Culture and Languages · History · Travel

Ohhh Vienna: Arrival and Day One

Our immediate impression of Vienna was that it reminded us of Bahrain. Then again, that’s somehow our first impression of nearly every place my sisters’ and I visit, so that’s probably not much to go on! Despite being late evening, we were greeted by hot night air and, of course, large screens displaying photos of Schnitzel above the luggage conveyer belt. I’ve opted to gloss over the fact that people actually clapped when the plane landed because, to be honest, I’m still suspended in shock and disbelief 24 hours on.

We landed in Vienna International Airport, or Flughafen Wien-Schwechat in German, just as the sun was setting, which we watched from the aeroplane window as we descended. As our flight was delayed, and then our luggage was even more delayed, we arrived at our hotel well after dark – and well after dinner time! So, after depositing our bags, we set off to find some food. After walking for about five minutes we came across a busy and buzzing square, where we settled on an Italian restaurant. By the time that we finished eating it was coming up to midnight, and thus we went straight to bed. Sounds seamless doesn’t it? Unfortunately, about half an hour in, my bed literally collapsed! Lifting up the mattress, we found that about three quarters of the slats were missing and I had to relocate to a different bed. Thankfully, the second bed was 100% bed, as opposed to 25% bed, and so I finally was able to sleep.

***

The next morning we quickly got ready, then set out for the Schönbrunn Palace, which is situated just outside of Vienna. Schönbrunn Palace was a summer residence that belonged to successive Hapsburg monarchs. As it is slightly further away than most sights, we had to take a taxi, which, surprise surprise, only held four people. However, after we received our second taxi of the morning, we set straight off and ended up arriving at the palace half an hour earlier than our tickets were booked for. Because we could not go in yet – and because we had not eaten anything and were all hungry – we stopped at one of the palace cafés, where we had apple strudel, naturally. By the time we had finished it had approached eleven; it was time to enter the palace. As we walked up the main path towards the entrance we admired the beautiful exterior, stopping for several photo opportunities. Once we were in, however, it soon became apparent that the interior was the real beauty.

Upon entry we were faced with a grand staircase, enclosed by bright white walls that were dotted with portraits. The ceiling was the main sight though: a maginificent painting, comprising of many rich colours. From the stairs, we walked into the first of many rooms that we were able to explore. This room, as well as many of the others, was decorated with sparkling gold embellishments and each ceiling showcased a massive crystal chandelier. We explored many different types of room, including dressing rooms, dining rooms, the princesses’ day room and many, many sitting rooms, each decorated in different ways. Many walls held portraits of Maria Theresa and her children, whilst others displayed extravagant artworks. When we progressed through into the Grand Tour rooms, we also encountered rooms inspired by Chinese artwork and a room decorated entirely in black. To me, the most beautiful room was a large airy hallway, with multiple windows along both walls, glittering gold embellishments, lights and chandeliers and a massive painting on the ceiling. It was in this room that I was, unsurprisingly, told off for taking photos, after trying my luck too many times!

Whilst we had finished admiring the many rooms of the Schönbrunn Palace, we still had the gardens to explore. First stop though: lunch. Honestly though, our holiday is not revolving around food, which I appreciate is how this is starting to read. Or maybe it is… which is equally okay with me. For lunch I had a goat’s cheese salad (far from ideal for the lactose intolerant, but hey, turns out it’s easier to digest then cow’s cheese – read an article about it here). After lunch, we began to walk through the extensive gardens. There were many trees and fields, as expected of any vast garden, but the main showcase was at the back of the palace. Here, we discovered beautiful landscape gardens, shaped into neat square shapes adorned with multicoloured flowers and fountains. We sat in these gardens for a while, before travelling back to the hotel for a short touchdown to get out of the thirty degree heat.

***

When it was cooler, at around 5pm, we wandered to Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), which is a pretty, gothic cathedral that was built in the 12th century. We took some photos of its exterior, before heading inside to look around. The interior looked much like all cathedrals do, with some beautiful stained glass and lots of candles. However, as it is a working church, unfortunately most of the cathedral was cordoned off, and thus our visit was short and sweet. Once we left Stephansdom, we headed off in pursuit of some dinner. After walking for ages we finally settled on a restaurant, where I had a meal of salmon and potatoes (aka the only thing on the menu that I could eat). After dinner we returned to our hotel as the sun was starting to set over Vienna once more.

Experiences · Health and Food

A Summer of Eliminations

On the early days of a reduced gluten, reduced lactose, tomato free and citrus free diet.

The word ‘diet’, in any context, has the great ability to conjure up negative, often sneered at, images of ‘trendy’ fad diets. Add the terms “gluten free”, “lactose free” or God forbid both at once – especially when it’s accompanied by “I also don’t like chocolate, don’t drink caffeinated drinks and am cutting out fried foods and fizzy drinks” – and cue the parade of eyerolls.

For me, a trendy fad diet could not be further than the truth; although it is true, I don’t like chocolate nor do I drink caffeinated drinks! By way of a very, very brief backstory, as this is not what I intend this post to be about, I have made the decision to eliminate or reduce the aforementioned food types, as well as a number of others that are detailed below, due to gastroenterological problems (great word, hint: I mean stomach aches). Over the last couple of years, I have often found myself very frustrated about the fact that I have come no closer to identifying the cause of the problem, nor, subsequently, to finding a solution, and this has led me to conclude that I need to make active efforts, independently of the (limited) advice given, to find a solution. So, as a result of intense research and even more intense stomach aches, I have made the difficult decision to eliminate or reduce a number of foods and food groups, that have shown themselves to be common causes of stomach aches and food intolerances. This post is dedicated to documenting –  across several days, in an almost diary-like style –  my initial experiences of cutting out these foods, how easy/ difficult I have found it and what challenges and obstacles I have encountered and had to overcome.

Keep reading to see how badly I end up cheating… I’m writing this introduction on Day One, so who knows how well this is actually going to go!

Friday 4th August

From the offset of this dramatic alteration in diet, my intention is not one of cutting these foods out indefinitely, as I do wish to slowly reintroduce different foods throughout the course of this summer holiday. However, as I have only just encountered a few days of very bad stomach aches (and am still experiencing intermittent milder stomach aches), I am temporarily following a very strict diet, which involves eliminating and reducing as many foods as possible that are common triggers for stomach aches. Currently, the extensive list of banned foods is as follows:

  • Tomatoes: Fully eliminated – I had actually predominantly eliminated these before this last bout of stomach pains, as I suspected that they were disagreeing with me
  • Citrus fruits e.g. oranges: Likewise, already (completely) eliminated
  • Brown rice / pasta / bread: Switched to white flour in the majority of cases (but not all – balance is important too), due to its lower fibre content (also cutting down on gluten products in general)
  • Dairy / Lactose: Reduced when possible, e.g. Switching to almond milk (although a full cut of dairy produce in cooking seemed impossible)
  • Fried food / food cooked in a lot of oil: Eliminated
  • Spicy food: Eliminated

Hence, today’s lunch involved a very bland and rather tragic bowl of white pasta with a pinch of salt, following the conclusion that there was really not much else in the house that I could eat (I declined a second portion of plain rice that I had eaten the night before). For dinner my family had a chicken and chips takeaway, which I was able to tweak to fit my diet – grilled chicken instead of fried, which I washed the peri peri sauce off, and oven potato waffles instead of takeaway chips. My first impressions of following such a strict diet are that, tasteless though it might be, it is doable. That said, had it not been a takeaway and instead a meal out, there was nothing on the menu that I could have eaten in an unmodified form.

Saturday 5th August

As it is my sister’s birthday, today has posed a much bigger obstacle diet-wise. I started the day with cornflakes and almond milk, which was unfamiliar, but relatively bearable in small quantities. I initially attempted to drink the almond milk; to say that it was simply ‘unpleasant’ as a drink would be a gross understatement. After breakfast we went to the cinema, where I summonsed all the willpower that I possessed to pass over the snacks and, despite feeling slightly envious of my sister’s nachos, I acknowledged that I should probably just congratulate myself for taking a small step towards general healthiness. So, so far not too bad. Lunch, unfortunately, posed the biggest problem as of this point: Pizza Express is not really intended for the abdominally challenged! I initially intended to order a gluten free version of their new vegan pizza, but due to the tomato base and the fact that tomatoes are the food that I am mostly strictly eliminating, I settled instead on ‘Pollo Forzo’ pasta (pesto, cheese, chicken, mushrooms). Whilst undeniably tasty, this pasta was very rich and so caused me to feel a bit sick; now, I understand that I have to enforce the restricted dairy aspect of this eating plan more rigorously, and stay generally aware of rich creamy foods in addition to my other eliminations. Dinner: plain white pasta, naturally.

Tuesday 8th August
By chance, I stumbled upon lactose free milk in Tesco Express and I am an absolute convert! Lactose free milk is every bit like normal milk, and tastes just the same, but doesn’t bring with it the stomach aches that normal milk does. So, the days of choking down almond milk are over, replaced by a substitute that I didn’t even realise existed! For breakfast I am still eating cereal everyday – and I have recently switched Cornflakes for my new love in life: Crunchy Nut – as I have now modified my diet again, to completely eliminate glucose / wheat for breakfast, instead opting for a lower fibre cereal. As for other meals, as we have been staying in an AirBnB, I have finally broken away from my white-pasta-at-every-meal diet. However, eating out remains to be a massive struggle. For example, at Zizzi, after scouring the allergen menu, I soon realised that there was nothing tomato free that also catered to a gluten or lactose free diet. More importantly though, was my surprise that Zizzi actually had its own separate allergen menu, with pages of tables drawn up illustrating what foods fitted into a ‘dairy free’, ‘vegan’ or ‘glucose free diet’ and further charts detailing common allergens. Whilst these charts may have been slightly redundant to me – because of my not so common elimination of tomatoes at an Italian restaurant, no doubt – to many people these tables would surely be incredibly useful, and probably something that most people are completely unaware of.

Thursday 10th August – My experiences so far: 

As expected, this switch of products is not proving easy. However, neither is it as difficult as one, myself included, would imagine. Dairy free living is particularly noteworthy in how surprisingly unchallenging it is. Indeed, with more and more people embracing a vegan lifestyle, be it for health or ethical reasons, nearly every restaurant menu has vegan options (including Pizza Express and Zizzi, to name a few common chains) and if you enquire, some restaurants even have their own allergen menus. Furthermore, dairy alternatives in supermarkets are plentiful, with even the most basic express supermarkets stocking soya and almond milk at the least. However, for me, who is not going vegan but rather avoiding lactose, the discovery of lactose free milk has been particularly exciting and invaluable, as it means that I can continue drinking something that tastes identical. (Also, since becoming hyperaware of my lactose consumption, I’ve come to realise just quite how much milk I drink!).

As for the gluten reduction: much less easy. Brown carbs are pretty much omnipresent in my family’s diet, and with pizza being my go-to meal out, I think that a complete glucose elimination would have been impossible for me. But, my mum has switched to cooking white rice and pasta for the time being which, due to its lesser fibre content, has certainly made a difference. Furthermore, I have made the decision to remove bread from my morning meal, as this is often when I find it affects me the most. Instead, lower fibre cereal provides a welcome relief.

Tomatoes are definitely a thing of the past for me, at least for the time being. I am lucky that my favourite Italian restaurant actually has a whole section of non-tomato based pizzas and that my mum has started making tomato free options for me, so so far this has been a relatively painless process. However, I have not yet been confronted with the proposal of ordering a takeaway pizza, as a tomato free option does not look too likely! Whilst I have identified tomatoes as the food that I am eliminating most strictly, I have also come to understand that it is objectively the most difficult food on my list to eradicate. It is not a common allergen and is so vital to most cooking. However, the fact that I am succeeding to find alternatives – including at restaurants – demonstrates that it is possible to eat fulfilling meals even without such a presumed staple food.

And lastly, fried food, sugary food, spicy food. Fried food: slightly difficult for me than it should be, simply because crisps are my absolute weakness. But, I have not caved and have instead simply eaten a lone crisp out of my mum’s or sisters’ packet every time that they have been brought into the house. I have also turned down chips twice, and have felt all the more healthy for doing so. Sugary food: easy. Unpopular opinion or not, I’m not a fan and never have been. I imagine (at least judging by the disbelief that often greets me admitting that I don’t like chocolate… or cakes… or any desserts really) that other people would find this elimination more difficult, but to be honest I was largely there anyway, so have not felt the need to modify my diet in this sense, as the amount of refined sugar I eat is minimal regardless. Spicy food: a mixed experience. My mum loves cooking a curry as much as the next Asian mum (!) so we will see how that goes, now that I’m back home and away from the world of out food.

I am going to write a follow up post at the end of the summer holidays, dealing with how this diet fairs up on holiday abroad (help!) and on the process of reintroducing certain foods… so stay tuned for that. 

Experiences · History · Miscellaneous

On the Passing of Time (and my Grandma’s 80th birthday)

A simple premise: my Grandma’s 80th birthday. My family sits around watching an old, but recently discovered, video of my sister and me, recorded almost sixteen years ago.

On screen, I am little over three years old; my sister is not yet one. I chatter and sing and my heavy childhood lisp slightly distorts everything that I say. My sister squeaks and screams and grins at the camera, but cannot walk or even crawl. Off screen, my family howls with laughter, my not so baby sister jokes (or actually tells the truth) that I still sing just as badly and my second sister comments that she wasn’t even born at the point of this video.

The video is made of snippets of several different days. By the end of the video, in a clip filmed a few months later than the first scene, my little sister has started to crawl and she seems to be in a mad rush to escape onto the carpet, away from the rug that she has been placed on. My appearences have become more sporadic, as I have since started nursery school. My mum appears in the video at one point – congratulations to her, she looks exactly the same. My dad appears several times and my grandparents comment that he too looks the same. My sister and I certainly do not look the same (and it would be a bit concerning if we did). In fact, we are not even the same from the beginning of the video to the end, as we have grown more and more as the video has progressed.

Bahrain is beautiful. Filmed through a dusty window, we catch a peak of green grass against hazy sky, of the tall date palm standing proudly in the front garden, knowing that it really belongs there, in a way that the expat inhabitants can only dream of belonging. Excluding photographs, this is the first real glimpse that I have received of the country that I grew up in, since I last visited over four years ago. The camera pans around the room and my mum takes it on a little tour of our house. In all honesty, I do not even remember the house that appears in this film, as we moved out of it when I was just five. However, our subsequent two houses in Bahrain were exactly the same in layout, and I clearly remember them. And yet, I am still surprised at how big the house on the television is, and five years ago feels like a lifetime away.

The video ends and we are transported back to reality, to my grandparents’ house that has always provided a constant, for us now and for the children in the video. My grandma talks of the past. She tells us about the holidays that she went on as a young woman, to Paris and Venice and Egypt and beyond. She talks of her arrival in England and her childhood in Africa. She tells us about the exulsion of Asians from Uganda and we are surprised to learn that she herself was there, having been previously led to believe that she was in England at the time.

My grandma tells me about the book that she is reading on the history of India. She comments that I love history because she loves history.

My grandpa mentions his own childhood in India. He notes that only one of his (many) siblings was born in Pakistan, with the rest having lived through partition.

The babies in the video listen eagerly.

My grandma cuts her birthday cake. 80 years old!

Some flowers for my Grandma’s 80th ! 🌹
London

Visitors

Following on from an amazing three days in Liverpool with Evie, the next three days brought with them a second reunion (although after a much shorter time period than the last) as two of my university friends came to stay with me.

Imogen and Lenya arrived in London at about 12:30 pm on Sunday afternoon and I met them at their respective tube / coach stations. Finding Imogen at her train station was easy, despite the fact that she had left her phone at home; finding Lenya was not. However, we did finally all find each other and, as they did not have very heavy bags, we decided to stay in London until evening. Our first stop was lunch and so we headed to Covent Garden to find somewhere to eat, to catch up and to compile an itinerary for the subsequent day. We ended up eating in Bella Italia, where we shared garlic pizza bread and chips. On the way to the restaurant however, we noticed ‘Milk Train’ – an ice cream and candyfloss place that I had really wanted to go to – and so we headed there once we finished our lunch. At Milk Train I ordered a vanilla ice cream with candyfloss, whilst Imogen ordered (a rather unpleasant) green ice cream – the flavour of which we are still unsure… Unfortunately, our ice creams ended up literally falling apart within minutes of leaving the shop, but not before we managed to get our picture perfect Instagrams.*

*Well, not that picture perfect – but here are some that actually are!

After lunch and our very messy ice cream, we headed to Trafalgar Square, as it was both nearby and a typical touristy destination. As the weather was warm we spent a long time sitting on the steps (which Lenya hilariously struggled to climb up onto). Our aim was to obtain a nice photo of the three of us at Trafalgar Square but, as it had started to rain, our much-needed photographer was nowhere to be found. Thankfully, we did end up getting a photo in the end, but regretfully it showed no distinct sign of being at Trafalgar Square! After spending a while here, we headed back on the tube, this time to St Paul’s. We walked around for a bit, past the Tate and the Globe, and then began a very long walk to the very anti climatic London Bridge. Once on London Bridge, we stopped for a while to talk, before setting off in pursuit of dinner. But, as it was a Sunday, indeed nothing was open so we ended up on the tube once more, where we concluded at the sushi restaurant near to where I live.

Day Two saw us waking up at 8am and getting up at about 11; not quite the early morning that we had envisaged. Nonetheless, we quickly set off to the first destination (and the only one we actually made it to) on our itinerary: the Natural History Museum. As Imogen and I are history students, whilst Lenya does science, we concluded that this museum would be the perfect compromise and indeed it was. We arrived in South Kensington at around lunchtime, so our first stop was Nandos, where I enjoyed a lovely mushroom and halloumi burger, before navigating the beautiful streets of Kensington to the museum. We spent the majority of the afternoon at the Natural History Museum exploring all the exhibits that were available, from earthquakes to dinosaurs to cabinets of dead birds (which I was certainly not keen on). At the front of the museum was an escalator that led into a giant earth sculpture at the top, so that it seemed that you were entering into the centre of the earth. We ended up travelling up this escalator a few too many times!

Once we had exhausted all there was to see at the Natural History Museum, we briefly visited the Victoria and Albert Museum as it is next door. We went to the fashion exhibition first (Imogen’s pick) and then to look at the sculptures (Lenya’s much more reluctant pick). Finally we went to the beautiful jewelry exhibition, where we became embarrassingly engrossed in the design your own ring computer game. Once we finally moved on from the game – which was certainly not intended for people of our age – we decided to make the most of the hot weather by walking to Hyde Park, where we sat by The Serpentine and enjoyed a cold drink. As it began to approach dinner time, we jumped back on the tube to Covent Garden again, where we had dinner at Zizzis. More importantly though, we took photos on a lovely flower covered bench, which we waited at for literally twenty minutes to get our photo!

Tuesday brought with it a very early morning, which followed a very late night, as we had stayed up talking for ages. Thankfully, despite the sleepiness, both Lenya and Imogen made it onto their trains home with plenty of time to spare. The three days provided a lovely opportunity to catch up with friends that don’t live near to me, as well as an amazing chance to experience London as a tourist. As I have written about before, it is all too easy to take the amazing city that one lives in for granted and, thus, any opportunity to make the most of all that London has to offer is very much welcome.

IMG_2511
Natural History Museum
Arts · Travel

Old Friends are NOT Best Left in the Past: Three Days in Liverpool 

I am writing this post whilst on the train back home from Liverpool, where I have spent the last three days visiting my friend Evie. Having been friends since we were nine years old, Evie is my longest friend and yet still someone who I continue to consider to be one of my very best friends. As she lives in New Zealand, this is only the second time in the last six years that I have seen her, hence the amazing three days were all the more meaningful, as I do not know when I will next get to see Evie, except through the pixelated screen of a poorly connecting Skype call.

I arrived at Liverpool Lime Street Station at around half past two on Thursday afternoon, where Evie met me on the platform. As Evie’s grandma (whose house we were staying at) lives slightly outside of Liverpool, we decided to remain in the city for the rest of the afternoon. Because it was lunch time, and a nice day, we walked to this small outdoor fair place – Evie was unsure if it was permanent or not – where we sat for a bit and ate some delicious halloumi fries. After lunch, we wandered across the water by the docks and arrived at the Tate Liverpool, where we stayed for an hour or so to look at several displays. One piece of modern art that stood out in particular was a sign (similar to that of a board in a train station) in which random thoughts, perhaps belonging to the artist, were circling; Evie and I were fixated and must have watched it for about ten minutes. The first thought we saw however, read “Old friends are best left in the past” – something which Evie and I certainly did not agree with!

After exploring the Tate Liverpool, Evie and I went to Liverpool One shopping centre, where we looked round the shops and in Evie’s case bought a number of things. Finally, when we were done looking at all the shops that New Zealand seems to be massively lacking in, we got on the train to The Wirral where Evie’s grandma lives. Evie’s sister Isabelle (who I haven’t seen since she was eleven) and her cousin Ellie (who I’ve only met once, years ago, when she visited Bahrain) drove us home from the station and I saw Evie’s family for the first time in over half a decade, as only Evie had visited me last year. We had dinner and dessert and lots of sweets and then the four of us – Evie, Issy, Ellie and I – watched Love Island. After that, Isabelle and Ellie went to Ellie’s house, while Evie and I made the regretful decision to watch a super traumatic psychological thriller called Pet until we were almost too disturbed to go to sleep.

The next day we woke up at about 8:30 am, got ready and had breakfast. Then, at around eleven o’clock, Evie’s mum drove us to the station, where we got on the train to Chester, which is a town also quite close to Liverpool. Chester was a really pretty and historic town, with lots of old buildings along the high street. True to what we do best together, we spent another day shopping both in Chester and then later in Liverpool again. Less was bought on Friday than Thursday though, as a long period of time in Chester was spent in a shoe shop where Evie could only find one boot of a pair of boots that she liked! As well as shopping, we also had lunch in Chester: I had a lovely mushroom and cheese toastie.

After our rather late lunch, we got the train from Chester back into central Liverpool. In Liverpool we met up with Ellie and Issy and went to a café on Bold Street called ‘Love Thy Neighbour’. This has got to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing cafés that I have ever been in; I seem to remember having seen it before on a blog or Instagrammers’ feed! Following this, we looked in a number of independent vintage shops on Bold Street, with Ellie showing us where to go, as she actually lives in Liverpool. After a while, Ellie and Isabelle went back home, whilst Evie and I looked in a few more shops before following suit. Back at Evie’s grandma’s house, Evie and I had our dinner of surprisingly very tasty vegetarian sausage rolls, and then Ellie and Isabelle arrived right in time for Love Island again. After Love Island, the four of us squeezed into one double bed, where we started watching a film called Mothers’ Day. We did not finish it however, as Evie’s laptop ran out of charge, and as we were all tired we decided to go straight to sleep.

Despite plans to wake up very early this morning, Evie and I finally made it downstairs at close to eleven a.m.. As my train was at quarter to three, we decided to head straight into Liverpool and explore the tourist attractions near the station. Thankfully, this area actually seemed to hold the majority of museums and galleries. We chose to go to the an art gallery – called The Walker Gallery – that had many paintings and sculptures, as well as a craft exhibition. We were also pleasantly surprised to find a number of pieces by famous and well known artists, such as Lowry’s paintings of Liverpool itself. Once we had finished at this gallery, we attempted to go to a second gallery, but it turned out to be quite expensive so, instead, we decided to go to Radio City in St John’s Beacon, from which we got an amazing view of the whole of Liverpool.

From the top of the viewing platform, we identified a square that we thought would have nice places to eat, and this is where we set off to to find some lunch. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case, however we found another nice cafe on Bold Street called ‘Koop’, which had a similar kind of vibe to an American diner. Evie was not hungry so only had a coffee but, as this was my only opportunity to have lunch before my journey home, I ordered a peanut butter, chocolate sauce and banana waffle. When it came, both Evie and I were shocked at the size – the waffle was enormous and served with a mountain of cream and a second mountain of ice cream! Evie and I ended up sharing the waffle in the end, as there was no way that one person could have eaten it on their own. We finished lunch in perfect timing, at around quarter past two, and then walked the short walk back to the train station, arriving in good time before my train departed.

Overall, I had an amazing three days, experiencing a new city, visiting a number of interesting galleries and tourist hotspots and, of course, spending time with one of my best friends. So, that art instillation was indeed incorrect after all: old friends are certainly not best left in the past.

Arts · History · London

My London Bucket List

At the beginning of this summer holiday – during the long days of Ramadan when time was certainly not flying by – I began to compile a long list of places that I want to go to during the months that I am at home. Despite being from London, most of my childhood experiences of London were through a lens not dissimilar to that of a tourist; on one hand London was home, but on the other it was an exciting place yet to be properly explored, understood and conquered. Since moving back to London, this perception shifted comfortingly towards the former and unfortunately away from the latter. However, London remains to be a city full of attractions, museums and places to explore and this summer I aim to venture into the city that I have become increasingly attached to over the past few years…

Yesterday, Grace and I went to the ‘Old Operating Theatre’, which is one of the many lesser known museums on my list. The very small museum, which is set up in the attic of an 18th century Church, is home to the oldest surviving operating theatre in Europe, dating back to 1822. Having braved the long spiral staircase to the top, Grace and I were ready to explore the museum. The museum consisted of several displays, including cases of old surgical tools and a “Cabinet of Curiosities: Animals in Medicine”. There were also innumerable herbs on display, as this attic was the site of an old apothecary. After exploring the displays in museum, we went up the stairs to view the operating theatre itself. Despite being small, the museum was very interesting, especially as it is not one of the more common museums that one immediately thinks of when they think of London.

After leaving the Old Operating Theatre, we took a short (although not as short as Grace claimed it would be) walk to the Tate Modern. In converse, this gallery is certainly not lesser known, nor new to me, as I have been there many times. However, it was an enjoyable experience nonetheless. Whilst I would perhaps hesitate to describe myself as a modern art aficionado, or actually even a fan, I did like a number of the pieces, in particular the pieces with historical context and the photography series. What’s more, I definitely enjoyed watching Grace’s undisguisable lack of amusement at many of the pieces! A particular mention has to be given to an art installation made entirely of human hair; this is certainly not because it was my favourite but in fact quite the opposite – as a concept it was traumatic enough, let alone as something I have actually had the displeasure of seeing.

The day commenced with an obligatory trip to Pizza Express, which, no matter how much we complain about it, always ends up being the go-to restaurant. Over all, it was lovely to explore a new museum and learn about the history of a place of which I had previously been unaware.

One place ticked off the London summer bucket list!  

Culture and Languages · Film and Television · History

Learning French… And Learning History 

Being mixed race, and having spent the largest part of my childhood living abroad as an expatriate, I have always regarded it as a great shame that English is the only language that I can speak. Yes, I can largely understand my mum’s language when she speaks it with my grandma, but I cannot speak it confidently. So, this summer, one of my aims is to improve my language skills. Having a French GCSE, French seemed to be the most accessible language to start with this summer, although I would like to gradually expand my list of languages over the years.

There are many positive testimonies to using television programmes and films to learn new languages and this is the approach that I am taking. Following a quick Google search, I became aware of a programme called Extra – a sitcom that is designed to teach students either French, German, Spanish or English. However, after watching four episodes of Extra, I concluded that I was not getting much from this show, as the level of French was appropriate to complete beginners, which I am not. And thank goodness I’m not – that would be a bit embarrassing after eight years of French lessons at school!

Deciding to move on from Extra, I noticed a French television show called Un Village Français. The description sounded amazing: a programme set in a Nazi occupied village of Frace, that promised to appeal to those with an interest in History. The French was described as being of an “intermediate” level and so I decided to give it a go.

Would this be the programme that propelled me straight to fluent French speaker standard? 

Possibly not. If there were no subtitles, I probably wouldn’t even be able to identify which words were the characters names.

However… I am not giving up on the belief that my French is improving, as I become increasingly exposed to the language and to the accent. Moreover, I have become almost immediately engrossed in the show itself. I have just finished Season One and cannot wait to begin Season Two. Each season, with the exception of the first two, follows one year of Nazi occupation, beginning with the Nazis’ arrival in the first episode. It addresses the impact of Nazi rule on civilian life in France and seeks to eradicate the common portrayal of “good” characters and “bad” characters, by blurring the lines between the two, as a result of the strain of the war.

By the end of the first episode of Un Village Français, I must admit that I found myself in tears. Whilst my mum has commented that this is more of a reflection on me than the show – and I’m not entirely disagreeing! – something must be said for a programme that has the capacity to create such emotional investment within just forty short minutes. So, whilst I can’t vouch for the show resulting in any improvement in my French, I can certainly say that I have found an incredibly captivating new show to binge watch. C’est fantastique! 🇫🇷