48 Hours in London: Time to Reunite

Team Tartiflette sans Schneids

One of the best parts of extended travel is the great friends you make along the way.  No matter where you are in the world there will always be a common bond with that stranger sitting next to you on the bus, sharing the same dorm room, paddling for the same wave, or bellying up to the same bar.  The commonalities are endless but start with being away from home, friends, and fam, being on a budget, having a love for travel and good times, wanting to have incredible experiences, and naming your group of adventurers with silly yet meaningful names.  Fortunately for us, two of these groups of friends are centered in or would be in London around the time we’d be there, so it was only right to catch up, regale each other with more travel stories, and make more memories in the meantime.  This such time had us reuniting with Team Tartiflette, created in Laos in August 2011, and one of the founding members of Bolttin Hardcore, created in Indonesia in July 2011.

Keeping in mind our “good fortune” in getting delayed 24 hours from London to Dubai on Superbowl Sunday and getting a free $400 hotel room and $100 meal at a fancy-pants hotel in London, we were yet again delayed returning to London from Dubai to meet with Team Tartiflette, Joe and Carrie of London, Thomas and Claire from Nice, and of course, the PB Nomads.  But the short weekend was not lost and we met up with the team for some pints of really, really good English beer at a Samuel Smith’s Pub (the exact beer I wished for and received on my 21stbirthday!  Coincidence?  I think not) courtesy of Joe

Cheers!

and Carrie, our gracious local tour guides and hosts.  We had planned a dinner of authentic and very English fish & chips but since fish & chips are holy in England and this being a Sunday, the place was closed, so we audibled to a sinful, albeit amazing, American-style burger joint called Byron in SoHo.  Most, if not all, opted for the Burger, Bourbon and Craft Beer special which quickly made us miss the good ‘ol US of A for in all its glory. This place surely knows how to whip up incredible, fat, juicy burgers; wicked, high-gravity, artisan crafted beers; and sweet, strong, may-I-have-another, bourbons.  The Team, smacking their lips and feeling the buzz of the bourbon and beer, triumphantly agreed.  Bidding farewell to our London guides, we made plans to visit Abbey Road with the French delegation the following afternoon.

New vs. Original

I want you, Abbey Road.  Nearly 10 years have gone by since Erin and I began dating and this album played significance in its creation.  In that all-too-important moment of comparing musical-interests with the “girl you like,” Erin had the Abbey Road CD (as well as an impressive collection of Mason Jennings), thus cementing our relationship from “like” to “love.”  Being my all-time favorite Beatles album and crux of the PB Nomads relationship, it was only right to visit the site of the famous album cover.  Not at all surprising given that we were in London, the weather was cloudy and intermittently  rainy, and upon our arrival to the famous site, the hilarity had already begun.  The crosswalk is a real, active crosswalk at a relatively busy intersection with loads of traffic and even more tourists looking to recreate their own Beatles moment.  Time and time again, when traffic was lightest, tourists would rush into the crosswalk and their invited photographers would dash into the middle of the road, quickly posing and snapping as many photos as possible before horns began blaring and traffic lined up waiting for the “pedestrians” to cross.  Soon enough it was our turn and the picture turned out pretty darn good, with the passing of Peanut Butter– our prop to remember.  We dined on fish & chips with Thomas and Claire for lunch before bidding them farewell, hoping to meet up again soon, this time in the USA or France.

The French Abbey

That evening, the 48 hours of reunions continued and we met with Nick “Magico” of Bolttin Hardcore fame, whom we met in Indonesia.  We took the tube over to his hood and met at Tayyabs for Paki/Indian food, London’s second-most famous cuisine thanks in part to its abundance of immigrants over the last two centuries and its highly-traveled, worldly citizens.  It was, hands-down, the most delicious Pakistani food we had ever tried, and to make things even better, was actually affordable compared to the oft-expensive London eateries.  Nick treated, much to our protest, because “we were still traveling.”  These are the Good Karma rules of the road and we begrudgingly obliged, forever in debt to all of our good fortune and amazing hosts through the years, and eager to pay it forward again to visiting travelers in the USA.  So, next time you’re in London, go to Tayyabs!  Catching up with Nick was such a pleasure, as he stayed in Indo long after we had left and then continued onto the Philippines before returning home.  Responsible for arranging our amazing sailing trip around Komodo and Rinca Islands in Indonesia, he will forever be known as Magico.  Speaking loudly to the strength of Bolttin Hardcore, we had one last pint before bidding farewell, and were off to the airport for our flight to Cape Town, where we’d be reuniting with the last two members of Bolttin Hardcore, “Roger the First Mate” and “Sue Sea Q.”  We still need to see Captain Iggy Poppins and only Erin got to see Rio in SF in January.  Not fair!

Bolttin Hardcore: Reunite!

Well, until next time Team Tartiflette and Bolttin Hardcore, thank you for everything and looking forward to the next adventure, wherever that may be!

The Authentic English Experience – Part 2 of 2

London – Part Two (the English countryside of Kent and a daytrip to Cambridge)

Early in the morning, just about breakfast time, walked over to Danae’s place, and started to unwind.  Another long overnight bus ride behind us – this one we actually slept a little – we head back to Danae’s only to be welcomed by her loving mom, all the way from Greece for a couple of weeks.  This day was my birthday so before hopping into bed for some extra rest, Erin gave me my presents and I found out I’d be attending the Lion King!  Her parents, Rick and Deb chipped in to make it possible so a big thanks to them.  Also, my folks shipped something as well, a journal, which is getting plenty of use.  Thanks guys!  Midday, Erin and I walked over to Victoria Station where Phil and Holly, our long lost British friends we met in Australia were awaiting.  It felt like an absolute eternity since we had seen them last and all of us had tons of good travel stories to catch up on.  What better way to do that then a big greasy English breakfast.  Eggs, bacon, sausage, fries, beans and toast all on a plate so big you could feed a family of four.  Good thing I was eating for four.  We sipped on coffee, walked around the city and just enjoyed catching up.  They had just gotten home after 10 long months of travel, so we were especially curious how they were handling “re-entry.”  Apparently, they hadn’t even unpacked yet as, like us, their families and friends live miles apart.  Both looked great though and we confirmed our plans to visit them in Kent the following day for the 3-day weekend.  Back at Danae’s, our Greek mum (we have so many mum’s now!) was already hard at work in the kitchen lovingly preparing my birthday dinner.  She knew of my love for Greek food so prepared two different types of Greek lasagne and a moussaka, thoroughly ensuring a plethora of leftovers to keep me satisfied for the week ahead.  Of course, a greek salad with plenty of feta began the meal.  That night, Danae, Erin and I went downstairs to the Grand Marquis pub and had a few drinks to celebrate, closing out another great birthday.

Kent (Are you ready for the country?)

Sleeping in is one of my specialties and the next day was extra special.  Holly sent us a text saying that trains leave on the 15 every hour so with 20 minutes to go until the next train, like true Londoner’s, we put our nose to the pavement and high tailed it to the Charing Cross station to catch the southeastern train heading to Kent.  Breathing a sigh of relief that we actually made it, within minutes we were outside of the expansive city and enjoying the rolling countryside views of England.  Once off the train, Phil and Holly pulled in to pick us up and take us back to the country retreat.  I love the country.  I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in the ‘burbs or because I’m currently a city slicker but when I see lots of land, I can literally feel the stresses of life roll right off of my back.  A former barn, the old house was set amongst beautiful landscaping and the detailed work was done entirely by Holly’s dad, Bruce.  Projects for the future swarmed into my head.  “Ooh, I could build that and yeah, can definitely do that!”  We were immediately whisked away for more amazing hospitality and within an hour the yard was transformed into a croquet field, Bombay gin was opened, food and snacks were set on the table and the second half of our authentic English experience was under way.  It was team America  against teams Scotland and two Englands.  Along with Phil and Holly, we were joined by family friend’s Nick, Jo, Donna and Doreen, the eight of us battled across the backyard for several hours.  Towards the late afternoon, no thanks to the gin, things got a bit out of hand and the gloves came off.

Bruce, a masterful chef, had been preparing everyone a paella with chicken, prawns and seafood for the entire afternoon so after numerous croquet games (of which we’re not sure who actually won,) we soaked up some booze and enjoyed a nice meal.  Since France is so close, Bruce and Sarah make “wine runs” to stock up so there was no shortage of beverages for the evening, but damage had definitely been done to the supply.  Later we enjoyed several cheeses, my favorite being a Stilton Blue and sat around the living room, drinking wine and watching a slideshow of the days events.

After some breakfast we packed into the car and drove to Rye, a nearby village that reminded me of New Hope on the Pennsylvania/New Jersey border.  The village was maintained well and there are still houses with addresses such as “the house opposite, the house with a chair, and the house with two front doors.”  Phil and Holly bought us lunch and after some protest from us, reminded us that they are home now and we are still traveler’s.  Bruce bought everyone a round of beer at the ancient pub, the Mermaid, whose doors in and out were at a height of five and half feet.  Bruce took Erin and I to the top of the towns church tower to get a full view of Rye and the surrounding countryside before heading back home.  He cooked us a BBQ dinner with lamb, sausage, beef and pork before cracking into more wine and this time, cognac.  Lo and behold, him and I were up until 2 a.m. solving the world’s problems.  At least we think so.

In a slight haze, we woke to a long relaxing day doing absolutely nothing.  No plans, no agenda, just plain ‘ol relaxing.  Bruce and Sarah in mid-afternoon began working on what would be our farewell meal, a classic English roast dinner.  Beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, veggies and an amazing leek and cheese dish were accompanied by a blackberry crumble a la mode.  More wine and more cognac rounded off yet another amazing meal.  Sitting by the fireplace we watched a movie and wrapped up a classic and well spent weekend in my book and one I will remember for a very long time.  A very big thanks to Bruce, Sarah, Holly and Phil for taking us into their family, treating us like a true king and queen and making us feel right at home.

Danae and Danae’s Mom

Our true home base in London was Danae’s and returning here day in and day out was always a pleasure.  Once again made to feel right at home, Greek mum made us meals every day, both lunch and dinner and during the lazy afternoons would ask us if we needed any laundry done and sewing completed.  Anything we wanted we could get and all we had to do was ask.  Greek mum didn’t speak English very well but was keen to learn so some afternoons were spent as language lessons.  Mostly, we shared what few words we could, smiled, hugged and laughed at the silly predicament we were in.  Sign language went a long way as well as chatting with Danae who was working overtime at her media firm and being a full time Greek to English translator!  It was like Erin and I were little kids waiting for Danae to get home from work so we could play.  After dinner, we would just sit around and laugh, take funny pictures and get caught up on all the mistranslations of the day.

One day, Danae, Erin and I caught the bus up to Notting Hill for some perusing around Portabello Road, the famous market area.  We stopped off for some lunch at a chic little cafe and each had a jacket potato (baked potato), mine with cheese and beans.  Most passersby must’ve though Erin and Danae were celebrities because I was ducking and diving through the crowd to get candid shots of them.  We then went to Covent Gardens for more window shopping before walking home via Hyde Park.  Thank you Danae for everything.  By the time we left we felt like true Londoner’s.  We had Oyster cards and hip clothes (borrowed, of course.)  Your mom, through translation, adopted us to be her own and said we could come to Thessoloniki anytime.  She is one of the sweetest and most caring people we have ever met and it was truly hard to say goodbye to you both.  Until you and I marry (so you can gain American citizenship instead of being yet another suspected terrorist), we will miss you and all of your haybarn behavior.

Cambridge

We couldn’t miss our Cambridge girls before leaving so took a day trip north to see Babs, Ollie and Caroline.  Babs arrived first and gave a us a nice walking tour of her hometown, a cool little University town with tons of bikes, cafes and pubs.  Ollie and Caroline arrived shortly thereafter and we spent the afternoon punting, a classic English experience, made by steering a punt (long, narrow, rectangular shaped boat) through the river.  Stocking up on some Pimm’s and snacks, we zig-zagged our way through the river bumping into every passerby.  Ollie even fell in which we learned -given her track record of accidents – was no surprise!  Afterwards we walked to the park and re-met with Babs who was back from her hot date – oooooohhhhhh.   We went to a local student cafe for an early dinner before saying bye to the gals.  The five us connect really well and we absolutely love these girls.  I am looking forward to seeing where they end up in life as they are just beginning their University studies and gap years.  Ah yes, most English take gap years after high school before going to University.  A brilliant idea I think as it gives you time to see a bit of the world through travel and maybe even take up an internship to get an idea of what you actually wish to study.  We’ll miss you girls, good luck with everything and see you when you come to the U.S!

Strictly English

Jokingly, I was reprimanded for the Boston Tea Party, as my croquet ball was sent rolling through the Kent lawn. “And this one is for 1776!” shouted Nick, a true, passionate Englishman.

We were playing a game of croquet in Holly Cova’s backyard. While traveling in Australia back in February, we met Holly and her boyfriend Phil and experienced much of the East Coast’s tropical terrain with the couple, including spooky Mt. Warning, festive Byron Bay and wacky Nimbin. As we said our goodbyes, Holly extended an invitation to us to visit them when we came to the UK. Upon arrival, we contacted Holly and Phil and they invited us to Holly’s parents home, a historic building made from an old barn which sets in the English countryside. There we would meet her parents, relax, and tell tales of travels past.

Above: The croquet goofs

Upon arrival, we were promptly taken under the wing of Holly’s parents and their friends, served drinks and snacks and invited to join in a lawn croquet match. As the game progressed, we sipped on gin and tonics and were surrounded by the aroma of grilling paella, a Spanish rice and seafood dish, comically pronounced with the L’s by the English.

Above: Bruce Cova makes a mean paella!

During the game, some country rivalry started, especially when Team USA pulled ahead. The funny comments about the United States’ independence from England got me thinking about our metamorphosis; a country which started with the influence of so many individual nationalities has now turned into  its own type of butterfly, unlike any other. I wondered what English traditions were completely left behind in England and which were still common in the States. I found answers not only in the English countryside, but also while traversing around Oxford, Cambridge, and London.

Strictly English #1- High Tea

Above: Tea time with Oli and his mother, Claire

“Tuck in, tuck in, ” encouraged Claire Knox, our friend Oliver’s mother, as we were left to ponder what it meant. With a bit of deductive reasoning, we realized that she meant for us to “dig in” to the pile of treats she had placed before us.

We’d met Oliver, known as Oli, and his girlfriend Rose in Turkey on a four-day gullet cruise and they assured they would show us a true English time if we swung over to the UK during our travels. On one of the first days in London, Oli introduced us to his sweet English Mum, who lived across the park from him. As we sat at the wooden table in her prim and proper living room, we were surrounded by four types of mini-crustless sandwiches, chocolate dessert bars, pieces of meat pie, strawberries, tea and my favorite: warm scones and jam. If this was just “high TEA” what was it the British called dinner? My question was soon answered.
Strictly English #2- The English Roast

Above: Oli cooking the English roast dinner

While traveling the world, we had met plenty of English travelers who said they missed one thing from home: the roast dinner. We  were told to find it in pubs and if we happened to be lucky, maybe a family would take us in and cook a real roast dinner for us. Good fortune knocked on our door not once, but twice, since Oliand his girlfriend Rose AND Holly’s parents both cooked and cooked and cooked to present us with two separate traditional roast dinners! A roast dinner is a large chunk of beef, thinly sliced, served with roasted potatoes, veggies, gravy and Yorkshire pudding, which is a fluffy, light bread baked in a muffin tin.

Above: Oli and Rose’s roast dinner

As the tummy restricts from the warmth of this wholesome home-cooked meal, one often washes it down with wine or something a bit more English.  See #3.

Strictly English #3- Cider and the English Pub


Above: Oli and Jason sip cider at a pub in Oxford.

Cider is not just an Autumn drink! This fruity bevvy is stronger than many beers and popular in English pubs. It is a sweet and sour refreshment and is drunk with ease from pint glasses by the English. As we toured around London, it did not take long to spot over ten English pubs, most with big hanging baskets of flowers and traditional foods temptingly spelled out on their specials boards outside. Every corner seems to produce another public drinking establishment, each with their special version of cider and beer.

Strictly English #4- Delicate Speech
In my opinion, anything the English say sounds charming because of the quaint, delicate accent which curls around their words. Everything is “quite” nice, “beautiful,” “brilliant,” and sometimes “shocking.” Because many sitcoms and reality shows are filmed in The States, the English are familiar with many of our expressions but a few of their linguistics cracked us up. Here are a few I remember off the top of my head:

Going to the Offy- An Off-License liquor store
Getting on the piss- Drinking a lot
That’s dodgy- When something is a bit shady or strange, it is always dodgy.
Piece of piss- It’s a piece of cake/ easy.
Strictly English #5- The Pound Rules from High Above the Rest
There is no such thing as England on a budget, with the British Pound almost doubling the US Dollar. In addition to this poor exchange rate, prices are atrocious in London, as a one stop pass on the subway can drain to $8 US from the traveler’s pocket. Because of the generosity and kindness of our friends who hosted us and showed us around town, we were able to put England on our world tour map.

Danae, a Greek friend of mine who is working in London, traded her tidy, quiet two-bedroom apartment for a cyclone of worn backpacks, dirty shoes, a computer with too many cords and two American accents when she let us set up our home base at her place in Pimlico. Not only was she generous in offering the space, but she insisted I treat her wardrobe as mine- a dream come true for any woman who has been traveling in the same outdoor gear for seven months.

A visit from her Greek mother made the situation even more unique, as scents of olive oil infused dinners wafted through the tiny apartment. Sides of tsaziki and Greek salads were just the icing on the cake for the dishes like moussaka and stuffed peppers. And the sweet woman behind all of this cooking was always smiling, practicing her English with us and constantly saying “Eat!!” After just the first day of meeting her, we insisted she adopt us as her 3rd and 4th children. She of course agreed and opened her home to us on any future travels in Greece.

Above: Jason wants to be adopted into this fam for the hugs and Greek food alone!

Because of all of the home-cooked dinners and cozy places to stay, England was made affordable to us and we were able to enjoy is as a local would.

Above: We never would have been able to sample authentic English fish n chips if we would not have been invited to stay in England with so many great friends.

We took our time and savored our surroundings instead of rushing through on a budget. Thanks again to all of you who helped make this trip possible. My special thanks to the following:

To Oli and Rose in London– It was “brilliant” to continue our adventures with you, picking up right where we left them in Turkey. The introduction to Pimm’s was life-changing! (For all of those who don’t know, this is a drink made with “lemonade” which is a sweet soda like Sprite, and a liqueur called Pimm’s. The two are mixed and poured into a pitcher with fresh cut fruit and cucumbers for a refreshing, summer drink.) Much thanks to you both for your patient explanations as you toured with us around bustling London and the ritzy colleges of Oxford and for the amazing roast dinner; we’ll be needing some of your recipes!

Above: Oli and Rose on our trip to  Oxford

To Barbara, Ollie and Caroline in Cambridge– Girls, what can I say? Every time we are together it’s another laugh and a fun memory.

Above: Caroline, Jason, Erin, Barbara and Ollie in Cambridge.

Punting was quite the experience, although Ollie did get a bit soggy. (For everyone, punting is a leisure activity that many people in Cambridge use to float throughout the city’s waterway, sightseeing much of Cambridge’s grounds. From the end of a long boat, the punter, or steerer, uses a long aluminum pole to push the boatload down the river. It is harder than it looks!)

Above: Steering Jason around in the punting boat at Cambridge.

Thanks for the “lovely” tour and please let us know if you decide to include the US in your gap year! We’d love to continue adventuring about with you.

Above: Jason and Olli sipping a mix of Pim’s and lemonade on the punting boat.

To Danae in London and her/our Greek Mama– My Greek family! I miss you so much already. Words can not express how thankful we were to have your place as our “home base,” always being welcomed with hugs and kisses as we stepped in the door. Danae, thanks for including me in your every day life…letting me borrow your wardrobe and participate in your “Tums and Bums Class” at the gym. It all was a much-needed vacation from being on the road. Thanks for the girl talk nights and the introduction to that department store, which I will not name because I don’t want to blow your style secrets! I hope we can have many more vacations together now that you are moving back to Greece. Tell our Greek Mama that I will post her tzaziki recipe and that the gourmet meals wereto die for!

Above: Greek moussaka made by Danae’s mom.

Much love to the whole Vassiloupoulou clan and to Giannis as well!

Above: Out to eat with Danae and her mom, Vagelitsa

To Holly and Phil, Bruce and Sarah in Kent– What a relaxation vacation your countryside home was to us! Your company was amazing and we of course appreciated being spoiled by home-cooked meal after home-cooked meal. Thanks for hosting us for a few days and showing us that England has a serene side outside of the cities. Much appreciated were all of the lessons in English culture and we hope to meet up with you all whether it be on a sailing trip or a RV vacation around the States!   Good luck at Uni and with personal training, Holly and Phil.

Above: Holly and her mom Sarah Cova in their yard in Kent.

Above: The Cova’s took us to see the old city of Rye.

The Authentic English Experience – Part 1 of 2

London – Part One (with Windsor and Oxford)

In the beginning, there was Britain and London was the center of it all.  In all of it’s majesty the tiny country owned 70% of the world and without it the world as we know it would be quite different.  Through massive feats of exploration, colonization, war and advancements – mainly agricultural and medical – the square, gravity-less world that was once known has turned into what we see today.    I think we were fortunate to catch the United Kingdom when we did; with the dollar rebounding and the pound slipping, not to mention the extreme levels of hospitality we received from numerous amounts of friends and their families while visiting.  The UK has continuously escaped both of us on all travels because time and time again it is just too damn expensive.  Well, it still is, but when you factor in free lodging things seem much more palatable.  Er, no, take that back too.  In all seriousness, I have yet to figure out how any person can afford to live here, let alone save. From the most expensive gas in Europe (probably the world), $5000 monthly rents to $15 lunches, I am so glad we were able to squeak our way through when we did.  Even with free lodging and mostly free meals,the budget was broken into tiny little pieces.
We’re still trying to pick them all up.

First, there was Oli (short for Oliver) and Rose.  We met them while sailing in Turkey and if they hadn’t invited us, frankly, we wouldn’t have come at all.  Arriving at Oli’s flat, we thought we’d be in for some floor surfing and maybe if we were lucky, a couch would be available.  Boy, were we wrong.  Oli’s brother was out of town so a bed was available and the place was plush, freshly detailed by Oli’s mom just before we arrived.  Erin and I decided to take a few days apart to retain the slightest bit of sanity and she stayed at Danae’s while Oli and I had some fun guy time.  Mostly getting drunk and playing video games.  Y’know, the norm.  Here is where the “Authentic English Experience” began.

My first morning, I woke and ate toast with Marmite, a classic English entree meant to be spread on bread.  Not exactly sure what the ingredients are, but I think it has something to do with vegetable yeast.  Yummy.  No really, it’s good.  Instructions:  Make toast, add butter and Marmite and enjoy.  Repeat, if necessary.  The secret is to go light on the Marmite and repeating becomes a breeze.  Come afternoon, Oli and I had met up with Erin for a tour of West London, complete with Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the House of Parliament, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace and the National Gallery. In typical London-style, we traveled on the “tube,” London’s extensive subway network.

Oli, we quickly learned, is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to British history and we couldn’t have asked for a better tour guide.  I especially enjoyed Westminster Abbey, the famous church that still holds coronation ceremonies for Kings and Queens and is the mausoleum for Royalty dating back centuries.  A unique feature is the Abbey also acts as a mausoleum for non-royal famous poets, writers, scientists and other notables in British history.  Monuments dedicated to Charles Darwin,Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, T.S. Elliot, and scores of others provides tourists with additional confirmation that Britain’s contribution to the world could reign unmatched.

To wrap up an already amazing day, Oli’s mother invited us over for “high tea,” something we had only heard about and weren’t quite sure if it was true.  Well, it is and thank goodness for that.  Oli’s mom really spared no expense when preparing everything and showed us again what English hospitality is all about.  Her flat was immaculate and well decorated and the view of the square was inspiring.  While listening to classical music we had two options for tea, “regular” and “earl grey.”  I wasn’t quite sure how to behave during this – seeming- ritual, so I opted for regular and watching Oli and his mom, added
milk and a bit of sugar before sipping.  She would balk at this, but I’m assuming everything was served on the finest of china for if it could get any classier I would assume I was in the presence of the Queen.  For snacking, we had a multitude of desserts including scones, finger sandwiches, traditional pork pie and other hors d’ ouvres.  Never one to be bashful, I made a meal out of what is usually a mid-afternoon snack.  We spoke of travel and world affairs and her upcoming trip to Rome, savoring every second of the conversation.  Unfortunately, we had to eat and leave as Erin had Danae’s house keys but we were left with an experience that we will never forget.

Back at Oli’s we cracked into some Pimm’s No. 1, an English booze whose secret recipe is guarded as close as our own Colonel Sander’s fried chicken.  Mixed with lemonade (1 part Pimm’s, 3 parts lemonade) added to a cup full of chopped fruit you have a delicious way to spend any English afternoon.  Or in our case, evening.  Soon after, we were pounding the pavement looking for a good pub where I could whet my tastebuds with English Ales and Bitters.  With a pub on just about every block, our search commenced quickly but at $6 per pint for local bitter, Bombardier, so did the evening.  Pubs close at midnight anyhow so we really weren’t missing too much.  Also, most patrons are sure to head to the “offy,” our equivalent of takeout before hitting the pubs.  Lesson learned.

The next day it was (surprise) raining so we spent the afternoon watching cricket, rooting on team England against South Africa.  It took me awhile but I can now say I fully understand the game and one day hope to bowl for five overs, hit the wickets, go for several sixes on the way to a century during a twenty-twenty test match.  And they think baseball is confusing!  Oli’s friends Casper, Fluff and Briggs came over, each having their own hilarious stories from the previous evening’s debauchery, reminding me and making me miss more and more my friends back home.  That evening I met up with Erin and Danae for Thai dinner and a comedy show near Leicester Square (prounounced Lester,) to round out another great day.

Forecasts for rain forced us to another late start but in the afternoon we went to the park with more Pimm’s and a jubilant group in tow.  Rose had returned from her travels and with Oli’s mates, we were seven strong.  The guys taught me some of their soccer games, my favorite being getting in a circle and juggling and passing the ball to each other.  You are allowed to let it hit the ground once but if you slip up, that’s one strike.  After three strikes, you get on all fours and the others are allowed to drive the ball right into your arse!  As an evil big brother, this is a game I wished I had learned many years before now.  Afterwards, I showed the guys some American football games and we rounded out the afternoon playing and rough-housing.  For dinner, Oli and Rose put on a real show making us an English Roast Dinner.  Beef roasted to a perfect medium-rare, Bread and Yorkshire Pudding, veggies, and some French wine Rose brought home completed one perfect meal.  To top the day off, the four of us double-dated to see Batman Returns.  Since it was the weekend there were no congestion charges in London so were able to drive, making the show just in time.

Oli and Rose both attended Oxford-Brookes University, studying Art History in the famous town of Oxford and wanted to show us around the town.  Before arriving in town however, we stopped at Eton, a prestigious high school that Oli attended, and Windsor, where one of the many royal residences, Windsor Castle is located.  Since it was $25 each to go inside, we just elected to walk around the town and sip on coffee instead.  Located about an hour west of London, Oxford is a quaint little town, half-empty this time of year since school is out, and lined with old buildings and cobblestone streets.  We were told that in the UK, university fees are drastically less than in the United States, for example one could attend Oxford or Cambridge, the UK equivalents of Harvard and Yale, for a maximum of $6000 per year.  After some sight-seeing of the colleges – a bit different than the U.S. version of college, since here they are more like living quarters complete with kitchen staff and your own private rooms – we stopped at one of Oli and Rose’s favorite pubs for a “pub lunch” of course with fish and chips and some cider and beer.  It is rumored that at this very pub, Bill Clinton while studying for his Masters degree at Oxford, “didn’t inhale.”

We spent the next days touring Old London including the Tower of London, Tate Modern Museum, the Tower Bridge and St. Pauls.  St. Pauls is one of the sites that our own Capitol building in Washington D.C. is designed after. Another evening we met with Oli and Rose at one of the nicest pubs I’ve ever seen, the Grenadier, where Oli and I each tried their world famous Bloody Mary’s, another secret recipe.  I chased that down with a Fuller’s London Pride, a traditional cask ale before calling it a night.  Erin and I had really come to appreciate the English-style of the English language and had a good laugh when hearing Rose say “sex pervert” during one of her stories.  The amazing thing is that even when saying something like “sex pervert,” the English can make it sound polite.  Give it a try, saying it that is.