Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Madrid, Espana

Keenan and I literally slept walk to Gatwick Airport Friday morning for an early flight to Madrid (1hr45mins from London) to meet up with our friends, Pratish and Bharvi, who are traveling through Spain. Since we arrived a day early, we decided to head to Toledo, a medieval town and UNESCO world heritage site about 70km south of Madrid. It's a charming town with narrow cobblestone alleyways, churches, synagogues, and little plazas. Lucky for us, it was a beautiful sunny day in Toledo. Definitely worth the 30 minute train ride from Madrid if you have the time.

The next morning, we strolled around the posh barrio of Salamanca before meeting up with Pratish and Bharvi. From there we explored Old Madrid (Pratish played tour guide) starting from Sol to Plaza Mayor, Plaza Espana, Palacio Real, Plaza de Oriente, Teatro Real, and saw many cathedrals and churches along the way. We ended the evening at La Finca de Susana and had a pleasant meal with friends, followed by drinks at a bar in Chueca, the bohemian quarter of Madrid.
Pratish, Bharvi, and Keenan in Sol:

Old Madrid Walking Tour:

Good friends, good food, and lots of wine = great fun!:

Sunday, we spent the day in Bourbon Madrid along the Paseo del Pardo, Parque de Retiro, Huerta/Anton Martin, Banque de Espana, and Museo del Pardo -- another lovely neighborhood of Madrid with stunning architecture, culture, and history.
Parque de Retiro:

Palacio de Communication/Cibeles Plaza:

All in all, Madrid was a nice excursion from London. We're definitely looking forward to future visits to Southern Spain (Sevilla, Granada, Cordoba), Barcelona, and the Balearic Islands. You can cover Madrid in 3 days: 1) Old Madrid; 2) Bourbon Madrid; 3) Toledo as a day trip. Madrid never sleeps! Madrilenos eat at 10PM and stay out all night. Neighborhoods for nightlife include: La Latina, Huerta/Anton Martin, and Chueca.

Here's some more photos from the Flickr:

Originally uploaded by London Cosmopolitan

We had fun traveling with you, Pratish and Bharvi! Hope you guys are enjoying Paris and see you in London soon.

It's New Years Eve here; and we're braving the cold and the crowd to see the firework show along the Victoria Embankment. Happy New Years! Love, Lily & Keenan

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

We enjoyed our first Christmas together as a married couple in London. We miss our parents, sisters, nephews, and extended family, and we're thinking of you on this Christmas day!

So everything literally shuts down for the "festive" season in Europe. No public transportation, no grocery stores, no movie theaters, nothing...with the exception of a few restaurants and pubs. And that's exactly what Keenan and I did this afternoon -- we went to a neighborhood pub for a Christmas "pint" and mince meat pie (no, there is no meat, just dried fruit and nuts). It's a holiday treat along with "pudding" (fruit cake) and rum butter.

Many of you know that I enjoy cooking and miss it quite a bit since Keenan left to the U.K. (It's no fun cooking for yourself). Yes, I have been spending a lot of time in the kitchen in domestic bliss. =) For Christmas dinner tonight, I made a small standing rib roast, mash potato, and green beans. Yummy! Anyone want to come over for dinner?

A hearty meat lasagna for Christmas Eve:

Our little Christmas dinner:

We have a little Christmas tradition. So Keenan and I dated 7 years before we got married in October; and for the past 3 years we've always traveled around the holidays: 2005/6: Egypt; 2006/7: HK, Cambodia, China: 2007/8: India. As a Christmas tradition, Keenan and I give each other the gift of travel. Tomorrow morning we're boarding a plane to Madrid! We're meeting up with some friends there -- looking forward to it!

Hope everyone is enjoying Christmas. Happy Holidays! Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!

Love, Lily & Keenan

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Casa Sol - Mexican Food in London?

Yesterday, we celebrated a happy occasion at Casa Sol, our neighborhood Mexican restaurant on Clapham High Street after a "pint" of Beligan blonde at Bierodrome. We were warned that there is no good Mexican in England. Based on Harden's (UK's Zagat), there are seven Mexican restaurants in London?!? Casa Sol wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. Keenan got the chimichanga, a bit too fried; and I got the fajita combo; it was okay. I think Keenan is looking forward to a tasty burrito and bottomless chips and salsa on International Blvd when he visits in May. Until then, Casa Sol will do the trick.

Today is a lazy day in London. I'm making a stop at Sainsbury's, one of UK's many grocery stores, along with Tesco (Safeway), Waitrose, and M&S (Whole Foods), to pick up a few things for our Christmas dinner. Okay, okay, I confess, I've been obsessed with UK grocery stores! They have so many unique items that we don't get back in the States.

Here's some photos from the rest of our flat:

The hallway (Front door to the right, living room down the hall, kitchen and bathroom in the middle of the hallway):

Bathroom (the British are fond of their towel warmer, which is next to the toilet):

Living Room (on my father-in-law's suggestion, we will be getting a small dining set, to be located where the love seat is. Love seat will be placed by the window. Notice there is no TV? We don't intend on getting a TV either. Did you know you have to pay a fee to have a TV in London? More time to read, explore, shop, and blog!):

Kitchen (my favorite room with Bosch frig, washer, a dishwasher!):

Office/2nd Bedroom:

Master Bedroom:

Happy holidays everyone! With Love, Lily

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Perfect London Weekend

My first weekend in London turned out to be quite fun! On Friday, Keenan and I met up with his old friend Jan and his friend at a Swiss restaurant called St. Mortiz in SoHo for yummy fondue. Jan and Keenan met at a Leo Youth Camp in Tokyo almost 10 years ago. Who would have guessed, after all these years, they end up living in the same City?

Saturday morning, we made our way to the Borough Market, London's oldest food market and a foodie's paradise. Borough Market was packed with locals and tourists alike, and was quite busy due to the holiday season.

Between chorizos, German sausages, mulled wine, and chocolate brownies, we were stuffed and enjoyed a long stroll from London Bridge to Tower Bridge along the south bank of the River Thames to burn off the extra calories.

The famous Tower Bridge:

View of The City from the South Bank:

Later in the evening, Keenan and I went to see Harold Pinter's "No Man's Land," a play about two aging 'poets' set in Hampstead. It was excellent! If you are in London, going to the theater is a must!

Sunday afternoon, we explored the exclusive neighborhood of Knightsbridge, Chelsea & Kensington. This area I would say is equivalent to the Upper West Side and Park Avenue of New York City: old money, stunning rowhouses lined with trees, and very elegant. We walked from Sloane Square to Harrod's, London's famous shopping institution, and then to Hyde Park, which is sandwiched between Knightsbridge and Notting Hill/Marylebone (another neighborhood yet to explore).

Instead of taking the tube home, we opted to take a double decker bus back to Clapham Common on the 137 (15 minutes away). To end the perfect weekend in London, I decided to make a pot of corn and chicken chowder and spent the evening at home with a cup of tea like a proper Brit.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season!

Cheers, Lily

Friday, December 19, 2008

Clapham Common

It was a beautiful morning in London so I decided to put on my running shoes and go for a jog around Clapham Commons (aka park). To my surprise, the Common is huge! I was thrilled to see so many happy runners despite the morning chill.

Clapham is a lovely neighborhood, just south of the River Thames. It's a good fit for us -- what more can you ask for -- pretty Victorian rowhouses (think: Washington, D.C.), cafes, restaurants, pubs, great transportation links, and of course the Common.

There are two major shopping areas in Clapham: the Clapham High Street (every neighborhood has a High Street) and Clapham Junction. We live off the Clapham Common, about a ten minute walk to Clapham High Street and the Underground Station, and 20 minute walk to Battersea Rise/Northcote Road (Clapham Junction), a very nice area for shopping and dining (photo below).

Okay, now some flat photos. We had the pleasure of hosting our first house guest this week! I don't know how, but Keenan managed to find a cosy 2BR-1BA flat within our price range. Good job Keenan! Looking forward to visitors!

My favorite part of any home: the kitchen!

More flat photos soon. Cheers, Lily

Congratulations Mr. & Mrs.!

On Tuesday, Keenan and I attended our first wedding in London at the lovely Fulham Palace. Romi and Saurja, a Berkeley Ph.D. and Barclays banker, tied the knot on December 16th and hosted a fun reception in Fulham. It was great seeing everyone in London! Congratulations Mr. & Mrs. Sen -- wishing you a lifetime of love and happiness.

Earlier in the day, I went with a group of people to IASTE's post-conference tour to London's Kings Cross (home of the EuroStar) hosted by Argent. The King's Cross Master Plan includes 67 acres development comprising of 8 million square feet of mixed-used retail, office, and residential space constructed over the next four years, just in time for the 2012 Olympics!

Some photos from King's Cross Tour:

Hope all is well back in San Francisco. We miss everyone!


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Greetings from the U.K.!

This is Lily here, blogging from our new home in Clapham, London (SW4).

I arrived to the U.K. last Wednesday, December 10th and took a bus straight from LHR to Oxford, where I spent a week at the 11th conference of IASTE, co-sponsored by UC Berkeley and Oxford Brookes University. Those of you in the MCP program know that I've spent the past 12 months working as a Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) coordinating this conference. All in all, despite all the hard work, it turned out to be a great conference (I hope). Special thanks for those who helped out the last few days. Hope you all are enjoying your post-conference vacation throughout Europe!

Oxford is a charming town! Very scholarly and the architecture is simply beautiful. I didn't get to explore much of Oxford except for the High Street, the area surrounding the Examination School (where the conference was held), and of course, the Malmaison Hotel, which was a former prison, now a posh hotel. Keenan made a trip up Friday evening to say hello to fellow Berkeley colleagues and friends who were at the conference. He spent most of his time at Blackwell's Bookshops building up his London library. We managed to sneak away for a quiet dinner Sunday evening at a tapas restaurant before sending him home.

I'm now back in London, recuperating from a very exhausting and eventful semester. Here are some photos from Oxford and the IASTE conference. More updates soon.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Hamburg, Frankfurt & Munich, Germany

I had an opportunity to travel to Germany twice over the period of three weeks. The first trip was long and very busy and included a hectic itinerary in first Hamburg, and then Frankfurt and briefly Stuttgaart. The highlight of this portion was all the driving I got to do along the Autobahn. It is true that there is no speed limit, but once you approach urban areas, you must slow down to the specified speed. Drivers unaware of this have been caught off guard by the speed cameras and the subsequent traffic citation they receive later in the mail.

Munich Photos:

Hamburg reminded me a lot of Amsterdam with the canals and waterfront shops and restaurants. In Hamburg I met up with a colleague’s local friend who showed us around and eventually led us to one of his favorite restaurants.

Frankfurt is primarily a financial hub in Europe with a lot of un-European and un-inspiring skyscrapers. This could be bypassed altogether, but is a common destination for business travel.

I was fortunate enough to make it to Munich during their famous Christmas Market in Marienplatz. I spent the entire evening drinking mulled wine and trying authentic Bohemian currywursts and bratwursts. I was also able to have a pilgrimage to Franziskaner, Spaatenhausse, and Hoffbrauhausse, the last of which was a little bit too touristy. Afterward I met up with a colleague of mine from Munich for a light dinner and a night out to his favorite wine bar. Munich is well worth the trip if you’re in Germany and I am already thinking about the feasibility of going again for the Oktoberfest in September of 2009.

Hamburg Photos: