Colchester, England

A Cold Day Trip to Colchester


Elephants have been my favourite animal since I was about eight years old so I was taken with Colchester’s love for the keystone species as well!  We arrived knowing that Colchester is Britain’s oldest recorded town, but didn’t know that when the Roman Emperor Claudius invaded the settlement in 43AD that he brought elephants along to intimidate the locals.  Today you can see small elephants decorating the street signs & placards near the town centre, and the local zoo is said to have some friendly ambassadors as well.

When you take the train from Liverpool Street Station you can alight at Colchester or Colchester Town.  We arrived at Colchester, but then took an Anglia train to Colchester Town since this stop was closer to some of the sights we wanted to see before lunch.

St. Botolph’s Priory is directly behind Colchester Town station.  It was founded in 1100 and was the first Augustinian priory in England.  I had to look up priory (a small nunnery or monastery) and Augustinian (relating to a religious order observing a rule derived from St Augustine’s writings…I admittedly didn’t go deeper than this so I’m still not quite sure of the importance in a specific religion).  The walls that remain are from the 12th century which is just a tad bit older than our country 😉 I thought the arches were stunning.

Most people seemed to be using the priory grounds as a shortcut to get to the train station.  We walked against the grain of pedestrians about five minutes up Queen street to Castle Park.   It’s the equivalent of the central park of the area, and many families were visiting this Saturday. I do think there were more children around the back of the castle at the tiny Christmas fair than enjoying the historical site itself.  We weren’t much better than the seven-year olds as we dropped coins into the entrance’s well , but didn’t pay the fee to go beyond the foyer.

The lady at the castle till offered up a few lunch spots, including Tymperleys on Trinity Street.  It’s a beautiful Tudor building with a pretty garden outside.  We were hungry enough for a full lunch, but they also offer afternoon tea as well.  Their mulled wine was the first I had of the holiday season but it won’t be the last!

After seeing the historical sights, and having a cosy lunch, we spent the rest of the chilly afternoon strolling past the Trinity Street shops.  There were many commercial stores like Primark and H&M, but we noted that barber shops and tattoo parlors also made a strong showing.  These brought up the stereotypical images of Essex men from the TV show ‘The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE)’ — similar to our reality series ‘The Jersey Shore’.

Around 3:30pm, the sun started to fade so we turned up our collars and walked for twenty minutes from Trinity Street to Colchester station.  It’s easy to see why commuters do this route during the week– getting back into Liverpool Street station takes about a hour so it’s an direct and easy day trip to and from London!

London, England, Oslo, Norway

Big Barbara Comes to Town

IMG_9234On Friday, I was actually more excited to be in the airport itself than to be in the new city I’d just landed in.  Why?  I was meeting Barbara in just a half hour at the baggage claim!  She was flying across the pond to hang out for almost two weeks, and the first part of our adventure would be in Nesoddtangen with her longtime friend, Trine (pronounced Trina).  I should clarify that I was excited to visit Norway, but I hadn’t done much research on what I wanted to see in Oslo.  This is probably because it was the first time I was traveling to a place where I’d know a local.  For me, the ‘must see’ sights would be any and all suggestions by Trine and her son, Julian.  And, of course, a highlight of the trip would be witnessing Barbara and Trine reunite after many years.

After meeting at the arrivals terminal, Barbara and I texted with Julian to get directions to get to their home.  Nesoddtangen is about forty kilometers from Oslo, right on the fjord.  We ran to catch the ferry at Aker Brygge, met Julian in the parking lot on the other side of the fjord, and enjoyed the short drive to their house. I felt like I was in a combination of seaside home with light blue walls and shells lining the windowsills, and a mountain cabin, cozy with furry blankets and birch logs lining the fireplace.  It made me realize how many big cities I’ve been to and how relaxing it felt to be in a home surrounded by nature.  I lost track of the number of times that I sighed ‘how beautiful‘ in just a 48 hour period.

When I visit friends and family, the first night I expect to stay up way too late because we’re so excited to catch up on everything in our lives.  This evening proved to be no different between Barbara and Trine, friends for over 30 years!

The next morning, after a long lie-in (British for ‘sleeping in’), Trine made us scrambled eggs, fresh orange juice, and gravlax.  We walked with Yogi down by the bath houses along the fjord.  The bath houses used to be connected to a property on the overlooking hills.  Families would use the bath houses as changing rooms before swimming or wading.

Taking the ferry to Oslo takes exactly 23 minutes and you get a great view of the fort, Aker Brygge’s promenade, and the city hall.  The first stop on our list was Vinmonopolet, or the wine monopoly shop.  The government-owned wine shop has limited Saturday hours until 3pm and is closed on Sunday. You have to plan ahead if you want to imbibe on the weekends.  When we asked the staff member to help us pick our red wine to pair with our dinner, she wanted to know what vegetables we’d serve and how the lamb would be prepared and other specific details that no one has every asked when I’ve picked out a wine for dinner. Who am I kidding…I just pick a label I like.

With our wine in tow, we rode a smaller boat to Bygdoy island to check out the open air Norsk Folkemuseum.  This museum showcases life in Norway from the 1500s to present day with 160 historic buildings that have been relocated from regions around the country.  Staff members wear traditional dress native to each region and give various cultural demonstrations for visitors.  Trine actually used to work here when she was in high school, and could remember bits and bobs about her time in these little neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, we were too late to visit the Viking Ship museum but we peeked through the windows to see the most famous ship on display.  After the ferry back to Oslo, we checked out city hall.  Lining the walkway to city hall are huge wooden panels telling the story of creation and depicting Norse gods in various mythical scenes.  We also visited the Nobel museum gift shop before resting our legs at Sputino for an aperitif.

For dinner, we had homegrown lamb!  The couple that rents the attic at Trine’s raises sheep, and that’s how we had Lulu the lamb as a treat for dinner.  Trine made broccoli and mashed potatoes which paired perfectly with our red wine just like the lady said it would.  I forgot to snap a picture because I started eating so quickly.

Here are a couple other random shots from our day.

Sunday, we had another lie in, but as I was up a bit earlier, I spent the time finishing up bits of my blog while watching the fog burn off the fjord.  I could make out boats dotting the horizon and neighbors walking along the path by the bath houses.  I felt so relaxed having Yogi, their black lab, at my feet and their calico kitten nipping at my pen as I was scribbling on the page.  Julian started a fire and we had another lovely breakfast of eggs, cucumber, cheese and marmalade.

Trine explained that her neighborhood is deregulated– no cops or authorities– just artists and alternative thinkers living their lives on the water.  The forest was also just a five minute drive from her street.

We hiked along Trine’s favorite trail that afternoon.  The pine trees were striking and the forest floor was soft with moss.  There were also sprawling blueberry and lingonberry bushes on both sides of the trail.  Berries weren’t in season yet, but seeing how many bushes covered the forest floor would mean more berries than I could imagine.  I can see why Trine considers the Bjornemyr forest her therapist, her gym and her church.

We had just enough time to take a very very chilly dip into the fjord before heading back into Oslo! Trine mentioned how exhilarating it would be, and Julian said it was highly recommended, so when in Rome… ahem, when in Nesoddtangen?!?!

Vigeland Sculpture Park was my last stop before I had to get on the airport tram.  It’s a beautiful park with over 200 naked statues in various still and active positions. Families, joggers, couples and tourists alike were giggling and posing with the statues, making their own fun.

There’s in a word I learned on this trip: dugnad, which means to do something together; create a garden, pave a road, or shovel snow with everyone from the neighborhood helping.  Being in Nesoddtangen, with such natural beauty, made me think about how small I am but how much we accomplish when we do things together in this way.  I guess I just felt a calm sense of possibility looking out over the water each day.  Big shoutout to Trine and Julian for welcoming us into their home, and I’m happily dreaming about what reunions will be like with my girlfriends after 30 years of friendship.

Barbara stayed an extra day in Norway, so our visit in London started Tuesday! Because Corey was home healing his kidney, he and ‘Big Barbara’ would have breakfast and plan out her days’ adventures.  Of course, he started the nickname ‘Big Barbara’ as well.  Here are the escapades day by day.

Tuesday: Corey and Barbara visited St. Paul’s Cathedral, and she climbed to the top to see the 360 view of London.  They spent time in the free exhibits at the Tate Modern, namely in the Rothko section. For a late lunch, we all met up at the National Theater for a proper afternoon tea! We shared sandwiches, scones, and even small meat pie.  The themed menu was based on the plays of the National Theater.  Our gift certificate also included a backstage tour where we saw the props and costume studios, as well as the three stages on site. I’ve only seen a show at the largest theater, but was inspired to check out more show dates in the future.  We relaxed that evening with a meal of roasted veggies at home.

Wednesday: Big Barbara went big! She conquered the West side, visiting both the Design museum and the V&A! She also walked Kensington gardens and still had energy to meet up with a friend of mine for a play called Posh. The play tells the story of a fictional drinking club (think fraternity) at Oxford that must confront their own definitions of brotherhood.  This modern version kept the exact same script but was played by an all female cast creating lots of food for thought.  It was also an experience to see a show where we could understand the literal words of the play, but where we didn’t understand most of the British context,  jokes, or references.

Thursday was Westminster Abbey, St James Park and Buckingham Palace.  Memorial flowers dedicated to the four victims of the attack on Parliament were laid out across the lawn in front of the Abbey.  With a stroke of luck, we saw the changing of the horses guard, and Corey met us for a lunch at Koya, an udon bar in Soho. I went to visit a school in the afternoon while Corey and Barbara made their way back to the flat.  After a day of walking, it was a perfect evening for a feast at Gokyuzu, my favorite Turkish restaurant.

Friday: She is still going!  Barbara checked off the Tower, Tower Bridge, and the South bank. We also had a tasty lunch at Borough market after I left my meetings.  It was a good day to have some Hendrick’s G&Ts at the Pig and Butcher before making a tasty dinner at home.

Saturday: We spent time at the Tate Britain, and then rode the Thames Clipper back to central London.  We wiled away the afternoon touring Spitalfields market, seeing Brick Lane’s graffitied walls, and strolling down Regent’s Canal.

Sunday: Rise and shine for Columbia Flower market, and a hefty Sunday Roast.  Then Kew Botanical Gardens and a final Sunday supper of Ottolenghi take out. Barbara said she felt inspired by the veggie dishes!

I hope that after reading about Barbara’s trip, you’ll feel inspired to visit us as well, and use this outline as a starting point for your own travels. We had such a good time adding new sights to our repertoire and thank you, Big Barbara, for bringing a bit of CA home to London.

Dover, England, Dublin, Ireland, London, England

London, Dublin, and Dover with Dad

img_0709_128_hrWe’d been emailing, facetiming, and planning for so many months that I almost couldn’t believe it when I was finally on my way to pick up Dad from Heathrow.  And when you’re picking someone up from a London airport you feel like you’re reliving the opening scene of Love Actually in the arrivals terminal, and you can’t stop smiling.

Heathrow Express dropped us quickly in London, so we snapped some photos at St. Pancras station and rode the bus top level, front window to Angel to get a warm welcome from Corey at our flat.  We took my dad to his first Sunday roast at Smokehouse, a great little spot in our neighbourhood that has yummy Yorkshire pudding.  We spent the rest of the day strolling through our neighbourhood so my dad could get a sense of where we were living.

We realized how much FaceTime makes the distance between us feel shorter. We hadn’t seen each other for eight months, but we felt completely caught up with the goings on of our daily lives as Grandad and Tia.  But that didn’t stop us from keeping our tradition of staying up late the first night we’re reunited to share our stories all over again.

The flight to Dublin was an easy yet early one.  Honestly, the entire three days in Dublin felt like we had good karma following us around.  We voted to cab into Dublin, and ended up with the nicest cab driver who told us about the previous week’s events celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising.  We ate lunch at a well-known café bar that we found on a random side street with delicious traditional Irish stew. Our hotel was a stone’s throw from Trinity College, and included traditional Irish breakfast every morning, no additional charge.  I should also note that any time we saw something that was advertised as “traditionally Irish”, we basically bought it, ate it, or saw it.

Doing Dublin on foot was the best way to go from our experience. The Book of Kells was the obvious first stop as we could walk directly to Trinity’s campus so easily.  The small museum is set up with large posted images of the book to show the intricate details of the pages. My favorite part was watching a video clip how the book’s spine was created, and then bound with pages. Also, make sure you don’t miss the library upstairs with hundreds of tomes.

Our map showed that Guinness storehouse was about a twenty minute walk from Trinity.  So we found places of interest on the map along the way: the Molly Malone statue, the bells at Christ Church, and the Dublin Castle. I’m sure we looked so cute, dad and daughter, snapping away on our ‘dad and daughter’ cameras.

The Guinness storehouse was a fun treat.  You have to earn your free pint by touring through the bottom floors of the storehouse. You learn about the process of making Guinness beer, the history of the Guinness family, and how this stout is transported around the world.  On the fifth floor, one can learn to pour a perfect pint (the line was too long), and on the 6th floor, you can have lunch with your pint (again, the line was too long), so we opted for the obvious choice: a glass of the “the black stuff” at The Gravity Bar on the top floor- with 360 degree views of the city.  It started to rain as we toasted to our first day in Dublin- a beautiful sight in a room made of windows.

The rain stopped as we tipped the last of our glasses back, and we walked to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Each evening at 5:30pm, there is free entry to see the Choral Evensong.  Hearing those voices echo throughout the chapel was just beautiful.  The church is also next to a lovely garden where we spent some time with our cameras

Temple Bar is a part of the city that is touted as the nightlife, food, and live music part of the city. We weren’t sure how much time we’d want to spend on the strip, but ended up wandering through to find the Porterhouse, a restaurant claiming to serve the best stouts in the city.  We thought this seemed a bit blasphemous seeing as though the Guinness storehouse was less than two miles away.  Yes, we had to do a taste test comparison.  The porters and stouts in our flight were yummy, but my Dad said that he’d stick to Guinness for the rest of the trip.  Also, the fish and chips were the best I’d had, though I ended up with a strange ham cream dish.  To finish our evening, we stood outside of a crowded bar to listen to a duo singing U2 songs as a free concert.

The traditional Irish breakfast at our hotel was the perfect way to start our second day. We decided that we wanted to see some of Ireland’s natural beauty so we found a little seaside town called Howth about 3o minutes outside of Dublin.  The train dropped off right on the piers. What a gorgeous day! We walked the trail along Howth’s head, and were in awe of the beauty of the Irish coastline.

Along our hike, we were herded into a ‘free’ walking tour with an Irishman named John.  He let us know that his retirement gig was to give walking tours every day to anyone he picked up along the trail.  As we walked along he shared fun facts, and legends about the area.  He was optimistically trying to collect other hikers along the trail as well.  Other hikers would make up excuses to leave his little group at some point, yet we were too nice to tell him we’d make the journey on our own.  We knew we wanted to do the entire hike, and if so, John would be coming with us.  I guess that nothing could ruin the gorgeous seaside views, and the fact that we ended the tour over a pint with John and a very sweet couple honeymooning from Costa Rica, we decided it really was a great morning. Lunch was fresh oysters, fish pie, and traditional Irish salmon with rye.

Returning to Dublin, we decided to head North of the Liffey. We poked our heads through the Garden of Remembrance, and then made our way to the General Post Office.  As a side note, on this walk, I learned a bit more about my dad’s travels connected with political work, and his stories coming out of Cal.

The General Post Office was also closed, but strangely had a line around the corner at one of the doors.  While I snapped some shots of the bullet holes remaining from the Easter Rising, a kind woman in line struck up a conversation with my Dad, letting him know that it was the last showing of a play about the Easter Rising in the GPO.  We could stand in line but it might be a sold out show. The folks running the door, asked us to stand aside when we got to the front of the line as they’d have a better idea if tickets were left after everyone else was seated.  After a short wait, we were told we’d have to sit separately, but we were incredibly lucky to get two of the last tickets that evening!  Everyone in the audience was a local, and it was a treat to see the play in such a historical setting.

We laughed on the walk home recapping the events of the day.  I felt like I had a lucky four leaf clover in my pocket since most of the things that we’d experienced wouldn’t have happened if we’d tried to plan it that way.

Our final day in Dublin was spent picking up small gifts for our family, and trying on wolly Irish textiles that were way out of our price range. We walked St. Stephens park, and ate lunch at a local chain before heading back to the airport. Corey made us a meal of stew chicken, rice, and green beans for our return back to London.

On the fourth day of my dad’s trip, reality set in that I’d have to go to back to work.  But we didn’t let us slow us down. We hit up Westminster Abbey at 9am to beat the rush, and I left my dad midway through the audio tour to make my first meeting. Boo! However, I intended to use my flexible hours to ensure that I was out of the office by 3pm to meet my dad at the British museum. While I plucked away at a few more emails, he visited the Rosetta stone and other sections of the ancient Egypt exhibit.  Over dinner, my dad shared his trip to the Churchill War rooms, where he got to hold Churchill’s top hat, and where he was so taken with the exhibit that he basically forgot to eat lunch.  We spent the evening doing what I think we’d do in Oakland together: relaxing on the couch, watching a four part BBC documentary on President Obama’s eight years in office.  It felt like a bit of home here with me.  The series is great btw but I’m not even sure if it’s out in our own country.

For Friday, I spent some time answering emails for work, but our day really got started at St. Paul’s cathedral, a highlight of the city that I didn’t even know about.  The mosaics inside were breath-taking, and is was so fun climbing to the top of the cathedral for a panoramic view of London.  I pointed out the other landmarks we’d see throughout the day.  We walked across Millennium bridge, and popped into the Tate for a quick view.  The Thames river walk led us right into Borough Market where we feasted on salt beef sandwiches.  We walked the remainder of the South Bank, towards Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. We were less enthusiastic about seeing the crown jewels after having such an energetic tour by the local Yeoman Warder.  The Yeoman Warders live in their own community within the walls of the Tower to this day! The men, and one woman,  and have served over 22 years in the Queen’s military, and have very expensive and elaborate uniforms.  Our guide really made the history come alive with his dry British humor. PS- they don’t like being called Beefeaters!

We ended our day taking the bus to Bloomberg so that my dad could see the London office. We picked up Corey from work, and walked along Regent’s canal before making our way to Ottolenghi, another neighbourhood favorite.  During dinner, we also decided that our last day in the UK would be spent out of London on the white cliffs of Dover.


The weather in Dover promised to be wet and wild.  About two hours outside of the city, we were welcomed with a grey, drizzly day, so we took a cab to the trail head of the chalky cliffs. It was so windy out on those unprotected cliffs, but incredibly beautiful. We passed ponies, and saw ships coming in and out of the port.  It really felt like some of the images we know of England- just being on that craggy coastline.  The saving grace was a quaint light house out on the cliffs serving cream tea! Well, we couldn’t pass up tea and scones when my dad hadn’t had one yet, so our hike ended at Mrs. Knotts Tea Room.

Admittedly, we hailed a cab to the Dover Castle- though there wasn’t really another choice in the gusts of wind and rain. The castle is definitely built for families taking a day trip, but I think we did alright when we found out there was a tour of old WWII tunnels on the grounds!  After a visit to the dark tunnels that saved the Allied forces in Dunkirk, we had a pint at the local pub while waiting for our bus. What an incredible day! But wait, it wasn’t over until the last supper was staged at Lahore!  My dad said he’d probably be able to live on the lamb chops and the naan as we all wiped our plates clean. Nothing like sharing the stories of our adventures over steamy curries and spiced lamb.

As usual, the week went too fast. On Sunday, we packed up my dad’s bags, got him a final cup of coffee and headed out to the airport. You better believe I took that train the entire way to soak up the final minutes of our time together. I couldn’t believe it. I just spent a week with the two most important men in my life:  the man who taught me what it means to be loved by a man, and the man who I’ll share that love with for the rest of my life.  To have time with them together, I really felt too lucky.

Quick Shot

Dublin Day 1:

Howth Day 2:

  • Train from Connolly station or your closest DART
  • Easy to find information booth with trail maps
  • Maybe you’ll find John out there?
  • Don’t remember where we ate lunch on the pier

Dublin Day 3:

  • Walk St. Stephen’s Park and do some souvenir shopping at Kilkenny’s where they ship to the US for a flat fee

London Day 4:

London Day 5:

  • St. Paul’s Cathedral- yes, walk up to the top, and then see the crypts
  • Walk across Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern (you can stay as long as you want for free but modern art wasn’t really our focus)
  • Walk along the South Bank towards Shakespeare’s Globe and end up at Borough Market (super crowded on Saturday; go Friday if possible; closed on Sunday)
  • Continue on the South Bank to see London Bridge, City Hall, and the Tower of London
  • Get a Yeoman Warder tour before you rush to see the Crown Jewels

Dover Day 6:

  • Train from home to Dover. Might have to transfer to a bus if the rails are still wiped out.
  • Cab to the trail head to find the White Cliffs visitor center
  • Maybe you want to stop at Mrs Knotts Tea Room? The scones were fine but the cream could have been better. You don’t have to pay to see the lighthouse.
  • Do the WWII Tunnels at Dover Castle (there are two options- we opted not to do the medical tunnel)
  • Eat at Lahore before you leave! BYOB (and there’s an off license next door)
Bath, England, Cotswolds, England, London, England, Stonehenge, England

London from Anne to Z…..

Anne purchased Craig Taylor’s book,  Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now- as Told by Those who Love it, Hate it, Live it, Left it, and Long for it, as a gift for me as I start this journey across the pond.  In the author’s introduction, he cites another booklet, the London A-Z atlas as an “essential companion to the city.” It is basically an atlas bound with plastic rings, designed around the same time as the Tube map in the 1930’s.

Though we were not using London A-Z or Londoners as a guide for this trip, Anne and I had some A-Z adventures of our own. She really helped me create some fun tourist itineraries for future guests.  At the end of this post, I’ve included a chronological outline for each day.

Anne takes London by storm with her e-travel book and her international data plan.

Borough Market: This gourmet farmers’ market is a must see/must eat on your list! The vendors are just amazing and you could wander for hours through the stalls eating devilish chocolates, goat kebabs, and cheeses of all sorts and smells. If you go on a Saturday, be prepared to brave the crowds, but that is sorta part of the experience.

Crescent and Circus: The Royal Crescent and the Circus are both beautifully designed bath-stone houses in the city of Bath.  They are examples of Georgian architecture, a period with four kings all named George.  The homes are near the Roman baths, and are frequented or owned by the rich and famous Brits that vacation in the countryside.

Diana and Anne: We couldn’t resist this shot outside of a cafe that was dedicated to Princess Di (in Notting Hill).

Enthusiasm for Art: We basically hit up a museum each day (minus our one day in the countryside). We were excited to find out that many of the museums in London are free. This means that you can spend as little as an hour or as long as half a day in the museum, meeting the needs of any visitor. (Note: You do have to pay to enter the special exhibitions at each museum).

Fortnum and Mason: A luxurious tea haven and shop for English delicacies. The first level is full of chocolates and delicious teas. The second floor focuses on home goods, and perfumes.  The lowest level is a deli and gourmet shop that offers reduced price treats around 7pm. We couldn’t believe our luck and picked up bread, salads, and hummus for dinner. PS: The F&M branding color is almost identical to that of Tiffany’s, which we determined must be the color of the rich!!

Globe Theater: Though we didn’t end up taking a tour, the Globe looks like a great spot for theater and Shakespearean lovers. It is right along the Thames, and I can’t wait to return to see an open-air show.

High Tea: A trip to London isn’t complete without a fancy afternoon with Prosecco, tea, scones with clotted cream, and small rectangular sandwiches. We were at the Academy hotel, a small spot in Bloomsbury, where a groupon deal made our day! Then we completed a short walking tour through “Bookish Bloomsbury“.

Islington: Just can’t get enough of wandering around my neighborhood.  Here is a random corridor with weeping willows just off of Essex street.

Jars: This ode to jars of honey, marmalade, and teas is just another reason to make Fortnum and Mason part of your visit. I purchased Treacle and Butter toffees while Anne created a gift basket of crumpets, jam and tea for her mom’s birthday present.

Kensington Palace and Garden: We weren’t exactly sure what we were looking for in Kensington, but quickly found the Sunken Gardens of Victoria’s childhood. We also noted the number of ambassadors and government officials that seem to have homes in this area. The palace and gardens are basically attached to Hyde Park and you can get lost in these green wonderlands in the middle of the city.

Looking Regal: Taking a break with this Leo behind the British Museum in Bloomsbury.

Modern Art: Being at the Tate was so much fun. We couldn’t believe that you could see Kandinsky and Miro for free. Next on my list is to visit the Tate Britain.

Notting Hill: Though we didn’t spend too much time here, we did learn that Portobello Road is the home to a wonderful cocktail spot called “Trailer Happiness“, owned by a friend of Asiya’s, my girl from KIPP! We also had local pub fare at a spot called The Champion. The mushy peas hit the spot.

Ottolenghi: I still can’t believe that Yotam Ottolenghi, a top notch chef and restaurant owner in London, has a place in my neighborhood. It’s going to be so tempting not to eat there weekly! You should also know that my mom purchased three of his cookbooks so far! Yes, we can go if you visit- I can assure you that I won’t tire of the food.

Proper Cider Tasting: While in Bath, we had to indulge in a bit of cider since this part of the country, Somerset, is known for it.  I believe I’m still more fond of beer, but the Thrasher’s Gold was the best of the six, followed by the barrel marked “Proper Cider”, made just three miles from the Bath pub.

Queen’s River Walk: This walk along the Thames was such a mix of old buildings across the river, and the modern glass architecture of city hall and its surrounding businesses. Along this walk, we also came upon the Riviera, a little pop up bar complete with tiki torches, lounge chairs, and a fake crocodile. Check out the croc’s biggest fan below.

Roman Baths: The Roman baths are known for their healing powers, not just while bathing, but also when drinking the metallic-tasting mineral water.  The Romans were incredibly fit and healthy, and the English associated this with drinking the mineral water from the town’s main square.  Legend has it that some English medical professionals caught wind of the “magical” mineral water and set up shop in Bath, offering prescriptions to visiting aristocrats from Britain for a minimal fee. Each day, one was supposed to drink a prescribed amount from the fountain in the town square.  Doing this, meant rich visitors would stay in Bath for much of the year to follow the doctor’s orders.  Though the prescriptions were bollix, the rich ended up spending so much money in this location that it is still known as a very wealthy area to vacation in the countryside.

Shard at sunset: I caught the sun just as it was setting along side the Shard, and iconic building that is home to businesses, retail shops, and apartments. The lamp post is actually holding the setting sun!

Tower Bridge and Tower of London: The Tower Bridge is a much more iconic structure when compared to the London Bridge…so much so that many visitors often mistake the Tower Bridge for the London Bridge. The Tower of London is right across from the bridge and one can see the crown jewels and Beefeater armor within.

Umbrellas on a rainy day: I believe I’ve already said this, but the rainy London weather is still pretty romantic to me as I tootle around the city. It feels like autumn here pretty much all the time, and the rain, at this point, is more picturesque than bothersome for me. Of course, Corey’s local friends assure me that I will get over this feeling soon!

Victoria and Albert Museum: This is my favorite museum….so far! This museum is home to crafts, sculpture, fashion and fabrics from around the world.  We also learned that Queen Victoria, known as the grandmother of Europe, was in such severe mourning after losing Albert that she asked that many of the city’s features be painted black, which is why cabs are called black cars (though many of them come in a variety of colors now), and why many public rails and fences are also painted black.  The museum itself is beautifully decorated, and not painted black, but I thought this was an interesting historical anecdote.

World Cup (Rubgy): London is hosting the Rugby World Cup this year, but England had an early and unexpected loss early on in their pool. This prompted 20% off sales of much of the English rugby gear, including the rugby-themed ales in local pubs. How could I say no to having a pint in support of local fans?

X marks the spot? X as a variable? Ok, you probably started reading this blog being skeptical about my ability to use every single letter in the alphabet, especially towards the end. I totally get that. I may be going out on a limb here, but I thought that it was pretty interesting to visit Stonehenge, and learn that it is such a mysterious landmark- so many variables that historians are sifting through when it comes to why this structure was built and and how this structure was used. Yes, I tried using ‘x’ for variables in Stonehenge….just look at the pictures now.

You are here: Though Anne had her electronic guide book, I definitely never tire of a good old fashioned paper map to get around the city. Though Anne was right that her e-guidebook was definitely less conspicuous.

Beyond Z: Here’s a list of the fun pitstops that didn’t exactly fit into the “Anne to Z” structure but that still needed to be listed since they were such a fun part of this trip. Check the captions for this one.

Day 1 Itinerary (Friday night)

  • Unpack and get some laundry done
  • Anne makes Spanish appetizers with jamon iberica, goat cheese, and figs
  • Eat at Ottolenghi (only a 7 min walk from my apartment)

Day 2 Itinerary (Saturday)

  • Breakfast croissant at Appestat (in our ‘hood)
  • Tate Modern
  • Borough Market for lunch
  • Queen’s River Walk along the Thames
  • Tower Bridge and Tower of London
  • Drinks at The Folly
  • Dinner at Lahore (Pakistani food) BYOB

Day 3 Itinerary (Sunday)

  • Sleep in
  • Breakfast at Elk in the Woods
  • Walk through Hyde Park
  • Kensington Palace and Gardens
  • Dinner at The Champion in Notting Hill

Day 4 Itinerary (Monday)

  • Coffee at Coffeeworks (in our ‘hood)
  • British Museum
  • High Tea at the Academy Hotel
  • Bookish Bloomsbury walk
  • Walk through Picadilly Circus to Fortnum & Mason
  • Dinner at Cay Tre in Soho

Day 5 Itinerary (Tuesday)

  • Meet at Gloucester Station
  • London Coach Tour to Stonehenge (another Groupon purchase)
  • Lunch and Sites at Bath (The Crescent and The Circus)
  • Dinner at home with Fortnum and Mason reduced deli treats and vino

Day 6 Itinerary (Wednesday 1/2 day)

  • Victoria and Albert Museum (Fabrics of India exhibition)
  • Lunch at the V&A cafe
  • Head back to pack bags and head for the airport

Shoutout to Anne for being such a wonderful travel partner while I try to get familiar with a new city. This post is completely dedicated to you, if you couldn’t tell.

Shoutout to Corey’s week long return to the east coast- the kid lives and breathes ‘work hard, play hard’. So excited about the work he put in at his business meetings, and then so sweet to see him celebrating with his friends and family.

Shoutout to Miya and Jose for their anniversary this week!

Shoutout to my dad for his Teacher of the Year nomination, gracious speech, and inspiring teaching video.  While he didn’t win, a nomination like this at the end of one’s career is a very big deal and I am so, so proud of him.