to an time characterized by balls, fancy frocks, and drawing rooms in this guide to Jane Austen's England. Sanderson visits nine places, including Bath, Lyme Regis, and Kent that provided a backdrop to Austen's novels as well as her life. A chapter is devoted to each location where Sanderson indulges in musings about how that place influenced Austen's life and writings.
In her introduction, Sanderson says, "What I planned to do with this book was quite different. I wanted to follow my nose and, like Fanny Price [main character of Mansfield Park], get into a 'wondering strain' while sitting in pews or on stiles or in teashops, standing in fields or museums or churchyards." Although she purposed to stray from common tourist attractions, all of the places she highlights can be visited by anyone with an interest to do so.
Since my minor tutorial is on Jane Austen, I plan to take my own rambling fancy following the footsteps Sanderson so artfully layed out in her book.