Happy New Year!

Wishing you all a very happy 2013 from wherever you are. Surprisingly enough we here at The London-Oxford Express are STILL not done with our 2012 travel coverage, but with both of us on break from our senior year at Wellesley hopefully some things will get written!

Stay tuned for Hampton Court, Jessie’s final days in London, and Paula’s final days in Italy!

xoxo Jessie

God Save the Queen!

Tuesday finally arrived, the big Jubilee celebration day. On the official schedule of events was a church service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, followed by a state luncheon at Whitehall, followed by the carriage procession through Admiralty Arch and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace, and finally a balcony appearance at Buckingham. As mere commoners we were not to attend the luncheon or the church service, but we were determined to take part in any part of the historic festivities that we could!

We left Mile End around 10am and headed down to Trafalgar Square via Jessie’s sneaky Soho walking route to stake out a spot for the carriage procession. We made our way fairly easily to the square and found a spot across the street, but within view of the procession route. We settled in for the long wait (the parade wasn’t scheduled until almost 2pm) and tried to ward off sneaky people who were trying to edge their way in front of us. We did acquire a Jubilee periscope from the family next to us, which gave us an even better view and provided some entertainment in the mean time. Jessie was obsessed with the periscope: why don’t we use them all the time for everything? Several people heard our accents and wanted to know if we had come all that way from the US just for the Jubilee– nope, just an added bonus!

Above: Can you tell we were kind of bored? Jessie had WAY too much fun with the periscope.

As we were getting settled in, we started to hear rumors from the people around us and the police officers stationed around the fence that there was a chance we might get into the small island in the middle of the street that currently only had news cameras in it. We were very excited when we found out that some high up police officer had been able to convince someone to let us move! They allowed us to slowly walk across the street, all the while warning us that once we were on the island there was no leaving and no bathroom. Jessie and Paula were fine with that, especially since they were able to secure a new spot by the fence, RIGHT on the procession route looking straight through Admiralty Arch and down the mall.

It was all fantastic for about half an hour…until the BBC camera arrived. Apparently the huge crane camera was supposed to have the space right where we were standing. Not cool. The police stepped in and made everyone move back, but some people refused to budge more than a couple inches. Meaning courteous people (like us) ended up behind the obnoxious people who almost got us kicked out of the island all together. We still had a good view, but we had to contend not only with the huge swinging arm of the tv camera, but heads, hats, arms and flags in our way. Thank goodness for the periscope!!

Above: The bane of our existence–the BBC camera crane.

Above: Jubilee excitement!

However, standing and waiting for the Queen wasn’t ALL doldrums. We were quite entertained by the activity on the parade route itself. Throughout the day we saw police officers on horseback and a wandering marching band dressed in full military regalia. One of these marching bands stopped right in front of us and played a fantastic selection of music, from a medley of Harry Potter themes to jazzier tunes like Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke”. It was a great break in the tediousness of standing around.

Above: One of the many roaming marching bands near our parade spot.

FINALLY it was time for the Queen to appear. We were warned by a huge swell of cheers and the thunder of horse hooves coming our way from Whitehall. A huge cavalcade of soldiers on horseback galloped by and stormed through Admiralty Arch. Everyone screamed and cheered, waving their flags. Paula and Jessie primed their cameras, getting ready for the Queen. But seconds afterwards, the Queen’s carriage thundered by as if on fire, whipping around the corner and through the arch faster than you can say “God Save the Queen!” Will, Kate, and Harry’s carriage was close behind, traveling at a similar lightning speed. Behind them were more soldiers, and then it was over. We had waited for hours for something that had barely taken a full minute. Jessie and Paula consulted their cameras. “Did you get it? Did you get it?”

Above: Even on continuous shutter, Paula only got the back of Kate’s fascinator and Harry’s top hat.

We stood around for a few minutes, wondering what our next move was. We were surrounded by blockades, and had no way of getting off our ‘island’. Was that it? Should we just go home? But then we spotted up ahead police officers opening up the blockades leading down to Buckingham Palace. We were finally let through too, and Paula and Jessie walked the long march down the Mall arm and arm with thousands upon thousands of patriotic Brits. The massive crowd moved as one towards the palace, cheering and waving Union Jacks. We realized that by following the crowd we’d get to see the Queen’s balcony wave!

Above: The view of the crowd walking towards the palace.

After about ten minutes of walking we arrived at the square in front of Buckingham Palace, surrounded by thousands of people–standing next to us and in bleacher seating above us. Even though it had begun to lightly rain, we had all shunned our umbrellas so that everyone could see the palace and the balcony where the Queen was about to appear. There was however one person holding an enormous black umbrella that did not seem to want to abide by this unspoken courtesy. Shouts of “OI! PUT YOUR BROLLY DOWN” from the surrounding crowd didn’t shame this person for nearly 15 minutes. Thankfully the black ‘brolly’ eventually disappeared…just in time for the Queen’s appearance.

Above: Photo evidence of the insensitive black brolly.

Just as Paula and Jessie had seen on TV for the Royal Wedding, the Royal family filed onto the balcony to greet the crowd. The crowd of a million people burst out into cheers and the air was filled with the fluttering of thousands of flags. We were within eyeshot of the balcony, but were nevertheless grateful to have the enormous TV screens showing a better view of the royal family. The Queen, Prince Charles, Camilla, William, Kate, and Harry were lined up in a row, with the Queen smiling and occasionally waving a gloved hand at the masses. Suddenly, the crowd burst out into song, and strains of “God Save the Queen” swelled up around us. It was an incredible moment, standing shoulder to shoulder with thousands of people all singing to Queen Elizabeth II. It was hard not to get caught up in the joy and emotion of the moment.

Above: The Royal Family up close.

The RAF (Royal Air Force) did a brilliant 3-part flyover, including old World War Two bomber planes that must have brought back memories to the Queen. The best part though was the final Red Arrow flyover, because the three lightning-quick planes had colored smoke streaming behind them to make red, white, and blue streaks across the sky and over the palace. It was a incredible sight! Immediately afterwards, In the midst of all the cheers and singing, the Queen’s Guard performed a feu de joie (“fire of joy”) gun salute. Thanks to the screens were were able to see as well as hear the guards shoot their guns, then take off their trademark tall black hats and shout “HIP HIP HUZZAH!” in celebration of Elizabeth’s 60 year reign. The royal family gave one last wave to the crowd before heading back into Buckingham.

Above: The magnificent flyover.

Above: Can we just discuss how cute the Queen is?

It took us quite a while to get out of the circle in front of Buckingham as we marched with thousands of people towards the tube. We snaked our way back up to Green Park along with the rest of the crowd, struggling our way through the narrow sidewalks. The Tube station at Green Park had so many people that the lines to get to the platform  wrapped all the way out on to the street. We decided to instead walk all the way back up to Tottenham Court Road where we had arrived that morning, in the hopes that it would be a more sedate tube station. We stopped along the way to grab sandwiches at Pret A Manger and then kept walking. We finally got on the tube (as Jessie had predicted, the Central line was like a ghost town!), scarfed down our sandwiches and enjoyed sitting down for the first time in almost 6 hours.

When Paula and Jessie got back to Mile End, Paula gathered all her stuff and quickly headed right back to the tube. After saying goodbye to Jessie (it was our last time together in England…), Paula attempted to get back to Victoria and then to the bus to Oxford. She was probably quite a sight as she carried not only her duffel bag, but also a backpack and huge plastic bag stuffed with a duvet and pillows she had used as bedding in London and needed for her family’s arrival the next week. While Paula was sad to leave Jessie and London, she was happy to finally get back to her room in Oxford and out of the rain. It was back to the reality of 7th week and time to crack down on the paper.

Meanwhile, Jessie had a quiet evening in Maynard 15 with the flatmates. Being the only one of the flat to brave the crowds of the Jubilee, she showed everyone her pictures from the day. With this day over, she only had FOUR DAYS LEFT in London. It felt so incredible to witness and participate in such a momentous occasion. Despite all the changes of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, all the triumphs and failures, the achievements and the tragedies, one thing had remained constant in England–the presence of Queen Elizabeth. For the past sixty years she has remained a symbol both of England’s past and of its future in an ever-changing world. The Queen represents tradition and constancy, and to be present at such an outpouring of British solidarity was incredibly moving. Never has Jessie, usually the political skeptic, ever felt so patriotic in her entire life. For one small moment, she was British too.

Paula: A Roman Holiday

The highlights of our week in Rome!

After Florence we headed to Rome where we were renting an apartment for the next week. During our 5-hour transatlantic skype hotel search my mom and I discovered that it was actually about the same amount of money to rent an apartment for the week than to get a 3 person room, and it gave us a lot more space to spread out. Most importantly, it had a washer and we really needed to do laundry by that point. The washer was teeny tiny and had the strangest controls, but we finally figured out some combination of buttons that worked. Through this website, we were able find a place pretty close to the Colesseum. (Side note: if any of our friends or family are heading to Rome soon, the guy who owns the place said he would give us or our friends a discount!).

Above: Umm, what is that sound the washer is making? Is it supposed to be acting like that?

Since we were in Rome for a week and we had been sightseeing nonstop for a week already, we decided to take it a bit slower in Rome so instead of giving you a day by day account, I am just going to share the highlights.

Our first night in Rome we decided to brave the Italian supermarket, Despar (quite the name isn’t it?) and make our own dinner since we were tired and wanted to have a relaxing evening in. During our supermarket adventure we discovered some very interesting things on the shelves, namely McDonalds mayonnaise and Disney princess pasta. We ended up making fresh pasta with chicken, tomatoes, basil and olive oil and caprese salad–delicious!! It was nice to have a kitchen and table to ourselves for a bit instead of eating out every night (although when the food is Italian, it isn’t exactly difficult…).

Above: DIY Italian.

Our top Rome stops, in no particular order:

The Trevi Fountain: You know you are getting close to the Trevi Fountain because the crowd thickens so much that you can barely walk down the narrow streets that lead to the fountain. The noise level rises and the tour groups are distinguishable. Even so, the fountain is spectacular, it seems to come out of the building next door and has such a presence in so small a square. I really wanted to dip my toes in, but there were police whistles getting a workout chastising the tourists who attempted it. I did test the water temperature before realizing why there were so many whistles…

Above: Do you see the crowds behind us?!?

The Colosseum: Colossal, that is how I would describe the Colosseum. Along with the Colosseum, on the same ticket you get entry to Palatine Hill. Both are fascinating, and we finally found the flowers my mom was looking for. It was really cool to see pieces of carved stonework jumbled with boulders in Palatine Hill and then to walk through all the various levels of the Colosseum. Although we did realize that there was really few areas of shade in ancient ruins…

Above: The colossal Colosseum.

The Spanish Steps: Quite a few steps, and I never did find out why it is call the Spanish Steps…I was particularly excited to see the steps because Keats lived in a house right on the steps when he was dying of tuberculousis and would look out on the steps to pass the time. In fact, that house has been turned into the Keats/Shelley House Museum and I was able to actually look out Keats’ window and see the same view he saw everyday.

Above: The Spanish Steps with the Keats/Shelley House to the right.

Protestant Cemetery: Going along with my English literature sites, we ventured out to the edge of Rome to visit the Protestant Cemetery where Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats are both buried. Besides visiting the graves, and seeing the famous inscription on Keats’ grave: “Here lies One whose name was writ in water,” we got to know a few of the resident cemetery cats. Most of them were super skittish, but a few of them were very friendly and followed us around. Adorable.

Above: Yes, I had my picture taken with Keats’ grave. I am an English major.

The Pantheon: It is another one of those places in Rome where you walk down a street and you are all of a sudden in a square, standing next to a building you have heard about forever. It was surreal to be standing IN the Pantheon.

Above: Michael and me outside the Pantheon.

The Vatican: We were lucky to be in Rome on the last Sunday of the month when the Vatican is free! We got up pretty early, but even so the line was pretty long when we got there. Thankfully, it moved fairly quickly and we didn’t have to pay anything so it was definitely worth it! The Vatican was packed and we kind of felt like herded sheep, but the little city-state was quite something. We saw amazing art and sculptures, but the highlight was definitely the Sistine Chapel. Although it was nothing like I expected, first of all for some reason I had always visualized the chapel as round. It isn’t. It is a long rectangular room that echoes loudly of the camera clicks of photos that people aren’t supposed to be taking and guards uselessly trying to stop them. The noise detracted a bit from the ambiance, but it was still breathtaking and surreal, I can only imagine if I had been alone.

Above: What? Everyone else had one…

St Peters Basilica: From the Sistine Chapel, we snuck out the tour group exit with a group (per the advice of Rick Steeves) so that we could take the shortcut to the Basilica rather than having to exit and reenter security like non-groups were supposed to do. The Basilica was massive and probably had one of the highest nun populations I have ever seen moving en masse. We visited several Popes’ tombs and wandered for a bit before heading out into the square where we caught the end of the Pope’s telecast address to a huge crowd in the square. We wandered Vatican City before reentering Rome proper. As we were leaving though, we saw something I never thought I would see in Vatican City–a huge motorcycle gang roared through the street dividing Rome from the Vatican, stopping traffic and drawing quite a crowd.

Above: St. Peter’s in all its splendor.

Villa Borghese: Villa Borghese is gorgeous and opulent but HOT. We foolishly thought it would be nice to spend a day in the gardens riding around in one of those four person bike/carts before going to the Villa Borghese for our reservation (the Borghese Gallery is strangely very strict about entry, only 200 people or so can go in for 2 hour windows of time so reservations are pretty much a must). Well the gardens would have been great if it had been about 20 degrees cooler and the bike would have been less of an intense cardio workout if there weren’t hills. We had quite the adventure on the bike…at points having to get out and push the bike up hills and nearly running off the road because the steering wheel might as well have been disconnected it worked so well… At one point, we decided to go off road because we had run into a dead end, during which I almost fell out of the bike and Michael lost a pedal. We ended up returning our bike early and checking out the Borghese Zoo. It was an alright zoo, not best kept or diverse animal population, but we enjoyed wandering the zoo until we headed to the Gallery. The Gallery is in the former Borghese home, and in someways it still looks like ornate sitting rooms with sculptures and paintings hung around the room.

Above: The excitement before we realized just how difficult these things are.

Giolitti’s: Hidden down yet another one of those tiny streets is the best gelato I have ever had. Giolitti’s was recommended to me by both Steph and Haley (my travel partner in Madrid). I had promised Margaret in Oxford that I would finally try some other flavor than my favorite fragola (strawberry) and limone since there are so many amazing flavors out there. Well, at Giolitti’s I finally switched it up. I got champagne and fragola, a perfect combination! I definitely recommend Giolitti and the champagne flavor.

Above: Enjoying Giolitti’s on the street while watching photographers race around Parliament buildings.

Palazzo Doria Pamphili: Perhaps my favorite of any of the great historic mansion/palaces we visited in Italy. Unlike many of the palaces, this one was restored by the ancestors of the original family and they still live in half the palace, including some of the rooms we saw. Some of the rooms were almost completely decorated in historic decor, but would have recent family photos in frames or pencil cups with highlighters on the desks. The free audio guide was actually recorded by one of the younger Pamphili family members and was really interesting because it described the family that lived (lives) there as well as the house. It was the one audio guide that all three of us listened to all the way through rather than just highlights.

Fassi: It shouldn’t be surprising that two of the places on my list are gelato places. Gelato is just that good. Fassi was recommended to us by the man who owned the apartment we were staying in. It is near the Vittorio Emmanuele II metro station (near our apartment) and is the oldest Italian gelato factory. There were tons of flavors (although maybe not quite as many as Giolitti’s) and while not as fancy or quite as high quality as Giolitti’s, it was delicious and probably the cheapest gelato we had anywhere!

Above: Street parties in Rome to watch Italy in the Euro Cup. We definitely knew when they won games without even turning on the tv!

We took things a bit slower in Rome, but in addition to these highlights we did stumble upon more churches than I can count, ancient ruins everywhere, and charming squares every few blocks. Rome was beautiful and so full of history. It definitely deserves more than a few days to visit, yet even with a week we didn’t get to explore every neighborhood. From Rome it was off to Naples and Pompeii before it was time to say arrivederci to Italy.

Paula: The Florence Museum Hop

We arrived in Florence mid-morning and walked to our hotel a few blocks away from the train station, right on the Duomo Square. After a bit of a struggle with our bags and the tiny elevator (Michael basically rode on top of the bags several times because the elevator was so tiny), we made it to Albergo San Giovanni. The hotel was small, but quaint and we even had a little table in our room and a mural on the ceiling. The best part of the room though was the amazing view of the Duomo from the window. We could open the window and listen to the street musicians playing music from Turandot, see the flying light-up things street vendors were selling and practically hear the cameras click. (Thankfully, with the window closed we heard very little).

Above: Our view of the Duomo Square from our hotel room!

Above: My one picture from the Uffizi roof top balcony since unfortunately photos were not allowed inside.

We strolled through Florence for a bit and picked up some lunch before heading over to the Uffizi Gallery. From Rick Steeves, we had learned there was a Firenze Card that granted entry to several dozen museums and allowed pass holders to bypass the regular lines or need for reservations. We decided to get the passes because we wanted to be able to see as much as possible and be able to pop in lots of different places. The card allowed us to only wait in shorter reservation lines without having to pay for the reservation. The Firenze Card wasn’t cheap–it cost about 50 euros–but in the end we figured out that we would have paid close to 100 euros a person for all the museums we went in if we hadn’t had the card.

The Uffizi Gallery was slightly overwhelming in terms of the sheer number of rooms and works it contains. I think I lost count of how many frescos we saw. I was on high alert for Jessie’s art friends through out the galleries, and I saw quite a few! There were works by Filippo Lippi, Bottecelli, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian and Caravaggio. I don’t pretend to be knowledgeable at all about Italian art, but it was impressive even to me.

Above: Palazzo Vecchio.

After several hours at the gallery and a stop for more delicious pizza we headed next door to Palazzo Vecchio, Cosimo I de’ Medici’s former palace. We entered through a beautiful courtyard and then headed up to the Grand Hall or the Hall of Five Hundred as some call it. The room was huge and spectacular, with amazing murals and balconies. We also got the chance to see Cosimo I’s state rooms and an impressive map room with maps portraying previous conceptions of the world.

Above: The Hall of Five Hundred.

We headed to dinner at Trattoria Zà-Zà not far from our hotel. The food (as usual) was delicious. We decided to try another Italian staple–a cheese platter- as an appetizer. The platter had four kinds of cheese, several jellies and bread. Our cheese choices were brie, parmesan, gouda and one that we couldn’t identify. My favorite was the brie, but it couldn’t top the brie I had with Jessie, Nadia and Steph in London at Gordon’s! My mom tried a truffle risotto dish while I had gnocchi in tomato cream sauce and Michael had steak and potatoes.

Above: Michael and me on the Palazzo Vecchio balcony.

Our next day in Florence was packed full of sights. Our first stop was the Museum of Precious Stones (Museo dell’Opificio delle Pietre Dure) were we got to see how stone mosaics are created–quite fascinating! The museum had samples of many different stone types designers used and the tools used to work the stone along with some incredible mosaic pieces. We wanted to get one as a gift, but even the littlest ones were several hundred dollars!

Our next stop was the Museum of San Marco. Jessie is a huge fan of Fra Angelico so she had put San Marco at the top of the list of Florence places that I should check out. I spent the entire time I was inside wishing Jessie could have been there too, or at least that they would have let me take pictures! The 15th century monastery is practically covered in Fra Angelico’s work. On the main floor there is a collection of his works and upstairs there are dozens of cells, each with a Fra Angelico painting on the wall portraying a different biblical story for reflection.

Since we had the Firenze Card we checked out a paleontology museum, which had an impressive number of fossils given its size, before heading to the Accademia. Our cards let us skip the long no reservation line and we only had to wait a couple of minutes before we got through security and into the museum. The Accademia is much smaller than the Uffizi, but still contains amazing treasures, in particular Michelangelo’s David. The statue was much bigger in person than I had realized in pictures, and it was slightly surreal experience actually seeing it. There was also a really interesting room full of stone statues, pieces and fragments that the museum had collected over the years to preserve them. One of my favorite part of the Accademia besides David was a small demonstration that was tucked up in the upper level of the museum. A museum worker was showing how frescoes were created and had a fresco that displayed the different stages of creation across it. It was fascinating to see the time-intensive steps required to create one piece of art.

Above: One of the many statues on the sides of Orsanmichele Church.

We later went to the Galileo Science Museum where we checked out telescopes, models of Galileo’s designs and found ourselves in front of three of Galileo’s fingers… Michael thought it was very cool, I was done after the fingers. We saw the many statues that decorate the outside of Orsanmichele Church and inside we got to see the huge Gothic tabernacle from the 1300s.

Above: The courtyard at the Medici-Riccardi Palace.

The Medici Chapels were impressive in magnitude. The vaulted ceiling of the Chapel of Princes was breath taking, and they thankfully had seats so we could look up at the stone work without falling backwards. It was also really cool to see Michelangelo’s design of the New Sacristy. We also stopped at the Medici-Riccardi Palace with its beautiful courtyards and oddly juxtaposed modern art exhibits within the historic rooms of Lorenzo the Magnificent’s rooms. Not quite as impressive as the Chapels, but nonetheless fit for a ruling family.

We ended our museum day with a stop at the Duomo Museum (finally a museum that allowed pictures!) where we saw even more statues, alter pieces, frescoes and reliquaries. Unfortunately, the museum was redesigning the room that held Ghiberti’s original Gates of Paradise so we couldn’t get more than a peek from through the tarps.

Above: Biggest music stand EVER at the Duomo Museum.

By this point we were pretty hungry and tired, so we headed to yet another Rick Steeves suggested restaurant, Trattoria “da Giorgio,” because they had a 12 euro three-course meal. The food was delicious, Michael and I both went for ravioli with sage and butter for our pasta course and chicken for the meat course and my mom had a homemade pasta dish and then salmon escalope. She quickly discovered, however, that salmon escalope was essentially poached salmon on a bed of lettuce not fully cooked salmon like she was expecting!

Above: Florence at sunset from the Piazza Michelangelo.

After dinner we headed over to the train station and found the bus that went to Piazza Michelangelo. While the bus route is kind of circuitous, we were so tired from our museum adventures that we decided not to walk uphill to the piazza.

Above: Michael, my mom and me with Florence behind us.

Piazza Michelangelo was probably one of my favorite things in Florence. We reached the piazza at sunset and the view of Florence was spectacular! The Duomo dome was lit up and so was Santa Croce Church and Palazzo Vecchio. Street musicians were playing and people were selling touristy items. We enjoyed the view from the top before walking down the hill, along the river and across the Ponte Vecchio back into old town Florence. A few blocks before we reached the Duomo and our hotel we stumbled upon a community concert in the old Hay Market. We stopped and listened to the band and singer for a while before wandering back to our room for the night. The perfect ending to a great day in Florence!

Above: The River Arno at night.

The next morning we headed out to even more Florence sights–the city has so so many and we didn’t even make it to all of them! We went inside the Duomo and took in its spectacular dome–one of the largest unsupported domes in history created by Brunelleschi– and art covered walls, but decided to forgo climbing the dome or going in the Baptistery and Campanile because there were other places we were more interested in seeing and we had already gotten a spectacular view of Florence from Piazza Michelangelo the night before.

Above: Brunelleschi’s famous dome.

We went to the Bargello next, a former prison that had been turned into a sculpture museum and it full of even more Medici treasures. As we were attempting to find Santa Croce Church, we stumbled upon the birthplace of Michelangelo, which we never would have seen if we hadn’t overheard a private tour guide point out the house because it was down a narrow street and only had a plaque on the wall.

Santa Croce Church was a beautiful church, like many of the others we had seen on our trip, but what made Santa Croce stand out from the crowd was the tombs of famous Italians that lined the wall. da Vinci, Galileo, Michelangelo were all laid to rest in the church.

Above: Galileo’s tomb in the Santa Croce Church.

After a lunch stop we headed to Pitti Palace. The former palace of the Pitti rulers in the 18th and 19th century was massive! Today, much of the palace has been turned into different museums–everything from costumes to porcelain–and gardens. We headed to the gardens first, but were disappointed that there really weren’t any flowers, just wooded areas on a steep incline. We climb up a ways and had a great view of the palace before heading back down to check out a few of the museums. The Royal Apartments were incredibly ornate, many had a different color themes and represented many different eras of the rulers. My other favorite museum in the Palace was the Costume Museum. The clothes ranged hugely in age and the exhibit interestingly juxtaposed modern pieces with earlier eras.

Above: My mom and me in the Pitti Palace gardens.

After exploring the Pitti Palace, we wandered back across the Ponte Vecchio, checking out the amazing gold and silversmith shops that line the bridge before heading back to old town Florence.

For dinner we found ourselves on another hunt for a Rick Steeves pick. Trattoria Icche C’è C’è was hidden down almost an alley way behind Palazzo Vecchio, but was certainly worth the trip! The place is run by Mara and her husband Gino is the chief. There were lots of locals eating there, but also some other tourists (many of whom had Rick Steeves guide books sticking out of their bags!). The food was delicious, and Mara was very excited to see our Rick Steeves book–she said she loved him 🙂

Above: Rick Steeves knows some good places!

I had a delicious pasta in lemon sauce, Michael went with ravioli in a butter and sage sauce since he loved that so much the night before and my Mom had delicious pasta as well (we can’t remember exactly and it all smelled so good we forgot to take pictures until after we had eaten it all!). We decided to get dessert as well because their choices looked so good. My mom had a chocolate torte-like thing Mara recommended, Michael had freshly cut pineapple (like we watched them cut half the pineapple for him) and I had strawberries with wine and sugar. My mom and I were expecting my strawberries to be drizzled in a white wine and sugar sauce, but instead I was presented with a cocktail-type glass of red wine with strawberries floating in it! Surprising, but delicious!

Above: My strawberries in wine.

The perfect ending to our last night in Florence was stumbling upon another community concert on our way back from dinner, this time in from of Palazzo Vecchio. A community band was playing ABBA and Grease, and the entire crowd was singing along! Not exactly the music we expected to hear in Italy, but lots of fun!

Above: The concert outside Palazzo Vecchio, notice the replica of David too!

We saw so much in Florence, and yet there was so much more to do. We didn’t by any means get to all the places on the Firenze card or get to wander the city as much as we might have liked, but what we did experience in Florence was incredible. I don’t think my attempts to compress our adventures into one blog post can do it justice at all.

Above: Florence glittering in the sunset.

 

Farewells and Firework Surprises

Monday was yet another break from big Jubilee festivities apart from the evening BBC concert, so Paula and Jessie took the chance to do more fun sightseeing as the days ticked down for Jessie’s departure. We devoted this day to saying goodbye to some of our favorite spots.

Jessie couldn’t leave London without a stash of her favorite Fortnum and Mason tea (Ahh Fortmason. In the words of Ferris Bueller, it is “so choice”) so we headed over the fancy store to pick up some more. While we were there, we both indulged in the Jubilee Blend created especially for the Diamond Jubilee–it even came in an ornately decorated tin featuring the animals of the royal coat of arms.We both knew it would make a great present for our tea-loving mothers back home.

Above: Soho all decked out for the Jubilee!

After our Fortnum and Mason stop we opted for a picnic lunch since it amazingly wasn’t raining. We picked up sandwiches at Eat. before finding the quiet garden in nearby St. James’s Church to sit down in for a few minutes.

Above: Our picnic spot.

We then walked over to Trafalgar Square so we could stop in the National Portrait Gallery and Jessie could say goodbye to her art friends in the National Gallery. Since Paula had already accompanied Jessie to her favorite section (and is more of a fan of the Impressionists across the Gallery), she opted out of the National Gallery and instead headed to a nearby coffee shop to squeeze in some paper writing time since she had a paper due later that week–Oxford doesn’t stop for the Jubilee!

Above: Jessie in front of the National Portrait Gallery.

While Paula worked on her paper, Jessie spent a glorious hour or so wandering amongst the Duccios, the Fra Angelicos, and the Titians to her heart’s content. She even sat and sketched one of the ornate altarpieces (although definitely did not do it justice!) Sure, there’s other parts of the museum that Jessie hasn’t even seen yet. But that’s what future visits to London are for!

We also scouted out Trafalgar Square so that we could plan the best plan of attack for watching the carriage procession the next morning.

Above: The Brits have a busy summer! The Jubilee and the Olympics!

Paula and Jessie met back up and checked out the Canadian shop that Aniela had discovered the month before while we were celebrating Cinco de Mayo. Jessie had told Paula that the shop sold real blue-box Kraft macaroni and cheese, and she was set on getting some for dinner! After all, she hadn’t had any since coming to the UK. We winced over the exchange rate but had no regrets come dinner time. Super cheesy, super delicious.

Above: Paulie cooking us some real mac and cheese.

After dinner Paula and Jessie decided to go out on a photo expedition around the Queen Mary campus and Mile End since Jessie had yet to take pictures of her beloved London home. (To be featured in a future mini-post!) Even Budgens, Jessie’s home away from home, was documented. We tried to take pictures of the local park, although we got some strange looks from the children playing so decided we might need to come back later. We also stumbled upon a small carnival, complete with a small carousel, but much to Jessie’s dismay, it was closing time for the day so they were shutting down.

Above: If only we’d been there an hour sooner…

After our walk, Jessie and Paula had settled into another night of Gilmore Girls and blogging when Jessie’s flatmates burst into her room with the news that their was some sort of fire display going on across the canal from the flat. Fire?! This we had to see! We rushed to the balcony outside the kitchen. Apparently it was one of the beacon lighting ceremonies in honor of the Queen’s Jubilee that were taking place all across Britain that night. We had a perfect view from the balcony. We wrapped ourselves in blankets and watched the entire affair, which consisted of some flame throwers, fire dancers, and then incredible fireworks and beacons. Kara, Maynard 15’s honorary flatmate and resident pyromaniac, was entranced by the incredible work of the fire dancers.

Above: Our balcony view of the event.

Above: A fire celebration.

Above: Kara looking on at the flames with joy.

Above us hung a full orange moon in the clear night sky. Surrounded by Jessie’s flatmates and friends, Jessie and Paula enjoyed yet another wonderful end to a fantastic London day. It seemed so bizarre for Jessie that there was such little time left with some of her favorite people in the world. But that evening with everyone huddled together on the balcony was a balm to any potential separation anxiety. We were friends. And we always would be friends, no matter the distance between us or the time passed between meetings.

So safe in that knowledge, we all watched the fireworks and held each other close.

Paula: Canal Life

Venice was unlike anywhere I have ever been before. There aren’t any roads or cars, instead there are canals and bridges and water taxis. We walked out of the train station and bought Vaporetto passes rather than bus or metro cards. We sailed down the Grand Canal, under the Rialto bridge and arrived at our stop. Our hotel was down a narrow “street,” over another bridge and down another twisting alleyway.

Above: The Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge.

Getting the bags to Hotel Caneva was slightly difficult (I understand why there aren’t many young families in Venice, those bridges and strollers or packages do not go together), but the Hotel was excellent. We had AC (I have never been so happy to see that box on the wall…) and a canal view! We frequently got serenaded in our room by gondoliers’  songs. We could have even entered the hotel from the canal if we had wanted to pay for a watertaxi rather than the public transport vaporettos.

Above: The sights and sounds out our hotel window.

After dropping off our bags in the hotel, we hopped back on the vaporetto to look for dinner. My friend Stephanie (who along with Nadia, joined Jessie and me for spring break in Paris and London) had been to Italy the summer before and had sent me a long list of food suggestions. We set out with the intention of trying one of her favorite places, but quickly became lost in the narrow streets and winding canals near the Accademia. We finally stumbled upon a small, canal-side place that smelled delicious. My mom indulged in the specialty of Venice–seafood–and ordered sea bass, which came out whole, head and all (I love fish, but I was glad I decided against the whole fish…). Michael stuck with pizza, while I had a basil and tomato pasta dish. We enjoyed the ambiance of the quieter canal before wandering in what we hoped was the right direction to pick up the vaporetto back to the Rialto stop. The Grand Canal was gorgeous at night with all the lights from the mansions glittering on the quietly rippling water.

Above: Venice by night.

Above: The sparkling canal waters.

The next morning we took the vaporetto on a longer ride out to Murano Island, home of the famous Murano glass. The ride was pretty long–45 minutes–but the view was beautiful. Once we got to the island, we checked out a small glass museum (interesting, but probably not worth the admissions cost) and then wandered through many glass shops. We loved all the blown glass creations and only wished we had an assured way of transporting them back to the US without breaking. The last shop we went in also had a glass demonstration so we had the chance to see how a glass horse is made–very cool! We had been hoping to go in some of the bigger glass factories, but we only really saw those from the vaporetto and could never figure out how to get to them or if they had tours or demonstrations.

Above: Leaving Venice in our wake.

Above: Glass demonstration on Murano Island.

Above: St. Mark’s Square.

We headed back to Venice to get some lunch and then made our way to St. Mark’s Square. We headed to the Palazzo Ducale first, which was once the home of the Doge of Venice (the head of the Republic of Venice for several centuries ending in the 18th century). We were able to walk up the Scala d’oro (Golden staircase) and explore many of the former state rooms, private rooms and chapels. One of my favorite parts was the Bridge of Sighs. The bridge is named for the sighing prisoners who crossed the bridge from the prison to the execution chamber, and we also got to take a peak through the stone grates of the windows to the canal below.

Above: My mom and me inside the Palazzo Ducale.

Above: One of the Scala d’oro at the Palazzo Ducale.

Above: A prisoner’s last glimpse of Venice while crossing the Bridge of Sighs.

From the Palazzo Ducale we walked next door to St. Mark’s Basilica. The church was spectacular inside, but we didn’t stay very long because many of the areas were closed off to non-paying visitors and charged individual admission.

Above: St. Mark’s Basilica and the pigeon feeding outside.

Our last dinner in Venice was amazing. We finally found one of Steph’s suggestions right by the Zattere vaporetto stop: Terrazza Al Casin dei Nobili. The setting was stunning–it was on a dock practically in a canal, and while it was slightly more touristy and a bit more expensive, the food was delicious. My mom and I shared the best caprese salad I have ever had and then I had pistachio encrusted salmon with tomato jam. Perfection. Both my mom and Michael went for the sea bass topped with olives and peppers.

Above: Our caprese salad, we have definitely added it to our menu at home!

Above: Seafood time.

Above: After dinner stroll along the canal (this was also our dinner view!).

We really didn’t have any more room after all that delicious food, but we couldn’t resist more gelato from Grom (the place we had discovered in Milan), which we ate sitting on the edge of a quiet canal before wandering back in the direction (we hoped) of the vaporetto and heading back to the Rialto Bridge, which we climbed before heading back to our room for the night.

Above: You call this a street? No wonder we got lost so frequently.

Above: The Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge.

The next morning we had to head back to the train station to head to Florence! We probably didn’t see nearly all that Venice had to offer, but since we knew we were going to go to a lot of museums in Florence and Rome, we decided to see only the things we were most interested in and then spend the rest of our time wandering the charming passageways and canals of Venice.

Paula: Romeo, Romeo

When we were planing our Italy trip we decided it might be fun to do some day trips and visit some of the smaller towns that were between our bigger city destinations. Originally, we were planning on stopping in Verona between Milan and Venice and Siena in between Venice and Florence, but due to train schedules we only made it to Verona.

Above: Verona charm.

It was nice to experience the small town feel, but the day trip experience turned out to be a bit of a hassle with 4 suitcases, 3 backpacks and 95+ degree weather. Like my experience in Toledo in Spain, we decided that Verona (and probably many of the other small towns) would be a great stop if you had access to a tour bus and didn’t have the same time constraints of previously bought train tickets or luggage in tow (or even backpacks–it was really hot). We really enjoyed certain things about Verona, but lamented the lack of benches that pervades all of Italy! As with our other destinations, Rick Steeves was indispensable. He had created an entire self-guided tour that was (fairly) easy to follow and we decided to take it with only a few modifications. Without the self guided tour I am sure we could have hit a few of the highlights, but we would have missed a lot of other things or not really known what we were seeing.

Above: Michael in front of the Roman Arena.

Our first stop after walking into the town center from the train station (there was supposedly a bus, but we only ever saw it moving and couldn’t find a stop) was the Roman Arena. The arena was kind of a surprise, we hadn’t even known there was an Roman Arena in Verona. We opted not to go in because we knew we were going to be going to the Colosseum in Rome the next week.

Above: Porta Borsari, we followed the tour groups.

From there we saw Porta Borsari, the former entrance to Verona in Roman times and walked through the narrow streets. Along one of these streets we found a delicious smelling bakery and bought pizza by weight (definitely the way to go for pizza in Italy!) and then walked to Piazza Erbe to eat it. Once again, we couldn’t find a single bench, but we found some steps in the shade. There was a busy market in the Piazza so after polishing off our pizza we looked around some of the stalls before continuing our walking tour.

Above: Piazza Erbe marketplace.

Not far off Piazza Erbe we followed the tourist crowds to the House of Juliet or at least a house that perhaps resembles something like what Shakespeare wrote… The tunnel leading to the courtyard over which the balcony looks is covered with graffiti and there is a large door inside the courtyard cover with hundreds of locks–no idea why. I took the obligatory photo and then we headed back out of the crowds.

Above: Romeo, Romeo where for arte thou Romeo?

Above: Notes and locks to Juliet.

Above: Buildings that span time, Piazza dei Signori.

We walked through Piazza dei Signori, which is really interesting visually because the buildings that surround the courtyard span five centuries. In the middle of the courtyard is a large statue of Dante Alighieri. We also walked into the Palazzo della Ragoine to see the only surviving Renaissance staircase in Verona.

Above: My mom and me on the staircase in Palazzo della Ragoine.

The tombs of the Scaligeri family were also quite something, not quite as crazy as the Medici Chapel, but still impressive when you stumble upon them down a small street! We also stopped in the Church of Sant’Anastasia. In typical Yust fashion we circle the entire church before finding the entrance… My favorite part of the church was the basin of holy water that appeared to be held up by a stone hunchback.

Above: I guess I can’t complain about my backpack.

It was really hot in Verona and our feet were getting tired so we headed over to the river and found a bench in shade to sit for a bit. The view was beautiful, we could see the fortress Castello San Pietro and the Ponte Pietra.

Above: Castello San Pietro on top of the hill, I think it would make a lovely summer home, don’t you think?

After our feet recovered slightly we walked over to the Ponte Pietra (bridge) before heading over to Verona’s Duomo. The Duomo was obviously smaller than the one in Milan, but still impressive (although there was no roof climb this time).

Above: Inside the Duomo.

We then had to walk rather quickly back to the train station to recollect our bigger bags and catch our train to Venice. We unfortunately ended up in a train car with broken air conditioning (and since it was supposed to have AC, the windows didn’t open) so the ride was very warm. After a very sticky hour and a half, someone finally came through and told us that several cars down (we had check the one right behind us and it didn’t seem much better) did have AC and we could move-yay! After a refreshing last 20 minutes we arrived in Venice!

Above: Can you tell he isn’t happy about the lack of air conditioning? Or maybe its the fact that I insisted on taking his picture for the 100th time that day…

Paula: Ciao Italia

After finishing up at Oxford, my family and I headed to Italy for 2 weeks of vacation. We had been talking about going to Italy for years, ever since we had gone to England and France while I was in high school. Since I was already in England and my mom had a conference in England about 2 weeks later we had the perfect window of time for our Italian adventure!

We did so much, ate so much and saw so much in Italy that I could write for days if I tried to recount each and every day sight by sight so instead I am going to do posts for each city with highlights from our trip.

Above: Michael and my mom walking into the Duomo square on our first day in Milan.

We started our Italian Adventure in Milan, primarily because it was significantly cheaper to fly to Milan from London than to any other Italian city we were planning on visiting. We weren’t in Milan very long–only one full day and two half days) but we saw some amazing sights and got our first taste of yummy Italian cuisine. Writing this post has made me realize just how much we saw in our short time in Milan, a trend that definitely continued through most of our trip (just wait until I get to the Florence post…which might have to be multiple posts…)

Above: My mom and I at the Galeria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Our first stop when we got into the city center (by bus from our hotel) was The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. The Galleria is an open-air, glass-topped upscale shopping center dating from 1865. The building itself is spectacular, and we wandered through it several times admiring the architecture, which was about all we could do in the Galleria since the shops inside were the likes of Prada, Louis Vuitton and Gucci etc. The majority of restaurants were pretty pricey too, except for the incongruous McDonalds right at the center. The Galleria was the location of my first of many nun sightings–nuns shopping! After traveling with Jessie so much I seem to have become more attuned to their presence 🙂

Above: The amazing glass ceiling of the Galleria.

Above: The Duomo in the afternoon sunlight.

One of our favorite places in Milan was the Duomo. The Milan Duomo is special because they allow visitors to climb to the roof, and not just to a little look out at the top. No, you get to walk all over the roof, carefully climbing the slanted stones. Not only is the stone work amazing, but the view of the Duomo square and the Galleria are amazing. The mid-morning weather was glorious and the sky was completely blue–lovely after the gray skies of England–but it also mean that it was HOT. The climb to the top was tiring (it was about 7 stories), but absolutely, totally worth it. If you are ever in Milan, I definitely recommend it.

Above: It was the first time I had ever been in a church where there literally wasn’t enough wall space for all the art, they had to hang in from the ceiling in between the columns.

Above: The three of us on the Duomo roof. The first of many photos where I attempt to take a picture of all of us…

Above: We walked right under this amazing stone work on the roof of the Duomo.

Above: Milan from the rooftop.

We experienced a bit of a learning curve when it came to meals in Italy–not so much what to eat, as where to eat. The first night we were a bit clueless, we ended up with a fantastic view of the Duomo at sunset, but our meal was definitely underwhelming and the restaurant definitely a tourist trap. We quickly learned however, that steering clear of the places with menus in 7 languages and electronic screens  was a good idea and instead turned to Rick Steeves a bit more for guidance or wandered down side streets. Dinner number 2 was definitely closer to the level we had expected and heard about for Italian cuisine. We found a restaurant slightly further from the Duomo that looked more authentic compared to some of its neighbors. My mom ordered a shrimp and fresh pasta dish, Michael had veal and I ordered pasta primavera. My mom and I also shared some of the house wine. The food and the wine were delicious. Michael and my mom even went for dessert–chocolate cake and cannoli. We sat at our sidewalk table for several hours just enjoying the sunset and the beautiful weather.

Above: The street where we ate, several blocks from the Duomo.

Above: Delectable pasta primavera.

Above: Dessert time. Although Jessie would say it wasn’t cannoli weather…

Milan was also our first experience with gelato in Italy. I had already had gelato multiple times with Jessie and Kelty in France (to read about some of our adventures in Provence, click here and here) and was completely sold. I had talked it up so much to my mother and brother over the phone and on skype that they were eager to try it too. We had some delicious gelato in Milan, the best was at Grom. Grom is actually an Italian chain (we actually went to a location in Venice as well), but made some awesome gelato. The best of the best gelato was to come later in our Italian adventure…

Above: First Italian gelato!

One of the other place in Milan that I really wanted to go was Teatro della Scala, the famous opera house. After a few issues with timing (they close for lunch, so check before going) and difficulty finding the entrance–we walked all the way around the block before realizing we had turn the wrong was initially (common for the Yust family on this trip), we finally made it inside. The decor was very posh–fabric wallpaper everywhere, stunning crystal chandeliers in the lobbies. We checked out an exhibit of antique opera costumes and then were able to view the opera house from a box. Our visit was short, but the opera house was amazing– I only wish we could have seen a performance!

Above: The performance poster outside Teatro della Scala.

Michael is really interested in da Vinci’s work so the Leonardo da Vinci National Science and Technology Museum was a must for us. After another Yust family tour of the block (we couldn’t find the entrance again, but at least this one actually wasn’t quite as obvious…), we pretty much let Michael choose what he wanted to see in the museum because it is huge, like several buildings connected by tunnels huge. We checked out wooden models of da Vinci’s designs along with exhibits on the telegraph, radio, and telephone and saw antique trains, boats and even half of a cruise ship. We spent awhile checking out the place, and we definitely didn’t see it all–I am sure we would have been there even longer if my dad had been with us, he loved exhibits like these and used to explain how they worked to anyone who would listen. By the time we left we were all starving so we headed over to the Sforza Castle area to find lunch. The area around the science museum really didn’t have any food options–so plan to eat elsewhere if you are heading there!

Above: I think they need to open an American franchise.

We stumbled upon Van Bol & Feste soon after getting off the bus and picked up pizza and focaccia slices to eat picnic-style in front of the castle. My mother’s and my overwhelming favorite was the focaccia with fresh arugula, buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomatoes. Michael also had some delicious margarita pizza.

Above: Sforza Castle.

After our lunch break we headed into Sforza Castle. Sforza Castle doesn’t particularly look like a stereotypical castle, but rather it is a former military fort dating back to the 1300s which then became a Renaissance palace for the Sforza family (Leonardo even lived there for a time!). Inside the Castle walls are more than seven different museums featuring everything from Italian art masterpieces to furniture to fossils. We didn’t have nearly the time to visit them all (and our feet had yet to adjust to extended walking) so we checked out the Museum of Ancient Art (including an unfinished Michalangelo pieta) and then split up, Michael went in the archeological museum while my mom and I went to the furniture and decorative art museum. On our way out of the castle we noticed that many other visitors were cooling their feet in the fountain so we followed suit. It was heavenly on that hot day.

Above: The water was wonderful.

Next Italy post–our day trip to Verona and then onwards to Venice!

Boat Pageants and Endless Rain

Sunday was the first official day of the Jubilee festivities. A massive river boat flotilla took place up the Thames, with a thousand boats participating along with the Queen’s own ship. Paula and Jessie knew they couldn’t miss the historic event despite the impending rain so that morning we set out to Tower Bridge (despite the ominous rain clouds) in a large group including Juliette, Nicole, her boyfriend Richard, and Kara.

However, upon getting to Tower Bridge area we discovered that it was jam-packed with people, to the extent that we couldn’t even see the water much less anything potentially floating in it. The police had blocked off many of the small streets and weren’t allowing anyone to go down by the water so that meant tons of people were squishing into the places that were open. We wandered up and down the area for a bit trying to find somewhere that we would at least have a partial view of the river in the midst of the crowds and beginnings of rain.

Above: The crowd at Tower Bridge. Yeah. There was NO way this was happening.

We were close to giving up when we found ourselves in a cluster of people waiting to get on to London Bridge. They had it blocked off at that point because of some security concern with the number of people already on it, but since our prospects weren’t looking so great regardless, we decided to wait it out. And boy did it pay off! Shortly after they told us that the bridge could be closed indefinitely, whatever was going on must have cleared up because they started letting us move slowly on to the bridge! We actually made it to the center, and while there were several rows of people standing in front of us, we actually had a view (well the camera had a view if we held them up, and tippy toes helped…) Jessie and Paula became masters at the awkward arm stretch to get a decent picture of the water below. Getting that angle just right helped pass the time! However Nicole, as the shortest of the bunch, was forced to hop up and down in order to get any kind of view.

Above: Our view of the river, waiting for the flotilla to arrive! But the question remained–Who were these lucky ducks who got to stand on the very edge?!

Above: Nicole, Paula, Juliette, Richard, and Kara (L-R) look super happy about the rain!

Thankfully the boats began passing below us not long after we got settled on our spot on the bridge. Hundreds and hundreds of small boats, ranging from kayaks to smaller yachts and crew rowing boats. Despite the drizzle we cheered and waved our flags, keeping an eye out for the Queen’s boat. Our perseverance paid off and soon we spotted the behemoth of a royal barge that carried the Queen and the royal family–Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Camilla, and of course Will, Kate, and Harry. Although we couldn’t hear from our high-up vantage point, apparently the London Symphony Orchestra was floating alongside the barge in another boat playing music despite the rain.

Above: Some of the hundreds of boats that made up the Flotilla.

Above: The Royal family on the Spirit of Cherwell. The Queen is in white, Camilla is in cream to the right with Prince Phillip in between. Kate in red around the corner to the left with William and Harry beside her. Prince Charles is the side of them possibly.

Above: The Spirit of Cherwell, the Queen’s boat.

The Queen eventually passed underneath us and was greeted on the other side of the London Bridge with cannon fire from large sailing vessels and thunderous cheering all around. We all felt insanely patriotic despite our lack of Britishness and were so thrilled to be part of the event! We even attempted to sing the British national anthem, much to the chagrin of Richard when we accidentally mixed in “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

Above: Nicole with her flag, showing off her English pride! God Save the Queen!!

Once the Queen went by we started the trek back to Mile End, and were unfortunately caught in a huge downpour. All the Tube stations nearby were packed with people, so after considerable wandering we were able to catch the trusy 25 bus back to the flat (with a quick stop for kebabs–we were starving!!) After such a long day we all changed into warm, dry clothes and had a quiet evening in the flat. Paula and Jessie wrapped themselves in blankets and treated themselves to a Gilmore Girls marathon while listening to the rain outside. Despite the rain, seeing the boat pageant was well worth it!

Above: Walking back in a super-rainy London.

London Bucket List!

Jessie’s last weekend in London happily coincided with the Jubilee weekend, so she went out with a bang and a flurry of events and festivities that honored the Queen’s 60th anniversary of her reign! Paula knew she couldn’t miss out on such a historic event so she made the trek down to London despite her workload to enjoy the Jubilee weekend with the rest of Maynard 15!

Above: Paula and Aniela on the canal path to Roman Road.

The real festivities didn’t start off until Sunday, so we decided to take the opportunity  on Saturday to finish off Jessie’s London ‘Bucket List’–i.e. getting to do the things she wanted to do before she left. Thankfully this was the last day of nice weather so it was perfect for all the walking around that we did. Paula, Jessie, and Jessie’s beloved flatmate Aniela took a walk up along Regent’s Canal to Roman Road, home of the V&A Museum of Childhood is!

Above: Lusting after toys at the V & A Museum of Childhood.

This is quite a well-kept East End secret. It’s a museum exclusively dedicated to toys, children’s clothing, and furniture throughout the ages. We had an incredible time exploring the small museum and checking out how toys have changed (or conversely, stayed the same!) over the years. However, it was a bit odd seeing things such as Sesame Street playsets and dolls from our own childhood in a museum…we didn’t think we were THAT old!!

Above: What are our toys doing in a museum?

After the Childhood Museum we were pretty hungry so we walked along Roman Road until it intersected with Brick Lane, aka the street of culinary delights. Brick Lane is famous for its Indian food, but we were there for bagels. Jessie had heard from several classmates that Brick Lane was the place to go for delicious and super-cheap bagels. Brick Lane Beigel Bake did not disappoint. With one delicious plain bagel being only 25p, you can buy several breakfasts’ worth of meals on the cheap. They offer lots of different fillings and spreads in their bagels, ranging from jam to peanut butter to salt beef. We eagerly chowed down on our bagels and marveled and just how darn cheap they were. Spending less than 2 pounds on lunch? Always a good decision. Jessie loved getting a New York-style salmon and cream cheese bagel for only 1.40, and talked about it ALL DAY (Paula can attest to this!!)

At the bottom of Brick Lane sits the Whitechapel Art Gallery, a supposedly hip gallery that Jessie and Aniela had both been hearing buzz about. It turned out to be a bust since there was nothing ‘on’ at the moment worth seeing. Instead we enjoyed the last day of Frappuccino Happy Hour at a nearby Starbucks.

Paula and Jessie proceeded to hop on the tube at Whitechapel for their next stop: Hyde Park! Jessie had been saving the famous park for a sunny day and as of yet not had a chance to explore it. Our spur-of-the-moment decision was a good one, as the late afternoon sun lit up the park and made our walk warm and enjoyable. We started in the Rose Garden and made a giant loop around the park, marveling at the sheer size.

Above: Paulie in the roses.

Jessie was  ecstatic when we came upon three horses grazing in the tall grass of Hyde Park after finishing their exhibition in a horse show that was happening in the park. She befriended one beautiful paint horse whose name was Basil (pronounced in British as ‘Bazzle’).

Above: Jessie and her new friend, Basil.

Above: Paula’s hilarious dive-bombing pigeons impression–pretty accurate!!

We then wandered into the adjoining Kensington Gardens and checked out the ornate Italian Gardens.After consulting several maps, we also found the iconic Peter Pan Statue and stopped by the Princess Diana Memorial. There were lots of people out and about given the lovely weather and the holiday weekend. Plus, there was a Jubilee Children’s Festival happening in the middle of the park and we passed tons of informal soccer games. They even had lounge chairs set out throughout the park so we stopped for a bit to rest our feet and marvel at the sunny skies.

Above: View from the Italian Gardens.

Above: Jessie and Peter Pan.

Above: Paula lounging in Hyde Park, resting up after our extensive walking!!

After our Hyde Park stroll we headed past Marble Arch, down Oxford St to Slug and Lettuce, a restaurant Jessie’s friend Chaitra from Wellesley had recommended. We were delighted to discover that cocktails were buy one get one free. We ordered dinner and drinks, but the drinks definitely stole the show. Chaitra raved about the Bombay Breeze, and after sampling it for ourselves we definitely agree! It was fruity yet potent–a mix of gin, strawberry, and lemon.

Above: The Bombay Breeze (L) and Paula’s Strawberry Mojito.

After our late dinner we went back to Jessie’s flat. The entire flat (minus Kelly, who sadly had moved out earlier that week) had assembled for an evening of festivities and fun to celebrate our last weekend together. We played our favorite game, Charades. Paula had never witnessed a Maynard 15 rendition of charades before and was thoroughly entertained by how ridiculous and competitive we were. We broke into teams–Jessie and Juliette as the ‘Creepy Chickens’, Kara and Aniela as the Pirates, and Nicole and Richard as the PokeMasters–and Paula keeping score. While everyone had memorable performances, the resounding winners were Jessie and Juliette, who dominated thanks to their shared brain. It was tons of fun and a great way to start off the Jubilee weekend!

Above: Team Creepy Chicken celebrates a charades victory.