Traveling: Passed the Pub That Saps Your Body (or Our Last Day in London)

Before I start this entry into our Europe Chronicles, I just want to make you aware I’m doing this mainly from memory. These events may or may not have happened and if they did could be completely out of order. Cristina took lengthy detailed notes everyday in her journal. She does plan on writing for this website, but right now she is putting more emphasis on our wedding website.

As two former geography teachers, we knew the concept. However, it wasn’t until we were in London we completely understood it. In fact, it wasn’t until I went to the bathroom at around 4:30 in the morning that I fully understood the earth’s tilt. The sun, about to rise, was giving off enough light for the day to start. Also, it was well after 9:30 that it was completely dark at night. Having not traveled much, it was a hard concept to get my head around. The sun set mostly after nine pm for most of the trip, which means we didn’t really see much of Europe at night. We were just too tired.

Continue reading

Traveling: Castles, Stones, and Baths

The morning after our day tour of London, our legs were mad at us. They felt insulted that we had the audacity to try to climb that many steps without their permission. So they decided to get back at us by being extremely sore. We were prepared though. Excedrin was called in to rescue us from our misery. The mixture of aspirin and caffeine is a perfect cocktail for the out of shape traveler. Seriously, if you plan on going to go to Europe use the stair master for about a month or two before embarking.

The next tour Cristina planned for us was a trip to Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath. This is when Cristina lost her jacket. Also, we learned tube escalator etiquette at this time. Let’s face it, we are almost all lazy Americans. When we ride an escalator, at least in my part of the world, we just relax and talk. It doesn’t matter where you stand. Well, don’t do that in Europe. If you just want to enjoy the ride, ride single file on the right hand side. Do not go over into the left hand side. You will be trampled. People who are in a hurry will climb up the escalator on the left to get through it faster. By the way, everyone that did that was very skinny.

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle: Fit for a Queen

Fortune smiled on us again and we had the same tour guide as the day before. It didn’t take long to get to Windsor and was aided by the necessary background knowledge. Usually, I get bored in touring homes, but this one was different. First of all, Windsor is a castle. Second of hall, the rooms had a good flow to them. We also toured the grounds and the St. George’s Chapel. Henry VIII is buried underneath the chapel. Cristina had to have a picture but photography was forbidden. I’m not proud of this, but I distracted the kindly docent, so Cristina got her picture.

No you can't pull a car right up to StonehengeNext was a lovely drive through some of the English country side. Then we arrived at Stonehenge. My first thought: oh great, rocks, yay. Then you notice how they are put together and wonder how did they do that. There is an excellent free audio tour that goes with the walk around Stonehenge. Yet, I found myself just putting the audio device down and just letting my mind form it’s own conclusions.

We then at lunch in the small, well preserved touristy town of Lacock. We ate at the George Inn which we were told was the second oldest pub in England that sells alcohol. The steak pie was very tasty and filling. Cristina ordered the fish and chips but was suffering from a little motion sickness. We explored the town for a couple of minutes after we finished eating seeing a medieval (?) abbey where apparently scenes from Harry Potter were filmed.

Roman Baths

A Lovely Day at the Roman Baths

Finally, we arrived in Bath. We headed straight for the Roman Baths. I really enjoyed this museum. The water, which you can put your hands or feet into, felt really nice. Again, this tour had very good audio guides. On the way out, you can try some water from the spring. There are legends of it having mystical and medicinal properties. Cristina did claim she felt better after drinking it. After the museum we went to a local ice cream parlor. I, being lactose boy, opted for just a PowerAde. On the way out of Bath, Cristina saw the dairy farm from that was used to make her ice cream. When traveling, it’s those little moments that just make your day.

We didn’t do any more all day tours after this day. We chose these two tours to basically not have to work so hard the first two days at least from a planning aspect. I know some people say tours are waste of money, but it was one of the best decisions we made. We learned how to tour quickly, and when you want to see a lot of things you need to learn that. Now, we did get lucky making by having a very good tour guide. We now had the confidence that we could handle this on our own. We knew we could wing it if we needed to which is exactly what we did for the rest of the trip. And that might have been our best decision.

Watching: My Thoughts on the 2011 Best Picture Nominations

I always love the title of Pauline Kael’s I Lost it at the Movies. I believe the world is divided into two types of people: those that identify with that title and those that don’t. I’ve always loved the movies (and in my snobbish moments film). In college, I used to take breaks from reading in the library by reading movie reviews from Kael, Roger Ebert, and the critics of the New Yorker and the New York Times.   I hated going to the movies with other people except my own kind in case they wanted to actually talk during the movie. I’ve never movie hopped for that would be the same as stealing from the collection plate at church.

However, time passed and adult responsibilities grew. I still love the movies, but I’ve mellowed a bit in my passion for them. I can wait for it to come on DVD now. In fact, I mostly wait for it to come on HBO or Epix now. Hell, I even check my phone or read while watching most movies now.The passion, however weakened, is still there. This year I’ve actually seen nine out of the ten nominees. Winter’s Bone is the only one that has escaped me. Cristina and I saw Toy Story 3, Inception, Black Swan and The Social Network in their original run. We saw The King’s Speech for Valentine’s Day. We are lucky enough to live next to an AMC Theater that was running the Best Picture Showcase which meant that our Saturday we watched watching 127 Hours, The Kids are All Right, True Grit, and The Fighter. So, here are my thoughts on the nominees for Best Picture:

Continue reading

Cooking: Baked Eggs? Not in the Microwave?

If you glance over to the Random Precision tag cloud for my website, you will see Mark Bittman’s name in very large, bold letters. I have to admit, I have a bit of a man crush. Until I received How to Cook Everything as a present, I didn’t realize to what extent I like to cook. Before I did it for fun on occasion; now, I do it because I almost feel compelled to cook.

One day, I was looking through the egg recipes. I knew you could fry, scramble, boil, and poach an egg. What I didn’t know was that you can bake an egg. The first time I tried the recipe I knew I had found a dish that had endless possibilities.

This is my favorite combination:

Ingredients:

  • 1 or 2 Eggs based on the size of your ramekins
  • Butter or Olive Oil as needed
  • Cream (preferable) or milk
  • Cheese (Cheddar and Parmesan)
  • Spinach
  • Cherry Tomatoes

Heat the oven to 375. Coat the bottom with a little butter or olive oil. Put a couple of teaspoons of cream on the bottom. I crumble some seaside or 1833 cheddar on to the bottom and place some spinach or cherry tomatoes (halved) on the bottom. Break open the eggs and let them fall as they may. I then grate some fresh parmesan cheese and add more spinach and tomatoes at the top. If I have fresh basil, I’ll chop some up and place that on top as well. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the egg whites are set. You can go longer if you want hard yolks…I like mine to run. They will cook for a little longer in the ramekin after you take them out. Also, if you are serving this for someone else, warn them the ramekin will be very hot. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Traveling: London, Giddy London

We visited fourteen cities during our Europe trip. The only city I don’t need to visit again is Brussels. But in the defense of that city, it was the last stop on our tour. In fact, it was probably the best city to visit last because we didn’t feel any pressure to see anything. We could just relax and enjoy the mussels, fries, and waffles.

Our first city didn’t allow us to relax. London could take years to explore. While we used our time wisely and saw quite a bit, the list is much longer of things we didn’t see compared to what we did see. That’s what return trips are for.

London is the perfect first city for an American visiting Europe because there is only an accent barrier. The tube is very easy to use even it if is a bit expensive. Taxis are a great way to travel because the drivers have to go through a great amount of training to become a cabbie. Public museums are all free. In other words, it’s a very accessible city for a foreigner.

When we arrived in London, we had been up for about 24 hours. Cristina slept a little on the plane; I didn’t sleep at all. After we got through with customs, we went to the underground station at Heathrow. Luckily, two tourists were returning home but still had a day on their travel card (however, we recommend the Oyster Card as it is pay as you go) so they gave them us. I think we both knew at that point fortune was smiling at us on this trip. We knew we were going to be ok.

Buckingham Palace

Our First Day in london

Our hotel was right next to the Euston station. I mean right across the street. We immediately went take showers to refresh ourselves. We were determined to stay up until at least seven or eight London time. We knew if we took a nap, jet lag would be a major problem. We had to get out of the hotel, so we headed to the Victoria Station. We were taking a tour the next day, and I figured it would be a good idea to see where we needed to be the next morning. Also, Victoria station is in a nice starting point to see some sites. It was a little chilly out, high 50’s, and it was misting quite a bit. This was another fortunate thing because the weather helped keep us alert and awake. After finding the bus station, we walked to Buckingham Palace. It wasn’t crowded at the time, so it was easy just to walk right up and take pictures. This was, by the way, my first time out of the country, unless you count Shreveport as another country. I wish I was a good enough writer to tell you what I was feeling the moment I saw the palace and the guards. Basically it was a “oh my god this is really happening” type of feeling. I studied history in college with a focus on European history. This was really one of those moments I had waited my whole life for.

We then walked to the area of Big Ben getting to see #10 Downing Street on the way. We got a bite to eat at a small café that may or may not have been called Churchill’s. I got fish and chips; Cristina may have ordered the chicken. At this point we were so tired we were both getting a little delirious. We made it back to the hotel, and around 7:30, with the help of Tylenol PM, a deep sleep found us. The next morning we were refreshed and ready to see London.

Tower of London

Cristina and I in front of the Tower of London

Cristina’s sister Cara and her husband were with us for the next day. We had signed up for a tour that included a trip on the London Eye. Luckily, our tour guide was excellent. First stop was the Tower of London. Cristina has given enough money to Philippa Gregory for the author to buy half of Wales which means this was a very exciting moment for Cristina. Our yeoman was very knowledgeable and told us how to make best of our limited time. We did get to see all the parts of the tower we wanted (and were allowed) to see. We then took a river cruise on the Thames which was great for picture-taking. After viewing the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, we then had lunch at the Saint near St. Paul’s Cathedral. I ordered a crayfish salad sandwich (menu spelling not mine) which was better than I expected. Cristina ordered a meat and cheese board. In all the research I did the one thing I didn’t come across was that when you order lemonade in England you will get a Sprite. We then went in to St. Paul’s. Our tickets included a visit to the Whispering Gallery. A climb of two hundred and fifty-four steps. Seriously, for those of you looking for advice for your own European vacation, I have two words: stair master. At the top, we did separate and we said the word “New Orleans.” Why New Orleans? Because every other couple was saying I love you and we want to make sure that this thing worked, that’s why. After driving through the city, we then went to the London Eye.

Big Ben

The Peter Pan Shot: A View from the London Eye

Now, I didn’t mention this when talking about the gallery, but I’m afraid of heights. Actually, I’m afraid of falling. Unless I’m enclosed, heights are a scary thing for me. However, the London Eye wasn’t horrible. Actually, I highly recommend it. In fact, pay the extra money and get a fast pass. The lines can be very long. The views are breathtaking.

Fish and Chips

Fish and Chips

We then went eat in the theater district with my future in-laws at a Garfunkel’s. The food was ok but like the website says it tries to be all things to all people. That doesn’t really seem like a good idea. We parted ways with Cara and Darin and headed back to the hotel on foot. This was a great idea. We got to see pretty much all of West End. We wanted to see a play but we were tired and the next day we would be heading to the English country side to see Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath.

Rambling: Phil’s Grill, First Attempt at Cookies, and How Popeyes is Romantic

I like hamburgers. However, Cristina isn’t sold on them…yet. She did have a steakburger in NYC over Christmas so there is hope. However, Phil’s Grill is a favorite spot for us even though it touts itself as a hamburger joint. And it is, but Phil was smart enough to know not everyone eats beef. Seriously, if a restaurant serves a chicken sandwich then why not make all sandwiches available as a hamburger or a chicken sandwich. Countless times, I’ve watched Cristina confuse a waiter just by asking a substitution of chicken for hamburger. Three out of four times she is receives what she orders.

This is the reason we enjoy going to Phil’s grill. Cristina usually just sticks to chicken sandwiches, of course. I rarely order the same thing twice. Sometimes I feel like angering my doctors by ordering a hot sausage blend with a fried egg and bacon; other times I’ll order the bison because it’s a leaner meat. This past time I ordered the burger of the month: alligator burger stuffed with boudin dressed with shredded cabbage, Crystal hot sauce infused onion rings, and Mardi Gras sauce (not sure I want to know what is in that) on a half a French bread. It was a very good but not great sandwich. First of all, it was too big of a sandwich. I had to stretch my face muscles to be able to eat it. Also, the rice in the middle of a sandwich makes for a weird texture. It tasted fantastic but texture wise there was just too much going on. Of course, I’ll be there in March to sample that’s month’s burger. Also, I really wish they would put the lamb burger back on the menu even if for a limited time.

Sunday, Crisitna and I stayed inside. I know, it was gorgeous Sunday, but we just wanted to curl up on the couch and watch TV. Cristina found a recipe for cheese and mushroom stuffed chicken. Don’t quite remember the recipe but the stuffing was a mixture of plain yogurt, flour, mushrooms, cheese, and parsley. I think it was a little under seasoned but that’s a fixable mistake. Next time, I want to do the same thing but use feta and spinach. There was enough leftover stuffing that for supper so I used it to make an omelet which was a painful reminder of how long it had been since I made an omelet. It tasted great but looked awful. Sunday night, I decided to make chocolate chip cookies from two different recipes or in other words I tried making my recipe. They came out buttery and dry at the same time. Next time, I’ll stick to one recipe and then the time after that try to get creative.

For Valentine’s, we went to our favorite restaurant – Popeyes. Yes, we love that chicken from Popeyes (I’m sorry for not resisting the temptation). We were on our way to see The King’s Speech (highly recommend) and thanks to basketball and traffic we were running late. It’s actually Cristina’s great guilty pleasure, so she saw it as a romantic gesture. Like she said, it’s not like I was taking her to Applebee’s.

Traveling: Mistakes Were Made

So, our Europe trip was an amazing success. We did our research on everything from what to visit to what shoes to wear. It was almost a perfect trip. Almost.

Mistakes were made. Words were flown. Tears were shed. In other words, it wasn’t a perfect trip.

Mistake number one came in London. We forgot our ticket for a bus excursion trip to Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath. I decided to go back and get it. Cristina decided to stay near the Victoria Station and get some breakfast. Well, somewhere along the way, Cristina lost her jacket. It was a nice little jacket that zipped inside itself. She had it tied to her purse and it just fell. She retraced her steps to no avail. Somewhere, someone is walking the streets of London in the rain wearing her jacket. To make it worse, we didn’t need the tickets.

Luggage for Our Europe Trip

While it doesn’t look like much, our luggage was quite heavy if you are walking city blocks

My memory and directions that I wrote failed me in Paris. When we emerged from the Metro, we took a wrong turn. We walked about four blocks before I noticed. Carrying the luggage made this a bad experience. The next morning, we had a nice little fight in the rain in front of a breakfast café near the Eiffel Tower. We were both tired and grumpy. We both have no idea what the fight was about (even though I would bet it is somewhere in Cristina’s journal). We did end up having breakfast in that café, albeit a quiet one. Finally, the one museum I wanted to see in Paris besides the Louvre was the Musée d’Orsay. I forgot to find out what days it was open. Turns out the day we planned to go there was not one of them. Disneyland was a mistake, but it wasn’t the park’s fault. We were just too exhausted to enjoy it. We should have gone there straight from London and then toured Paris.

Zurich, however, was a mistake. This is the one time my MetrO app let me down. I knew what tram to take but had no idea how to catch it. Plus, the tickets were coin only at the stop we were at and we didn’t have change. We walked, and walked, and walked. We then went to look for a bite to eat, but we forgot to mortgage our house. We found a sandwich shop that made decent sandwiches at twenty francs a piece. Our sandwiches weren’t much higher class than a Subway sandwich.  The franc at the time was roughly equal to the dollar. The next morning, we had the hotel call for a taxi. A Lexus pulled up and charged  us another twenty francs to drive us to the train station. Now, I said we walked a lot, but it wasn’t that far away. We just had our luggage with us. Let’s just say, that would have been a cheaper cab ride in most American cities. In fact, we took much longer taxi trips in Florence and Rome that cost much less. I’m sure Zurich is beautiful. We have already decided that when we do it again, Switzerland might be its own trip.

Florence was beautiful, but our hotel was not actually in Florence. There was a bus that took is into the city, and the ladies behind the desk explained to us how the bus system worked and where to buy tickets.  While, I have no problems with the hotel at all, next time I would shill out the extra money to stay in Florence especially since that is a walking city.

We hadn’t planned on going to Pescara. I had no research on it. We booked a room in the Best Western while we were in Florence. We printed out walking directions according to Google. We arrived at Pescara and there is no one that can speak English.  We walked for about a half hour before we found someone to help us. We still had trouble finding it. Come to find out, it was across the street from the train station and then about two blocks. Google did warn me the directions were in Beta. The directions are now a lot simpler.

In Rome, I think I got swindled by a cab driver. I gave them a twenty and he said I gave him a ten. I don’t have proof, but I swear I’m right.

Cristina’s cousin had told her he lived next to Milan and was a short train ride away from the fashion capital. In the grand size of Europe this is correct. In practical terms, it was too great of a distance to do any sightseeing in Milan. This hurt since we had to eat the tickets we bought to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper. However, they were gracious hosts and treated us to some great homemade lasagna and pizza.

The rest of the trip was mostly smooth sailing with a few glitches. I wouldn’t go straight from Innsbruck to Prague again. That was an eight-hour train ride which almost didn’t happen due to late trains. In Amsterdam, eating outside caused me to come down with heat exhaustion.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées

The Avenue des Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe

However, errors can lead to wonders.  Due to the d’Orsay being closed, we got to stroll down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées at a nice leisurely pace.  I even sat on a park bench that was older than my country.  The bus ride in Florence allowed us to see parts of Florence we wouldn’t have plus we had a great view of the mountains from the hotel.  Getting lost in Pescara allowed us to see a football celebration and a wedding party emerge from a church.  Sometimes, mistakes are the best thing that could happen.