Tuesday, May 15, 2018

I went to London!

Two weeks ago I got to tag along on a friend's work trip to London. I haven't been back to London since I spent a semester abroad there in 2004. It was a short but awesome time!

I arrived Friday morning, and made my way to our Kensington apartment. I arrived a few hours before Celia, and after dropping off my bag I headed to the Gloucester Arms for lunch. When I got back I had a shower and then Celia finally arrived (her flight was delayed). After she had a chance to freshen up we headed out to dinner (Nando's for Peri-Peri Chicken), then walked to the Victoria and Albert Museum. They had a neat special exhibit on fashion and nature. After the museum we stopped by a shop for a late-night snack and provisions for breakfast. Back at the apartment we enjoyed cheese and crackers and the free bottle of sparkling wine left for us.
Our adorable street in Kensington

Our apartment!

View from my bedroom.

Spotted at the V and A
Saturday morning after making breakfast we hopped on the Tube and visited Westminster Abbey. We had to stand in a long line in the drizzling rain before we could get in, but it was worth it. We used the audio guide and saw a ton of famous dead people.
Westminster Abbey
From the abbey we took the Tube back to Kensington, and after grabbing a quick lunch we visit Kensington Palace. They had a special exhibit on Princess Diana's dresses. After touring the palace we took a tea and scone break at the gift shop, then visited the sunken garden.
A Catherine Walker day suit owned by Diana
More of Diana's dresses
Break time
So many tulips! And clouds.
After the palace we headed toward the City of London and walked around St. Paul's Cathedral, then across the Millennium Bridge. Happening to see the Globe Theater we stopped in to see about attending a show, but the only tickets available (for the next night) had obstructed views and since it's an open-air theater it would have been pretty freezing. Next time. Then we visited the Tate Modern. By this point we were pretty tired and achy (getting old!) and hungry, so we didn't enjoy the modern art quite as much as we might have otherwise. When we finally found a comfy bench to rest on we were stuck with a view of Duchamp's Fountain.
St. Paul's

A view of the Globe across the Thames

We cut our time at the Tate short and walked back over the river to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese for dinner. It's a really old pub that was frequented by literary guys like Charles Dickens, and was also the site of my end-of-semester party when I'd studied abroad. After dinner on our walk to a Tube station we happened upon a sign for Samuel Johnson's house, and naturally wanted to take a peak. The sign was a bit misleading and turned us down an alley, and more signs kept pointing us farther down the dark (kinda scary) winding alley so that at one point Celia said "this is the nerdiest way to die." But we finally found his house and we didn't die.
Fish and chips! And mashed peas! And a pint!
Sunday we enjoyed our last breakfast in our apartment (finishing off the sparkling wine in mimosas), then packed up our things and walked a few blocks to our new accommodations, a fancy five-star hotel looking directly across at Kensington Palace. (Don't forget, this was a work trip for Celia and we didn't have to pay for either of these awesome places.) After checking in (the butler said we had the "best junior suite") and getting a little tour of the joint we headed out for a tour of the Tower of London.

Our new digs.

View from our only window. If you zoom in, that's Kensington Palace behind the big tree in the forefront.
We spent several hours at the Tower of London, first enjoying a guided tour with a beefeater, then wandering all the other sites inside on our own. The place is so old! And we got to see the crown jewels. It was also really cold.

Tower of London

Neat Tudor buildings inside the Tower of London

Tower selfie. That building is from the 11th century!

View of Tower Bridge

Guarding the Crown Jewels

We finished up at the Tower just as it was closing. From there we headed to Trafalgar Square, then walked to an Indian restaurant (Dishoom) in Covent Garden that our concierge had recommended. We had to wait outside in the freezing cold for about 45 minutes, but they brought us hot drinks which was nice. And the food, once we finally got to sit and eat it, was delicious.

Trafalgar Square

After dinner we headed back to our hotel, where we found scones and Negroni makings. The Negroni makings were compliments of the hotel (they said Meghan Markel likes them), and we later learned the scones were actually thanks to my brother calling up the hotel!

Drink makings and late-night scones.
Monday morning we enjoyed traditional English breakfasts at the hotel, then took a train ride out to Windsor. Celia had an interview scheduled with a shoe company so I looked in touristy shops and got a coffee until she was done. Then we headed into Windsor Castle! We got the audio guides and listened to all the stops. St. George's Chapel is inside, and is where the royal wedding is happening soon. We were there for a few hours, then enjoyed a cream tea break before our train ride back to London.
Breakfast! (Yes, I at least tasted all of it.)

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle selfie!
St. George's Chapel
Cream Tea

Back at the hotel we changed into nicer clothes, then went to a dinner appointment with a PR person. The restaurant (Galvin at Windows) was on the 28th floor and had amazing views of the city. The sky also cleared for the first time during our trip so we could actually see the sunset! The food was fancy and French, and really good. Before we left for the night our waitress said she had a special treat for us, and walked us through the kitchen to a small balcony with a view of the full moon and lights of the city below.
Dinner views
fancy appetizer
special treat night view
Tuesday was our last day, and the most hectic. After another nice breakfast in the hotel we went across the street for the Kensington Palace photo op we'd missed the day we'd visited, then hopped on a bus and headed to Celia's interview with a well-known clothing atelier (maker of the red suit above). It was pretty neat to see the workshop and get to sit in on the interview. From there we went to two more interviews with royal warrant holding jewelers, and at the first one we each got to try on a diamond tiara!
Fancy photo-op Kensington Palace gate
We loved riding in the front on the top of the bus!
Gorgeous fancy clothes

Festive Piccadilly (and blue skies!)
The interviews ran a little long, and as soon as we finished with the second jeweler we had to rush back to the hotel to change clothes, check out, and head our separate ways to different airports.

It was a short trip, but so much fun. And while I repeated some of the same touristy things I'd done years ago, I also got to experience a much fancier side of the city thanks to Celia's work situation. I'm so grateful she invited me!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sacramento conference

A month ago I traveled to Sacramento to present my first paper at a history conference (other than a grad student conference ten years ago that doesn't really count anymore). This was good for my CV, and was the first thing I'd "written" toward my dissertation so far. (I'm still sorting through my research but plan to start writing very soon. Finally.)

I arrived Thursday evening, and after dropping off my bag I went for a walk past the California State Capitol and down to Old Sacramento by the river. It wasn't quite as warm as I'd been hoping, but it was nice to see sun and blue skies!
That first night I attended the opening plenary session on California history, and while skimming the list of conference attendees I found an old friend from my masters program. We got in touch (during the plenary) and met up afterwards for a drink. We hadn't seen each other in ten years so it was nice to catch up. Also, she and I have the exact same birthday, which was the next day!

Friday, my birthday, I went out for breakfast and visited the Leland Stanford Mansion in the morning. Then it was time for my panel to present! There were only about ten people in the audience, but that's okay. Overall it went fine. My boss was there as our panel's moderator, and he said I read a little fast and he could tell I was nervous, but hopefully that didn't convey too prominently to the rest of the people there. After our panel I attended a session on westerns. Then I met back up with my fellow panelists for dinner. It was a bit of a bummer being far away and, other than my boss, essentially alone on my birthday, but he gave me a birthday toast and overall it was still a pretty good day. After dinner I attended a packed session on Confederate monuments.

Giant, warm, delicious strawberry vanilla birthday scone.

An orange tree and the Stanford mansion.
Saturday I attended two conference sessions, and went back to Old Sacramento to visit the California State Railroad Museum.
A cute little sculpture I saw on my walk to Old Sacramento.

More cute sculptures.

Enjoying the old-timey western feel of Old Sac.
So that was that. First conference paper done (two more coming up this year), and a nice little trip to Sacramento.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Vegas 2018

A few weeks ago I headed out to Las Vegas for my annual family vacation. After getting stuck overnight in Charlotte I made it to Vegas on Friday morning.

We stayed at Sam's Town this year, which is way off the strip but still a fun hotel/casino with a western theme. After my parents picked me up at the airport we enjoyed lunch together, then spent the rest of the day at the casino, including the buffet dinner with my aunt and uncle. After dinner mom and I had a drink in the center bar where we could see the little light show they put on with animatronic animals.
Waterfalls and fake wildlife in Sam's Town
My dad loves the buffalo games.
Saturday my dad and uncle headed to the Nascar race, while my mom and aunt and I went shopping at the outlet mall. That night I made reservations for us to have dinner at Culinary Dropout at the Hardrock. We all agreed the food was good but it was a little too loud for the old folks' liking, and my uncle actually pulled out his earplugs from the race and stuck them in.

Sunday was another race day, during which mom and my aunt and I went to the Ethel M Chocolate factory to get some chocolate and walk around the cactus garden. Then we drove out to Red Rock Canyon and enjoyed the sights along the 13-mile loop.

Cactus garden at Ethel M

See the red rocks in the background?
 After our drive we stopped at Ikea just for fun, since neither my mom nor aunt had ever been to one. And that night I redeemed myself in the restaurant-picking department by choosing a good Italian place that was much quieter.

Monday we all went to the Neon Museum downtown and enjoyed our informative tour, followed by lunch at the Golden Nugget.

After our time downtown we drove to the Bellagio to see the flower display in the conservatory, but alas they were between displays. So most of the crew went back to our hotel but dad and I stayed on the strip for the rest of the night. We checked out his favorite autograph store at the Shops at the Forum, enjoyed a drink at Margaritaville, played some games at the Flamingo, ate dinner and played some more at the Paris, and played a tad more at MGM. Then we got a ride back to Sam's Town and another margarita and did a little more playing. Had to make that last night really count, you know?

We missed Ryan and Lauren on this trip, but we still had another fun Vegas family vacation.