Holiday in England

20120209-194440.jpgAlready our holiday in England seems like ages ago. Back in the throes of work and activities, I’m alarmed at the pace of life. Shouldn’t we still be hibernating? At the very least, let’s reminisce back to our holiday!

We saw great sights, had brilliant company and feasted on goregous food. One of the best things about the trip was eating the most delectable meals and not cooking a single one of them! Plus, with everyone chipping in, the clean-up for our lavish banquets was an ease. To be honest, I don’t mind cooking, it’s the dishes and clean-up afterwords I can’t stand!

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We spent Christmas with Dan’s phenomenal Granny, who’s 97 and still does a fitness regime every morning and mostly looks after herself! As Granny recovered from the full Christmas meal (very much like an American’s Thanksgiving sans pumpkin pie), we enjoyed a shot of sunlight while walking in the Clent Hills.

Christmas PuddingI have to confess, I’m not a huge fan of British Christmas desserts – they all seem like a variation on the same. Christmas Cake is like fruit cake with super-sweet frosting (though, I’ll happily eat the thin layer of marzipan!); Christmas Pudding is fruitcake dosed in Brandy (though I do like when they light it on fire!); and Mincepies are more dried fruits and booze, but baked into little tarts. However, I adore Brandy cream and Brandy Butter – which are a delightful addition to any dessert and may have even appeared on my toast at breakfast.

D&P’s house is always a place of supreme serenity. Pietro coaxes flowers into bloom even in the winter and the lighting is always cozy and perfect for snuggling. Dee made Bana Caldo, an immensely creamy anchovy fondu we greedily dipped an assortment of root vegetables into.

After dashing about the sales in Oxford, we regained our equilibrium with lobster bisque and samphire, a delicate green that grows on the British coasts. We’ve discovered that men’s clothing that is small enough to fit Dan does not exist in the US, so we made the most of the Top Man sales while in England. My dad, upon hearing of a store that sold Dan-sized clothing, mixed up the name, calling it “Little Man”!

We met up with friends in Aylesbury and London – our mini-reunions with Dan’s school friends are always great! Next, we were off to Nat & Umbi’s beautiful flat in Canterbury.

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In addition to it’s fame from Chaucer’s tale, Canterbury has many charms. The old walled city has a large pedestrian-only area with an eclectic mix of cafes and shops that entice you inside. We went for a walk in the seaside town of Whitstable, and took shelter in a small yet picturesque castle when it began to rain. Plus, we discovered a lovely path along the river that allowed us to run on trails, without the customary ankle-deep British mud.

On New Year’s Eve (remembering to wear our red underwear for good luck!) we all headed to London to Matt & Pete’s flat. They have the top floor of a terraced house, complete with clawfoot tub, gas fireplace and tiny garden too! Matt had fixed us a feast for lunch and Pete had made a scrumptious stollen, which I will have to ask for the recipe for.

After lunch, we participated in our annual book exchange, a tradition Dee began, in which we all bring books we have enjoyed to swap with others. We do this in lieu of presents and agree it’s a great way to give something meaningful, without falling into the holiday consumerism trap. This year I gave, Our America, a powerful yet disturbing book based on a project in which 2 young teens were given microphones and cassette recorders to interview people from their Chicago’s South Side neighborhood. If only more of our news was not just about the poor, but from their perspective, what changes there would be!

The book I received is God of the Small Things by Indian author Arundhati Roy. I haven’t read it yet, but it won a Booker Prize and many Pizzo’s recommended it!

That evening, after a curry supper, we headed up the hill to Ally Pally with mulled wine in hand. The park overlooks practically the whole of London and so eyes darted back and forth, watching fireworks light up the silhouettes of St. Pauls, Big Ben and the London eye against a velvet sky. In front of us, revelers set of small fireworks and sparklers, while in the distance larger displays sparkled on and off spastically. It was dizzying trying to watch all the colourful sparks.

At that was it, good-bye 2011, hello 2012!

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Of engelond to caunterbury they wende

Canterbury Cathedral

12/18  It was off to snowy Canterbury to visit Nat & Umberto.  It’s an picturesque small city with a large pedestrian-only area.  Their flat is just minutes from the train station and an amazing farmers market/delicatessen called The Goods Shed. Sunday we went to the seaside and then evensong at the cathedral.  My high school English teacher would be dismayed because I couldn’t recall any of the Canterbury Tale’s Prologue which we’d had to memorize.

Our time there was far too short, for soon we were off to York. It was strange in some ways being back in the city where we’d lived for a year.  Many of our old friends were already away for the holidays but we did get to catch up with our old housemates Dave & Nichole.  And, of course, we had a great time with Matt & Pete.  Then it was off once more, this time to a cozy cottage in Sherwood Forest where the 8 of us (Pizzos + partners) spent Christmas.

12/22 This was the true holiday portion of our holiday…. lazy days of reading, eating fabulous food, running in the snowy woods, spending quality time with Pizzos and screaming as we went down waterslides at the huge indoor tropical pool area.  Christmas day I made the legendary Moll Cinnamon Bread for breakfast and then we enjoyed a time of sharing. In lieu of presents we did a book exchange where we each brought a book we’d enjoyed and swapped it with someone else.  (Great idea, Dee!) For Christmas dinner we had pizza made from scratch by Nat & Umberto along with Christmas Cake, Pan d’Oro, Panettone and mince pies – YUM!

I even saw Robin Hood…. well, I saw a beautiful red fox that looked very similar to this one:

Only the fox I saw wasn’t wearing any clothes.  But still!

Our time in England flew by… two more days in ‘Nam with friends and family and then we were back at Heathrow… it seemed like only yesterday we’d arrived.

The Magic Pig and more

Our holiday in England continued with a few days in London where we met up with old friends, ran around (literally) Hyde Park, explored the Natural History Museum, Piccadilly and Soho, and ate steamed buns in Chinatown.

Unfortunately I came down with a horrid bout of the flu upon our return to Haddenham. I had a fever but felt ice cold. We got a beautiful dusting of snow in time for Dan & P’s long walk in the Chiltern Hills.  D & I went to see the a play of Rapunzel or the Magic Pig at the enchanting mirror tent.  We brought mulled wine and lemon polenta cake to enjoy as we watched the delightful tale.

in between

snowy-stowYesterday, Dan’s Birthday, we went on a walk in the snow. Throughout the UK it has snowed like they haven’t seen in 18 years. Despite getting a little lost we enjoyed a walk around the enchanting Stow School and gardens. Other than that it’s been packing, packing and more prep for our flight to the US of A tomorrow!

To prepare myself for the return, I’ve a new mantra about the USA:

“Everything’s bigger (but that doesn’t mean better)

Everything’s newer (but that doesn’t mean nicer)”

I’m returning to a land where hot and cold water don’t have separate taps, where sledging is sledding, where they drive on the right side of the road and don’t have roundabouts, where “old” equals 1960, not 1360. I’m excited, I’m scared. We’ve been living in England for almost a year and a half. I can’t wait to see family and friends (and the gear we ordered for the PCT!) but what if they’ve changed? What if I’ve changed? What if we’re not able to dehydrate our own food for our epic hike? What if living with my family again makes me revert back to a 13 year old brat? And what about the precious people we’re leaving behind?

Well, at least I can look forward to 7 hours of free films on the flight! And besides, with all the “British jobs for British workers”  strikes in the UK right now, I think it’s probably the right time for an Italian and American to leave!

Proud to be an American

barackounicornWow, ever since last Tuesday I’ve felt so proud to be an American (not something I usually experience much of, especially when in Europe). Yes, it’s terribly disappointing we weren’t in DC for the inauguration itself, but we enjoyed watching live coverage on the BBC.  And in just a few weeks we’ll be back in our ol’ stomping grounds of Washington, DC with our new President Obama!

PS. Get the t-shirt here

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

Wow….. New Years Eve already!

Crazy to think our DTS ended over a month ago. Since then Dan & I have had a house to ourselves! We’ve had lovely evenings in watching “The Wire,” Rummikub matches with friends, and beautiful sunrise runs. (Yes, it’s true, Anna is now “running” each morning). We’ve also endured retail jobs at Christmas, biking to work in the freezing cold, and a house with no heating during the day.

This Christmas Dan’s whole family came to York. Matt, Dan’s bro, is already in York, working at the mental hospital. Beforehand, I got into major “Martha Stewart” mode (craft-making, not stock-stealing) to make the house look nice and Christmas-y. The Pizzos’ arrival was akin to that of Father Christmas. They brought bottles of wine, cava, Baileys, Buck’s Fizz and more. Dozens of mince pies, chocolate, Pannettone, goat cheese and carmelized onion tarts, Thai salmon parsels and a few pressies too. But of course, we were most excited about seeing them!

minsterChristmas Eve I got off work at 3pm, leaving behind frenzied last-minute shoppers and endless queues to join over 4,000 others at a Lessons and Carols Service at York Minster. Even though granny, D&P, and Nat and I arrived almost 30 mins early there was no room in the inn church. But thanks to granny (who’s 94 but in brilliant health), we were given a bench to sit on right in front of the main alter. The voices of the choir were angelic. And we also got to hear the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu speak. He is amazing, but I have to admit his Ugandan accent kept making me think of this Fone Jacker video.

dna-xmasChristmas Day we carried on a Stalcup tradition by having home-made Cinnamon Bread French Toast. It was delish. Then the Pizzo kidz prepared Christmas lunch (turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, brussel spouts with hazelnuts, and roasted potatoes, carrots and parsnips) and Uncle Dave arrived. This year we did a Secret Santa system of presents, ‘cuz really, shouldn’t the birthday boy JC be getting the presents?

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After stuffing ourselves silly, we burnt off a few calories with a walk around Bishopthorpe Palace, our friend Johnny’s house (the Archbishop of York). Boxing Day it was back to work for both Dan & I, and Sunday we sadly said our goodbyes to our gracious guests. Back to selling Wiis and Xbox for me. And Dan’s scoping out the latest and greatest in backpacking gear at his job at Blacks.

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Wow, it’s December, our DTS has finished, Dan’s working at an outdoors store & I’m working at a video game store (ha!) and yesterday we collected red berries and evergreen branches to decorate the house for Christmas….. but I’m still blogging about CHINA. I need to get a move on!

LIJIANG

sleeper-busA bunch of us took a mini 2 day holiday to Lijiang, a tourist-hot spot where part of the city is a maze of traditional Chinese houses. To get there we took an overnight bus. It’s basically a bus crammed catastrophically with bunk beds. We were at the very back next to some Sketchy McSketchser Chinese men. And Dan was vomiting the whole next day from car sicknesses. Brilliant.

Nevertheless, we had fun exploring this charming city where the Naxi people live. They have a the only pictographic language, Dongba, still in use. Every word is a little stick figure or drawing. dongba
It’s a matriarchal society, and in their language when a feminine word is a superlative, and a masculine word is diminutive. For example a “female stone” is a bolder and a “male stone” is a pebble.

babiesWe did have some trouble finding a restaurants, though. Of course, being in a big group, no one had a preference until we came across a restaurant, at which point at least 1 person would find a reason it wasn’t good enough. Finally, after more than half hour of looking we decided on a colourful cafe. We went in and got seated and then someone complained about something so we decided to leave (with our stomachs rumbling and our tails between our legs.) Then we saw the restaurant had a rooftop courtyard so we decided to go back in and ask if we could sit there. We got seated (again) and got menus (again) and then waited and waited and waited, wondering what was taking the cafe staff so long since we were the only people in the whole restaurants. Finally someone went to investigate and found the waiter at a computer using a on-line translation service to type out in English, “WE ARE NOT COOKS. GO COOK FOR YOURSELF!”  Thankfully at that point we came to our senses and remembered that our Mama, the dear Naxi woman who ran our guest house, cooked up a feast for a pittance. The food was delicious.

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The next day we hired bikes and explored some little villages at the foot of Jade Snow Mountain, whose majesty  played hide and seek with the clouds. We also visited a rundown Buddhist monastery that had been the largest in the region prior to the Cultural Revolution. The dear old monk was so sweet and eager to show off the English he had learned. “Cup of tea? Cup of tea?” The old part of Lijiang was lucky to escape the Cultural Revolution, but became quite run down until 1996 when the old houses survived an earthquake much better than the new ones. Relief funds helped fix up the run down areas, tourism exploded and now even the newer parts of town are built in the traditional way – quite unusual in China.

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