Have you ever gone on a date by yourself? Booked a table for one? Traveled alone?
When I express that I enjoy doing things alone, people tend to look at me as if I had just sprouted a third arm. In a world obsessed with connection (see the 1 billion worldwide members of Facebook for reference), one does not achieve popularity by expressing that one rejoices in solitude. But then again, not all of us seek popularity…
This week I received some interesting reactions when I told my colleagues that I was planning to go to the theatre alone.
“Why would you want to do that?” they enquired.
“Because I enjoy the theatre.”
“But won’t you feel awkward going alone?” they insinuated.
This is the point when noses tend to crinkle and eyebrows tend to raise as people conclude, “Well, she must just be crazy.”
In defence of my sanity regarding my solo sojourn to the theatre, let me set the stage for you.
At 7pm, my worries from the workday dissipated as I arrived at the National Theatre buzzing with anticipation to see Stories. I had heard about Stories’ reputation for being an intriguing play and managed to nab a discount ticket for it.
I arrived early and sat down next to an elderly gentleman. Because I was alone, I was not otherwise engaged in conversation, so he began to speak to me.
Fast-forward an hour and I had had one of the most rewarding, intellectual, and encouraging conversations of my life. When the play ended, my new friend mused, “I thought Stories [the play] left a bit to be desired in marked contrast to our conversation.” Laughing, I quipped, “We should have skipped Stories and told our own stories instead!”
Our wonderful conversation occurred only because I was alone. If I had been with a friend, the elderly gentleman would never have spoken to me and I would never have come to know him as a brilliant retired lawyer who now works as a day chaplain. He would merely have remained “the elderly gentlemen” to me.
Solitude allows for exquisite interactions with strangers. Solitude opens up your eyes to the people around you who you would otherwise miss and never have the opportunity to know. In light of my experience, I have been thinking about the benefits of being alone, and I would like to share a few more with you.
Being alone gives you time to think.
I recently traveled to Prague alone and wandered the fairytale-esque cobblestone streets by myself. When you walk alone, you are left with one thing: your inner dialogue.
Many people say they find being alone with their thoughts unsettling. In a movie I watched as a child, I remember Kate Hudson’ character asking Anne-Hathaway’s why she ran without listening to music. In repartee, she scoffed: “iPods are for people who can’t be alone with their own thoughts.”
Music and the company of others provides a wonderful mask for your own thoughts. But it is good to take off the mask from time to time and truly reflect on your thoughts. Solitude allows for this.
2. Being alone gives you freedom.
The fiats of others dictate much of our lives. When you are an employee, your boss determines your tasks. When you are a spouse, your better half’s opinion must be taken into account. When you are a friend, your friend’s feelings must be considered.
But when you are alone, the poetic words of William Ernest Henley’s Invictus ring true: “I am the master of my fate.”
In the photograph above, I waltzed across Charles Bridge in Prague simply because I wanted to. Alone in Prague, I saw the sights I desired to see, dined when I was hungry, chose the foods I wanted to try, and went back to my hotel whenever I felt tired. It was oddly liberating to for once not have to take anyone else’s feelings or desires into account. I do not suggest always living life like this (if you did, you would be a rather selfish and miserable person to be around), but having one day of freedom from time to time can be therapeutic.
3. There is always a table for one.
No matter how busy a restaurant is, there is always a table for one. And sometimes that table comes with the most beautiful view in Prague, as pictured above.
If you want to go to a restaurant, but are scared to dine alone, get over it and go. Do not let the fear of other people judging your solitude prevent you from doing something you would enjoy. Do not allow self-consciousness to stop you eating from the plate of life.
And as an added bonus, when you are alone, you get to eat every bite 🙂
And on that note, I shall leave you to your solitude.
Did you hear about the Italian chef who died? He pasta way.
I’ll spare you the rest of my Italy puns (although I have as many as an Italian grocery store has tomatoes) and jump into the story of my time in the Eternal City.
Upon arriving in Rome, Will and I headed to St. Paul’s Outside the Walls of Rome. Having started from St. Paul’s in London, we celebrated the last leg of our journey at St. Paul’s in Rome.
Although less well known than St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Paul’s Outside the Walls of Rome is equally crucial for Christianity. Both St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s are among Rome’s ancient, papal, major basilicas. Roman Emperor Constantine I founded St. Paul’s in 324 A.D. over the burial place of Paul after his martyrdom.
I found this aspect of the basilica very intriguing: it contains portraits of every pope who has ever led the Catholic church. Past popes are illuminated with low lighting, whereas a bright light shines upon the current pope.
To jubilate completing our journey from St. Paul’s to St. Paul’s, Will and I feasted Italian style. I chose cacio e pepe (a simple dish composed of black pepper, Pecorino Romano cheese, and pasta) because it originated in Rome.
This was Will’s face upon taking his first bite of Tiramisu for dessert!
All was jolly as we navigated our way around Rome until I had a terrifying encounter with a public restroom. Allow me to explain. Public restrooms look like this in Rome.
I paid to enter, the door opened, and I walked inside. Perfectly normal, right? Just wait. As soon as I walked in, the door slid shut with a bang and locked. I looked around warily and noticed that the bathroom was really wet. Then a creepy voice boomed: “You have three minutes. Then the door will open. If you do not leave rapidly, the door will close, and the entire bathroom will be soaked in cleaning fluid.”
Oh dear! Not only would I be exposed to the world if I took longer than three minutes, but also there was the possibility of getting locked in the bathroom and soaked with questionable fluid! Needless to say, my Rome bathroom experience was the most anxiety provoking bathroom experience I have ever had. I resolved to just wait in the future.
The next day’s dawn took us to the Vatican Museum to witness one of the most impressive art collections in the world.
Pope Julius II founded the Vatican Museums in the early 16th century. The Vatican displays works from the immense collection amassed by popes across the centuries, including renowned Roman sculptures, Renaissance art masterpieces, and the incomparable Sistine Chapel.
The Sistine Chapel with its magnificent ceiling by Michelangelo draws over 6 million visitors every year. In an effort to maintain peace in the Sistine Chapel, photography is banned–a decision I wholeheartedly condone. In lieu, I will share with you a painting from the rooms surrounding the Sistine Chapel.
Raphael painted The School of Athens in 1509-1511. Hailed as “Raphael’s masterpiece,” it is one of my favourite paintings because it represents Philosophy and depicts some of the greatest thinkers to ever live, including Plato and Aristotle (the two middle figures). Seeing it was an apt way to conclude our time in the Vatican.
As we left the Vatican, we passed the normal Swiss Guard, but also something a bit more intimidating.
In recent years, Rome has made significant efforts to increase security. Ubiquitous soldiers with machine guns are a bit unnerving, but to its credit, Rome has not suffered a terrorist attack, unlike similarly large European cities, such as Paris.
One downside of Rome’s increased security is massive queues. Sites like the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Colosseum feel like Disneyland during summer vacation. On our third day in Rome, to avoid the python-esque queues at St. Peter’s Basilica, we woke before the sun crept its way across the sky and lined up in the wee hours of the morning.
Originally completed in 349 AD and rebuilt in 1626, St. Peter’s Basilica lies at the heart of Vatican City and is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic shrines. It is the largest church in the world, and tradition holds that it was built on the burial site of St. Peter.
Will and I were very fortunate to go on an archeological tour underneath St. Peter’s Basilica, which allowed us to see the tomb of St. Peter and the Necropolis. If you get one thing out of this blog post, let it be this as a recommendation. I was not allowed to take photographs, so my words will have to suffice: the archeological tour is enlightening and astounding.
Now that I have shared with you my best Rome secret, I will move on to slightly less mind boggling nuggets of wisdom.
Rome is hot. If you have skin like mine that shrieks and turns a defiant tomato red upon seeing the sun, bring a hat.
Will and I primarily explored Rome in the early morning and evening for two reasons. First, this allowed us to escape the midday heat. And second, it helped us cope with the fact that Rome has become a tourist attraction. Queues abound, tourist buses pollute the air, and street vendors who are not even Italian sell useless rubbish everywhere.
“Get your selfie sticks!”
“Napkins with Pope Francis’ face on them!”
“Tours of the Vatican that include St. Peter’s Basilica complimentary!”
Well, thanks a lot for the complimentary St. Peter’s Basilica visit but I just so happen to know that visiting it is free!
For those of you planning to a trip to Rome in the future, be wary of people trying to swindle you. In other parts of Italy like Trieste, I do not think anyone tried to rip me off, but in Rome sellers frequently prey upon tourists.
On a happier note, two of the most iconic sites in Rome, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, are definitely worth one’s time.
Built under Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD, the Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built and could hold approximately 80,000 spectators. With its rich history of hosting gladiatorial contests, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology, I had one happy history nerd on my hands.
His smile only grew as we roamed through the Roman Forum.
The Roman Forum provides a glimpse into what life would have been like at the height of the Roman Empire. The Forum was essentially Rome’s city centre.
After exploring the ancient side of Rome, Will and I entered a more modern edifice: a cafe. In Italy, I noticed a major cultural difference: there are no take away coffees. Although coffee is extremely popular in Italy and any host worth his salt will lavishly inquire of his guest “cappacino?” an absurd number of times, Italians do not walk around carrying to go coffee cups. A ubiquitous sight in other major cities like London and New York, the rush hour coffee cup craze simply does not exist in Rome.
People prefer to sit at a cafe and drink their coffee leisurely, or, if they are in a hurry, they will sweep into a coffee shop, order an espresso and down it with a single sip flourish at the counter.
Motorbikes make up another key aspect of Italian culture.
Motorbikes are everywhere in Italy. Whilst trying to take a photograph of a national monument, I inadvertently captured the essence of Rome: a motorbike wizzing in front of a glorious old building, new and old juxtaposed together, buzzing with life.
This brings me to our final night in Rome, upon which we patronised the opera.
We saw La Traviata, an Italian opera by Verdi based on the love and loss of the leading lady, Violetta. We had a truly marvellous time.
In other countries, opera can feel bourgeoisie and exclusive. In contrast, in Italy attending opera is as common as attending the cinema. We had a myriad of opera houses to choose from, bought our tickets for a reasonable price, sat in an audience replete with old and young alike, and were even treated to a free pasta buffet upon arriving early. If opera was like this in other countries, I think it would appeal to more people.
All in all, seeing an Italian opera was the perfect finale for our journey. We delighted in the places visited, the time spent together, and all that we learned. And with that, I shall bid you arrivederci 🙂
Greetings! Please do forgive my absence as of late. There’s this little beast called a masters dissertation deadline, and it has been nipping at my heels lately.
Today I shall escape into sweet reminiscence about a recent journey to Trieste.
Trieste is a small city and seaport on the Adriatic sea in northeastern Italy. It lies at the crossroads of Latin, Slavic, and Germanic cultures, and has a fascinating history. Trieste was one of the oldest parts of the Habsburg Monarchy, belonging to it from 1382 until 1918. The Habsburg Monarchy dominated Europe for decades, and its ruler was often elected Holy Roman Emperor. As a prosperous seaport, Trieste flourished as the fourth largest city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Trieste also played an important role in the struggle between Eastern and Western blocs after the Second World War.
I witnessed Trieste’s complicated history through its architectural juxtaposition. Trieste’s architecture displays typical Italian features, yet also glitters with the opulence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Everywhere you look in Trieste looms a stunning, decadent edifice. No matter how mundane their present function (such as grocery store or phone shop), the buildings gleam with extravagant gold accents and grand entrances.
After arriving in Trieste, Will and I had our first encounter with a local, our B&B host, Diego. Diego runs a tiny family-owned and operated B&B called Area 39 and is possibly the most energetic and hospitable person I have ever met. Despite our unexpectedly early arrival, Diego welcomed us amiably, offering cappuccinos and homemade crepes. I gladly accepted and soon learned that despite my newfound rapport with Diego, some things were lost in translation.
After having three large nutella crepes, I felt rather stuffed. At this point Diego asked me if I wanted another, and I replied, “I’m good, thanks!” He apparently took this to mean, “Another crepe would be good, thanks!” because I was soon served up another nutella crepe. I felt bad that he had put the effort into making it and did not want to waste it, so I forced myself to eat it despite feeling like a balloon about to pop. I whispered to Will, “I am no longer a human being. I am a sack of nutella.”
To work off the crepes, we set out to explore the canals and coastline of Trieste.
Trieste still functions as a key port, and we saw four battleships from different nations docked in the harbour. Will rejoiced at the sight of a British battleship and declared that he now felt very safe 🙂
What is a walk along an Italian harbour without gelato? Tragic. Hence, in an effort to ward off tragedy, we indulged in our first gelato of the trip.
High blood sugar fuelled our journey up the hill to Castello di Maramare, a grandiose castle perched on a cliff overlooking the sea.
The castle was built in 1856 for Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian and his bride, Charlotte of Belgium. The Archduke designed the interior of the castle to remind him of his travels all around the world.
I was exceedingly envious of the view from his desk!
Every room in the house looked out to the sea, making the dwellers constantly yearn to set sail for new lands.
After completing our house hunting castle exploring, we couldn’t resist going out for pizza. Two styles of pizza compete for dominance in Italy: Neapolitan pizza (originating in Naples) and Roman pizza (originating in Rome). Neapolitan pizza is characterised by a fluffy, chewy crust and simple, fresh ingredients. Roman pizza tends to have a crispier, thinner crust and is traditionally served in a rectangular shape.
Can you tell which kind of pizza Trieste favours? Neapolitan. On a side note, wine costs 2.50 euros in Italy. The cost of water? 2 euros. Needless to say, we went with the wine.
Our second day in Trieste coincided with Easter Sunday. As a staunchly Catholic country, Italy knows how to celebrate Easter. We saw Italians wearing their spiffiest attire and carrying around giant chocolate Easter eggs.
On Easter, we attended mass at Trieste’s oldest cathedral, and it was quite an experience.
I have never seen a church service conducted in a more elaborate and ostentatious manner. Incense burned intoxicatingly, the Bible glittered, and the bishop performed at least four costume changes during the service! I found the pomp and circumstance charming for an occasion like Easter, although on normal days, I prefer a more simple service.
One of the benefits of attending church at the oldest cathedral was the view overlooking the Italian coastline and Adriatic sea.
We later experienced the joy of attempting to take a bus in Italy. You see, buses are rather sporadic in Italy. And by sporadic, I mean a timetable exists, but the only time you can guarantee the bus won’t arrive is the time the timetable claims it will arrive. Hence, you just have to stand at the bus stop willing the bus to arrive at some point. And when it does arrive, forget the outlandish idea that you might actually arrive at your final destination on time.
After we managed to board a bus (which left twenty minutes before the timetable claimed it would arrive) and rode along for a few minutes, we were surprised to find the bus randomly pull over and stop. Why? The bus driver wanted to eat his lunch, so he stopped the bus to eat his lunch… with all of his passengers still on the bus! We sat there. We waited. He eventually finished his lunch. The bus ride recommenced. Italians.
One delightful aspect of Italy is finding amazing deals on leather goods. I picked up a red leather handbag and only had to drag Will into two shops to find it 😉
With my souvenir and happy memories in tow, Will and I left the charismatic and tranquil city of Trieste for the bustle of the eternal city.
Why, hello there. I thought I’d share some sentiments about Slovenia with you. After visiting Bavaria, Will and I took a train through the Austrian Alps to Slovenia. The train journey was majestic. The Austrian alps may not have resonated with the sound of music, but they stunned with the glory of nature.
Upon arriving in the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana, I found the city more mysterious by day, but more beautiful by night.
By day, I was struck by the sight of once beautiful, but now abandoned and dilapidated buildings. It reminded me of the words from Proverbs 31: “Beauty is fleeting.” During the communist period under which Slovenia was a part of Yugoslavia, the government commissioned a myriad of elaborate buildings (some would say vanity projects). When Yugoslavia violently dissolved and communism collapsed in Slovenia, there was no longer an incentive to maintain such decadent and expensive buildings. Hence, they decayed over time.
By night, the city possesses a haunting charm. Perhaps the magic lies with the dragons that line the bridges. Or perhaps the night’s darkness heightens the drama of the colorful edifices illuminated by ornate street lamps.
On our first evening in Ljubljana, we meandered around the city and discovered a plethora of bridges. Ljubljana is famous for its bridges, especially Triple Bridge, which is exactly what it sounds like: three bridges next to each other. There is something rather charming about the frivolity of building three pedestrian bridges right next to each other. So often these days things are done solely for utility, so to see something done solely for beauty is reassuring.
It began to rain, but we didn’t let that hinder our long walk through the city.
For dinner, we tried Prekmurski Bograč, a traditional Slovenian stew composed of pork, beef, venison, potatoes, onions, and garlic. The restaurant Güjžina served the stew to us in what looked like a small witches’ cauldron, which was actually quite genius because it allowed for a candle to be kept underneath the food to keep it warm.
On our second day in Slovenia, we boarded an old coach bus to Lake Bled.
Upon arriving in Lake Bled, we immediately knew the long journey was worth it.
Lake Bled holds the distinction of having the only island in Slovenia, and with its backdrop of an old church on an islet, a medieval castle perched on a rocky cliff, and the Julian Alps, Lake Bled’s loveliness abounds.
Lake Bled is one of the most iconic and historic places in Slovenia. In the 19th century, it was visited by hydropathy enthusiasts. In the 20th century, Lake Bled functioned as a prominent health resort in Austria-Hungary. After World War II, it became one of the most important state protocol residences. Hence, over the centuries, many people have felt the irresistible call of Lake Bled’s beauty. Count me in among the wooed.
Although Lake Bled is stunning, it can also be confounding. We went for a hike and encountered nebulous signs that did more to confuse us than help us.
Ah, I see, I am supposed to turn right and left simultaneously!
The hike proved itself to be worth the confusion when we stumbled across this view.
The mountains next to Lake Bled play host to ski slopes during the winter, but we visited in spring and, thus, found the slopes melting and deserted. We stood atop a framed platform that normally serves as a lookout point for skiers before they plummet down the mountain.
After trudging down the ski slope through the melting snow, we visited a cafe to try Lake Bled’s most famous delicacy: Bled Cream Cake (“kremšnita”).
After a day spent hiking around the lake, my face sported a speckling of new freckles and my hiking boots displayed mud as a harbinger of new adventures that had been had. Freckles and boots in tow, we headed back to Ljubljana.
When I first arrived in Slovenia, I expected it to be difficult to navigate only knowing a few basic Slovene phrases. However, throughout my time there, I found Slovenia to be remarkably accessible for an English speaker. Most Slovenians speak English, and it is common for menus and maps to include an English translation alongside the Slovene text. English music is ubiquitous in Slovenia as well.
On our last day, we visited The National Museum of Slovenia. The museum’s claim to fame is that it holds the world’s oldest musical instrument: a 60,000 year old Neanderthal flute. It is at least 10,000 years older than other discovered flutes and provides evidence that the Neanderthals were developed beings capable of sophisticated artistic expression.
Lastly, I desired to try Potica, a traditional holiday cake in Slovenia. I had been looking forward to trying Slovenia’s traditional rolled dough cake with various fillings, such as nuts, and I waited until my last day to sample it.
Here is my excitement at the prospect of being about to try potica.
Here is the result of trying potica.
Rather dry and disappointing. Oh well. You win some, and you lose some, I suppose.
Despite the food being hit and miss, I found Slovenia to be an intriguing country. Slovenia seems eager to prove itself. It takes great pride in its identity as an independent nation and as a member of the EU. For instance, it displays the EU flag almost everywhere alongside the Slovenian flag. This is very different to other European countries. For instance, even before Brexit, one would rarely see Britain hang an EU flag alongside the Union Jack. Slovenia sees its EU membership as a mark of accomplishment. The EU flag represents the idea that “we’ve made it.”
Since gaining independence in 1991, Slovenia is rapidly changing and developing, but my enduring image of it will always be Lake Bled, the natural oasis that has been there throughout all of Slovenia’s complicated past and will remain there no matter what its future holds.
Hello, hello. I am finally done with procrastinating studying for my masters exams, so I have time to write!
I recently discovered what indubitably must be the best form of procrastination. It took me 19 years of formal education to discover procrasticleaning. “What is procrasticleaning?” my dear reader asks. Well, its brilliance lies in the fact that you are doing something productive–cleaning–when you should actually be doing something else. Hence, you can justify your productive procrasticleaning far more easily to yourself than unproductive forms of procrastinating, such as watching tv or reading a magazine. See, I told you. Best form of procrastination.
It’s bad when other people begin to notice though…
Will arrived home from work one night, looked around the house suspiciously, and inquired: “The house looks very tidy, Janelle. Have you been procrasticleaning again?”
A “maybe” sheepishly emanated from my lips.
Do not worry though, despite my procrasticleaning, I studied diligently for my exams, finished them, and am living in a remarkably clean house to boot 😉
In other news, I thought I’d share with you about a train journey Will and I embarked upon. Old-fashioned train travel holds a romantic allure for us, so we went on a journey through Europe traveling solely by train.
The first leg of our journey took us to a little Bavarian village called Füssen. Füssen sits deeply south in Germany on the edge of the Alps that separate Austria from Germany.
With a population of 15,000 and chocolate-box style houses galore, Füssen’s charm lies in its serenity and idyllic beauty.
Besides its natural beauty, Füssen’s claim to fame rests with being the closest town to Schloss Neuschwanstein, the castle nestled in the Bavarian Alps that looks like it was plucked straight from your favourite fairy tale. Sleeping Beauty’s Disneyland castle is actually based on Schloss Neuschwanstein.
Our first glimpse of Schloss Neuschwanstein came from the top of a mountain I ended up climbing in my best hiking attire: pearls, riding boots, and a red handbag. When Will convinced me to go for a “short walk,” we clearly had different definitions of what a “short walk” would entail…
Whatever perturbation I may have felt about my “short walk” turning into a snowy mountain hike melted away when I saw this view:
In the distance, we could see a snowy Schloss Neuschwanstein in its resplendent glory.
On our first night in Germany, we noticed something odd about the hotel’s bed. It contained two tiny comforters instead of one large one.
It is apparently common practice in Germany for everyone to have his or her own comforter. Will didn’t fancy it, insinuating that it wasn’t “romantic.” I, on the other hand, rejoiced because I was free from the constant threat of the covers being stolen in the middle of the night.
The next day, we set out to go for a real hike. I was fully informed and properly clothed this time. We took the Tegelberg Cable Car up to the top of the Bavarian Alps.
At a height of 2,150 meters (7,054 feet), the village below seemed minuscule.
Upon reaching the top of the mountain peak, we hiked through the snowy Alps.
Due to slippery trails, we were warned to be very careful. Will teased me for walking slowly as he plowed forward. Then he slipped and fell on his bum. I stifled my laugher and tried to appear sympathetic. A few minutes later, despite the ground getting even more slippery, I still had not fallen and triumphantly declared: “This is a perfect example of the tortoise and the hare! I may be slow, but at least I haven’t fallen.”
Ten second later, I slipped and fell. Will roared rancorously, and I couldn’t help but dissolve into laughter myself. The timing was too perfect.
Walking through the Alps, I discovered that Germans take their sports quite seriously and really like their hiking gear. And lots of it…
I felt underdressed in comparison. Maybe I need to get anti-reflective sport sunglasses, walking sticks, a florescent jacket, quick-drying trousers, a hiking backpack, skis, neon green snow shoes, and a thermal beanie? Or maybe not…
We saw a variety of German men with these huge backpacks.
I wondered what the dickens they could possibly be carrying up the mountain. And then came enlightenment: paragliders. Many locals partake in paragliding.
Locals take the cable car up the mountain with their paragliding parachutes tucked into their massive backpacks. When they get to the top, they carefully unfurl their parachutes, straighten the strings, then jump off the mountain and end up someplace like this:
I was curious to discover that the paragliders are not just extreme sport-loving young whippersnappers. There were numerous men in their sixties and older jumping off the mountain as well.
Another common practice is sunbathing in the snow on the top of a mountain.
I have come to the conclusion that Germans are mad, and there is no age limit.
However mad the Germans may be, we did fancy Germany immensely.
Will and I concluded our time in Bavaria in best way possible: indulging in the local cuisine.
I dined on schnitzel, a traditional German dish where meat is pounded out thin, breaded, and fried, with a glass of German Riesling. Will opted for the weisswurst, a traditional Bavarian sausage made from minced veal and pork back bacon and weissbier, a German wheat beer.
And as you know, I am never one to turn down dessert 🙂
It may have rained that day, but I wasn’t going to let anything rain on my apfelstudel parade.
Thank you for a splendid time, Germany.
So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night.
I hate to go and leave this pretty sight.
I shall pick up next time with the next leg of our journey: Slovenia. I hope you have a marvellous week.
Why hello there. Guess what? I’ve been back in England for half a year now. As Oscar Wilde quipped in An Ideal Husband,
“Oh, I love London society! It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what society should be.” 😉
I recently celebrated a birthday. Whether my increasing years lead me toward beautiful idiocy or brilliant lunacy is yet to be determined…
I find that birthdays are rather nostalgic times. On birthdays, we yearn for the simple things we enjoyed in childhood. For instance, a pizookie. Allow me to explain. A pizookie is a giant deep-dish chocolate chip cookie baked at a Californian restaurant called BJs. My childhood birthdays always included a trip to BJs for a birthday pizookie.
But when one moves to another country, one often finds that traditions become harder to uphold because fundamental components of them (such as pizookies) simply do not exist. What is one to do? As Tim Gunn from Project Runway oft professed, “Make it work.” In this case, Will and I found a recipe for a pizookie, and he baked a birthday pizookie for me at home.
Sometimes old traditions are best when made anew. To paraphrase Alexander Graham Bell, when one door–perhaps an old tradition–closes, if we spend so much time mourning the closed door, we may not notice the new door that has just opened.
My new door contained a homemade pizookie and a trip to one of my favorite places: the theatre.
Will and I saw Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. I last saw Phantom of the Opera when I was twelve years old at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre with Mom. It was sweet to reminisce and also introduce the show to Will.
Phantom of the Opera emphasises redemption. In response to the young lover’s plea to show compassion, the Phantom justifies his refusal with the snarl, “The world showed no compassion to me!”
It takes Christine’s kindness to redeem the Phantom from his misanthropic scorn and show him that compassion exists in the world.
She sings to him,
“Pitiful creature of darkness,
What kind of life have you known?
God gave me courage to show you,
You are not alone…”
Feeling valued, understood, and cared about can radically change a life. We should all be more aware of our impact on others, and the power we hold to redeem or condemn them.
On a final note, I will share a funny little tale with you. Whenever I start to feel like I belong in England, something tends to happen to make me feel like a foreigner in a strange land again. In this episode of “An American in London,” Janelle hunts for relish.
It all began when I decided to make In-In-Out style hamburgers last weekend. The secret sauce recipe calls for relish; hence, I set out to acquire some. I walked into Sainsbury’s (a large British market) and headed to the sauces aisle.
This claimed to be relish, but was certainly not relish.
The hunt continued…
These claimed to be pickles, but were certainly not pickles.
Back to the drawing board.
Aha! I discovered a source of error: the main ingredient for relish, pickles, are not called “pickles” in England. They are called “gherkins.” Perhaps this is what lead me astray. I began hunting for some kind of saucy gherkins.
And… I struck out. This was the only other container in the store labeled “gherkins.” Alas.
But I had one final hope. I walked resolutely to the “International Foods” section. You can tell a lot about a country by what food it deems worthy of the International Foods section.
British markets contain a decent selection of “Traditional Asian” foods.
They also contain a ridiculous amount of Indian food.
Miles upon miles of curry sauces. I have learned that Indian food is to Brits as Mexican food is to Americans. Brits tend to not fully understand Indian culture as Americans tend to not fully understand Mexican culture, but Brits adore Indian food as much as Americans adore Mexican food.
After weaving my way through aisle upon aisle of Indian food, I arrived at the “American Foods” section.
Or rather, shelf. Tiny end of aisle shelf. I’m glad Brits have distilled American taste down to junk food, beef jerky and Snapple…
Although I jest, I am grateful for the little American foods section and the red, white, and blue color scheme shelves. It functions as a fun little reminder of home and supplies me with one essential item for celebrating Thanksgiving in London: pumpkin pie puree.
I left Sainsbury’s that day without any relish, but I had the chance to relish both my past and present. Life in England is never going to be the same as life in America, so I shall adopt the best British traditions whilst holding on to my favorite American ones.
As C.S. Lewis once said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” I wholeheartedly agree.
Books shall always be my first love. As a matter of fact, I have a Booket List–a list of books I desire to read before I die. Something that thrills me nearly as much as reading books is wandering through bookshops. Whenever I walk into one of those glorious labyrinths glittering with endless stories, I have the hardest time convincing myself to leave.
As evidence of my love affair with books, here is the transcript of a text conversation Will and I had a year ago:
Janelle: “I’m currently at a bookshop by myself. This is very dangerous. It means there’s no one to prevent me from staying here all day! Muahahahahahahaha. I just have to keep chanting, ‘I will not buy all the books, I will not buy all the books’ to myself.”
–Two hours later–
Janelle: “Update: In a miraculous feat of self-control, I purchased the gift I came for, then dragged my bibliophile self out of the bookshop.”
Will: “I love you so much.”
He thankfully fancies books just as much as I do 🙂
One of my life goals is to visit as many exquisite bookshops as possible ranging from near to far, small to large, new to old. If you would like to book a trip around the world of bookshops with me, read on.
Favourite Bookshops Around the World:
El Ateneo Gran Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina
El Ateneo Gran Splendid was originally built as a theatre called Teatro Grand Splendid in 1919. The theatre had a seating capacity of 1,050 and staged a variety of performances, including appearances by the legendary tango artist Carlos Gardel. In 2000, it was converted into a bookshop through which a million people wander each year.
What I appreciate most about El Ateneo Grand Splendid is its desire to honour its history. For instance, when the owners converted the theatre into a bookshop, they keep the theatre boxes intact as well as the ceiling, ornate carvings, and crimson stage curtains. Despite the changes, the building still retains the grandeur of its theatre past.
2. Shakespeare and Co., Paris, France
Named after a bookstore frequented by Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce during the 1920s, Shakespeare and Co. has become equally legendary. Opened in 1951 by the American George Whitman – and run by his daughter Sylvia since his death in 2011 – it became a gathering place for Beat Generation writers like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. From the start, Whitman allowed travelling artists and writers to lodge at the shop, which is also a lending library. The words of past authors and zeal of past journeyers haunt Shakespeare and Co.’s walls.
3. Hatchard’s, London, England
The oldest bookshop in the United Kingdom,Hatchard’s was founded in 1797 by John Hatchard. It was founded with a collection of merchandise bought from Simon Vandenbergh, a bookseller of the 18th century. It has a reputation for attracting high-profile authors and holds three Royal Warrants.
I delight in Hatchard’s elegance and evident joy in books.
Hatchard’s places a signpost in each section to introduce the category of the kind of books one might find there.
4. The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, California
The Last Bookstore is California’s largest used and new bookshop, having opened in 2005 in a downtown loft. It has grown since then to 22,000 square feet, a softly lit labyrinthine collection of books and records, with space for literary, musical and theatrical events. The Last Bookstore encourages selling and trading of books as part of a mission to “keep the paper and ink book business alive.”
The bookstore’s downstairs is sufficiently stunning, but the best treasures are kept upstairs. Bibliophiles on the mezzanine level are greeted by hanging books, suspended in flight as they erupt from a bookcase. Further on, there are tunnels built from books, hidden side rooms with more than 100,000 used books for sale, and freestanding sculptures.
5. Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy
Translating as “high water bookshop,” Libreria Acqua Alta opened around the dawn of the millennium and has had to deal with flooding from the nearby Venetian canals ever since. The owner frequently moves his books from the floor to bathtubs and gondolas to protect them. During floods, people wade along the streets and buildings are boarded up, but the bookshop continues to thrive.
I left this one for last because I have not visited it yet and always like to have something to aspire to 🙂
After finishing a particularly good book when I was 12, I remarked: “It’s infuriating when books have the audacity to end!” Not much has changed a decade later. Books must end, as the sun must set. The glory of bookshops rests in the fact that they never fail to provide more books, more adventures, more insights, more joy.
I begin today with the opening lines of Mark Antony’s speech from Julius Caesar because, like Shakespeare, I have been inspired by the Romans.
I recently visited the ancient Roman city of Bath in Somerset, England. The city became a Roman spa known by the Latin name Aquae Sulis in 60 AD when the Romans discovered hot springs and built baths and a temple in the valley of the River Avon.
Excavation and historical preservation efforts have ensured that the Roman baths are remarkably well preserved, giving one amazing insight into how the Romans lived.
Archaeological evidence shows that the site of the Roman bath’s main spring was dedicated as a shrine to the goddess Sulis, whom the Romans identified with Minerva.
When the Romans arrived in Britain in 43 AD and discovered the natural hot spring– something they had never seen before–they were astonished and believed the spring must have originated from the gods. Hence, they attributed divine properties to both the water and the goddess of the temple.
The Romans wrote messages scratched onto metal to Minerva and tossed them into the baths. Known as “cursed tablets,” the messages were used by people to accuse others of wronging them; they sought justice by naming the suspect on a tablet to be read by the goddess.
Roman doctors prescribed “bathing in the hot waters” as a form of treatment for maladies like arthritis.
The Romans also drank from the waters, believing them to have health benefits, such as curing illness and rejuvenating youth.
The Romans were not entirely erroneous. Spa water analyses have shown that the spring water contains a remarkable amount of minerals that sport health benefits.
Will and I had the chance to taste the water for ourselves!
On our way out, we could not refrain from stopping for scones and crumpets at the magnificent 18th century Pump Room.
As I sat listening to the live pianist, drinking my spa water and nibbling on a crumpet, I imagined myself in a Jane Austen novel waiting for a gentleman to ask for my dance card.
Speaking of Jane Austen, she is another one of Bath’s claims to fame. Jane Austen set two of her six published novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, in Bath and made the city her home from 1801 to 1806.
In Northanger Abbey, Austen writes: ‘They arrived in Bath. Catherine was all eager delight; her eyes were here, there, everywhere, as they approached its fine and striking environs, and afterwards drove through those streets which conducted them to the hotel. She was come to be happy, and she felt happy already.”
Jane often walked along the Royal Crescent, a sweeping crescent of 30 Grade I Listed terrace houses and one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in England. Promenading along the Royal Crescent was a very fashionable thing to do in order to be seen by other members of high society.
We satiated our grumbling stomaches with a visit to Sally Lunn’s Bakery.
Sally Lunn’s Bakery is the oldest house in Bath (c. 1482) and serves the most famous local delicacy, the original ‘Sally Lunn’ Bun. According to legend, Sally Lunn, a French refugee, arrived in 1680 and established her bakery. Today Sally Lunn’s still serves a plethora of buns and allows guests to peek into Sally Lunn’s original kitchen.
Will found that he did not fit particularly well into the house built over 500 years ago…
I, on the other hand, fit perfectly.
We rounded off our trip to Bath by climbing 212 stairs to the top of Bath Abbey.
Founded in the 7th century, Bath Abbey is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in England. The Perpendicular Gothic period is the third historical division of English Gothic architecture, and is so-called due to its emphasis on vertical lines.
The first King of all England, King Edgar, was crowned in Bath Abbey in 973. The service performed at Bath Abbey set the precedent for the coronation of all future Kings and Queens of England, including Queen Elizabeth II.
The most intriguing part of our abbey tour was learning about how the bells are rung and getting to stand in the rafters of the cathedral next to the bells (with our hands over our ears) as the bells rang.
And finally, we climbed on the rooftops of Bath Abbey…
This view was our reward:
Now that I am done telling you the tale of my adventure, I think it’s time for a bath…
Why hello there, long time, no see, er, write… Anyway, since moving to England, I have had a myriad of adventures and a myriad of conundrums. Moving to a foreign country brings unexpected events on an almost daily basis.
For instance, take my battle with acquiring the packages I sent from the US to the UK. My packages got stuck in customs. Alas. In order to prevent them from languishing away in a warehouse somewhere on the coast of England, I called up UPS customer support. An automated British woman’s voice chirped at me: “Please say your package’s tracking number to proceed.” I said my tracking number.
“I’m sorry, I did not catch that. Please repeat your tracking number.” I tried again and received the same annoyingly sanguine response. I knew I articulated the numbers correctly, so I decided that perhaps the problem was my American accent. Hence, I took a deep breath, rallied my spirits, and enunciated my tracking number again, this time in my best British accent. “1-9-5-4-9-4-7-2-5-7-3.” I nervously held my breath.
“Tracking number accepted.” Success!! UPS finally took my tracking number! So there you have it: British UPS Customer Support does not speak American. Good thing I am learning British 😉
In other news, Mom came to visit 🙂 We had a marvellous time exploring Buckingham Palace’s state rooms, sampling fancy chocolates at Harrods (a ludicrously posh store), waltzing down Portobello Road, and simply spending time together.
We also explored The George Inn, the medieval pub I told you about previously. We enjoyed wandering through the pub’s little rooms, imagining ourselves sitting down to share a Sunday Roast dinner with Shakespeare or Dickens, two of the pub’s illustrious patrons.
One highlight of our adventures was taking a boat down the Thames River and witnessing the rare sight of Tower Bridge opening to allow a large sail boat to pass through!
Will’s parents joined us in London for the weekend, and we indulged in each other’s company, visiting Greenwich Park and the Maritime Museum.
My inner theatre nerd gleefully rejoiced as we went to The Globe to see a production of Much Ado About Nothing.
All in all, I am relishing life in England despite the minor setbacks that come with moving to a foreign land and trying to figure out its idiosyncrasies. I shall keep you updated 🙂 Now I’m off for a spot of tea and some readings for my masters. As the Brits would say, cheers!
In light of moving to England tomorrow, I have a confession to make: I am and always will be a Californian, but I am the worst Californian you will ever meet.
For instance, I don’t fancy the sun—after all, have you seen my skin? I don’t tan; I tomato. Additionally, I am not keen on beach days—a sacrilegious statement in most Californians’ eyes! I enjoy walking on the beach, but spending all day there lying out in the sun and returning home with sand in unmentionable places? No, thank you. Furthermore, I do not own a single pair of blue jeans—the quintessential wardrobe staple of any self-respecting laid back Californian. Lastly, I have vanquished the words “like,” “totally,” “rad,” “awesome,” and “cool” from my vocabulary. Based on this evidence, I must be the worst Californian alive.
It’s a good thing I’m moving to London, a glorious place replete with rainy days and words like “splendid” and “brilliant” galore. It also doesn’t hurt that in England, for the first time I am not the palest person in the room 😉 Brits are clearly my people.
As a way of wrapping up my California “One Mores” list and looking forward to the adventures that await in England, this terrible Californian and soon-to-be Londoner thought she would share a few of her favorite lesser-known places in her hometown, Los Angeles, and a few of the places she intends to visit in London.
La Brea Tar Pits
2. The Getty Villa
3. Du-par’s Restaurant and Bakery
Portobello Road Market
2. Churchill War Rooms
3. The George Inn
When I ask people about sites in their hometowns, they often report that they have not been to any because they are “too touristy.” How tragically prideful it is to not visit intriguing places solely because one does not want to appear like a tourist.
I am a strong proponent of “being a tourist” in one’s own hometown, except I call the act by a different name. I call it living one’s life. Jackie Robinson once said, “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion, you’re wasting your life.”
I constantly remind myself that someday isn’t a day of the week. If you do not do the things you always yearned to do and see the places you’ve wistfully imagined now, you may never.
I may be the worst Californian you will ever meet, but at least upon leaving California, I can say with assurance that I endeavored to do all California has to offer.
Wherever you live, I hope you do the same.
And now I am off to London for the myriad adventures that await. You are welcome to join me anytime 🙂