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Monday, July 18, 2011

Man-sized Kleenex and Other UK Specialties

The last two days have been a fantastic introductory weekend to London as my group settles in. Our Saturday walking tour around the Bloomsbury neighborhood was cancelled due to the tour guide writing the wrong date into his appointment book, so instead my flatmate Tiffanie and I decided to get some grocery shopping done. So far, I've been to Sainsbury's and Waitrose, and I can't decide which one I prefer. Sainsbury's is smaller, feels more British, and has a smaller, yet cheaper selection. The prepackaged sandwich section was lovely, and I bought plenty of food for £24. Waitrose is larger, laid out more like an American grocery store, and has endless variety. The produce section had red and black currants, yellow plums and chunks of coconut ready to eat; things I have trouble finding in the states. There's a variety of raisins here are called sultanas, which I find such a sexy word for such an ordinary fruit. And like Paris, the bakery contains items like hot cross buns, mini pains au chocolat, brioche and packaged waffles everywhere for a delightfully unhealthy breakfast. Eggs are kept out of the refrigerated cases, and like I was saying earlier, the prepackaged sandwiches are so creative. Salmon, mint, and pea, roast chicken with stuffing, hoisin duck, tuna with sweet corn, chicken tikka, and even cheese and celery. As someone who has always oddly enjoyed a mundane task like grocery shopping, the countless differences between British and American products are a source of entertainment for me. The British like their Kleenez mansized, their toilet paper covered with assorted lotions and oils like jojoba and chamomile, and their chocolate milky. I have yet to find good British toffee, though. I haven't even found a Heath bar yet, just something called a Toffee Crisp bar.

Three days here, and I've ridden in the tube, which is clean, but an absolute mess of humans everywhere. I vastly prefer riding in the top floor, top row of a double-decker bus, which is like a cheap rollercoaster ride. The blind spots on each side of the bus are so huge that when you're looking out the top windshield, you feel like the bus has jumped a curb, smashed into a pedicab driver, and killed three pedestrians all at the same time. At night, riding in the double-decker bus was almost as good as standing in the back of a San Francisco cable car. Startling, free-wheeling, and adventurous.

Also saw Billy Elliot: the Musical at Victoria Theatre, took a bus/walking tour of London, shopped on Oxford Street, and had the most delicious takeaway fish and chips for dinner tonight. Flaky, very meaty white fish and perfect steak fries, they honestly rival the Wisconsin fish fry. Right now, everything in London is thrilling and different, and going back home to Madison sounds so boring. I'm happy to have the trip still ahead of me.

Tomorrow is Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, the London Eye, AND seeing Harry Potter in a cheap Notting Hill cinema. Can I get paid to live like this? Please?

P.S. FSU study abroad friends:
If you want to get a UK cell phone, it was surprisingly easy, and even better, surprisingly cheap. I went to Carphone Warehouse (4 Oxford Street, London, about five storefronts down from Boots). All I had to do was pick out a model (the one I chose was £2.95), stand in the prepay line, and pay for the phone and minutes. Since I paid with cash, I was required to put £20 onto the phone. The phone number is printed on the SIM card packaging.

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