Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Last Day of Vacation

Last day of vacation took place in my backyard. Still pinching myself that I live here, and that this is only a 10 minute walk from my apartment.

We're still the whitest people at the beach.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Day Trippers

From London, we took a day-trip to Brussels to visit our favorite Danish family!

Leaving London via the Eurostar. Check out the Olympic rings!

It was so much fun to hang out with Gerda and Morten in their home turf. After all, they had come to visit us in the States on many occasions over the last few years.

We spent the day walking around the town and doing some light sight-seeing. And record-shopping, of course. Dan was pleasantly surprised by the amount of good-quality stores in Brussels.

Finally, a nice vacation picture of us! Thanks, Morten.

I like this one, too.

Dan with the Manneken Pis

Hey, I remember this place!

Tasting some Belgian candies that everyone thought were nasty except for Dan.

Good friends

We had such a nice time, and of course, Gerda and Morten were the most gracious hosts. They wouldn't let us pay for anything, and they kept feeding us delicious food. The highlight had to be dinner at their lovely home, where we feasted on steak, potatoes, strawberry salad, lime pie and chocolates. Oh, so many chocolates. Dan must have eaten enough food for ten people. I think it amused them greatly, which is why they kept feeding us more. We ended the night with some limoncello in memory of their visit to Visalia. Also, it was crazy that it didn't turn dark until 10 at night.

We also got a chance to see Katrine. Yay! Anna is away at school. Boo!

When and where will we see this awesome family again? I vote their beach house in Denmark. That sounds quite nice to me! How about it, Dan? Gerda? Morten? Anna? Katrine? Who's in?

My favorite Belgian chocolates from Passion Chocolat

Monday, June 4, 2012

London Calling

London: Then

London Now

As a teenager, I went on a week-long whirlwind trip to London and Paris with my high school. London especially charmed me, so it seemed a no-brainer that I study abroad there in college for one semester. (Funny enough, on that second trip, I did a long weekend in Paris and preferred it over London). My time in London was the best semester of an otherwise dismal college experience. That was 12 years ago.

Dan had a business trip in the city, so we decided to tack on a few days and make it a holiday.

Big Ben
Dan's London-based workplace

I don’t have a particularly good memory for things, but taking that first Tube ride from Heathrow airport to the hotel, a feeling of overwhelming familiarity came over me. The smell of the train, the sound of the train, the font on the Tube map, the carpeted seats. It was all the same. I am not sure why, but it made me tear up. Maybe I was tired. Maybe it was nostalgia. Maybe it was coming from LA where everything is still foreign to me, and feeling at home in a subway car. I can’t really explain it.

The feeling never returned. London had changed, or maybe I had. I enjoyed the city and my week there, but it didn’t wow me as it did when I was 14 or 21-years-old. Blame it on living in New York City—other cities have a hard time competing nowadays. I visited my old neighborhood near Marble Arch and could barely point out any landmarks except for the Pret a Manager (though absent of the rows of disgusting mayonnaise and cucumber- and sprout-filled sandwiches I remembered), the casino, and the Middle Eastern shops. It took a few false starts before I found my old flat—to Dan’s amazement (“How could you not remember exactly where you lived for a few months 12 years ago?” “I dunno, because I only lived there for four months and I haven’t been here in 12 YEARS? I know, shocking.”)

I did reconnect with my favorite McVitees Digestives Caramels that I never was able to find in the States. I used to eat a roll (or two) per week during my time in London and still managed to lose weight because the food was so terrible.  (“Are these cookies really that good?” Dan asked uncertainly, as he ate his tenth one.  “YES,” I answered. “If you don’t like them, stop eating them and leave more for me.”)

We meet again!
Since it was Dan's first time in London, we tried to see as much as we could. Meaning, we went to every record store in town. Okay, not every, but a lot.  I had already seen most of the famous sites before, but seeing them again was no big deal (remember my bad memory?), and it was especially more fun to take it all in being a savvier traveler and not having a student budget to worry about. Plus, the food was so much better this time around -- though these people really need to step it up in the dessert department. 

To make up for stale cakes, lackluster cupcakes (the newest craze) and ho-hum cookies, we came across The. Best. Gelato. On. Planet. Earth. It’s called 3Bis and naturally it is an Italian chain. The gelato is very fresh and light, but what really makes it out of this world is the fact that they pour a tablespoon of warm, melted hazelnut chocolate on the bottom of your cone, so your last bite is utter deliciousness. 

Gelato heaven on earth

English breakfast
Patriotic cupcakes

We were blessed with unseasonably high sunny temperatures, which made the city throb with people walking around, sitting in the grass and eating al fresco. It maybe rained for five minutes the entire time we were there. The city was gearing up for Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee Celebration marking her 60 years at the throne so every storefront was decorated with patriotic signage and British flags waved on nearly every street corner. (Unfortunately, we skipped town the day before. This is what we missed). Also, the city is hosting the Summer Olympics in two months so we got a glimpse of the new Olympic Park. And what made the trip personally special was we got to celebrate our two year anniversary. We spent it drinking at a pub with Dan's co-workers, and then having dinner just the two of us at a nice restaurant called the Laughing Gravy on the South Bank.

The highlight of the trip for me has got to be afternoon tea at the famous Fortnum & Mason. They served us an unlimited amount of tea, tea sandwiches, scones with jam, lemon curd and clotted cream, and desserts galore (actual good ones!)—all in a fancy schmancy setting, my kind of scene. I definitely want to get more into tea now. I am not sure what the best part of the trip was for Dan, but flying Business Class on Air New Zealand was certainly a highlight. Along with all the records he bought.

The big red buses have been modernized, which I suppose is better for the environment, but I missed the old ones.


Camden Market

In the past week, I have felt the happiest I have been in a long time, and even Dan commented that he could tell how much I love to travel. It's true. Being away gave me some perspective that maybe I needed to treat Los Angeles as more of an adventure and really make the effort to be a tourist in my new home. Travel makes me feel my best.

Dan also realized how good he has it in the States after visiting London. Here's his list of the things America does well:
  • Street signage
  • Air conditioning (heat wave in London yet still no AC in many stores, the subway or our hotel room. Yeah.)
  • Tap water
  • Abundance of ATMs
  • Cold drinks and ice

Me with the Olympic mascot

View of St Paul's Cathedral

View from the top of St Paul's Cathedral

The only picture of the two of us, taken in front of Big Ben and the London Eye. (Our hotel is the building on the left)

For those who are interested, here is everything we saw and did. Though really, this is purely written for me in case I forget (because I surely will.)

Sites visited (some with and without Dan) include: Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, National Portrait Gallery, Spitalfields Market, Winston Churchill War Rooms, Camden Market, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub 

Areas walked: Camden, Covent Garden, Soho, Carnaby Street, Regent Street, Trafalgar Square, South Bank, Primrose Hill, Jermyn Street, West London. 

Parks visited: St James Park, Hyde Park and Speaker’s Corner, Soho Square, Kensington Park.

After all that, we need a vacation from the vacation.