A Day in Bath, UK


At the baths

Taking a very brief break from London, we recently headed to the city of Bath for the day. While Darren had encouraged an overnight trip, I was confident that we could make a reasonable dent in Bath’s offerings in a day, especially given that it’s a mere 90 minutes by train from London. I may have been mistaken, under normal circumstances.

The Abbey & Baths

In addition to being home to ancient Roman baths, Bath also offers natural hot springs, beautiful architecture, loads of museums, and is one of the most picturesque cities in England. The volume and mix of museums is impressive; from the Jane Austen museum to the Herschel Astronomy Museum to the Postal Museum.

Our first stop after arriving in Bath was the Roman Baths, the building of which started in 60-70 AD and evolved throughout the site’s use to the present.  The wikipedia  Roman Baths page is definitely worth a read for more background).

I think my favorite part were the curse tablets found at the site. On these small tablets,  one would convey a curse upon another who had wronged them. Many of these related to stealing offenses and the tablets would, in some cases, list all of the persons suspected. These tablets were thrown into one of the pools so the Gods could act upon them.

For Drinks Only

We then headed out in pursuit of lunch, dropping in at Bath’s smallest pub, The Coeur de Lion. Lured by the promise of local Abbey Ales and the pub’s lovely front window, we abandoned our original and well thought out plan for lunch at the Lime Lounge.

This, friends, was a mistake. While this pub was a cozy spot to hide from the rain, the food would have qualified as a 1.5 at best if subjected to the rigours of the Quest for Sunday Roast. My fries actually tasted bad! Darren focused on the mash component of his bangers & mash.

Denied at Herschel

Deflated from lunch, we headed to the Herschel Museum of Astronomy. En route there, not a single joke was made about how Herschel discovered Uranus. Really. Unfortunately, when we finally found Herschel’s house, we learned that the museum was closed for the rest of the month. Little did we know, this would not be the only time this happened.

The Jane Austen Centre

We then headed over to the Jane Austen Centre, located near one of the houses that Jane occupied during her lifetime.  The center offers a twice hourly presentation, and while the exhibits were nicely presented, the presentation was by far my favorite part of this museum of sorts. The presentation was largely biographical and talked about Austen’s life and how her family, and especially her seven siblings, are believed to have influenced her writing.  I learned so much!

The Royal Crescent

Heading through lovely, residential areas, we headed towards the Royal Crescent, a row of thirty Georgian houses that have been used as a backdrop in numerous films and is considered one of the finest examples of this sort of architecture in the UK.

Denied at Holburne

Around this time, I started to think that a sticky toffee pudding was necessary, but this was put off to see the Holburne Museum, located on the other side of the river. Our trek through the rain proved pointless as when we arrived giant banners advised us that the gallery would be closed until spring.

It seems to be a commonly held fact among the English that tea fixes everything, so we did the only reasonable thing: go for tea.

Sally Lunn's

A quick google for, “best tea shoppe bath”, brought us to Sally Lunn’s. Located in Bath’s oldest house, this was exactly the sort of place we were looking for. It smells wonderful! Lunn is famous for inventing the aptly named Sally Lunn Bun, which is a variation on the sweet and fluffy Bath Bun.

Naturally, we ordered Sally Lunn buns with our tea and enjoyed them very much. Even before adding jam or clotted cream, the buttery version delivered to me was fantastic.

So much to do...

Spirits were restored, and while we agreed to consider an earlier train back than our planned one around 8pm, we decided to check out another museum en route: The Postal Museum.

The Postal Museum is located in the basement of a post office.  While the staff was helpful, there’s not much to this museum. It’s actually smaller than my flat. While it did have a nifty old machine for perforating stamps that one could play with, the post office cat promised by the visit Bath site was disappointingly Fur Real and not a taxidermied cat with a story. I did enjoy the Queen Mum’s pigeongram (sent via carrier pigeon, really.)  sent in the mid-1980’s celebrating the museum’s opening.

so buttered!

We did the best we could. We’ll have to go back, I think… maybe when more things are open!

I’d definitely go back just for the awesomely buttered Sally Lunn bun.

Things to See When Visiting London, Part II


View from South Bank

Part II has taken me a bit longer than planned. It seems January isn’t really inspiring me to leave the house or encourage guests much!

1. Starting off at Trafalgar Square, you can head into St. Martin in the Fields, where you can do brass rubbings in the crypt.

2. Next up, it’s England, so you have to have tea. While many of the hotels serve high tea, it’s very pricey, so if you’re willing to embrace something a bit less formal while still sconetacular, here are a few suggestions for a casual tea:

Treats in the Window at Bea's

Tea isn’t just about tea. It’s also about scones, clotted cream, jam, and if you’re a tea overachiever, it may mean finger sandwiches and pastries too. Tea overachievement should be reserved for when you don’t have dinner plans.

Liberty

3. Liberty of London: Founded in 1975, this very traditional, yet trendy department store is housed in a Tudor building constructed from timber which had previously constructed two ships, the HMS Impregnable and the HMS Hindustan. (Needless to say, I was surprised to learn this from a sales associate last time I was there!). Liberty is filled with tiny rooms of beautiful things, and it has a mighty haberdashery section, which may be why I consider it a place I would have liked very much to take my grandmaman, but at the same time, it would please my trendiest friend.

4. Ride a London Bus – First seats, Upper deck:  One really can’t come to London without riding a double decker bus. Even if you don’t want to listen to the Smiths the whole time, it’s the most cost efficient way to see London at £2.20 cash or around a pound on your Oyster Card. If sightseeing is your goal, try to board where the route starts, as this will make snagging one of the front seats on the upper desk much easier.

View of Oxford Circus from the 55 bus

My vote for choicest routes and the sights you’ll see:

1. The number 11: picks up behind Liverpool Street Station:

  • Bank of England
  • St. Pauls
  • Trafalgar Square
  • Big Ben
  • Parliament
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Victoria Station Area
  • King’s Road, Chelsea

Alternatively, you can take the 9 or the 15, both of which have “heritage routes” on which the old Routemaster buses run. The heritage routes are abbreviated routes, focused in central London

2. The 15 starts at Tower Hill, next to the Tower of London:

  • St. Pauls
  • Trafalgar Square

3. The 9 goes from High Street Kensington to Trafalgar Square:

  • Victoria & Albert Museum
  • Harrods: The food hall is dreamy, and the customer service throughout is fantastic.
  • Hyde Park
  • Green Park
  • Picadilly, and Picadilly Circus
  • Trafalgar Square

5. A walk around Hyde Park’s Serpentine:

The Serpentine in Summer

My love of walking around the token, big grassy space in a city may be due to living in major cities for the last 16 years, but I really do enjoy it.

If it’s Christmas time, the Hyde Park Christmas Fair runs through the month of December, and is worth a visit as well. This picture was taken in the summer which is probably the best time to go, weatherwise. There’s a nice little cafe at the eastern end where you can sit outside and have a drink, or there are plenty of folding lawn chairs for rent all around the lake.

*Special thanks to my friend Elisabeth, during whose recent visit a number of these pictures were taken.

Undercooked Cake = Fail


FAIL.

We were invited to a Russian New Year party, and the invite suggested that guests of Russian heritage bring something Russian.

We lack Russian heritage, but we decided to bring something reminiscent of a beloved Russian export: Tetris! in cake form!

I used my new 10″ square pan and this chocolate cake recipe from BBC Good Food, not only because it not only looked good but it was a good match for the chosen pan. All the comments mentioned how big the finished layer was, and they weren’t kidding.

At 1650, The alarm went off for the oven. I thought it was due out at 1730, but I tend to easily lose track, so the timer is much more reliable than I am. I checked that it was done using a cake tester, which came out clean, and removed the cake.

After that, I mixed up some chocolate buttercream while waiting for my behemoth cake to cool. Unfortunately, the cake takes an age to cool because it’s so big, and I’m an impatient person, as I tried to take it out of the pan too early and minorly cracked it. oops.

As impatience rules supreme, I put it in the fridge to help the cooling process, once the pan was cool enough to handle. Much clock watching followed. It took more than four hours.

My second attempt to remove it from the pan revealed that the center was a tasty chocolate stew, rather than cake. This is when my husband and I realized that there was a reason why the timer seemingly went off earlier than planned… my dear husband set the timer for 1:50 – 1h 50m, not 150 min. I had removed it from the oven 40 minutes early!

Grasping at straws, I crammed it back in the oven and read numerous websites telling me that I should just abandon all hope. I was still optimistic that if I could bake the center, I could just cut off the outside of the cake, eliminating the overbaked bits, and still have enough to cover in fondant and decorate.

60 minutes later, it seemed more done with a few checks, yet picking at it revealed a smallish spot that still was very underdone. It seems you really can’t salvage an underdone cake. Cake Fail!

Applying for Citizenship


Wise Words

First things first: the rules and processes keep changing, so don’t rely on anything I’ve said here to apply in future.

At long last, the time has come for me to apply for British citizenship.

It’s a bit hard for me to believe that I’ve been here for over three years, as it has really flown by. I can honestly say that this really is home for me now.

It seems that the best way for me to approach this whole process is by using the Nationality Checking Service (NCS), a locally provided service in which a counselor will review and submit the application for you. A key benefit is that they will review and copy your documents, so you may take your passport and other key documents home with you, rather than needing to submit the originals as part of the application. The originals may be requested during the process, but generally, the signed off copies suffice.

The application itself is quite straightforward. The only difficult bit was the section where one must note every departure and arrival from the UK to determine how many days one has spent outside of the UK. I realize this sounds easy, but as I didn’t pull a copy of my calendar from work since mid 2009 and some passport stampers didn’t stamp so well.

During the appointment, my counselor reviewed my application and supporting documentation. In my case, I am applying as the spouse of a British citizen, so I needed to provide my passport, my spouse’s passport, our marriage certificate, and evidence that I passed my Life in the UK exam. I also made payment for my application, and received the tracking number for my application, which would be submitted by NCS with the photocopies.

The entire process may take up to three months, but in most cases like mine, it’s less than two. When the application is processed, I will receive a letter in the mail inviting me to my citizenship ceremony, complete with tea!

Knitted Shawl


I made this shawl for my friend, Vera, who recently had a baby.

My thought was that this would be pretty handy to keep in the bottom of a pram, as one could wrap up a baby in it, use it for a bit of privacy whilst feeding, etc.

The pattern came from a book of my mother’s from the 70’s, which she showed me while I was visiting her. It’s all knit stitch, using two different needle sizes. It also gave me an opportunity to make my first fringe, some of which had to be redone due to the cat’s love of chewing on bits of yarn. All it took was a minute of inattention for her to turn a pile of carefully measured and cut potential fringe into a slobbery mess.