Scotland and York: It’s All About the Climb

Hello again!

In wrapping up these tales from my excursions abroad (late, of course), I would be remiss in not sharing one of my favorite days in the UK: our Scotland trip.

After we returned from Paris, we began a week packed with sight-seeing.  The plus side of this is being able to boast of seeing three countries and seven cities in under two weeks. The bad side: it makes being a culinary explorer a difficult role to maintain. In between chasing trains and buses and reading maps to figure out which way the Victoria line is going because you’re pretty sure you just went backwards, it’s tempting to go for the nearest food source- most often a close-by ice cream/sandwich stand.

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I discovered there’s nothing wrong with finding that ice cream stand. I made this lovely plain Jane choice an adventure here by adding a “flake.” It’s like the king of chocolate shavings that’s crumbly and delicious and packed into your ice cream swirl like an ice ax embedded in a creamy glacier from a lost exploration. I really enjoyed this ice cream, which I purchased outside Oxford Castle.

However, when you’re determined to try new things you have to remember that anything can be a learning experience, especially in food.

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This is a Middle Eastern Meze wrap with houmous, tzakziki, falafel, feta cheese, cucumber, roasted red and yellow peppers, rocket (British salad leaf), and a spinach tortilla. I also grabbed a Greek yogurt with pistachios, pomegranate, and chia seeds. This cute little meal is brought to you by the Euro Star’s food court: a pleasant way to kill an arduous two-hour wait for the train.

It was with this wisdom that I and my classmates embarked on a day-trip (for some an overnight trip) to Edinburgh, Scotland.  And so we began another day of seven-hours worth of travel-turned sight-seeing. It was so worth it.

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This is our view of Holyrood Park, home of Arthur’s Seat, the highest point in the United Kingdom.

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Our view of Edinburgh during our attempted climb to Arthur’s Seat.

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The inner courtyard of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s royal residence in Scotland. We got to see the rooms where Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley lived, including the place where David Rizzo, Mary’s Italian secretary, was murdered by Patrick Ruthven. I also got to see the Queen Elizabeth’s ceremonial robes and pin from the Order of the Thistle, the highest order of chivalry in Scotland.

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The ruins of the Holyroodhouse Abbey, built in 1128.

One of the best things about being abroad is seeing something you didn’t know was there, thinking “I’ll check that out” and being astounded to find something that leaves you awe-struck. The palace was fascinating and made up for not making it in time to see the inside of Buckingham in London.  My favorite experience though was the climb through Holyrood Park, which starts on the outskirts of the Palace and makes for an interesting workout.

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This park was more like a cluster of mountains that stretched up and up above the city. I couldn’t help but muse that in America there would be guard rails. Here, cliffs jut out providing an uninterrupted view of Edinburgh that’s simply breathtaking, both because of the beauty of it all and because the climb is exhausting.

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This was as close as I could get to a cliff shot. No feet dangling, no King of the World pose, and I may or may not have crawled on my stomach to get this close to the edge, but I felt the thrill of climb and the wind in my hair and that was enough.

This was not actually Arthur’s Seat, the highest point in the UK; it was one of the lower hills in the park.  However, the sense of accomplishment from reaching the highest point of the precipice was tremendous. It helped that I got to share it with my traveling companions.

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This is the only time I will ever own up to being involved in a picture that was taken with a selfie stick. It was great that we got to make this climb together, even if we are a little tired and wind-blown.

After we climbed back down, the real adventure began as three of us made our way back to the train station to try to get back to Oxford.  Getting the hang of traveling by Tube and train can often lead one to the false sense of security that they are really just ready for anything.  For us, this lasted until we realized we were either going to be waiting for an all-night train until 11:50 (we got to the station around 7:00), or we would be having to split up and make our way back to the Spencer House via different routes.  Electing to stumble home together, we chose a third option, that was available to us by sheer luck and proper planning from a third party: we went to York.

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York is home to some of the best-preserved Tudor-style buildings in England.

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Quaint little shops dot the city and make for a charming walk.

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This was a cute old church and the name of the street make me chuckle.

Getting to York was our quickest option and only involved a few train changes. We made it just before 11 and were able to stay at the Marriott thanks to our house-mom and house-grandmother’s kind efforts in negotiating a reasonable rate from the front desk on our behalf.  We got to take in a few of the city sights the next morning. By far, the best part of the unplanned trip though was the breakfast.

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English breakfasts involve some of the best comfort/travel recovery food I have ever had the good fortune of encountering. The bacon is very thick and more like salted ham, the beans are smoky and filling, and the sauteed mushrooms have a great flavor. In case you were wondering about the funny dark slice that looks like blackened cheese (I sure was before I ate it…), that’s haggis. This is sheep’s pluck (heart, liver, and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt. I’ve had haggis before at a Scottish festival in North Georgia and it was a harrowing experience. This little slice, though, was exceptionally good and had a nice spicy flavor. I highly recommend anyone who has (like me) tried haggis from a can and sworn off the stuff, to give the authentic breakfast version a try.

For all adventures abroad, it is vital to have a back-up plan.  In this case, our back-up plan led to a delicious breakfast and stroll through a darling little town. Sometimes it’s the things you never thought to see that stand out in your memories. And give you a chance to buy more chocolate.

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It was sheer luck that we got stranded in a town renowned for its chocolate. This is a giant hunk of fudge in the process of…doing whatever fudge does once it’s done becoming fudge and before it gets cut down to bite-size pieces. I would see this enormous blob as a personal challenge (which I would accept); hence, why I should veer away from chocolatier-related professions

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A Few of my Favourite Things

Hello all! 

This week has flown by so quickly and it’s hard to believe that this time tomorrow I’ll be on a plane coming home.  I’m excited to be back but leaving is bittersweet since these past few days have been some of the best. Here are a few highlights: 

  

On Wednesday we went to the mini-cooper plant to learn about sustainability in action.


The plant was an eye opening experience as it’s not everyday one gets to spend a couple hours with 1,000 self-updating/repairing robots that stand approximately 9 feet tall with claws at the end for gripping, welding, fusing, etc.  It was like being in something out of War of the Worlds watching them work on the cars. They were clustered in groups of four in stations where they focused on one feature of the manufacturing process.  The robots would recognize the make and model of the car based on the parts they received and get to work. The little claws would pass within inches of each other but never touch because of motion sensors. It was creepy but fascinating. The plant is capable of producing between 700-900 cars per day and, despite having so many robots constantly at work, only employs 90 people to oversee their operations on the factory floor. 
 

My new robot pal. Don’t we pose well? Maybe she’ll make me a mini…


 

Just the girls and Austin Powers’s car.

  
After the mini-plant we got to enjoy a quiet afternoon and an unexpected trip through Port Meadow. On the opposite end of the development spectrum from the mini-plant, these 300 acres were a gift from Alfred the Great to the Freemen of Oxford and have not been ploughed in the last 4,000 years. The land was reserved for grazing livestock according to the Domesday Book of 1086.  This is how it has been used ever since. 

  

 Of course, as all good stories must (according to me) involve- there was an excellent meal to be shared amongst our horde. Nestled along the bangs of the River Thames, which borders the meadow, was a charming little place called the Perch.
 

We arrived just in time to miss the rain.

 
 

The view from our seats inside just after the rain.


 

My fantastic dinner: the fish plate


This darling appetizer is comprised of (moving clockwise starting with the pink stuff): crayfish cocktail, smoked mackerel pate, dill cured herring, and a salt cod cake.

The pate had an excellent smoky flavor and wasn’t too rich or salty. The herring was a bit different but had a nice texture. The cod cake and the crayfish were my favorites. With something so rich, who would have room for desert? 

  

Check out my desert! This is a St. Clements Mouse with lavendar shortbread- very sweet and citrusy and custard-y.


 

Look closer. Isn’t it the cutest? I love good presentation.


After dinner we all walked home together (this was a whole-group excursion) and we had the pleasure of seeing the meadows relaxed and quiet at dusk.

  

  

Met another English cow. The livestock is not particularly obliging to my offerings of friendship


 

Lawrence of Arabia’s house, which we passed on the walk there


This day taught me a lot about what I value most as a traveler. It’s fascinating to see where time and technology have maintained old structures and added to them to accomodate thousands of years of growth and history-sharing. It’s also incredibly moving to see a place that’s spent thousands of years staying the same and realizing that centuries of conquerers, monarchs, and passing laws have all left this patch of land and collectively agreed that it is enough just as it is and has always been. 

  
 Understanding the juxtaposition of what is maintained and built upon versus what is left alone valued for its simplicity is the key to grasping why this country is so revered (to me at least). I can marvel at the way the tubes rattle on below London while clutching my ratty kavu bag and wondering at the number of nationalities squeezed in the queu beside me and in the same day walk around ancient grounds left untouched by time that races around, above and below them. It’s a beautiful balance. 
I have a couple more posts from our jaunt to Scotland and another trip to London, but after that it’s homeward bound for us! 

So long for now!

  

 
  

The Queue-pid Shuffle: Getting around in London

Greetings! 

After a relatively low-key day, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on how these travels have changed my perspective on what it means to be abroad.

Yesterday we went to London again for a trip to the British Library. This is probably one of my favorite sites in England because of the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. There were no photos allowed in the actual gallery, but everything from Jane Austen’s writing desk to lyric scribbles from the Beatles to the Magna Carta is in this dimly-lit room, free for public viewing. 
After the library, we got to duck into a little pizza restaurant across the street. Not to be a snob or anything, but I know good pizza- authentic Italian and otherwise. Founded in 1965, Pizza Express boasts of its American Hottest pizza, which comes with pepperoni, hot green and roquito peppers, fresh red chili, spicy hot soft ‘nduja sausage, tomato, and buffalo mozzarella, finished with torn buffalo, mozzarella, fresh parsley and chili oil.

  
   The American Hottest. As an American pizza fanatic, I cannot say this was the hottest pizza I’ve ever tried. The flavor was excellent and the chili added a unique heat mixed with the sauce in little pesto-like puddles of spice. I find the authentic Italian pizza style with the clusters of mozzarella very appealing as well. It helps the pizza-consumer enjoy the freshness and of the cheese as a compliment to the other toppings. On behalf of America, I thank Pizza Express for a very good shot at an authentically Italian, British at-heart and spice-level, and American-styled pie. I’m definitely glad I tried it. 

 After our trips through the museum, we got to go our separate ways for the day. For a couple of us, this meant a trip to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard, Westminster Abbey, and Harrods department store. 

  
   Buckingham: another attraction that is a must-see and always packed.

 Harrods was a must-see as well and I was dying to know what all the hype was about. I wasn’t dissapointed. And that was before I left the chocolate station. 
  
  This chocolate is coated in 24k gold 
   In case you thought I was joking.  

   
   

Literally every bit of this stuff had me entranced.  It was like being in a museum where the taste buds are the eyes into the chocolatier’s soul. 

Do you think a totally kitschy line like that ought to get me a free sample? No? The guy behind the Belgian chocolate counter didn’t think so either. 

  
Still got a sampler’s box because…well, have we met? 

The trip through what little bit of Harrod’s was eye-opening in that oh-my-Gucci, why didn’t I wear heels, no wonder the people behind the channel counter aren’t offering me a perfume spritz, sort of way.

The trip to and from Harrods was even more enlightening. I and two other students set about this day trip once we broke off from the group. What ensued was nothing short of a migration. The thing about traveling abroad for the first time that so many cannot understand until they’ve done it- the simple trip to a point of interest involves anywhere from 2-5 modes of transportation-all with their own selection of bus changes, delays, long lines, and scurrying through those little metal twisty things that admit you to the right side of the train station…and then try to eat your luggage before you can roll it through.

Patience and map-reading are skills that (when you’re like me and don’t come by them naturally), you cultivate out of necessity.

This is another reason why having a group comes in handy: at some point one of us is going to get this right. An added bonus: we can take turns wearing the tourist cone of shame in the form of giant map stretches out 4 feet in front of us that we can present pleadingly to the nearest train depot coffee shop barrista. 

To give you an idea of what a trip from Paddington rail station is like: observe the scene below:

 

I thought the monochrome would convey the tension in the air better as this shot was taken in an 11th hour moment when the cashier at the Paddington Burger King was witholding a quarter-kilogramer and we had five minutes left to catch our train home. Spoiler: we made it!

 
See the people staring up at the screens watching for arrivals? The dude with the sandwich trying to scarf something down before sprinting to the platform? This is the norm. 

I’ve found I really enjoy the rush of traveling by tube and train, but there are times (like for instance when I’m over a mile below ground in a tiny train making physical contact with strangers crammed against every side of my body) when it gets stressful. 

The biggest culture shock, aside from tear-inducing upper-echelon chocolate, is the transportation. I may not be completely acclimated, but I definitely appreciate how it’s useful. Having so many people trying to navigate London on foot at would time would making navigating buses and vehicles through the streets impossible. 

Additionally, this allows the people who can’t afford to live in the city a means to get to and from for work and to take part in the culture. Having a diverse group of people is vital in a tightly-packed city because it keeps the area alive with different modes of art, music, architecture, and (my favorite) food.  

Long lines and packed trains are part of a way to stretch the city’s reach and influence and maintain its inner growth and development as an internationally-valued culture hub. 

It’s an important part of the metropolitan lifestyle and helps me navigate better to chocolate. 

I consider myself an enlightened traveler.

More later!

  

A Visit to Cambridge

Howdy! 

As we kickoff another week in England, we have by no means slackened the Paris pace that kept us trotting along from national monument to macaron shop and back again.  According to my trusty Fitbit, my average steps per day is up to 20k.  This is not boasting; I move slower than the average British senior citizen when it comes to huffing it through the city.

We started the week with a day trip to my favorite old stomping-ground.

 

Cambridge how I missed thee! It was a beautiful day and I got to see some of my old favorite places down King’s Parade and visit the Copper Kettle.

 
 

This is a Mare jacket potato. It’s stuffed with cream cheese, sour cream, and smoked salmon and comes with a side of shrimp mayo. Very rich! The shrimp mayo was more like a creamy yogurt with garlic and other spices.

We also got to go punting, and activity that involves sitting on a boat placidly while a bloke pushes you down the river Cam and talks about the history of all the colleges as you pass them. Hands-down favorite from the day. The punters all have stories to tell about the famous shenanigans of the colleges’ histories. For example, our punter talked about the knight climbers, a secret society at Trinity College below. One famous prank from the society involved placing a traffic cone on top of one of the two top spires of the building below.  Once the college had almost completed building on the scaffold they had to erect to remove the cone, they awoke one morning to find it was gone- and moved to the other spire.  

It’s not a real trip to Cambridge without a glimpse of Trinity College

The thing I love about Cambridge is the mix of ancient college town and grassy meadows. The pitch for punting is that those on tours get to see the “backs,” or all the colleges that edge up to the river bank. So many of the colleges under the Cambridge University umbrella are neighbors and it’s especially interesting to see structures that date back to the 1500s sharing ivy vines with computer-designed buildings from the 1960s and later. 

This puts a different spin on conservation because it shows how a space has to accommodate for new growth and add to its culture to keep it alive- changing to stay the same in a way. 

That’s all for now! More to come tomorrow on the more technical side of sustainability and some really good chocolate.

So long!

Au Revoir! 

Bonjour!

As we slump on the last leg of our long journey back to Oxford on the X90 charter bus, I’d like to share a little insight into the study abroad experience based on the last three days.

I’ll start from Saturday.

After my mishap with duck liver, my culinary adventures only got better. Here are a few highlights:

La crepe antillaise: a crepe smeared in chocolate sauce topped with bananas, whipped cream, and pistachio ice cream. Also, fresh hard cider. We found this spot at a little cafe outside the Palace of Versailles.

Speaking of…

The Palace of Versailles! When Marie Antoinette spoke begrudgingly to Louis XV’s mistress, her exact words were: “There are a lot of people at Versailles today.” I think the snidely vague comment was probably a curse. Never in my life-even at the Louvre- have I been crammed into rooms with so many people. Hundreds of languages, an overwhelming deluge of floral-printed wallpaper and gold accents, and the general gradeur of the building alone had me dizzy. It was a must -see.

Later on that night, we went to a little cafe beneath our hotel.  I continued to hit the jackpot with food choices even though I was craving something utterly boring.

I wish I could add pork belly as a staple to all of my caesar salads. The meat was rich and tender and paired with the roast chicken and rich rich dressing. Add in the fresh bread and I completely forgot I chose something healthy, mainly because, well…I didn’t. And it was awesome.

Next on the evening’s agenda was a climb up the Eiffel Tower.  I only went up to the second level because by the time we arrived the elevator had shut down, but the heights I could reach I climbed on foot! I am especially proud of this because I’m terrified of heights and the stairs to each level are bordered by a rail and a wide wire netting along the steps that leaves nothing to the imagination.
Before I get to that, I want to say that standing at the base of this structure was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. Seeing things that are so iconic in history and in the media today in person is like joining a really cheerful riot; everyone seems altered by being in the presence of something so great and it’s a dizzying euphoria.

I interrupted this dapper gent’s picture standing on a park bench with the tower when I said to my group: “I want to do that…” The kind stranger (a fellow-American) promptly invited me to his perch while he relocated so he could photobomb me . It was a good moment.

Next there was…the climb!

I wanted one last pre-climb selfie. This is about the time I started noticing how tiny and antlike the people moving on the stairs above , which also made me realize that if I could see them then they could probably see me. Hundreds of feet below…

Alas, we made it! On foot, no less! I wouldn’t have traded the climb for anything. It was another item crossed off my list that I absolutely wanted to do.

Speaking of things I wanted to do, check out this fabulous assortment of bread. This darling bouquet of carbohydrates greeted me every morning at the hotel’s complimentary breakfast. French bread is truly worth all the hype it gets. Flaky, buttery…this is the fuel of champions…and those recovering from climbing/creeping/crawling with eyes squeezed shut up a high structure.

For our last day, we elected to remain destination-free. I think this is something that those who travel abroad as students absolutely have to do as part of learning from a culture.

While abroad, it is so easy to be caught up in trying to navigate in a new area while seeing museums, palaces, and landmarks, you can accidentally overlook seeing the most eye-opening thing of all; for so many people, this is home.

It may seem obvious, but when you spend five hours shuffling from royal quarters to portrait galleries to armories, it’s hard to reconcile all of this standing homages to the past with a present that’s thriving with a life and culture of its own.

I and a few fellow-students all noticed a uniquely shaped building when we climbed the Eiffel, and in the spirit of having a go-with-the flow day with no  must-see sights to worry about heading to early to avoid lines, we set out on a somewhat directionless track.

This is what we found. The Basilique du Sacre Coeur, conveniently located at the highest point (butte Montmartre) of Paris- located at the top of nearly a mile’s worth of heavily inclined cobblestone road. So much for the light stroll we planned.

The Catholic Church, completed in 1914 and consecrated just after World War I, was dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Franco-Prussian War and as a way to mend social divides that occurred in the wake of the French Revolution. The church also stands for efforts to restore monarchy and reinforce the faith through national support to the Pope through the Third Republic.

View of Paris from its highest point

Today, the city maintains the church as a house of worship. Tourists can circle through the main rooms but are asked not to speak or take pictures. As much as I enjoy the hustle of running to the spots I wanted to see and FINALLY getting admitted amidst hordes of people, I think what makes the most profound impression out of all my Paris jaunts is seeing walls and walls of candles lit up around the middle of this church with people in the middle oblivious to the muted buzz of visitors around them. Places like this aren’t just preserved for history; they’re kept out of genuine love for what they represent to the people who need them.

Another great part of today’s travels toward the church included taking in little shops and bistros unlike anything we had seen.

The view from the cafe where we sat outside and had lunch.

There were little cheese shops, fish markets, and a candy store we had to check out- and with excellent results.

I was literally a kid in a candy store here.

My take-out bag. This wolf/bull thing is my spirit animal

There was proof that real people live here and keep this fairy-land like place alive by loving it not just for what it represents from history, but what it is today, which is home. This is the mindset that preserves buildings and art for future generations. It’s what makes me leave knowing that I’ll come back and these cherished structures will still be there, possibly altered with the times, but maintained as parts of daily life.

On a less-sappy note, EuroStar meals rock.

Here we have a flaky whitefish the name of which I can’t remember-served chilled with a fruity couscous and, of course, bread, along with a peach tart, white wine, and tea to go with dessert.

I’m turning in for the night but suffice to say the Paris trip was a triumph in more ways that I could have anticipated.

Tomorrow the learning continues back on the other side of the Channel.

Bonsoir!

Breaks, Boulangeries, and Broken Francais 

Hello again! We’ve made it to Paris and as a conclusion to our first full day, I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned thus far.

Un.

Foie gras is just not my thing.

This dish is riddled with duck at various stages of decomposition. At the top of the plate, we have a drumstick that was good, but a little greasy and too dark for my taste. On the bottom, resting like a docile sliver of cranberry sauce is preserved duck- duck jerkey? It was tough like a steak but still slimey enough to remind me it’s bird. Then, right there in the middle is the infamous liver. I wish I had better words to covey my simultaneous humility and awe at being in this wondeful place to have the opportunity to try this food and the extent to which this uncooked goop freaked me out. It was on a bed of lettuce so I’m rationalizing that ‘s why parts of it were green. The toast was good and the experience was educational. On to the next one!

Deux.

There is a moment in all travel group excursions when there is this inevitable break. When you’re in a high-traffic area it’s impossible to keep people in a close-knit cluster all the time. Someone will become isolated from the herd. When you’re traveling with a group of students, this moment of separation can be especially disconcerting. In anticipation of the moment, it’s a good idea to prepare, and by prepare I mean secure your food supply and find wifi hotspots.

Food supply: check! just kidding but aren’t they gorgeous?

I couldn’t pass these up though. One does not go to Paris without trying a macaron.

Blueberry macaron. No regrets

Like seriously…none.

Trois.

Studying abroad as a college student, even in a graduate program, puts you in this mindset that’s something like this: “I’m an adult! I mean really…right?” Because even when you’re in your 20s, traveling with a professor is like having a “grown-up” there to whom you should always check in because well, you’re in a foreign country and having this authority figure as a constant point of contact feels like tethering yourself to some kind of structure, and also proof that an institution is obligated to come looking for you if you go missing.
However, in a busy place where everyone has some interest that captivates them and causes fissures in the group, that tether gets cut. For me, this happened roughly around 11 a.m. in the Louvre.

On the first floor, among the Greek sculptures, I looked up from Minerva’s torso to find myself alone. What followed next is incredibly campy, but it happened and it’s significant and I’ll share it nonetheless.

I felt a slight panic as my responsible student self insisted that I flit around crawling over marble if I had to (figuratively of course…maybe) to rejoin the comfort of my English-speaking cohorts. But then I stopped. And I looked down the hall and made eye contact (or as close to eye contact as one can make with marble) with someone whose journey I needed in that moment as inspiration for my own.

Venus de Milo. And the passel of tourists that perpetually surrounds her. I credit this image to all who were elbowed in its procurement (I am sorry, but you kinda deserved it )

There I was in a sea of strangers getting thwacked by selfie sticks and those odd plastic flower stalks that tour leaders use to usher their groups, and I was awed to tears.  This icon in history was standing in front of me and seemed to be saying with her assuring smile: “Just get lost for awhile; trust me you’ll be fine.”

And so I walked on looking, not for the safety of familiar faces, but for the works that would leave me entranced and marveling. In the process, I encountered the following:

This great lady

  

This significant ceremony

This chick. ‘Nuff said.

This ceiling …and come to think of it virtually every ceiling in that place. Gorgeous!

This room from Marie Antionette’s apartments

And these two deeply in-love and immortalized characters who live together forever in marble and in myth

Quatre.

The Louvre is awesome. I spent hours just searching through the rooms and stumbling across pieces I never dreamed I’d see in person. After I took it all in it was all I could do to haul myself up to the food court.

I’m growing quite fond of Mediterranean food. Hummus and croutons and grilled zucchini salad that had a sharp vinegar-garlicy flavor. Great stuff.

Cinq.

There a million ways to ask for directions, but in a foreign country it’s best to stick with the one that reconciles gratitude and cockiness. Something that conveys: “you don’t know how much I appreciate you telling me which way the Luxembourg train station is so I don’t have to walk down a creepy abandoned street again” and, at the same time, “but, yeah, you know with the exception of being slightly confused on which direction I’m going I’ve totally got this. Really. And I would be a nightmare as a hostage. Like, the ransom you would demand would not cover the food bill.”

After my solo jaunt in the Louvre I realized it would be my fate to walk the city streets alone this day. I had a map, a copy of Lena Dunham’s autobiography, and enough euros for admission to something cheap and leftover change for my next pastry. I was a woman with resources!

And I got lost anyway. A lot.

But on my way around the city, purposefully or not, I had more encounters.

Hotel de Ville

Notre Dame

an excellent and ironically named wi-fi hotspot. A dear friend of mine, Kim, would call this a positive nod from the universe and I would be inclined to agree.

The Luxembourg Palace and Gardens.: an ideal place for a picnic or reading a fabulous book in the sun. Also full of people widely spaced enough to where you can ask someone to take your picture, explaining shyly that it’s for your mother, and be confident that you could tackle them to the well-manicured lawn in a flash if you had to run after them to get your cell phone back.

Six.

The French can work a spud and some cheese. After I met back up with my group, we went to this little restaurant called Chez Papa. This was my dinner:

Truffade. Think enchillada only stuffed with rich cheese, creamy butter sauce, scalloped potatoes, chunks of ham, and bits of spinach. Also, the shell, or crisped binding element here is cheese.

So all in all I’d say it was a good day. I think the big worry for so many going abroad is not having any idea of what you’re doing. This is unavoidable, but figuring it out is its own adventure. Learning to navigate a city and find my way to the sights that leave me awe-struck has been an amazing experience. I got to dive into this culture and figure things out for myself while being constantly struck dumb by everything I got to see. It’s been a dream and I can’t wait to see more tomorrow.

Cheers!

Getting Ahead: Sustainability and Awesome Italian Food

Howdy folks! 

We’re gearing up for a fantastic long weekend in Paris but before we go I wanted to catch up on the ground we’ve covered thus far. 

First of all, this pizza was fantastic. Never had egg on my pie and this dazzler came with ham, sausage, artichokes, bell peppers, etc.  We got it at this cute little place in Summertown. 

 
On Tuesday, we visited the Ashmolean Museum and met with the chair of sustainability for Oxford City Council. Both were eye-opening experiences. 

The Ashmolean though, to be frank, was a huge bust. 

See what I did there? Even Apollo cracked a smile.


This was some of the most fascinating stuff from civilizations all over the globe. A lot of the pieces, particularly those from Ancient Greece, got me thinking about what it means to preserve what we have and how it’s vital in history to keep the artifacts we have available for study and accessible to the public. 

We only fully understand where we are once we grasp that from which we grew as human civilization. But here is the dilemma: what happens when our reverence for relics from history, whether it’s Westminster Abbey or a fragment of an Eqyptian statue, jeopardizes their existence? 

This statue of Aphrodite dates back to about 200 AD . You’ll notice several things missing here, but for some reason this piece is more gripping than many of the Arundel Marbles that were restored sculptures that took remains like these and spruced them up with new parts.

Glass cases and heavy security can only do so much for preserving the artifacts that we celebrate. They are our link to all that came before us, but when we have displays that see so much traffic through tourism and travels, these pieces are put at risk for wear and tear. So what’s the priority: public right to access art as civilized society, or the relics that are the proof of how we came to have civilized society in the first place? 

 

In the spirit of trying to illuminate the answers to deep questions, check out Guy Fawkes’s latern, believed by many to be the one he carried when he was apprehended that famous November 5

 
The answer is in sustainable practices. There was a whole floor of the Ashmolean devoted to the discussion of preservation and restoration. Simply put, making use of what we have to strengthening our link to what was is the way to keep maintain our history through artifacts. Not necessarily sculpting a head for sculpture 1500 years after its creation, but finding ways to make what exists from antiquity last. 

Side note: this was a great cafe lunch for a busy day. The sandwich had fresh mozzarella, dark greens and tomato and the sour cabbage soup was hearty with little chunks of potato. Cheap eats can be delicious too!

This idea of preserving what is for future generations to enjoy is also prevalent in Oxford’s city government. The city sees about 9 million visitors per year and that number is growing. 

 

The city center is always packed. There are few individual cars compared to buses, which have been redesigned with low-emission engines

 
 To keep Oxford in its resplendent traditional state, citizens have to abide by legislation that prioritizes the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags here are not free. It is highly encouraged that people bring their own reusable bags. In another example, the city’s transportation system is mostly dependent on buses. 

In Columbus, when the population grows, we demand more roads to accommodate the traffic. Would we do the same if we were surrounded by churches and colleges that were hundreds of years old? 

My eyelids are getting heavy so I’ll leave this post with some deep thoughts to discuss later.  Suffice to say that no system can focus on either the quality of life for people today or the quality of life for people in the future exclusively; there has to be a balance. 

Just like with people, the relics of our culture have to be an investment not just as today’s attraction but also as tomorrow’s vital resource for understanding. 

To break up my usual long-winded-ness, behold more noms! 

 

This cappellini was fantastic. The mushroom sauce was thick and flavorful and steamy enough to keep the thick layer of cheese melted at a perfect consistency. The crepes were stuffed with spinach and ground beef and mixed so well with the sauce and cheese. The little Italian bistro where we ate was a quaint find a block down from the British Museum.

 
That’s all for now! 

Confections and Other Humbling World Wonders

My first full day in Oxford was riddled with sweet discoveries. I’ll start with Christ’s Church and an exemplary cookie. 

 

Christ Church- view from the gardens and considered by many to be THE sight to see in Oxford

 
We walked through the college, the great hall, and the cathedral which houses the remains of St. Frideswide, Oxford’s patron saint who is thought to have first established the church as a monastery in the 700s. Frideswide was the daughter of a Saxon king who restored sight to her suitors after they were blinded by lightening for trying to force her into marrying them. After this occurred, the smart chaps let her alone and she was able to live in peace performing miracles from the priory she always wanted. 

After learning this fabulous bit of history, I got to go visit Oxford’s covered market, which originated in the 1770s and is a cornucopia of fabulous noms that I’ll be visiting frequently. Check out the scarce remains of this triple chocolate chunk cookie I purchased from a little place called Ben’s…

 

Thick and fluffy texture, full-bodied chocolate taste enhanced by crisped slightly melted morsels dotted throughout. It was flaforul like moist cake, chewey like a spongey brownie, and chocolate like everything that was ever good on this earth.


 

The Market

     

Ben’s. rest assured I’ll be back

 
Next, we went on a walking tour that included a trip to Merton College, one of the three oldest colleges in Oxford (Balliol andUniversity
being the other two- the question of which is THE oldest is an ongoing dispute but they all date back to the 1200s)  

Merton’s Cathedral, which maintains the same original stained glass from the 1400s

Merton College was also the residence of King Charles I’s wife during the English Civil War when Charles made Oxford the Royalist capital while The Parlimentarians maintained London as their stronghold. I got to stand under the archway below the room where the doomed king and his French queen met for the last time before she returned to France and he was executed. Cool stuff.

On a happier note, here’s another pic from the Turf Tavern , which we revisited for a history lesson.

 On this walking tour, we passed by this seemingly ordinary house… 

See the little room up top? That’s been closed in ; it was originally where the famous astronomer Edmond Halley perched to survey the heavens. This was his home in Oxford in the late 1600s


We also saw this quaint little line of shops across a road that had a strange marking in the middle.

 

See the cross in the pavement? That is where Queen Mary burnt three Protestant bishops at the stake. The road was once a ditch where people threw rubbish. This is a pretty good example of what it means to add insult to injury


To end this jaunt through town for our history lesson, I got my first English afternoon tea in quite awhile. It was delicious. 

Clotted cream and a berry currant tea cake. I could weep.

Antiquity is a competitive quality here. A room across the street from this shop is called the “The Grand Room” and claims to be the oldest tea house in Oxford founded in 1650. This place claims the same despite the four year difference. I feel compelled to sample both to get a basis of comparison. And more tea cakes. Stay tuned!

To end the day,  I’m heading out for a pint with some school mates. One of the best things about study abroad is getting chummy with your fellow-world travelers and finding common ground as you stumble around with maps and selfie sticks trying to be inconspicuous. 
More to come soon! 

A Crepe Start 

Greetings from across the pond! 

My first day in Oxford is drawing to a close and in the spirit of this incredibly long day, I thought I’d share some of my feelings on global travels from the perspective of the jet-lagged noms-enthusiast. One of my favorite things about the Atlanta airport is that you can get nearly every kind of food there. For my pre-flight departure meal, I got to chow down on a turkey bacon chipotle ranch crepe pictured below. The meat was shredded and mixed with the chipotle, almost to a chicken-salad like consistency, with chewy bacon bits the authenticity of which I did not see a real need to ponder. It was tasty, it was filling. It was conveniently provided by the same establishment serving as Terminal B’s primary frozen yogurt provider. Successful meal mission: accomplished.

  

The airport junkmeal is a necessity because of the energy it takes to get through pre-flight nervous jitters.  I realize that the word “jitters” may imply some delicate, subtle fidgeting barely perceptible to others, but in the case of navigating a busy terminal, I want to assert that it’s more akin to intense cardio. In my experience, pre-flight jitters may lead to lengthy pacing or jogging between gates, checking your bag 25 times to make sure your passport is still there, bench-pressing your checked bag to make sure it doesn’t “seem” like it could be over the weight limit, and then eventually hoisting the compact but brick-like carry-on above your head to the compartment without crushing the charming tots below you in the aisle seats while they stare as though in wait for the heavy luggage to slip so they can yell for their mothers and have me kicked off the plane when I honestly would have caught the thing before it made impact…

I am a nervous traveler. 

For the next leg of the journey, here is the array of delicacies I got to savor for my in-flight meal. Please allow me a moment to bombast about the highly questionable things that are happening on this tray.

  
This main dish is a chicken Marsala with wild mushrooms (I found one mushroom…apparently the rest were too wild to be tamed into the charming microwave tray with their comrade). Asiago crackers-pretty good though more ornate in packaging and promising of cheese flavor than the twin pita-sheets delivered. The roll- how to describe the roll? I will say that having an abundance of those things on the flight made me feel safe because had we-for whatever reason-wound up chilling in the ocean, I would have hurdled them at hungry sharks because my fists would not have been as resilient or forceful of a defence. The gourmet cheese wedge was delicious and made me think of cheese whiz without the alarming orange dye stuffed into a golden foil triangle. It did soften the texture of the roll…

Don’t mistake me for bashing in-flight meals, please! I’m complaining, certainly, but only with the plaintive whine of the overly-tired. The meal gets huge brownie points for the accompanying free glass of wine from a charming and colorful box- not to mention the actual brownie. The thing about these meals is that they double as fuel to keep you alert to take advantage of in-flight cinematic experiences, and a distraction to help you pretend you’re warding off the impending exhaustion. It’s part of a ritual you share with your traveling companions- marveling over what you think is sub-par, but is actually pretty tasty if you handle it creatively. You just don’t see it that way as terminals full of cafés, bars, and assorted aromatic pretzel kiosks disappear through the clouds. 

This brings me to my first meal in Oxford and reported failure at my mission…

Beneath the Bridge of Sighs and through a narrow corridor, one of Oxford’s most popular little pubs teems with life and the smells of ale and tartar sauce. The Turf Tavern, with foundations dating back to the 13th century and famous patrons including Oscar Wilde and Stephen Hawking, inspired me to venture out of my comfort zone and sample….drumroll please…

 

A pulled-pork sandwich


Okay, here is my defence for this completely unoriginal choice: 

  1. It was freezing cold and raining and-true to all popular British haunts, packed with people in the actual pub. I was eating for warmth 
  2. British BBQ. That was the tag-line that grabbed my attention. Was I expecting hickory smoked fish and chips? Malt vinegar-pulled pork? I do not know. 
  3. It was delicious, dag-nabbit! The bun was sweet and well toasted, the pork was thick but tender, and the side of sauce had a dark, smoky flavor that warmed my bones and helped me forget that my body has me trapped in a time zone where I’m eating heavy and rich sandwiches around 9am to stay awake. 

 

Just conversationally, the above sandwich was purchased by one of my classmates who asked for a side of onion rings. See that one curly-cue little guy who looks like he’s cowering from the dipping sauce behind mom the burger? Yeah, that is his side. His side that was nearly $2.50 in American dollars. Pub food is no joke.

 
The first day in a different time zone trying to set a pace is taxing, but it’s imperative to keep moving and taking in the culture. This is the whole point of the trip. 

The Turf Tavern- the Patio Perspective

After lunch, we made it to the Pitt Rivers Museum of Natural History and Anthropology where there were famous debates on Darwin and natural selection.  

  And so I end today’s journey in my little single room at the top of the winding staircase in CSU’s Spencer House. Tomorrow we have big plans for touring the city and the rest of this evening is reserved for jet-lag management. 

  
  
The acclimation process can be a little rough, but don’t let me fool you. This place is fantastic and I’m having a blast. Cheer’s to tomorrow’s winding ancient paths and mysterious menu. I look forward to sharing!

Thanks for reading!
 

A Tale of Two Tuesdays…

First of all, hello! And welcome to my blog!

To all of my loyal #ToastTuesday followers (aka mom, dad, cherished grandparents, wary roommates, and obliging, treasured and dearly-missed co-workers), thank you for your support in this new adventure.  From bandaging my wushtoff-ravagged fingers to gurgling over a mouthful of molasses-soaked oats to assure me that “no, it isn’t too chewy,” your acceptance and encouragement of my inconsistent but cherished hobby has meant more to me than you’ll ever know.

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Another special thanks to Lou the Great Pyrenees/Polar Bear for being my writing companion for my first blog post.

To everyone else, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ashley and I am a culinary novice about to head out on an exciting new adventure. This past year, the word “adventure” has had many connotations.  From starting a new chapter as an MPA student and graduate assistant at Columbus State University, to striking out on my own with two of my best friends, to staying up until two in the morning trying to figure out how to convert regular flour into cornmeal because I refuse to make another 2am trip to Walmart over a stupid scone…it’s been a year for the books. In the midst of bungling through adulthood, I had the bright idea of addressing my biggest pet peeve of finding big ideas-specifically recipes- and saving them for later without ever trying them out. Here’s how it started:

One free morning last summer (that happened to be a Tuesday), I baked a blueberry breakfast cake and it was good. The next Tuesday, I fried up some pumpkin French toast and it was ghastly. Yet, I found that I still enjoyed the process and learned something (mainly that skinny wheat bread is unfit for the burden of becoming glorious French toast with the added density of canned pumpkin).  What’s more, I liked the idea of sharing the product- good or bad- with other people and getting their feedback. Hence, #ToastTuesday was born.  To make a long story short, I want to start this story by asserting that food is probably my absolute favorite area of study and has been a far back as I can remember.

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My first true love in the kitchen was cake-batter. I think this is probably my main reason for enjoying the process; the only person with access to the best part of the product is the one who does the work. Thank you, Granny Lee, for these early lessons and for your patience back when I knew how to use an electric mixer before I could reach the sink to clean dishes.

The rules of this challenge were simple: all dishes from scratch, all baked goods (because I love them), and always always something at least a little bit new. This personal project has been a learning process that has helped shaped the way I look at a lot of my life moving forward. Starting from the beginning, whether its for a new job, a new house, or a new recipe for an ultra-flaky pastry crust, can be daunting. However, when there’s no telling what the outcome will be, the thrill of the unknown can make muddling through and building the skills to make things work is its own reward. Not to mention all the fun kitchen gadgets I’ve amassed along the way…

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In case anyone wants to know how to look like a bumpkin at Mall of Georgia, have your mom following you around with her phone taking pictures of you holding cookware and insisting “it’s for the blog!” Love you, mom, and thank you for the awesome and relaxing send-off weekend.

It is with this mentality that I start the next leg of my baking/life journey with help from CSU.  I’m going to be spending the next two weeks in England (with a little side trip to Paris as well). I’m seizing this experience as an opportunity to fulfill a most-beloved pastime: eating.  In the absence of my tiny-shared kitchen, I’ll be venturing out every day and trying something new and writing about it here.  The idea here is to share the virtues of trying new things and illuminating (especially to other students considering going abroad) how a culture shock- especially one in a Parisian pastry shop- can be a beautiful thing.

I’ll also be sharing a little bit of what I’m learning as a student completing MPA coursework (as it pertains to food, of course), and most of all, upholding my standards for writing mind-numbingly verbose love notes over my favorite dishes.

In less than an hour, I’ll be reporting for check-in at Hartsfield-Jackson and the journey will start.

Here we go!