Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Happy Christmas

It really is the most wonderful time of the year.

Manchester has a distinct chill, and I can faintly smell fires burning in chimneys some nights when I'm coming home. And while it hasn't snowed yet (in Manchester at least!), we have gotten frost on the grass and the puddles from all that rain are frozen on the sidewalks and in the streets. And, being the children we are, Richard and I race to stomp around and shatter the ice. 

Luckily, we aren't dumb enough to try to shatter the ice that's formed on top of our favo(u)rite pond next to our house. Hello, hypothermia waiting to happen!

But between Christmas dinners, sharing tapas with our friends Vic and Ste, visits with the sisters in law, and all that work we need to wrap up before the end of the year, Richard and I have taken every opportunity we can to sneak over to the Manchester Christmas Market which lines many streets of the downtown area. Even better, Santa is there!! That Santa...can't trump him with geography.

So with bellies full of Bailey's hot chocolate, brats, French provincial food, and Dutch toffee waffles, Richard and I wish you a very Happy Christmas, as my British friends say. And for all of you back in the colonies, I hope to see you on my travels home this season :-)

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The writing on the walls

I've always loved public restrooms.

And no, that's not sarcasm...ask my mother. Every time we were out running errands when I was a child, I'd ask to go to the bathroom in every store we went in, just to see what they all were like.

As I've grown up, I still enjoy reading the writing and doodling on bathroom stalls while I'm doing my business. In fact, it's my favorite form of in-bathroom entertainment (my second favorite form of in-bathroom entertainment is weird gossip and advice you hear one girl giving another while in adjacent, or sometimes the same, stalls).

In high school, the subject matter was mostly on which boys were hot and which girls were whores.

In college, while these ladies had obviously graduated from high school, they hadn't risen above the same high school stall writing, although they did learn some more colorful language and more explicit doodles.

Now that I'm in England, I've encountered a whole new genre of bathroom writing. All I have encountered thus far is positive and/or clever. A lot of it also mentions alcohol. And these comments can be found outside as well on sidewalks, light posts...anywhere really. Instead of ridiculous commentary, I thought I'd share a few of my favorites.

And since I know you will ask...yes, I bring my phone into the bathroom. No, I haven't dropped it in the toilet yet.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Now that's what I call History!

I've had the amazing opportunity to study in this country...and better yet, I've been lucky enough to travel around on weekends to see the sights. What stands out to me the most, besides the rain, is the history. And we're not talking just signing the Declaration of Independence (to rid ourselves of these people who caused quite a bit of our own history), because that happened yesterday, in British terms.

And speaking of our Founding Fathers...about a month ago, walking around London, we happened upon Benjamin Franklin's old house.

But going back much further, I've seen walls built in Roman times. These walls are old. Older than my great grandmother (who is 100 and voted a week ago, thank you very much!). Older than my country. Older than the notion that the world was flat. We're talking back in Jesus' time. That's stinking old.

Chester, where Richard grew up, is home to the most complete Roman walls in Britan, restored, but not replicated. In fact, you can take a walk around the town on top of these walls...something I got to do a couple weeks ago. What strikes me is that while walking these ancient walls, I can see an old castle, Roman amphitheatre (above), 11th century cathedral, gothic architecture, cobbled streets, and modern shops. Talk about recycling your space while conserving your history!

And you can see bits of history like this everywhere. York was no different with remnants of a fort (above), (rebuilt) Roman walls, remains of an Abbey (below), and a breathtaking cathedral (with graffiti only dating back to the 1970's, as far as we saw, cathedral below, graffiti omitted).

I even found a bit of my own history in York. A high school friend is studying in York for her master's and it was wonderful to catch up with a friend with similar life experiences. She told me about a strange coincidence she came across as well...another Fairview High School grad was in York in addition to her. And what are the odds that we would run into that old French-class friend of mine on the streets. We all had a bit of catching up to do, so we had a good laugh at the pub talking about how strange it all was.

It's going to take a lot to really understand how much history is in this country...even before Roman times. And how history is being made all around us, even in a pub with two friends from high school.

I guess it's a small world after all.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Remember Remember

November 5 was my very first bonfire night, but it took me a good conversation with Richard and some scientific Wikipedia-ing to figure out what was behind all the tradition.

On November 5, 1605 (before the US was a country, as Richard so kindly pointed out), a group of Catholic men plotted to kill King James I of England, a Protestant, so that a Catholic king could be back in power. They planted gunpowder under the House of Lords, intending to ignite it, but Guy Fawkes was caught guarding the explosives and the plot fell apart. In celebration of Thanksgiving of the King's survival, bonfires were lit across the country.

While this day no longer comes with a day off school and work, people still follow tradition and gather for fireworks and bonfires. Some bonfires include the burning of a scarecrow that's supposed to represent Guy Fawkes, but because of the religious implications, this practice is frowned upon.

History aside, our celebrations included the traditional fireworks show and large bonfire. The other unexpected, but apparently traditional accompaniment was mud. But when you think about it, we have an easy equation.

hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people + rainy weather + grassy park = mud.

Aren't you glad my education is finally paying off?

Once we got a good view of the bonfire, fireworks, and a really good cleansing mud bath, we headed home for mince pies, mulled wine (think mulled cider, but with wine instead of apple juice), and warmth.

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot

Sunday, 4 November 2012

OMG! Shoes.

It's come to my attention that none of the shoes in my closet are adequate for the rainy UK. In fact, I do believe they'll all lead to death. Read on:

Flip flops - My toes will freeze, fall off, I'll lose my balance, get hit by a bus, and die.
Tom's shoes - My feet get instantly wet, I get pneumonia, and die.
Cheap fashion boots - Develop a hole in the bottom of my sole within a week, my feet get instantly wet, I get pneumonia, and die.
Wellies - My feet stay nice and dry, but I have to walk around like a prancing dressage horse, my legs get sore, I lose my balance, get hit by a bus, and die.
Ballet flats - See "Tom's shoes" above.
Tennis shoes AKA "Trainers" - I die of shame.
Heels - Are you joking me? Heels on cobbled streets and uneven sidewalks? Walking 3 miles a day? In any case, my toes get cold, circulation gets cut off, heels get caught in cracks, I fall over, get hit by a bus, and die.
Horseback riding boots - I die of shame.
Down booty slippers - Get worn down in a couple days, see "Cheap fashion boots" above.

Which leads me to shoes I don't have, but can buy...

Uggs - I die of shame.
Expensive fashion boots - I spend 3 month's rent on them, my feet stay warm and dry as I die of starvation.

I could ask my boyfriend for new shoes, but he'll then spend 3 month's rent on them, die of starvation, and I have warm feet but die of a broken heart. Or he buys me crappy shoes and I lose a boyfriend.

So what's a girl with no shoes to do? Obviously go shopping with Mom and Dad's credit card. They said it was for emergencies...and my life is on the line!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012


What a festive week of ghost, ghouls, and gawky kids dressed up like the guy from the Gangnam Style music video. The story is no different here in Manchester.

Kids and adults alike went out in "fancy dress" (costumes) starting last weekend for parties and clubs and the spirit even made it to the swimming club, where we did an "evil" 300m freestyle (no use of the walls. Try really is evil) and swimming like zombies (on our backs, kicking, with arms at a 90 degree angle to the water. This is hard too...most of us had water up our noses).

Richard and I started our festivities last night with pumpkin carving and toasting our pumpkin seeds. Plans for tonight include making toffee (caramel) apples (a Lauren-Kelsey tradition for the last 6 years), homemade pumpkin chorizo soup from the extra pumpkin we picked up, Hobgoblin beer, and a good dose of a 1990's Disney classic: Hocus Pocus.

But the real spook came this morning. Richard had an early shift and was out the door before 6 this morning. When I got up and was getting ready, our internet went out. Strange, I thought, as I wandered into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. As I put the kettle on and got ready to make toast, I realized that the power in our house was out. Was this a mean Halloween prank? An unfortunate outage? Commiseration with the Frankenstorm victims? Just bad timing with my protector/boyfriend off to work?

Nope. Our pre-paid electricity had run out...worst invention ever. So panic over, I took our electricity stick to the store and topped up on electricity. I guess we should start listening to the strange beeping noise that comes from under our stairs (where Harry Potter lives, as Crisi says).

Happy Halloween!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Trips to the countryside

Living in the city for a month has given me an urge to visit the countryside and experience the clean air and open spaces. Lucky for me, a friend of a friend lives a quick train ride away and invited me for two amazing weekends with green fields, rolling hills, precious pups, and gorgeous horses.

Besides making new friends, having many laughs, and feeling more relaxed than I have in a long time, these wonderful people let me experience some new (to me) parts of the horse world: a team chase (think cross country leg of a 3-day event) and a hunt.

The team chase consists of a team of 5 riders racing through a cross country course to snag the best time. Time starts from when the first rider of your team crosses the starting line to when the tail-end of the team crosses the finish line. Of course there are many TALL obstacles in the way (see pictures above...and notice the people standing next to these jumps!). And besides all the calculations involved in running and jumping, you definitely don't want to tire your beloved steed. It's 5 minutes of pure excitement for riders and spectators alike. 

The hunt, on the other hand, is filled with beautiful tradition before, during, and after the 3-hour ride. From hip flasks to port wine, hounds to horses, red coats to velvet hats, every bit made me smile. Before the dozens of horses left the stables, a runner set out to leave his scent along the course. That's right, no foxes were used in the making of this blog...just the scent of a man's trainers. There are options to jump or walk around all hedges and fences and the emphasis is on the joy of riding. Quite a beautiful sight to see.

I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to witness these events, even from the ground through the lens of the team's camera. I've always heard that the horse traditions in this country are outstanding. But the cherry on top? They let me take one of their horses out for a walk around the countryside and a jump in the yard. Bronson is the most spectacular horse I've had the privilege to ride (don't tell Toby!), listening to every nudge I gave him, and made an excellent tour guide through the country lanes, next to the hedges, and past all the cottages with name plaques on the front. Bronson gracefully took me over some puny logs outside the house, which gave me the biggest smile the whole train-ride home...and perhaps even a few days afterwards.

A HUGE thank you to everyone involved in my countryside experience. It was certainly an adventure I'll always remember, and nothing makes a girl happier than coming back to the city with muddy boots.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Deck the Radiator

Alright, I've lived in the UK for over a month, and if you know me well enough, you know that means countless spilled substances on my clothes. I've reused moderately clean shirts and trousers (not "pants" as that apparently means the same as "knickers" or "intimates" and just to set the record straight, I only use clean "pants" just like my mom taught me). But my clothing options were quickly depleting as one outfit after another was shot down with food spills and strange smells.

I had to break down and do the laundry.

The good news: We have a washing machine in our home.
The weird news: It's in our kitchen.
The unfortunate news: We don't have a dryer in our home.
The lucky news: We have a private courtyard in the back with a clothes line.
The bad news: In case you haven't heard, it rains quite a lot here.

So, I had to ask the stupid American question: How DO you dry your clothes here?

Richard pointed out we have a radiator in every room, and I've learned to adorn them with my wet clothes, leave them for a couple hours. Magically they dry and don't wrinkle. Genius.

Besides being festive and handy for laundry days, I've discovered that the radiator also doubles as a towel warmer. Ahhh...the life of luxury.

So maybe the laundry isn't something I should avoid, especially if I plan ahead and lay out clothes for the next day so they're nice and warm when I put them on.

But considering I'm a 24 year old woman who still spills on herself daily, let's not get too ambitious.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Oh! Gwen! Let's get a curry!

Now that things are settling down from the big move, Richard and I are beginning to have visitors: Sam and Crisi (okay, they're only across town visitors), the sisters in law, and our first American visitor, Martha.

Each friend coming to say "hello" thrusts us quickly from being out-of-towners to locals as we take our buddies to see the sights.

The one attraction we are becoming experts on is the Curry Mile, the largest collection of south Asian restaurants outside of that part of the world...all within a 10 minute walk from our house.

We even have a favorite restaurant already with some of the spiciest food you can imagine. But there are dozens of different curry offerings, some with garlic and coconut milk, some with tomato and peppers. And even different types and flavors of na'an bread (ranging from sweet to savory) and six different types of dips for your poppadoms (think tostadas, but lighter).

And for dessert? There are sweet shops littered down the street with brightly colored confections and syrup saturated sweets. They all pair nicely with a Bollywood film from the shop across the street.

It's a definite must-see for when you come to visit. And I'm thinking a visit there for dinner tonight wouldn't be such a bad idea.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Turkish Delight

Last weekend I ventured down to London, my first big excursion outside of Manchester. Richard's friend recently got engaged to a wonderful girl, whose parents threw them an engagement party. Of course we decided to take this excuse to travel to my favorite city to celebrate.

In case you're wondering, the drive from up north down to London took about 4 hours. Where can you drive within 4 hours?

After a good night's sleep, we ventured around London, hopping between tourist spots using our all-day tube pass. We saw Trafalgar Square, the National Portrait Gallery, Big Ben, and that very special spot where Kate and Will got married just over a year ago. And we finished the night with a show on the West End.

And if you thought our Saturday was fun....

The engagement party followed Turkish traditions, from the bride-to-be's heritage. The guests arrived at a Turkish restaurant, greeted with countless dips and bread. We munched until the happy couple arrived. They were greeted with a standing ovation, which continued through their three laps around the room. They had their first dance accompanied by a live band, and were showered with American dollars, collected and kept as a tip by the musicians. Finally, they were allowed to sit and eat.

After a multiple-course, button popping meal, the real festivities began. There was singing and dancing, followed by a ritual dance. The bride and groom's engagement rings (yes, the groom gets an engagement ring too!) are tied to a pillow. The couple dances with the pillow as do the unmarried ladies attending the party (but the total of girls has to be an odd number), meanwhile the guests shower the dancers with dollar bills. The unmarried girls circle the couple and disperse so the rings can be placed on the couple's fingers and the ribbon joining them can be cut. 

What a night of tradition and culture, great food and company. I left absolutely thrilled for the wedding. If it's half as fun as the engagement party, we're in for an amazing night.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Gone Riding

Wednesday marked my first day back in the saddle after a few week break and the first time ever riding horses in a different country. Oh and it was my first official trek out of the city since I arrived. It was lesson day for the University of Manchester Riding Club.

I got a lift to the stables from another member and we sailed through small towns, pony bound. We arrived at the farm to find dozens of beautiful horses of all sizes and breeds, from small show ponies to massive Clydesdale mixes, like Patch the mare I was lucky enough to get matched with.

The lesson was 45 minutes of the riding instructor getting to know our riding abilities and Patch trying desperately to gallop endless circles around the ring. It was an interesting experience, however I did get Patch calm, cool, and collected and forced her to give me a beautiful canter, one which the instructor determined was "Brilliant".

First lesson down, I'm feeling pretty good about myself. But every week promises to be different as the club wants to get us experienced on all sorts of horses: big and small, stubborn and lightning-fast. Oh and we'll be adding a third dimension to the lessons soon...jumping.

I hope to try out for the competitive riding team next year where we travel to different stables, get on a horse we've never ridden before, and compete against different universities in a dressage test and show-jumping course.

Until then, I'm hobbling around like a cowboy with very sore legs.

Monday, 1 October 2012

A trip to Oklahoma, sealed with a kiss

Walking around the Northern Quarter, "where the cool kids hang out," according to Richard, there are unique restaurants serving high tea, aquarium stores located below pavement level, and other unique shops. It's certainly one of my new favorite places, especially with a boutique called Oklahoma.

Obviously the name alone drew me inside, but the contents of the shop are quirky. I spent a very long time browsing the pillows, postcards, and pins. I ended up coming home with a new friend, now perched on our couch.

As I pulled out my phone to tell some friends about my new favorite Mancunian gift shop and cafe, I was reminded of another favorite English tradition...ending all text messages with a kiss. What a sweet way to let your loved ones know they're loved. Or by omission, letting them know you're mad at them.

More new experiences and English quirks every day :-)