Monday, October 31, 2011

Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Pesto

This is a super easy side dish that is delicious and nutritious.  The title of this post just about says it all.

1 container of grape tomatoes, cut them in half lengthwise
Ciliegene ("Cherry-sized") Fresh Mozarella Cheese, cut in half
Basil Pesto, about 3 tbsp

Mix all of the above ingredients together in a large bowl.  Couldn't be easier!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Final Thoughts on London

Phew!  Finally done with the recap and pictures of London!  That was just a small portion of the pictures I took.  I think I took about 350 pictures in the 7 days we were gone.  I'm going to make a photobook on Shutterfly at some point, just have to wait until I have several hours to do so.

So final thoughts on London...I honestly can't even find the words to describe what a great time we had.  I think it was the perfect place to pick for our vacation.  I also think it was the perfect time to go...not many tourists...we didn't have to wait in line for anything and all the touristy sights we visited weren't super crowded.  It was nice to have the conveniences and familiarities of America balanced with so many new and exciting things to see and do.  I remember the first few nights I had some trouble falling asleep because I was just so excited about what we were going to do the next day.  Everyone we met there was friendly and helpful.

I haven't traveled the world, but as far as I've seen, London has the best public transportation system.  I know Manhattan has a pretty good one also, but Mark and I were highly impressed by the London system.  First, you can buy a day pass for about $10/person that allows you to take buses and trains all throughout the day for a flat rate (I wish Manhattan had that).  We relied heavily on the trains and there was one time where we waited 3 minutes for a train.  Other than that, we literally waited less than 1 minute for every other train we took throughout the 7 days!  Their buses are also phenomenal, there are so many of them and they are easy to use--there are visual and audio signals on the bus letting you know what the next stop will be. 

Honestly, when we chose London as our destination, I wasn't super excited about it.  I mean, I wasn't against it or anything, and I obviously agreed to go, but I wasn't passionate about going.  London hadn't been on my list of "places I must go."  I think I was thinking it would be so similar to America, and I didn't know what there was to see there.  When I first got my guidebooks, I had never heard of the Tower of London or the British Museum or several other places.  Maybe I was just naive or maybe not well-educated--those Texas schools tend to focus on Texas history more than anything else.  I can tell you anything you would want to know about Santa Anna.  In any case, I'm so glad Mark suggested that we go to London and I'm so glad that we went!  Now I really have the travel bug and can't wait until our next trip.  We are thinking of going to Australia next fall...I've been once before but I'm excited to share that experience with Mark this time around!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Day 7 in London--10/7/11

Our last full day in London!  I didn't want to plan too much for this day because I wanted it to be more chill as it was our last day.  We decided that we wanted to go back to Harrod's.  We rushed through it too quickly our last time there, so we both wanted more time to browse.  We went to their Christmas World and got an ornament and some gifts.  I also took the time to look thoroughly (and be utterly impressed) by the food halls.

We had lunch at a pizza bar in Harrod's. Again, the picture is only of half of our pizza because I forgot to take one before we started.  I'm usually good at remembering to take pictures of my food, but on this trip, I guess I was all about digging into the food first, or forgetting to take a picture altogether. 
Harrod's Lager--We Brought the Bottle Home with Us

Hustle and Bustle of the Pizza Bar

Our Pizza--Chicken, Kalamata Olives, Roasted Red Peppers

I didn't want to eat anything too heavy because I had made a reservation to have afternoon tea today.  Of all the places to choose from to have afternoon tea, I made a reservation at St. James's Restaurant in Fortnum and Mason.  My grandma recommended this place and it was in one of my guidebooks. We got to Fortnum and Mason pretty early because I wanted to walk around their store.  I knew they sold stuff, but I thought it would just be one floor of teas and biscuits and things of that nature.  Boy, was I wrong!  The store was 5 stories and they sold all kinds of things!  The first floor was all the food products and on the upper levels they had a whole bunch of random things--perfumes, china, kitchenware, men's accessories, etc.  It was a really neat store, wish they had something like this in American!  The clerk who checked us out at the register said that around the Christmas holiday season, there are about 5000 customers on the main floor!  Cah-razy!
Fortnum and Mason-outside


Ground Floor of Fortnum and Mason

Ground Floor of Fortnum and Mason

Ground Floor of Fortnum and Mason

More of the Ground Floor

Christmas Area

Another Floor of Fortnum and Mason
After walking around for a while, it was finally time for our afternoon tea reservation.  We both had high tea, meaning we had one course that was more of an entree size (as opposed to the tea sandwiches) and also scones  and dessert.  We each had a pot of tea--I finished mine and Mark had about 3 cups of his--he did very well for a person that doesn't drink tea!  The food was really good, I had an english muffin with poached eggs and smoked salmon.  Mark had the cheddar souffle.  The scones were also really good, especially with the jams.  I'm not a big fan of jam actually--not that I dislike it, it just doesn't do all that much for me.  But these jams were delicious!  The jars of jam that you see in the pictures, they open new jars for each table and you don't end up using all that much of it.  They throw away whatever is left...what a waste of delicious jam!  I asked the waiter about this and he confirmed that they throw away whatever is left, so he said I could take mine.  I brought it all the way back to the States with me! 

My Place Setting, with Tea and Lemonade

Mark, making sure his tea is just right, or at least as good as it can be for a non-tea drinker

English Muffin with Poached Eggs, Hollandaise, and Smoked Salmon
Twice Baked Cheddar Souffle

Assortment of Plain and Fruit Scones and Desserts

Clotted Cream on Top and Apricot Jam and Strawberry Jam (Mark is jokingly saying it's time to go in the background)
This was another great day and a wonderful way to end our vacation!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Day 6 in London--10/6/11

Today started out the exact same as yesterday.  Woke up a little before 9 AM, left our hotel by 9 AM.  Got on the tube to go to the Grovesnor Victoria hotel to wait for our tour...again.  We went to the exact same cafe as we did yesterday, then went to the hotel to wait.  I let the concierge know that we were there and we decided that today, I would wait by the concierge table and Mark would wait outside.  We had a strategy today!  We were trying to increase the likelihood that we would see the tour guide and not miss our bus again.

They were supposed to pick us up at 10:30 AM.  At about 10:20 AM, I met another family in the lobby that was also planning to go on this tour.  They were Canadian and taking a 32 day vacation throughout Ireland, Scotland, and London.  I hope to be able to do that one day!  In any case, it was nice to meet up with other people there so that we could have more eyes looking out for this tour bus.  Well 10:30 came and went, and still no tour bus.  This wasn't looking good.  By about 10:35, I asked the concierge to call the tour company, just to make sure they hadn't come already.  The tour company said the driver was running late and verified that we were all supposed to be on the tour today.  More waiting...  By 10:50, they still weren't there yet so I had the concierge give them another call.  The tour rep said the driver was late due to traffic.  Actually, just as he was finishing up his conversation, the tour guide came in to the hotel lobby with Mark.  I was relieved!!!   

We finally got on the bus and we went to Windsor to meet up with the tour group that already started.  We had the option of taking a full day tour to Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath, but those tours left at the butt-crack of dawn.  And I'm not a morning person and this was my vacation, so there was no way I was waking up that early.  So we opted for the "half-day" tour that just went to Stonehenge and Bath.  It's the same tour though, we just met up with the tour group after the people who opted for the full-day tour finished seeing Windsor Castle.
Windsor Castle
From Windsor, we went on our way to Stonehenge.  Our tour guide was pretty good and gave us information about Stonehenge on our way down there.  No one exactly knows when Stonehenge was built, but they approximate it to be built around 2500 BC.  2500 BC people!  That is a really long time ago, over 4000 years!  Essentially, no one knows why Stonehenge was built but our guide talked about different theories, such as--aliens built it, it was built to be a hospital, a worship to the sun, etc.

We finally got to Stonehenge, got off the bus, and entered Stonehenge with an audio guide (which all tourist attractions seem to have now days).  The first thing we noticed when we got off the bus is that it was freezing and there were literally 40+ mph wind gusts!  The wind was going straight through my fleece jacket and was SO cold!  It was so cold I couldn't even hold my audioguide to my ear to listen because my hands were too cold and I was too cold to even pay attention.  We decided to ditch our audioguides and just walk around ourselves and take some pictures.  That was going OK (though we were really cold) until about 1/3 of the way around Stonehenge it started to hail.  That's right, I said HAIL!  The hail then turned to freezing rain, on top of the strong wind gusts.  We ended up running around the other 2/3 of Stonehenge, which wasn't so easy because the air was so cold it was hurting my chest to breathe in.  Obviously, it would have been nicer to walk around it more leisurely and listen to our audioguide, but at least we saw it and I got a few good pictures also.



From Stonehenge, we went to a town called Lacock.  Don't remember exactly how you pronounce it.  I think it was either "la-cock" or "lay-cock."  Either way, I was making cock jokes on the bus.  Yes, sometimes I have the attention span and humor of a 5th grader.  This was a really quaint and cute town.  They actually filmed some scenes from the Harry Potter movies in this town.  We ate at a pub there called the George Inn that's been around since the 1300s.  Yup, that's right, 1300s.  We had Beef Wellington and it was delicious!

Front of the Inn

Dining Room We Ate In

Where Mark and I Sat
Beef Wellington
About the Filming of Harry Potter in Lacock

Close-Up of the Info of the Filming of Harry Potter in Lacock
Town of Lacock

Bus Stop--Looked like a Jail

General Store in Lacock

House in Lacock

One unique thing about this pub was that back in the day, they had a rotisserie spit--you know, the rod that slowly turns your meat as it cooks over the flame.  In any case, guess what made the spit turn...a little dog running on a wheel!!  They actually still have the wheel and the spit in the pub.
The Wheel the Dog Ran On to Turn the Spit

The Turnspit--Where They Used to Roast Meat

From Lacock, we continued on our way to Bath.  Bath was also another really cute town.  Lots of little stores and Bath Abbey was quite impressive.  Bath is known for the Roman Baths that were built there during the time of the Roman empire.  The baths are about 2000 years old.  We toured the baths and that was pretty cool.  The baths were so old and it reminded me of the things I saw on my trip to Italy about 5 years ago.  It's so neat to imagine the people that used these baths and the times that they lived in. 
Roman Bath

View of Bath Abbey from Inside the Roman Baths

Inside the Roman Baths
The Original Steps that Led to a Temple They Had at the Bath
We only had about 1.5 hours in Bath.  You could have easily spent a whole day or more there.  We had to get back on the bus at about 5:30 PM for a 2.5 hour bus ride back to London.  The bus we were riding on all day was a nice coach bus.  I don't know why, but for the life of me, I could not stay awake on that bus.  Every time we got on it, I fell asleep.  Oh well, at least I got my rest that day.

When we got back to London and were no longer with our tour group, we decided to have dinner at a pub in the city.  I had a steak and ale pie, which is a common British meal.   I thought it was delicious!  Mark had steak and eggs, well we thought it was steak but then it looked more like pork--we still don't know for sure what it was, but he liked it. 

Steak and Eggs

Steak and Ale Pie
After dinner, we still weren't ready to go back to our hotel yet, so we ended up taking the bus to the Westminster area.  We wanted to see this part of town at night.

Big Ben with the London Eye Ferris Wheel in the Background

Finally, we decided to call it a night.  We saw so many new things today and as cliche as it sounds, memories I will cherish forever!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Day 5 in London 10/5/11

I had booked tickets two days prior for a half day tour to go to Stonehenge and Bath.  We were supposed to meet at 10:30 AM at this hotel in the city called the Grovesnor Victoria.  We even went there the day before to make sure we knew how long it would take us to get there and that we knew where the hotel was.
Grovesnor Victoria Hotel Lobby

We left our hotel at 9 AM and got to the Grovesnor Victoria at about 9:45 AM.  Since we were early, we had a light breakfast at a cafe nearby.  We got back to the Grovesnor at about 10:10 AM.  I  told both the front desk and the concierge that we were waiting for this tour company to pick us up.  We couldn't get a clear and confident answer as to what to do, the front desk said the tour representative "usually comes inside" to get the people, and the concierge said they "come inside" but also suggested that we wait outside.  So at about 10:20 we started to wait outside...and wait.....and wait.  By 10:40 AM, I suggested Mark go back inside and ask the hotel to call the tour company to see if they came yet....and they did!  I have no idea how we missed them, but they said that they came and then they left.  I was so upset!  I figured since I told the front desk and the concierge (and this was a small lobby area) someone should have came out and found us when the tour representative came in!  Grrrr....luckily we were able to re-book the tour for the next day but then I had to re-arrange our schedule and also we woke up early for nothing :(  And I say for nothing because even though we woke up so early, we still weren't starting our day until 11 AM because we wasted all that time waiting for them and nothing came of it.

Since our tour was now rescheduled, we decided to switch our Wednesday and Thursday agendas, so we went on our way to the Westminster area.  Even though we had been to Westminster earlier in our trip, we couldn't tour it because it was Sunday and they were having church services.  So today we got to go into Westminster, which was pretty neat.  There are over 3,300 people buried at Westminster!  It was also kind of cool to see the altar where William and Kate were recently married.  You weren't allowed to take pictures, so I don't have any pictures of the inside.
Outside Westminster--This is the entrance Kate used prior to walking down the aisle
Courtyard at Westminster

After Westminster, we were ready for lunch.  We found this pub up the road by Trafalgar Square.  I had roast chicken and Mark had a roast beef sandwich.  We had a berry crumble with a cream sauce for dessert.  I forgot to take a picture of the berry crumble because it looked so good and we dug right in.  It was delicious!
Roast Beef Sandwich

Roast Chicken

After lunch we walked to Trafalgar Square because we were so close.
Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

National Gallery in Trafalgar Square
Across the Street from Trafalgar Square

After walking around the square, we walked back toward Westminster and passed 10 Downing Street, the home of the Prime Minister.  The road is heavily guarded now for security reasons, so you can't really do anything except for take a picture at the gate.
Downing Street, Home of the Prime Minister

We then stopped by the Churchill War Rooms, which is the bunker where Churchill and his staff stayed during WWII.
Meeting Room Where Churchill Met with His Staff During War. Churchill sat in the Middle Chair in Front of the Map

Churchill's Bedroom in the Bunker
The Actual Door at 10 Downing Street Churchill Walked Through His First Day as Prime Minster
 We headed back to our hotel on the earlier side today.  Our plan was to go back to the hotel, rest for an hour or two, then go to the Westfield Mall by the Shepherd's Bush tube stop.  Apparently, this is the 2nd largest mall in all of Europe.  They had a lot of cool restaurants there with a lot of outdoor seating.  The weather was relatively nice, and although we usually aren't outdoor eaters, we decided it would be nice to eat outside.  After browsing our options, we decided to eat at an Italian restaurant.  It was delicious!!!
Appetizer--I think it was an olive tapenade, with sauteed mushrooms and ricotta on top

My Dinner-Fettucine Alfredo with Musrooms

Mark's dinner--Penne with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce
Even though our day didn't turn out as planned, it was a good one!  Looking at all this food now is making me hungry!
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