Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Canterbury, U.K.




After having visited Oxford in December for a long weekend and loving it (see our Oxford post), I decided to make visiting places outside of London a priority in addition to the other traveling we would be doing throughout Europe. England has a lot to offer in terms of history and scenery outside of London, not even including the other parts of island of the Great Britain, Scotland and Wales, which I also really want to see at some point too.



I took the train out to Canterbury, made famous in part by Chaucer's immortalized stories, "The Canterbury Tales". I also chose Canterbury for this day trip because it is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, owing to the first known Cathedral in England having been established here by St. Augustine in 597 AD.



It is a quaint little town and the train in from Victoria Station in London passes through some fantastic English countryside, scattered with ruins of ramparts and castles along the way. Once in Canterbury itself, it's very small and easy to navigate on foot. It is best to start off from the West Gate, a guard tower which has been a primary lookout post on the road to London for over 600 years. From there walk down St. Peter's Street, crossing the River Stour. Immediately to your right are some fantastic gardens if you're interested. St. Peter's Street turns into the High Street where you find all of the same familiar high street brands as every other high street in the UK. Make your way along until you get to Canterbury Cathedral, you can't miss it. It dates back to 1070 and is built in the gothic style, very reminiscient of Notre Dame.



After spending some time on the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral, the only other major site to see are the ruins of St. Augustine's Abbey and it's about a fifteen minute walk from the Cathedral. There isn't much to see besides the stone structures of what were the original foundations of the Abbey, but there are interesting renderings on the site that depict what the Abbey looked like. At first glance, it isn't the most interesting thing I have seen, but if you give yourself a little time to learn about it, it's quite impressive.



When I was done with my walking tour of the city, I took myself to Thomas Becket pub for lunch, back towards the West Gate and I'm not sure if I'm glad I left it for last, or perhaps if I should have done it first. Besides being a very friendly proper English pub with great Kentish Ales on tap, the food is ridiculously English and heavy. After one Kentish Ale and an order of the Cottage Pie with mature cheddar and mash, I was out of commission and took the next train back to London. I'm not a big fan of English cuisine. In fact I think that the reason food in London is so good is because the English aren't fans of English cuisine either. The best restaurants in London (by taste, not necessarily by price) always seem to be Indian, Southeast Asian, Dim-sum, Sushi, Argentine, Brazilian, Italian, French, Carribean, you name it...There are even Mexican restaurants popping up! (Las Iguanas, Chiquitos, Wahaca), but I have yet to make a final judgment on that. English food...Just look at it.


Overall, Canterbury is a great little day trip if you're looking for something historic and need some time outside of the city.

Keenan

Monday, January 19, 2009

On Board BA285: San Francisco

I’m writing this post from seat 41C on BA 285 to San Francisco. We’re a bit behind schedule due to a delayed flight from Delhi. When I landed at LHR some six weeks ago, it really felt like I was coming home. It was the warmest feeling even though I haven’t stepped foot on British soil since 2004 when my friend and I backpacked through Europe. Some how England felt so familiar to me. Perhaps it was because I spent a year corresponding with my colleagues at Oxford Brookes, or my daily check-in with my husband in London, or my excitement about living in the UK. I felt very much at home here, and as excited as I am to finish up my last semester of grad school, I am sad to leave my comfortable Clapham flat, London, and of course Keenan. The last weeks have been wonderful and I am looking forward to coming “home” over spring break.

That said, the 7am minicab ride to the airport was killer; it took 2 hours to get to LHR this morning due to the rain and traffic. Next time I will leave on an afternoon flight and take the Piccadilly line to the airport. Aside from this, my last weekend in London was quite enjoyable. Friday evening I met a bunch of Keenan’s colleagues in Canary Wharf, all English. One of his colleague’s wife, who is 39 weeks pregnant and has a scheduled c-section today, came out and celebrated their “last weekend of freedom.” =) Congratulations on your new bundle of joy! We are thrilled for you and your new adventure into parenthood.

Saturday evening Keenan’s Dad arrived from India on a 20 hr. layover. We are very glad that he was stop by and see our neighborhood despite being such a short stop over. On your next visit, we’ll be sure to see London properly, along with a cricket game at the Oval Stadium and a wonderful Indian meal. What started as a beautiful sunny day turned into a nasty storm; it was rainy, windy, and wet! This was my first real “rainy” day since I arrived. Otherwise, the weather has been mild. We went to our local Thai restaurant and the to “Frog and Forget-Me-Not” pub. Don’t you love the names of English pubs: “Slug and Lettuce,” “All Bar One,” “Rose and Crown,” and “Dirty Dick?” We had breakfast together before Keenan’s Dad left to the airport. Keenan even got teary-eyed when he waved goodbye to his Dad on the platform of Knightsbrige Tube Station. I spent my last evening in London running some errands, packing, and cooking one last meal before the kitchen goes into hibernation (that’s b/c Keenan doesn’t cook~!).

Well, this is the end of my winter break. Good fun! We hosted four visitors, saw two new cities (Oxford and Madrid), drank lots of wine, met tons of people, and enjoyed quality time together. I’m looking forward to this week: on January 20th, America will witness history as President Barack Obama will get sworn into office and the celebration of the year of the Ox on January 26th. All my single friends and family, you’ll be getting a lucky red envelope from Keenan and I, wishing all good blessings for the Year of the Ox. =) I’m looking forward to sharing a meal with my parents and sister in Sacramento. For now, I will pass the baton to Keenan as he gets to update this blog intermittently. I know he has a full house of visitors starting mid-February. Should be fun! Anyways, let the countdown begin to March 19th…

Love, Lily

Friday, January 16, 2009

New Friends, Old Friends, Good Friends…in London

It’s been a quite a social week thus far. Monday I met up with Erin and had a quick dinner before my meeting at the UC-London Alumni House at Princi’s, a causal Milan-style bakery/cafĂ© on Wardour Street in Soho. Londoners know that restaurateur Alan Yau is the brainchild behind the uber successful Wagamama noodle-chain, Yauatcha, Hakkasan, and Sake No Hana. One of his latest ventures with Rocco Princi is the establishment of Princi’s Bakery. Inside has a sleek design with communal tables. Great place to grab lunch of thick crusty pizza, quiches, salads, pastas, and desserts.

Afterwards, I hustled over to the California House to meet with Matthew Daines and some fellow UC alumni to plan social events for UC alumni residing in Greater London. Many of you know that I am a runner. Each year the California House participates in the British 10K Run as a fundraiser for a scholarship fund to bring UC students to the UK. Expressing my interest in the 10K run, I somehow got wheeled into coordinating the event in July. No big deal. After coordinating the IASTE conference, this sounds like a piece of cake. Anyone interested, please feel contact me! I’m actually excited, as I haven’t ran in a race in two years. Then I tubed over the Waterloo to have drinks with Keenan’s new friends that he met at the annual Thanksgiving Dinner.

New Friends in London:


It also turns out that my friend Howard, whom I met through my college roommate is in town on a month-long business trip. I haven’t seen him in five years; he was living in Seattle and recently moved back to SF. It was so nice to reconnect with old friends! He is staying up near Regent’s Park and works near Oxford Circus, so we met up for dinner Wednesday at Busaba Eathai (Thai) on Bird Street, which happens to be another Alan Yau establishment (I didn’t know it at the time I picked out the restaurant). Again, it has a nice atmosphere with communal tables and the food was good, but not spectacular. Quite busy for an early Wednesday evening. Keenan, however, raved about Yauatcha when he went with his friend back in November and is looking forward to going back. But we’ll save that for our favorite foodie friends when they visit London (you know who you are =D). Of course, we had to introduce Howard to British beer, also known as “bitter,” room temperature beer that is flat. I’ll pass on that and have the Chardonnay, please?

Old Friends in London:


On Thursday, Erin made her way to Clapham and we ventured to East London to check out the Spitalfield’s Market. We couldn’t let Erin leave without having proper “curry” – so dinner on Brick Lane it was! Thursday evening also happened to be Erin’s last night in London; drinks at The Alexander on Clapham Commons. Great fun hanging out with you Erin. Hope you enjoyed your time here and our place is always open for good friends and family. Bon Voyage!

Good friends lunching at Bierodrome (Belgian) in Clapham:



Walking near Liverpool Street:


Dinner of "curry" on Brick Lane:


Love, L.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Museums, museums, museums galore!

I’ve been in the U.K. for a month now. Wow, where did time go? As trite as it may sound, but I love London! It is not just the capital of Europe, but also the capital of the world! London has been great. I can see us staying here for more than two years, but like Keenan said, we’ll take it one year at a time. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up being UK citizens after five years?

Keenan returned to work on Monday, and to keep myself entertained, I’ve been visiting London’s many splendid museums (which are free by the way). Tuesday I found myself at the impressive National Gallery at Trafalgar Square, home to more than 2,000 Western European paintings starting from the 1500s. Since I recently visited the El Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, I skipped the Renaissance paintings and focused on the 19th-20th century paintings of Monet, Van Gogh, and Renoir, aka the Impressionist Movement. It’s a wonderful museum, so definitely stop by for an afternoon while you are in the area.

National Gallery on a cold London afternoon:


This week my friend Erin from grad school is in town. Since this is her first trip to London, we did some leisurely sightseeing along the South Bank, starting at the Millennium Bridge to the London Eye to Westminister/Big Ben, and then we stopped off at the Tate Modern on our way back to the London Bridge Tube Station. The Tate Modern is housed in a former power station on Bank side of the River Thames. Across the museum is the beautiful St. Paul's Cathedral. For all you modern art lovers, the Tate Modern is a must.

Walk along the Southbank, London Eye, Big Ben, and the River Thames (gorgeous!):






The next day we met up in South Kensington to visit the Victoria & Albert Museum, another excellent museum. Entering through the main entrance, you'll see Chihuly's beautiful chandelier hanging from the V&A's main dome. I missed the Chihuly Exhibition at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco over the summer -- we were tied up with moving, getting married, and classes, but glad to see his art in person. I particularly enjoyed the Cold War Modern Design: 1945 -1970, which War – very interesting! The exhibition closed yesterday – very glad that we explores the developments in art, design, architecture, and film during the Cold were able to see it. One more museum on my hit list, the British Museum, and a return visit to the Tate Modern on the weekend (it's open till 10PM on Friday and Saturday).

V&A Museum:


Saturday morning Keenan and I went to explore the neighborhood of Notting Hill, a fashionable area with pretty white Victorian rowhouses. Of course, everyone knows Notting Hill as the set location of the 1999 film with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, and home to the famous Portobello Market. It would have been lovely except it was freezing cold!! Keenan and I had to cut our stroll short and hide out at a local pub while our fingers thawed. We’ll be sure to visit Portobello Market when the weather is um…a bit warmer. I have the say, the weather in London is fickle-- it literally changes by the hour. No joke. The other morning, we woke up to snow flurries and then an hour later it was bright and sunny, albeit cold. Later on in the evening, we met up with a group of American ex-pats at Gordon's Wine Bar on the Embankment. Small, underground wine bar, and always packed! Good times!

Lovely Notting Hill and World War II masks on Portobello Rd. for the history buff:




Sunday our friend Jan invited us over for brunch at his flat in Covent Garden. You have to love the Europeans -- they sure know how to enjoy life. We ended up having a 5 hour "brunch" complete with polenta w/sausage, dessert, tea, and lots of wine. It was the perfect Sunday afternoon, and all his friends are wonderful. Many of them just returned from their holiday travels in Australia, Israel, and Switzerland. The Brits and the Europeans travel a lot! They use their 26 vacation days to the fullest, and weekends too! "Hey Keenan, how about a weekend at the Swiss ski-resort Davos in February?" Pleasure to meet everyone!



We're excited that Europe is our backyard -- just a hop, skip, and jump and you can find yourself in Italy, Croatia, Sweden, Russia, Turkey. We love to travel and we love food and wine. So over the weekend, we picked up several Lonely Planet guidebooks and launched into planning weekend excursions and long holidays. I'll be back in London over spring break and we're taking a long weekend to the Moroccan city of Marrakesh and the High Atlas Mts. We couldn't refuse RT between LGA-Marrakesh for GBP80 per person! That doesn't take me from San Francisco to Los Angeles back home.



All in all, it has been a good week exploring new neighborhoods, hosting visitors, and meeting new friends! This is my last full week in London before returning to Berkeley on Monday, and I plan on making the best of it. My father-in-law is stopping through London on his way home from India; it'll be good to see family!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Book Reviews

Keenan joked the other day that he has neglected this blog. I told him he should write on his flat-hunting experience, bank experience (thanks NatWest!), and his trips to Germany for work. The truth is, while I am blogging away, Keenan is spending time reading. For those of you who've been to our Rockridge apartment, Keenan built up a pretty nice library. But since we weren't sure where and how big our flat would be in London, we decided not to ship the books. Instead, they are sitting at my parent's home in Sacramento. In Oxford, while I was working away at the IASTE conference, he spent hours at Blackwell's Bookshop, a wonderful bookstore off the High Street to pick up a few novels, though he still insist that his beloved Moe's on Telegraph is better.

Here's his latest reviews, taken from his Facebook page:

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Mohsin Hamid



"Basically an allegorical tale of the narrator's tumultuous relationship with
America, this is a short, but dense story and would be worth a second read, if only to pick out some details which may have been glossed over initially. The delivery is candid, but tense and the content is both timely and relevant with implications on both geographies of experience, his original Pakistan and his adopted America. The title of the book can be interpreted in a couple of different ways. At first glance it seems that our protagonist is a budding political or religious fundamentalist, struggling with memories and unresolved personal torments from his time in the States and headed towards an unquestioned destiny of Islamic or nationalist extremism. However, during his flashbacks of New York he makes frequent reference to his valuation firm’s mantra, “focus on the fundamentals”, in this case the fundamentals of finance and valuation. His eventual rejection of the corporate world and of America generally begins with an initial hesitation to focus on the fundamentals of a particular work engagement, and develops into a reluctance to fully accept a communion with this lifestyle. At first enthusiastic towards his job offer, circle of friends, and his day to day routine, his commitment seems to dwindle almost at the same pace of his deterioration with his romantic interest, Erica. Pay close attention to the events he experiences with her just prior to his business trip to Manila and his subsequent reaction to 9/11 while there. When their relationship is on a high, he experiences euphoria for his American life. As their relationship becomes more complicated, with instances of rejection and twisted forms of forced intimacy his views and feelings towards America change.

Further to this last point, I don’t think it is a coincidence that Hamid chose the name “Changez” (the Urdu form of Genghis) for our protagonist, as it can also be mispronounced or interpreted as “changes”, reflecting an ongoing process of development and devolution, or perhaps evolution, into another state of mind and frame of reference.

Overall, this is a strong book and was worthy of its consideration for the Man Booker. I would highly recommend it to anyone with a mild curiosity in it."


Shantaram
Gregory David Roberts




"At times self-aggrandizing and unbelievable and with prose and style that isn't anything worth clamouring over, this is a good novel overall, an interesting plot and a quick and easy read, despite coming in at just over 900 pages.

My main criticism is that Roberts demonstrates throughout the novel that he is capable of a higher writing form, but he usually devolved back into a style that I found hurried, untimely, and sometimes sloppy. Too many plot twists were conveniently placed and predictable. Some of the characters were simply flat with more emphasis on their physical descriptions rather than in the development of their personality and human traits.

Also, scattered with references to what I perceived as popular lollipop philosophy, Roberts does not do a great job of building and supporting his characters' philosophical assumptions on life, something the reader is bombarded with again and again. If this was a primary goal of the book then he would have done well to construct a more thorough and well-thought philosophy. Indeed he could have accomplished this as he certainly didn't seem concerned with the length of the book. Further to this last point, even though the read goes quickly, it was too long and redundant with repetitive sub-plots which only added marginal value to the overall work.

If there is a modest curiousity in this book then I would recommend it. Rumor has it that this is one of a possible 3 or 4 part series. If this is true then I am not convinced that I could commit myself to reading future installments unless Roberts mixes it up a bit and attempts to challenge his readership a bit more than he has with this first publication."

Monday, January 05, 2009

Mission Accomplished: IKEA

Mission: New expandable dining set to match the coffee table + new rug for the living room.

Location: IKEA Wembley (North London)

Direction: From Clapham Commons, take Northern Line to Elephant & Castle, transfer to Bakerloo Line to Stonebridge Park, then wait for the IKEA shuttle bus.

Travel time: 60 minutes one-way

Items to bring: oversized suitcase, credit card, Ipod, The Economist, lots of patience, muscles to lift 21kg (46lbs), warm clothes, and sturdy walking shoes.

Items purchased: New Dining set (46 lbs), two chairs (8lbs each), rug, misc. items (light bulbs, extension cord, etc.)

Results: New dining set!



The trek to IKEA from Clapham was a pain in the @$$! It wasn't like back home where I would hop in the car and drive to IKEA Emeryville. Imagine: no car, the Tube, at least 4-6 sets of stairs, and then carrying a 45 lbs box home from Clapham Commons (our luck, there was no black cabs out). Not so fun, right? We wanted to get a new dining set and a few rugs for the living room and bedroom, as our flat has hardwood floors. We were tired of eating off the coffee table. We did it back in Berkeley b/c we wanted to watch TV while we ate, but we have no TV here in London. And, honestly, we don't miss the "tellie."

It took almost an hour to get to IKEA Wembley on the Tube. Once you get to Stonebridge Park, a free IKEA shuttle runs every half hour to take you to the warehouse. If you plan on making a trip to IKEA, plan on a good half day, which includes transit time and browsing time. Keenan and I debated whether or not we should rent a car, but neither of us were ready to drive in the U.K. -- they drive on the opposite side. Renting a car would have probably been a huge hassle anyways, plus the IKEA parking lot was madness. We decided to brave it on the Tube and bought along a huge suitcase to carry misc. items. I don't know how we managed, but we made it home okay without breaking our backs!

We re-arranged our living room-- it more cozy now. We moved the love seat over by the window and got a new area rug for the living room.



New dining table - it expands to seat 4. I still have my beloved hutch from my undergraduate days. Look Chi, somehow that bottle of wine (in the blue bottle) made it from your Burlingame apartment, to Berkeley, to London.


Okay, we're ready for dinner guests!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Foodie Weekend on the Cheap

This weekend Keenan and I enjoyed some excellent, or rather "brilliant”, food on the cheap. Friday evening I met up with Keenan at his work in Canary Wharf. Security is tight in The City and Canary Wharf since the 2005 London bombings; the security guards had to issue me a special pass with my name misspelled as "Laly C. Vays”. I met some of his colleagues, took a tour of his office on the 25th floor (nice view of the city), and then did a bit of shopping at Jubilee Place, Canary Wharf's underground mall.

Then we headed over Whitechapel (East London) to dine at Tayyab Restaurant for mouthwatering Pakistani food. For those of you familiar with London, the East End has historically been a poor area and has a large South Asian immigrant community. The neighborhoods adjacent to The City are gentrifying -- Keenan even looked at a few flats along Commercial Road in Aldgate and Limehouse. While the flats were spacious and modern, Commercial Road is lined with nothing but cheap tailors, Indian/Pakistani restaurants, and liquor stores. Let’s just say it was not our cup of tea. Anyways, back to Tayyab.

New Tayaab, 83 Fieldgate, Whitechapel
This restaurant often wins accolades under the “Cheap Eats”. For £17.50, we got an order of Chicken Tikka Kebab, 2 Sheikh Kebabs, Mutton Biryani, and Chicken Kirahi. Very tasty and, boy were we stuffed! It was good -- definitely worth the trip out to the East End. The kebabs were to die for -- juicy and succulent with the right amount of spice. The biryani was also very good, accompanied with its proper “gravy”. Pappaddum and chutneys were free. Beware: Tayyab gets very packed and you will smell like a tandoori oven when you leave.



Saturday morning, we were up bright and early (more like dark and early) to welcome our friends Bharvi and Pratish to London. They had a quick layover in London enroute to New York City from Paris. At 6:30 am, I made breakfast of potato/grilled onion frittata, pan-waffles (b/c I couldn't find waffle mix at Sainsburys), and crumpets (aka English muffins). We were all tired and took a “quick” two-hour nap before Bharvi and Pratish left on the tube to London Heathrow. Very glad that you two were able to stop by.

Oh, for all you expats, warning: do not bring electronics to the U.K. Seriously, we destroyed our I-Home, Cuisineart coffeemaker, and our new aerobed (even with the damn converter!). Best to leave your electronics at home in the States (this goes to you too Howard!). I think we might be able to salvage the coffeemaker by replacing the fuse. As for the rest, oh well, live and learn.

With all the visitors coming in the next few weeks and burnt-out aerobed, Keenan and I made a trip to Brixton, a colourful Afro-Caribbean neighborhood about 20 minutes by bus (#35) from Clapham Commons, to pick up a few things at Argos. But first, we made a quick stop at Franco Manca for a yummy Napoli-style pizza.

Franco Manca, 4 Market Row, Brixton
I’ve read some excellent reviews about this Brixton establishment on Harrden’s and other London-based foodie blogs. When we arrived, the line at Franco Manca was out the door and around the corner -- needless to say, this is a popular pizza joint. It did not disappoint – it’s as authentic as it gets for pizza outside of Italy. For £17.80, we got two pizzas and a bottle of house red, all under £6 each! We shared the garlic/anchovy/caper/olive pizza, which was a bit on the pungent side, and the chorizo/mozzarella pizza – very tasty and delicious. I especially love the crust. Yes, yes, I’m a crust girl. Don't be afraid of the long queue -- the owner and his staff are very efficient, so the line goes by fast.


My next quest is to find a good Vietnamese pho place – the perfect meal for cold London evenings. No joke -- the high this week will be 35F and low at 27F. All you Londoners, any good suggestions for pho? I miss good pho on International Blvd. (Oakland) and on ghetto Stockton Blvd. (Sacramento).

Hope all is well back home. I know many of you are traveling around Central America, Southeast Asia, India, and Europe. Happy and safe travels. Looking forward to hearing from everyone soon.

Cheers, Lily

Friday, January 02, 2009

Visiting London

I know many of you have plans to visit London in the coming months, so with the help of my trusted friend Lonely Planet: London, I’m writing this post for all you coming to visit.

London is a fantastic city! It’s truly a global city – very cosmopolitan. On any given day, I will hear at least 10-15 different languages spoken on the Tube and around town. London is made up of little neighborhoods each with its own unique character, charm, and atmosphere.

Let’s start with a bit of logistics:

Travel to/from London Heathrow to Clapham Commons:
The cheapest way to get to our home is via Tube: Take the Piccadilly Line (dark blue) to Green Park (few set of stairs here); transfer to the Victoria Line (light blue) towards Brixton; and a final transfer to the Northern Line (black) towards Morden (walk across the platform). Get off Clapham Commons and walk towards the Common (park), where you will see the Holy Trinity Church. Once you past the church on the common, you should be able to locate our street and walk to the end of the road. Most likely, one of us will greet you at Clapham Commons Tube station.

Travel Tips:
- Travel light, if all possible. Seriously, you don’t want to be lugging heavy suitcases up and down the Tube stations. London is an old city and many tube stations do not have escalators or elevators. Limit yourself to one suitcase if you are a solo traveler.

- Bring warm clothes to layer. Do not forget scarves, hats, gloves, tights, warm coat and boots! Of course, do bring an umbrella, although it hasn’t rained much since I arrived (knock on wood). It's very cold right now -- around 40F high; and 30F low. Brrrrrr. Dress accordingly.

- Do get an Oyster Card as your major source of transportation is the Tube. When you first get your Oyster card, you will need to pay a refundable £3 deposit if you are only adding cash to pay as you go. Single rides on the Tube within Zone 1-2 is £1.50 (there’s a daily price cap, meaning you'll spend no more than £6 on any given day regardless of how many times you hope on the Tube.)

- $$$. London is an expensive city. The current exchange rate is around 1.5 (down from 1.9 over the summer!). But since most of you are coming from San Francisco, going out, eating, and drinking is somewhat comparable, unless you’re in extremely touristy areas or at ultra exclusive restaurants and bars in Mayfair, Chelsea/Kensington, and Knightsbridge.

A pint of Heinken at All Bar One is £2.50; M&S sandwiches are between £2.00 – 3.50; dinner for two at our local Thai restaurant is £35.00 (includes appetizer, three dishes, and a bottle of house wine + tip). It’s not so bad!

Misc. Stuff:
- While in the UK (and most of Europe), get use to showering without shower curtains. They have this half shower door in the bath tub. While in London, get used to not having electric outlets in the bathrooms (yes, how annoying!). I’m still trying to figure out to remedy this – an extension cord perhaps?

- Be prepared to walk, walk, walk. Lots of walking in Europe, in general. It’s too expensive to have a car in London, plus £8.00 congestion fee to drive through central London?

Some things not to miss while in London (in no particular order):
- Tate Modern
- London Eye
- Borough Market
- Big Ben + House of Parliament + Abbey
- Buckingham Palace
- St. Paul Cathedral
- Tower Bridge + Tower of London
- Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square + SOHO
- Oxford Street (shopping, shopping, shopping)
- Shakespeare Globe
- Hyde Park

Check out some guides for other useful information:
http://www.frommers.com/destinations/london/
http://www.fodors.com/world/europe/england/london/

If this is your first trip to Europe, below are my top five cities to visit on your first trip over the pond. Do allow yourself at least 3 full days in each city so you don’t feel so rushed. These are all big cities with lots to do and see. Some museums (ie. Louvre and the Van Gogh) will take a half-day.

London
Paris

Amsterdam

Barcelona

Rome

Foodie friends and wine lover should do a trip to Tuscany or the French wine country. Sunbathers -- do come in the summer or early fall and plan on the Greek Isles, Amalfi coast, Cinque Terre (Italy), French Rivera, and Baleric Islands (Spain). Snowboarders/Skiers --Swiss Alps, of course. These are just suggestions -- possibilities in Europe are endless with time and money.

Getting from London to Paris is a breeze via the EuroStar from King’s Cross/St. Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord International (2.5 hr). If you book early and don’t mind an early departure, you can get one-way tickets for £29.00. From Paris, you can take a fast train to Amsterdam, then fly to Barcelona or Rome, and back to London to catch your flight back home out of Heathrow.

Traveling around Europe from London is very easy and cheap. EasyJet operates out Gatwick Airport and has an extensive network throughout Europe, as does RyanAir, which operates out of Stanstead Airport. Be careful when booking with low-cost carriers, as they often operate out of smaller remote airports, which means extra travel time. We prefer to travel out of Gatwick Airport; it's more convenient. You can catch the Gatwick Express Train from Victoria Station (30 minutes), or catch the Southern Line from Clapham Junction (a short bus ride from our flat). It takes between 30 - 38 minutes depending on the train.

Okay, I think this is all for now. Please feel free to email us if you have questions or comments. We look forward to hosting you all in London! If anyone is planning a summer visit, I will permanently move to London at the end of May. Keenan and I plan on taking a long overdue honeymoon to southern coast of Croatia during the first week of June. Otherwise, feel free to visit!

Happy Travels, Lily

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year 2009!


Wishing you peace and happiness for 2009!

Last year Keenan and I spent NYE in Mumbai at the Gate of India, and I remember him saying that 2008 was going to be a great year. Indeed, it was an awesome year for both of us, professionally and personally. We met new friends, reconnected with old friends; got married in October in a beautiful intimate civil ceremony at San Francisco City Hall; and moved across the pond to London. We're looking forward to a new year!



To ring in the new year, (armed with a bottle of Cava) we headed out to Waterloo (south of the River Thames) for a spectacular firework show hosted by the Mayor of London. At the stroke of midnight the Big Ben chimed, followed by 10 minutes of fireworks fired from the iconic London Eye with Parliament and Big Ben as a backdrop. There were a ton of people out despite freezing temperature. We were lucky enough to find seats at the nearby All Bar One at Waterloo station and met a nice Indian/Polish couple.



Rushing through the crowds on the Tube, which was opened until 4:00 am, we made it back to Clapham Common around to 3:00am. We spent a lazy day at home sleeping, eating, and uploading photos from Madrid. It's cold and most Londoners are still recovering from the festivities of last night.

Hope everyone had a fantastic and safe new years celebration. See you all very soon!