Saturday, June 27, 2009


After leaving good ole London we hopped the train (we and our four delicious cookies who joined us for the ride) from King's Cross to Oxford. It was a fairly crowded train and we kept hoping no one would decide to ask us to move our backpacks so they could have a seat. I mean, we wouldn't want to be stuck talking with some stange British person. We enjoy being anti-social at times.

We made it to Oxford with no major problems - the only hitch was that we had to change trains in Reading due to some malfunction with the one we were on. We walked nearly two miles to our rather run down hotel, our backpacks feeling much heavier than they ever had before. The dingy hotel was nothing we hadn't seen before - old carpets, worn paint, thin walls, a faint strange smell. All in all, not bad! Their breakfast was one of the best we've had on our trip so far. They even had chocolate muffins and...some pate-like stuff. I ate the chocolate muffins. As well as my full English breakfast. And here I thought we might actually be able to lose weight on our trip. Silly me.

On our first day of sight-seeing we went to the All Souls College and got pictures of the beautiful Radcliffe Camera. We stopped for some shots at the Botanic Garden, but didn't actually go in - the rose garden out front was good enough for me. And we spotted a game shop that had a bunch of really nice chess sets in the window: Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Poo vs Peter Rabbit, Lord of the Rings, etc. There were quite a few game shops like this around Oxford actually. We went to the covered market for lunch and chocolates. It's quite a good market! Dare I say it's almost as good as Borough Market in London. There's a number of fruit and veg vendors, a couple of meat stalls (one of which is organic), a few fishmongers (I love that word), a cake shop, a chocolate store, and various other random shops. We had some savory pies with mash (aka mashed potatos) for lunch at stall called The Pieminster. After that we walked down High Street to New Road. This area is filled with shops of all sorts. It seems that this is probably where most of your clothes shopping can be done in Oxford. We saw the Oxford Castle from the outside and got some pictures. Didn't look too impressive to be honest, but I'm sure it's nice. And after that I got myself a piercing. Eeeps! Yes, a piercing. I got my lip pierced. Now, don't look at me like that. I decided that I may as well do it now, since I've always wanted to have one. While I'm on this trip I don't have to worry about people who have some amount of control over my life judging me (ie: being fired due to facial piercings). So I got my lip pierced! And yes, it hurt, but not as much as I was expecting. I got it done at a place called Tiger Lily, which turned out to be a bit better than I was expecting. So hopefully all goes well and I don't die from some random piercing malfunction. In fact, it was just in the papers over here that some kid died of blood poisoning after getting his lip pierced. I did my best research on the place, asked the piercer a few questions, and crossed my fingers from there. Anyways, lets move on!

Our next big day out was to the Oxford Natural History Museum. I loved that they had dinosaur footprints in the field out front of the museum! Nice touch. The architecture of the building once you get inside is astounding. It's just beautiful! The ceiling is all glass, held up by a sort of honey-comb frame which is supported by these clusters of delicate-looking columns. And the room is bordered by columns of different types of stone, the names of which are engraved at the base. So it's as though they built geologic displays into the architecture of the building. And on display were quite a few different skeletons from dinosaurs, to prehistoric bears and cows, to fish and frogs. There was a stand alone "box" with a heavy velvet curtain that you could go inside to look at various rocks that fluoresced under UV light. Upstairs was a big display of bugs and creepy-crawlies. They even had a glass case housing a giant millipede, another with some sort of beetles, and another with a ton of different cockaroaches. And I'm talking huges roaches - bigger than the Palmetto bugs back in Florida (woot, represent). These were about three inches long and icky looking. They gave me the shivers at the same time that I was fascinated.

At the back of the museum is another huge room called the Pitt Rivers Museum. It's packed full of display cases which, in turn, are packed full of human artifacts of all sorts. To be honest, there were so many things on display that I was completely overwhelmed. They had varieties of musical instruments from all over the world, and all throughout time. And model ships. Woven tapestries, Hawaiian feather capes, sleds, items of worship, a giant totem pole, shrunken heads, enemy skulls, etc. The shrunken heads had a very interesting description of how they're made. Basically you take the head and remove the skin from the skull, throwing away the skull and brain. Then you heat the... head skin (for lack of a better word) with hot pebbles that are stuffed inside. The heat shrinks the skin, you sew up the eyes and mouth, have a ritualistic ceremony to placate the spirits and voila! Your very own shrunken head!

Oh, the really fun part about the Pitt Rivers Museum is that it's quite dark inside (I assume to help preserve the artifacts, as light tends to damage things). Due to not being able to see so well they hand out wind-up flashlights at the enterance. The room is filled with the soft 'whir-whir-whir' hum of everyone winding these flashlights to see the displays better. It's rather amusing actually. And it makes you feel good about generating your own electricity and being green!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

London II.iv

NOTE: If you're interested in seeing the whole post, make sure you continue past the pictures of the zoo.

Well, it's been a while since I last posted! We've been having a nice time just relaxing to be honest. Although we're currently in Oxford (just arrived yesterday), we spent the last month in London. As you might already know we stayed with a wonderful family who we met through our great bed & breakfast host in Kelvedon. We were very lucky that we found such a great place to stay, and paid what seems like close to nothing to stay there! I loooooved having a kitchen again - we cooked a meal practically every night. And our hosts treated us to home-cooked meals frequently. They made us a great Sunday roast one Sunday (complete with Yorkshire Pudding and all), Shepherd's Pie, Bangers and Mash, etc.

And they're two daughters are just amazingly adorable. The youngest is not yet a year old and when she's in a good mood is sooo cute! She has the greatest little smile that would melt the coldest of hearts. And the other, who just turned 3 while we were there, has the prettiest curly hair. She was so cute with Chuck too, as she seemed to take a particular liking to him. He would play with her sometimes, and she would ask him very politely over and over if she could have some of the tomato or onion that he would be chopping for dinner. And when we left she even gave us hugs! So sweet!

And their parents - our hosts - were so hospitable. They didn't seem to mind that we drank a lot of their tea, which we did. And they invited us to their neighbourhood annual fete without being embarrassed of us clumsy Americans! Some nights we would sit up talking at the kitchen table - things such as American vs British pronounciation (in other words, the wrong vs the right pronounciation), offal, duck mating habits, sights to see, etymology of various words, etc. And it was nice that there weren't any problems getting in each others way when we each wanted our own space. Well, Chuck and I at least didn't feel like we were being impressed upon at any point. I hope we managed to stay out of their hair when they wanted their space!

Now, what have we been up to? On the 3rd of June we went to the London Zoo. It was alright. Their indoor rainforest exhibit was the best display there. And I was excited to get a picture in front of the Reptile House - yes, the very same Reptile House that Harry Potter visited.

On the 4th we saw a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a Classical Gala and very good! The Royal Albert Hall itself is pretty amazing. It's huge! And there are quite a few stories and balconies. The violinist for Tchaikovsky's violin concerto was outstanding. And there was a beautifully haunting vibraphone concerto as well. And the final piece was Ravel's Bolero and made for a great finale with it's 14 snare drums. Very cool.

And on the 5th we had an authentic pork pie. I liked the pork filling and the flaky crust, but I have to admit that the jelly was a bit too...jelly-ish for me. And I got some flavoured Turkish Delights (which were more like marshmallows than Turkish Delights) that were so pretty I had to take pictures.

The 9th was another Harry Potter moment (I'm a dork, I know). We visited platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station. It's not the actual filming location, but just a fun photo spot they made. I mean, the platform in the movie was filmed in Kings Cross, but not at the spot that's set up with the "Platform 9 3/4" sign. Yeah.

Okay, the 10th was a visit to the British Library. We couldn't take pictures inside, but that's okay. It wasn't as good at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, but it was still good. They did have a great exhibit of music notebooks belonging to various famous composers. They had Handel's Messiah notebook, Mozart, Bach, Schubert, Beethoven, Ravel's Bolero. To be honest, I was quite moved by them. The library also houses the original Magna Carta, which is very historic, but fairly boring to look at. There were some notebooks and journals and original copies by Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austin, Lewis Carroll, etc. Good stuff.

And lastly, the 15th was a trip to Greenwich. We took a river cruise down the Thames with a tour guide who proclaimed frequently that he's "not a professional tour guide," despite doing a great job. His accent was very...Bert from Mary Poppins. It was icing on the cake of a very good river tour. We went tot he Royal Observatory one we got to Greenwich. This is where the Prime Meridian is located! We got to stand on both halves of the world at the same time, which is sort of silly if you think about it. I can stand on both halves of the world anywhere I go... I can make up my own meridian if I want! It's only special because it's the meridian that the scientific world recognizes. It was still cool.

If you're wondering what happened on days not mentioned, the answer is not much. Those are days we didn't do anything exciting at all! Those were nice days too though. We're very good at relaxing, hehe.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

London II.iii

Between being lazy and cooking dinners we've found time to visit another museum: the British Museum. Like the Natural History Museum, we ended up seeing half of it the first day, and came back two days later for the rest. The museum is pretty good, although it doesn't beat the Natural History Museum in my opinion.

They have a pretty big collection of Egyptian stuff - I've heard it's the largest outside of Egypt. We walked through the collection Egyptian statues, some of which are pretty large (I know they're much larger in Egypt though). This is where the actual, authentic Rosetta Stone is located. And if you don't remember what the Rosetta Stone is (it's not just "language learning software" that Michael Phelps was in a commercial for), it was the key to deciphering the Egyptian written language. The stone has the same passage written on it in three different languages, one of which is Greek. Since archaeologists could read the Greek, they were able to unravel what the other two Egyptian versions said! Voila! The Rosetta Stone exhibit seems to always be surrounded by crowds of people, so it was hard to get a picture. I got a picture with the imitation Rosetta Stone in the library of the museum though, hehe.

They also had a lot of Roman and Greek artifacts and statues. There were a few Assyrian pieces. The Middle Eastern area had a few nice things. The Aztec room was pretty cool. The turquoise mosaic, double-headed serpent was very cool. I wasn't able to get a good picture of it, sadly. And the other turquoise mosaic masks were pretty creepy. I would have freaked out if I saw some priest coming at me, knife in hand with a mask like that on.

The Chinese and Oriental collection was very exotic and interesting. There were fat, laughing Buddhas as well as somber, calm Buddhas. A lot of the females figures had very pronounced and perky breasts and hips, which is different from most of the statues we'd seen from other parts of the world. And a lot of pieces were inlaid with lots of sparkling little gems or made of shiny gold. Pretty stuff.

Our second trip to the museum brought us through a collection of even more Roman pieces. We also saw a pretty large display of money from all over the world throughout the ages. They had a watch and clock collection that had everything from grandfather clocks to pocket-watches to elaborate astronomical clocks. The Japanese exhibit was decent, containing a few beautiful scrolls as well as a suit of samurai armor. I enjoyed their collection of old jewelry, vases, tableware, etc from 17th-18th century England. Some pieces were really very pretty.

We saw the rest of their Egyptian collection. They had coffins, canopic jars, and all sorts of other burial-related items. They have a pretty good specimen of a 5000 year old man with tufts of hair on his head and everything. I do think that the preserved bodies at the National Museum of Ireland: Archaeology were more impressive though. These rooms were very crowded, like at the Rosetta Stone. I think a lot of people must go to the museum to just see the Egyptian stuff.

And I tell you what, as we finished the last room and headed back downstairs to leave, the funniest thing happened. See, it was like this. I was merrily walking down the stairs and suddenly found myself practically sitting on them, my foot twisted oddly under me, trying as best I could to find my balance so I didn't just topple headlong the rest of the way. After what seemed like quite a while (but I'm told was actually no time at all) I gathered myself and prepared to diffuse the embarrassing situation as best I could. I popped up with a smile and turned to the horrified faces of the random strangers behind me and proclaimed "I'm okay!" Inside I shuddered... Here I am, 26 years old, still falling down stairs.

After making my way safely to the bottom I realized my toe kind of hurt. I looked down and fighting panic told Chuck that I was not okay. About 8mm of the toenail on my big toe was flipped backward, the pink skin underneath shining through. Eeeps! The sight of it was worse than the reality though. It bled a bit, but really didn't hurt so much. Looking on the bright side, I had an excuse to limp around for the rest of the day which is always fun!

That night's dinner was a juicy, fatty roast duck with roast potatoes and a roast parsnip. That parsnip was honestly the most delicious part of the whole meal. Soooo good all soft and roasty.

The next day we headed out to the butchers to get some venison steaks. We've been on a roll trying new meats here, and venison was our next pick. They turned out to be absolutely delicious. I thought they were better than beef steaks. They were tender and almost buttery. I don't know if we just got lucky with our venison, or if it's always so good. I would gladly replace my beef with venison. On the way back form the butchers we got a few pictures. We finally got the obligatory "phone booth" pictures. Good times.