London: the one day tour guide

This is my “tour guide” of how to see the best touristy things in London in only one busy day. As this is my opinion, the list is not all-inclusive but represents what I think are the most fantastic tourist things to do and see in London.

I would recommend this for those who do not generally like cities (but wants to see some British history and is forced to be in London for a day), are passing through London (with a one night stay-over) on their way to the rest of Europe, or for those who recently arrived in England and now live within a short train ride from London. This is a jam-packed full day trip, requiring the following: at least 12 hours, a positive attitude (that you’re trying to see an amazing city in only one day), and a great pair of walking shoes. And maybe a nice weatherproof layering jacket.

We usually buy an “open return” train ticket from Cambridge that includes using the London Underground during off-peak times for the entire day. Off-peak is before 6:30 a.m. and after 9:30 a.m. The open return part of the ticket allows for the user to return to their origin of destination any time after 7 p.m. on the same day.

Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Train Station
Generally speaking, El and I take an express train into Kings Cross Station when going to London. Therefore, this area is a fun stopping point for us. There is a cart to take pictures with (including a scarf representing your favorite house) and a store for all of your needed Harry Potter accessories, including wands, tasty treats, and clothing.
Time: 5 minutes, unless you really do want your picture taken with the cart that is “going into” the Platform area. There’s always a queue for that. I honestly believe that the British do enjoy a good queue.

Platform 9 3:4

Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station

The British Museum
This Museum contains global antiquities, including Greek, Roman, and Egyptian artifacts. On occasion, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai is supposedly on display. We keep stopping by to see if it is being displayed – not only is it our favorite piece of artwork, it is never on display in museums when we are there. We missed it in Paris by a few days.
The other reason why the British Museum has become our normal first stop is because our commuting underground tickets don’t work until off peak hours, and we are usually aiming to get into London before 9 a.m. for a day trip. Therefore, El and I think it is an easy way for us to spend at least a half hour before being able to use the Underground. And after riding the train for 45 minutes, we think it is nice to walk about a mile from the train station to the museum. Bonus is that you get the luxury to walk through Russell Square (a lovely park) and the University College London campus on your journey from the station. The British Museum also has a nice selection of teas in their cafe area.
Cost: Donation suggestion of £5
Time: I could spend most of a day inside the museum. We generally only spend 30 minutes or 1 hour in this one because it is part of our normal London routine.
Closest Underground Stations: Russell Square, Holborn, Tottenham Court Road, and Godge Street

Trafalgar Square and The National Gallery Museum
This is a public space in central London that is used for many ceremonies (New Year’s Eve, Christmas, Silence in the Square (Remembrance Day),  St. Patrick’s Day Parade goes around it, etc) in addition to a place for protests and a general meeting or gathering point. Because I particularly like people watching (sorry, I know it sounds a little creepy), Trafalgar Square is a place for me to sit, relax, and watch the world go by. I particularly like watching how people interact with each other and their reaction to street performers.
There are four plinths within the square, which are home to three statues: General Sir Charles James Napier, Major-General Sir Henry Havelock, and an equestrian statue of King George IV. The fourth plinth is used to showcase commissioned artworks. At the time of posting this (and unveiled at the beginning of March 2015), the current piece of artwork is Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse, is a skeletal and riderless horse. Tied to one of the horse’s front leg is an electronic ribbon that displays a live ticker of the London Stock Exchange. It is said to link money, power, and history together in one piece. You can see and read more about this display and past displays here.
Next to Trafalgar Square is The National Gallery Museum, which contains many fantastic pieces of artwork. The website boasts 30 highlighted paintings that are a must-see. I personally believe that the two most popular works housed in this museum are The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci and Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh.
Cost: Donation suggestion of £5
Time: I could also spend a lot of time inside this museum as well. I try to limit my time to only an hour in this museum too.
Closest Underground Station: Charing Cross

The fourth plinth was the Hahn/Cock by Katharina Fritsch from July 2013 until February 2015.

The fourth plinth was the Hahn/Cock (blue rooster shown at the far left side of the picture) by Katharina Fritsch and was on display in Trafalgar Square from July 2013 until February 2015.

Horse Guards Parade at Whitehall
From Trafalgar Square, the Horse Guards Parade is a large parade ground less than a 10 minutes walk. Many people (crowds!) take pictures of the two guardsmen on horses outside of the area. If you time it correctly, you can watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
Time: Ceremony occurs at 11 a.m. daily, except Sundays at 10 a.m.
Closest Underground Station: Charing Cross

St. James’s Park
Behind the Horse Guards Parade is this wonderful park. In addition to the pelicans (given by a Russian ambassador over 350 years ago), there are wonderful fauna and flora here. I recently learned that the pelicans are fed fish at 2:30-3 p.m. on Duck Island within the park. The walk through the park leads up to Buckingham Palace. There is also a Princess Diana Memorial in the park.
Time: Under an hour
Closest Underground Stations: Westminster and Charing Cross

St. James Park Lake with the London Eye in the background. Photo taken by Gloria Borgstahl.

St. James Park Lake with the London Eye in the background. Photo taken by Gloria Borgstahl.

Buckingham Palace
At the other end of St. James’s Park is the residence of HRM Queen Elizabeth II. Four foot guards indicated that Queen is in residence, two guards indicates she is not. The changing of the guards also occurs here at 11:30 a.m. and lasts approximately 45 minutes. During the spring and summer, this occurs daily. In autumn and winter, this occurs every other day. When it is wet or cold, the guards wear grey coats instead of red. From late July until late September, you can tour parts of Buckingham Palace.
Cost: Free if you stay outside of the palace. If touring the palace, prices vary from £20 up to £75, depending on what you see and if you get a private tour.
Closest Underground Station: Victoria, Green Park, Hyde Park Corner

E&J Buckingham Palace 2013 2

The Palace of Westminster – also known as the Houses of Parliament
This palace is the home to the Elizabeth Tower and is widely known for its iconic bell inside: Big Ben! This palace and its tower are well known to people outside of London. The parliament debates and hearings are open to all visitors to attend. Permanent UK residents can book tours of the Elizabeth Tower to see Big Ben up close and personal.
Cost: Free – for the tour, you must contact your MP
Closest Underground Station: Westminster

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The iconic Big Ben

Westminster Abbey
This is the church for weddings and coronations of the United Kingdom’s Royal Family. It has a lot of history within it and is the burial site for over 3,000 people – from monarchs to scientists to poets. No pictures can be taken inside the Abbey, but you can purchase a tour booklet with pictures of the abbey for £2 as you enter. There are also free audio guides in many languages available. On Sundays, Christmas, and Easter the abbey is only open for worship.
Cost: £20
Time: Expect to spend 2 hours touring with the audio guide.
Closest Underground Station: Westminster

Westminster Abbey

The London Eye
This attraction comes with a small disclaimer: I must admit that I love Ferris wheels! There is something that attracts me to them, almost like a magnet. I drag El into every single Ferris wheel that I possibly can. I’ve always found them to be fun even though I am slightly terrified of heights. The London Eye happens to be a giant Ferris wheel, so I’m a little biased on the importance of seeing and experiencing a ride on it. This gigantic wheel is located on the South Bank of the River Thames. It is also known as the Millennium Wheel, but I’ve never heard it called that.
When it was built in 1999, the structure (443 ft; 135 m) and wheel (diameter of 394 ft, 120 m) made it the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. Since then, the Star of Nanchang, the Singapore Flyer, and the High Roller (Las Vegas, Nevada; currently the tallest) have surpassed the height of the London Eye. Technically speaking though, the Eye is the tallest European Ferris wheel and “the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel” meaning it is supported by an A-frame from only one side (the non-river side). Until 2013, the Eye was the highest public viewpoint in London; the Shard opened in its observation decks on the 68th, 69th, and 72nd stories with the 72nd story to be much higher than the Eye.
In the London Eye, are 32 capsules; each one representing one of London’s boroughs, which can hold up to 25 people. Inside each air-conditioned passenger capsule is seating and room to walk around. When El and I went in spring 2013, there were tablets in 4 areas that provide the names and descriptions of buildings and landmarks that riders can see from inside the capsule.
Cost: ~£21, but discounted tickets of £19 can be purchased online. Additionally, private bookings, fast track tickets (skip the queue), and tour guides are available.
Time: One revolution in this Ferris wheel requires roughly 30 minutes. The rate of rotation is slow enough that it is easy to walk on and off of the moving capsules. However, the Ferris wheel is stopped when elderly or disabled passengers are embarking or disembarking the capsules for safety purposes.
Closest Underground Station: Waterloo

Jenny London Eye 2013

The Tower of London
History at its finest. This Tower was built in 1066 by William the Conqueror as both a palace and defense system. With its unique history (22 executions, prisoners galore, and many exotic animals), quirky superstitions (7 ravens are kept in the Tower of London and are fed a steady, daily diet of 170 g of raw meat and blood-soaked biscuits), fantastic jewelry display (the Crown Jewels are stored and displayed on site) and excellent on-site free tour guides (the Beefeaters), the Tower has so much to offer and is literally a piece of history that you can walk through. Throughout the year, there are different events (performances, talks, activities) that are available at the Tower. For example, if you are great at making plans 5-6 months in advance, you can have the opportunity to see exactly how the Beefeaters lock up the Tower at night with the Ceremony of the Keys!
Cost: £24.50, £23.10 if purchased online; £1 for the Ceremony of the Keys
Closest Underground Station: Tower Hill
Time: I believe the Tower can be an all-day tour. However, it can also be done in under 2 hours.

Poppies surrounding the Tower of London. Poppies were installed from August until November 2014. After Remembrance Day, the poppies were removed and mailed to those who had purchased them.

Poppies surrounding the Tower of London. Poppies were installed from August until November 2014. After Remembrance Day, the poppies were removed and mailed to those who had purchased them.

The Tower Bridge
The Tower Bridge was built in the 1880’s and is a combination of a bascule bridge and a suspension bridge. Like many other attractions on my list, the Tower Bridge is an iconic symbol of London. It consists of two bridge towers with two horizontal walkways connecting them. They were designed to allow people to walk from one side of the Thames to the other, even when a bridge is drawn for tall ships to sail through. Under the Tower Bridge Act (Corporation of London Act), the city is required to raise the Bridge to provide access to and egress from the Upper Pool of London for registered vessels with a structure of 30 ft or larger. This service is free, only requires 24 hours’ notice, and can happen any time during the year. You can find out the next time the bridge will be raised hereClosest Underground Stations: Tower Hill, London Bridge, Bermondsey
Cost: free, £10.50 if you go to the top walkway of the bridge and get a tour
Closest Underground Station: Tower Hill

Tower Bridge

Learning English

The more time I spend at work, the more [British] words and phrases I learn. Here is a collection (part 1 of many, I hope) of new-to-me words and phrases I have learned while living in England. I have provided the American word(s) that are the equivalent.

AA: the Automobile Association (equivalent to the US version of AAA)

A&E: the accident and emergency department of a hospital (emergency room or ER)

Aggro: aggressive or problematic

Aubergine: a purple vegetable (eggplant)

Bits ‘n bobs: various things; a way of saying “this and that” or “stuff and things”

Blimey: a word used to exclaim surprise (However, I sometimes feel that this is used sarcastically at times.)

Bonnet: the panel on a car that covers the engine (hood)

Boot: the rear storage compartment of a car (trunk).

Bubble and squeak: an English dish with pan-fried leftover vegetables, typically from a roast dinner (or Sunday roast). The main ingredients are usually potatoes and cabbage, but any leftover vegetables are fair game. The dish apparently gets its name because it makes bubbling and squeaking sounds while you’re cooking it.

Bucket loads: a large amount. For example, my co-worker told me, “We have bucket loads of data!”

Bum bag: What Americans call a “fanny pack”

Car hire: car rental

Cheers: a way to say thank you, but it can also be used to say good-bye

Childminder: a person who looks after babies and young children while the parents are working (childcare)

Chips: fried potatoes (steak fries)

Cooker: the kitchen appliance that can be gas or electric used to cook food (stove)

Courgette: the green summer squash (zucchini)

Crisps: thin potato slices that come in a bag (potato chips or chips)

Diary: a book with spaces for each day of the year that one notes appointments or information (Americans would call this a daily organizer or a personal calendar or an agenda book)

Earworm: a piece of music that repeats in a person’s mind, even after it no longer playing (or being sang by your co-worker)

Elephant roll: a roll of paper towels

Fanny: ladies private parts (pro tip: never say fanny pack in the UK)

Flat: apartment

Footpath: the area adjacent to the street where pedestrians walk (sidewalk)

Fringe: the collective strands of hair that cover all or parts of the forehead (Americans call them bangs)

Full stop: the punctuation mark at the end of most sentences (period)

Gherkin: a pickle made from a cucumber (pickle)

Green fingers: to have talent for being able to grow plants (green thumb)

Half-#: thirty minutes after the hour. For example: The seminar begins at half-nine.

Hire: to rent something

Hob: the heating element on a cooker; what Americans call a burner on the stove.

Holiday: vacation

Jacket potato: a baked potato with the skin still on the potato

Jumper: a sweater

Launderette: a self-service place to do laundry (laundromat)

Learnt: past tense of learn (learned)

Lift: elevator

Lorry: a large motor vehicle (truck)

Miffed: annoyed or irritated

MOT: (pronounced as the letters, not the word) a annual safety and “roadworthiness” test required for motor vehicles over 3 years old

Motorway: a controlled-access highway that has a very fast speed limit and a high volume of traffic (freeway, interstate)

Nappy: the adsorbent garment for babies (diapers)

National Insurance: required payments made to the UK government from earnings to pay for welfare benefits, such as the NHS (national health service – the healthcare system in the UK) and the pension fund.

Pants: underwear

Peckish: a little bit hungry

Pelican crossing: pedestrian crosswalk with stop lights controlled by the pedestrians (crosswalk)

Postcode: the alphanumeric code used to identify an address (ZIP Code)

Quid: the informal way of referring to the pound sterling monetary unit. (Note: the plural form remains quid) – similar to referring to the US dollar as a buck.

Rota: a roster of names with a rotation of duties (sometimes referred to as a monitor)

Rubber: a pencil eraser

Rubbish: 1) literally the garbage or 2) something is terrible

Sat Nav: satellite navigation (GPS)

Sellotape: transparent adhesive tape (Scotch tape)

Sleeping policeman: mound in the road used to slow down vehicles (speed bump)

Solicitor: legal representative (lawyer, attorney)

Telly: television

Tinned: canned as in “tinned soup” or “a tin of tomatoes”

Toliet: refers to the room, not the plumbing device (restroom or bathroom) – it can sometimes be referred to as the loo or the water closet, but I’ve mostly seen “toliet”

Toucan crossing: a type of pedestrian crossing that allows pedestrians and cyclists to both cross the street (named because the two can cross together).

Trainers: athletic shoes (sneakers)

Treacle: a thick, refined sugar syrup (molasses)

Uni: short for university

Wellies: short for Wellington boots, which are waterproof rubber boots

Whilst: another way to say “while”

Windscreen: the window part of a car that the driver looks through (windshield)

Zebra crossing: the area of a road with painted stripes, where vehicles are required to stop if a pedestrian is crossing within them. Note: The Beatles Abbey Road album features a zebra crossing. And yes, if you go to the original place to re-create the album cover, the cars are required to stop for you.

Zed: the last letter of the alphabet (in the US, it is pronounced “zee”)

 

BRCA2 Cycle Path

I love solving mysteries and problems, which is how I would describe what I do for a living. Technically speaking, I am a biochemist – a structural biologist. I like looking at the 3-dimensional structure of proteins and understanding how other things (other proteins, DNA, small molecules, etc) fit into those proteins. And while I have some interest in understanding the biological processes of cancer, I am not a cancer researcher. However, I have been spending a lot of my spare time trying to understanding more about BRCA2 (pronounced as “bracka two” and stands for Breast Cancer Type 2 susceptibility protein). For most genes and proteins, the gene is in italics while the protein remains in normal font.

BRCA2 was discovered in 1995 by Professor Michael Stratton and Dr. Richard Wooster in cooperation with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. This institute is a charitably funded genomic research center and is located about 9 miles south of Cambridge in a town called Hinxton. The Sanger Institute is a leader in the Human Genome Project, which is an international scientific research project intended to map and identify all of the genes of human genome, both physically and functionally. (Sidenote: a genome is the genetic instructions of how an organism is put together and functions.) From the beginning of the even the idea of the project, there have been strong supporters and strong detractors of this project.

Recently, El’s family has undergone some extensive genetic testing to unveil that some of his family members have a mutation in the BRCA2 gene. His family has a history of breast cancer, specifically related to this gene. Some mutations (but not others) in BRCA2 lead to an abnormal function in the BRCA2 protein. To date, researchers have identified over 450 different mutations in the BRCA2 gene. Some mutations (but not all) of BRCA2 correlated with an increased chance of breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancer(s). The mutation that several people in El’s family have causes the BRCA2 protein to be truncated; thereby, causing a reduction in the function of the protein. Why does this all matter? Well, the protein created by the BRCA2 gene is involved in repairing damaged DNA. It binds to and regulates another protein (RAD51) in order to fix breaks found in your DNA. Breaks in DNA happen, which is why your body has a system to repair them. It is only when there are (certain) mutations BRCA2 that result in the cells dividing in an uncontrollable way (this is pretty much the textbook definition of cancer).

Being so far away from El’s family, there really isn’t too much we can do as each member of his family has genetic testing done and then determining what to do with those results. I am so amazed at how his family is coping with the results, especially one person in particular. The level of determination and sustained hope she has is so inspiring, and I admire her for how she (and the rest of his family) are tackling the situation. Therefore, when I discovered there was a BRCA2 cycle path, I knew I had to ride it, no matter the distance (for the record, it is approximately 2 miles long). This cycle path is part of the National Cycle Network in England and extends from the Addenbrooke’s Hospital site (where I work) with a nearby community called Great Shelford. At its unveiling in 2005, it was the 10,000th mile of the National Cycle Network. To represent the 10,257 base pairs of the BRCA2 gene, a series of thermoplastic stripes were heat welded in four different colors and represent the nucleotide sequence of BRCA2. The color scheme is the following: green is adenine (A), red is thymine (T), blue is cytosine (C), and yellow is guanine (G). At each end of the cycle path is a metal structure of the DNA double helix.

Double helix of DNA

DNA double helix

BRCA2 cycle path

BRCA2 cycle path

10,000 mile, 10,257 stripes

10,000 miles, 10,257 stripes

Our Year Five Began in Paris

Before we moved across the pond, my friend Mary Anne suggested that we should celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary by being in Paris and in the Eiffel Tower. I become fixated on doing this because I thought it would be a very romantic way to celebrate. I was envisioning eating chocolate and drinking champagne at the top by ourselves – yes, in my mind, all of the other tourists would just not be in the tower with us. Maybe El rented the tower for the day to celebrate. Who knows? It could happen, right? Let’s just say that I can be a little delusional at times!

This was our second holiday (the first being a tour of East Anglia in July), but our first one to “the continent.” By which, I mean continental Europe, which excludes all of the islands that are associated with Europe. In other words, Brits refer to Europe as this other place that excludes them. And while I don’t disagree that British people and their customs are wildly different from other Europeans, I find it strange that the Brits commonly exclude themselves from the rest of Europe. Examples include: UK is the only place in Europe that drives on the left side of the road, thereby needing to have right-side driver seats; the UK is the only country (edit: one of ten countries, soon to be nine) in the EU that does not use the Euro as currency. The other countries that do not use the Euro are Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and Lithuania. However, Lithuania is set to start using the Euro in January 2015. (Thanks Nesrin for the information about the EU countries that haven’t adopted the Euro!)

I digress. Back to France! We had an ambitious list of things that we wanted to see and do in Paris, but we’d only be around for two and half days. Therefore, we opted for subway tickets that would let us freely roam within Parisian Zones 1-3 (the main portion of the city) and tried to group together things based on their locations. We still have a few things that we would have liked to do, but we plan to be in France again in the next few years. We envision the possibility of stopping in Paris for another day or two on the way to somewhere else.

Here’s a photo-essay with a sprinkle of information and/or history on what we did for the ~70 hours that we were in Paris:

Musée du Louvre
Famous for the pyramid shaped sculpture and for being the site of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa painting, the Louvre is a fantastic museum full of sculptures, paintings, and textiles. The museum contains thousands of works of art divided into several departments: Near Eastern Antiquities, Egyptian Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Islamic Art, Sculptures, Decorative Arts, Paintings, Prints, and Drawings. The span of the museum is extensive because it has been so much more than just a museum. In 1190, The Louvre was built as a fortress to protect Parisians from possible invasions from the north (I would have feared Viking attacks too). In the 16th century, the Louvre was reconstructed as a royal palace. And finally, in 1793 the Louvre became a fine art museum.

Louvre 5

We roamed through the never-ending hallways and stairwells for hours with Nintendo 3DS consults as our tour guides – they are totally worth the 5 Euro. There is at least one stairwell that goes under the museum, which is pretty interesting to see the foundation of the original building! I was really struck by various artists sitting in front of fantastic pieces of work with their own paintbrushes and canvas, trying to recreate the original. I also found one of my new favorite pieces of artwork by exploring the Louvre.

Louvre 2

Fun fact for others (and maybe ourselves): on the first Sunday of the month during off-peak travel season (from October until March), all visitors can access the permanent collections of the museum for free. It is not free between April and September. Also, the museum is closed on Tuesdays year-round.

Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile
This arch monument is not to be confused with the one just outside of the Louvre Museum – that one is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and is about half the size of the one in Place de l’Étoile. This monumental and triumphal arch was inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus, which was built in 92 BCE. The construction of the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile started in 1806 (completed 30 years later) and is one of the largest triumphal arches in the world, standing at 164 ft (40 meters) in height, 148 ft (45 m) in width, and 72 ft (22 m) deep. To put that into perspective, after the hostilities of World War I ended, Charles Godefoy (aviator in the French Air Force) flew his Nieuport fighter biplane through (THROUGH!) the arc. This event has been captured on film and in photos.
Currently, there are two larger triumphal arches: the Monumento a la Revolución in México, D.F. (Mexico City) standing at 220 ft (67 m) tall, which was built in 1938, and the Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang, North Korea standing at 197 ft (60 m) tall, which was built in 1982. The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary War and in the Napoleonic War. The names of all the French victories and generals on carved into the surface of the arch. Beneath the vault is the Tomb of the Unknown Solider from World War I. Many days, there is also a colossal French flag flying under the archway as well.

Arc 1

As we approached the Arc de Triomphe, we couldn’t figure out how exactly to get there. The Métro (Parisian subway) stop is Charles de Gaulle – Étoile station, which plops you out close, but on one of the adjacent streets coming off of the roundabout. Did I mention this arch happens to be in the center of a roundabout? And this roundabout is at least a few lanes deep and is the intersection of 12 roads! Because of the traffic, it is highly recommended to use the pedestrian underpass (located at Champs Élysées and the Avenue de la Grande Armée). In fact, I don’t think you could make it across the roundabout road without getting injured.

After marveling at the outside design of the Arc de Triomphe, we decided to go to the top. The spiral staircase to the top consists is just shy of 300 steps. At the top you arrive at a small gift shop and exhibition to learn more about the monument’s history. There are about another 50 steps to reach the rooftop of the monument, where you have a panoramic view of Paris. One can see the Place de la Concorde, the Jardin des Tuileries, the Louvre Museum, the Basilica, and the Eiffel Tower. I personally believe that this is one of the most amazing views of Paris.

Arc PANO top-001

The 18th Arrondissement
The 18th arrondissement (district) is on the north side of Paris and is known for a many things. One of which is the Sacré-Cœur Basilica (Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris). After researching a little bit about what exactly a basilica is, the word has three separate meanings, which is why I’m probably still a little confused. A basilica can be used it to describe a building, usually Roman and an open public court building. Another way it is used is to architecturally describe Christian churches that have a central nave and aisles. The third way specifically describes churches that have Papal rights to perform specific ceremonies. One thing is for sure, the Sacré-Cœur Basilica is a Christian church with a central nave and aisles.

Basillica 4

Sacré-Cœur Basilica is a Roman Catholic church at the summit of Montmartre, a 427 ft (130 m) tall hill, which happens to be the tallest point in Paris. Also on this hill is another church; the Saint Pierre de Montmartre, the older of the two churches on the Montmartre hill, which claims to be the location where the Jesuit order of priests was founded.
Montmartre also describes the surrounding neighborhood, which is part of the 18th arrondissement. This area is also known for Moulin Rouge (we only stopped outside of to take a photo or three) and the Place du Tertre, which is a square where some artists make portraits for tourists while other artists are painting landscape scenes of Paris – to sell to tourists. This area is apparently also known for being the night club district and has been the site where many artists have lived in Paris. The museum of Salvador Dalí‘s drawings and sculptures is also within this district. I think our favorite part of this neighborhood was the views of the city and watching a mime entertain the crowd outside of the basilica.

Basillica 1Moulin Rouge

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris
Notre-Dame de Paris is a historic Catholic cathedral in the 4th arrondissement of Paris on the eastern part of the Île de la Cité, one of two natural islands* in the Seine River within Paris. The architecture of the cathedral is stunning along with the stained glass and sculptures within the cathedral. It is also the location of the Archdiocese of Paris and contains the treasury notable for its reliquary; it is the home of the Crown of Thorns, part of the True Cross, and one of the Holy Nails. There are ten bells in the cathedral, which to my amusement are all named. The largest (and oldest), Emmanuel, is original to 1681 and weighs over 13 tons. That’s a BIG bell! It is mostly used to mark the hours of the day. The other nine bells (names are: Marie, Gabriel, Anne Geneviéve, Denis, Marcel, Étienne, Benoît-Joseph, Maurice, and Jean-Marie) were replaced in 2013 and are rung for various festivals or ceremonies. My friend Dan also recently pointed out that just outside of the main entry, there is a small octagonal brass plate set in the ground which marks “Paris Point Zero” – the  exact spot from which all distance from Paris are measured. We completely walked by it without noticing it.

Notre Dame 5

*As a side note, there is an artificial island on the Seine River. One of them is Île aux Cygnes, which is where there is a replica of Statue of Liberty. This statue is one quarter of the size of the one located in the USA.

The Eiffel Tower

On to the grand prize of this adventure. The Eiffel Tower happens to have many replicas – one of which we visited in June of this year in Las Vegas, Nevada. But we wanted to see the real thing. Remember? El was to have rented out the tower for a day to celebrate our anniversary without other tourists. The iconic iron lattice tower is located near the Seine River and on the Champ de Mars. It was named after the engineer (Gustave Eiffel) and was constructed to be used as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair. Gustave Eiffel has an impressive list of things he has designed; another popular attraction he designed is the Statue of Liberty.

Eiffel Tower 1

We first admired the tower from the Champ de Mars, the adjacent park. The park has a lot of history that goes with it. The world’s first hydrogen-filled balloon was launched from there in 1783. In 1790, the first “Federation Day” (Bastille Day) celebration was held there. A year later, the massacre on the Champ de Mars also took place. And he first mayor of Paris (Jean Sylvain Bailly) was guillotined there in 1793, becoming a victim of his own revolution. Only the French.

We had a little picnic with some wine and soaked up the sun on the green. Our nearest neighbors in the park were also soaking up the sun in swimsuits, which we found to be pretty awesome since they all looked to be around our grandparents’ ages. We then took a few pictures “with the tower” before climbing all of the stairs. All 704 of them to the second level. There are three levels for visitors – the first two levels have restaurants and gift shops on them. There was also a movie showing the construction of the tower and views of the tower throughout its history; the film ended with panoramic views of fireworks at the tower. One the day that we went, the third and final level was inaccessible by stairs, so we stood in line to take an elevator to the top deck observatory. The top level is 906 ft (276 m) from the ground, making it the highest accessible public platform in the EU.

Eiffel Tower Picnic 5                 Eiffel Tower Picnic 4

My thoughts of the City of Lights

From what we did see and experience of the city: the food and culture are nothing like we’ve experienced. Every wine we tasted was fantastic, but I couldn’t tell you what type of wine. The city views from the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Basilica are all very different, but my favorite was from the top of the arc. With an app, the subway system was easy to navigate. The local people (away from the city attractions) were quite friendly – we used an app that had common French phrases, which helped with communicating to non-English speakers (they appeared to be thankful that we were trying to speak French). The lesson we learned for our next adventure: bring a second pair of shoes! The pedometer on my phone estimated that we walked about 100,000 steps the four days that we were in London and France. I say that this was by far our healthiest vacation!

Remember, Remember

Today is the 5th of November. And to Americans, this is just another day. In England, today is a day to celebrate! And to light bonfires and fireworks! And for remembrance.

Today’s post is about history of today and the history leading up to today. First, let’s first go through some historical perspective on monarchies and the messes they created along the way.

The family tree of the House of Tudor members. Monarchs of England shown in red, monarchs of Scotland shown in blue. Source: wikipedia.

The family tree of the House of Tudor members. Monarchs of England in red, monarchs of Scotland in blue. Source: wikipedia.

Henry VIII is known for a couple of things:
1) having six wives
2) creating the Church of England (the separation from the Roman Catholic Church is called the Reformation) – he declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church in 1534. This is where the title “Your Majesty” originates.
3) having an awful temperament and beheading anyone that upset him – this list of people include wife #2 (Anne Boleyn) and wife #5 (Catherine Howard). Anyone who publicly disagreed with the Church of England was executed as well.
4) he was King of both England and Ireland
5) he had three children, two daughters and a son – interestingly, all of them became the King or the Queen of England

Henry VIII and his first wife (Catherine of Aragon, who was the widow of his older brother Arthur) had one child whose name was Mary (later becoming Queen Mary I, but popularly called Bloody Mary). After being married to Catherine of Aragon for 18 years, Henry VIII decided that it was bad luck to have married his brother’s widow; this luck was clearly the reason for not having more children, particularly a son as an heir to the throne. Therefore, he divorced and annulled his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in order to marry wife #2 – Anne Boleyn. Anne would later gave birth to Elizabeth (later becoming Queen Elizabeth I). He beheaded Anne and married wife #3 – Jane Seymour; she died shortly after giving birth to Henry VIII’s only male heir, Edward (later becoming King Edward I). Wife #4 was Anne of Cleves. Henry VIII and Anne Cleves were divorced after only being married for six months. Wife #5 was Catherine Howard – she was executed, and wife #6 was Catherine Parr. Catherine Parr outlived the King and later remarried again (for the fourth time). However, Catherine Parr convinced Henry VIII to pass the Third Succession Act in 1543, which would restore the line of succession to the throne to both of his daughters.

After King Henry VIII died, his only son, Edward, became the next monarch of England and Ireland under the title King Edward VI. Edward VI was a Protestant king at the ripe age of 9. Succession became a big issue in England because he was really sick. Many wanted to keep Mary (King Henry’s first child) off of the throne because she was Catholic; others claimed that both Mary and Elizabeth were illegitimate for the throne, even though the Third Succession Act of 1543 named Mary as the next heir.
Four days after Edward VI died, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen of England (and Ireland). She was Edward’s cousin – King Henry VIII’s niece and the next heir to the throne (if you thought Mary and Elizabeth were illegitimate). Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen by the Duke of Northumberland (John Dudley). John Dudley was the head of King Edward I’s government and happened to be Lady Jane Grey’s father-in-law. Coincidence? I think not. Now, if I was Mary or Elizabeth (Henry VIII’s daughters), I would have been angered by this. Mary made a counterclaim saying that she was the rightful heir of the throne, which gained a lot of support. Lady Jane Grey was executed after being Britain’s first Queen Regent (her reign of only 9 days is the shortest reign in British history).

Queen Mary I was crowned in July of 1553. Just as a reminder, she was Catholic and was the first child of King Henry VIII (and wife #1 – Catherine of Aragon). However, after her parent’s marriage was annulled, she was stripped of her title, declared illegitimate, and expelled from the court, which mostly likely made her very resentful towards Protestants. However, because of her mistreatment, Mary I had huge support as Queen initially, but it was short-lived. Her marriage to the future King of Spain (Phillip II) was very unpopular to the English. And she became a tyrant, burning hundreds of religious dissenters (non-Catholics) at the stake, which earned her the popular nickname of Bloody Mary. Mary and Phillip were childless; therefore when Mary passed away, the crown succeed to her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was the second child of Henry VIII (and wife #2 – Anne Boleyn). She reigned for forty years and restored a lot of peace to the country. The Protestant Church of England had been created by her father and continued by her half-brother Edward I. However, her half-sister Bloody Mary attempted to restore Catholism to England and did it in a not-so-nice way. Queen Elizabeth I rejected the extremes of both Protestant and Catholic religions; she favored a more moderate Protestant religion with some Catholic traditions. For whatever reason, she never married and declared herself married to England. She is well known for this and for the resurgence of literacy and exploration under her reign as Queen.

Meanwhile, the following was happening in Scotland
(warning: the following information is very heavy because of all of the people named Mary or James):

1. King Henry VIII’s sister (Margaret Tudor) married King James IV of Scotland (reigned 1488-1513); they had a son (King James V of Scotland, reigned 1513-1542).
King James V married Mary of Guise had a daughter named Mary; she became Queen of Scotland (reigned 1542-1567 better known as Mary Queen of Scots). And because it becomes important later, Mary Queen of Scots was Catholic.

2. After King James IV of Scotland passed away, Margaret Tudor married Archibald Douglas. They had a daughter named Mary. Just joking! – they named her Margaret [Douglas].
Margaret Douglas married Matthew Stuart and they had a son named Henry Stuart, whose title was [English Catholic] Lord Darnley.
Henry Stuart (Lord Darnley) should not be confused with the third husband of his grandmother (Margaret Tudor) – his name was Henry Stewart.

3. Mary (as in, Mary Queen of Scots) married her cousin Henry Stuart (Lord Darnley) and they had a son, James (he would later become King. Twice.) Due to Henry Stuart (Lord Darnley)’s mysterious death and Mary Queen of Scots subsequent marriage to James Hepburn (Protestant Earl of Bothwell), a civil war broke out in Scotland. Mary Queen of Scots’s side lost this war. She was imprisoned and forced to abdicate the throne to her son (James) who was named King James VI of Scotland at the age of 1 and was brought up as a member of the Protestant Church of Scotland.

4. After breaking free from Scottish imprisonment, Mary Queen of Scots eventually fled to England to seek the mercy of Queen Elizabeth after that whole mess. Mary Queen of Scots was then imprisoned in England for 19 years under Queen Elizabeth’s rule – until Elizabeth had Mary Queen of Scots beheaded.

5. James VI of Scotland (son of Mary Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart (Lord Darnely)) and was the great-grandson of King Henry VII of England. He supported Queen Elizabeth I against (Catholic) France and Spain. Technically, Queen Elizabeth I of England (and Ireland) was King James VI of Scotland’s godmother. Because of all of this, it does seem fitting that when Queen Elizabeth I passed away (childless), she named James VI of Scotland the King of England/Ireland. Therefore, he is known as James VI of Scotland and King James I of England and Ireland – or for clarification James I/VI. This is where England, Ireland, and Scotland come together for the first time under one crown (the Union of Crowns).

Now all of that history leads to the history of today – the 5th of November!
The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was devised to restore civic rights to Roman Catholics in England. A group of Catholic extremists planned to wipe out King James I/VI and his Protestant Parliament, then put one of his children on the throne as a puppet supporting Catholic causes. The Gunpowder Plot’s explosive expert was named Guy Fawkes. There were 36 barrels of gunpowder were planted under the House of Parliament. Because a Catholic Parliament member was advised to not attend Parliament on the night of November 4, suspicion caused guards to investigate. They found the explosives being guarded by Fawkes, who was arrested and tortured until he named the other conspirators. They were sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered. (Ew.)

In the aftermath of the failed conspiracy to assassinate the King James I/VI, his council allowed the public to celebrate his King’s survival by lighting bonfires. The following year, the Observance of the 5th November Act was passed, which suggested that the king’s apparent deliverance by divine intervention deserved official and public recognition. For a long time, there was a long history of anti-Catholic sentiment, which was expressed and prominently displayed on November 5 by burning effigies of Guy Fawkes in bonfires. The modern November 5 celebrations are now mostly ran by volunteers and paid for by local charities or with paid admission and controlled access to spectators.

Tonight, we walked to a nearby park (Midsummer Common) where there was a fireworks show and a large bonfire along with carnival rides. There were volunteers maintaining the bonfire and other volunteers holding buckets for donations to cover the costs of the celebrations. For me on this November 5, I remember that lighting a giant bonfire and setting off fireworks have a deep footed history and are tradition in the UK. However, more importantly, I remember that hate, crime, and inequality are still present in the world, but unnecessarily so. We all have a responsibility to be a part of a movement to change the world that we live in today to be more peaceful, respectful, and tolerant one.

Slight differences

As Americans look forward to an extra hour of sleep this weekend, we “fell back an hour” last weekend.

I put together a list of things that we’ve noticed so far that are completely different between the two countries.

It is a US versus UK showdown!

1. Doors
For fire safety reasons (correct me if I am wrong), most doors in the US push out from the inside (you must pull on the door handle to enter). Opposite for the UK (pull handle to exit).

2. Light switches
To turn on a light (switch) in the US, you push the top of the switch. Push down to turn off. Opposite for the UK – one pushes down on the switch to turn on the light.

3. Outlets
The ground in a three-prong outlet is on the bottom in the US. Opposite for the UK; the ground is on the top. Also! You must have three prongs in the outlet in order for the device to be able to even plug into the wall in the UK. Additionally, the UK has switches on the outlets. Yes, to turn on the electricity to that device, the outlet must be switched on.

4. Bathroom electricity
The only electrical outlet you will find in a bathroom in the UK is the one for your electric razor. It is also the only place that happens to take 220 V or 120 V plugs. Sometimes, the shower will be electric (no, seriously…I’m not joking!) – it helps with water pressure and in some places it also helps create hot water. In the US, there is at least one electrical outlet in a bathroom. And we do not purposely mix water and electricity, unless it is a dam.

5. Plumbing
In the US, most faucets have two handles/taps that control the water temperature (one for cold, one for hot), and the water comes out of one spigot. Sometimes, there is one lever that goes through a variety of temperatures, ranging from cold to warm to hot – but almost always one spigot. In the UK, even in new houses and buildings, there are two taps each controlling their own spigot. One for boiling hot water, the other for ice cold water. Yes, when washing my hands, I love burning my hands just to cool them off. The only place that doesn’t do this is in the shower. Maybe I’ll just wash my hands in the shower all of the time.

6. Voltage
The voltage is different. 220 V in the UK versus 120 V in the US. I think most people already know that though. We tried to leave all of our appliances in the US before moving here.

7. Lightbulb size
The lightbulbs are a different size. They are slightly smaller in the UK.

8. Window Screens
Almost every window in the US has at least the ability to have a screen on it (if the window opens). Window screens are a luxury item in the UK.

9. Time frames
In the US, we get annoyed when that repair person or delivery person is scheduled to arrived at your residence between a range of hours. And generally speaking, they are always within those time limits. In the UK, they still give you those range in time, but it means nothing. They are never on time. They may call saying that they’ll be there “soon” – and several hours later, they show up.

10. Politeness
Brits are insanely polite. Painfully polite. There is a great list of examples compiled on the web about this (my favorite: “I don’t feel well but I don’t want to disturb my doctor”). They will go out of their way to be polite, even if they aren’t being sincere about it. I am blissfully and completely oblivious to the sarcasm or insincerity.
Exclusion to this: many drivers and bicyclists in Cambridge. Drivers park or drive in the bicycle lane without warning or signaling. And many bicyclists also can’t be bothered to signal when turning. Some bicyclists don’t even look before crossing streets or merging onto a street/bike path. They have a death wish since ~90% of bicyclists in Cambridge do not wear a helmet while bicycling on the street.

Feel free to leave a comment below if you’ve noticed other major differences between the US and the UK that I haven’t mentioned here!

Holiday versus vacation

In the US, I never really thought much about the meaning of the words I used on a regular basis. However, nearly every day I’m learning gobs of new words and phrases. Or I am learning alternative meanings for words and phrases (for example, pants aren’t the same thing as trousers). One thing I recently learned was what the difference between a holiday and a vacation. A holiday in the US is a day that people celebrate something (e.g., Fourth of July, Valentine’s Day, Christmas Day); some holidays in the US are federal holidays, such as New Year’s Day, in which almost everyone is off of work (e.g., school, federal employees) and some places may have limited hours but are usually still open (e.g., grocery stores, gas stations). Other holidays are basically “hallmark card holidays” that are celebrated by most but you don’t have the day off of work (St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day). A vacation in the US means that you selected days that you wanted to take off of work to do whatever you want to do, except go to work.

I think many people recognize that in the UK, to go on holiday is to go on vacation; literally meaning that you took time off from work to do whatever you want to do (same as vacation in the US). No one says that they are going on vacation. Holidays in the UK also has the meaning of being pre-selected days that may or may not have any significance and are vacation days for everyone. I believe the technical terminology for these days are bank holidays (similar to US federal holidays). On these days, everything (and I mean everything) is closed, at least outside of London. Don’t expect to be able to get a taxi or go to the grocery store.

To make things just slightly confusing in this holiday versus vacation explanation, universities have vacations. Specifically “long vac,” or what most American university students would just call summer break. Long vac is “long vacation” composed of the months that the university has off for the summer. And because nothing else seems to be the same in the UK as the US, summer vacation is July, August, and September. This was all brought to my attention because students started university last week, the first full week of October. Many young people seem to just call it uni – pronounced as “you knee.” And as long as we’re keeping up with differences, university is different than college in the UK (but mean the same thing in the US).

I can actually see a difference in the amount of people riding bicycles in the morning. In some cases, they appear to have never ridden a bicycle prior to going to uni. And, unfortunately, the number of people wanting to cross the street has increased, meaning that traffic is stopping more frequently at all of the crosswalks and intersections. I’ve also noticed the number of people stumbling home from the pubs increased last week and weekend. They all looked 12 years old. Which probably just means that I’m getting old and can’t tell the age of young people anymore. More than likely, they are probably freshers, which is a really unique way of saying that they have started their freshmen year of university. The word freshers may be inclusive to all first-year students (including first-year graduate students) though this seems to be debatable.

First Trip Through London

We are new to traveling in Europe. We expect (hope) to do a lot of it over the next few years (specifically out of London to the continental Europe), so we need to become professionals at it. When booking our trip to France, we didn’t know that there is a direct train to London Stansted Airport from Cambridge (stops at the airport terminal) and that Stansted Airport flies to many countries, including France. What we ended up doing was spending a full day in London and staying overnight before catching a plane to Paris out of London Gatwick Airport. The benefit was that we were able to explore London.

Live and let live. And, you know, learn a little too.

Our first learning experience was coming to find out that England loves a good queue. Long queues for the subway in the morning are epic in Kings Cross and Victoria Stations. We also learned that we needed to have an “anytime ticket” that allowed us onto the tube (subway) before 9:30 a.m. And so we walked. We walked from Kings Cross to the British Museum, only to learn that they still were not displaying our favorite piece of artwork: Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. However, we stayed and wondered through the British Museum for awhile and grabbed some caffeine for the morning.

After stopping at a few bookstores and going through the National Gallery, we crossed the Millennium Bridge and tried to go for a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe. Because there was a matinée showing, we were unable to tour the Globe (maybe we’ll get to it next trip). We settled for grabbing a pint at the Swan restaurant, which is attached to the Globe. Finding our silver lining: we discovered a new (to us) beer that we both love: the Camden Ink Stout, which is locally brewed in London (in Camden, technically). They have brewery tours, so that will also be on our list of things to do next time we pass through London.

London Eye, as seen from the Millennium Bridge

London Eye, as seen from the Millennium Bridge

Drinking a pint of Camden Ink at the Swan above The Shakespeare's Globe.

Drinking a pint of Camden Ink at the Swan above The Shakespeare’s Globe.

Our next stop was the Tower of London. I read about the ceramic poppies being “planted” at the Tower of London to commemorate and remember the 888,246 British military fatalities during the first world war – each poppy represents one person. The UK entered the first World War on August 5, 1914 – 100 years ago. The last poppy is to be “planted” on November 11 of this year – on Remembrance Day in the UK (Veteran’s Day in the US). You can actually buy and dedicate a poppy, which I think is amazing.

The Tower of London, surrounded by ceramic poppies.

The Tower of London, surrounded by ceramic poppies.

The Tower Bridge.

The Tower Bridge.

This tour of London ended with fantastic Chinese food from My Old Place. We try to note where the locals go – it is usually where the best food is in the city. However, this restaurant recommendation comes from a friend, Lora, who lived in London for awhile. We didn’t make it to her other restaurant recommendations, but we have plenty of time to go back!

Pumpkin Spice Lattes

In the US, I didn’t drink coffee like I drink it here in England. Most weekdays, I would drink a cup or two of tea. When we found out that we were moving here, I upped my tea intake thinking it would help me fit in. I couldn’t have been more wrong. For being known for its tea-drinking, I drink more coffee and less tea now that I live in England. You see, my last job didn’t really allow for breaks into the daily routine. You made time if you wanted to get coffee with a colleague. It definitely wasn’t incorporated into the daily plan. In England, the story is completely different. I drink coffee with co-workers not once, but twice per day. The lab incorporates this into a schedule. You have responsibility to the lab to be a part of the team; there is a rotation of who is making coffee every day for a week. And it isn’t American-styled coffee; it is European-styled: dark and strongly brewed. And my co-workers take their coffee time seriously. Don’t mess up, be off schedule, or miss making coffee; if you do, you’ll be making a cake to please the crowd (cake offense).

As the temperatures cool down and the sun begins to set earlier, I realize that autumn is now upon us. While unpacking, we found all of our autumn decorations (all three of them) and are thinking about turning on the heat soon. Autumn is also marked in the US by the addition of a few things, notably a lot of pumpkins, winter squash, and apples at the farmer’s markets and grocery stores, pumpkin picking with hayrack rides, and by what the coffee stands are turning out: pumpkin spice lattes, spiced vanilla chai lattes, and hot apple ciders. This year, one of those big coffee chains debuted pumpkin spiced lattes at the end of August. I haven’t seen them here yet, so this is my attempt to make them at home. Ultimately, I will say that this is a work in progress and may never completely replace the original. That being said, these are still cheaper and healthier than the real deal.

Single serving of Pumpkin Spice Latte*:
*US measurements used in this recipe

To the vessel of a single-serving blender, add the following:
1 shot of espresso (or concentrated coffee)
2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice mix**
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp pumpkin puree
1/4-1/2 cup almond milk
Optional: 1 tsp cocoa powder

Blend or pulse for approximately 30 seconds, creating a frothy drink.

To heat, place in microwave until desired temperature. Alternatively, add hot water to the blended mixture to warm and dilute it. For me, the blended drink goes straight into a coffee mug, where another shot of espresso goes in along with some very hot water to fill the mug.
Alternatively, you could mix and heat the ingredients over low heat on the stove.

**I use the following for pumpkin pie spice mix:
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground cloves

By addicting the cocoa powder, something glorious happens in my kitchen. I feel like I’m eating something that is totally sinful. In reality, this is not the worst thing in the world for you, especially in comparison to its original counterpart. For now, this chocolatey pumpkin spiced latte is my favorite morning drink.

English muffins

I first need to distract you from this post. While writing it up, I couldn’t help but think about a scene in the movie Shrek, in which Gingy (the gingerbread man) is being interrogated by one of the villains, Lord Farquaad (NOT MY GUMDROP BUTTONS!) This leads to further distraction (at least for me) to find the nursery rhyme* about The Muffin Man. Yes, in the US, we learn a British nursery rhyme about English muffins that I’ve discovered aren’t English or muffins at all.

And here we are, coming full circle: muffins and the misconception that Americans have about them.

When I think of muffins, of course I think of the baked pastry that can have a variety of flavors, including such deliciousness as blueberry, lemon poppy seed, chocolate chip, and oat bran. Looking for my favorite (or is it favourite)? I haven’t really found one that I didn’t like. They are sweet but not usually as sweet as a cupcake, though generally made in the same style pan, and are very similar to scones.

Muffins (US)

In the US, there is this other type of muffin that really isn’t a muffin. Americans call them English muffins, which are yeast-levened, small, circular, savory, and not originally from England. (!!) In England, the most similar thing is a crumpet, They are best known for having lots of nooks and crannies (for margarine or sauces to seep into) and made popular to El in the form of a breakfast called eggs benedict (the English muffin is the base).

English muffins (US)

However, I did manage to pick up some muffins at the market the other day, but these were definitely not what I would call English muffins. They were still small and circular but flaky – perfect for jam! I would call these biscuits. Again, El has another favorite breakfast item that is also full of too much fat and calories: biscuits and gravy. In this country and most of Europe, I would be wrong if I called it a biscuit! A biscuit in the UK is what Americans call cookies or crackers, depending on if it is sweet or savory. Most likely, I would refer to a UK biscuit as a cookie.

A plate of biscuits (left, US; right, UK)

What it really boils down to is that we have the same sorts of baked goods around the world, we just can’t agree on what to call them.

*If you’re looking for the tune of The Muffin Man, please look no further: here’s a link. Please note that I am not responsible if this song stays firmly placed in your head for the remainder of the day.