Archive for the ‘Eats & Drinks’ Category

Super Saturday!

I finally went out last night for the first time in weeks now that everyone’s back in town! It was so great getting to see everyone again; highly reinvigorating and a good way to start Lent Term. Aside from the amazingness of seeing everyone again, I also discovered one of my new favorite places in London: Porterhouse! We started our night there yesterday and they have my most favorite strawberry-kiwi cider drink (they score automatic points for that), plus a great atmosphere and a live band! Here’s proof of happiness:

With classes beginning on Monday, I hadn’t had a great deal planned for today. My friend’s boyfriend is in town until tomorrow and we all planned on linking up for lunch today so I could finally meet him. After looking for veg-friendly joints around town, we decided to hit up Covent Garden’s Food for Thought. Now, I have been to FFT on one occasion, but it was for take-away late in the evening and the selection was super limited. Today, however, we were (literally) first in line when the doors opened and had a seriously delicious veggie meal! I was the only vegetarian in the group and the other kiddos (read: carnivores) loved the food, too! Super healthy, super affordable, super homemade and super delicious! If you happen to hit it up while you’re perusing Covent Garden (it’s on Neal Street), definitely opt for the Caribbean stew if it’s on the menu. It’s a bowl of pure deliciousness. I surmise it’s secretly laced with crack cocaine; it’s highly addicting. Side note: it’s cash only. Sad.

After our rendezvous in Covent Garden, P. and her boyfriend, A., had planned on catching a matinée showing of Les Mis at the Queen’s Theatre in Soho. Since I didn’t have any afternoon plans (aside from doing nothing and being holed up in my room), a small group of us ended up going together! We snagged tickets for a super affordable £15 each and ended up with a pretty decent view! I am a serious musical-lover and I definitely expected great things of one of the most renowned musicals of all times. Although the performance was great and the music was spectacular, I wouldn’t see it again. There are some musicals that I would see over and over (The Lion King, Wicked, Phantom), but this is definitely not one of them. It’s pretty depressing & the plot is semi-confusing if don’t familiarize yourself with it beforehand. That being said, it was still a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon & worth £15! Next on my list of musicals: Avenue Q. I’ve been dying to see it for months & I am definitely going before it stops playing (March 2010).

Now it’s 730P, I’m back at home after a fun-filled (and freezing!) day and am ready to sit in bed in my pajamas drinking hot chocolate (Wen, if you’re reading this — I DO like hot chocolate). Class is starting Monday and the reality is finally setting in. Gotta get a few readings done today and tomorrow so I can bring my A game this week!

Hope everyone’s weekend is superb!

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Edinburgh: In Hindsight

I’m delayed in the airport by an hour… somehow I’m not surprised. After a couple of flight cancellations and snow ravaging all UK airports, an hour delay seems like the least of my problems.

With my short jaunt in Edinburgh, hotel stays in the Old and New Towns, loads of sightseeing and a day trip to the Highlands, I crammed a lot into five short days and there are some things I would have done differently, had I known before-hand. Don’t get me wrong – everything was amazing and Edinburgh really is a fantastic city, but cities this beautiful come with loads of tourist traps! Here are a few tid bits I’ve gained from my recent excursion:

Getting to Edinburgh

Ohhh… Lord. After so many flight cancellations and delays, I would now opt for taking the train from London! Obviously your plan of attack for getting to Edinburgh is going to vary based on your current location, but be aware that there are a number of ways to get to the city.

1. Fly. Something I’m not fond of anymore, but it’s quick if you’re going from London (1 hour, 20 minutes). With EasyJet, BMI and other discount airlines, you can get some seriously good deals, too!

2. Take the Train! Virgin Trains, East Coast… they’ll all get you there, and most for under £40 – £50 if you book in advance! Sometimes they have some really great deals! Expect it to take 4-1/2 to 6 hours depending on the number of stops, but you’ll get to take in some of the English countryside and some trains (East Coast) even have wi-fi!

3. Jump on the Coach. With National Express, you can get funfares for as low as £12 – £15 if you book at the right time… they’re definitely good for the budget traveler, but be ready to spend a loooonnng time on board. 7 – 10 hours is a good estimate depending on the weather.

New Town vs. Old Town

My first temporary home, the Royal British Hotel, was in the New Town on Princes Street directly across from Waverly Station. Looking down the road, the street was very reminiscent of Oxford Street in London: loads of shopping mixed with a bit of culture (Royal Scottish Academy, National Gallery, etc.). A few minutes walk into the New Town, you hit St. Andrew’s Square where you can catch a bus to Rosslyn Chapel and visit the likes of Louis Vuitton and Harvey Nichols. Definitely a modern shopper’s paradise! [The picture below is of me on Princes Street in front of the Christmas markets.]

My second stop was Jury’s Inn in the  Old Town of Edinburgh, right off of the Royal Mile. Like I had mentioned right after my jaunt over, there is a palpable difference between the Old and New Towns. Instead of Harvey Nichols and H&M, you’ll run into St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle and loads of kilt makers and Celtic jewelry stores. The roads are less perfectly paved and have more of the cobblestone and narrow alleys that you would expect of the old world.

[This shot was taken from the St. Giles area, looking down the Royal Mile in Old Town.]

Although it’s a matter of preference, I found the Old Town a lot more charming. Keep in mind, the invisible line that separates New from Old in Edinburgh is the rail station, essentially. If you cross through Waverly Station or cross over North Bridge, you can move easily from one area to another. If you’re on Princes Street or the Royal Mile, you’re pretty central!

Hotel Recommendations

Our two-day, unplanned stay at the Royal British Hotel was actually a pleasant surprise. Due to its proximity to the rail station, I wasn’t expecting much, but was quite surprised by the size and comfort of the rooms, the free wi-fi (never to be underestimated!) and cute café downstairs (Princes Street Café) where you can get a morning coffee plus a morning treat for £1.75. The prices were more than reasonable considering the last-second booking and the holiday season. You’re looking at between £51 – £65 per night and a comfortable size for two people.

Jury's Inn Room

The Jury’s Inn in the Old Town is also great, but for different reasons. My room was huge and my view was incredible. With three massive windows peering out into the snow-capped city, I really felt like I ended up with someone’s suite! The bathroom was also huge, with a full-sized bathtub for actually taking a bath (something I haven’t done in months)! It’s proximity to Old Town (the Royal Mile is in the hotel’s backyard) make it a prime location, plus it’s around one-third of a mile from the train station! The downside? Wi-fi is far from free. I had to rely on the web on my iPhone and the free wi-fi from the pub down the way [The Mitre] for most of my online needs. I would recommend this place for its comfort and spaciousness, but be aware of the internet situation – that was almost disappointing enough to nullify my love for this place. I got a great deal when I booked with Expedia (£200 for R/T tickets + 3 nights at this hotel), but a room here normally goes for £99+ a night.

Also, if you’re super budgeting, there are loads of hostels along the Royal Mile that would be worth checking out… do a bit of homework though, sometimes the £10 per night saved isn’t worth sharing a bathroom with 8 strangers!

Tourist Attractions

There are loads of attractions nearby: Edinburgh Castle, Camera Obscura and world of illusions, Haunted Tours, Rosslyn Chapel, Christmas Markets, Lyceum Theatre, Highlands tours, the National Gallery… the list goes on and on. So, if you’re here for a few days, what was worth the money? Well, that’s a matter of preference of course, but let me give you the down low on where I spent my money and where I would take it back, if possible. Keep in mind, in the winter the days are incredibly short with the sun disappearing entirely by 4P or 430P. With only a few hours of sunlight, you probably want to make the most out of every minute!

Freebies to Note:

There were a few freebies that I wasn’t aware of before heading to Edinburgh. I wish I would have known about them before my adventures, but they’re worth noting:

  1. A free tour of Edinburgh on foot! Although I didn’t partake in the tour, it leaves from the Starbucks in Old Town and it’s about 2 hours of sightseeing around Edinburgh. It’s definitely something that would be worth checking out early on in your excursion; good way to get acquainted with the area before undertaking your own adventures.
  2. National Galleries of Scotland. If this is anything like the National Gallery in London, it’s worth checking out. Plus, it’s free so even if it’s not exactly what you’re expecting, your only loss is a few minutes of time.
  3. Free ghost tour from Deacon Brodie’s Pub. Edinburgh is widely considered to be one of the most haunted cities in the world, so why not check out a ghost tour? There are tours like this that you can pay for (£5 – £10 depending on the company and length of tour), but there’s also this freebie! I probably would have checked it out if I were with someone… I didn’t want to scare myself silly while traveling alone. :)

Edinburgh Castle

£11 for entry with discounts for children & seniors but no discounts for students! If I had to go back and do it again, I probably would have saved the £11 and spent it elsewhere. You can walk up to the Castle and take some amazing pictures from the ticketing area without having to pay the entry fee. The views from the top are seriously gorgeous and worth the trek, but the money to get into the castle is only worth it if you’re with someone who loves the history that you’ll find within the castle. If I were with my dad, I would have been 100% more satisfied with the entirety of the situation. The pictures of the façade are what you want anyway, so only go in if you’re wanting to check out old chapels, museums, etc. See the amazing picture above? No entry fee required & it’s my favorite one of the bunch!

Camera Obscura

[If I were tall & had crazy cankles?]

If you have kids, this is a super fun little place! You’re looking at £8.50 for adults, £6.75 for students and seniors, £5.75 for kiddos (5 – 15) and under 5’s go in free! The building is comprised of five floors of illusions (holograms, crazy mirrors, optical illusions, etc.) with the top floor containing the ‘camera obscura’ where you can get a visual tour of Edinburgh in 15 minutes! It’s actually really cool and the views from top floor are superb! Some of the best pictures that I got of the city were from the rooftop. Check these out:

I mean seriously? How great are these pictures? I have a lot more where that came from — the views are really unsurpassed. I had more fun in this building & ended up with cooler pictures than I did at the Castle!

Highlands Tour

As your recall from my recent post, I undertook the longest day tour available in all of Britain a few days ago! From Edinburgh, we traveled all the way up to Loch Ness and Inverness, the capital of the Highlands. The tour was £34 (£36 for non-students) and comprised 400+ miles and 13 hours of tour time. The tour showed me a completely different side of Scotland, plus I got to do a Loch Ness cruise! How many people get to say that? I would say that the tour was definitely worth the money considering how much was covered and the quality of the tour guide. My only recommendation though would be taking Timberbush up on their 2 or 3-day Highlands tour, instead! I thought we covered a little too much in one short day — for a bit more money you can have a much more full experience.

Lyceum Theatre

I must say, just a few days ago I was so proud of myself for snagging my Peter Pan tickets for £11 with my student ID card! It seems like a great deal at the time considering adult tickets normally go for £22. Sadly, the play was not only a waste of £11, it was also a waste of three good hours that I could have spent elsewhere, taking in the sights. I don’t know if I had particularly high expectations or if the show was just a bit of a let down, but there are definitely better ways to spend your money. Some locally made Scotch, perhaps (Dalwhinnie)?

Christmas Markets

Who doesn’t love to feel like a kid during Christmastime? Ice skating, a German market, loads of fun Christmas goodies, a ferris wheel and mulled wine… Mmm… The whole area can be accessed from Princes Street (at The Mound) and it’s 100% free to meander! Bring some cash for mulled wine and Christmas treats, though!

Rosslyn Chapel

Ahhh… Rosslyn Chapel. Who has read the DaVinci Code and not wanted to visit this place? I had planned on visiting (you can easily access it by hopping on Bus 15/15A from St. Andrew’s Square in the New Town), but decided to save that for my next journey to Scotland. With my dad and Chris visiting within the next few months, Edinburgh Round II will definitely be in order and I would like to see something new! You’re looking at £7.50 for adult entry, £6 for students and seniors and free for under 16s! Not sure if it’s worth the money, but pictures of the outside at least are worth the £1 – 2 bus fee!

Hope some of that helps someone out there somewhere who’s interested in hitting up magnificent Edinburgh. It’s truly an amazing city…

Lots of love & Merry Christmas Eve!

Borough Market Bonanza!

I have been dying to go to Borough Market since I arrived in London and I finally made the trek there today! I started the day off right by meeting up with four lovely ladies from my course for a mid-morning brunch near the market at The Table Cafe on Southwark Street. If you’re looking for delicious food in a perfect price-range, this place is definitely worth hitting up. We all had fantastic breakfasts (I got the eggs florentine — delish!) and it was around £40 for the five of us, including drinks (check out there delish breakfast menu here).


After we were thoroughly fed and caffeinated we hit up Borough Market! You may recall my visit to Spitalfields & Brick Lane earlier in the year where there was a load of amazing foods tempered with a fantastic mix of arts, crafts and vintage goodies. Borough Market is different from Spitalfields and Camden Markets in the sense that it is just food. For being a market dedicated to deliciousness, it’s actually quite huge! There are goodies to feed any appetite: ridiculous amounts of cheese, homemade jams, granola, meats, cakes, cookies and mulled cider on every corner. Here’s a bit of a pictorial tour:

{Row after row of nuts, dried fruits and chocolate-covered everything!}

{My friend, M., was like a kid in Costco on Saturday when she saw this stand.
I have never seen so many marinated goodies in one place!}

{Loads of stands selling fresh fruits and veggies! If I wasn’t heading to Malta tomorrow, I would probably have picked some up!}

{Mulled wine & cider on every corner for £3. Make sure you have some coinage handy — shopping is always so much better with mulled wine in hand.}

{How cute are these shortbread owls?! This stand had the most delicious looking cookies ever! I picked up some gingerbread and oat cookies plus some ginger flapjacks for my flatmate. Mmm!}

Now this stand below, Spice Mountain, was one of my faves in the whole market! Mind you, there were loads of great places, but I’m a sucker for cool goodies that you would probably only ever see on the Food Network.


If you’re like me and enjoy cooking in your free time, this stand has some seriously cool herbs, spices and specialty spice blends. Think things like mango powder, lemon grass stalks, spearmint salt, sumac and tamarind. Their selection is seriously endless, plus a great place to grab spice blends for ethnic cuisine night! You can also order online — they have some really cute gift sets, too!

Definitely a fun way to spend a weekend morning! Borough’s normally only open Thursday through Saturday (8A- 5P), but they actually have special hours for Christmas, with the market operating nearly every day beginning on the 20th of December. Check it out and drop me a comment to tell me what you think!

Anyone else have any favorite markets to check out?


Viva Roma! (Rome, Day III.)

On Sunday, for our last day in Rome, we (fittingly) decided to spend the day exploring the Vatican, seeing St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, and trekking up to Castel Sant’ Angelo. We took the Metro to the Vatican (since it was a bit too far to walk) and arrived at the world’s smallest country at around 10A. For anyone that’s unaware, the Vatican is its own sovereign entity, separate from Rome; they can print their own money, they have their own post offices and the Swiss Guard patrols instead of the Roman police.


Fortunately for us, the line to get into the Vatican was incredibly minimal. We waited for about 10 minutes (as compared with stories of waiting in lines of 2+ hours!) before we made it inside.


Pictures can’t really capture how astounding the cathedral is. Not only is it huge, it’s incrediby ornate: amazing statues, gold fixtures... plus being that I’m Catholic (by association)  it carries such an amazing history that it was pretty breathtaking to actually be inside. Legend (and some historical evidence) hold that St. Peter is actually buried under the altar of the basilica. For this reason, a number of popes have been interred at St. Peter’s since early days. I, of course, grabbed some goodies for my grandma from the Vatican shop once we were done gazing — wish she could have been there to see it first hand!

After checking out St. Peter’s Basilica, we decided to head to the Musei Vaticani to check out the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.

Unfortunately (take note), the Sistine Chapel and the museums are closed on Sundays. If you’re planning on hitting up the Vatican and it’s important for you to see these things, make sure you go any other day! Although we were slightly disappointed, we grabbed a bite to eat and headed up to Castel Sant’ Angelo.

[Another tip: Do not eat in Vatican City. It is ridiculously overpriced — head to the outskirts to grab lunch. We paid 10 euros for a mini pizza that we shared… in any other world it would have cost about 3 euros.]

In any case, we made it to Castel Sant’Angelo in about ten minutes and the view from the Castle was absolutely breathtaking!

Castel Sant’Angelo (below) was apparently built as Hadrian’s tomb in AD 170 or so, but has been reconstructed a number of times. It’s absolutely gorgeous and it sits right on the bank of the Tiber. The bridge in front is lined with a number of Bernini’s statues:

Afterwards, we crossed the bridge and spent some time in the city, finishing our day off with some gelato at the famed Giolitti. After a delicious break in the day, we began our trek home. After a ride on the Metro, a quick jaunt on the bus, a walk down to the station, a two-and-a-half hour plane ride, and a 60 minute Tube ride, we were back in London.

Arrivederci, Roma! It’s been real. I was able to scratch Rome off my list of places to see before I die, but I could definitely see myself making Rome a destination trip. Gotta go back again and drag the fam!

Lots of love,

When in Rome… (Rome, Day II.)

After our fun-filled and relatively stress-free first day in Rome, we had a solid plan of attack for Day 2 of our Roman Holiday: a trip to Santa Maria Maggiore (which we could see from our room), a stop at the nearby (and famed) Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and a bit of shopping followed by an evening pub crawl at the foot of the Spanish Steps.

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore sat right down the street from our hotel. So close, in fact, that we overlooked in on day one. Although it’s clearly an amazing structure, we had no idea that it was such an old and holy site. The inside is said to date back to roughly the 400s and the Borghese tomb sits on the premises.


After our quick stop here, we started our journey to the Trevi Fountain, about 20 minutes walking from our hotel. Although I hadn’t really known what to anticipate, I have to say that the Trevi Fountain was one of my all-time favorite parts of the trip. The structure is absolutely breathtaking — pictures really can’t do it justice. It’s massive (85 feet high and 65 feet wide)!

It is said that if you toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain, your return to Rome will be a swift one:


There are loads of touristy stores around the fountain, so I was able to snag some super cool gifts for my family nearby [if you guys are reading this, expect some cool Roman gifts for the holidays!] After hitting up the Trevi, we headed north to the Spanish Steps. Although neither of us really knew what to expect from the famed steps, we discovered an interesting mix of art — not at all what I had expected!


Apparently they’re dubbed the Spanish Steps because they’re near the Spanish Embassy. All seems to make sense now! After, we enjoyed loads of delicious sangria and pizza and people-watched before heading home for a quick nap before our evening outing.

That evening (after a much-needed power nap), we jumped on the Metro to the Spanish Steps to meet up with a pub crawl group. Unfortunately, the pub crawl was 25 Euros (more than we really wanted to spend) and seemed to be plagued by legal-by-European-standards-18-year-olds from the US. In lieu, we cabbed it to nearby Campo di Fiore, a little piazza that houses a number of fun pubs and restaurants. We decided upon a placed called Magnolia and ended up spending hours there munching on bruschetta and focaccia and talking with a 91-year-old Roman that we referred to as nona (grandma). She had been living in the area for all of her 91 years and had been dining at Magnolia every day for lunch and dinner!

All in all, we had a fun-filled, relaxed day and saved our energy for our trip to Vatican city, Castel Sant’Angelo and the streets of Rome on Sunday. Stay tuned to see pictures of the Vatican and some of Michaelangelo’s amazingness!


Meglio del Sesso! (Rome, Day I.)

Pizza. Wine. Gelato. Bruschetta. Crostini. Caprese Salad. Sangria.

I’m back in London taking a break in between classes after three delicious and action-packed days in Roma. First, let me say that Rome has got to be one of the most amazing cities in the world – so much to see in a relatively small area, amazingly friendly people, and delicious eateries. From start to finish, our trip was stress-free. Despite having to wake up at 345A on Friday morning to grab our 445A cab to Paddington Station, I was pumped and ready to go for Friday’s action-packed day in Rome.  We arrived in Italy at about 11A (Roman time) and got settled into our super cute hotel, Hotel D’Este, by 1P. The hotels was perfect — we had a huge room and a decent-sized bathroom, plus pretty amazing views of Santa Maria Maggiore church.

Day one, we decided to do a hop-on, hop-off bus tour (€19) to familiarize ourselves with the area and see as much as possible in a single afternoon. Our first stop? The Colosseum!

Colosseum
Colosseum
Inside the ColosseumThe Colosseum was breathtaking! We had to pay to get inside (€16 including audio guide), but the views were worth every euro. Check out these views of the surrounding area from the top:

Roman ArchI know this arch is a big deal… Arch of Constantine, perhaps? Beautiful.

Rome

After leaving the Colosseum, we hopped on the bus to head over to Piazza Navona for lunch and gelato!

RomeOn the way, we saw this amazingness, Palatine Hill – the place where Romulus and Remus were taken in by the She Wolf, according to legend. Pretty awesome sight!

ItalyWe also caught a glimpse of this amazing building. I’m not 100% sure what it is, although I’m sure the audio guide told us! The backside has a staircase that was designed by Michaelangelo!

Piazza NavonaWe ended up in Piazza Navona for lunch with an incredible view of this fountain that was sculpted by Bernini. His work is incredible! After our jaunt in Piazza Navona, we headed back to get ready for the evening, dinner in Trastevere and meeting the locals. We had a brilliant time practicing/learning Italian while we were there and the people were so amazing.

Stay tuned for Day 2, where we got to see the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and enjoy liters of sangria. Mmmm!

Lots of love,

Signature Stamp - Shannon

To check out the rest of the pictures, see my album on facebook here. I have about 150 loaded!

‘Wicked’ & Wine!

Wicked

Considering the fact that I have been diligently holed up for the past week, working voraciously on my presentations, papers, etc., I felt (semi)justified in going out a few evenings this week! After Wednesday’s Arsenal match, I needed another amazing event to top off Thursday night! I organized a trip to see ‘Wicked’ at the Apollo Victoria theatre (which is conveniently a stone’s throw away from the Victoria tube station) for my Social Policy & Development group. In total there were 16 of us and it was a blast! I happen to be a lover of musicals/plays/general live performances and Wicked definitely exceeded my expectations. The set, the lighting, the singing, the music — it was all amazing! Plus, because we were a large group of students, I managed to snag superb tickets for £17.50 per person (versus £45-£60 that they would normally be)!

Andy & I at the TheatreLadies
We all had such a blast, we’re hoping to plan Round 2 at the Gielgud Theatre in Soho to catch a showing of Avenue Q! If Wicked is playing at a theatre near you, I highly recommend it. It’s almost tied with the Lion King for amazingness!

Last night, after having too much fun on Wednesday and Thursday, my flatmate and I wanted to keep it low key with date three at Mildred’s in Soho. For the record: the risotto cake was out of this world! Whether you’re a veggie or a carnivore, it is definitely something that can be appreciated by all. After a few glasses of wine there, we met up with a group of folks at Gordon’s Wine Bar, apparently the oldest wine bar in London. Rudyard Kipling actually lived in the building back in the day! The place has a very cool vibe; it’s underground in what could best be described as a cave. It’s dimly lit, reasonably priced and a great place to mingle with a slew of different people! A must visit if you enjoy wine.

Gordon's Wine Bar

After three nights of fun, today is dedicated to finishing up my presentation for Monday and working on my paper for the coming week. Only a few more weeks of crazy intensity and then back to having a semi-normal schedule!

Hope everyone’s weekend is fantastic!

Signature Stamp - Shannon