A Short Guide to Navigating British Pubs

One of the things we're going to miss most about Oxford is everything you see in that picture right there. The White Hart is our local pub--it's where Christopher and I cozied up during winter date nights and played scrabble by the fire. It's where we've brought all nine of our out-of-town guests to show them a true representation of British culture. It's where we've had fascinating conversations with strangers, and belly-laughs with our neighbors.

There are a lot of differences between a British pub and a traditional American bar. It took us a few times to get the hang of it. Here's what we've learned this year:

1. Seat yourself and order everything at the bar, including food.

2. There's no need to tip, but you can buy the bartender a drink if you'd like. Just say, "And one for yourself," when ordering. 

3. It's customary to take turns buying rounds of drinks. For example, if you're with another couple, one couple buys the first round, and the other couple gets the next.

4. There is an "invisible queue" at the bar, but the bartender knows who was first. Just make eye-contact with him or her, and you'll be waited on in an orderly fashion. No need to wave money or shout. In fact, don't do that... ever.

5. Order the pie. And I'm not talking about apple or chocolate.

6. If you have a large table and extra seats, don't be surprised if strangers sit with you. In fact, you should talk with them!

7. That's not an underaged kid breaking the law. He's 18 and legally allowed to drink. (Still makes me do a double take every time!)

What I Wish I Would Have Known About Moving Abroad

Our time in Oxford is coming to an end soon--we'll be heading back to the US in a little over a month. The emotions I'm feeling are very mixed and very bittersweet. While I'm excited to be back (there's definitely no place like home), this entire year has been one magical experience in my life.

My friend Megan (who is an amazing travel blogger and was actually the first one to encourage me to do this blog), just told me she's going to be doing the whole expat thing herself, moving to Hong Kong for six months with her husband! I love it because while my time is almost up, hers is about to begin. I like to think I'm passing the baton over to her.

So, I've been thinking what kind of advice I could give her or anyone else who's moving to another country. What is it that I wish someone would have told me? I came up with a few things and thought I'd share right here (hope these help you, M!)

1. Try to find an apartment before you move-- Because of our work schedules (and not really wanting to pay for an extra trip), Christopher and I just hopped on a plane with only a B&B reservation, thinking we'd magically find an apartment within a few days. That's how it works in NYC, at least. But the agents pretty much laughed in our face when we asked for something immediately. Turns out, the market here works a few months before move-in-date. Oops! Needless to say, it was the most stressful week of our lives. By some grace of god, we found a place and moved in seven days after we got to Oxford. If you absolutely can't make it to the place before you move like we did, my advice is to have a temporary housing backup plan for at least a month or two.

A Harry Potter Fan's Guide to Oxford

I often feel like I'm walking around Hogwarts when I'm in Oxford. That's because not only are some of the scenes in Harry Potter inspired by the city, they've also been filmed here. My friends Laura and Molly came to visit last weekend, and we tailored a chunk of our famous Pennell-guided walking tour to Laura's love for HP. For those of you who are fans and are planning a trip to Oxford, be sure to add these sights to your list, too!

Christ Church College
The famous Hogwarts main staircase and landing used in The Philosopher's Stone and The Chamber of Secrets:

Christ Church College Hogwarts staircase

And the Dining Hall was the inspiration for Hogwarts' Great Hall. Fun fact: they couldn't film the scenes in here because it could only fit three rows of tables, but they needed four because of the number of houses in the story:

Christ Church College Dining Hall Hogwarts Great Hall

The Divinity School
This intricate room built in 1448 was used as the Hogwarts infirmary in four films. It's also the place Professor McGonnagal taught students to dance in The Goblet of Fire:

Divinity School Oxford, Harry Potter Hogwarts Infirmary

Video: Our Trip to Italy

As I said last week, thank you all again for making us go to Italy (the best crowdsourcing outcome ever, I'd say!) It was such an amazing trip. Our bellies are still full (you'd think that would stop us from making homemade pizza tonight, but it didn't...) and I still want to say "grazie" every time someone does something for me, but other than that, we're pretty much back to normal. Although, the memories will last a lifetime.

I wanted to do something a little different for this trip recap, something that would make you feel even more a part of our trip since you guys helped us plan it. Here's a video I put together of the highlights of Venice and Florence. Hope you enjoy!

A Definitive Ranking of the Gelato I Had in Italy

We just got back from our anniversary trip, the one you guys helped us plan. I can't thank you enough for choosing Italy! It was perfect--our best trip in Europe this year! I'll do a bigger recap post next week, but in the meantime here's a little (literal?) taste of what we did: GELATO! After our first meal in Venice, we grabbed gelato and decided that we should taste all the flavors over the course of the trip. We ended up with a grand total of 14, and by the last day, I had fulfilled my gelato quota for the year. But every bite was oh-so-good. Here's how each one ranked in my book:

1. Mint Chocolate - First one in Italy, it's obviously going to be my favorite.

That's pure happiness right there.
 2. Tiramisu - One of my favorite Italian desserts made into gelato? Yes, please!

3. Coffee - Did I mention this year I finally started drinking coffee? And now, I'm getting desserts made out of it! Seriously, you wouldn't even recognize me anymore...

4. Pistachio - This one was a little grainier than the others, but I loved it! Reminded me of a grittier version of my favorite childhood pudding.

5. Triple Chocolate - Chocolate times three?!? Yum!

6. Caramel - Sometimes I think caramel is too sweet, but this was smooth and rich.

5 Things I Learned About Cooking From Our Neighbors

Samosa time!
While Christopher and I have had some amazing experiences living abroad this year, one of the things we're going to cherish forever is our friendship with our neighbors Aleks and Greg. I seriously can't imagine this year without them.

We've had a lot of fun moments together, most of them involve cooking at each others' apartments (well, cooking at ours usually involves borrowing most of their kitchen gadgets and bringing their dining room table into our place, so we've kind of stopped doing that and just go over to theirs' most of the time...)

Our latest dinner party started around 2pm and lasted until midnight--it was pretty epic. Chef Greg taught us how to make spring rolls and samosas. I was going to dedicate this blog to the recipes for those dishes, but I figured I'd go deeper and talk about what I learned about cooking from the two of them. (If you really want the recipes, email me!)

A Visit to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin

Guinness Storehouse

What do you do when you have a four-day weekend and you live in England? Jet off to Ireland, of course! Well, at least that's what we did... It's still crazy to me how cheap and fast flights are over here. We flew from London to Dublin in just one hour! Seriously, it used to take me longer to get from my neighborhood in Brooklyn to the Upper East Side.

The trip was amazing. But the absolute highlight was our visit to the Guinness Storehouse on Easter Sunday. I've always heard that pints of Guinness tasted different in Ireland, and I can now confirm that. (And it's not just at the Storehouse itself--we pretty much had a Guinness at every pub we went to while we were over there, and they were all equally amazing.)

The Storehouse is a destination in itself. We arrived around 1 and didn't leave until 5 (we probably would have stayed longer, but we had an early dinner and music pub crawl planned.) The first part of the experience involves learning about the history of the company which was started in 1759 by Arthur Guinness. Fun fact: That year, he signed a 9,000 year lease at £45 annually! If only my ancestors would have done that with a New York City apartment...

After agreeing that Arthur was a genius in his real-estate decisions, we walked around learning how they make the beer. There are fun hi-def presentations and exhibitions to show you what each step is. I like to think we're now experts in barley, hops, water, and yeast when it comes to brewing a Guinness.

Standing in front of the water display. The water in Guinness comes from springs in the Wicklow Mountains... in case you wanted to know.
Oh, I forgot to mention: the entire seven-story place is built around the world's largest pint glass (which if filled, would hold 14.3 million pints of Guinness.) We continued making our way up and came across the advertising section. I've always thought the old-timey ads for Guinness are just the cutest. So cute in fact, that we bought a tin version of one for our kitchen (and honestly, it'll probably be the only advertisement I'll ever willingly put in my home.)

Lovely Day for a Guinness
An adorable display near the advertising section
We then got to my personal favorite part of the experience: learning how to pour the perfect pint. As we stood in line, I casually read the instructions on the wall:

Step 1. Take a cool, clean, dry Guinness glass.
Step 2. Hold the glass under the tap at a 45 degree angle.
Step 3. Pull the handle forward until it is horizontal and fill the glass to between 15mm and 20mm (about ¾”) from the top. Never put the tap spout into the Guinness.
Step 4. Leave the surge to settle (approx 119.5 secs).
Step 5. Top up the glass by pushing the tap handle backwards until the head is just proud of the glass. Do not let the stout overflow, and never use a spatula to level the head.

When we got up to the "class," our instructor asked for a volunteer. Seriously, there were like 20 seconds of silence among the group so I decided to raise my hand (I never volunteer for things like this, but I figured since I read up on the assignment, nothing could go wrong, right?)

Guinness Storehouse
Straight A student right there! ;)