A Travellerspoint blog

All things must come to an end...

London - the final days of the Kammerer Sisters' Christmas adventures

sunny 14 °C

DISCLAIMER – This post, regarding the time elapsed between Monday, January 5 and Friday, January 9, was written solely by Natalie, due to the fact that the Kammerer sisters had returned to their respective countries of residence at the time of publication.

Our arrival in London, though without major incident, was a bit traumatic. We both loved Cork so much that we weren’t quite ready to leave. Much of its appeal was in its similarities to Omaha – interesting and quirky, but uncrowded. The weather was beautiful, and it was home to the most comfy hostel. Also, we were starting to burn out on packing our bags and moving (this made the fifth time in two weeks). Nevertheless, we got to London (after an hour delay at the Cork airport) at about 6pm on Monday. For those of you who don’t know, London is ENORMOUS – 607 sq. miles (New York is about 470…). We had a long Underground ride, then a bus connection. The underground went without a hitch, but it took multiple tries to get the bus right.

The connection turned out to be at a big bus station, where it proved difficult to find the right bus. Once we did, we discovered that we couldn’t buy tickets from the driver (standard in my experience) – we needed to buy it before we got on. Back in the station, we bought what we thought was a ticket. Apparently not. But the third time was a charm. Then, our directions to the hostel kind of sucked (and in hindsight, we probably got off at the wrong stop – it turns out that there are multiple instances of stops with very similar names. “Shepard’s Bush Market” and “Shepard’s Bush Market Station”; “Askew Road” and “Askew Road Library”; and many others. When you don’t know what all of the stops on a route are, and you really don’t want to miss your stop, you tend to get off when you see something that resembles your desired stop so closely. Suffice it to say, we grew wiser over the course of the next few days.).

We finally arrived at the hostel around 8:00. Never had we been so relieved to settle in. But our priority was dinner, having had nothing since trail mix at noon… The adorably over-friendly desk clerk/bartender (yeah, our hostel was above a Victorian pub! It was pretty awesome, and open to residents of the hostel as a dining space for our personal meals) had recommended that we just go to the big street nearby, where we found a variety of ethnic restaurants, from Eritrean (still kind of bummed that one didn’t fit into the schedule), to Turkish, to American fast food. Due to the hour (8:30 by this time), our options were becoming limited. We ended up at a place called Nando’s, a chain specializing in Portuguese chicken, but also serving multiple delicious varieties of veggie burgers.

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(Our pub/hostel hangout in the Shepard’s Bush area of London)

As far as adult humans go, Eva requires a ridiculous amount of sleep to function. I say that with much love, but when I travel, I prefer to get up and have a full day. So props to her for humoring me and getting up hours before she would have if left to her own devices after the taxing and late night before (and pretty much every other morning of the trip…). We walked the two miles to Notting Hill, which I had heard was a charming little neighborhood with lots of shops and cafés. It was about half that, half souvenir shops, most of which sold shirts, bags, mugs, etc. with a blue-tinted Julia Roberts on them… But we did find a number of interesting vintage shops and a great café for lunch. And another one for dessert a couple of hours later… Eva was reveling in the abundance of French pâtisseries, so we had to stop at one (or three) over the course of our visit. Here, Eva ordered a slice of chocolate bombe (pretty much just a mound of thick, cocoa-y mousse mounded on top of a flaky cookie bottom) and I had a slice of a cocoa pear cake, which was super dense and dark, with tiny bits of pear mixed in, and a sliver of one on top. An interesting and yummy combination!

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With so many options of things to do in such a short period, it was difficult to prioritize. There were a couple of musts, and also a couple of interesting things that presented themselves along the way. One of these was the rebuilt Globe Theatre, an as-close-as-can-be reconstruction (and working theatre) located about half a block from the original site. So, on Wednesday, we ventured into the thick of the city, which ended up being an hour and a half bus ride. We were able to take a tour inside the theatre, as well as check out a surprisingly extensive museum that was equal parts Shakespeare and Elizabethan theatre in general. It was all very interesting and quite cool to be in such an important fake historical place.

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The first "must" on the list was the National Gallery, which was conveniently within walking distance of the Globe, on Trafalgar Square. On the way, we stopped at one of the nine (I counted) Prêt à Mangers (French for “ready-to-eat”, it is a chain of pre-made gourmet sandwiches, wraps, salads, and the like that are EVERYWHERE in London. I had already been to one in New York City, and thought Eva might appreciate it.) And we also picked up some European street food for dessert – Nutella waffles! At the museum, Eva was once again a willing sport, and we (I think that’s inclusive) ended up having a good time, both appreciating some great art and making fun of some decent/downright strange art.

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After spending so much time in tea-country, we started feeling the need to take tea ourselves. This can partially be attributed to our desire to eat desserts at all hours of the day. But not only were there the mouthwatering café baked goods that we have already written so much about, we discovered an incredibly wide array of intriguing mass-produced tea biscuits available in grocery stores. We discovered – and heartily approved of – Ginger Nuts (a crunchy, very gingery cookie, perhaps what our gingerbread would be like with twice as much ginger and no molasses); Bourbon Creams (sandwich cookies of airy dark chocolate biscuits with chocolate buttercream between); and Custard Creams (vanilla biscuit sandwich with custardy cream.) And now I have a giant box of black tea to work my way through, because bags come in multiples of forty…

The second concession to Natalie’s interests was the British Museum on Thursday. This one was definitely a win. After about an hour of wandering amongst an (extremely interesting) exhibit dedicated to health and food-related artifacts from around the world and a good amount of Asian pottery, we found another special exhibit dedicated to the portrayal of witches and sorcery in European engravings. Whoa. On many levels. I have always been amazed by the apparent inability of artists to realistically render women’s breasts before the 19th century. Seriously, they are either unnatural shapes protruding from chests (often with equally unnatural placement), or they are reduced to slightly-larger-than-normal pectorals. Or a nightmarish mixture of the two – thanks, Michelangelo… But I learned here that European witches had it worst of all. Here is one of my personal favorites, by Jacques de Gheyn:

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(http://www.culture24.org.uk/art/painting-and-drawing/art445944)

On our way out, we thought we’d swing by the Greek wing (we share an interest in Greek architecture and sculpture) and I was so glad that we did. I had completely forgotten that the Rosetta Stone (we passed it on our way) is housed there. Then, when we got to the Greek stuff, I remembered that the Parthenon friezes are there too! Both displays were incredible, but the Parthenon collection was particularly breathtaking.

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After the museum, we hiked up north to Camden Town, which had been recommended to us by the Londoners that we met at the hostel in Dublin. It too had been described as an interesting neighborhood with funky shops and stuff. We were particularly intrigued by what one of the girls had said: “You have to go to Camden when you’re in London. Just don’t go when it’s raining. Or at night. And don’t get piercings done there!” So, of course, it made its way onto our list! (Early in the afternoon on a clear day…) We had done a bit of research and discovered that there is a restaurant called Poppies with a location in Camden that has been voted one of the best fish and chips places in London, so that was our first stop.

It was a bit strange, because it is a 1950s-diner-inspired restaurant, and all of the waitresses were wearing red pillbox hats and dresses with poppies printed on them. But Eva dug the 50’s playlist – I think she recognized every song, and gave me a bit of trivia to go along with every single one. And it was totally worth it – the fish and chips were infinitely more delicious than what we had eaten in Dublin – very fresh and flavorful, and served with delicious house made tartar sauce. And Eva was happy because she was able to order a pile of chips and a vegetable pasty – a vegetarian variation on a traditional dish (basically just a vegetable pot pie, but in the form of a turnover). It, too, was quite good!

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After lunch, we ventured out into the neighborhood, which proved to be even more touristy/souvenir shoppy than Notting Hill. And there were definitely some super shady-looking tattoo/piercing studios. But we were able to find a couple of sweet vintage shops (one of which was closing, so cheap, awesome clothes became even cheaper, and, as a result, even more awesome…until we had to figure out how to pack again…) Eva won for best purchase, finally succeeding in her quest for an ugly Christmas sweater. (We're pretty sure it's supposed to be figgy pudding...)

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Thus concluded our London activities; we spent a quiet night at the hostel, packing up and enjoying each other’s company. Eva left early the next morning to retrace our bus/underground trail to the airport (good thing we had figured that one out earlier). There were definitely some tears at the bus stop. Then, a couple of hours later, I made my way in the other direction to the train station for my return to France. I had two trains – one from London to Paris, (and a metro ride across town to a different train station) then another from Paris to Besançon. I had been a bit worried about the Paris connection, because I only had an hour and I wasn’t sure if there would be increased security in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack. But it turned out that there was nothing out of the ordinary; there was no train security, and I only saw two law enforcement officers (and they were just walking and talking to each other).

I got back to Besançon at about 7:30 on Friday night, and Eva arrived safely in Omaha a few hours later (or earlier, depending on how you look at it – it was about 5:00 Omaha-time…). It was so nice to be able to get off the train, jump on a bus without a map, know exactly which stop to get off at, and recognize the streets and buildings that I passed. But I definitely am experiencing a bit of withdrawal… The two and a half weeks that we were able to spend together were some the happiest I’ve had in a while – everything is just so much better with family! I am so grateful to Eva for having the idea in the first place and so proud of her for facing her intense fear of flying (six flights total!). I’m lucky to have such an awesome sister!!! Anybody who wants to venture to France is always more than welcome… I would provide translation/tour guide services for the price of license to recount our adventures on this blog!

Now I have one more week of vacation/recovery/preparation before the beginning of the semester. I’m getting more and more excited for my French university experience!

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Posted by NKammerer 08:57 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london bus tea parthenon museum underground british_museum dessert camden witches pastry national_gallery globe_theatre notting_hill kammerer_sisters_unite fish_'n_chips veggie_pasty thrifting Comments (5)

Pop the Cork and let the fun begin!!!

Our last stop in Ireland...

overcast 10 °C

After a relatively low-key day and a half in Killarney, we arrived in Cork on Friday afternoon. By this time, we had experienced two extremes of cities – the New York Cityish bustle of Dublin and the small-town-everything-shuts-down-for-a-relatively-minor-holiday calm of Killarney – both of which were worth experiencing in their own right. But it was easy to tell early on that Cork is the perfect combination of the two. It is the third largest city in Ireland, with a wide range of activities, restaurants, and shops, but it is still quiet enough that it doesn’t feel like there are more tourists than Irish people (which was definitely our experience in Dublin).

For starters, this hostel is probably the most diversely international, as well as the most cozy. For the first time, we are in a small room (only three bunk beds) and we are all girls. It is not necessarily uncomfortable to be in a room with guys, but it does seem a bit more fun and roommate-y with girls. And it smells way better. We have heard French, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Romanian (we think), and other languages, not to mention the various versions of English.

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As can be expected, our early afternoon arrival was quickly followed up with a search for lunch. Eva found a vegetarian co-op restaurant about a kilometer away, so we headed off in that direction. It turned out to be a café/deli/grocery/supplements store. After our delicious vegan wrap and empanada, we browsed and bought some breakfast supplies. Eva is on a mission to taste as many different varieties of fruit preserves as possible, so it went without question that we would pick up some “bramble” (raspberry and blackberry) jam. (Try singing “bramble jam” to the tune of “Silver Bells” in your best Bing Crosby voice. Christmas music is STILL raging here…Natalie has heard more Christmas music here, after Christmas, than she did in the entire month of December in France. And this jam was just so delicious, that every time the occasion to eat some presented itself, we couldn’t help but sing about it. *Bramble jam, bramble jam /Raspberry blackberry magic /Grab a spoon, dip it in /Eat it alone or on toast!*)

When the groceries had been stowed away in the hostel kitchen, we were back on the road, toward the city centre. Here, we found a plethora of businesses – a great mixture of stores (books, clothes, décor, etc.), TONS of restaurants from “American”-style fast food (Hillbilly’s Fried Chicken - ugh) to real French crêpes to countless Irish bars, and a refreshing number of services aimed at locals (laundromats, barber shops, First Communion clothes [yeah, we’ve seen at least four specialized stores…]). We also stopped into a little coffee shop called “The Bookshelf”, which, apparently, is housed in a former library. Here, we split a magically flavorful chai latte (it really tasted like it was made from scratch) and a slice of coffee cake…

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Then we were able to spend the remainder of the day wandering about downtown checking out various shops and listening to a wide variety of (really good!) buskers.

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In the evening, we stopped by a church (St. Finbarr’s – the patron saint of Cork) that was reported to have really beautiful painting and mosaic work. We saw that there was an entry fee – only a few euros – but Eva decided it wouldn’t be worth it to her uncultured eyes. So Natalie went in while Eva waited out in the yard.

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It took a bit longer to go through than Natalie had anticipated. By the time she got out, darkness had fallen, and Eva had found the “noir” setting on her phone...

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Saturday was another early start, but this time, the plan was to do some museuming. The first stop was the Crawford Gallery, a small public gallery with a really eclectic but very interesting collection. The entire ground floor is dedicated to a collection of 19th century plaster casts of Greco-Roman masterpieces in the Vatican, and upper galleries contained a room dedicated to rare sketches by Harry Clarke (awesome) and a couple others dedicated to the art of silhouette cutting (also quite interesting and cool). Even Eva enjoyed the latter two!
All that art made us hungry, so we stopped for a quick lunch at Fellini, reportedly the oldest tea-room in Cork. We both ordered the mushroom-blue cheese soup. Eva added a veggie sandwich, and Natalie had a side of brown bread, which she just cannot get enough of here in Ireland. Luckily, it’s everywhere…

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We had fully intended a light lunch to sustain our museum visits, but the dessert case at this place was not to be passed up. Eva opted for the coffee walnut cake, while Natalie, in an attempt to round out her Irish beer experience, ordered a slice of the chocolate Guinness cake. Both were super classy and delicious, and it took all of our willpower to not go back again on Sunday.

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Next on the list was something that Natalie found on an internet list of “45 Things to do in Cork”. The Butter Museum. Natalie was skeptical, but Eva knew better. Again, it was a pretty small operation – one super nice older gentleman was the only employee we saw – but it was incredibly interesting.

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Apparently, the butter trade was a huge part of the development of the Cork region. As Eva observed, Ireland was making laws to regulate and streamline the production and transport of butter around Ireland before the United States even existed. But there was also good amount of weird-ass juju surrounding its production, as well. Check out this info panel (emphasis on the second paragraph):

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We also learned that butter occupied a pretty strong place in Irish pop culture of the 1930s. Here is a nice toe-tapper, if you’re looking to get a song stuck in your head today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7kX2DUpbsk.

Our last full day in Ireland was spent in much the same way as the others. After a quick breakfast (much too early, if you ask Eva. But there was bramble jam…), we were off on a walk to a new neighborhood in the northern part of the city. We visited the Cork City Gaol, which has become a great museum in recent years. A bit more social and political history, as well as some very interesting information about Victorian theories surrounding prisoners’ health and rehabilitation, and how they informed the design of the period’s prisons. Surprisingly – and luckily – we were the only ones there early on a Sunday, so that contributed to some serious photo fun…

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We spent the rest of our short daylight hours in outdoor exploration. After Dublin’s bitter cold, Cork had gorgeous weather – only a bit of light rain on Saturday morning, then daily temperatures in the 50s. We checked out a large park that was practically in our hostel’s backyard. It was quite pretty, and would be even more so in the spring and summer. Also quite close to the hostel was the University College Cork campus. We passed the front gates every time we walked into downtown, and we could tell that it would be worth a peek. Again, the Universities of Nebraska could learn a thing or two.

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Though we had been in a couple of Irish pubs, (how could we not?!) Natalie was still really hoping to experience a traditional music session. After some cursory searching, all sources pointed towards a pub called “Sin é” (pronounced shin-ae – Gaelic for “That’s it”) as being the best in town for these unique sessions. (The tradition is that individual musicians show up at a pub with their instruments and form a casual folk jam session. It is public in that everyone in the pub can hear it, but it is not really a performance in the more concert-y sense. We managed to get pretty good seats where we were close enough to get the full sound, but still couldn’t really see much because the musicians were grouped in a circle around a corner booth.) Our sources were right, though. It was absolutely fantastic. There was a guitar, banjo, flute, tin whistle, and bagpipes, as well as a couple of random vocalists who would jump in from time to time. One of the highlights was when an older dude walked over to the corner and started up a beautiful, melancholy a cappella song. The noisy pub fell silent immediately, and when he was done, everybody clapped and he just sat back down. We also met a couple of very nice Corkonians (that’s how we learned the pronunciation and translation of the name of the pub).

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We left the pub for a late dinner. Shortly thereafter, Natalie’s kumquat-sized bladder was on the verge of an accident. As many of you know, Natalie can’t go to a coffee shop without five trips to the bathroom. Well, apparently the same is true for bars. She went right before we left, but that wasn’t good enough. The friendly Corkonians had given us a few restaurant recommendations, but a toilet became the deciding factor of where we would dine. In the end it was between pizza and fish & chips. Pizza, always. A happy choice. As it was late, and we were hungry, we ordered a smattering of food: spinach and ricotta pizza, a fabulously flavorful house salad, and a panini with roasted pepper and goat cheese. Together with Sin é, it was the absolute perfect way to wrap up our time in Ireland!

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Sin é!

Posted by NKammerer 11:34 Archived in Ireland Tagged food gallery church pub ireland cake museum music pizza cafe campus jail chai cork kammerer_sisters_unite cork_city_gaol corkonians Comments (4)

Five Crazy (and cold) Days in Dublin

Aye, we'll have a pint o' yer Guinness, and a, er, cranberry juice...

semi-overcast 9 °C

The Kammerer Sisters arrived in Dublin in the early afternoon on the 26th. Natalie spent the last half of the flight staring out the window at the gorgeous green countryside, while aviophobic Eva sat petrified on the other side of the plane (we couldn’t get seats near each other)… It was raining when they arrived, and it took a while to find the right bus to the city centre. They eventually found the right one and hopped on, but were not quite sure how they’d get to the hostel. The girls got off at the stop they hoped would be best, only to discover that their destination was right across the street! Their Dublin base, called the Kinlay House, is in a grand old building a couple of blocks north of Temple Bar.

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Their small Edinburgh breakfasts had worn off long ago at this point, so they quickly left in search of lunch. Both being irritably hungry, Frick and Frack Bickerson could not seem to decide on where to stop. They ended up at the uncomfortably uninformed Apache Pizza, a chain of pizza restaurants inspired by some Irishman’s representation of Native American culture. Menu items included, but were not limited to, “The Wigwammer” (pepperoni), “The Big Chief” (supreme), and the “Hiawatha” (Hawaiian). Evidently, it is also normal to make meal deals out of a pizza-and-chips (fries) pairing. So after that super carby lunch, energy levels had been replenished and they were back into exploration mode!

Unfortunately, it was already quite dark – the sun schedule here is really wreaking havoc on stomachs and activities planning – so there was a bit of wandering about the neighborhood. Lots of businesses were still on after-Christmas holiday, so there weren’t too many options. Also, it was still raining, so after a quick grocery trip, these foodies headed back to the hostel, which has a cozy commons room. Cards, reading, and soup ensued. There was a really awful Irish Christmas movie on cable that, apparently, EVERYONE else was interested in watching. So that provided a wonderful backdrop to the evening.

This hostel is interesting – the kitchen and dining areas are great. This one has a lot more individuals and small groups, which lends to much more table-sharing and small talk. Other, less charming, details include a discouraging lack of heating and the fact that the room (eight full bunkbeds) is mostly inhabited by men, leading to a distinct and deadly cocktail of B.O., dirty laundry, and foot.

Saturday, Eva woke up with a headcold, but was still willing to go out. Most of the day was spent on a walking tour of the South Side of the city centre – Trinity College, Dublin Castle, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Temple Bar, etc. The street that the hostel is on is actually home to many interesting restaurants, which makes the desperate Apache Pizza stop all the sadder. Lunch was really delicious falafel accompanied by a wide array of buffet-style cold vegetarian deli salads. Next, the girls got to be grown up and responsible, finding a pharmacy and buying some cold medicine. (It’s called “Lemsip” – surprisingly pleasant lemon-flavored powder that gets dissolved into hot water.)

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There were so many great photos to take that it became impossible to not get in each others' way…

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Sunday, the girls were up and out early to trek to the southwest side of Dublin to visit the museum at Kilmainham Gaol. Again, it was pretty darned cold, but they welcomed the change of scenery. The jail, now a national museum, housed political prisoners and rebels from each of the numerous Irish uprisings of the 18th-20th centuries. Along with some cool photo ops, they got some serious social and political history!

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The tour and trek back took them to lunch. Natalie had really wanted to try fish and chips, so they stopped by a little shop near the hostel. The bags that people were leaving with were HUGE, so they opted to share one order. This time, the mark of tastiness was Eva’s ability to actually chew it. Really, though, both agreed that it was quite good, if a little bland. (The bites that had soaked up a lot of vinegar were awesome.) Now that the Irish variety has passed the test, the English ones are much anticipated!

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Next, it was back out to Trinity College. The tour hadn’t given much of a chance to explore campus, so that still needed to happen. The Universities of Nebraska should take some notes… There is, of course, some newer, less exciting construction, but the majority of the main campus is quite beautiful. The famous library (featuring a permanent display of the Book of Kells) was closed for the academic break, a fact that Natalie is still trying to get over. And it was still freezing.

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Then, as it was cold and there is a plethora of coffee shops and bakeries in the neighborhood, they ducked into Peacockgreen and Co. for a slice of incredibly fudgy peppermint chocolate cake and a warm drink. The décor was quite interesting, and one portrait in particular seemed eerily familiar…

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After the coffee shop, it was dark once again, and our increasingly sniffly travelers decided to turn in for a quiet night at the hostel, which offers movie nights on Sundays and Mondays. But these plans were pleasantly foiled when, mid-cardgame, they were invited to join a group of students from London and some girls from France. So the evening turned into about four hours of really hilarious cards and conversation. This also served as a gentle reminder of why hostels are way better than hotels.

Eva found an “Antiques Quarter” on the map, which happened to be relatively close, so that became the first order on Monday morning. However, despite the fact that it was about 9:30, ALL of the shops were closed. The last one down was just opening, so they popped in to warm up, if nothing else, and to see if others would open soon. Seeing as there is only so much large furniture two travelers can browse, they headed back out onto the (still deserted) street. There were a ton of intriguing storefronts, and this neighborhood is probably super interesting when there are actually people there.

This far into the trip, Eva could hardly believe her good fortune that they had only been in ONE museum so far. But this luck was about to change. The other side of the city centre is home to the museum district, which, if you ask Natalie, is always a great way to pass some time! So they headed into the National Gallery of Ireland. This was actually open, if only halfway… (The upper levels were blocked off and a really interesting looking JMW Turner exhibit was closed as well).

By this time, they had been in Ireland for nearly four days, and they still had not set foot in a pub. Unfortunately, the fact that they are deep in the touristy depths of kitschy overpriced establishments made it a little difficult to find a suitable option. But after a bit of research, they found one that would do. Being in Dublin, it was necessary (for Natalie) to start off with a Guinness (this is where it is made…the storehouse was actually on the way to the Kilmainham Gaol). Eva, the perpetual five-year-old, can NOT palate alcohol, so she ordered a cranberry juice. (She tasted a tiny bit of Natalie’s Guinness foam and had to chug half of her juice to get the flavor out of her mouth…) Natalie took the opportunity to order a traditional beef stew with champ potatoes (mashed potatoes with chives). Eva, who had suffered from the haggis far more than she had let on, opted for a vegetarian pasta. While super meaty, the stew did not disappoint – chunks of beef and carrots in a thick, rich broth perfect for dipping homemade brown bread…

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Monday (the last full day in Dublin) was spent sleeping in to finally kick the girls’ ever-worsening colds. After rising late, they decided that they could not stave off showering any longer. Natalie had long ago been liberated from her American need to shower every 24 hours, and Eva is quickly embracing this freeing practice. Usually, this makes showering an experience to be savored, but when you can see your breath in the bathroom, it loses a lot of its pleasantness.

Next came a wonderful visit to the National Museum of Decorative Arts and History. The museum was much bigger than expected and featured exhibitions of furniture, clothing, currencies, religious artifacts, and everyday objects dating back centuries (and, in some cases, more like millennia). A good part of the day was spent here, learning about the evolution of design in Ireland.

Tomorrow, the Sisters say goodbye to Dublin and depart for Killarney, a smaller town in the south of Ireland!

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Posted by NKammerer 13:27 Archived in Ireland Tagged museums history dublin pizza cafe guinness kilmainham_gaol temple_bar stew trinity_college st._patrick’s dublin_castle irish_pub Comments (6)

Christmas in Scotland

The Kammerer Cavalcade Commences!

sunny 1 °C

MERRY CHRISTMAS ALL!!! This post got a bit longer than we anticipated, because we have managed to pack so much into the last few days!

Natalie arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland on Monday night, after 13 hours of trains to Paris, London, and finally Edinburgh. It gets dark really early here – about 4:00pm. So finding the hostel at 8:00pm became a bit of an adventure. With only a couple of wrong turns, and walking into one wrong hostel, she managed to find the right place eventually.

She was up again nice and early the next morning to collect Eva at the airport. We had a surprisingly mature meeting, no squealing or running. Possibly because Eva had been awake for so long. But it was SO fantastic to see such a familiar face! It is still a little hard to believe that we are here, together, in this place that we have both dreamed of visiting.

It was still dark when we left the airport at about 8:00am, so it wasn’t until after Eva was settled in at the hostel that we could really see the city. We are staying in the Old Town area, just a few blocks from Edinburgh Castle, where everything is stone and hundreds of years old. The hostel is for hip, cool, young folk like ourselves – there is a great little bar/café (which is currently blaring techno Christmas classics…), they host game and activity nights, and their logo is a donkey wearing wayfarers and a crown…

The town of Edinburgh has a December event called The 24 Doors of Advent, where each day, a private building is opened to the public for free. Tuesday, it was St. Giles Cathedral, which is even closer to us than the castle. So that was our first order of business. We couldn’t take any pictures inside, but it was pretty incredible. And of course we made up for that with the outside!

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The hostel offers a free daily walking tour of the neighborhood, so we were sure to take that opportunity as well. Our guide was a very funny, very energetic New Zealander named Sebastian. He dubbed us “the crazy sisters” early in the tour, but we hadn’t really done much to warrant the title at that point… Much of the tour took place in the Greyfriar’s Cemetery, which is right across the street from us. Fun side note: When JK Rowling needed inspiration for Harry Potter, she looked to this churchyard, where one can find the graves of William McGonagall, Elizabeth Moodie, Thomas Riddell, Amos Digory, and Sirius Black. The last two graves are so popular that the original stones have been stolen and painted headstones have been commissioned to replace them. Now, one can just see spelling references for the artist. There is also a boarding school next door to the cemetery, which is said to be the model for Hogwarts.

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Our next priority was lunch, and earlier that morning, we had come across a little vegetarian baked potato restaurant. So, obviously, we had to go back. It was a little tiny place with only one table and an immense menu of topping choices. Eva opted for a veggie curry, but the instant Natalie saw “vegan haggis”, there was no more deliberation. As it was lunch hour and the one table was already taken, we headed back to the hostel to eat.

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The vegan haggis, which contained a mix of red and green lentils, sunflower seeds, oats, nuts, and spices, was super delicious. Leave it to us to find vegan haggis in Scotland!

After lunch, we wandered around a bit, but Eva could no longer hide her jetlag. Back at the hostel, Eva opened her Christmas present from Natalie – a box of real for true French macarons! So we found some coffee in the bar, played cards, and ate macarons...

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(this picture has winter cherry, peach, pistachio, and spice bread)

After a couple of hours, Eva started to fall asleep midgame, so bedtime was declared. We slept in a bit the next morning, then had a hearty breakfast of Scottish porridge, which was deceptively sludgy and sticky. That makes it sound nasty, but it was actually quite delicious. But there isn’t really any word better than “sludge” to describe its consistency.

Because you can’t go to Edinburgh and not go to the castle, that was our first activity on Wednesday. On the way up, we passed a busking bagpiper in full traditional dress. Actually, this wasn’t even the first one we had seen… While Eva could happily go the rest of her life without hearing another bagpipe, this is just one more reason for Natalie to stay in Scotland forever! The castle is up on top of a big cliffy hill that was super windy and a little bit rainy. We jumped into a tour group that was leaving, so we got to learn about some of the castle’s history, and how it figured into the history of the country. We did not learn this tour guide’s name; but it was probably something like Murray or Donald. He had wonderful plaid pants and probably the thickest accent we have heard yet. The castle was far from a letdown, but very different from what we had been expecting. It was a walled compound of many smallish stone buildings, including, but not limited to, the Main Hall and Royal Chambers (which also held the crown jewels), a War Memorial, and a 900 year old chapel. There wasn’t really a castle in the real sense of the word. But, as you can see, it was still pretty dope.

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After the castle, we were super hungry for lunch, and Natalie had her mind set on some real traditional Scottish food. We walked around a bit until we found a hole-in-the wall looking pub. When we walked in, the little bar had three old Scottish dudes talking about the weather. So obviously, we had chosen well! Natalie ordered some bangers and mash (a traditional dish of sausage and mashed potatoes) and an ale that the bartender had recommended. Eva found a vegetarian haggis dish, so she could feel like she was eating traditional food. The old men at the bar and the bartender then had a conversation that went something like this:

“What the hell is vegetarian haggis?”
“Oh, it’s mostly just oatmeal.”
“How do you catch a vegetarian haggis?”
“They’re cage free!”
(Scottish chuckling)

But then, when the bartender told her a few minutes later that they were out of vegetarian haggis, she panicked and ordered the real thing! Not that that mattered though, because there weren’t any other vegetarian options, and Eva didn’t want to be as painfully dull as usual. For those of you who don’t know, haggis is probably the most iconic Scottish fare, and is a mash made from sheep’s stomach, diced sheep’s liver, lungs and heart, oatmeal, onion, suet and seasoning. It was served with a side of neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and mashed potatoes).

The mashed potatoes, much like the baked potatoes from the day before, were wonderfully soft and smooth. (After these Scottish potatoes, we’re eager to see what Ireland has to offer!) We both agreed that the bangers were pretty darned good – reminiscent of a giant breakfast sausage, but way more flavorful, and topped with a yummy gravy. The haggis, however, tested Eva’s abilities of separation between mind and mouth. It was very…flavorful – unlike anything else we have ever eaten. It is important to say “we”, because Natalie probably ended up eating about a third of it. It was interesting, because there was a definite lamb flavor, but the onions were pretty present as well. And the aftertaste was quite peppery. By the end, it had broken Eva’s esophagus - but mostly because she, like a four year old, refused to chew it.

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After lunch, we hit up the National Portrait Gallery, because there was a fashion exhibit that Natalie had heard about. Then we looked at (and made fun of) a bunch of stuffy old Scottish portraits. We also came upon a gorgeous two-story library full of old books, busts, and phrenology casts. This was the first time Eva had heard of this science, and she continues to refer to it as “faceology”.

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On the way back to the old town (it was only about 4:15, but already dark) we stopped by the Scottish Christmas market, where we bought some German stollen and a little wheel of hardcore artisan garlic herb cheese. We also passed a stand selling products from the Jura Mountains – Natalie’s region in France! Eva almost got to try some comté, but her tummy was still in a fragile state after lunch…

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In anticipation of restaurants being closed for Christmas, we headed to a grocery store to stock up. After five-year-old Eva found the candy aisle, and spent a LONG time freaking out about all of the different choices, Natalie decided it was time to start adding some real food to our basket. But don’t worry – we did buy some shortbread and a European Skittle variety.

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After a breakfast of porridge and jam and Americanos – aren’t we worldly?! – we packed a bag and headed off to the Stockbridge neighborhood in western Edinburgh. This was so Natalie could fulfill a longtime dream of visiting St. Bernard’s Well. Years ago, she came across a photo of this well and fell in love with it. So, of course, it went without saying that we would see it in person while we had the chance. This hike took us out of the touristy old town and into a very residential area.

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"Is that...could it be?"
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"I think that might be St. Bernard's Well..."
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"By gosh, it is!"
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We fully intended to follow that up with a trek to Arthur’s Seat, a peak overlooking the town, but this time it was Natalie’s turn to be a five year old. Her bladder couldn’t make it. So we went back to the hostel and did laundry and wrote this blog post instead!
Our goal is to write one epic post for each city we visit. Sorry for the length, but congratulations – you made it through! We hope that, unlike Natalie, you didn’t have to go to the bathroom three times while reading it… So if you’re to the challenge, check back in the next couple of days for the second installment!

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Posted by NKammerer 12:52 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged scotland edinburgh market cemetery cathedral christmas castle potatoes haggis kammerer_sisters_unite greyfriar's st._gile's bangers_and_mash st._bernard's_well scottish_national_portrait_gall Comments (6)

The semester has ended, but the adventures have NOT...

Last French post of 2014!

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My last day of classes/exams was this past Thursday, so I am officially done with my first semester, and the CLA! This past week has been full of mixed feelings, as I have said goodbye to many friends who have already left or will be leaving soon for home, and all of those who will be staying on in Besançon but staying at the CLA (I am the only one that I know of who will be switching to the university for the Spring semester; it was a unique opportunity provided by my study abroad program that is not available for others.) Hopefully we will have the occasion to continue to see each other over the next semester!

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I'm not quite sure how I ended up in the back here... This is my Oral Expression class, our the professor, Madame Marcelli, is the woman in black in the middle.

On Thursday night, in order to celebrate the end of a successful semester and to send off those who would be leaving, most of us went out for dinner to this little restaurant called Café Café. It sounds super kitschy, but was actually a super chill and charming little neighborhood place. Our table for eleven took up about a third of the room, and there were just two servers who were incredibly friendly. (An ongoing struggle for me is reading the daily menus in restaurants, which are often scrawled on chalkboards…but I discovered that I am not alone in this handicap.) After we spent a few minutes of giggling and asking each other what “closed chicken” could mean (apparently, fermier [in this context, “country”] becomes fermé [“closed”] when written quickly), and trying to decipher a few entirely illegible words, one of the servers came over and just read the whole board out loud to us…

Many of the daily specials contained things I had never tried before (veal, rabbit, duck, etc.) so I got adventurous and went for the rabbit confit accompanied by a hollowed baked eggplant filled with mascarpone. It was pretty schwanky. And actually quite delicious, like incredibly juicy and flavorful chicken. But eating off of bones is still a pretty big mental hurdle for me…

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And they had these enormous homemade pies sitting on the counter (the pie of the day was raspberry rhubarb), so I had to verify that they were as delicious as they looked. Check.

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Then after our dinner, we just hung out and then all of a sudden I was learning some basics of Chinese characters and the translations of the names of some of my classmates. Needless to say, my pronunciation needs some work. And there was also some unflattering portrait drawing that took place. But they were “good” enough to warrant the other server coming over to sit for his own portrait, which he propped behind the bar… If it isn’t clear enough to you already, I am in the middle on the top row.

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On the university front, I met last week with an advisor to go over my options for classes next semester. I haven’t made any decisions yet; I’ll have to see what will transfer back to UNL for credit. I know that these classes are going to be infinitely more difficult than this last semester, but I am very excited for the challenge, to get back to art history, and to have French classmates!

Last weekend, I went on a day-trip with ESN to Strasbourg in the Alsace-Lorraine region. (In the past few hundred years, this region has gone back and forth between Germany and France multiple times, so there is a lot of rich German culture visible in the city, too, particularly in some of the architecture. They have one of the most famous Christmas markets in France, so I had to go along to check it out! First, we went on a tour boat through the city as a group. Though it was interesting to learn a bit of town’s very long and colorful history, it was unfortunately quite impossible to get good pictures of anything. But, as you can see, there is some beautiful and interesting stuff there!

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After the tour, we had a few hours of free time, which was largely spent in the markets (there are actually eight of them spread throughout the downtown area: one is focused on gastronomy, one on products from foreign cultures, but most of them are just mixes of decorations, treats, toys, and other fun stuff). It was a really cool and festive atmosphere, with some very cool things for sale. There were SO many people. On one hand, it was fun to be part of such a popular tradition, and the crowds made it merrier, if you will, but sometimes it was a bit much. On occasion, it was downright impossible to navigate the narrow paths between stalls.

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One thing that had been on my to-do list this winter was to taste marrons chauds (roasted chestnuts), which have been for sale from street vendors since the opening of the market in Besançon. They always smell amazing when I pass by, and there are few things more appealing than the idea of a warm and freshly roasted nut when you’re out in the cold! So I finally yielded to the temptation and bought a little cone. All of the pavement within about a block radius of each of the markets was just covered with shells, so I figured they had to be pretty good. (Oh, I guess the vin chaud debacle voids that argument…) But there was no need to worry. They were warm and chewy, a little bit sweet and a little but salty – perfect combinations. I had been kind of worried about making a fool out of myself trying to eat them, because they are roasted in the shell. So I was trying to inconspicuously eye the people who were buying them in front of me, but didn’t have much luck. It turns out though, that the shells become really soft, almost like wet cardboard, and they just peel right off. I must say I’m sad they are only a Christmas treat…

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The picture of the stand is actually from here in Besançon, but it was very similar in Strasbourg!

Well, that’s about it for France 2014; I’ll be catching a train in about 12 hours to kick off the Kammerer Sister Christmas Craziness. I’ll be in Edinburgh by tomorrow night, and picking Eva up at the airport on Tuesday morning!!!! Stay tuned – the next post may be a joint effort!

Posted by NKammerer 10:45 Tagged friends dinner strasbourg cla kammerer_sisters_unite marché_de_noel finals café_café marrons_chauds Comments (5)

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