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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

24 Hours in London: Concert for the Queen

Diamond Jubilee

June 4, 2012

After a short trip to Oxford, we made our way to London to finish the Diamond Jubilee weekend. The star-studded concert for the Queen was televised live at St. James Park, so we went to check out the festivities.

We show up at 6:30, a half hour before it starts, and the first thing I notice is the overwhelming pride for their country with thousands of British flags waving in the air. Masks of the Queen, Prince William, and the new Duchess of Cambridge, Kate, are selling fast at the souvenir shop. Picnic blankets are sprawled out over several acres of the park by people who claimed their space early on. With picnics come booze, and it’s clearly flowing.

In my neck of the woods, public drinking + free concert = inevitable fights/belligerent behavior. So right now I am pleasantly surprised at how peaceful and unified the crowd is, all ages joined together in a wholesome celebration of their Queen’s milestone. I didn’t stick around until the end to see if they kept it wholesome, but I’m glad to keep my thoughts of London pure. 
The Queen and I in the park

As 7PM inches near, the enormous screens throughout the park flash a shot of Prince Harry in the audience at the concert, and all the girls in St. James Park go wild. It’s time for us to settle in, so we buy a Diamond Jubilee edition of the British flag, and wave it proud with the rest of the crowd. I make my way to a pack of food trucks lined up behind us, and decide that it’s time for a snack. I go for the most English sounding option, Salt & Vinegar. I got a plate of chicken and chips, sprinkled with some malt vinegar and salt. Yes, I should’ve tried the fish, but I still can’t get a taste for fried filet of mystery. Next time! On that note, the show begins. 

Performances by Robbie Williams, Will.I.Am, Elton John, Grace Jones, and Paul McCartney are amplified through the park. It’s certainly an unforgettable show. The crowd at St. James Park starts to swell, and we make our way to Green Man pub on Euston Road for some shepherd’s pie and a beer. This is our final stop of the night, and we watched the final scenes of the concert play out on the TV’s around the pub.

Monday, June 18, 2012

24 Hours in Oxford

24 Hours in Oxford 

DISCLAIMER: 5 pubs in 24 hours. Don’t judge me.
With only 24 hours in Oxford, and each hour shamelessly providing buckets of rainfall, we did exactly what was in the cards for us. A pub crawl, of course. Visiting my cousin Kristen, who is studying at Oxford University, was a great decision. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is in full swing this weekend, and to pay our respect, we celebrated with every limited edition “Jubilee Brew” we found. Seeing as Oxford University is the second oldest university in the world, we knew that paying a visit would provide us with immense knowledge of this quaint historical town. 

59a Cornmarket St.
+44 1865 256047
First stop, pub fare at Nicholson’s The Crown in the heart of Oxford. The Crown has been around for almost three centuries, centrally located on the popular Cornmarket Street. We quickly learned that Shakespeare frequented this pub whenever visiting Oxford, therefore, it became our first stop of the day. British flags decorated the interior, as we will soon find to be a trend during the Diamond Jubilee weekend. With several beers on tap and even more bottled, I took time to study the menu. Being as indecisive as I am, I asked the bartender for a recommendation. Something local. Suffolk Blonde Premium English Lager it is! Lightly carbonated, cold, and refreshing. Later I tried one of the many ciders that I've never heard of before. I chose Magner's Spiced Apple & Honey, and it was delicious! The tomato soup with focaccia bread was belly warming on such a damp afternoon, and the shepherd’s pie with minced lamb had the same effect.

84 High St.
+44 1865 204463
By this time of day, we are ready for high tea at The Grand Cafe. Famous for it’s intimate interior and vast student following, even Chelsea Clinton paid a visit with her dad Bill while studying at Oxford. We splurge on The Grand High Tea for £16.50 per person and out comes a three-tiered platter with tea sandwiches (smoked salmon with cream cheese and egg mayonnaise), scones with jam and clotted cream, handmade chocolate truffles, and champagne. I chose English Breakfast tea from the extensive selection, and sipped in between snacks. The Queen would be proud. I already achieved most of my English food and drink goals for the trip, and it hasn’t even hit 4PM. 

92-94 High St.
+44 1865 202505
As we stroll down the street in torrential downpour, we see a lovely restaurant in the Old Bank Hotel. We peer in the window of Quod Brasserie and notice a jazz band setting up. ‘Why not?’ we say, and head inside. Diamond Jubilee Martinis all around! The bartender explains the contents of the drink as, ‘everything the Queen likes to drink, in one glass’. It was rough. Don’t be fooled by the reddish color and the strawberry garnish, this was more of a manly drink but we conquered it with pride and moved onward!

40 Holywell St.
+44 1865 242369
A few blocks more and we are at Kings Arms. Another pub festively decorated with flags for the Diamond Jubilee. Also part of the décor is framed photos of the Queen over the years, and hundreds of beer labels covering the remaining available space. Needless to say, I got a pint of Young’s Jubilee Ale. The bartender explains that it’s a special brew made up of all the leftover beer from the night before. I decide to register the comment as a joke. Clearly, I’m feeling the affects of alcohol, and my common sense is diminishing. 

4-5 Holywell St.
+44 1865 243235
After a few hours of mingling with a bunch of cool study abroad Oxford students, we make our final stop of the evening at Turf Tavern. Our friends directed us to this hidden gem. With low ceilings and multiple cozy rooms, this pub kind of felt like being in a living room. Right at home is exactly how we felt. If it weren’t pouring rain we would have utilized the beer garden out back. Instead, we huddle up in a booth and ordered a pitcher of Pimm’s. What is Pimm’s? From what I understand, it is a gin based drink with spice and citrus flavors that’s mixed with ginger ale. It was strange and unfamiliar, but by this part of the night, it was welcomed. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Rome: Hotel Raphael Aperitivo

Hotel Raphael

Largo Febo, 2 - Piazza Navona
+39 06 682831

This is the ultimate aperitivo spot. Drinks will run somewhere between €10-20, but I’ll tell you why it’s worth it. Up on the ‘Terrace Garden’ rooftop of Hotel Raphael, there is a stunning panoramic view of Rome. Every so often, just before sunset on a warm and clear night, I will stop in for a glass of prosecco. They greet us with peanuts to nibble on, and a few mini bites. A tramezzini platter of sorts will arrive. Italian white bread cut into squares, with assorted toppings such as caviar, prosciutto, eggplant, and salmon. It’s just a little added elegance to a simple Aperol Spritzer in the evening with a view.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Rome: Gelateria Del Teatro

Gelateria Del Teatro

Gelateria Del Teatro
Via di San Simone, 70
06 45474880

Tucked away on the small street of Via di San Simone, there is a unique gelateria that combines familiar flavors infused with unsuspected ingredients. This place is not yet swarming with tourists, because of its inconspicuous location. However, if they knew just how close it really is to the ever-famous tourist attraction, Piazza Navona, it would quickly become swamped. 
The sign is small, and framed by vines. The flavors are overwhelming. Chocolate with red wine, raspberry sage, and ginger were some of the innovative flavors in the showcase. I sprung for rosemary honey lemon, and white chocolate basil. Both were actually sweet and not overwhelmed by the rosemary or basil. It was balanced surprisingly well and I almost went back for seconds. Almost. 

Yet another pin added on my foodie map of Rome!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Just a Reminder, Why I Love Rome...

My mother was enjoying a delicious Aperol Spritzer at a cafe in Piazza Navona when we noticed the act of witchcraft being practiced on us. It must be payback for my exploitation of her talents.

(Refer to the video clip in my post, "The Faces of Rome")

Rome: Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e Pepe
Via Giuseppe Avezzana, 11
06 3217268

When traveling to a city that draws in millions of tourists each year, it’s imperative to find where the locals eat for the best quality food. We were recommended by Roman natives to visit one restaurant in particular. In the Prati district, Cacio e Pepe serves some of the best pasta in Rome to the locals. It’s off the beaten path a bit from the historical center, so you can rest assured that the food is fresh not frozen, and there will be more locals than tourists. 

There is outdoor seating, but the night is chilly so we choose to sit inside. I like the glass divider between our table and a portion of the kitchen so I can watch the preparation. We order a liter of red wine, and a few pasta dishes. Their signature dish of cacio e pepe, meaning cheese and pepper, was cooked al dente and loaded with cheese. The carbonara was also fantastic, with thick chunks of pancetta and another heavy dose of cheese. A good carbonara shouldn’t look like it was tossed in a heavy cream sauce. Their simple menu was anything but that, and they successfully showed us how Rome’s beloved pasta dishes are supposed to taste. 
House red
Cacio e Pepe