What I Ate in France

The food in France had me at “hello,” and I need to do some serious gushing.

Here are almost all the meals and the photos (some crappy and some not) and the gushing. At the bottom, I put a list of everywhere I remembered eating in case you are going to Normandy or Paris for a week and want a little help from a friend. (I get by with a little help from my friends.)

5DC73BAA-80A0-4FEC-AD5E-EC1E0433C91C

Part One, Breakfast:

Okay, so breakfast is different in France. It was during this meal that I discovered that the good people of France hold two things most dear: bread and cheese. So much delicious, crusty bread. So many croissant flakes. So much hard cheese and soft cheese and stinky cheese. And really, really tangy yogurts.

IMG_3500

A word on eggs, s’il vois plaît. Omelettes? Amazing. I had a tremendous omelette bursting with mushrooms and cheese late one morning. I was so hungry that I didn’t wait for it to cool, and I left behind a lot of good mouth tissue at the restaurant. Fried eggs? Hard pass, unless you’re into what I call a mullet egg–raw in the front and burnt in the back.

Oh my gosh. I just remembered that the omelette place had about a million framed photos of the British royal family on their walls… without explanation. They were also a little rude, but I found myself forgiving them because, well, baby George!

Not pictured: The meals I had at the Bed & Breakfast in Bayeux because I was talking to the owner while she was in her pajamas and I was trying to figure out exactly what kind of weird and wonderful homemade jam I was eating.

Part Two, Lunch:

IMG_3017

Poor lunch is always such a throwaway meal, isn’t it? I used to say lunch was my favorite meal because I thought it felt left out. There are deeper issues there, I’m sure.

Lunch was not a throwaway on this trip, my friends. I tried to grab quick food while checking on my step count and mapping out the next destination. I’m going to brag hardcore right now. My step count was off the charts AND my “quick food” was pretty spectacular AND I never got completely, entirely, irrevocably lost.

IMG_35056E4FA831-B091-4F99-BA80-3AEBA206F5AF

I drank the entire jug of water in the picture above and then asked for more. (We’re talking over 30k steps, okay.)

Not pictured: About a billion more crepes because I wanted to do things right.

Part Three, Dinner:

img_3330.jpg

I’d like to start on a downer if I could, and then I’ll jump right into the gold. The above photo is foie gras at a fancy restaurant with fancy reviews and fancy prices, and I had every intention of finishing every dish I was given. However, I can barely think about foie gras right now without feeling ill. I think it was the fat content; it made me think of eating lard. I’m going to stop now, thanks.

Dinner was a spectacle. I loved the drama. I did not love that pretty much all restaurants were closed until 7 or 8pm. I know 7pm doesn’t sound late, but when you’re a morning person who had a crepe at noon, it’s near torture. The food made up for this, of course.

To you, this next photo just a very close-up shot of adorable baby fancy butter with a reflection of my new blouse. To me, it is a picture of the best butter I’ve ever had. The butter that made me forget that foie gras faux pas business completely.

IMG_3329

Food, wondrous food!

IMG_3203

IMG_3202

L'Rapiere Fish

Okay, I’ve suspected for a couple of years that I have some sort of fish allergy, but I guess I thought I could eat my way out of it? Because oysters! And pollack! And brill with truffles and champagne sauce! This strategy ended with a terrible headache (whatever) and weird, patchy rashes on my limbs (worth it).

4584AE1D-0AED-440A-AF94-F6B979F56499

Oh my gosh, this was the pizza of my dreams. It was a tiny restaurant on an adorable street that I happened to walk down–basically, everything you want out of your Parisian experience. There’s nothing like a pizza (that you have to cut yourself) made by a chef from Naples and a boatload of warm red wine to make you feel like you might actually be a mafia boss or living out Moonstruck.

I hesitate to share my final dinner meal in Paris because while I think it’s absolutely hilarious and very much me, that also means it’s kind of uncool. But if I’m uncool, I’m uncool while eating delicious food.

IMG_3539 (1).jpg

Part Four, Dessert:

You thought we were over? Well, you’re almost right, except for these little pieces of heaven.

IMG_333574013B28-B258-4FE7-BA35-432C21B98211img_3204.jpgIMG_3305IMG_3334IMG_3365

Fin!

Bayeux:

  • La Rapiere – Tremendous, expensive, delicious
  • Lion d’Or – Don’t be fooled by the menu outside. It is a lunch menu. Otherwise, see above.
  • Au Georges VII – The omelette! Get your royal fix here.
  • Au Louis d’Or – I’ve never had so much goat cheese in my life.

Mont St. Michel:

  • Unsure of the name, but certain of the experience. The one disappointing meal of the trip. I was given a microwaved crepe after being turned away from a different creperie because making me a crepe (the only thing they had on their menu) would “take too long.”

Paris:

 

Advertisements

Day 10, 11, & 12: Omega

(Start at Day One?)

FullSizeRender 39

Day Ten:

Me leaving Edinburgh:

giphy (4).gif

I don’t know how I feel about that GIF since she’s leaving Ireland and not, erm, Scotland, but I think it’ll do.

Bad Things on Day Ten:

  1. We left Edinburgh.
  2. We spent the whole day on a train or in a train station, which isn’t as romantic as it sounds, especially after an hour.
  3. I came down with a cold.
  4. I had what can only be described as a total mental breakdown.
  5. The mental breakdown was induced by a rejection on my manuscript from a top agent. You see, I totally went for it and queried a bunch of literary agents before the trip, and THE DREAM AGENT requested a full of my novel. On day ten of the trip, I got a rejection from that agent, and it hit, hard. And maybe it was my cold and traveling too, but all I wanted to do was cry and eat and sleep.

Good Things on Day Ten:

  1. Mom discovered luggage trolleys, making us look more sophisticated and less sweaty.

IMG_8387.JPG

  1. Mom, sensing the total mental breakdown, brought us Chinese food.
  2. My mom makes everything better.
  3. Supervet was on television.

Day Eleven:

We go back to Raison D’etre. Why did we ever leave?

When we get there, the tables are full except for one that says it’s reserved.

“Hello, sweetie. Good to see you.” It’s good to be back with this charmer.

“Looks like you’re busy this morning.”

He points to the table. “No, reserved for you.”

The total mental breakdown is mostly forgotten.

Tube to King’s Cross. We’re actually pretty good at this whole metro system.

IMG_8445

King’s Cross Station.

Future job: running Platform 9 3/4.

FullSizeRender 36FullSizeRender 38

IMG_8391

Mom and I planned this really wonderful last day in London, which included a seeing a play at Shakespeare’s Globe. From what we’d heard (and read) seeing a play at the Globe was a harrowing experience. The seats are uncomfortable, and since it’s an open-air theatre, it’s super, super cold.

No fear! Mom and I packed layers for the occasion. I wore long underwear under my dress (see the photo above for evidence), and I brought my winter coat and scarf. Mom was dressed in a similar, multi-layered outfit. We spent the day being very hot in our multiple layers. No matter! We’d be warm during the play!

We arrived at Shakespeare’s Globe and were ushered into an adorable, quaint playhouse. An indoor playhouse.

Surely, we were in the wrong room.

It was supposed to be an open-air theatre.

Then, someone explained that this Jacobean-style, INDOOR theatre is used during the winter to avoid the weather.

Because we had non-adjacent seats, Mom and I had to endure the shame of this misunderstanding separately, sweating in our several layers next to perfect strangers.

Outside of this mishap, Othello was lovely. Emilia! The woman who played Emilia made Emilia the kind of character I always want to see in a play. Emilia!

Anthony Bourdain has a list of “13 Places to Eat Before You Die.”

Over a year ago, Jill and I ate at number thirteen, Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue in Kansas City. I didn’t know about the list until then. I still think about the food at Oklahoma Joe’s, so it made sense then, to spend our last night eating at Bourdain’s recommendation in London, the number one spot, St. John.

Unfortunately, we didn’t know all of the details before we made reservations. (Are you noticing a pattern? Is there some sort of diagnosis for being a slight idiot? I’d like to call it Bridget Jones syndrome if I could.)

You see, St. John is a “nose to tail” restaurant with an emphasis on offal. Sounds great, we–who suffer from Bridget-Jones-pox–said. We arrived to discover that “nose to tail” was less of a whimsical tagline, and more of a literal philosophy. We also found out that offal is another name for organ meat.

Basically, St. John believes in using every part of the animal, which is really great until your choice of starter is bone marrow or duck heart.

Despite this minor hiccup, Mom and I were able to find foods that we could deal with. I’m sure that in the world of St. John, we ordered the equivalent of chicken fingers and fries, but to us, it felt adventurous-ish. (Adventurish?)

IMG_8451IMG_8452

IMG_8455IMG_8456IMG_8454

(A note on offal. Please don’t misunderstand. I’d like to think I’d eat entrails if it were truly necessary, but aside from a bite of braunschweiger ball at Christmas to be polite, the occasion has never really called for it. Please see photographic evidence for braunschweiger here.)

Day Twelve: The Longest Day in the World

We fly into Chicago on a plane full of teen girls going on a ski trip to Colorado. Many of them have never skied before. I have a couple of things I want to say about this:

  1. Are the Rockies really the place to learn how to ski? As someone who couldn’t move her arm for four days after falling on a bunny hill in Southern Indiana, this concerns me.
  2. Aren’t the Alps a lot closer?
  3. That’s all.

We spend the next 26,000 hours trying to get back home. Eventually, we do, and I’m stuck between loving the feel of my own bed and missing someone asking me if I’m “in the queue” and answering back in a fake British accent. (I only did it once. Okay, twice. WHATEVER IT WAS VACATION.)

And that folks is the end of my vacation, posts. A little–cough–late on updating (considering we got home in April and it’s July), but we got there.

For never was a story of more hysterical laughter & people acting a bit dumb 
Than this of Hilary and her mum.

Arthur’s Seat Hike

IMG_8325

I never imagined that hiking would be my sport of choice.

I’m still not sure it is.

But if there’s a place where I can go and be still and come back a different and slightly better version of myself, that place is on a hike.

I’d rather have my place be a Chipotle, but some things choose you, you know?

Hiking chose me in California. Before then, hiking was most definitely not my place. Hiking in girls scouts meant me at the back of the pack, struggling to keep up, and generally tripping over my own feet. Hiking as a young adult meant fearfully clutching my shaking legs and saying, “No, you guys go on. I’m good here.”

Then, I went hiking by myself in Malibu, and it was wonderful: peaceful, relaxing, exhausting, and life-giving.

Other people are the problem is what I’m saying.

When we planned our trip to the UK, I knew I wanted to do some munro bagging. If you don’t know what munro bagging is you obviously haven’t been doing your civic duty–that duty being following Sam Heughan on Instagram.

I built it up in my head that I was going to go to Scotland, be a badass, and bag myself a munro. (I’m slightly confused on the nomenclature.)

But time constraints meant that I had to settle for a large hill instead. I’m sorry, Sam!

So on a morning when I reaaaaaally didn’t want to go to “my place” and become a better person because I was pretty good with being the person who slept in, I strapped on my sports bra and… realized I did not bring appropriate footwear. No matter, I was going on a hike.

The hike was lovely. At first.

The grasses and hills distracted me from the sense that I was quite possibly on the brink of dying due to my general (and surprising) lack of physical stamina and the steep edges of the trail. I took as happy of a selfie as I could manage in case I died, so my mom could have one last picture of me, forever etched in her mind:

IMG_8326

Close to the top, I slipped, and this gentleman–who was not struggling–stopped to watch me scramble up the rock face. When I got to the top, he said, “Well done.” I’m mostly indifferent about this encounter… I should probably delete this paragraph because who cares if a guy watched me scramble and I’m so boring boring boring.

(I’m just going to leave all of that messy editing business there because guys, sometimes we are just not very nice to ourselves. (And also, it makes me laugh, even if it only serves to confuse you. #PersonalBlog))

And then, I was there. At the top.

IMG_8336

I think something really wonderful happens when we do something we don’t think we can do. We get to be a little better than we are, even if it’s just for a moment.

But not so much better than we’re above asking someone to take our picture.

I stared out at the waking city and the sea and the hills, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my life, for that moment. I got to be here. I’m quite often not thankful for where I’m at. I’m usually too obsessed about where I’m going to be thankful for where I am. I fill out my planner and set goals and troll social media and I fantasize. I wish I were somewhere else most of the time. Wouldn’t it be great if…

I love that about myself, just to be clear. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to set goals and go after them. I love imagining possibilities.

But I also think that spending my time without any thankfulness for where I’m at equals a life that’s a lot less joyful than it could be, than it should be.

In that moment, I was really, really thankful for my life. And it wasn’t just because I was in Scotland (though, okay, duh, a little of that). It was because my life really is pretty great, warts and all, and I like it.

There. I said it. Doesn’t that seem almost a foreign attitude? I like my life.

I like my life now as I sit on an old couch in Indiana with seemingly few hikes to conquer. I still want so many things in the future. I could get lost thinking about them, but I’m also content right here. I’m thankful for right here.

IMG_8351IMG_8341

So I left the hill with a shot of the medicine that is gratitude, and this enormous joy overwhelmed me. So much so, that I had to dance:

View this post on Instagram

Walking down the mountain like a lady

A post shared by Hilary Miller (@miller_hilary) on

View this post on Instagram

Well, how do YOU walk down a hill?

A post shared by Hilary Miller (@miller_hilary) on

Hiking. I think it’s my place.

Day 8 & 9: We Are Not Fancy People

Read from Day One here.

IMG_8310

IMG_8251

How do I accurately convey how I feel about Edinburgh?

Do I tell you that I spent every night in Edinburgh and many nights after reading about the Ph.D. in Writing program at Edinburgh University?

Do I explain that I when I was there I read an email where one of my students asked me a question and somehow I got that question to relate to five paragraphs of bragging on how great this city was? (I didn’t send the email. I realized at some point that it was the work of mania.)

Do I say that Edinburgh felt like a hometown? Like, the kind of city we all want to live in where people are kind and funny and there’s history and culture and families?

Do I tell you that somehow for this introvert, everyone in Edinburgh felt like a potential friend?

Yeah, I loved Edinburgh.

I loved the cobbled streets and little cafés and fearless humor and charming accents and antiquated buildings and the sea and hills and the actual castle that is in the middle of the freaking city.

London was rushing. Rush to see the sights. Rush to catch the train. Cram cram cram. Edinburgh was slower. It was moseying along and taking the trail without looking at our phones. It was not knowing exactly how the day was going to go. Relax relax relax. It was lovely.

 

I’m stopping myself now, but if you also love Edinburgh, please send me an email (hillymillerblog@gmail.com). Let us gush and squeal together.

Day Eight

Both Sides Now: Breakfast at Mimi’s Café

Clotted cream and jam light as air
And sun streaks through the window there
And delicious coffee everywhere.

I’ve looked at breakfast that way.

FullSizeRender 22

FullSizeRender 21fullsizerender-20.jpg

1: How far is the castle?

2: Six blocks…

1: We can do that.

2: … Uphill.

1: I’m really full.

2: Me too.

*Eye contact is avoided. She opens her phone. She pulls up Uber.*

FullSizeRender 23FullSizeRender 24FullSizeRender 25FullSizeRender 26

I didn’t even say, “Have fun storming the castle!” #MissedOpportunity

We shopped on Princes Street and ate the most delicious Indian food and slept for two hours and ate pizza. Life is good.

Day Nine:

I could make my morning hike its own post. Heck, I’m going to just do that, okay? You have my word. By the end of the day tomorrow, there will be a post about hiking Arthur’s Seat. Prepare yourselves.

giphy (3).gif

Breakfast: They made a sausage patty out of barley. I think that tells you everything you need know.

We are not barley people.

Also, I know we’re Americans and therefore trained to think JUMBO-SIZED is normal, but this is some sort of sick joke, right?

FullSizeRender 31

Shopping!! You mean the kind of shopping you did yesterday with plastic keychains and teapots that you hesitated to buy because who knows if they have lead or mercury in them?

No no no.

This is NICE shopping: handmade afghans and glass jewelry and breakable ornaments.

What’s that? A Scottish wool sweater? TAKE MY MONEY AND GO.

Afternoon tea at the Dome.

FullSizeRender 30

FullSizeRender 33FullSizeRender 34

1: This is so fancy.

2: Soooo fancy.

*Attempts to eat tea sandwich. Attempt goes poorly.*

*Drops spoon.*

WE ARE NOT FANCY PEOPLE.

Room service for dinner with my new favorite soda. We are not difficult people either. EDINBURGH, DON’T GO!

IMG_8384

Read about Day Ten here.

DAY SIX & SEVEN: On the Road Again

Read from Day One here.

Oh, you thought I’d fizzle out and never return to these posts?! You were almost right.

A Man with Yellow Teeth (a poem in-progress)

A Man with Yellow Teeth
Never stopped talking a beat.
He sat in front of us
On the bus,
And made us realize
That even England could become nightmarish.

FullSizeRender 8.jpg

Warwick Castle was everything you’d expect from a castle owned by the same people who run Madame Tussauds: gimmicky and touristy and wonderful.

The Greville family owned the castle for generations and threw massive parties with medieval set pieces. Imagine going to a 1975 rager at a medieval castle where liquor is served in a forty-gallon, cast-iron pot. If anyone knows of a good book about this family, just like a prayer, take me there.

FullSizeRender 9.jpg

Stratford-Upon-Avon,

or as our tour guide would probably call it, Heaven.

Our tour guide was an acting school graduate who retold this sketch beat-for-beat. He also gave the “to be or not to be” line ten times, putting the emphasis on a different word each time. You know when a comedian (or a sibling) does something funny and then they do it enough and it becomes super annoying and they press on until it becomes funny again? That was this guy.

Also, once you’re in the room where Shakespeare was born, you’re kind of like, well, this is a bit gross, isn’t it?

Cotswolds.

For the first six times I listened to Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill,” I thought he was saying, “We watching the sunset over the Cotswolds.” Of course! Ed gets it. The magic of the Cotswolds! The wool churches! The hills!

It’s “the sunset over the Castle on the Hill.” That’s the name of the song. (You all knew this, huh?)

FullSizeRender 10
Where the Inklings would meet NBD.

Like so many places we’ve visited, I could spend weeks (months?) in Oxford. I get this pang when we visit because Oxford University used to be my DREAM college. I spent ages 10-17 convinced that I was going to go there. So, what did I do fall of senior year?

That’s right. I didn’t even apply.

And I remember this when we we’re walking those cobblestone streets and seeing Hogwarts buildings, and it isn’t regret exactly that blooms in my chest. Instead, it is this immense sense of responsibility–a responsibility to go after life with all that I have in me. There’s so much we can’t control.

Seriously, there is so much we can’t control.

But we can turn in the application. We can always try. We have a responsibility to try.

Another pub. Another dark beer. Another wonderful day.

Early morning. I’ll get delicious hot cross buns before we leave! It’s only a mile away!

*Walks there*

*Realizes upon arrival that businesses aren’t open at 6:30 am on a Saturday*

*Takes selfie to document idiocy*

FullSizeRender 11

All-day train to Edinburgh.

“Is this our stop?”
“Maybe this one.”
“This one?”
“The next one.”
“This one? Oh, this one. Hurry!”

Mom and I have the most lovely hotel experience of all time, which is to be expected in the most perfect city of all time. More on that later, but look at these photos for now:

FullSizeRender 13FullSizeRender 16FullSizeRender 15

Mom and I walk up the Old Town street past bagpipers and magicians and street performers.

“Oh, the Museum of Childhood. We’ve got to go in there, right?”

FullSizeRender 12

“Let us never speak of this again…”

We see the sight of my future wedding (half kidding), St. Giles Cathedral, and we sit and marvel and admire.

FullSizeRender 17FullSizeRender 18

Dinner: The World’s End Pub.

FullSizeRender 14

A couple of beers in, without food…

Waiter: What would you like?
*I look at Mom. She looks at me. I look at the waiter whose face is right by my face.*
Me: I’m sorry.
Waiter: That’s all right. We can just stare at each other, if you’d like.
Me: Oh. HAHAHHAHAHA. I think we’re lightweights.
Waiter: What?
Me: When you can’t hold your liquor.
Waiter: You’re Americans. Are you Chiefs fans?
*I look at Mom. She looks at me. I look at the waiter whose face is right by my face.*
Waiter: American football.
Me/Mom: Ohhhhhhhh.

I’m going to like this place. I definitely like the haggis.

Read about Day Eight here.

Day Five: Are We Dead Yet?

Start at Day One here.

blog day 5

TUBE: Gloucester Road to Embankment. Embankment to Waterloo.
TRAIN: Waterloo to Alton.
TAXI: Alton to Chawton. Chawton to Alton.
TRAIN: Alton to Ashford. Ashford to Guildford. Guildford to Gomshall.
TAXI: … nonexistent at Gomshall.
TRAIN: Gomshall to Guildford. Guildford to Waterloo.
UBER: Waterloo to the hotel, as fast as you can, please.

 

A conversation with Rhett upon our return to the USA:

Rhett: So, you went to Jane Austen’s House Museum?
Me: Yes.
Rhett: That was fun?
Me: Yes!
Rhett: You saw a dead lady’s house–a dead lady who probably didn’t have a happy life and it was just the house and that was what you went to see?
Me: Yes! It was a blast, okay? We practiced calligraphy! And made lavender bags! And we SAW HER WRITING DESK!!
(Rhett dies of laughter because he is heartless and doesn’t get it, but you do, right?)

 

Pub, Alton. Let me say something about the pub across the street from Jane Austen’s House Museum. The place knows what’s up.

We didn’t go to the Jane Austen-themed tea room across the road. I read poor reviews online, and besides its name (Cassandra’s Cup), it didn’t really sound like anything was very Jane Austen-y. I don’t need a Darcy impersonator (or do I?), but if you’re going to have a Jane Austen-themed tea room, the least you can do is make a bit of an effort, right? “Emma’s match of scone and clotted cream.” “Fanny Price’s spooky tea” (weak tasting). Something.

So, we went to the pub instead AND IT WAS AMAZING. Imagine a super-old, classic English pub. Got it? Now fill it with female patrons over 50. Add the soundtrack to every Nancy Meyers movie ever, and you have yourself the best pub outside of London.

I guess I should say take this moment to point out that our waiter was almost cute and somewhere in his twenties. (Looking back, I bet he got amazing tips.) It’s important to note that I am not good at talking to people I find mildly attractive. (Exhibit A.) This is exacerbated by the fact that we are across the street from Jane Austen because honestly, was there ever a more perfect meet-cute moment?

Mom: What’s your soup of the day?
Almost-Cute Waiter: It’s roast vegetable.
Mom: What?
I have to take charge. He has to see that I’ll hear him even when my mom doesn’t.
Me: Root vegetable, Mom. He said root.
Waiter: No, roast. I said roast vegetable.
Me: Oh.

Mom and I break into giggles because it’s how we cope when one of us is an idiot. The waiter sort of slinks away, and magically another waiter has been assigned to us for the rest of the meal. I start feeling bad because obviously this dude thought we were super rude and we hurt his feelings. He’s probably trying not to cry. Look at him. He has to bite his lip when he pours the beer–he’s that overcome.

I start thinking about how this boy is probably super embarrassed because the girl he’s falling in love with made fun of him with her mother. The poor kid. I knew I had to do something. Anything!

Me: Hi, there. It’s me.
The one who you can’t stop thinking about.
Me: My mom and I were hoping you could call us a cab to get to the train station.
Waiter: Sure.
Gosh. Worse than I thought. He’s so… broken.
Me: Look, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.
Cute. He’s pretending not to know what I mean. Bless him and his almost-cute face.
Me: For the whole root/roast thing. I’m so sorry.
Waiter: Oh, well. Roast vegetables are roasted like you’d roast meat.

He pantomimes putting a roast in the oven, and my heart. just. drops.

Not only is the almost-cute boy (who should be lucky I ever LOOKED his way) not hurt by the roast/root saga, but he thinks I’m the kind of dumb person who doesn’t know what a roast vegetable is. That’s, like, beyond Lloyd Christmas dumb. Suddenly, I want to die.

Me: Right. I just couldn’t hear you correctly. I’m sorry. It’s my ears and I’m not used to your accent.
Waiter: Okay?
Come on. At least look like this breakup is hard on you too!
Me: We’ll just, uh, wait for the cab outside.

Mom and I finally get back on the train and go to Gomshall for the sole purpose of heading to nearby Shere to see the town where The Holiday was filmed. (I’m not proud.) We expected to take an Uber to Shere. We got off at Gomshall in the fading afternoon light and… uh, where are we?

In the middle of nowhere is where.

Exactly one other person gets off at Gomshall, a station without a conductor or a real station at all. It’s more like a block of concrete next to the train tracks. The other person is a red-haired teenager who must be laughing his rear off when these two American women frown and say, “I don’t see any Ubers nearby.”

I call the advertised cab company. “We can have someone there in about an hour and a half. Maybe two.” Click.

Me: Well, hey. Shere’s only a mile and a half. I bet we can walk it. Right, Mom? Mom?

We walk into the bustling downtown of Gomshall (two pubs), and I decide that we will not be walking to Shere. Light is fading. We don’t know exactly where we’re going. Oh, and the train back to the train back to our hotel only leaves once per hour. So, we do what we do best and eat.

Then, it’s time to walk back up the hill to the train station, and here’s where our overactive brains take a detour. Mom is worried about it being dark at the station, which makes me worried about it being dark at the train station. We try to time it so we won’t be staying at the creepy, almost abandoned train station in the middle of the woods for very long.

I get so scared of getting mugged that I steal a fork from the restaurant in case I need a weapon. (Current Hilary to past Hilary: Um, really? And also, why not a knife?)

When Mom and I make it to the train station without dying (by some miracle) there are two adult men waiting for the train. Were those our soon-to-be rapists? We were convinced they were. Mom takes short breaths. I grip the fork in my pocket and my eyes dart to follow their movements. If they want to charge, they’ll have to charge me head-on. And then,

the train arrives and we get on and they get on and we have zero problems whatsoever our entire way home.

Read about Day Six here.

DAY FOUR: Notting Hill, Paddington, & Kensington

(Looking for day one?)

blog day four 2

17,000 steps. (I almost killed my own mother.)

We took a morning stroll through a rainy Notting Hill. I was only a little sad to miss Hugh Grant, but comforted myself by singing that Bee Gee’s song that plays during his sad-man montage:

Notting Hill GIF.gif

We bought Mom a hat. It’s adorable.

Blog day four

Breakfast: We stopped at a quaint bakery, Gail’s. We found out later that Gail’s is a chain, but it was soooo delicious, I didn’t care. I’m convinced the scrambled eggs were made by someone who really loves what they do. Mom had delicious porridge. We also had a hot cross bun, which was the first time I can really remember having an actual hot cross bun. I loved it so much that I made them for Easter from a recipe Gail’s published here.

IMG_8762.JPG

Paddington Station just because.

My parents love Paddington Bear, and that inexplicable love has rubbed off on me. (Okay, embarrassing aside: I thought of Paddington as the British Pooh Bear for quite a while before realizing that Pooh is also British.)

IMG_8261

Victoria and Albert Museum. I love Victoria and Albert. I think it’s one of the most beautiful love stories. They navigated completely foreign relationship dynamics! She mourned his death for forty years! They had a million children!

That’s why it was a surprise when we finally got to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and instead of seeing Victoria’s gowns and Albert’s love letters, I saw signs for “Art Deco” and “Asian Fashion.”

Me: This is probably the stupidest question in the world.

Museum Curator: You’d be surprised.

Me: Is there a section of the museum on the actual Victoria and Albert? Because that’s kind of what I’m erm well here for.

MC: There are a few things on Floor Five.

Me: Well, that’s a relief.

Twenty minutes later…

Me: Mom, I made us walk here for a bust of Albert (that was rejected by Victoria) and a five-minute montage of Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

We walked from there to Kensington Palace. We got a little turned around in the gardens, but eventually made it there. It’s hard not to be just as enamored by the wildlife as the palace, honestly. There were so many swans.

From there, we were hangry, so we made our way to Goat’s Tavern.

We walked home, tired and full and tired.

Days Six and Seven

Day Three: Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath

(Back to day two? Want to start at day one?)

“Please be back on the coach at the time requested. We will leave you if you’re not back on time. Be here on time.”

Okay, Norma. We get it.

“And no hot foods. Cold food only.”

What? Norma, you’re out of your mind.

Norma was our tour guide. I’m fascinated by the idea of being a tour guide. It’s a very unusual kind of life. The people you work with are constantly new. You have to be nice to them even when they’re idiots. You go to the same sights weekly (daily?). And you perform the same jokes on people over and over and over. Maybe this isn’t unusual. Is this kind of every job? Are we all Norma?

Windsor Castle.

IMG_8178.JPG

St. George’s Chapel. Do we walk on the graves or…? Okay, people are walking on the graves, so I think it’s okay. Oh, gosh. I just stepped that one. I don’t feel good about it. I’m sorry, sir–er, Your Majesty.

I’m over the walking thing and would now like to be buried in St. George’s Chapel, preferably next to George VI (who I can’t get to not look like Colin Firth in my head).

I could’ve spent all day in St. George’s, but Norma had us on a tight schedule. We wanted to see the State Apartments, so I was forced to mow down school children on a field trip to rush through Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House to get to the coach on time. I wish I were kidding. I didn’t knock kids over, but I did knock them out of the way.  I didn’t see a problem with this until now and all I can think about are their cute school uniforms and gleeful accents and I’m the worst.

The State Apartments were cool, I think. Norma really put the fear of God in us, I guess. We BOOKED it. I call it the Chandelier Run. Come back next year for our Painted Ceilings 5K.

Stonehenge.

Oh, this is so cool and strange and in the middle of nowhere. I think the best picture is from the other side, don’t you? It really smells here. Very farm-y. What was that? Did you feel that? Norma talked about “vibes,” but I swear I just felt something. Oh, that’s wind. Oh, wow. That’s really windy. It hurts my face. Is that sleet? Oh, gosh. It is. It hurts. It hurts everywhere!

IMG_8096

Okay, one thing I found really interesting about Stonehenge is that there are mounds for miles around the rocks that are burial grounds of prehistoric people. In Indiana, we have Native American burial mounds. Not kidding. I find this fascinating and strange. People are people no matter where they are, you know?

Bath.

 

After the speed-walking disaster at Windsor, Mom and I flew through the museum portion of the Roman Baths to get to the actual bath (which is at the end of the tour btw). It’s neat. I’m sorry that I don’t have more to say about it. To be honest, I felt I was looking at a giant green pool straight out of National Lampoon’s Vacation. On the upside, I’m apparently cured of all ailments after tasting the purified version of the magical healing spring water. Still waiting on my bacne to get that message.

So, we saw the big pool. Woo. Our clothes were soaked from the sleet/rain at Stonehenge and Norma wasn’t allowing us hot foods/drinks. It’s no surprise that we felt we needed a beer.

The Ale House was a gem of a find. It was the kind of place I imagined getting lost in on a UK vacation–an old pub full of regulars with approximately four tables. Mom and I got our beers and made friends with the man next to us. He was waiting for his daughter to come back from class. We laughed with him and had a really good time, and when he left, Mom said, “Do you think he really has a daughter?” And I said, “I thought the same thing.”

IMG_8168

Me [while buying pork rinds]: I feel bad buying these after seeing all of those piggies on the way here.

Bartender: Oh, don’t worry. It’s just their skin deep fried!

I’m sorry, Norma, but in order to appear complicit with your crazy rule about hot food, I did, as you suspected, lie to you. The bag was full of hot food, not a souvenir. It smelled like shepherd’s pie because it was shepherd’s pie. I’m sorry, but in our defense, Mom made us wait until we were back in our hotel to actually eat it. I think I know what you’d say: The only thing better than hot food is cold food!

Day Four

Day Two in London

(Looking for day one?)

DAY TWO, or breakfast breakfast breakfast.

I love breakfast, and it seems that London–in its heart–really gets that (and really gets me).

Breakfast at the Raison D’etre.

“What can I get for you, sweetie?” Sweetie? Me? This guy’s ridiculous.

“For you, sweetheart.” Thank you, darling.

He calls Mom Cleopatra. Am I in love with him? It’s hard to say. We have at least a decade between us, but what’s a decade when he can make hot chocolate like this:

IMG_8188

“The Very Naughty,” indeed.

Things are all very French and sophisticated until my eggs fall on the floor. I cover them with my shoe before the waiter can see. Good thinking, Hil.

Double-decker bus. Mom and I are on the top level even though it’s freezing and raining. “I’ll mark down the places we want to go back to.” “Great idea.” “Do you have a pen?” No, do you?” “No…”

Thames River boat ride surrounded by a school group of French children. It turns out teens are teens are teens, no matter where they come from.

Tower of London. Okay, but really, can someone explain Henry VIII’s armor to me? CHILDREN SEE THIS.

henry viii

Speaking of crown jewels. Hello!

(Also, photo cred here because I was waaaaay to embarrassed to take a photo of that.)

I didn’t realize I was on this trip to see diamonds, but yeah, it was the actual crown jewels that showed me I’m only in it for the stones. This is sounding very weird if you think I’m still talking about the armor. Get your head out of the Tudors’ gutter! I’m talking about the diamond rings and the sceptres and Queen Victoria’s little crown (that I think I really could wear every day).

They don’t allow you to take pictures of the Crown Jewels; it’s kind of nice to be told no photos or phones. I liked not having to worry about getting the perfect photo.

Dinner/lunch: fish and chips. Feeling right British, we are, we are.

IMG_8195

Buckingham Palace coming in hot with breathtaking light. I’m not sure the house is much to look at without it. (Sarcasm.)

Day Three.

Day One in London

For Spring break, my mom and I went to the UK for eleven days. This is our story. Dun Dun.

DAY ONE.

The tickets were on sale. Cheap, they were. The kind of cheap that allowed me, a true cheap skate (who is not above walking the Costco samples for lunch), to buy them instantly. The only catch? The flight to London flew out of Chicago. Chicago is three hours away. Four and a half by train.

I always say that a breezy, five-hour train ride is the proper way to begin any international vacation. If you’re leaving before dawn and the train station smells like liquor and weed? Well, that’s even better.

We really did things right.

IMG_7947

My mom and I went on the trip together. We were so excited. Sitting in the Amtrak station going over the week’s schedule, we felt like no one alive had ever done something so cool, so… unique. Then we said hi to the people next to us, an aunt (around the same age as Mom) and a niece (around the same age as I am).

Okay, so there were other female duos out there. That’s great! Room for everybody! Oh, you’re going to London too? That’s good. Good for you. Good for us, right? You’re going to Stonehenge? Well, everyone goes to Stonehenge, right? Right? Suddenly, Mom and I realized we were like Lorelei Gilmore hiking the PCT à la Cheryl Strayed. We also realized it didn’t matter one bit.

We were so keyed up for the trip, we thought we’d go from Union Station to O’Hare via the L. Six bags + four hands + public transit = NO PROBLEM. We made it, but some of our knee skin didn’t.

Food from Indianapolis to London: two (three?) Pop-Tarts, Cliff Bar, one cheese/nut pack, Auntie Annie’s cinnamon pretzel, two airplane meals, so much coffee, another couple of Pop-Tarts in there somewhere.

In London, we arrived at this very strange hotel, the Avni Kensington, that would become our home. Not exactly a home in the sense of welcome place, but more like a home is a person—that person being the great aunt you know you’re supposed to like, but you kind of hope you never have to smell again.

We couldn’t check in since it was six in the morning, so we got ourselves on the Underground and went to Westminster bridge and walked around for a bit. It turns out, not much is open at six in the morning. We found a breakfast spot that as far as we could tell was run by exactly one person.

IMG_7961

Purchases so far: Breakfast. Touristy London sweatshirt (because I thought it was a good idea to not wear my coat?).

Double-decker bus. Brief fight with the ticket man over printing our tickets. Mom’s phone died, and I only had the confirmation number. I was explaining this to the man, and he walked away from me. Walked away! You don’t know how almost mean we can look like we’re getting until you’re super rude to our faces, sir. It’s the kind of half-committed, near-death stare that makes people rethink their decisions, okay?

London Eye. Waiting in line for hours means getting to watch two nine-year-olds touch (feel up?) and almost knock over a wax figure of Angelina Jolie. It’s only a week later that I question why a wax figure of Angelina Jolie was at the London Eye at all.

The view is gorgeous, even in a little rain.

IMG_7969

“Is it fatigue?” you wonder. Or are you really the kind of person who gives a stink eye to the little boy hogging the computer that tells you about the buildings? What does this say about you?

Every wild trip starts out with a 6pm bedtime.

Day Two