Book Review: Part Two

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In lieu of a cover photo, I give you pasta.

Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert
Lizzie rating: B+
We all know I had an identity crisis while reading this book (talk about a first world problem). I ended up really liking the Italy part, stalling out a bit in India and feeling pleasantly apathetic about Bali. It was a good travel read and I can see what all the hype is about. Did make me want to do some yoga…. šŸ™‚

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Modern Bath, where the book is set.

Persuasion, Jane Austen
Lizzie rating: A
I love Austen, specifically Pride and Prejudice but my numerous rereads of Lizzie Bennett and Darcy have distracted me from other awesome Austen heroines. Anne Elliot’s story of growing up and learning to stick to her guns is light, fun and pleasurably engrossing.

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Rained out in Vienna

A Visit from the Good Squad, Jennifer Egan
Lizzie rating: A
Egan builds an elaborate web of interconnected stories. The principle themes being identity, especially our self perception versus the perception of others around us. The book is consuming and never lingers on one character for too long. The connections between characters isn’t always immediately obvious but Egan is such a studious architect you know you are in capable hands.

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London: Day trip to Salisbury, Stonehenge and Bath

Travel within Britain is weirdly really expensive. I’m normally way too cheap to pay for a guided tour but it ended up being significantly cheaper than booking trains or buses a la cart. And so, we set off on an epic 12 hour whirlwind through the English countryside!

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Salisbury Cathedral is a magnificent early Gothic Cathedral with the tallest spire in Europe. Built in an impressive 38 years beginning 1220, it’s one of the few Cathedrals in England in one unified style. As it was signed nearby the Cathedral also houses one of the four remaining originals of the Magna Carta (sadly, no photos allowed).

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Driving through Salisbury Plain en route to Stonehenge you’re struck by the simple, pastoral beauty. Stonehenge was a bit underwhelming to be entirely honest. The engineering is impressive and the mystery surrounding the site is, of course, very perplexing but its some upright rocks in a big, pretty field. But, hey, I’ve got an informed opinion of it now.

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The day ended with a stop in Bath to see the Roman ruins. The baths have been impressively maintained and you really get a feel for the splendor. The engineering was so sound that everything is still in working order. Even the original lead lining in the main bathing pool is still water tight! Impressive work, Romans.

Bath itself is just lovely, I wish we had more time to explore the town. And the Jane Austen Center is there so I will definitely be back. The countryside is so peaceful.

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London: Somerset House

One of my favorite happy accidents is running into something I didn’t otherwise think I had time to see. Somerset House was just that. I had a bee in my bonnet about walking along the river from the Tate Modern to Westminster Abbey. Somerset House is in between them and I popped in to check out their Erwin Blumenfeld exhibit.

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The House (read: estate) itself is just beautiful. I mean, check out those floors. Major drool.

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Blumenfeld did mostly commercial work including extensive work for Harper’s Bazaar and American Vogue. The exhibit included many Vogue covers from throughout the 1950s with other takes from the shoot.

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It was a quick spin as the museum was about to close but I would definitely return to check this museum out again.

Boat loads of thanks to Anna and Bean!

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Stolen from Anna’s instagram feed because we never took a photo!

Overwhelming thanks to Anna and Bean for being my steadfast and gracious hosts during my extended stay in London. They housed and fed me, made me mean G&Ts and gave me all sorts of advice on how to best conquer the great British capital.

I first met Anna when I stalked her wedding on the internet. I wish I were kidding. She’s just got such great taste and non-ironic wellies FTW! Her husband, affectionately called Bean, is just the sweetest and put up with all sorts of our antics. Be sure to check out all the pretty on Anna’s blog (also, Pinterest because girl pins like a boss)!

Thanks so much!

Book Review: Part One

I read all the time on this trip: on trains, waiting for the bus, eating alone in restaurants, in parks, before bed, waiting in line at museums. Books have always been my friends and I was happy to dive back into fiction when so much of my “normal” life is dominated by news (which I also love just doesn’t provide the same escapism).

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Secular Friday in Istanbul

On Beauty, Zadie Smith
Lizzie rating: A+
I bought this book on a lonely night in Istanbul. I was still getting used to the whole solo travel game and finding an English language bookstore was a huge boon. Smith’s storytelling is a well honed craft and I absolutely inhaled this book, finishing it in less than 36 hours. The plot revolves around a family falling apart slowly under the strain of infidelity and growing children. The beauty (pardon the pun) of this book is in the details Smith both includes and omits, I got lost in a well constructed story and deeply human characters.

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Enjoying a cool(ish) evening in Athens

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Lizzie rating: A-
Melanie passed this book along to me when we parted in Greece and it ended up being the only book I got for free on the trip. The book is a classic for a reason, serving as a warning for both unrelenting capitalism and the Stalinized “socialism” that provided the other world power at the time. The world Huxley creates is alarming in its scope and yet clearly possible (the leaks exposing PRISM and the extent of government spying came out after I finished the book). Reading this book was a bit like watching the Texas legislature, you can’t believe it’s happening but you desperately want to know more. Luckily, this is still fiction.

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Taking a break at the Vatican

Women, Race and Class, Angela Davis
Lizzie rating: A+
This was my homework. The book I couldn’t bring home unfinished. But that makes it sound like a chore when I was, in fact, giddy to read it. For all my news and current events reading I don’t have/make a lot of time for political theory. Davis’ contributions to the way serious activists think about organizing for all women have been remarkable. The section on broadening our arguments for reproductive justice to include support for women that want to have children but are publicly raked over the coals (single moms and women receiving public assistance come to mind) is so important. I’m really looking forward to putting these ideas into practice when I get back.

London: Meeting Marx

Marx spent a good portion of his adult life living and working in London. He collaborator, Frederick Engles, ran a family mill in the north and sent money to support Marx and his family while Marx worked on “Capital”. The major bummer of the trip was that the Reading Room in the British Museum is closed. Marx spent many years there reading and researching economic changes to understand the new emerging system called capitalism.

Highgate Cemetery was privately owned and operated until it was abandoned in the 1970s. Left for several years to overgrowth and vandalism before being rescued by a trust, it has a certain wild romanticism to it.

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Marx’s original grave marker is extremely modest.

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In the mid-1950s the tombs were moved to a more prominent location and marked with the monument you can visit today.

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Without being overly sentimental, visiting this grave was really awesome. Paying tribute to someone you deeply respect and whose ideas and writing have played a huge role on your entire world is humbling in the best possible way. Workers of the world, unite!

London: Day trip to Oxford

Oxford is the oldest university in the world. Wrap your brain around that. Of all the universities in all the world, the Brits did it first over 700 years ago.

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When Christine, Camille and I set out we had a vague idea of which parts of the campus and town we wanted to see and a list of pubs we definitely wanted to hit. One has to have priorities.

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With such a long history, Oxford is just teeming with famous folks that have passes through its doors. Lewis Carroll lived here while writing “Alice in Wonderland”. Walking past Christ Church Meadow you can totally see where JRR Tolkien got his inspiration for the Shire.

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But we can’t forget the most famous of all, my dad. A young Tom spent eight weeks at Oxford’s Brasenose College studying foreign affairs.

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Founded in 1512, the college still houses students today. The interior courtyards offer quiet and relief from the hustle and bustle of the rest of campus. The students all eat together in a medieval dining hall and have access to a centuries old chapel (from when daily attendance was compulsory). The modern world feels delightfully far from Oxford.

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If you need even more distance from the weight of the world, may I humbly suggest one of Oxford’s pubs? We tried a few and they are all great. The Bear is Oxford’s oldest with low ceilings and a fireplace near the bar. The Turf is tucked back from the street and accessible by narrow, easy to miss walkways. The specialize in cask ages ales and its where Bill Clinton “didn’t inhale” all those years ago.

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London: Fashion Rules

Kensington Palace is a bit like the White House in that half is open to the public and half of the areas are used for junior or less prominent members of the royal family. Princess Margaret lived here previously and William and Kate have an apartment there now. They have a few permanent exhibits on former residents including one on Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It featured Queen Victoria’s wedding dress which established the tradition of brides wearing white.

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But we were there for much more recent fashion. The Fashion Rocks exhibit showcased dresses belonging to Queen Elizabeth II and Princesses Margaret and Diana from the 1950s-1980s.

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Princess Margaret had much more interesting clothes as she had much more freedom in her personal wardrobe. The exhibit used Vogue covers from throughout the decades to help place the clothes in the context of what was trendy.

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Diane’s dresses were just fantastically 80s. Seeing the dresses on mannequins I cringe at the exaggerated shapes but in photos she looks completely natural and even sophisticated.

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London: Day trip to Greenwich

Camille and Ron are pros at day trips to explore London and their surrounding parts (seriously, check out their Instagram feeds). With Anna and Bean off to a wedding in the north, they took over as official tour guides for the weekend.

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I, of course, totally nerded out at the National Maritime Museum. It covers British Naval history but also shipping, private travel and sport. The Cutty Sark is parked near by in all its tea running glory.

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Greenwich is also home to the Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian. Obligatory tourist shot:

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On our way back to London we took the Emirates Air Line. I’m sure there is a more technical description but it is essentially an 8-person pod on a zip line that whisks you over the Thames. Since its part of the Transport for London system you can pay with your Oyster card. The view is pretty awesome.

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But mostly, look at those happy faces.

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London: High Tea at the Orangery

Anna and I spent an indulgent day shopping and having afternoon tea. Anna runs a blog, Far from the Wedding Crowd, has great taste, and is my mutually-appointed Wedding Hat Consultant. Like so many good things in life, the prettiest hats and fascinators are the most expensive but we had a great time trying on whimsical toppers and giant saucer hats.

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The shop even sells hat making materials if I decided I wanted to be crafty. (Let’s be honest, we all know I’ll start a Pinterest board and try to convince Sparky to do it for me.)

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The Orangery is part of Kensington Gardens next to Kensington Palace. Wouldn’t it be lovely to stroll through orange trees smelling the citrus next to big windows catching whatever light possible on a grey London day? I managed to catch the UK in a heat wave but it would be a great place for a warm drink. And check out these treats, major yum. That red velvet cupcake is covered in a fondant dress to coincide with the Fashion Rules exhibit on display in the Palace.

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Anna is such great company. She even informed me that I eat my scones in the Devonshire style (clotted cream under jam). We like to make fun of each other for being old fashioned and snobby (British) and pompous and arrogant (American). It’s a love/love relationship.

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