London Love Letter

Hello, all.

I'm sorry for not writing as much as I should recently, but to be honest, my laptop is broken (dropped it as I was climbing the ladder to my loft bed and strangely now it's acting really finicky) and preparing for my final projects/exams is time consuming. This is a very busy and exciting time in my life and it's hard to sit down and just blog. Even this entry is not a true blog post! I cheated and copied an essay that I've already written below. Ohh, the shame of not posting original content!

At CAPA's departure reception I found out that I had been rewarded a Record of Achievement, which basically rewards involvement and cultural participation in the host city. I wanted to share with you the short essay that I submitted with my application. It's a little corny, but with only six days left in London I'm feeling pretty emotional and I think corny is okay, maybe even necessary, under the circumstances.

"The very first thing I did after arriving at my flat near Waterloo was to turn around and walk back out the front door. I hadn't gone very far, only two blocks, when I reached the south bank of the Thames. The fantastic sight that had me rooted to the spot with incredulity is now my favorite view in all of London. Directly across the bridge is the West End, to my left are the Houses of Parliament, and to my right is the City. On that first day, what that demonstrated to me was this: London is a true city - a thriving metropolis that is the social center, political capitol, and financial hub of England.

Several days later, I took the Jubilee line north to Primrose Hill for a sweeping view of London. It was a radical change of perspective, and one that I didn't fully appreciate at the time. I spent my first rainy afternoon wandering around the countercultural Camden Town Market. I'll never forget that sensory assault! The smell of fragrant Chinese, Indian, Mexican, and Italian food... the sight of burlesque, goth, 50s style, punk, and ethnic clothing.. the pierced and tattooed youth. That's Camden Town. A tour of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace was perhaps the perfect foil to that experience. The Palace, which serves as both residence and office of the British monarch, is an impressive, stately building. The interior was amazing - immaculate, elegant, and dignified. I still dream about those rooms. Lying beneath the white sheets of my functional loft bed I picture their extravagance and their color. Buckingham Palace is an iconic sight, but so too is the Globe Theater where I had the opportunity to watch Much Ado About Nothing later that week. The evening before the performance, my literature professor gave a special lecture in which he presented a brief Shakespeare biography, prompted us all to imagine what English society would have been like at the turn of the seventeenth century, and praised the flexibility and dynamism of the English language. By the end, I was beyond excited to experience Much Ado from a groundlings point-of-view, and the next day I watched enchanted as the play described to us the night before came to life.

I chose these three experiences because of their contrast, and more importantly, because they are all equally valid images of what is quintessentially London. The alternative scene in Camden Town, the tradition and decorum of Buckingham Palace, and the performing arts at the Globe Theater combine to form the rich picture I now have of this city. I mentioned that I didn't fully appreciate the importance of those first two views of London, one central and one distant. Now that I have explored the city, I recognize their significance. The change of perspective was important to understand that although I live at the center of the city, London is expansive and full of niches and subcultures and secrets. They are all important parts of what London truly is. Once I was told that there was something for everyone in this city, and I hoped there would be something for me. On that first day, standing at the edge of the river, I thought London was beautiful because of the architecture and the glittering water and the music of the street performers. It was purely aesthetic and anticipatory Now, London is beautiful because I have memories here. Those buildings and that river provoke an emotional reaction. When I stand there, I know that just beyond the hotels and gardens that line the river is Buckingham Palace, where Queen Elizabeth II may be working at that moment, and three miles beyond that is Camden Town, where someone may be writing music or getting a tattoo at that moment. Down the river is Sean Wannamaker's Globe Theater replica, where I will be going to see my BFA flatmates will perform A Winter's Tale on the day before Thanksgiving. I feel I have a family, I feel I have a home, and they both exist in London - indeed, in a way, they are London."

Scotland

England and Scotland have a complicated relationship (duhh).

Leaving aside the long, violent struggle between the English and the Scots (have you seen Braveheart?) to focus on the present, big things are brewing up in Edinburgh that might mean the end of the "United" Kingdom.

In the briefest summary possible: The Acts of Union in 1707 joined the two kingdoms, forming "Great Britain." All decisions concerning Scotland were henceforth decided by the Parliament of Great Britain in Westminster, London. The Scotland Act of 1998 established a separate, devolved Scottish Parliament based in Edinburgh. In May of this year the Scottish National Party won a majority in the Scottish Parliament. The SNP is a center-left political party whose main platform is Scottish independence. They released plans for a referendum to become independent from the United Kingdom tentatively scheduled for 2015. I'm no expert, and can't definitively say whether this referendum will happen or not, in 2015 or in the future, but it seems very possible that within my lifetime, Scotland will secede from the United Kingdom. Just something to think about.

Anyhow, I decided to visit England's northern neighbor, land of haggis and bagpipes, of clans and heather and highlands, for a weekend jaunt with my roommate Jill. To be honest, it was an impulse decision. Jill had planned her solo trip weeks in advance, but easily convinced me to tag along at the last minute - I bought a ticket on the overnight bus two hours before it was scheduled to depart from London Victoria coach station, haphazardly threw some jeans and sweaters in a backpack, and hustled out the front door behind her. It didn't take much, all she had to do was mention the depressingly low number of days we had left in London and I was getting out my credit card. What can I say? I'm easily persuaded when it comes to travel. 


We took a National Express bus overnight (£45 round trip booked in advance, £60 for me) that arrived in Edinburgh at 7:45am. Jill had made a reservation at the Blue Rainbow Aparthotel, which was located less than 500 feet from the Bus Station, I kid you not - so convenient for ditching our bags before walking into town. Ordinarily, I would have read the "Scotland" section of my Rick Steves guidebook ten times before coming, but this time I obviously hadn't and had no idea what to expect. The solution to my dilemma: a free (college kids <3 free) walking tour at 11am. To kill time, we spent several hours finding breakfast and shopping around the Royal Mile in the Old Town. Our big spend was several lambswool scarves by Johnston's from the Highlands Store. 

The Scott Monument, dedicated to Sir Walter Scott. The ferris wheel is part of the Winter Wonderland Christmas set-up. 


Our walking tour was excellent. The company is called New Europe, and they do free 3-hour walking tours in cities across Europe. The tours are generally lead by students, who may be natives or not. If you enjoy the tour, you tip your guide what you believe is appropriate at the end. I had taken one of their tours in Amsterdam and been very impressed. Our guide this time was English, and although he spoke at a speed that any non-native English speaker would have struggled with, I had no difficulty and laughed a lot on the tour. What I like about the New Europe tours is their personality - the guides are knowledgeable and present all of the correct historical information during the tour, but their personality comes through easily as well. The dirty jokes and anecdotes that pepper their commentary makes history stick in a way it otherwise would not. I always leave with plenty of funny "did you knows?" and historical tidbits that could only ever be useful for Quiz Night at the pub or in a heated game of Trivial Pursuit. If you and I ever find ourselves in Edinburgh, you're in for a good time. I'll show you how to spit on the stone heart where the door of the tax office used to be, make you cringe as I explain the cruel humiliation criminals and thiefs were forced to endure as punishment, and entertain you with stories of graveyard ghosts.


We walked past all the major sights in the Old Town - St. Giles' Cathedral, Greyfriars Kirkyard, and Edinburgh Castle to name a few - ending in the West Princes Street Gardens. Both Jill and I wanted to backtrack to the Elephant House for a late lunch, famous as the cafe where J. K. Rowling wrote the first two Harry Potter books. It was doubly exciting for me because elephants are my favorite animals. 
  
  

We debated an afternoon activity in the cafe over pizza. The choice between the newly renovated National Museum of Scotland and Edinburgh Castle was difficult, but both closed at 5pm and we had to choose. The Museum of Scotland won because: a) free entry and b) Dolly the cloned sheep. 

By five o'clock, the sky was pitch black - darkness falls so early these days! We walked up the Royal Mile to the Castle but couldn't see much. Rather than doing a pub crawl that night, we decided to relax at our hotel, in relative luxury with a TV that works and dining room table. One stop at Jenners of Edinburgh for souvenirs and one at Sainsburys for food on the way, and we were all set for a perfect girls night. It was sublime to relax with tortellini, ice cream, Glamour magazine, and Bad Teacher. I'm not ashamed to admit that we were both asleep by midnight because we slept so poorly on the bus and because our highlands tour left at 7:45am the following day. I needed a full night of sleep to overcome the lurgy that had been plaguing me all week, but which I had ignored when buying my ticket to Scotland. Judging by my boss' use of the term, I think "lurgy" describes something between a head cold and the flu, but I've heard that it also means cooties. 

The next day was entirely devoted to a full day tour - Monsters, Mountains, and Massacres: Loch Ness, Glen Coe, and the Highlands by the Highland Experience. It was a great value at only £36. Our tour guide was named Kenny, and Kenny liked to play Scottish music and stories on tape in between his narration. Those bits were a nice touch, especially since a good portion of the 12 hour tour was spent in the bus. The first stop in Kilmahog was strictly for coffee and toilets. But we did meet someone very special there - meet Hamish, the Highland Cow (pronounced: Heilan' coo). 

My friend Hamish

We reboarded the bus with some fresh scones and jam (no coffee, for once). The view from our mini-coach on one of the few highways through the mountains, what Kenny referred to as the higgledy piggledy road, was magnificent - moody, saturated with deep blues and greens, with thin silver streams winding down the sides of each mountain. Those prone to motion sickness would have really suffered on this ride - the bus jumped up and down over bumps and rocked side to side through the nonstop turns. Eventually we reached Glen Coe. Glen Coe, the "weeping glen," was the site of the 1692 massacre, which was a horrific abuse of the Scottish tradition of hospitality. If you want the story, you'll have to look it up for yourself!
  
 The Highlands

 Glen Coe


Between Glen Coe and the next big tourist draw (Loch Ness), Kenny pulled over to show us the ruins of Inverlochy Castle - not the luxury hotel in Fort William of the same name, but the historic Old Inverlochy Castle, a fortress built in the 13th century and abandoned in the mid-17th century.  We climbed around the towers like we were in a playground, peeking through thin windows to see Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK. 


Inside one of the towers
  
  
On the way to Fort Augustus and Loch Ness, Kenny tried to convince us all that the Loch Ness Monster was not only real, but was in fact a clever female prehistoric aquatic dinosaur named Nessie. He was devastated when he realized that the majority of the group were non-believers,  even threatening to toss a few people off the bus. Jill believed, however, and was determined to find the "puppy" hiding in the long, deep lake. 

  


The sun faded early again, leaving us in darkness by late afternoon. Kenny made another unexpected stop in the forest alongside the highway, allowing us to stretch our legs on a hike up to a loud river crashing down the side of the hills. And he surprised us once more with a stop by Loch Oich to see the haunted Well of the Seven Heads. He really was a great tour guide, engaging, experienced, and intent on us getting the best experience time and daylight allowed.  

Loch Oich - I love the mossy wooden piers being swallowed by the lake.

There is only one thing I would have changed on the tour, and Jill would agree with me on this - I would have enjoyed an earlier stop in Pitlochry. The tour stopped there for coffee and restrooms before the the last stretch of road back to Edinburgh. The shops looked really adorable and unique, and from the prices in the window displays seemed affordable, but by the time we arrived (around 6pm on a Saturday) they had all closed. 

For dinner in Edinburgh, we chose a comfortable pub in Hunter Square called the Advocate: salmon and red pepper skewers with rose wine for me, pie and Staropramen for Jill. The ride on the overnight bus back to London was not without problems - for instance, we woke up freezing when the heat broke down around two in the morning, forcing us to huddle inside a rest stop for close to an hour while the mechanic tinkered with it. Thankfully, I slept through the remainder of the journey and woke up back in my beloved London, and all was well again. 
Monday was a special day for two reasons: chicken parmesan and chocolate chip cookies. Just kidding, we'll count the food as one reason and I'll admit that the other was the chef - a young man in our program named Kevin. Some of the students on this program live a bit further out, all the way in zone 3 (gasp!). Yesterday was the first time I made the journey out, away from the familiarity of the inner zones 1 and 2, and the reason was that Kevin had offered to cook for my roommates and I. 

Now, I have not been so unlucky in life as to have never been cooked for - I won't forget the hand made ravioli and summer salad my close friend prepared last August, and I'll be appreciative for even a sandwich or a bowl of ice cream if you make it especially for me - but this was special because I was able to relax on the sofa with music, a glass of wine, and my girl friends while this handsome young man cooked us comfort food. The bar has been raised. If you were planning on becoming my friend, I just hope you have a solid Italian meal in your repertoire (and at least one dessert). 

And speaking of dessert, we were all surprised when another handsome young man living on the floor below popped in with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies!! One day you can't convince a guy to share his french fries and the next you can't even finish all the delicious food being laid out in front of you. I hope it never ends... because let's be honest - there's something sexy about a man who can cook a meal with no supervision. 

Sadly, I have no evidence like photographs to prove that this really happened. However I did get the chocolate chip cookie recipe to share with you, though sharing is the last thing you'll want to do after tasting one...


Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 2/3 cups (16 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and baking powder together. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugars together with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated, then beat in vanilla. 
Add half the flour mix and mix for 15 seconds, then add the rest of it and beat until incorporated. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the chocolate chips. Cover bowl and refrigerate for 6 hours (or, if you're impatient, you can skip this part without ruining the cookies). Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes. 

Vienna

My mom lived in Vienna during her junior year of college, and I've wanted to go since I found out. I love studying abroad (obviously), and I liked the idea of sharing that with her. I guess I wanted to feel connected in that way, retracing my mother's footsteps in a foreign city.

Everything that I knew about Vienna before going I had learned in school - Vienna as the seat of the Hapsburg dynasty and the capital of the Holy Roman Empire... Vienna as the home of Sigmund Freud... Vienna as the cultural, economic, and political center of Austria. I knew that Vienna was on the Danube river, and that many great classical musicians have lived and worked there. 

I booked my trip with Amy H., roommate extraordinaire, and I couldn't have chosen a more suitable travel buddy to explore Vienna with. Amy appreciates classical music and modern art, and Vienna is the place to discover these things. I fell in love with both. 

Amy used her Hostelling International membership to find the Jugendherbergen Wien on Myrthengasse, affordable at €36 for two nights and only a ten minute walk from the Museums Quartier. We stayed in a clean four-person female dorm with a shower, and breakfast was included. 

After checking in on Saturday afternoon we walked towards center city, between the identical off-white museum buildings at Maria-Theresien-Platz to Heldenplatz where we stumbled into some sort of military festival. It was an unexpected but lucky discovery. Amy tried a Wiener Schnitzel (sausage), and we both sampled generous cups of glühwein (warm red wine spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla). The glühwein was fantastic - like alcoholic apple cider - it warmed and revitalized us in more ways than one! 


 Festival at Heldenplatz; statue of Archduke Charles of Austria; Rathaus in the background

Glühwein

From Heldenplatz, we continued down Kohlmarket past the posh shops selling artisan chocolate, fine jewelry, and traditional clothing like dirndls and lederhosen. Turning right at Graben we were stunned at the sight of the buildings. Over the weekend, I really came to appreciate the spectacular architecture and urban planning of Vienna. At the end of the wide pedestrian boulevard was St. Stephen's Cathedral. The roof tiling was an attractive aspect of the church, and I was immediately struck by the similarities with the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The inside was beautiful, but more importantly warm! We only stayed for a few minutes because a mass was about to begin. 

Walking down the Graben boulevard


Amy with Stephensdom

Dinner that night was gulaschsuppe, a thick salty beef and vegetable soup served with a large roll. [Vienna is an expensive city, and Amy and I quickly learned that soup is usually one of the cheapest things on the menu and very filling, especially when served with bread.] The restaurant was L. Heiner on upscale Karntnerstrasse. 



We wound our way home through the Old Town. Although the shops were closed for the night, you could still look into them and see shopkeepers bent over books, possibly recording their sales for the day. There was something romantic about the warmth of the light inside and the old-fashioned technique of accounts kept by hand. We decided to explore the city at night, but first we stopped at Cafe Raimund for hot drinks. In other circumstances, I might have found the ridiculously large chandeliers, the lace curtains, and the red cushioned chairs with a leather bank and velvet back to be gaudy. In Vienna, it seemed appropriate and even atmospheric. A ten minute walk lead us towards government buildings such as the classical-style Parliament and the gothic-style city hall, or Rathaus. Both were illuminated, and seeing those majestic buildings deserted at night only added to the illusion of being in a city from another time.


Sunday was all about music and art, and plenty of it! First on our agenda was a Catholic mass at the Hofburgkapelle, where the Vienna Boys Choir would be performing. In fact, the choir has been performing at the Hofburgkapelle, the Chapel of the Imperial Palace, since 1498. The concert is free to attend if you didn't mind standing at the back of the small chapel. The choir was situated on a balcony above the standing room, and the effect of being able to hear but not see the voices of so many talented 10- to 14-year-olds echoing through the chapel was ethereal. 


Souvenir shopping

Our next destination was a must-see for Amy, and though I was indifferent about going, I did find the Mozarthaus interesting. From the museum, located behind St. Stephen's Cathedral, we hurried to the famous Ankeruhr clock in Hoher Markt, the oldest square in Vienna. Every day at noon twelve figures parade across the face of the clock accompanied by music. I was not prepared for the length of the event - I was expecting a quick three-minute song, but it dragged on much longer than that. We left once we had seen each of the figures, not wanting to wait for the end.  

See how slow it moves?

Sunday afternoon was rainy, but we didn't mind - we were headed indoors to the Leopold Museum. The cafe in the museum complex was lively and inviting, and we settled in for pumpkin soup with organic wholemeal bread. Again, the cheapest thing on the menu and very filling. It was also a lovely autumn meal. I haven't found pumpkin pie or pumpkin muffins or pumpkin spice lattes yet over here, it was late October, and I was craving something pumpkin! The Leopold Museum is definitely one of my top 3 favorite museums. I have to quote the museum website, because their focus description includes all of the artists that I was so immediately and emotionally taken with:

"In no other museum in Vienna one can get so close to the fabled “Fin de siècle Vienna” and witness the birth of Modernity. The collection shows how the art of the Habsburg Empire changed from strict Historicism and lovely Mood Impressionism within a few years to the worldwide unique “Wiener Moderne” which encompasses Klimt and Schiele as well as Oskar Kokoschka, Richard Gerstl, Koloman Moser and many other artists who are all well represented with major works at the Leopold Museum.
A further focus of the museum is on the Austrian interwar period, which brought out many important artists like Albin Egger-Lienz, Anton Kolig and Herbert Boeckl and partly points already in the direction of the second half of the twentieth century. This is why Austrian artists of the post war generation or exceptional works of the nineteenth century by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, Friedrich Gauermann, August von Pettenkofen, Anton Romako, Emil Jakob Schindler, Carl Schuch and others are repeatedly presented."
Death and Life by Gustav Klimt was an instant favorite, as well as the entire Secession movement, and I won't forget the impact of Egon Schiele's art on me. Amy and I spent hours and hours at the Leopold, so long in fact that at one point we had to break for hot drinks and cakes at the cafe. I greedily devoured my apfelstrudel, and was only persuasive enough to get one bite of Amy's Sachertorte (dry chocolate cake with apricot jam created by the Sacher Hotel in Vienna). My cafe latte was so rich it tasted like a milkshake. 


Sachertorte and apfelstrudel

It was still raining when the Museum closed and we were forced to leave. We still had one more thing planned for that evening: a concert at Musikverein. According to the unwieldy, outdated guide book that Amy carted with us all over Vienna, the Golden Hall in Musikverein is one of the four acoustically best concert halls in the world. The Concentus Musicus Wien was performing Haydn directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. The CMW specializes in historical performances on authentic period instruments. We bought last minute seats on stage for €21. 

Poor quality photo, but at least you can see our perspective from the stage

The symphony orchestra played four movements from different symphonies. The acoustics on stage were sensational. I could feel the steady pulse of the percussion instruments reverberating through the floor and hear the delicate harmony of the violins echoed by the far wall. In the third movement, the flute melody played in my right ear like a suggestion; the french horns bellowed in front of me like a confrontation. Sensational. Another great ending to a fabulous trip!

Four days in Oslo
















Well, I’m finally back in London after nine days of travel. I’m a little bit worse for wear, but I spent the most amazing vacation in Vienna, Prague, and Oslo.

You may be wondering how I ended up vacationing in Norway. To start, Norway fascinates me: the people, the history, the culture, the government, and the way of life. Norway is a peaceful Scandinavian nation of stunning physical beauty (and I could equally be referring to the landscape or the Norwegians – tall, blonde, and fit). They have universal health care, subsidized higher education, and a comprehensive social security system. I did not see the northern lights, or snow, or the extreme seasonal variations in daylight. And yet it is still magical to think of Norway as a land of midnight sun and winter darkness. Sadly, I didn’t spot any trolls or Father Christmas – I imagine I’d have to go farther into the northern forest for that. But although I’m fascinated by the country, the real reason that I chose Norway was the opportunity to visit my good friend Katja.

Katja is smart and adventurous and loves to travel; she has spent the last few years alternately traveling through Europe and Africa and studying in France and India. We met in 2010 at the Université Paul Cézanne in Aix-en-Provence, where we struggled together through ten hours of grammar class per week. By inviting me to stay with her this past weekend, she unwittingly agreed to be my full-time tour guide in Oslo, navigating the city, answering my non-stop questions, and directing us to great cafes, bars, and restaurants. I want to take a moment to thank Katja and her family for welcoming me into their home. After a long week of travel and youth hostels it was heavenly to sit down to a family dinner, curl up on a sofa, and generally feel taken care of. Katja was generous with her time, her family, her friends, her food, and her clothes – she shared so much with me and made my experience unforgettable. I hope that one day I can return the favor. Takk! Thank you so much!
-----
I left Amy in Prague on Thursday morning. Amy had been my travel companion in Vienna and Prague, but we were separating and she was headed for Bruges. Arriving at the airport three hours in advance of my flight was definitely unnecessary, as I spent over two hours sitting at the gate before boarding. On the positive side, I did finish A Certain Justice by P. D. James, which I had bought at Heathrow. I couldn’t put it down. When I arrived, I took the train from the airport to Oslo Central Station where Katja was waiting for me – with chocolate! We were thrilled to see each other, and walked around the city center as we caught up. That evening, we had dinner with her family – salmon and vegetables over rice – before meeting her friend Kristin for drinks in a hip part of the city. Unfortunately for me, prices are high in Norway and the exchange rate was brutal. I chose a Norwegian beer, Aass, for 66 kroner ($12). 60-66 for a half liter of beer or a glass of wine is standard. We talked for a long time about the bombing and the youth camp attach this past summer, Norway’s intervention in Libya, and the problem of rape in Oslo - mitigated with silly girl talk, of course.

Friday morning began with a typically Norwegian breakfast – Kaviar. Before you get the idea that Norwegians are ridiculously wealthy lushes who eat caviar like cream cheese, let me just explain that Kaviar is a salty, salmon-colored fish paste, which is very healthy and very cheap and also extremely pungent. We spread it on thick brown bread. Breakfast also included a pear, an orange, and some brie. The weather outside was chilly and overcast, but dry. We left around noon for Vigeland Sculpture Park. The park is the life work of the sculptor Gustav Vigeland, and includes more than 200 statues depicting the stages of life and the range of human emotions. The scale of the project was incredible, and the nude statues in bronze and granite were moving and thought-provoking. I loved the maze in the ground around the main fountain, which, according to Katja, takes several dizzying hours to complete. The park is well used and well-loved by the residents of Oslo.
 The maze



Afterwards, we headed towards the posh residential area to the Viking Ship Museum. The Viking ships and tombs discovered around Oslo were very cool, and there were sleighs, tools, and textiles on display as well. It was fun to compare the truth about Vikings to my cartoonish image of them. It may be inaccurate, but I picture Viking men seated on the benches of a long boat rowing for days on end, while a hulky bearded Viking in a horned helmet oversees them, eager to punish any slackers. Wherever they disembark they wage war, pillaging and plundering coastal villages. At least according to any parody I've ever seen. If you're interested in the Vikings, and their legacy in Britain, check out BBC'S Blood of the Vikings series (start here). But be warned, you may be disappointed to learn that Viking helmets did not have horns!

We devoured an enormous portion of Thai food at the Rice Bowl for a late lunch/early dinner and then went home to shower and change for our night out. Katja, Nora, Vanda, Kirstie, Kajsa, and I chatted over several refreshing Moscow Mules before venturing out so that they could show me the trendy bar scene. I was really impressed by how well the girls spoke English, and they were gracious and convivial hosts. We got on really well and had a blast. 

At breakfast on Saturday I tried Norwegian goat cheese, which is a semi-hard cheese with a rich ochre color. I was also introduced to an ingenious Norwegian invention: a special cheese cutter. I bought one later that day as a souvenir.

Katja and I explored downtown Oslo at a relaxed pace. It was beautiful outside, and the Opera House was a popular place to be that afternoon. The architectural design of the Opera is meant to invite everyone to come, not just those who can afford to attend the Opera. You can walk up wide paths to the top of the building, where a fantastic view of the Oslofjord awaits.

 The roof of the Opera

Oslofjord

We sat up there for a while admiring the view before declaring the necessity of caffeine and leaving in search of coffee. Katja lead us to Café Jaegar, where we ordered two lattes and one cookie, and sat on a couple of porch swings on the patio with comfortable cushions and blankets. It was a great place to take a brief rest before heading to the old harbor.

Katja enjoying her swing and her coffee

As I mentioned earlier, I bought a couple of souvenirs in Oslo: a cheese cutter, some ugly troll magnets, and a stuffed moose. Oh, and chocolate...

Goodies!

We ate sushi for dinner that night before turning up at Katja’s friend’s apartment for a “pre-party.” Having a few beers or glasses of wine with friends before leaving for the bar or club is common, even imperative, with the cost of alcohol in Norway being so high due to heavy taxes. I laughed the entire time we were there – here are some snapshots of the people I met, though I couldn’t possibly do them justice. There was Maria, our host, beautiful and riotously funny if very politically incorrect; Vidar, her unlikely but surprisingly well-matched boyfriend, nerdy and an advocate for Labour politics; Marius, an art student, who entertained us all by sticking Maria's novelty Star Wars chopsticks through his gauges; Christian, soft spoken and intelligent, interested in linguistics and chemistry; Kajsa, outspoken and animated, her personality fills a room. We talked about: making mistakes in other languages (and in the process teaching me everything NOT to say in Norweigan and Swedish, which actually wasn't too helpful), recounting embarrassing stories and fabricating alternate endings (ahem, Katja’s cameo in a Bollywood film), politics, stereotypes of Americans, and Norwegian culture. I learned a lot and laughed a lot, and after several hours we went to a nearby club called Blå.

The next morning, we caught a subway train to the entrance of the forest north of Oslo for a hike. The forest was a beautiful landscape of evergreen trees, bright yellow-green moss, and streams of clear dark teal water. We took a less trafficked trail, breathing in the cold damp fog as we ascended 700 meters to the Ullevålseter Lodge. It took just over an hour. Ullevålseter is a summer farm where hikers, cyclists, and skiers can rest and eat lunch. There were dogs and children everywhere, which seemed to illustrate two things to me: first, that rigorous physical exercise in nature is part of the Norwegian lifestyle; and second, that ir precisely the reason why the welfare system can work – the active lifestyle that is part of the culture means that the government can rely on a physically fit nation. Health care can be provided to all because in general the people of Norway are exceptionally fit. On the way down, we passed several lakes with surfaces as smooth and still as black glass. It was a wonderful end to the trip. 

Curry Night & Flea Market, east London

At the risk of sounding like my professor (no offense, Anthony!), the cultural significance of a curry night in England cannot be over exaggerated. In the last two months, I have noticed that Indian cuisine is at least as prevalent in London as British cuisine. I first experienced curry on the plane from America - I was served chicken curry on a British Airways flight, and I wasn't quite prepared for it. To be honest, I had never been properly introduced to Indian food.

When CAPA offered a free "curry night" in east London, I was curious. Not one to turn down a free meal, I signed up tout de suite. Fifty or so students turned up at SHERAZ Bangla Lounge on Brick LaneBefore the meal began our professor, Dr. Gristwood, gave us an introduction to the food, the restaurant, and the area. 

FOOD
I would have expected Britain's national dish to be a hearty meal of roast beef and yorkshire puddings, or maybe some salty fish and chips wrapped in newspaper. But no, according to former foreign secretary Robin Cooke (and popular opinion) chicken tikka masala is "Britain's true national dish."

RESTAURANT
The restaurant is located on Brick Lane, in London's East End. The next segment of the introduction took an unexpected (and unappetizing) turn toward murder. Sheraz Bangla is supposedly located on the site of the pub where serial killer Jack the Ripper's first victim downed her last pint in 1888! Below is an illustration of the discovery of Mary Ann Nichols' body. Mary Ann was the first of his 'canonical five victims.'
AREA
East London has long been an area associated with poverty, immigrants, and crime. Various immigrant communities have settled there over the last two hundred years, including Hugenots, Jews, Bangladeshis, and recently, Somalis. But the East End's reputation is recovering, and its residents are no longer strictly immigrants. Walking around the area I saw plenty of hipsters on Brick Lane and fashionable young professionals closer to Spitalfields Market. 

My meal was excellent: chicken with Saag sauce (spinach in medium spices), a side of Bombay Aloo potatoes, and naan. I also tried some of Kristina's chicken in Korma sauce (a yellow sauce with a sweet coconut flavor). 

Afterwards, Kris and I decided to do some shopping. My friend Aalia had recommended that we come down the street to the American Apparel London Flea Market once we had finished eating. We had absolutely no clue what to expect. At around 8:00pm, we arrived at the Old Truman Brewery at #81, as per Aalia's directions. There was a long queue out front, but we decided to wait and see if it would move quickly. It did, and about five minutes later we were allowed to enter the warehouse...

Inside, there were racks and racks and racks of discounted clothing. We searched through endless rows of dresses and leggings and tank tops. In the end, I bought five things. Usually I try to save rather than spend, but it's against my beliefs to turn down quality clothes at 75% off. I walked away with two thick acrylic scarves, a lace and raglan shirt, a bodysuit, and pink tights for just £30 ($46). Not bad for thirty quid!



In other news, my beautiful cousins sent me a Halloween card and it made my day! My aunt is Japanese, and the girls are learning to read, write and speak Japanese alongside English. On the inside of the card, both sides are decorated with drawings, Japanese characters, and a few short and sweet sentences in English. Thank you, Maya and Julia! I'm sending my love to you stateside!

** I know that I haven't written much in the past three weeks. My mom and stepfather, Jamie, were here to visit from the 6th through the 17th, and I couldn't find the time in between class, my internship, and pretending to be a tour guide. However, I promise updates on their visit soon. Hopefully there will be plenty of photos of Windsor Castle, Devon and Cornwall, and the Oyster Festival in Falmouth!


Also, I will be traveling through Prague, Vienna, and Oslo in the coming week. Although I have traveled extensively for my twenty-one years, I'm a bit nervous. I've been to most countries in western Europe, the Caribbean, and even to South America, but this will be my first time traveling to eastern Europe and Scandinavia. It's time to rally my sense of adventure (and my roommate Amy) and prepare for an amazing trip! The night before a trip is like Christmas Eve to me, as if I bought myself a fabulous gift back in September and had to wait to open it! OH, WAIT - I DID! A trip to Austria, Norway, and the Czech Republic :) Wish me Bon Voyage! 

Borough Market and a Football Match

Before coming to England, I made this sort-of bucket list. It began last spring and continued to grow through the summer. I added to it every time I learned something in a guide book, or read something in a magazine, or saw something in a movie, or was given a recommendation. By August, it was full of events and experiences I felt I couldn't miss out on in London. 


I'm surprised, looking back over the last four weeks, at how much I've crossed off that list that once seemed so extensive. In fact, the last two bulleted points on the list below were crossed off this weekend. 
  • See Shakespeare performed at the Globe
  • Attend a proper afternoon tea
  • Tour Buckingham Palace
  • London Fashion Weekend
  • Explore the markets and clubs
  • See a show in the West End
  • Attend an English football match
On Friday night, Kristina and I saw The 39 Steps at the Criterion Theater in Piccadilly Circus. It was wonderful. I was laughing the entire time. I think imdb sums up the plot concisely and accurately: 
"A man in London tries to help a counterespionage agent. But when the agent is killed and he stands accused, he must go on the run to both save himself and also stop a spy ring trying to steal top secret information." 
The top secret information is the nature of the mysterious "39 steps," revealed at the very end. What makes the play so fantastically funny and playful is the fact that only 4 actors play all 139 roles! At times, they may only switch their hat and their accent to become a new character. The plot moves quickly along as a result and the play is only 100 minutes total. Kris and I were seated next to a polite Welsh couple who were enjoying a holiday weekend in London to celebrate their anniversary. They said that the film version directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935 is considered to be one of the greatest British films of all time. I may have to add "watch Hitchcock's 39 Steps" to my to-do list.

The next day, all of the CAPA students were excited to attend our first football match. CAPA had given us tickets to see Millwall v Burnley at the Den in South Bermondsey. It didn't take us long to sort out why the tickets were free, but I'll come to that later.


touristy photo op!

Jill, Amy, Kristina and I decided to grab a pint near Borough Market before the match because there is usually a pretty lively crowd there on Saturday mornings. Borough Market is one of the largest food markets in London, selling not just fresh produce, but also artisan baked goods, fish, game, cheese, tea, jams, olive oil, honey, chocolate, and more. It was bustling with tourists and Londoners on Saturday morning. It seems to be a fashionable place to buy food. I want to go back again soon and visit the Southwark Cathedral: a large white church near the center of the marketplace, which gives the market a European atmosphere and feel. 


sampling an Indian chutney



We drifted into the Old King's Head Pub across the street around 1 o'clock. I opted for a Kronenbourg 1664 and the other girls chose cider. We stood outside to drink our pints, enjoying the warm weather and discussing movies (Amy is a film major). It was probably a good thing that we only had time for one drink before navigating to the stadium in the 85 degree heat. On the overground train from nearby London Bridge station, it was only a 5 minute ride, plus a 10 minute walk from station to stadium. 



"The Den"

The Millwall stadium looked run down, and the fans were rowdy but disappointingly unimaginative with their jeers and swearing. I had expected better from football fans nicknamed "hooligans" who are known for chanting "No one likes us, we don't care!" At least I can say I attended a football match in England! I wish I could go to a real game - like Manchester, Chelsea, Liverpool or Arsenal - but tickets to games at the Premier League level are over £100. Perhaps the next time I'm in England... when the pound isn't 1.5 times as strong as the US dollar... :)

LFW (and Carrot Cake)

girl waitin’ for the train
she’s got a shirt that says ‘addict’
wanna-be struggler
baby, I will show you a habit
["They Will Fall," Hype City Kings]

September is a fabulous month for fashion addicts. It is the month when the most creative and innovative designers from all over the world, having spent months trying to crystallize and actualize their ideas, finally share the product of their hard work.



September is like a season, and fashion week a migrating holiday generating excitement and inciting furious preparation as it approaches. It moves through New York and then London before decamping to head for Milan and finally ending in Paris. The shows during fashion week are exclusively for industry insiders and celebrities.

Which is why I was instantly curious when I came across an advertisement for London Fashion Weekend. I quickly discovered that after the final show, Somerset House converts the Fashion Week venue into a trade show for the public – and just anyone can snag an invitation to the catwalk! 

If you hadn’t already seen my Fashion Night Out post, or my post on contemporary British fashion icons, and therefore aren’t aware of my enthusiasm for fashion, let me tell you: I am a “nutter” (popular British term) about fashion. When I see a beautiful ensemble, I feel drum beats in my heart. It feels like believing in fairy tales - drum beats in my heart and magic in my eyes. I wish I could describe it better.


Jill, Anna, Amy, and I booked tickets for Sunday, September 25th - the final day. By Sunday morning I had developed a nasty head cold, but I was still determined to go. I threw together a decent outfit and marched across Waterloo Bridge (in heels) with my flatmates. It was worth it.
my gorgeous flatmates


There were five shows lined up that afternoon. Three were collections by individual designers and fashion houses: Jaeger London, Bryce Aime, and Osman. The other two were trend shows, compiled from pieces from several collections, and were titled the Great British Autumn and Rive Gauche. It gave us a little bit of everything, from established fashion house Jaeger London to the avant-garde Bryce Aime; from the impeccably chosen Great British Autumn to the in-demand Osman. The showspace was very hot due to all of the lights trained on the runway. It wasn’t long before I felt feverish, but the Jaeger London show gave me chills.

I am so happy that I went to the show. I didn’t buy anything from the boutique or vintage stands, but I didn't leave empty handed either! I had pre-ordered a show bag designed by David Koma, which contained baby oil, tissues, facial towelettes, an Elizabeth Arden face cream sample, flapjack sweets, Lavazza instant coffee, false eyelashes, a copy of Elle UK, and one diet coke in a limited edition bottle designed by Karl Lagerfeld.

The girls and I headed home that evening anxious to take off our heels and unload our show bags. After a bit of rest I went into the kitchen, where Charlotte was baking carrot cake. One by one the roommates filtered in. We spent the rest of the night dancing in the kitchen, taking turns trying on Charlotte’s new high heels, sharing stories and eating warm carrot cake. Laughter really is the best medicine. 



Here is the recipe for the cake, supplied by Charlotte. Obviously, we didn't make it as prescribed - we mixed everything by hand, forgot the cloves and nutmeg, used a 9x13 inch pan, didn't make frosting, and struggled with conversions and degrees celsius - but the cake was still delicious!!  I'm not sure whose recipe this was originally, but I'm a huge fan, and I'll be making it again soon.

For the Cake:
  2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  1 tsp baking soda
  1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  1/8 tsp ground cloves
  1/2 tsp salt
  1 pound carrots (6 to 7 medium), peeled and grated
  1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  4 large eggs
  1 1/2 cups safflower, canola, or vegetable oil

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and adjust your oven rack to the middle position. Spray two 8″ round cake pans with cooking spray, line the bottoms with parchment paper and spray the parchment paper.

Whisk together the dry ingredients from the flour to the salt in a bowl and set aside. Using a food processor, process the sugars with the eggs until they’re well combined and frothy, about 20 seconds. Keep the machine running then drizzle the oil through the feed tube. Process the mixture until it’s well emulsified, about 20 seconds longer after all the oil has been added. Transfer the mixture into a large bowl and stir in the grated carrots and dry ingredients. Make sure the mixture is incorporated well and no streaks of flour remain.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pans and bake for about 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Rotate your pans halfway through the baking period. Cool the cakes on a wire rack (in the pan) to room temperature.

For the Frosting:
  8 ounces cold cream cheese
  5 tbsp softened butter
  2 tbsp vanilla extract
  (Scant) 2 cups powdered sugar

Using a hand mixer, beat the top three ingredients together until well combined. Gradually add the powdered sugar as you continue beating the mixture. This will be enough to frost a two-layer cake.

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