..the secret life of daydreams..

a blog of the everyday beautiful

Monthly Archives: May 2013

oxfordshire

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The prestige of Oxford welcomed us with grey skies and light rain. We dropped off our bags at our hostel and headed straight into the center of town to catch a tour detailing the locations of the famous Inklings. In case you don’t know, I have a particular love of Lord of the Rings and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. He, along with C.S. Lewis of The Chronicles of Narnia fame, and a few other Oxford scholars, made up a literary group called the Inklings. They met in pubs in Oxford to discuss their works and share a beer or two. So when I saw that a tour was offered by Blackwell’s bookstore (one of the most famous bookstores in England), we had to do it. The tour didn’t go quite as in depth as I hoped, but there were some interesting tidbits mixed in. For example, our guide told us that Tolkien used to go drink at a pub called the Welsh Pony, and that there was a sign with a prancing pony at the entrance. This may sound familiar to those who know the Lord of the Rings, as Tolkien named the inn at Bree “The Prancing Pony.” It was very clear that the lives of these writers were very influenced by the environment they were surrounded in.

The other highlight was of course visiting the Eagle and Child pub, the legendary meeting place of the Inklings. The rooms were exactly what I would imagine them to be, dark and wooden, and I could just picture the clouds of pipe smoke drifting around the room as Tolkien or Lewis read a chapter from one of their books.

eagle and childeagle and childIMG_0972IMG_0973I also have to tell you about our guide. His name was Peter and I was reminded of an older and slightly disheveled Michael Caine. He had a disappearing white shroud of hair and his shuffling walk under a long black jacket made me think of a penguin. But he was a jovial sort and apparently enjoys giving these tours and meeting new people as he has been doing this for sixteen years.

Tour over, we went to the Bodleian Library which had a small but detailed exhibit on the history of magical books, which of course included everything from Arthurian legend to Tolkien and Lewis’ work, to more recent Oxford alum, Philip Pullman and his Golden Compass books. We got to see artwork hand drawn by Tolkien, as well as his handwritten notes and sketches for parts of his books.

We also took a tour of one of the oldest parts of the Bodleian Library, which was amazing. The books are literally hundreds of years old and are incredibly fragile, yet are still available to students who have a good reason to reference one. The only catch is, you have to be able to speak Latin or Greek…As for the rest of the library, we didn’t see it, but it would take a long time to look at it all, as it holds 11 million items and volumes! You probably wouldn’t get away with telling your professor you couldn’t find the right book…

Here are a few more pictures of sights around Oxford. Up first is one of the oldest buildings in Oxford. Some of the original timber can still be seen! (And I have to say, looks a lot like the town of Bree in the Lord of the Rings films. Maybe some more inspiration?)IMG_0964

oxfordoxfordBodleian Libraryoxfordbridge of sighsBelow is the Exeter College chapel, which is a smaller copy of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

IMG_1029IMG_1022The next picture is of the first great hall to be purpose built for the intention of learning and examination at Oxford. It was finished in 1483 where divinity students would do an oral examination in the form of a public debate with their professor. Now it is just a beautiful old hall through which graduating students make their way to the theater to receive their degrees.

IMG_1045IMG_1362Oxford is also a bicycle town. I suppose all the students use them to get around but I really was tremendous to see them locked up everywhere. You also have to be careful when you walk because they are extremely silent. I’d say the chances of getting hit by a bicycle could be very high so you have to triple check every direction before walking to make sure no cyclists are flying towards you!

IMG_1355IMG_1349Lastly, here I am at Blackwell’s Bookstore. Justin had gone to the washroom and found me like this when he came back:)

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Day two of Oxford saw us board a bus to Blenheim Palace, one of England’s finest country estates. It was awarded to John Churchill after his victory against the French in 1704 at Blenheim Battle. He became the 1st Duke of Marlborough and built a grand palace in the style of Versaille. It is surrounded by 2,000 acres of landscaped parklands, formal gardens, and a beautiful lake. Of note: Sir Winston Churchill was born here as a descendent of the first duke, although he was not in line to the dukedom. Here are some highlights:

IMG_1051IMG_1052blenheim palaceIMG_1286IMG_1252IMG_1203IMG_1348IMG_1343IMG_1279IMG_1324IMG_1071IMG_1254IMG_1258IMG_1135IMG_1080IMG_1107IMG_1109IMG_1114pheasantsIMG_1090IMG_1093IMG_1073IMG_1134IMG_1153IMG_1159We finished our day at the water terraces with some coffee and dessert.

IMG_1265IMG_1275Now it is off to the serene landscape of the Cotswolds, and as I write on the train, the green and yellow countryside flies by, highlighted by the rays of a disappearing sun, yet despite the speed in which they pass, these fields are timeless. Fieldstone cottages and little fluffs of white sheep dot the landscape and I can hardly wait to spend a quiet weekend among the hedgerows and fields hiking from one quaint and adorable town to the next. Next time I see you I will be in the little village of Stow-on-the-Wold. Cheers.

I will leave you with a picture of the Oxford ‘park and ride’ at the train station. Perhaps a little different from what we are used to…

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towers and time

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We love people watching, and London hasn’t disappointed. On the tube we saw a group of guys in their mid to late 20s dressed up as various superheroes (the hulk,  superman, batman, spiderman, and one poor unfortunate soul who had been picked to be wonderwoman). My guess is they were off to the Champions League Final game which was being held in London that day. Nothing surprises me when it comes to footballers.
Then there were two girls, also in their mid to late 20s, on the tube who didn’t really look like each other (either as sisters or twins), but were wearing completely identical outfits, down to the tattoos on their feet, their hairstyle (herringbone braids), those winter knit looking leggings, identical sweaters, and oversized bags with an american flag on them. Not only that, they had the same manicures, sunglasses, and white ballet flats with little bows on them. It was actually astounding. I had a rather hard time not gawking and wondering if perhaps they were fraternal twins of some kind, or best friends who desperately wanted to be like twins. Hard to say… Justin says he thinks they are twins but what adult sisters want to be seen in the same outfit? Never mind that, what adult female wants to be seen in the same outfit as someone else? Utterly confusing.
Lastly, we met this guy at a pub while I was trying to write this post. He says his name is Danny and that he is a down and out DJ who is making a comeback. According to him, he has a form of autism that gives him a gift for music, but combined with a bipolar disorder, he has burnt out. Apparently the music scene can be pretty exhausting. I’m pretty sure he had already had a few by the time he sat down by us, so he proceeded to tell us his plans for making it to the top of the charts by mixing 80s tracks into contemporary house music, which apparently is this years ‘thing’, and how he has all these tunes already mapped out in his head and how they will be huge hits. I’m not sure how much I believe, but he was entertaining to listen to. His sentences were peppered with “know what I’m saying”, “you follow me”, or “you understand?” in his heavy Irish-London accent. Pretty fantastic, although I did get concerned that he was going to stay there all night and pass out on the couch, but he did leave after about half an hour, probably on to the next pub.

On Monday we started the day out with the Tower of London. Travel tip: if you are planning to see more than a couple of the big sights in London (Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, St. Paul’s, etc.), then get a London Pass. You can get them in single or multi-day values and it really makes thing much easier. We bypassed a few ticket lines, which can be very long, and got ourselves straight into the sights. Not only that, but if you do the math on how many things you want to see (and what you can realistically see in a day), it can very easily work out to be cheaper to buy the London Pass instead of individual tickets.
We got to the Tower just a little after opening and made our way straight to the Crown Jewels; and with good reason, a couple hours later the line to get into the Crown Jewels snaked half way around the whole complex and would have been well over an hours wait. Best sight to see, the world’s largest cut diamond (clocking in a whopping 503 carats) in the sceptre used in coronations of England’s Kings and Queens.

From there we did a loop through the White Tower itself, where there are exhibits of armour and weaponry, as well as a special exhibit from the Royal Mint detailing the history of England’s monetary system and coinage.

IMG_0461IMG_0455IMG_0450IMG_0462IMG_0464We followed that up with a hilarious Beefeater tour (Beefeaters being the Yoeman Warders charged with protecting the Tower and the Crown Jewels. They are all retired servicemen of high rank who have served a minimum of 22 years in Her Majesty’s Service and who have been selected to live and work at the Tower of London). They are all very entertaining and funny, and provide a bit of history to the Tower.

white towerwhite toweryoeman warderIMG_0510And of course there are the ravens, which legend tells that when the ravens fly from the Tower, the kingdom of England will crumble. So… their wings have been clipped.

IMG_0505After we finished with the Tower, we head to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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Amazing. It is one of the most famous cathedrals in England and Europe, and it is stunning inside (again, no photos allowed). Justin just kept shaking his head in disbelief. We visited the crypt and saw Admiral Nelson’s tomb (famous for defeating Napoleon at sea in the Battle of Trafalgar), and then we climbed up a couple hundred stairs into the huge dome itself. Let’s just say my stomach did a couple flips looking down into the nave of the church. From there we climbed another couple hundred rickety winding steps up to the peak of the dome into what is called the Golden Gallery. It stands a towering 280 feet above London and we got a great 360 degree view of the city.
IMG_0518IMG_0522IMG_0578IMG_0546IMG_0552To round out our day, we took a river cruise from the Tower Hill dock back to Westminster (under Big Ben). It was great to see the city from off the river, not to mention some great shots of the Tower Bridge.

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The next day rolled in with rain, so I don’t have many pictures. We went to Greenwich to see the Prime Meridian as well as the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory. We learned about exploration and British naval dominance, as well as the longitude problem facing sailors in the 17th and 18th centuries. Simply put, pendulum clocks were accurate on land but did not work on the roll and swell of the sea. Therefore sailors could not compare their local time with a fixed time back home to determine their degrees of longitude, which meant many lost and shipwrecked souls during the age of exploration. The British government put out a prize for whoever could solve this problem and, after twenty-nine years of work, John Harrison developed an extremely accurate version of a pocketwatch that could be carried out to sea, thus solving the issue. As a result, our entire system of time zones and understanding of world time was developed. It is a humbling idea to think how we all take our watches (or phones) and clocks for granted these days. It used to be an immense challenge to figure out an accurate local time, never mind what time it was somewhere else in the world.

At any rate, here we are at the Prime Meridian, the place from which all time is measured. I can now officially say I’ve stood at the divide of north and south (equator), as well as east and west (prime meridian).

prime meridianIMG_0863IMG_0846IMG_0850And Justin is sad because it is raining. It literally did pour the few minutes, and it would seem only during the few minutes, we were outside on the line… oh well. We escaped the rain by heading to the Victoria and Albert Museum for the evening before turning in to pack up our bags as tomorrow sees us to Oxford!

please look after this bear, thank you

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We are at Paddington station waiting for our train to Oxford and I found a little statue of Paddington Bear tucked away in a corner of the station. I grew up reading the Paddington stories and therefore have always loved the little bear from darkest Peru. If you don’t know the stories, he is a very polite little bear who is found by a family at the Paddington train station. He is sitting on his luggage with a tag around his neck saying “please look after this bear, thank you.” After being found he goes on countless adventures in London with his new family. It really is fantastic for small children. Justin says he didn’t grow up with the Paddington stories so I have now resolved that our children one day will most definitely read them.

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Anyways, we are now off to Oxford where I will update on the last couple days in London. I had a hard time finding wifi in London (as our hotel didn’t have free wifi) that worked well so it’s been a bit difficult to get posts up. Hopefully after this it will be easier.

Note: my wifi failed at the train station right before I posted this so it had to wait a while. Finally posting and look for a second post to follow today on the rest of London!

underground war rooms and secret gardens

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So far it’s been a busy weekend. Turns out England has a bank holiday, which means a long weekend. Not only that, but London hosted the soccer Champion’s League Final on Saturday… talk about irony. Last time I was in Europe my mom and I were in Rome the very same weekend that the Final was held in that city (see posts here and here), and now here I am, four years later, in a different city, encountering the same event and the soccer fans that inevitably come with it. Oh well, we managed to avoid most of the pandemonium but did have a few chuckles over the behaviour and songs of the fans, who were mostly German. Let’s just say they liven things up a tad.

Regardless of that, we have managed to fill our days in London and we are getting used to using the underground to get around. Since I’ve used it before it has taken me less time to reacquaint myself with it and now we travel mostly without referencing our map. Here is Justin waiting for a train to arrive at South Kensington station.

undergroundundergroundThankfully the last two days have included glorious weather, which is a kindly change from the rain and cold that greeted us on Friday. It has been warm and sunny and that has made all the difference for us. Yesterday morning we started out by checking out the Portobello Street market. Apparently Saturday is the day to see this as 2,000 stalls and food trucks line the already quaint street to sell their wares. The large majority of stalls were selling antiques and I have never seen so many silver teapots and coffee pots in my life. Literally block after block was filled with merchants (and pedestrians), but the air was festive with musicians on the street corners, and the hustle and bustle of shoppers and tourists. The food stalls really were the highlight for us. Here are some pictures.

portobello road marketportobello road marketIMG_9950IMG_9952IMG_9954IMG_9955IMG_9957IMG_9962

IMG_9963IMG_9966IMG_9967We picked up a peri peri chicken sandwich (above) as well as a picnic lunch for later in the day, and headed into central London to see Westminster Abbey. No photography allowed inside but here is a photo of the exterior.

Westminster AbbeyInside really is amazing. It’s not the largest church I have ever seen but it is incredibly beautiful. And of course it is filled with the burial places of countless famous politicians, writers, artists, and royalty.

After we got out of the abbey, we headed across the street to a little green square to eat our lunch under the watch of Big Ben, with the requisite English ginger beer.

picnic lunchIMG_0021IMG_0025As we were finishing up we heard a bit of a ruckus behind us, which turned out to be a parade of mopeds (I think there must have been hundreds) making their way down the street. If you can’t imagine what that sounded like, it was rather humorous. Dave, we thought of you.

Feeling rested, we headed to the Churchill War Rooms, which are located in the actual underground bunkers that Winston Churchill headquartered Britain’s side of World War II from. It was rather incredible to walk around and imagine the bustle of secretaries and to think of generals plotting out battle fronts on wall sized maps. This is where it actually all happened. Where D-Day was decided and tactical decisions were made that shaped the war. All the rooms have been carefully recreated as they were in the 1940s thanks to photographs and eyewitness testimony. The map room in particular actually stands as it was the day the war ended. The generals who had been working there day and night since the start of the war turned out the lights for the first time and went home, leaving things exactly as we saw them today.

IMG_0041IMG_0042IMG_0043IMG_0046IMG_0047IMG_0060IMG_0063IMG_0064After the war rooms we relaxed in St. James park outside for a while before walking to Buckingham Palace. There is quite the array of birds and extremely tame squirrels in the park, and we (or maybe it was more me) were kept amused.

IMG_0096IMG_0101IMG_0073IMG_0116IMG_0125IMG_0146buckingham palaceIMG_0162IMG_0209We found the Canada gate as well. Surrounding Buckingham palace are several large gates that lead to the roundabout in front of the palace. Each gate is named after a country of the commonwealth.

IMG_0174IMG_0197IMG_0177From here we walked back to Big Ben and the Parliament buildings by way of Trafalger Square, and over the Thames, at which point we found a pub and had some fish and chips before making our way to our hotel for a well deserved night of sleep.

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The next day we headed to Kew Gardens, a 300 acre parkland and cultivated botanical garden, including several impressive glasshouses that were built for a world fair in 1848. We spent many hours wandering through different gardens, climbing up to a treetop walkway, and wandering through royal cottages and houses on the grounds. We really could have spent all day there and Justin was in love with the fact that all the trees and plants were labeled and tagged with their Latin names. An impressive feat considering how many hundreds of trees there must have been. Just like the Natural History Museum, this garden really showcases the reach of the British Empire at it’s height, when it had the capability to collect samples from all over the world and display it here for the public. Here are some highlights.

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After Kew Gardens we planned to head to the Imperial War Museum, only to discover when we got there that it was closed until July for renovations. Oops. Instead we got an early start on dinner and turned in at a decent hour. We stopped at an Italian place near Trafalgar Square and shared a pizza and a wine tasting trio. Delicious!

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Phew. That was a rather large post! I am now done my coffee and croissant and it’s time to go to the Tower of London for our next big day!

sleepless in london

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I wrote this yesterday but didn’t get it posted because I couldn’t get a wifi going… so here we go! I’ll get a post about today up soon as well.

So, day one in London has come and gone. We were greeted with grey skies and London drizzle, which did in fact turn into heavy rain at times, as well as wind.

Good thing we had things planned indoors! We got ourselves to our hotel to drop off our stuff, and despite the tempting call of bed and sleep after an uncomfortable red eye flight, we trekked out to the Natural History Museum.

I’ve been here before but it was all new for Justin, and as the biologist and scientist of the two, he was quite “googly eyed” (self described term). The amount of fossils and skeletons and specimens the British Empire has collected and displays here is nearly unbelievable, not to mention that it is a beautiful building. Justin told me I’ve set him up to expect big things of London after this.
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Justin taking in a giant sequoia tree that was well over a thousand years old when it was cut down!

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Justin had me take some pictures to show his co-worker Darcy. These drawings were done by naturalists in the past (before they had cameras and photographs), which is amazing because they really are so perfectly drawn. Justin said his students complain about having to do biology drawings so he wanted them to see these as a sample of the quality work that was done in order to put together the whole classification system we now know.

IMG_9893Lastly, there is a giant dinosaur skeleton in the main foyer that really is amazing, as far as I know, it is a diplosaurus and it is an imposing figure in the entrance. The Museum currently has a whole exhibit of dinosaur fossils and skeletons which really was amazing, but it was too dark to take any photos so all you get to see is this one.

IMG_9924IMG_9878IMG_9916After the Museum we headed into London to Leicester Square for some dinner, and we settled on a traditional English pub and Justin had a meat pie and a pint, while I stuck with a burger. It was a great end to our first day in London!

IMG_9933IMG_9939Thankfully tomorrow looks much more promising by way of weather, which is great because are heading to the portobello road market as well as Westminster Abbey and a few other sites that require lots of walking. Now it is time for bed. We have been awake since 6am the day of our flight and I don’t even want to count the hours! Cheers from London!

london calling

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IMG_9860Yep. That’s exactly what it looks like.

Bags, check. plane, check. passports, check.

Europe here we come! Justin and I are departing on a red eye to London Heathrow to begin our whirlwind tour of England, Germany, and Finland. We can’t wait to spend this month together exploring parts of the world that are new to us, not to mention we get to hang out together this whole time, not to go work, and have the time of our lives in some fantastic parts of the world.

Stay tuned here for lots of pictures and stories as we travel!IMG_9866

grapefruit champagne spritzer with ginger and basil

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Mimosas are always a classic choice for a midday brunch, but this year for Mother’s Day I was looking for something a little bit more interesting than just orange juice and champagne. I had decided on grapefruit as a base and went from there, finding recipes that included muddled basil and ginger ale. That was enough to spark some inspiration and I made a basil and ginger infused simple syrup and topped it with fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and champagne. Perfection. I love using fresh ingredients in drinks whenever possible and this is no exception. Cheers!

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grapefruit champagne spritzer with ginger and basil

ginger and drink

grapefruit champagne spritzer with ginger and basil