Wednesday, July 10, 2013

4th of July in England: Missing You Since 1776

Last week was the 4th of July: that glorious holiday that celebrates America's independence from Britain with fireworks, cook outs, and some good ol' red, white, and blue. I love the 4th of July - hanging out with friends and family, basking in the freedom the patriots secured for all future generations after Thomas Jefferson penned the greatest break up letter in history, effectively telling Britain in no uncertain terms that we are never, ever, ever getting back together. Except this year I was in England for the 4th.


Look, I'm no blind fanatic - I know there are lots of things wrong with America. Just take a look at any of the ongoing legislative battles currently brewing for women's rights, marriage equality, the health care debate...America has some work to do. That being said, I am fond of my country and look back upon it with glorified memories when I'm feeling particularly homesick or I find England in some way lacking (why is nothing open 24/7? why is the food so bland? no, you don't need to put mayo on everything!). And I am beyond guilty of making America jokes at the expense of my non-American friends. I have jokingly told my English friends to "shut up or I'll throw your tea in the harbor" too many times to count. All in good fun!

But the 4th of July rolled around and I found myself homesick for southern weather and fireworks and classic Americana, none of were readily available to me in dear little Oxford. So, in the words of the iconic Tim Gunn, I made it work.

Lindsay and I, the only Americans in our little group, decided we needed a cook out. We made Juicy Lucy's - a Minnesotan staple where cheese is placed inside of the hamburger patty and cooked to gooey, cheesy perfection. Oh sweet lord, that is the American dream.

Our materials.
Constructing the Juicy Lucy's (good form, ol chap)
My favorite Minnesotan. 

The rest of our offerings were pretty standard - fries/chips, salad, fruit. We managed to procure an apple pie (bye, bye, miss american pie / drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry...), but the Englishman was left in charge of alcohol and Nick bought Pimms instead of whatever American beer they had at Tesco. sigh. This is why we left y'all in the first place - you don't listen to us! (another American joke, take no offense).

Lindsay and I also decided that our dear friends (mostly Nick) needed to be educated about the Revolution and American history in general. It was actually pretty fun to recall history lessons and recite famous quotes/speeches we learned as kids.

"The Louisiana Purchase wasn't just for the state of Louisiana?"
"Oh my god, no. No. It doubled the size of our country!"

They. Were. Delicious.

It wasn't a typical 4th of July by any means - not a single firework in sight - yet it was fun nonetheless. An entire day of allowing myself to reach a level of patriotism usually only reserved for the Olympics. You don't even want to see me during the Olympics. It's bad, really bad. But I was with friends and happy, and that's really what matters. Even if I couldn't throw any tea into the harbor.

Jane xx

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Iron Man 3 Premiere

On Thursday, 18 February, I was lucky enough to attend the Iron Man 3 Premiere in London at Leicester Square. The great people at Showcase Cinemas had a competition on their twitter account to win a pair of tickets to the premiere - and I won them! Shock of the century, I never win anything. Showcase Cinemas are a branch across the UK, with a few "luxury" locations as well - you can find their website here. Definitely check them out next time you're up for a trip to the cinema, and follow them on twitter - they regularly do competitions for tickets and such.

Like I said, thanks to this lucky happenstance and the helpful people at Showcase Cinemas, I was able to take my friend Mary along with me. Neither of us had ever been to a proper movie premiere before, so we were pretty excited! I do have to say that I am a massive fan of superhero movies, especially Marvel. I've seen pretty much every Marvel movie that's come out since the first X Men film in 2000. I have been to plenty of midnight releases (The Avengers, The Amazing Spider Man, etc.), but nothing like this.

Mary and I got into London about 2 hours before the premiere and got dinner (which I'll post about later), and made our way to Leicester Square. It was packed! We had to wait for a few minutes before the doors opened, but when it was time to go into the theatre, we were led onto the red carpet. Robert Downey Jr was just a couple feet away from us (very exciting! but he's shorter than expected in person). It was pretty surreal, so of course we needed a picture to document our first red carpet!

I wore a Henry Holland dress and American Eagle trench, Marry wore a dress from Topshop.

Once we found our seats and settled in (after Mary ran into Stanley Tucci), we watched the rest of the red carpet on the screen. We also got to check out our goodies...

Iron Man 3D glasses...I totally kept them.
Soon enough it was showtime - the director and cast came out to introduce the film and talk about making the film. It was pretty cool, but at that point I was ready for the movie to begin.

Blurry, but I was far back, whoops.
In short...I really enjoyed it! Might be my favorite film in the Iron Man franchise thus far. It's already out in the UK, and will be in the US on the 30th, so I think I can go ahead and give a little review without giving away any spoilers. This movie had all the usual bits that make Iron Man so great - crazy intense action sequences, the almost separate characterization of the Iron Man suits themselves, and of course snarky bad boy Tony Stark played by Robert Downey Jr. That casting alone makes every Iron Man movie for me, but I thought the third installment brought something totally new to the series. It took a more focused look at Tony Stark as a person and how he's struggling with some PTSD after New York (The Avengers) - I loved this new approach to Tony. Sir Ben Kingsley plays the "villain" in the film, called The Mandarin. This character stole the show in some ways for me - I really liked the way he's presented, and the entire sub-plot of the "terrorist-style" attacks was full of surprises and plot twists that were as quick and shocking as Downey's one liners. Overall, I think any fan of Iron Man and superheroes in general would thoroughly enjoy this film. 

If anyone has already seen it, let me know what you think!

Jane xx

Monday, April 22, 2013

Amsterdam: We Are Six

So a couple weeks ago, my friends and I decided to end Easter hols on a high note (no pun intended), by spending a week in Amsterdam. Roos lives there, so we were lucky enough to stay at her home. The six of us got some much needed time away from Oxford and work, and spent a lot of time together. This post will be mostly pictures, because that's the cool part, with some blurbs about what we did throughout.

I've got to say, I loved Amsterdam. It's unlike any city I've ever been to. It's busy but doesn't feel overcrowded - you can actually see the sky since buildings aren't over 4-5 stories. The canals prevent any "concrete jungle" feel like you get in London or New York. I really hope to go back again!

What good looking friends!

Our sleeping arrangment was one of the funniest parts of our trip - and definitely the cause of lots of bonding. Lindsay, Izzy, and I in the bed, Mike on a mattress next to us, Nick on an air mattress next to him, and Roos on her bed in the next room. Made for some funny moments, but also felt like a massive sleepover every night. #bonding.

Lots of bedtime giggles.
 Amsterdam is an amazing city! I knew everyone cycled, but it's pretty crazy to see in person. There are giant car parks for bicycles, and because there are so many bikes, people have to decorate their's in really unique ways to tell them apart. We even saw one with real bark, moss, and flowers. The architecture is a real stand-out as well. Most houses are 3-4 stories, and because they are so tall, the stairs are steep. STEEP. I had some trouble with that, especially in the Anne Frank house because I am terrified of stairs, but it all worked out in the end. Also, because you can't really move furniture or anything heavy up those stairs, most houses have a hook on the edge of the roof for that purpose. Old stores and warehouses are actually built tilted, so goods could be lifted without hitting the building. Fun fact for ya.

Besides going to the Anne Frank house, we also went to the Van Gogh Museum (mostly at my request). Both were incredible. We also went to the local market, supposedly "world famous," which was pretty much farmer's market meets flea market. Lots of cheese and juice, though.

But we were there for one reason...stroopwafels. These syrup-filled, thin waffels are delicious (but ridiculously sticky).

Action shot.
 Then we had a walk through the Red Light District. I didn't take pictures of the arguably more interesting parts of the Red Light District, but can google for yourself.

Also in the Red Light District, we visited "Our Lord in the Attic," a secret church built into a house when building Catholic churches was illegal in Amsterdam. It's literally just a normal house, until you come up a flight of stairs and see this...

Pretty amazing. And apparently time traveling me had already been there...

For our last night in Amsterdam, Lindsay and I decided to share an American feast of sorts, since we found an American food store while walking around. Kraft Mac 'n' Cheese (and lots of veggies on the side), and a heart-shaped funfetti cake. So American. Almost everyone felt sick afterwards, but I think they just weren't used to all that freedom. (JOKING!)

The Saturday was our last day in Amsterdam, but our flight wasn't until that evening, so we took a quick train out to the coast that morning. It was great to be on a beach and stand in the North Sea, even if it was freezing. 

Riding in trains with boys.

We returned to the city long enough to grab our bags and say goodbye to Roos' family before heading off to the airport. A quick flight and long bus ride later, I was back in Oxford and exhausted. But the good kind of exhausted. Mostly because I had such an amazing time with my friends. It was definitely a bonding trip for us all - I feel like our group dynamic got a lot closer, and I'm really happy we were all able to go together. I definitely fell in love with Amsterdam a bit while we were there. It's honestly one of the coolest, most unique cities I've ever seen. Fingers crossed I'll go back one day!

Jane xx

Friday, April 12, 2013

High Tea

Ages and ages (a whole month) ago, my friend Izzy and I had our hearts set on going to high tea, and were thankfully able to sneak it in before Izzy left for Malaysia and I wasted away from boredom in Oxford. Seriously y'all, it was grim for a while. But we managed a cheeky little tea, just the two of us, one afternoon and it. was. lovely.

We went to the Grand Cafe on High St, which boasts itself as the first coffee house in England (these things can't always be proven, but add some nice novelty). It also boasts a fully stocked high tea for £13, which is honestly a steal compared to high tea at other places. To be honest, it probably could have cost a lot more but Izzy and I were so damn set nothing could deter us.

I'd been to tea a couple times with my mom on vacations and such, but never to a proper High Tea before. The Grand Cafe did not disappoint.

Izzy and I each ordered the High Tea (ignorant of the massive mistake that would turn out to be). I had a bog standard Earl Grey because it's my favorite and in my mind goes with everything. Izzy plumped for a hot chocolate, as she doesn't like coffee but wasn't in the mood for tea. I know, not in the mood for tea? Impossible! And yet. It was a really decadent hot chocolate though...

The High Tea usually comes with egg mayonnaise and smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches, but I hate egg mayo and Izzy doesn't love it either. So we were a tiny bit difficult and asked if we could have only smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches. We had built it up a bit in our heads, thinking it would be an issue, but our waitress didn't even bat an eye before saying, "yeah, of course you can!"

When the food arrived, it was clear our eyes were just a bit bigger than our stomachs.

Sandwiches, scones (Izzy and I constantly fight over the pronunciation) with clotted cream and jam, and handmade truffles.  We promptly dug in. The food was delicious, and after a brief confusion (I thought the scones were chocolate...nope, raisin), we had to admit defeat and ask to take the rest home. We agreed that next time we'll just split one. 

The Grand Cafe's website can be found here, and anyone fancying a proper High Tea should go.

Jane xx

Friday, March 29, 2013

Torpids - Rowing on the River

Back in February, it was torpids season in Oxford, and all anyone could talk about for over a week was rowing. Seriously.

Torpids is a kind of rowing race where the whole purpose is to bump the boat ahead of you. If you bump the boat ahead or their cox concedes  then you stop rowing and quickly get off to the side so everyone else can keep in the race. That is a very basic, bare bones explanation from someone who most definitely does NOT row. But, I have friends who do, so I wrapped up and went down to the river to watch.

St Cross doesn't have it's own boat house/team - instead, we share with Wolfson, our sister college. Wolfson has the money and facilities, so it's technically Wolfson Boat Club, but the members are split almost 50/50 between St Cross and Wolfson. Lindsay and Roos row on the Women's 2 boat, and Mike rows for Men's 1.

Torpids went on for a solid week, but I only managed to get out the last weekend for the final races (thanks homework, spoiling my fun). I don't know anything about rowing, but anyone who knows me knows that I get insanely competitive, especially when I'm not actually participating. Seriously, I am awful during the Olympics, yelling at the TV and being ridiculously patriotic. So of course, this promptly extended to watching torpids. GO WOLFSON!!!

There are a short list of colleges that I hate on principle, so I of course wanted Wolfson to kick their asses, despite the fact that Wolfson wasn't actually chasing their boats. Whoops, next time then.

Izzy did NOT want to be photographed.
A St Cross blade on one of the Wolfson boats.




The W2 boat (with Roos and Lindsay) "rowed over" both days, meaning that they didn't bump anyone but also didn't get bumped themselves, so they stayed in the same position. Izzy and I met up with Lindsay and Roos to cheer on Mike and M1.

England, sometimes you are really lovely.

Just around the river bend...

M1 also did well! They were bumped on Friday (a rather contested and controversial call), and rowed over on Saturday.

Since it's Easter hols all the rowing chatter has died down a bit, but at the end of next term, it'll all spark up again for Summer Eights, which is apparently the same basic rules but both boats, the bumper and bumpee, have to stop rowing. At least the weather will be much nicer then - time to break out the Pimm's! I'm really looking forward to Summer Eights because I think it'll be the closest I can get to tailgating in England. And I really love me some tailgating. 

The famous Oxford-Cambridge boat race is this Sunday. I"ll be sporting dark blue to cheer on Oxford! Which blue are you?

Jane xx