Thursday, August 14, 2014

Some miscellaneous observations about our life in London

It's hard to find a regular bag of chips (crisps). Most of the time, the bag of chips is filled with six or so smaller, individual-size bags. It's really useful when you're researchers taking bag lunches to the British Library every day, like us! We had to wonder why, though, considering it's really wasteful of the plastic. We think it's for portion control. Those sensible Brits! And I have to laugh, because it really does work. The one normal bag of chips we did buy here in London got eaten almost in its entirety (yes, by me) one night where we weren't really hungry and didn't end up making a real dinner. Oops!

Generally in London, you keep to the left side of the hallway, which makes sense because one also drives on the left side of the road. Except for that one Underground station (Green Park) which asks you to keep to the right for no discernible reason. But at the British Library, stairs are a free-for-all, no doubt because the library is full of scholars of different nationalities. This means that no one knows what side of the stairs to use, and it's kind of a mess especially because the stairs have really sharp corners.

I got through lots of books on the tube, 45 to be exact. I ended up loving the commute for that very reason - it was so relaxing to set aside thoughts of research and read fiction instead. I even quickly picked up the skill of reading my kindle one-handed while standing and holding onto a pole with the other hand. And the bizarre fact that the trains are silent - nobody talks to each other! - meant I could read in peace and quiet.

Washcloths. Why don't they use them? When I asked our hostess if she had one, she looked at me strangely, eventually figured out that I was asking for a "flannel," and looked at me strangely again after I bought a pair at the grocery store because I was using one to wash my face at night and apparently that's a weird thing to do. She came home with what was basically a linen handkerchief for me, which made my nightly face-wash feel very posh.

Radiator in the bathroom? Brilliant idea! The one in our flat doubled as a handy towel rack, and when the flat got cold and the radiator turned on, we had wonderfully warm towels. On the other hand, fewer bathtubs, and there were days when I dearly missed having a bubble bath.

Despite my mother's long-ago warning that Brits don't drink milk and therefore A) don't sell it in large containers and B) don't have refrigerators large enough to hold large containers even if they existed, in fact they do. Whew. I drink a lot of milk out of habit more than anything else these days. It's just a little bit of a hassle to have to carry their large containers (six pints or 3.4 litres, not exactly a gallon, but close, I think) home from the grocery store via the tube.

Peanut butter in England is depressing. It's more like peanut paste: neither sweet nor creamy. One of the first things both of us want to do upon arriving home is eat a spoonful of peanut butter straight from the jar.

Twinings tea, of which I drink a LOT, is very sensibly packaged. Without each tea bag being individually packaged, I contributed far less to landfills. The box of tea bags also made my cupboard smell nice, since the tea was more open to the air. I imagine this makes the tea lose its flavor faster, but since I drink a lot of tea and it's stronger in England anyway, this didn't turn out to be a problem.

Brits call craft beer "real ale," which we quite appreciate because it implies that anything else is "false ale."

Traditional English cider is still, room temperature, and ridiculously alcoholic, which I learned to my detriment one afternoon at the Queen's Head when I eagerly drank a pint without having eaten anything in a while. I ended up with a splitting headache and was no doubt rather silly while we enjoyed a game of cribbage with our drinks. There are so many varieties of cider available at any British pub - I didn't end up having Strongbow once, because there were so many others to try!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

England favorites

We're on the train home from Washington DC - which has internet, how cool is that? - and reminiscing about some of our best-beloved moments this summer. I miss England already, but I'm also really excited to get back home, where we have a weekly farmer's market, many favorite coffee shops, local friends, a writing group, our own bookshelves, and a library that lets you take things home. I'm well behind on posts on our England adventures, but those will come soon and in the meantime we wanted to reflect on some favorites:

Favorite pub: We tried a lot of British beer this summer in a lot of different places, but our favorite by far was the Greenwich Union, which served Meantime beer (all of which was excellent) and the most amazing fish and chips I've ever eaten, bought daily from the local fish market and breaded on-site. Honorable mention goes to The Old Red Cow, just around the corner from our church, which served rarebit on toast and had a fairly impressive and ever-changing beer selection.

Favorite thing we stumbled upon accidentally: For husband, it was the Watts memorial to those who have died saving other peoples' lives, in the same park as the Wesley plaque. For me, it was the Rose theatre. Even though the play we saw there was dreadfully campy, the site itself is so full of history and significance, and it was amazing to see it in this intermediary stage between archaeological dig and public exhibit.

Favorite thing we paid admission for: The Globe, absolutely! We played groundlings with standing tickets for Julius Caesar (just five pounds!). The acting was delightful, the setting was phenomenal, even the costumes were Elizabethan. So much fun. Honorable mention goes to Richard III starring Martin Freeman. We don't really want to compare the two shows, because they were very different in style. Suffice it to say that London is a fantastic place to see Shakespeare.

Favorite place outside London: We had such a wonderful time visiting friends in Nottingham. The company was lovely, and we also saw some historic stuff including the oldest pub in England, and got to share an evening with their church group. We spent an afternoon walking the lake on the campus of University of Nottingham, and thought his lunch spot at a particular bench was absolutely perfect. Honorable mention, for me at least, goes to Coventry Cathedral.

Favorite new English food: Dark chocolate hobnobs, hands-down. We bought probably too many of them this summer, prompting me to start running up and down stairs as extra exercise in the evenings. Husband wishes to give an honorable mention to Haribo's Supermix (gummy candies), while I want to point out that Twinings tea is different in England than anywhere else - they save all the good stuff for themselves.

Favorite church: This is such a hard one - what criteria? Husband's favorite building was St Mary's Bourne Street, because it was a gorgeous brick building (I thought it looked rather like a train station). But our favorite place to attend was, of course, the church at which we quickly settled. St Bartholomew the Great is an old twelfth-century Augustinian monastery. The music, preaching, and liturgy were all beautiful, I got to sing Evensong with the volunteer choir, and we met some wonderful people.

Favorite coffee shop: We found The Coffee Lounge in Woolwich, just across the Thames from our flat and easily accessible via ferry or underground tunnel. It had a great atmosphere, busy enough that it had the proper amount of background noise. Free wi-fi plus great coffee (and the best chai lattes I've perhaps ever had) made it our favorite place to work outside of the British Library. We just wish we'd found it sooner in the summer.

Favorite aspect of English television: English reality shows are much nicer than American ones, in that they don't feature a lot of screaming at the contestants and don't create a lot of artificial tension. This makes them so much more relaxed. English reality cooking shows are quirky and fun and focus more on the food than on the fighting. And because they work with a historical British cuisine to work with, we got to learn about the different cooking styles in different parts of Britain, and we've come home with a number of new regional recipes to try (like Yorkshire parkin).

Favorite English habit: Londoners treat escalators in a very sensible fashion: you stand on the right and walk on the left. It seems like such a small thing, but this shared and recognized standard makes the morning commute really easy and orderly.

Favorite English words: "Proper." And "dodgy."