Friday, May 29, 2009

London II.ii

NOTE: When looking through the pictures on Panoramio you can click on the picture to see a larger version if you'd like! Jut thought I'd let you know.

I believe I left off at our first visit to the Natural History Museum on the 22nd. Well, on the 23rd we went back for more. Partly because we didn't have enough time to see the whole museum, but mainly because the camera battery was dead and I didn't get all the pictures I wanted. I wound up with a ton of pictures in the end, but I won't make you sift through all 250 or so... Just the highlights.

We went back through the primate exhibit to the rock room first. I got all the pictures of the pretty rocks that my heart desired. I separated the photos for you as well: I made a separate link to the pictures of just rocks below the ones from the rest of the museum. I did put some pictures of things like diamonds and emeralds in with the main pictures though. The have the Star of South Africa which is a 47 carat diamond. They also have the Devonshire Emerald (1384 carats, but with a lot of imperfections), the Latrobe Nugget (717 gram nugget of crystallized gold), a cubic zirconia replica of the Koh-i-Noor (a 105 carat diamond that has been around for hundreds of years at least, changing hands via violence and trade), a rock from Mars, etc. One of the most interesting displays is their Aurora Collection. It's a collection of 296 different colored diamonds, each no bigger than a pinky fingernail or so. Every few minutes a blacklight illuminates the display making all the diamonds glow their fluorescent colors. I didn't manage to get a picture, but here a link to what it looks like under the blacklight: Aurora Collection under blacklight.

We walked through the museum getting a few missed photo opportunities from the day before then went around the corner to the science museum. Unfortunately the science museum wasn't as cool as I was hoping it would be. It was huge though - 5 or 6 floors I think. They did have some neat displays of various old steam engines that would come to life, gears spinning and rotating when you pressed a button. They also had an impressive display of miniature boats that was cool. So there were a few cool things, but it just didn't grab my interest like some of the other museums have.

We didn't spend long there and soon were back at the place we're staying. We made chicken divan for everyone for dinner. Our British hosts seemed to like it! I hope it was American enough to be considered an "America dish."

The morning of the 23rd the family we're staying with was up and out the door for their 10 day vacation by 5:00 AM. So we got to wake up to an empty house for the first time, which was nice. Not that we don't like the people we're staying with, just it's fun to pretend we actually live here in London on our own. We drank loads of tea (we've been drinking an obnoxious amount of tea - maybe 6 cups a day! I hope we don't get some sort of liver disease or something...) and had our cereal, then decided to go to Borough Market.

Borough Market is a big and crowded outdoor market filled with fruits, vegetables, cheese, bread, chocolate, turkish delight (yum!), olives, olive oil, wines, juices, cakes and pastries, a few meat and fish stands, and a bunch of different places to get already prepared food. One stand had a huge pot of fish stew cooking away and it smelled sooooo delicious! The line for that one was probably about 100 people long. Walking around the market was crazy! It was so crowded that in many places you were squished tight against everyone else, pushing your way through, trying to find a stream of people headed in the same direction as you. It was nuts!

I went to the market with the intent to get shrimp to put in a shrimp pasta for dinner. There were only two fish stalls and the price of shrimp was a bit ridiculous. One of the meat stalls however had wild rabbit for 5.00 GBP a piece. I've never had rabbit so thought this would be the perfect time to try! We got some snap peas, onions, and mushrooms from the market as well.

After the market we walked along the river down the the Globe Theatre. We just had a look inside the place and got a picture to say we'd been there. On the walk back to the tube station we passed an ice cream man in a cardboard ice cream van. He must have a bicycle or something hidden inside, or maybe he just walks it around! An interesting sight.

After we got back to the house I looked up a recipe using rabbit. I found a rabbit pasta that looked good so we set out to get the remaining ingredients and I started in. I had to cut up the rabbit and I managed to get the legs off but was lost after that. I was supposed to... cut the belly meat or something and wrap it around... I dunno! So I ended up just throwing all the rabbit bits in a pot of water and boiling it all the same. Worked out well enough. And the final product when the pasta was thrown together was amazing! That recipe is a definite keeper. It was one of the best pastas I've ever had. I was afraid of trying the rabbit at first, but it was really tasty. The best description I could give is that it's a mix of pork and turkey I guess. It was good! So now i can add rabbit to the list of meats I've tried. And for anyone interested, here's the recipe by Gordon Ramsay: Rabbit fricassée and tagliatelle.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

London II.i

We are now in London again! We're planning on staying until June 15th or so, and hoepfully by that time we'll have made plans for our next stop. I'm looking into planning our trip to South Africa, but we'll see how that goes. Either way, we'll figure something out.

You may be asking "Where are you staying for a WHOLE MONTH in London??" Yes, I know, a month is a fairly decent chunk of time. We are just so thrifty. Actually, lucky is a better way to describe it. So the lady who runs the B&B that we stayed at in Kelvedon has a son who lives in London. We got in touch with him and his wife and set ourselves up to stay with them. They have both been very nice and enjoyable so far. They have two daughters: an adorable three year old with curly brown hair and six month old with big doe-eyes. I'm sure we'll be woken in the morning sometimes, but I think that will be good for us. We're actually getting the place to ourselves for 10 days as well because they're going on holiday (aka vacation...). So we get to par-tay! Not really. We'll be good.

Ok, before we moved into "the house" (which is about 130 years old! crazy) we were staying in a hotel in Kensington, London. Since Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens were nearby we checked them out. Since the two parks are right next to each other separated only by a river, it makes for a huge expanse of green land in the middle of the city. It's a nice place, although not filled with flowers and decorative hedges like I've seen in other parks. But it's a nice place to go and relax I'd imagine. We saw an older man in a business suit eating lunch here with a snazzy bike at his side. The kind of bike you would think belonged to a teenage punk with it's bright colors, raised seat, and small wheels. But it was his!

And there were all sorts of birds near the water: pigeons, swans, various kinds of ducks, geese. And they would wander up to you quacking (or honking in the case of the geese) for food. I even managed to touch one slow-moving duck because he had a hurt foot. Poor thing...

The fountains in the park were nice, although they kinda stank. And since it was windy (I didn't know the UK was so windy) we kept getting hit with sprays of water from the fountains. We didn't stay there too long...

We saw the Albert Memorial too - man is it huge! Massive. Like right out of Egypt. Or Texas (everything's bigger in Texas right?). It's a very cool monument so I was sure to get lots of pictures. They still don't do the thing the justice it deserves though. And right across from it is Royal Albert Hall. Chuck and I just bought tickets to a Classical Gala for June 4 at Royal Albert Hall! I'm excited.

That was about it for the day seeing as we had walked much further than we intended. Our feet were killing us and we still had to make it back to the hotel. We picked up sandwiches or something from Sainsbury (one of the big grocery store chains) and stayed int he rest of the evening.

The 19th was the day we met our new London family. We met just to see if we'd like each other and discuss some finer details of the possible arrangement. Beyond price there wasn't much to discuss... So we chatted and drank tea for a bit. By the end they said they'd be happy to have us move in the next day if we'd like! And we did like, seeing as that was our last night at our hotel.

After meeting them we ate at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese place just around the corner. Nothing like deliciously greasy Chinese food... Needless to say we felt a bit gross after that so walked it off down Kennington Road. Along the way we saw a house with a plaque claiming that Charlie Chaplin had lived there! We found out the next day that there are about three houses that all claim the same thing... Who knows, it's still cool. All the roses are coming into bloom now too so I kept taking pictures of them. Me and my flower pictures... What can I say?

We walked all the way to Westminster Bridge and saw Big Ben and the London Eye again. The London Eye is so expensive! It's 11.50 GBP per person to take a ride. Ridiculous! I can't believe people actually pay that. After passing that by we went into a yummy smelling gelato and waffle shop expecting the best. The guy behind the counter ended up being a complete butt-head though. He didn't do anything in particular - he just seemed so annoyed with us for some reason and didn't even look at us as he gave us our gelato and took our money. I think his bad attitude made it easier for us to eat only half though, so maybe it was a blessing in disguise.

Oh, I have a gripe with London. Actually, the UK in general. Garbage cans. Where are they?? You'd think that somewhere along Westminster Bridge and somewhere in the entire Underground at Westminster you'd encounter a garbage can, but no! So I walked around for 10 minutes with a half eaten cup of melted gelato before I finally got fed up and set it down by and escalator. I felt bad too - I hate to litter. But it's like you have no choice here. And this wasn't the first time I've noticed the problem. I've seen other people do the same thing I did: get up to try and throw something away to find there's no bin, so they leave it on the ground or on a bench. I was told by the people we're staying with now that it's all because the Irish used to drop bombs in the garbage cans... Friggin Irish. I suppose now they would worry about terrorists instead of the Irish. As long as they're fine with picking up all the litter, then whatever!

That was about it for the 19th!

The 20th was moving day - we packed up our backpacks, checked out of the hotel and hightailed it to our new flat. Oh, did I mention we now have Oyster cards?? It's basically a cheaper, fast-access way to use the Underground and buses. You load it up with however much money you'd like and then just swipe it at the gate or on the bus instead of having to whip out your wallet. So we're like real Londoners now! As you might have guessed, we used our cards to ride the Underground to Kennington, which is where we're staying now.

Our hosts were nice enough to make dinner for us: risotto with chicken and various veggies. We just chatted over wine the rest of the night, getting to know each other.

The 21st was a big day. We went to the Natural History Museum, which was absolutely amazing. The building alone is gorgeous and huge. Inside we saw dinosaurs skeletons and fossils, a bunch of stuffed animals from mammals to birds, prehistoric animal skeletons such as the giant sloth, giant armadillo, giant ostrich-like bird, giant two-horned rhino, a huge room of minerals, a ton of different gems, displays on conservation and energy, a giant Sequoia tree, a primate exhibit, etc. As you can see, it was vast. And so interesting! I loved the giant sloth! We actually had to force ourselves to leave. In fact, we came back the next day to get more pictures (I will be posting them in a future blog - it was mainly pictures of the minerals and gems).

After the museum we walked and walked and walked and walked... I felt like I was stumbling through a desert with no food and water, trying not to fall over and be unable to get up. In other words I was starving! But we kept walking. We did pop into Harrod's which was fancy-shmancy. They're "luxury bathrooms" weren't all that exciting though. I admit I was disappointed in that. But the large number of guards that stood all around the place was impressive.

In stumbled on in my starved stupor (okay, so I'm exaggerating slightly) down Park Lane and down Oxford Street. We finally stopped for lunch in an Italian place where I got a greasy pasta and Chuck got a sensible salad. I have no self-control...haha. We walked down Charing Cross through parts of SOHO and Chinatown to Leicester Square, then continued to Trafalgar Square. That's a nice square. We were beat though, so tubed back to our flat.

That night night was spent out with our "landlord" and his friend at a local pub followed by some delicious Indian food. The butter chicken was gooood. That was a long day... And I got a bunch of pictures even though my camera died.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


We stayed a total of 6 nights in Kelvedon in an amazing B&B! It was a really beautiful old house, with big windows, a great yard, three cautious chickens, and a dog. A really lovely place. We had a few days of just sitting around being lazy, but we did get out to see a few sights. We explored the famous footpaths of Kelvedon on the 13th. It was a bit of an overcast day, but lucky the rain held off until we were just getting back to the B&B. It's a bit strange walking the footpaths becuase you feel as though you're just traipsing around peoples crops and gardens and backyards. But that's where the paths go, so it must be alright!

The next adventure was a day in Colchester. We took the 10 minute train ride there and then walked down to the center of town. After walking past a ton of different little shops and restaurants (I got a second hand shirt for 1.50 GBP!) we found Colchester Castle. We didn't bother with going into the museum that is inside the castle now and decided to wander around the gardens outside. It's a very nice garden too. There were a bunch of rose bushes all over, but sadly they weren't quite in bloom yet. They were covered with little buds that were just about to pop, but only a small few had actually gotten there. I bet it's amazing with all the bushes in bloom though.

We also saw a few spiders (one of which was eating his lunch) and a freshly dead pigeon... No clue about the pigeon, although I was really quite curious. After the gardens we had a sit-down lunch which was nice - we often get take-away food so we don't get the chance to rest our feet. But we relaxed for a bit with our drinks before heading to our next stop: the Natural History Museum. It's kind of cool because they turned an old church into the museum. The museum itself isn't particularly spectacular, but it's free so it was worth the visit.

Our next adventure was on the 15th when we walked to Tiptree to go to the jam factory. We got some good exercise that day - four miles there and back. That's eight miles!! But we needed it after the jam factory because I discovered cream tea while I was there. At first I thought cream tea was some sort of thick, creamy tea but it turns out it's a plain ole cup of tea with scones, jam, and clotted cream. I'd never heard of clotted cream before, so maybe you haven't either. It has the consistency of butter (not cold, hard butter, but kind of softened), but the flavor of heavy whipping cream. So you take your scone, split it in half, smear a big glob of clotted cream on it, and top it with the jam of your choice. It was soooo delicious! I am now in love with cream tea. But it's got to be terribly unhealthy... Why is life so unfair?? So you see why it was good that we walked eight miles. We also got some peach jam which is quite good, and came at a good price. There was also a small museum with various old jam-making machinery, jars, labels, etc.

Amongst all the site-seeing we also spent time with Chuck's Aunt Karre, her husband Simon, and her three boys Luke, Rick, and Jake. They're such a nice family! It was really nice to be around the boys especially because they're not what you would expect. You expect three boys between the ages of 14 and 18 to be at each others throats and arguing all the time, but they're not like that. They seem to genuinely like each other and just have a good time being kids. It's fun to see. And Karre and Simon were too good to us - home-cooked meals, restaurant meals, picking us up and dropping us off. It was really great to see them all again.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


We went to Nottingham on... the 7th I think it was. Despite spending three full days there we only actually did anything exciting on one of them: Nottingham Castle. And some people, I'm sure, would say that's not very exciting at all. Some of you may have already seen the video of us flailing around in the wind from our Nottingham Castle day! If not, here it is: Flailing Around In the Wind At Nottingham Castle.

The castle (which isn't actually a castle - the castle part is long gone) houses a decent little museum that's really nicely presented. I liked the room with the clothing from different time periods. They also had a ton of Jasper cameos - some as pendants, some jugs, some inlaid into wooden boxes. There was also a large display on the history of Nottingham. The floor was so squeaky down there! Makes one self-conscious about walking. Over all, nothing too exciting, but still worth the 3.00 GBP or so it was to get in.

The rest of our time in Nottingham was technically boring, but we enjoyed it. We liked walking around the city just to see the different shops. There are quite a few shops too - clothing shops mainly. And on Saturday the main square was packed! Mainly with a bunch of teenagers, but they were kind of fun to watch. We never got to Sherwood Forest. When we got to the bus there were about 50 people all waiting to get on and I wasn't about to deal with that mess. Oh well. And I was so looking forward to finding Robin Hood and his Merry Men in their hideout...

Saturday, May 9, 2009


I've been slacking on my blogging for the past few days. In fact, I've been slacking on my journaling and price-recording and everything! I'm sort of liking the idea of curling up inside with a bunch of snacks and a good book for a few days. And I miss having a stove. But let me fill you in on a few days I've missed.

We left Glasgow on May 3, but before we did we got a few more pictures. We walked down to a big park called Glasgow Green. It's nice enough as far as parks go. The park is home to a large arch, a tall obelisk, and the People's Palace Museum (which we didn't go into for whatever reason). In front of the museum was a large terra cotta fountain that was really cool. It is "crowded with figurative groups representing Australia, Canada, India and South Africa" (from Living In Glasgow). Lovely fountain.

We also went and saw Wolverine at the gigantic Cineworld before we left Glasgow. It was about 10 stories high with a wide range of candy and snacks on each level. It was an experience! But after that we headed to Edinburgh via train. After leading us the wrong direction for about 10 minutes we found our place. It was a self-catering apartment, which I was very excited about because I would get to use a stove! Yay! But the drawback ended up being the incessant, never ending whistling of the wind through the windows in every room of the place... Gah!!

First day we went out to Edinburgh Castle which was interesting, but also crowded, cold and crazy windy. We got to see the crown jewels of Scotland, which were, of course, lovely. They had a really nice display leading up the room where the crown, sword, and scepter that make up the crown jewels were held. And they also had a great display through the prison area of the castle. And there were a few museums dedicated to the military and various wars that Scotland has been involved with. So great castle if you can ignore the wind and cold! I had a hard time ignoring it. We also saw Holyrood Palace where the queen stays when she's in town. We didn't go in though - we'd just spent 25.00 GBP on the castle, sooo... We also stopped into St. Giles Cathedral which was yet another nice cathedral. We've seen a few at this point - they're starting to blend!

Next day we stayed inside ALL DAY. Never set foot out of the apartment once. It was so nice!!! We read and watched TV shows online, only getting up off the couch to eat and pee. Was so nice to have a break. But the next day (May 6) we went out to Calton Park. There are a few monuments up there, but the best part is the view. It's basically a big hill in the middle of the city so the views from here are amazing. I insisted we wander around an old looking cemetery, too. Earliest death I remember seeing was 1792 I think.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Glasgow I.ii

Well, I went to bed on the 27th feeling under the weather and woke up the next day feeling really, really bad. Chuck was a big sweetie though, and after breakfast took us to the pharmacy for Sudafed and suggested we stay in for the rest of the day so I could recover. So we didn't do much except for listen to my snorting and nose-blowing. Well, we did go out for an hour just to see the Scottish Exhibition Centre (it looks like a mini Sydney Opera House). But that was it!

The next day however, we went to see Doune Castle. Now, you may think you don't know anything about Doune Castle. You may think you've never seen it. you may say to yourself "Another castle?? How boring." But you probably have seen Doune Castle, unexpectedly hidden in a famous and popular movie called "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." Most of the castle scenes were filmed right in Doune Castle! It's the castle that the arrogant frenchman was taunting King Arthur from. The castle's kitchen was used as the home of the women who tried to seduce Gallahad. The singing prince who was being forced to marry by his father was locked away in one of the halls of the castle. And the audiotour that comes with castle's admission fee tells you about the various scenes that were filmed there as well as giving information on the much older history of the place. I'll admit that it's certainly not the grandest castle's around, but it has a good audiotour and a fun history. I'd recommend giving it a visit if you're in the neighborhood.

Since we're in Scotland we would be silly to neglect visiting a whiskey (or whisky as they spell it here) distillery. So on the 30th we took an expensive bus ride to the Glengoyne distillery. Because we had one of their brochures with a coupon in it, we got an extra dram of whiskey on our tour. So we got to try their 10 year and 17 year single malt whiskeys, both of which had very nice flavors. In the end we splurged on a very nice bottle of 12 year cask strength whiskey. I'm actually drinking it as we speak! Or, as I type... It has a very nice sweet, slightly syrupy texture and I can distinctly taste chocolate in the aftertaste. I like to pretend I'm a conoisseur now that I've been on a whiskey tour. Oh, the tour itself was good too. The guide was very friendly, had a good sense of humor, and was extremely knowledgeable about the whiskey making process. We saw the malt grinding machine, the tub where they heat the malt with water to extract the sugars, the $40,000 wooden tub where the yeast is added - the smell in here was very strong and malty, and the tub was full of bubbles slowly popping as the yeast did their work. They also have these huge copper chambers that are round at the bottom and taper as they rise to the ceiling. I don't quite understand what happens here, but somehow it's where the alcohol is separated from all the other stuff and purified for it's cask. Then it's just a matter of waiting 10 years to see the final product.

It was a fun day, despite waiting in the rain for the bus back to Glasgow. We finally got the chance to use our dinky little ponchos, and although they were dinky they got the job done for the most part. An English couple who had been on the tour with us was even kind enough to stop on their way down the road and offer us a ride to Glasgow. Being the cautious travelers that we are, we declined. But I thought it was really nice of them!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Glasgow I.i

First things first - there are some advertisements here in the UK that make Chuck and me laugh. I would like to share one with you. It's an ad for some Glades product and it cracks me up: Glades Advert. I recommend taking a quick moment to watch it! Now, onto our travels.

We're now in Glasgow. We got here by taking a ferry from Belfast to Stranraer, Scotland, then we took a train up to Glasgow. The train trip was lovely! The countryside is so scenic here in the British Isles, and Scotland has not let us down. We got to see a ton of tiny little lambs frolicking around the fields, keeping near their mothers' sides. I also saw three bunnies, a deer, and a bunch of cattle. Oh, and of course green, rolling hills, bubbling creeks, and quaint stone bridges as well.

Of course, since our train ride into Glasgow was beautiful, sunny, and a bit warm, our first full day in the city was gloomy and overcast. We ended up going to the Kelvingrove Museum on a tip from a fellow traveler we met at our hotel. It turned out to be a pretty good choice as half the museum is dedicated to biology - mainly animals. They had various rooms highlighting different aspects such as prehistoric animals, extinct animals, evolution, etc. The funnest (most fun?) room was filled with taxidermied animals (including a giraffe and an elephant) that are "the biggest such-and-such," "the smallest such-and-such," "can smell the furthest," "swims the slowest," etc. One moth could smell a mate from seven miles away. The most venomous mammal is a platypus. The fastest growing plant is bamboo, growing as much as a meter a day. The slowest is a Lady's Slipper Orchid, taking up to 11 years to blossom. The seahorse is the slowest swimmer at .001 MPH. So there ya go! Some fun facts for ya.

The other half of the museum is art: paintings, busts, vases, dresses, furniture. Unfortunately I'm not so cultured as to be able to find a great interest in "art," but we did wander through and check everything out. I was drawn to one particular painting though: Anna Pavlova by John Lavery. I just liked its vibrance.

The last interesting event of the day was our choice of lunch. We stopped into a chip shop to get our fat-fix of the day and noticed a traditionally Scottish item on the menu called haggis. We couldn't quite remember what was in it, just that we wouldn't want to eat it if we did. So we got the haggis meal which consisted of chips (aka french fries) and a deep fried haggis sausage all traditionally wrapped up in brown paper. We got back to the hotel and unwrapped our strange little package and I gingerly took a bit, bracing for the worst. But it was good! It had a nice...meaty, nutty sort of flavor. Just a well flavored sausage really. After we ate it we looked up the ingredients: ground pig liver, heart, and lungs mixed with oatmeal and various spices. Ewww! Sounds so gross, but it was surprisingly tasty.

The next day, April 27, we had yet another lovely day... complete will dark skies and drizzling rain. But we ventured out despite the weather and ended up at the Glasgow Cathedral. There's nothing particularly special about it in comparison to other cathedrals we've seen - it was just another nice church. It did have one unique feature that we've yet to see: a basement, for lack of a better word. And I think there is a better word, I just don't know it... So it was kind of fun to go down the steps into the dimly lit darkness under the choir of the church to see a circle of chairs all facing towards the center of the stone room where an embroidered blue shroud was lain across an altar of some sort. I could just see some sort of sacrifice taking place down here...hehe. I guess I'm trying to say it had a ritualistic feel. We sat and had a chocolate here. Having chocolates is like a ritual for some people, so I felt it would be appropriate.

After visiting the church we went across the street to the Provand's Lordship. It's an old house from the 1400's or so that has been decorated to look as though it were still being lived in. The furniture throughout is from various time-periods, so it's not strictly 15th century. But it's neat to see even just the architecture. I still find the very low doorways interesting - were they really that short?? Or did they not mind ducking a lot? And I like when I come across an old set of stairs that has been walked on and used so often that it's worn a depression into the stone. Due to the weather we just headed back to the hotel for the rest of the day. So it was a short and sweet one.