Some holiday spirit

Our dog-sitter Kevin and his roommates really love Bodger and took great care of him while we were gone. He sent me photos regularly, which I really appreciated, and even offered to get Bodger special food so he could also take part in Thanksgiving. Look at Bodger being so helpful when they decorated their tree:

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What exhausting work! Good thing he had time for a nap.

sleepy Bodger

Bodger, for whatever reason, thinks that he has to sit on anything that you leave on the floor: a yoga mat, a towel, a reusable shopping bag, and Christmas tree skirts. We’ve caught him sitting stubbornly on itchy burlap tree skirts, flicking his ears at the tickly low-hanging bottom branches. What can I say? He’s such a weirdo, but it makes for really cute holiday photos.

Bodger by the Christmas tree

In the photo above, you can see that Kevin and his roommates even gave Bodger a little stocking (the one with the pawprint). Isn’t that sweet? He’ll actually be going back and staying with them over Christmas as well.

We did not get a tree because we’ll be going to Virginia for Christmas, and the idea of taking down the tree when we get back has always depressed me. Not to mention, I’m not entirely sure where to dispose of live Christmas trees in San Francisco; they seem to stay around for far too long after the holidays, accumulating street garbage and being urinated upon. (A guy at work told me maybe an apocryphal story of lighting them on fire and rolling them down the SF hills.)

I’m still trying my best to get into the Christmas spirit. Mostly, this means playing Christmas music any time I’m home, alternating with casting a burning fireplace on the television. Of course, I’ve hung the stockings I made and brought out the holiday napkins.

This year, Pat sent me a really awesome advent calendar. It features illustrations by beloved children’s book author Eric Carle, and it opens like a pop-up book and sits upright.

Eric Carle advent calendar

Inside of the daily windows are little ornaments that you can hang on the center tree. It’s REALLY neat. Pat’s advent calendar game has been super strong recently–thanks!

Eric Carle advent calendar

To be honest, I’m having a slightly harder-than-normal time being excited about Christmas because the Hus-friend is going to be gone for work starting tomorrow (Saturday) and not getting back until the 17th. Those are two prime holiday season weeks, which means I’ll be attending most of the social events solo and living the single life at home in the evenings. And, of course, we all know that means eating rice bowls in front of the television and watching period dramas. That being said, I’ve got a busy social calendar starting this weekend, so I’ll fill my ample free time with hobbies and friend time.

The Hus-friend’s hat is fine for San Francisco but insufficiently warm for chilly London, so this week, I knit him a quick hat. This is actually the first thing I’ve ever made for him, and his only request (other than picking out the colors) was that it have a pom-pom. I used Purl Soho’s Classic Cuffed Hat pattern. It knits up super quickly, especially once you get past the initial tedium of 1×1 ribbing. I started on Wednesday night and finished on Friday night, just in time for him to pack it in his bag.

I’m pleased with how it turned out, an dI think the pompom looks pretty good. When I made my bespeckled hat a few years ago, I kept trimming down the pompom so it would be “perfect.” Obviously, that didn’t work, and I ended up with this micro pompom that is a source of endless winter amusement to the Hus-friend.

And now, back to Mom’s ambitious cardigan! I’ll leave you with one more photo of festive Bodger.

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The view that named a city!

For our last day in London, we finished the last major item on our list of sights: Richmond Upon Thames. We got married at Libby Hill Park in Richmond, VA, which overlooks the James River. The specific view from the hill looked so much like a view from the hill in Richmond Upon Thames that the two cities share the same name. Today, we decided to visit the original!

Richmond Upon Thames sign

Because Richmond Upon Thames is the last stop on one branch of the District Line, I assumed that it was less wealthy than central London. (London seems to be like Paris, where the city center is comparatively more gentrified than the outskirts.) However, we were surprised to find that Richmond is quite wealthy and posh. The Hus-friend later looked up facts about it: it is predominantly white and home to many celebrities.

Richmond Upon Thames: boats

We passed a little artisan market, a fancy fabric store, many nice houses, and tons of boutiques and restaurants. As usual, we checked out the real estate office window listings and found nothing under a million pounds.

It’s even home to this exceptionally old and well-documented vine (???). This, of course, begs the question: Did someone plant this vine and document the date for posterity?

old vine, Richmond Upon Thames

The view though! The view! I was skeptical that the view from Richmond Hill would look that much like the one from Libby Hill because, like, river bends are all watery curves. It really does look the same though! The width of the river, the trees, the layout of the surrounding land, they’re all remarkably similar. Nice job, William Byrd, way to recognize the similarities!

Mica & Harrison at Richmond Upon Thames

I feel fortunate that on our last day in London, we were treated to blue skies and sun during our visit to Richmond Hill. Even though I’m not particularly sentimental or romantic, I think we’ll value this photo at the “original” Richmond!

panoramic view of Richmond Hill

We spent our afternoon back in London, where the skies were grey again and the wind was cold. It actually hit a “balmy” 50ºF today, but with clouds and wind, I wore my scarf and mittens any time we walked outside.

Bee had been telling me about her recent sewing exploits, which made me–ugh!–a tiny bit regretful that I had sold all my sewing supplies and machine. After hearing such great things about her local sewing/fabric stop, Sew Over It, I stopped by to see how adorable it was in-person. It was really inspiring and made me miss some parts of sewing: just not acquiring a bunch of supplies and trying to make it work in my small apartment (and cutting fabric on the floor–that’s the worst). I’m thinking about looking for a sewing space in SF when I get back to give it another go.

Sew Over It storefront, Islington

 

Since we were already in Bee’s neighborhood, she invited us over to see her apartment is Islington. We caught up over a cup of tea and “Yule Logs,” which were a new confectionery experience for all of us. (They’re basically like Swiss cake rolls.)

Yule Logs cakes

After we said good-bye to Bee, we had a very fitting last meal in London: burgers from Shake Shack. (Ha!) The only US locations are in New York, and we have no plans to go there any time soon. We also wanted a decently quick meal, and we hadn’t really walked around Covent Garden much on our trip.

Shake Shack burgers

I’m disappointed, though not surprised, to report that Shake Shack did not live up to its significant hype. We did find a seat, but it was incredibly hectic and crowded inside, and it was very expensive: £28 for two burgers, one side of fries, a lemonade, and a root beer. The burgers, while decent, were indistinguishable from the burgers at SF’s Super Duper and twice as expensive. It really baffles me why Shake Shack is so popular because after all, how many variants can you make to a basic hamburger? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the power of exclusivity and novelty (only available in NYC and London!).

Christmas lights make up for overpriced and overhyped burgers though!

Cove

I’m very pleased with our trip to London and so sad to be going home. We walked a lot, ate good food, and saw so many interesting things, and I checked off almost everything on my list of planned activities. One notable exception was my inability to acquire a slice of banoffee pie, but I’ll just have to make some when I get back and am in charming London withdrawal. Oh, and I also didn’t have cream tea, but there’s always next time, right?

(I still think I was meant to live on the British Isles. I love knitting and chilly weather and wearing scarves and scones and baked goods and jam and tea, among other things.)

Finally, did you read Harry Potter and always wonder what the magician’s “Spell-o-tape” was? I just figured it was, yeah, tape. It’s actually a play on the brand of SELLotape that you see in every supplies store here. It makes so much more sense now!

Sellotape

Thanksgiving in London 2016

This is the third Turkey Day that we’ve spent abroad, and while I was a little sad not to engage in the beloved tradition of preparing food and seeing family, we had a pretty good day “across the pond.”

Because we departed Edinburgh on an 8:30am train, our Thanksgiving started with the cutest packed to-go breakfast from the Adria House. (Again, this is totally my opinion, but I think it’s a great place to stay and highly recommend it.)

Adria House packed breakfast

As we munched on little cheeses and yogurt, we were treated to some stunning views of the Scottish and English coast. (We took Virgin East Coast trainline, which takes about four hours between Edinburgh and London.)

Coastline from the train

I was particularly excited to ride the train during the daytime because Stella had told me that we might see some “wee sheep” along the way. Do you spy some sheep? I kept clambering over the Hus-friend in the window seat to photograph all the sheep, which I’m sure didn’t get old at all. Mostly, they resembled white specks and blurs, but sometimes, they were grazing closer to the train tracks.

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Here’s a close-up of some more sheep. I love their little dark faces against their light fleece. I found the entire experience ridiculously charming.

More close-up of sheep from the train

When we got back to London around midday, we took the Thames Link train to our hotel near Blackfriars station. Two middle-aged women got on after us with an immense amount of baggage, and it became quickly apparent that they had lost one of their bags. Instead of freaking out (as I would have done), they seemed totally unfazed and sat down behind the walls of bags they had put up, opened a bag of crisps, and popped open some pink bubbly.

women drinking on the train

Blackfriars is apparently a very old area of London. Our hotel is within walking distance of St. Paul’s cathedral. Ashley and I went to the top when we visited before, so it didn’t make my list of things to visit. As such, we “happened” upon it and took this very London-y selfie, complete with a red double-decker bus!

St. Paul's selfie

For lunch, we got bahn mi (at CHAO!Now), which is not in itself notable as I eat them all the time, but they did differ in semi-significant ways from the sammiches I’m used to eating in SF. For one, the baguette was an actual crusty, slender baguette, not a tapered roll. What’s more, there weren’t any jalapeños; the heat came entirely from Sriracha. The Hus-friend also had to ask them to hold the “coriander” because English-English vocabulary differs when you least expect it.

Bahn mi from CHAO!Now

A book I read had referenced the Maida Vale area in NW London, so I decided I needed to go see it. It is home to a canal and “Little Venice” which has a bunch of tiny houseboats. Unfortunately, you can’t walk close to most of the houseboats (I guess for privacy.), but they looked pretty neat. I imagine it’s pretty cold on the canal though. Some of them had noisy generators which belched out bad-smelling smoke, so that was also a charm-killer.

Maida Vale was much quieter than central London, and it actually reminded me alternately of the Fan where I grew up and parts of Chicago. There are rows of identical houses and plenty of adorable London schoolchildren in their tiny blazers, sweaters, and ties. One blurb we read mentioned celebrities, but alas, there were none to be found during our visit, which is terribly inconsiderate of them. We decided that it would not be our neighborhood of choice.

Walking in Maida Vale

One thing I’ve noticed about London doors is the location of the door knob. Most of the doors are PUSH, so it doesn’t *really* matter where the knob is, but it still makes for an awkward arm angle. Do Londoners just stand at a different position relative to the door?

Door knob, Maida Vale

For dinner, we walked to the south bank neighborhood of Kennington. Compared to San Francisco, London is so much more pleasant to walk in, and I always feel safe. We watched the news report the other day, and the big story was about a rash of scooter thefts, including a foiled plot to rob a Rolex store. The police were lying in wait and chased after the thieves, but they only had clubs–not guns. This is also reflected in the crime shows on television–the police break down doors but don’t have guns to point around the room.

Along the way, we walked on Newington Butts, and let’s not even pretend I didn’t giggle about that name.

Newington Butts sign

Our reason for going to Kennington was to meet up with my college friend Caitie and her boyfriend Matt. Caitie has lived in London for eight years, having recently completed her graduate studies here. Like me, she loves Indian food, so she and Matt were excited to show off their little neighborhood and local Indian joint, Kennington Tandoori. (She also loves Korean and confirmed that in London, you do have to pay for banchan. HORRIFYING.) We spent all of dinner catching up and reminiscing and hearing about her life in London; we basically closed down the restaurant. So glad we could meet up!

Mica & Caitie

By the time we got back to the hotel, I was pretty sleepy, but then the French presidential debates for the right-wing candidate were on, and that was really exciting. (Actually!) Again, I love how multicultural London is and that you can just flip through channels in so many different languages. I took a course in college about French society, and one of our regular assignments was to watch the French news online and write summaries of the stories. My favorite part was the newsanchor, David Pujadas, so I was thrilled to see him moderating the debate between Fillon and Juppé.

…and basically, that put me to sleep!

It was certainly a non-traditional Thanksgiving, but I enjoyed it all the same. At the risk of sounding trite, I am very thankful for the opportunity to travel, to meet up with friends in other countries, and to have a partner who travels so well with me.

I’ll leave you with a photo of some Maida Vale mallards that came to visit me. They were very disappointed (and I think, judgmental) that I had no food to offer them.

Ducks in Maida Vale canal

Ma-hoosive Noochos in Edinburgh

A sharp knock on our Caledonian Sleeper door woke us up about an hour before we pulled into Edinburgh. We ate breakfast “in bed,” er, in our berths.

We arrived a little after 8am to Edinburgh’s Waverly station. It’s only a half-mile walk to our hotel, but we got slightly lost following Google’s subtle directions (more about this later). The upside was ending up most of the way up Calton Hill with an impressive, albeit cold and windy, view of the city in the early morning.

Edinburgh view from Calton Hill
Oh, hey, we’re just two backpacking early 20-somethings in Europe…except not.

That being said, the gloomy weather made everything look a little creepy and “murder-y” as I keep saying. The Hus-friend says I call everything dark “murdery,” but you know what I mean. Dark, abandoned spaces look creepy! Even though I know it’s safe here, I’d probably still feel creeped out walking alone at night. (The big local news item today is that men posing at police officers robbed two “East Asian” tourists by asking to inspect their baggage.)

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As early as it was, our hotel wasn’t quite ready, so we dropped our bags, found some food, and went for a walk around the city. Edinburgh is very compact and walkable, so it was easy to wander around. The castle sits prominently on one of many hills, in between Old Town and New Town. For us, it seems like “Old Town” and “Older Town” as the former has Georgian architecture–new for the UK but old for the US.

Georgian architecture, Edinburgh

By contrast, the Old Town has very old architecture, like THIS OLD-ASS CASTLE (which we didn’t go in at this point). My American brain has a hard time processing the reality of these places, and I think subconsciously, I’m always trying to assess all the British historical sites as theme park attractions or simulacra.

 

Edinburgh castle

The castle backs up to the Royal Mile, the main touristy stretch. Old stone buildings flank the cobblestone streets, but the shops on the first floor all sell the same cheap-looking kilts and “100% Scottish wool” blankets and scarves. (We did see a working loom making tartan and talked to a bag-piper, so that was cool.)

Tartan plaid loom

That being said, for a touristy section, I didn’t think it was that bad because you can ignore the cruft and look at the amazing old buildings.

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Okay, we did do a touristy thing to kill some time: the “Scotch Whisky Experience.” Even though I’m the modern face of temperance, I enjoy learning about alcohol (Science!). For the first part of the tour, you ride around in a whisky barrel tram, and the animated “ghost” of the distillery owner tells you all about the single-malt whisky-making process.

In the second part of the tour, we learned about the different flavors and origins of Scotch Whisky. We were given scratch-n-sniff cards (no, really!) and then could pick which Scotch variety we wanted a “dram” of. We later looked up what a dram is, and it’s apparently a non-standard measurement.

Scratch-N-Sniff whisky cards

The Hus-friend loves the smoky Islay Scotch, and I like, well, none of it. I did not finish my dram and poured it in what I hope was a “cast-off” Scotch bucket later. We also learned about how to taste Scotch. I learned that after you swirl it, you examine how it runs down the sides of the glass. These are called the “legs,” and they form and run at different speeds.

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The final part of the tour is viewing the largest private whisky collection in the world: 3,400 bottles amassed by a Brazilian collector WITH NO REPEATS. None of the bottles had been opened, but some of them had still lost liquid due to evaporation somehow.

Whisky collection

The most bizarre container was a chess set where each piece was filled with Scotch.  Apparently, you could only BUY these pieces when you flew first-class on British-Caledonian Airways: one piece per flight. Unsurprisingly, there are not many full sets in the world.

Beneagles Chess set

After our bout of midday drinking (ha, ha), we checked into our hotel. We’re staying at the Adria House. It’s a gorgeous, but unpretentious hotel on the Royal Mile in a Georgian building. Our room is on the top floor with an immense bathroom and charming appointments.

Adria house exterior

We are visiting during Edinburgh’s less busy season. Not as many people want to visit in the cold, damp, and wind, and there aren’t any cool festivals going on at the moment. That’s fine with us though–nothing is crowded, and rates, including at Adria House, are cheap! Our totally reasonable rate includes a full-cooked breakfast in the morning, too! After AirBnb, a hotel feels so luxurious.

(Also, the water in Edinburgh tastes so much better than in London!)

Adria House Room

After a shower, we had a late lunch (at Word of Mouth Café) and walked down to find the Royal Yacht Britannia, which is docked here. Again, the concept of a royal yacht, along with Holyrood House (the queen’s official Scottish residence) is still weird to me, but I do like to gawk at lavish displays of wealth on occasion. Okay, so you can’t actually see the yacht without taking the tour, which was closed by the time we got there. Instead, you can go to the third floor of the Ocean Terminal Mall (a mall like all others) and crane your neck from the foodcourt window to see a piece of it. Or you can make-do with this cloth model from a parade.

“What a dumb yacht,” exclaimed the Hus-friend.

Royal Yacht Britannia model

Since we were having a late dinner, I had the idea to try going to a pub for pub quiz, or as we called it “pub trivia.” This is a big thing in the UK. In the Edinburgh area alone, there are over 20 quizzes on just Tuesday nights (40+ on Thursdays). We picked one at the Auld Hoose, based on online reviews, proximity to our hotel, and venue name.

The Auld Hoose was about a 1.5-mile walk from our hotel, so we suited up and used Google Maps to get there. To our surprise, the directions took us down tiny alleyways and pedestrian walkways that we would have otherwise completely skipped over. This is good because I find Edinburgh crosswalks to be unbearably slow. You can’t cross with the flow of traffic; you have to wait for all traffic to stop. Not to mention, the cross-walks are located about 15 feet from the actual intersection, and Edinburgh’s old layout means that each intersection can have three or more roads meeting. Getting across a street takes forever, and I’m basically the most impatient person alive. That being said, I’m too afraid to jaywalk here because the traffic being on the other side of the road throws me off.

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(Yes, I said this walkway looked murdery.)

The Auld Hoose has an awesome name and is an awesome pub. For one, they boast the largest nachos in Edinburgh. One review said that nachos were “mahoosive,” and we actually cannot stop giggling about this because we are five. We didn’t try them, but they apparently have one size that weighs six pounds. Even better, there were tasty menu items and a variety of non-alcoholic beverages. The bartender was super nice and didn’t shame us at all when we ordered sodas, nor when I asked “What’s the least alcoholic cider you have?” (I ended up with a rose lemonade.)

Auld Hoose sodas

(Also, the Auld Hoose is super veg*n-friendly, like much of London and Edinburgh. Even the haggis is vegetarian, and I’ve seen lots of menus with vegan options and designations!)

But, oh wow, Pub Quiz! We were not good. There were five rounds, and despite an initially strong start, we almost immediately tanked, especially in the music round. We ended up in second-to-last place. A lot of the questions referenced British things (Like what MAFF and DEFRA stand for), so unsurprisingly, we didn’t do very well on those. Still, it was a really fun experience!


After our substantial breakfast the next morning, we put on many layers of clothing and hiked up to the top of Arthur’s Seat, a large volcanic hill with panoramic views of Edinburgh. I started out quite cold–I haven’t seen frosty grass in a long time–but I got hot almost immediately on the ascent and was shedding layers on the hillside while the Hus-friend shivered incredulously.

frosty grass

Oh, hey, casually ancient ruins on the way up. The chapel that they belong to was built in the 12th century, which is far older than my new World brain can even comprehend.

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(We actually took this picture on the way back down the hill. It was midday and look at how long our shadows are. We’re so far north in Edinburgh, and the sun sets very early. I keep thinking it is much later than it really is.)

It took about 30 minutes to climb to the summit, and your effort is rewarded with amazing views of the city. Fortunately, the clouds and rain stayed away today; I can’t imagine that it’s very pleasant on a cold and wet day. (Ashley and Kyle did this two years ago and said it was so windy that they could barely stand.)

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In the afternoon, we visited Edinburgh Castle and learned some things! We opted to skip the audio tour, so we are not as well-informed as we probably should be. (But we did read all the placards.) My knowledge of British history has been cobbled together from historical fiction novels and watching historically inaccurate shows like The Tudors, and there is SO much to keep straight. I guess British citizens who visit historical sites have a more ingrained knowledge of major monarchs and who succeeded and fought with whom.

Edinburgh castle

The castle is a whole complex, so you can visit the great hall, the chapel, jail cells, etc. and walk along the parapets and look at the canons. Of course, there are also great views of the city. It’s definitely possible to spend several hours there.

Edinburgh castle

We entered the hall just in time to watch a presentation by a Scotsman who taught us all about the Jacobite rebellions (specifically, the third) and the role that the Highlanders played. Major takeaway: Highlanders are super bad-ass. The coolest thing I learned was that the tartan was one huge piece of cloth that you folded and wrapped around yourself. The pleats, which are now a sewn part of a kilt, were hand-folded and secured with a belt and a clasp. You could wrap the tartan around yourself as a hood, blanket, or shawl, and the wool kept the air warm underneath. Though with nothing else on underneath, it also kept you pretty well ventilated. Wool really is a wonder fiber!

tartan presentation

Speaking of wool, we stopped by Ginger Twist Studio on the way back to the hotel, and I got a skein of Bluefaced Leicester wool. There is an increasing interest in preserving the diversity of British sheep breeds, and I’ve been hearing a lot about this one recently. It has that nice, “sheepy” smell to it, which the Husfriend thinks sounds unpleasant, but I’m looking forward to making a hat out of it.

(Here’s a fun exercise: search for images of bluefaced leicester sheep. DID YOU KNOW SHEEP HAVE SUCH BIG TESTICLES? I did not.)

We’re leaving Edinburgh tomorrow to head back to London, but we couldn’t leave without trying a few more Scottish things. For one, a Tunnock’s tea cake, which is a biscuit topped with marshmallow and enrobed in chocolate. It also comes in really charming and iconic packaging. This one did not disappoint and is definitely the kind of thing I’d want to dress up as for Halloween.

Tunnock's tea cake

And, of course, what first-time visit to Scotland would be complete without haggis? Ours was a bit fancy in its presentation; I believe it was described as a “haggis and black pudding terrine” on the menu at tonight’s dinner.  In my haggis research, I came across one description of it as “spicy oatmeal,” and I think that’s pretty accurate. I think I could eat it without much issue and maybe even grow to like it, though the idea of smiling and having haggis in your teeth makes me cringe a little. If you’re on the fence about trying haggis, I’d say go for it. There are much more jarring-to-the-American-palate local delicacies  in the world. (Marmite, I’m looking at you.)

Wow, it photographs horrifically and looks basically like a black smear on the plate.

some haggis and toast

And with that, our brief stint in Edinburgh is drawing to a close. I need to GTF to sleep because we have an early train to catch tomorrow morning. Thanks for following along!

We met the Horniman Walrus and other things.

Wow, I’m a day behind on blogging with so much to record about our trip. So! Here we go!

Do you recognize this door? It’s used as the exterior façade of “221b Baker Street” in Sherlock. We actually stumbled upon it accidentally after we dropped our luggage off at Euston Station for the day and were on the hunt for breakfast. That’s the best kind of tourism, I think: stumbling on something cool, instead of waiting in lines with other shoving, selfie-taking tourists.

Speedy's exterior

And breakfast we found! We went to Speedy’s for some variety of “The Full English,” which is basically a plate of meat and grease. Actually, I had the “Speedy’s breakfast” which included chips and a random burger patty…and broiled tomatoes.

Full English at Speedy's

With our train departing for Edinburgh at midnight, we used our long free day to go to the Horniman Museum in South London. This turned out to be an adventure because of 1) rain and 2) our sort-of inability to figure out London trains.

Horniman Museum exterior
(This was after the sky cleared.)

The Horniman Museum grew out of the original collection of Frederick John Horniman, who made his fortune in the tea industry. It’s basically a Victorian cabinet of curiosities that has been added to over the years and is housed in a huge gallery. For example, this “mermaid” which is actually a monkey stitched to a fish and also THE STUFF OF NIGHTMARES:

Horniman Mermaid

Outside of the main building, there are gardens which house live music concerts in the summer. It was cold and rainy, so we didn’t get to explore this part. We did, however, check out the aquarium in the basement, which was pretty good for £4. The rest of the museum is free! It was us and school children on a Monday afternoon, but we mostly had the place to ourselves.

Horniman aquarium

Our favorite part was the Natural History exhibition, or otherwise side, an eccentric collection of preserved specimens of varying degrees of quality. They are kind of oddly arranged (like a sea urchin next to a hedgehog) and displayed, and some of the animals have really weird expressions on their little faces.

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Like this turtle! What is up with its glass eyes? It looks…weird and high/dopey, right?

turtle at the Horniman museum

What actually sold me on going to London was hearing about the Horniman Walrus from Simon. He’s kind of, like, the icon of the museum. He was stuffed by taxidermists who had never seen a walrus and didn’t know that they were supposed to have wrinkles. The resulting display is a bloated potato with a head, stretched nearly to the point of bursting.

Horniman Walrus

I seriously told everyone about this walrus and how excited I was to see it. It just cracks me up so much!

Horniman Walrus, posterior view

After we poked around the Museum, we headed back into central London and walked along the Thames path. I imagined the Thames path to be like riverside paths in most other cities–long, uninterrupted stretches of pavement/dirt for running. It’s actually pretty broken up, weaving around buildings and running along cobblestone streets for 20 yards at a time. The stretch we were on would make for pretty horrible running, actually.

Thames selfie

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With over five hours until we needed to retrieve our luggage at the station, we basically walked until our feet fell off. We ducked into coffee shops and bookstores, window-shopped, and walked and walked and walked.

One thing we did to kill time (and another Simon and Natalie suggestion) was climbing to the top of the Monument to the Fire of London. Again, I randomly happened to see this and remembered that I’d added to a map of “things I might want to do in London.” It’s 311 steps to the top, up an increasingly narrow spiral staircase. All of our summer lighthouse climbing prepared us pretty well.

inside the London Fire monument

It costs a few pounds to climb to the top. The man selling tickets asked if we had student ID cards, and I offhandedly replied, “No, unfortunately not. We’re old.” This set off some banter about how no, he is the old one. He even showed us his pensioner card! When I asked him how old he thought we were, he gave us both an appraising look and said, “Hm…40?” London has aged us!

The view from the top was pretty as the city was lighting up. Well, it was nice on the side where the rest of the monument column was blocking the rain and wind.

top of the monument to the fire of London

We at dinner at a random Korean restaurant we found near Holborn. It was fine, but we were horrified to find that you had to PAY FOR BANCHAN. I thought it was bad enough that you have to pay for rice at Indian restaurants in San Francisco, but charging for side dishes really hurts, especially knowing that they are free and abundant (with free refills!) everywhere else we’ve gone.

We wandered through the theater district and saw all the Christmas lights. I had been warned that England doesn’t do Christmas as “all out” as the US, but I’m not really sure how anyone could say that. It’s SO festive and beautiful with all of the Christmas lights and trees in the different districts, and even the tacky Christmas markets are kind of charming in their own way.

London streets lit up for Christmas

Walking around late at night was actually a good time to hit touristy things likes Trafalgar square. It was deserted, except for one woman with a selfie stick, a group of about 20 people protesting something outside of the National Gallery in the dark, and two policemen keeping an eye on them. Having already been to Trafalgar Square before, my main goal this time was to find the smallest police station in Britain–room enough for a officer to stand, somewhat hidden, and keep watch (or to keep hold of a prisoner).

Britain's smallest police station

With no more sights to hit (well, really, with no more energy), we headed back to Euston and waited to board the Caledonian sleeper to Edinburgh. It doesn’t actually take eight hours to get from London to Edinburgh, so it makes stops along the way to give you some semblance of sleep time.

Caledonian Sleeper exterior

It’s a very tight squeeze in the standard class cabin with two berths. (There is a fancier first class, but all of the rooms are single occupancy only.) I’m really not sure how you would do it if you were any taller or larger.

Caledonian sleeper standard class cabin
(He had the top bunk.)

Despite the comically small hallways and rooms, it was very well planned and executed. There’s even a sink to do your washing and little attached hangers and hidden shelves for clothes and baggage.

I was obviously very excited about this train ride and to go to Edinburgh! To be honest though, I slept piss-poorly due to train squeaking noises and my persistent jetlag; I keep getting a second wind around standard bed time. It’s after midnight on Wednesday morning, and I’m not even sure how I’m still alive. I’ll sign off for now and catch up on Edinburgh tomorrow!

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On Sunday, we roast!

Baker Street subway sign

Hello from the future! We’re closing out the weekend here in London, and today, we experienced our first Sunday roast. I had always heard the stereotype that British food isn’t anything to brag about, but I quite enjoy everything we’ve eaten so far, and Sunday roast was no exception. Tender roast beef? Roasted potatoes? Yorkshire pudding? Okay!

(Also, London is such a multicultural place, there are TONS of options of places to eat.)

Sherlock Holmes Museum façade
Here’s the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221 Baker Street.

We took the underground east this morning for lunch/roast at Merchant’s Tavern in the trendy Shoreditch district. A few people had suggested we stay in Shoreditch, but I am an old grump and knew that “trendy”and “hip” were not descriptors of things that we typically enjoy. (So I chose to stay in Marylebone.)

Shoreditch

And yes, upon alighting from the train, we noticed the preponderance of hip-looking people. The undercuts and murals were so abundant that it felt like the Mission…well, a colder, more grey, bodega-less version of the Mission.

Anyway! One of the reasons I was excited to come to London was to meet up with Bee, my Australian penpal. She and her fiancé Davy moved here from Sydney a few months ago for work, and they have been doing an enviable job of taking advantage of all the city has to offer, as well as its proximity to other cool European destinations. Bee booked our table for Sunday Roast, though she claims that she and Davy also find Shoreditch too hip for their liking. It turned out to be a really fun venue (with a glass ceiling), and we were all very excited to catch up and eat some tasty roast.

Bee, the Hus-friend, and I opted for the two-course option with the roast and dessert. (There was also a vegetarian option. I’m really pleasantly surprised at how accommodating London restaurants are of various eating styles.)

Sunday roast at Merchant's Tavern

Okay, see the round, puffed bread? That’s a Yorkshire Pudding. This is probably common knowledge to, like, every worldly person, but I really didn’t know until recently that it’s a savory dish. Like, I felt ahead of the game knowing that “pudding” often is used for “dessert,” but then everything is turned upside for black pudding and Yorkshire pudding and other savory fare. Anyway, until these were featured on The Great British Bake Off, I had no idea what they were (fatty pieces of puffed bread).

Then there was sweet bread and butter pudding with custard for dessert. Puddings all around!

Bread pudding at Merchant's Tavern

We excited Shoreditch after lunch, and Bee and Davy were excited to show us around Angel, near where they live in Islington. There were so many cute shops and little passageways. It really does feel like a charming village, not the center of a booming metropolis. And, of course, there were abundant Christmas lights…against a gray painted sky.

passageway in Angel

Bee and I actually started communicating through Ravelry because we’d both made the same hat pattern. So of course, I was very excited to see her local yarn shop, the famous Loop London. It’s so darling inside, a really cozy place to visit, and I probably could have stayed longer, looking at all of the yarns and patterns. (Davy, like the Hus-friend, is accustomed to sitting in a chair and checking his phone while his partner touches all the yarns.) That being said, a lot of the products were American, so I wasn’t too tempted to go overboard, knowing that I could get things at my local yarn shop. (Except for a really fancy pair of Eiffel Tower scissors that costs £52. Ooh, làlà!)

Bee & Mica @ Loop London
We’re each wearing hand-knits, of course!

It felt like every store in Angel (Well, we missed the chains.) was a cute “stuff” store, which is fun to poke around in. For one thing, the London Christmas card selection is ON POINT. Actually, just cards in general…and they don’t cost, like, $5.50 each like in SF. We found some pretty amusing ones. The Hus-friend said the one on the right is me.

card selection

Okay, but also, look at this advent calendar we found in one store in the kid’s section. Just what? Why? Why are you celebrating the Advent season with a tire tyre fire? (Also, this was right after Bee opened a little painted tube to see what was inside, only to find that it was, like, 50 real matches that exploded out on the floor. What.) London and fires….

Advent calendar...tyre fire?

In addition to knick-knack shops, boutiques, and cafés, there were also tons of real estate offices, their windows plastered with fabulous properties. When we travel, we like to look at the posted spaces (When did we become old?) to get a sense for the market. The London rental prices seem a little cheaper than SF, but buying is way more expensive. One benefit of living in San Francisco is that we are calibrated to very high housing costs, so looking at prices in other desirable cities does not seem absolutely insane. Yay?

It was only about 4:30 when we said good-bye to Davy and Bee, but it already felt so late. The sun sets so early here, plus it never really got sunny today. Of course, being the really cool party animals that we are, we came back to our AirBnb and…fell asleep.

Christmas lights in Angel

When I woke up and was finally hungry again, I insisted we walk half a block down to Nando’s, this chicken chain that is not in the SF. Roast chicken and vegetables sounded like a lighter meal after the heavy roast. It can’t all be chips, all the time, alas.

Nando's chicken

We’ve had such a good time in London so far. It’s such a walkable city. Even if the Hus-friend is complaining about the chill, I love (LOVE!) that I never get sweaty or hot when walking around. I can just bury my nose in my cowl and walk for miles and miles. Another bonus of the constant precipitation? No poop or urine smell.

I photograph myself in London a lot.

I hope you are expecting a million selfies because that’s what you’re getting today.

We started with a late breakfast and a walk by Marble Arch. There was a demonstration going on with several flags and signs in Arabic. I searched online for any news about what the demonstration was for, but alas, nothing.

demonstration at Marble Arch
And a bus butt.

We walked through Hyde Park, in all its chilly, late autumn glory. I love fall and brisk weather. I really do think I was made to live somewhere perpetually cold, so I can show off my collection of sweaters and hand-knit scarves. Er, I mean, mufflers.

Hyde Park trees

I had forgotten that I’d actually visited Hyde Park with Ashley in 2004. We visited the Peter Pan statue, so I went back today to visit my old friend Pete. I did not take a picture because there were somehow fifty tourists milling about including one woman who wanted SO MANY photos of herself in front of Peter Pan. Like, okay, lady, children’s literature is the best, but c’mon, you don’t need a standing, sitting, and prostrate photo of yourself with the Peter Pan statue. He looks like a little girl in a dress anyway.

Okay, okay, arguably, we didn’t need to take so many photos of ourselves, but I always find that my photos of places without human subjects are boring. (I might as well buy a set of postcards.) So here’s a photo of us in Hyde Park. I don’t know what I’m doing with my face.

Hyde Park selfie

One thing I’ve noticed about London (that I somehow missed last time) is how multi-cultural it is. Which is weird because I live in SF, after all. However, here, there are SO many languages being spoken on the street–I’ve definitely heard more French than American English, not to mention a variety of other voices, some I can’t even recognize. It’s really cool!

I’ve also noticed that Londoners are very good at knotting their scarves (Mufflers?) around their necks to keep out the damp chill.

Eventually, we came upon the Albert Memorial. It is very fancy. There were several other tourists milling about, including most of the contents of a Korean tour bus. I laughed a lot when I noticed that the bus had (in Korean) “Dokdo [Island] is Korean territory!” officially written on the side. /shrug.

Albert Memorial selfie

Our traversal of Hyde Park got us roughly to the British Natural History Museum. It is housed in a fabulously ornate building with all manner of specimen in relief on the side. Also, there is currently a fabulously tacky ice rink outside for the holidays because the UK doesn’t have any  pesky Thanksgiving to get in the way. I am overjoyed.

 

Natural History museum ice rink

Oh, I forgot. Here is some porn we spotted in one of the iconic red telephone booths. I guess that’s what they’re for now…porn.

porn in a phonebooth

Natalie and Simon had recommended the Spirit Tour, which is not, as I assumed, a tour about ghosts. It’s a guided tour of the museum’s immense collection of preserved animals. It costs £10, but it was sold out, unfortunately.

The rest of the Natural History Museum is free to the public. Like many Natural History Museums, you wander around, gaping at the majesty of nature…except everything you’re looking at is dead and kind of not all that well preserved.

Natural History Museum

I did learn some things though. Like straight thumbs are dominant!

thumbs at the Natural History Museum

And there was, as always, the requisite section about mica and how useful it is in the Geology exhibit. (It’s a pretty great name. Thanks, parents!)

Mica with mica

When we exited, we were close enough to Buckingham Palace that we decided to walk by. We saw Harrod’s on the way but did not go in. You can’t tell from the picture, but the exterior was covered in thousands of lights. Again, London is really doing a good job with Christmas.

Harrod's selfie

Buckingham Palace was surrounded by schmoes. Just crowds on crowds of schmoes with selfie sticks. This is as close as we got (admittedly being two giant schmoes).

Buckingham palace selfie

I tried to avoid shopping areas, but walking back to our AirBnb, we ended up on Bond Street. Curses! If there is one thing I can’t understand, it’s designer and luxury stores. Rolexes! Hermès! Jimmy Choo! This is basically just shit that I can’t make myself care about.

I was so relieved to get past the displays of ostentatious wealth, only to find myself on Oxford Street, which is apparently “Europe’s favorite shopping area.” In my humble and uniformed opinion, anywhere with a Zara and an H&M is likely to be a hotbed of frantic consumerist pandemonium. I started “angry walking,” which is my self-explanatory, crowd-triggered mode of transport. I’m pretty sure if we lived here, I would make a habit of avoiding this area, much like we avoid Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf in SF.

However, the lights are pretty fabulous, and I guess there’s plenty of time to marvel at them because it gets dark so early here.

Oxford Street lights

It seemed so late by the time we got back to our room, but it was really only 5pm. We made a quick stop to pick up the Hus-friend’s laundry and then it was our for a curry dinner at the Rajdoot. Normally, we’re both vindaloo fans, but when in London…I ordered chicken tikka masala.

curry at Rajdoot

The rain held off during the day, though I now see drops on the window. Fortunately, we are cozy inside our AirBnb, eating dairy milk chocolate and drinking fizzy water. (I don’t usually like fizzy water, but the stuff at our AirBnb is palatable. Also, London drinking water does not taste very good to me. It tastes weirdly…stale? I’m not sure how to describe it, but I don’t love it.)

All this being said, London is awesome, and I really love it.