August 28, 2013

One Stylish Come Back

We have been at a non-stop pace since we came home to France just a few weeks ago, and today I have been able to breathe [read: blog].

The Zaanse Schans, just north of Amsterdam.
After moving into our gorgeous new flat in Saint-Maur-des-Foss├ęs (just east of Paris by the RER A train), we went north to Holland for a week of volleyball, windmills, bicycling, and excellent home-cooked meals. This was my second year going back to The American School of The Hague (but not quite in Den Haag, proper city is Wassenaar) to work the high school and middle school volleyball camps.

Strawberries. Whipped cream. Powdered sugar. Ice cream.
Who even needs the pancake?
The head coach, Cat, and I have easily become friends through our similar volleyball coaching philosophies and personalities, and I am really so honored to get to help her team start off her season each year. Marc tagged along this time, and we ate a lot of delicious bagels, gourmet pancakes, and drank a ton of tea - all the while enjoying Cat's incredible and healthy dinners every night!

We are constantly reminded of why we love to live in Europe, and why we continue to choose to stay!

Two days after we returned to our still-not-unpacked flat, we took the Eurostar through the Chunnel to London to meet up with my uncle, aunt, and cousin! What a magnificent weekend!

Uncle Mike!
Both Marc and I had experienced London as teenagers, ironically during the exact same summer of 2001, right before the 9/11 attacks and flying in an airplane changed forever. We didn't have any ambitious plans; the main idea was to enjoy time with our family. I had only one personal goal: I wanted a picture with the Tower Bridge. Back in 2001, our "tour" only included a ride over the bridge, making a photo with the bridge: impossible. Even though it was gray and rainy, my photo dream came true. Check!

I also had one surprise for Marc, and I have Rick Steves to thank for that (always)! Marc and I definitely have a lot in common, but one of our not-in-common things is his obsession with Harry Potter. But while listening to one of Rick's London podcasts, the tour guides brought up the fact that there is an entire Harry Potter tourism industry, including Platform 9 3/4 inside the King's Cross station.

Since our train was arriving there anyway, I figured it would be a fun start to our weekend (fun for Marc because he loves HP, fun for me because I love surprising people). Marc quickly noticed the "King's Cross" signs and started chattering about HP, and I just kept brushing off his comments with my lines of, "Um, cool?" and, "Marc, you know I really don't care about that." (Before you go straight to the, "What a rude wife!" reaction, realize I had to stay in character to keep the surprise a secret! And I won't hesitate to do the same to anyone else!)

After wandering around St. Pancras station for a good 30 minutes, I realized we needed to go across the street to the actual King's Cross station to find Marc's magical entry to Hogwarts. Once there, it was very easy - just follow the giddy tourists to the crowd of flashing cameras! Marc was thrilled, and he even praised my secret-keeping skills, so it was all a perfect surprise!

When we finally met up with Uncle Mike, Aunt Daphne, and Cousin James, we created our great plan of two glorious days and nights out on the town.

Night 1: TOZI (gorgeous Italian cuisine served as cicchetti/tapas) dinner and The Phantom of the Opera (Seat Plan here)

The Phantom of the Opera. MIND-BLOWING. Was it even fair to the world of the stage that this should be my first live show?! I was utterly captivated from the moment the lights dimmed; the fact that I knew and loved the entire story only made my heart beat faster in anticipation! Our seats were fantastic, and I was thrilled that the chandelier had such a dominating presence in the theater. The singing literally carried your mind and heart away; it is still playing and re-playing through my head even now. However, while the stage and movie versions of the story will always have their own breathtaking power, I still encourage everyone to read the original novel by Gaston Leroux. It contains more main characters, deeper plot lines, and paints a much more sinister phantom - making the triangle romance much more complex and dangerous for every player. He even makes the Palais Garnier more fascinating!

Night 2: CHINA TANG (elegant Chinese dining inside The Dorchester Hotel) and Jersey Boys

China Tang had the coolest 3-course duck meal I've ever had (coolest, and only). To begin, they carved the duck right in front of us to make our first course of meat. Then they took what was left of the duck to the kitchen, and scraped the rest of the meat into a rice and vegetable medley (this was my favorite part). The third course was a boiled duck soup - thus completing the tradition of not letting any bit of the duck go to waste.

Jersey Boys was a great surprise! We didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into, but as soon as we started hearing the oldies music pumping live, I was sold! Jersey Boys is all about the timeline of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, one of the great American rock n' roll bands from the 1960's. You might think...who? But when you hear their list of songs like, "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," "Walk Like a Man," "Sherry," "Oh What a Night," and "Big Girls Don't Cry," hopefully that will clue you in. The energy coming from the actors and the audience was insane - it was like being transported back into a 1960's concert by the time the show finished! I know the show was mostly about Frankie Valli, but the character that stole the show was Tommy DeVito, with his strong presence, decisive mannerisms, and his ability to remain so likable despite his many flaws. 

Three Unexpected Highlights

1) Finding a new decadent dessert to add to my list: the Millionaire's Shortbread. Go to the National Gallery. Walk directly to the cafe. Stare wide-eyed at the palette of mouth-watering desserts. Try a few. But definitely grab this one!

2) The crack of dawn fire alarm at our very nice hotel - also known as "Our Esteemed Clientele: Pajama Fashion Show." Marc and I, of course, looked completely normal. The good news was as soon as we got outside, they were ready to send us back in again, so we didn't have time to worry about any actual fire, or my passport burning alive.

3) Scones are actually REALLY GOOD - in England - with the proper clotted cream (basically butter...but fatter) and strawberry jam to compliment them. My afternoon tea was perfect and complete.

Tea with cream and sugar. Scone, biscuit, and chocolate pastry. Cheerio!
It was a great decision to return so early this year, as it provided us the availability to visit people and places before work started. We must, of course, extend a wonderful THANK YOU to my uncle and aunt who graciously invited us to enjoy the London scene at its finest, and my cousin, who spent nearly all of his time entertaining us with his company (...and avoiding all of the pictures!).

Uncle Mike insisted on saying, "Blog," out loud during the photo.
I do not think this will catch on, but he definitely made the blog even better!
We love you guys! See you in Europe again soon, we hope!

[More scenes from our time in London]

[Just enjoying the excellent views all around us. And look! 
We take such lovely photos now, we have matured so gracefully.]

[Yeah right! We're still crazy, and you like it!]

Year 3 in Europe, let's do this!