Temporary Brit

My three months of adventures in London!

Ahhh, I get it now :) August 31, 2011

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I made my third trek over to the British Museum today.  My main purpose in heading out there again was to visit the ancient Rome galleries.  I just started a class on ancient Rome, and I thought it might be nice to actually SEE some objects from that time period now that I have some background.  The only problem?  The ancient Rome gallery was closed.  So,  I decided to brave the Egypt rooms and really get a good look at the mummies.  Remember what I said last time about thinking it was silly to cram into one room in that HUGE place, just to see them?  Well, I was wrong, and I’m not afraid to admit it. 🙂 The mummies actually WERE pretty cool, and the sheer number of decorated coffins that the museum has is impressive.  I think I remember hearing or reading somewhere that it’s the best collection of Egyptian artifacts outside of Egypt, but don’t quote me on that.  The condition of some of the coffins is impressive; the colors in the paintings are still so bright that it’s hard to believe that these objects are thousands of years old.  Kudos to whoever does the restoration work!

 

The crowds weren’t bad today, especially considering the fact that it was well after lunchtime before I got to the museum.  After I was done, I took one of my marathon walks over the Battersea Park.  That’s between 3.5 and 4 miles, if you’re counting. 🙂  I was so tired by the time I got there, though, that I didn’t have enough energy left to explore the park.  Guess I’ll have to leave that one for another day!

 

 

British Candy, Part 2 August 30, 2011

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My apologies for the lack of posting over the last few days.  I wish I could say that it was because of something interesting…but it’s not. 😛  I’ve been trying to get ahead in my classes in the hope that I can finish some of them before I go back to the U.S., which would mean NOT having to haul my books back with me. I couldn’t leave you guys hanging any longer, though, so it’s time for another look into the wonderful world of British sweets!

 

TWIRL

 

Remember what I said about the Flake bar in my last blog on candy? I didn’t particularly like them coming into this trip because of one I had when I was in London in 2009.  I didn’t like the crumbliness, and I didn’t like the taste.  It just wasn’t sweet enough for me.  Well, I think I owe the Flake an apology, because upon further review, I think it was a Twirl that I had and didn’t like, not a Flake.  The Twirl comes in packs of two “fingers” (think Twix, but skinnier).  It’s crumpled up inside, like the Flake, and is covered with a coating of chocolate.  I didn’t like the Twirl any better this time around, and I’ll definitely be giving it a pass next time.

 

FUDGE 

 

The Fudge was a nice surprise for me.  They’re small (again, think of one section of a Twix, but smaller), and cheap, but very good.  There’s a chocolate coating on the outside, and a creamy, fluffy center inside.  It’s not fudge as you an I might think of it, though.  It actually tastes more caramelly, or maybe vanilla-y, or even mapelly (don’t you love my invented words? 😀 ).  At any rate, it isn’t chocolate.  The Fudge still gets a thumbs up from me, though!

 

CURLYWURLY

 

You know the chocolate-covered caramels that come in big boxes of chocolates?  The ones that are so chewy that they’re pretty much guaranteed to break your teeth and/or pull out a filling or two? Let’s say someone took two of those, softened them up a bit, flattened them out, and loosely braided them together.  That’s what a Curlywurly is like.  The taste is identical, but luckily, the Curlywurly isn’t tough enough to cause major dental damage. 🙂  I liked this one, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I were more into caramel. 

 

AERO

 

I hadn’t planned to review the Aero.  I had a mint one back home once and wasn’t impressed.  I think I may have just gotten a bad one, though…I don’t think the British/Irish section of Albertson’s gets restocked very often. 😛  At any rate, the Aero is NOT a Cadbury product, unlike most of what I’ve tried so far; it’s made by good old Nestle.  Each bar comes in easy to break off pieces; there’s a chocolate coating on the outside, and a center filled with air bubbles.  Here’s what it looks like:

 

 

So far, I’ve seen regular old chocolate Aeros, mint Aeros (green center instead of brown) and the one that inspired me to give the Aero another try….the orange Aero (orange center).  I LOVE orange flavored chocolate, and really enjoyed the orange Aero.  The texture takes a bit of getting used to, but the taste is fantastic!  If you’re in the states and you wanted to try something similar to the Aero, Hershey’s had just started selling their own aerated chocolate right before I left.  It’s….not great, to be honest.  In fact, I’d be surprised if they’re still being sold when I’m back home.

 

WINE GUMS

 

I think we need something that’s NOT chocolate to balance things out, don’t you? 😀  Wine Gums are a cross between fruit snacks, Dots, and Swedish Fish; they’re not NEARLY as tough as Dots, but they’re a bit firmer than most fruit snacks.  Also, unlike all those other treats, Wine Gums actually taste like real fruit.  That makes sense, since real juice is used in making them. 🙂  They do not, contrary to their name, taste like wine or involve alcohol in any way.  I don’t usually gravitate toward gummy, fruity candy (with the notable exception of Sour Patch Kids), but these were pretty good.  They’re definitely addicting, though! The brand of Wine Gums I tried was a store brand from one of the local grocery chain; I’m guessing there are other available in other places.  I’ve also seen them in some American grocery stores; just check the international section. 🙂

 

 

“To the king’s court, or to Hampton Court?” August 27, 2011

Hampton Court Palace- the fifth and final property covered by my Historic Royal Palaces membership card!  I had really been looking forward to my trip out there, especially since I had my buddy Helen with me for company.  I DEFINITELY don’t mind flying solo when it comes to sightseeing, but it’s nice to have company every once in awhile! 🙂

 

The palace is about half an hour away from central London by train.  It’s a very cheap ride, especially if you have an Oyster card, and well worth the trip.  It’s also well worth the trip if you’re at all into England’s Tudor Kings and Queens, particularly Henry VIII and his six wives.  Hampton Court is a BIG palace….the view in the picture above doesn’t really show that, but the official website has an aerial view that does: http://www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/planyourvisit/default.aspx. It was home to Cardinal Wolsey before Henry VIII decided he needed it more.  All six of his wives lived here, and Jane Seymour even died here after giving birth.  Supposedly, the ghost of Catherine Howard (wife number 5) can still be seen/heard running through parts of the palace, screaming.  I can’t confirm this from personal experience, unfortunately. 😛  All three of Henry’s surviving children (Mary I, Edward VI, and Elizabeth I) also spent time here; Edward was christened in the AMAZING chapel located inside the palace (as with many of the old churches over here…no photography inside).  There are other monarchs who’ve had some association with the palace (William III and Mary II, both Charles I and II), but they almost felt like an afterthought.  This is a Tudor Palace through and through!

 

The palace grounds are some of the best I’ve seen anywhere.  There’s a maze which I had heard was tough, but both Helen and I got through with no trouble.  The gardens are also pretty amazing; see for you yourself:

 

There were costumed actors present while we were there, and the guy playing Henry VIII looked and acted so much like him that it was actually creepy.  I’m not kidding; I accidentally made eye contact with him and had to look away:

 

It took hours to get through everything at the palace, but it was well worth it.  I had only planned to see this one once, but I’m definitely considering going back at least once more.  It might be nice to see it when it isn’t pouring rain and thundering. 😛  Another place I’d like to visit again? Pizza Express, where Helen and I had dinner.  That’s a restaurant chain over here, and very good one.  The food is not only GREAT, but reasonably priced!  I can’t complain about the ice cream I had for dessert, either. 🙂

 

That’s all for now, folks…it’s after midnight here and I should probably wind down for the evening. Now that I’ve visited all 5 HRP properties, I think a blog post ranking them just might be in order.  Look for that soon!

 

 

National Gallery and Trafalgar Square August 22, 2011

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When I was thinking about what I wanted to see during my time here, the National Gallery (like a lot of sights) didn’t make the cut.  I went last time I was in London, and while the collection is really impressive, I got a little bored with looking at nothing but paintings for hours.  The Gallery sounded good to me when I got up this morning, so I went to have another look around.

 

For those of you who’ve never been, the National Gallery contains hundreds of paintings from 13th to early 20th century western Europe.  The rooms are organized more or less by century and by country/region, with some special theme exhibits as well.  I enjoyed the museum so much more this time around; I didn’t get bored at all!  I think I might need to spring for a map next time, though.  I haven’t done that during either of my visits, which has led to me wandering through the rooms in way that doesn’t make sense from a chronological OR geographical standpoint.  Plus, I didn’t even know until I was almost ready to leave today that there’s a lower level.  There isn’t nearly as much down there, exhibit-wise, as there is upstairs, but there are some nice Holbeins and Da Vinci’s.  Incidentally, I think Da Vinci is one famous artist who’s not at ALL overrrated…although I kind of think that the Mona Lisa is.  Haven’t been to Paris to see for myself, though.

 

The National Gallery is situated at Trafalgar Square; it’s a major gathering place in London, as you can see:

 

Trafalgar Square seems to attract a lot of buskers (people who perform on streets/parks/etc for money).  Many of them are just people who dress up in weird outfits so tourists can take photos of them…after they’ve dropped a few coins in the cup, of course.  One guy who I’ve seen pretty frequently costumes himself like a gold statue.  At first, I thought he was painted, but then I saw him take his mask off to have a smoke. 🙂  I’ve also seen a pirate, someone who I THINK was supposed to be Sweeney Todd, Edward Scissorhands, and a contortionist dancer (no, I’m not making that up).  For all the bizarre stuff that goes on, though, there’s some real talent out there, too.  Twice now, I’ve seen this guy with a guitar who has an AMAZING voice.  He’s the real deal (Jamie, if you’re reading this, you would promote this guy in a HEARTBEAT).  I don’t know his name, or what kind of stuff is on the albums he’s selling, but he seems to be a Trafalgar Square regular.  He also does a mean version of “Hallelujah,” which is saying something since EVERYONE has done that song.  I’ll try and find out who he is at some point. 🙂

 

So…today was the first day of my very last semester of school.  I actually got a head start on my classes over the weekend, and in spite of spending a good chunk of Saturday and Sunday on my work, I still have a pile of stuff to do this week.  If this is any indication of how the rest of the semester is going to go…I’m in for a very busy time.  That means that my adventures (and subsequent blog posts) will be a bit fewer and further between.  Don’t worry; I still have PLENTY of fun things planned for the rest of my trip.  I just won’t have the freedom to be out and about every day.  Truth be told, that’s not such a bad thing.  I’ve missed having something useful to do!

 

The Tower of London…and then some August 18, 2011

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Ahhhh, the Tower….not only is this one of the five properties covered by my Historic Royal Palaces membership, but it’s also one of my favorite sights from my last trip to London.  I had originally planned to wait until tourist season was over to visit again….but I couldn’t wait any longer. 🙂  The Tower is great, no matter when you go.  The amount of history that’s happened here is staggering; it’s not all imprisonments, torture, and executions, either.  I really like that the place feels as old as it is, in spite of all the tourists and modern exhibits.  It’s easy to imagine the Tower in use, the way it was in past centuries.  As I’ve mentioned, that’s my favorite way to enjoy  places like this!

There’s a LOT to see at the Tower; if you go, make sure you plan to spend at least a few hours there.  There’s the crown jewels, of course; I would go there first, since the line builds up fast.  This is true even when it’s NOT tourist season.  Walking the walls is fun; doing so takes you through a few of the towers and the exhibits they contain.  The White Tower (the square building with the four posts in the picture above) is separate, though; it contains a pretty decent collection of armour, and it tends to get as crowded at the Crown Jewels.  The Yeoman Warders (Beefeaters) still do their tours, but I haven’t taken one yet.  That’s something I WILL save for after tourist season.

After I was done with the Tower, I headed south of the river via the Tower Bridge:

I walked for ages.  My plan was to walk all the way to Westminster Bridge and then go to Westminster Abbey for the evening service, and that’s what happened.  I stopped in at Southwark Cathedral, since I had plenty of time to kill.  It was nice and peaceful, and the people who work there are very friendly and helpful.  Plus, it looks like there’s a resident cat; he was trying to get in while I was there, but when one of the cathedral workers tried to let him in, he wouldn’t budge.  You have to pay to take photos inside the cathedral, and it didn’t seem worth it to me.  So, no pictures of that.  Here’s some of the other things I saw on my walk:

As I said, I wound up my day at the evening service at Westminster Abbey.  I’ll save a description of the place for when I do the tourist thing a little later on in the trip.  I will say one thing, though: for those of you who watched the Royal Wedding, or who have ever seen video or photos of the Abbey….cameras DON’T do it justice. 🙂

 

Greenwich August 15, 2011

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I’m not big into Maritime history or planetariums, and I’ve never really felt a burning need to be photographed in the eastern and western hemispheres at the same time, so Greenwich was not originally on my sightseeing roster.  After having two people suggest that I take a trip out there, though, I figured it might be worth it. For me, the town itself was the main attraction; Greenwich is another one of those communities that was swallowed up by London back in the day, so (like Hampstead) it still has a “village” feel.  The town center (the part that’s worth seeing for most tourists/visitors) is pretty small and easy to navigate.  Here are a couple of photos to set the scene:

 

I didn’t do any of the museums while I was there (as I said…not really up my alley in terms of interest), but I had to head to the park. It’s getting pretty late in the summer, but there are still plenty of flowers to enjoy:

 

The main reason I wanted to go to Greenwich today was the fabulous views of London that I was promised.  They definitely didn’t disappoint!  It’s quite a hike uphill to the Royal Observatory, but it’s totally worth it.  These were the best views I’ve gotten of the city so far.  You really have to be there (or have a better camera than mine) to get the full panoramic effect, but this will give you some idea:

 

I did about five minutes of research on Greenwich before going today, and one thing I learned was that it’s a hot spot for filming movies and tv shows.  Some of the last “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie was shot there, in fact, and one of Jack Sparrow’s costumes is on display.  Learning that was interesting, but I didn’t think much about it….until I got there and saw a whole bunch of movie trailers and people wandering around in Victorian era costumes. 🙂  It turns out that they were filming scenes for a BBC production of Great Expectations today.  I have to confess: I HATED the book.  Seriously; it’s my second most hated Dickens novel after The Old Curiosity Shop.  Even so, watching the filming was pretty cool.  The bit I saw basically involved a bunch of people who I think were extras walking across the street.  It took all of five seconds, but they shot it at least three or four times.  I also saw another brief scene as I was passing by later where the actor playing Pip (main character…the actor is also going to be Romeo in the new Romeo and Juliet that’s apparently being made in the near future) had to get out of a carriage, look at a piece of paper, and then walk away.  Couldn’t get a good enough angle on him, but here are some of the extras (don’t worry, photos were allowed…no paparazzi here!)

So…who wants to play dress up? 😀

 

 

British Candy, Part 1 August 14, 2011

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Many of you who know me in “real life” know that I have a serious sweet tooth.  I’ll take almost anything sugary if I can get it, but my heart really belongs to all things chocolate.  For someone like me, this place is PARADISE.  I’m not even kidding; people talk about Swiss and Belgian chocolate, but I’ve been in candy heaven over here!  Since England is home to quite a few sweets that we don’t have in the states, I thought it might be fun to introduce my American friends and family members to some of what I’ve been enjoying. 🙂

 

KIT KAT CHUNKY

 

There was no way I wasn’t going to start with the Kit Kat Chunky…these things are fantastic, and just might be my favorite candy bar ever.  The “structure” is pretty basic; just picture one segment of a regular Kit Kat that’s about 5 or 6 inches long instead of small.  We’ve had similar products in the U.S. over the years (Kit Kat Big Kat and Kit Kat Extra Crispy), but they don’t hold a candle to the Chunky. 🙂

 

I first  discovered the Chunky, completely be accident, when I was here in 2009.  I was at the store and needed something sweet to go with dinner, and I picked one up without really thinking about my choice.  I figured it would taste more or less like a regular Kit Kat….but it was SO MUCH better!  The chocolate is creamier, and the wafers taste a little more like cookies.  I brought a few home with me last time so my family could come to know and love the Chunky as much I do….but none of them made it out of my apartment alive. 😛  There’s also a caramel version, but it’s kind of all about the original for me.

 

DAIRY MILK


Cadbury ain’t just for Easter over here…you can find their products all year round.  I HAD been seeing more Cadbury in the U.S. in recent months, particularly since the company was bought by Kraft, but it’s still more expensive and difficult to get Cadbury in the states than it is here.  Dairy Milk is their standard, plain chocolate bar. It’s very thick and sweet and creamy….almost too much so.  Basically, it tastes like one big lump of  Cadbury Creme Egg shell.  Personally, I think that stuff is better in small quantities, so I wasn’t in love with the Dairy Milk.  If you like your chocolate a bit richer than what you’d get from Hershey’s (think Dove), you’ll probably like this.

 

WISPA

 

The Wispa is another Cadbury product.  It has a chocolate “shell,” coating an inside that resembles a darker, less fluffy Three Musketeers bar. The consistency is less creamy than the Three Musketeers as well (and the Dairy Milk, for that matter).  It manages to not be crumbly, though, which is what keeps it on my “good” list. 🙂

 

FLAKE

This one is courtesy of Google Images...I took all the rest of the candy portraits. 🙂

 

The Flake is yet another Cadbury product, and yet another candy bar that I tried in 2009.  Picture a regular milk chocolate bar rolled out until it’s thin and flat.  Then, pretend that someone comes along and rolls it up into a crinkly tube shape.  That’s the flake.  When I had my first one in 2009, I wasn’t impressed.  It didn’t seem nearly sweet enough, I didn’t like the crumbly consistency, and it tasted a bit stale.  I gave the Flake another try this time, and my opinion improved a little (I think I got an old Flake before).  The taste is decent, but I still don’t like the way it crumbles.

 

SMARTIES

 

 

British Smarties are NOT the same thing as American Smarties; British Smarties are more or less M & Ms.  Same size, same shape, same candy coating over milk chocolate.  The taste is a bit different, though; not better, not worse, just different.  The candy coating is different here, too.  The colors are paler, and I’m told that this is due to an uproar awhile back over food dyes.  Also…maybe I’m crazy….but I think the candy coating has a flavor of its own,  and the flavor is different for each color.

 

I think that’s enough for our first foray into the world of British sweets. 🙂  As you may have noticed, this post is entitled, “British Candy, Part 1.” There will indeed be a part 2 at some point (there is still much unfamiliar candy territory for me to investigate), but I need a sugar break.  I keep forgetting that I’m not 16 anymore, and I can’t live on candy all day long and still feel good! 😛