Day Four

Happy New Year to all my American friends!!

The Rice family now has a new addition to the posse: my mom’s boyfriend, Graham. Graham is from London, so he has a better idea of which tube stations are where and how to get around the city…well sort of.

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We took the District Line and went to Harrods to make up for yesterday. This particular line was pretty cool because the station was outside instead of in the tube-like setting. We road the tube to Harrods and finally got to see the internationally famous store.

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And oh my god it was massive. Five floors of just everything you can think of: luxury goods, leather purses, raw tuna, French face cream. Department stores like that do not exist in the US. We went to the food section of the store and you can get caviar, fresh tuna, coconuts from Thailand and a rack of raw lamb meat. Think if Macy’s did that?!

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After waiting in the ridiculously long line, I leave with a London-themed Harrods mug and some key chains. Because you can not go to the only Harrods in the world and not buy something, especially when one has an insane mug addiction (cough cough myself.) We then made our way to Covent Gardens and their market for something to eat. Allison was on a quest for a floppy, British hat so we had to go search for that. Graham and I were waiting for Allie and Mom to try to find a hat and Graham asked me if I ever tried Mulled Wine.

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I hadn’t so we got some and it was PHENOMENAL. So good. Very similar to hot cider for those in the states. It was just what we needed to hold us over until we grabbed lunch. We all decided to go to Wagamama, an Asian, Pei-Wei style restaurant. The restaurant was set up as an open cafeteria where the wait staff comes to you, but you share a big, long table with strangers.

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The food was really good and had an amazing fried squid appetizer. Would definitely recommend to those going to London. It has multiple stores across the city, and even has curry if you want to try that London delicacy. We had some down time before New Years Eve night, so we went back to our flat. Later that night we went to Joe Allen, which was a great American-style restaurant. That’s right; we chose an American restaurant in London for New Years Eve. Food was fantastic and the service was so SO great. We then walked around to try to get a good spot to see the fireworks from the Eye. We kind of got a good view, but we were mainly shoved by hundreds of people. We stood next to a bunch of people from Spain who gave us grapes at midnight because apparently it is good luck for the new year. Who knew? So I had a grape, so let’s hope for the best this year.

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Mom and Graham decided it would be a good idea to rent some bicycles in the city and ride home instead of taking the tube. Everything was just fine and dandy until we had to ride on the street. Not only is the traffic the opposite direction of what the Rice girls are used to, but London drivers do not care. They will drive so close to you. It was insane; I almost got hit by a cab, person and/or bus a dozen times in our five mile ride home. Graham originally said “oh it’s about three miles.” Yet at almost every light he would suddenly yell “wait this way” or “oh this is going to be a tricky one.” There was even a point where my mom crossed four lanes of traffic and almost got hit several times. But hey, all bodies are accounted for. I never was so happy to see my flat’s street, and my legs definitely feel like jello. It was definitely one of the scarier things I have ever done (bike in London, at night, on New Year’s Eve), but I have to admit the adrenaline was kind of fun.

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Day Three

Everyday for breakfast I have had a chocolate croissant with orange juice, and if that isn’t enough of a reason to visit Europe I don’t know what is. Mix that and a slow-going morning and you can fit well with the Rice family.

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We took a series of tube stations only to find out that the line we wanted to go on to see Harrods was closed. Bummer. But no need to fear, we were near Buckingham Palace so we decided, “why not?” We missed the changing of the guard (because typical Rice family move), but got there early enough to miss the huge crowds.

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It was kind of underwhelming to be honest. The guards were in their winter grey (or gray depending on which country you are reading this from) instead of their red, so that was mildly disappointing. Yet if there is a will, there is a selfie out of it so Allison and I made due.

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We walked around the circle for a bit and it was cool to stop and think about all the thousands of people who came out here for the Royal Wedding and the famous kiss on the balcony. Pretty cool stuff. We waved down a cab and went to Fortnum and Mason.

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Holy cow, this place is huge. I mean like five floors of expensive, department store goodies. You walk in and are completely overwhelmed by all of the stuff and people constantly swirling around the store. We went to the top floor and made our way down to the tea floor. Everything was so expensive even though half of it was half off for what felt like the City of London’s end of the year sale.

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For all my American peeps across the pond, this is a tea shop that has been open since 1707. This is the tea shop where the Royal Family gets their tea. Yeah, pretty cool, right? You can get almost anything here: Wine, fresh fruit, men’s socks, ornaments, a vintage Chanel bag, coffee, biscuits (cookies), etc. I saw the Christening Blend made for Prince George’s baptism and thought “you are coming home with me.” I also got a macaroon because what the hey?!

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We got lunch at Pret a Manger because at this point it’s part of the daily routine, then made our way towards Oxford Circus. Along the way is a 5th Avenue/Rodeo Drive-esk street with the most expensive shops in the world like Cartier, Mikimoto, Louis Vuitton, Alexander McQueen, etc. Mom and Allison love to window shop so we casually walked down the street and saw all of the expensive diamonds, pearls and emeralds in the window.

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Bougie indeed. The further we moved towards Oxford Circus the more and more people were there. It was insane, and granted this is mainly because of all of the year-end sales at the five H&Ms, Top Shop, and Liberty London, but still. It was cool to go to Liberty London because it is one of the oldest shops in that district. However, my feet were dead, so I was a little less thrilled about the shopping and more excited about a place to sit.

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Day Two:

In true Rice fashion, we set the “leave flat” time at 10ish and we left at 11.

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We set off to the tube station and went to through many stations to the Tower of London. What is this tower, my American friends ask? It’s pretty much where all the beheadings happened during the 17th and 18th Century and where the Crown Jewels are held. At the Tower, one can see the the jewels, Bloody Tower and a bunch of creepy ravens. There is also a supposed creepy torture museum that was too much for my mom and sister. If there are any Mary Kate and Ashley movie fans out there, this is the museum where they go with their British boyfriends in Winning London. So I guess the “scavenger’s daughter” is to be seen during the next trip.

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After some brief souvenir shopping and contemplating buying a Henry VIII and wives ornament set, we get yet another coffee break at Pret A Manger. The Rice girls seriously need to write a thank you note to this Panera-esk restaurant. It’s super healthy and has gluten-free options, but kinda pricey. But hey, any place with free WiFi is a place for me. We then looked up how to get to the Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, which didn’t matter because we inevitably got lost anyway, and on we went!

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There were so many people good Lord. Now granted it was in the more “touristy” side of town, but gosh so many people walking here and there and bumping into you. Weirdly enough, Allison ran into one of her cheer friends who is here to perform in the New Years Day parade. A city that has collectively 8 million people in it and Allison finds her one Houston friend. Truly baffling. We walked with him and hit all of a sudden BOOM Big Ben.

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It is so much cooler in person. I personally didn’t realize there is so much detail in the clock and thankfully we were there on the hour so we heard the massive GONG ring through the city. After countless selfies, we walked toward Westminster Abbey and just missed the last tour. Bummer. But the gift shop had possibly the funniest gift of all time, and we are for sure going back just to buy it because we were stupid enough to leave it behind. It was a coffee mug with Henry VIII and all of his wives and as soon as you put hot water in it all the wives disappear. Absolutely genius. And at the Abbey gift shop of all things.

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Then dinner time and after getting lost (again) and walking for what felt like five miles, we caved in and got a cab and found this random restaurant near St. James Place and Piccadilly. It was at the end of the street, but it turned out to be super nice with phenomenal service and have decent food. I got fish and chips because “when in London…” and they were really great about getting actual good gluten-free options for my mom and sister. It’s called Le Caprice if anyone is in London and wants to try it.

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Tonight is our West End night where we saw Shakespeare in Love. It was a little slow in the beginning, but Act II was hilarious. I mean I was crying a little in my seat it was that funny. It mirrored the movie very well, so if you are a fan of the film try to see the stage production. It may only be in London, but details, details. And after getting lost (that’s the third time folks) we made it safely to our flat and now can’t sleep. Jet lag is a mysterious thing.

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Shoutout to the guy who photobombed us. Sneaky.

Day One: London

This has been one of the longest days of my life. To put this in perspective for my friends in the States, it’s 7 p.m. here in London and it’s about 1 p.m. in the Central time zone and we have been awake since our 6 p.m. Chicago flight on the 27th. Anyway, all of us (my mom, sister, and I) are exhausted from walking all over the city because we landed in London 8 a.m. London time.

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But 10 hours later, we finally made it! Don’t worry Kate Middleton, the Rice girls have arrived and only thought that we lost our suitcases, phones, and keys in the first hour of being in the country. Typical…

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We decided to rent a flat for the week in Notting Hill, which is near a tube station (look at me getting the lingo down) and near a bunch of shops. We took the tube to the Spitalfieds Market mainly because Portobello Road Market was closed today and it was only a couple stops away. This was such a cute market where I snagged a cute pearl necklace (for only £10, what a deal!!) and sister got some clothes. This market had a great assortment of handmade everything: Leather goods, jewelry, clothing, etc, and was located by other more well-known shops.

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It’s my mission this week to have as much London street food as possible, so I started this by having a lamb kabob wrap. Guys, it was phenomenal and even though I got half the sauce on my jacket I was on cloud nine.

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We then had to get a coffee pick-me-up at a corner shop because apparently a ton of stores and shops are closed on Sunday in London; who knew? Mom suggested that we go on a Harry Potter walking tour, so to the tube and off we went.

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The walking tour was about two hours, which was hurting Allison and I at the bitter end, and we walked through the City of London and saw locations that inspired scenes in the movie and other film scenes. It was fun to see places like the original Leaky Cauldron location and a walk by London Bridge and the Millennial Bridge.

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So Day 1= huge success. Considering that we have collectively been awake for what feels like three days, we made it till the end of the day with already a good start to the city. Also, Allison and I decided that in our next life we want to come back as a London pigeon.

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RIGHT?!?!? He was barely able to actually take flight, by the way.

Annie’s Carry On Essentials

So as I sit here at my airport gate, I thought about how much crap people take in their carry ons. I totally guilty on this to, but I think that people don’t know what exactly they need in their bags. So here is my airport carry on essentials.

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Fuzzy Socks
Honest to God, you will thank me later for this. This is my favorite thing to do when I hit the seventh or ninth hour of my flight. Taking your shoes off and put some super soft, fuzzy socks is the bomb. That and you can still walk around the plane and not have to put your shoes back on. Extra points if you get the ones with Aloe in them. The. Best. You can snag these at Walmart or Target, and if you really want to be a little fancy, Bed Bath and Beyond.

A Pen
Basic I know yet everyone around you is always asking for a pen or pencil when those custom forms are being handed out. Also, if you are the kind of person to have a written travel journal or sudoku on the flight, it’s an added bonus. It’s always the little things that always seem to be forgotten when packing.

Language Dictionary
This one in particular has all the major languages of Europe, which is incredibly helpful because I’m traveling to five different countries. I’ll always important to at least TRY to speak the language, even if it’s just pointing at the word.

Wet Wipes
A blessing in a packet. This is perfect to wipe random gunk that is always acquired during public transportation. It’s great to just wipe your face during a long flight to just be a little more refreshed. These are great and a staple in my bags.

Passport
Need I say more?

Advil
I personally always get a headache when flying for long periods of time. This can also help with sore muscles from a long flight.

Headphones
There is always a crying baby on your flight. Always. No one is invincible and gets around it. So invest in nose-canceling headphones and write me a thank you note later.

Smart Device With Respected Chargers
You can download Podcasts (Serial anyone?!), books, movies, games, the whole nine yards. And while you’re ignoring the three screaming, crying babies, you can get some culture in you.

Makeup
Shoutout to those who wear makeup. Repeat after me: I will never check anything of value or that can break on my flight. This includes makeup, especially for those who truly invest in their beauty routines. Nothing is sadder than a broken eyeshadow that you just bought at Sephora.

Weather Specific Clothing
Whether (HA no pun intended) that is an umbrella, gloves, sunglasses, etc. You don’t want to be that idiot that did not bring an umbrella to the UK.

The 10 Commandments To Do Pre-Vacation

Thou Shall Always Roll
If you don’t do this in your suitcase now, then shame on you. JK, but really rolling all your clothes, and I mean ALL of them, is infinitely easier than folding. It saves space and everything should stay, more or less, wrinkle free. If you are super, SUPER organized then roll by outfits to make life so much easier when you reach your destination.

Thou Shall Make Lists
I am the guilty over-packer. I like to have options, ok? But, I have found that making a well-defined list of everything for your suitcase and carry on is a blessing in disguise. This way you will not over-pack and not forget anything super important or well needed. Extra credit if you only cross off the things you wrote down when you actually have packed them.

Thou Shall Never Put Valuables in Your Checked Luggage
Close your eyes for a couple of seconds and think of all the hands that touch your checked luggage especially if traveling out of the country. Crazy right? So on that note always carry anything of value (money, jewelry, technology, etc.) in your carry on to always have an eye on it.

Thou Shall Have a Photo Copy of Your Important Documents At All Times
This means passports (if traveling out of the country), credit cards, drivers license, insurance cards, etc. For passports especially, this could speed up the new-passport process at the Embassy. Having copies of everything can be critical in an emergency setting. I always like to make three copies of my passport when leaving the country and having a copy with someone in the states. Bonus points if you email it to yourself or have it in Google Drive.

Thou Shall Have a List of the Places You’re Staying With Phone Numbers and Addresses
This is especially important when traveling out of the country where you don’t know the language. If you are lost, it is great to have the location and phone number of the place you are staying. It can help out a lot if there is a language barrier.

Thou Shall Do Your Research
Does your destination avoid eye contact? Is it cold during November? Do the natives eat with the fork in the right or left hand? Is it rude to completely finish your plate? Cultural things like this are crucial to know before going to your destination. It can help not create awkward and uncomfortable moments. Also, it is great to research what the tourists like to do and what locals love to do.

Thou Shall Have All the Right Medications
This might sound like a no-brainer, but make sure you have all the proper medications with you in your carry on for your trip. Some countries don’t have certain medicines that are commonly available in the US. Also, some medications are legal in the US and illegal in others. Talk to your doctor just in case.

Thou Shall Warn Your Credit Card Company
Call your credit card company a couple days before your trip and tell them when, where and for how long you will be out of the country. This way the company won’t freeze or, dare I say it, terminate your card. Nothing is worse than being out of the country without any money.

Thou Shall Budget Your Money
It is so easy to blow your next rent paycheck on souvenirs, and even though the “when in Rome” mentality is a true statement, your credit card can sometimes state otherwise. Coming up with a daily or weekly budget can help the next month’s bill not be so alarming.

Thou Shall Charge Every Device Before You Leave
Toothbrushes, phones, laptops: It seems like everything has a limited battery life. The night before you go, make sure that everything that needs to be charged IS charged. Airports are sometimes unpredictable and don’t always have a ready outlet. If your phone can’t carry a charge for very long, invest in a pre-charged bank to carry you through unpredictable layovers.

Birdman (2014)

Yes, y’all, I finally saw Birdman, and it was quite the wild ride.

Riggan (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up former superhero actor that is trying to revive his career by directing, writing and staring in his Broadway play.  As issues arise from starting the play, Riggan also deals with the identity crisis of trying to move on from his role as Birdman.

I walked into this movie only knowing that it received the most nominations–a hefty seven–for the Golden Globes. That and everyone and their mother said that this is the best movie of the year, so I thought, “why not?!”  It was good, but not the best thing I have seen this year.

It is definitely an performance driven movie.  Edward Norton as the typical “tortured artist-method actor” was brilliant, and enough of a reason to see the film.  Both he and Keaton had a hilarious chemistry that definitely sped up the pace of the plot line.  Keaton also added the right amount of humor and seriousness as Riggan and will certainly be recognized for his performance.  Other stars like Zach Galifianakis as Keaton’s manager and Emma Stone as Keaton’s post-drug addict daughter were also perfect additions to this bizarre film.

Things I loved:

I loved how there was a constant drumming in the background that both helped reiterated the tone and created a transition between shots.  It was just what was needed to help keep the pace moving for this two and a half hour movie.  The one-shot film style was perfect for the storyline because it created this idea that the audience was actually there watching what was going on and let the audience see what the characters were doing in a more linear fashion.  The script style had a theatrical feel to it when the actors were “not performing,” but being themselves, which showed the audience the intensity and drama that is theater people.  This is also funnier than I expected.  I thought that this was going to be a more serious film, but it has that dark, dry humor that I tend to love.

Things I could have done without:

The “Birdman” voice that was present throughout was strange but understandable. It was strange when Keaton would switch to The Birdman and fly and such.  I understand that it was to demonstrate the thin line of reality vs. fantasy, but I just didn’t think it was as good as I expected it to be.

I just didn’t leave going “wow.”  Maybe this is because everyone built up the expectations that it was going to be excellent, but I just didn’t feel the movie theatre magic that everyone else seemed to feel.  But don’t get me wrong, I would recommend this to see just so you can have a better judgment when Award season comes round the corner.  But, if you are more of a traditionalist in your movie section, you might want to skip out on this one.

3.5 out of 5 stars