Saturday, April 5, 2014

Christmas in England, France, and Spain!

One of the best experience I've had so far studying abroad in London is connecting with all of my British relatives that I otherwise never get to see! There is no better example of this than this year's Christmas. While Jackie was jetting off back to Illinois to enjoy Christmas with her family, my dad and his sister's family were flying from Wisconsin to England to join the rest of our British side for a real English Christmas in Winchester. I'm sure all the details are much more interesting to me than any of you, so I'll keep this one brief!

First thing we did after getting all the relatives together (aunts, uncles, first cousins, second cousins, first cousins once removed... 18 people in all, plus two furry friends!) was take a hike up Winchester hill for some beautiful sunset views. 

My cousins from Wisconsin wanted to check out London for a day, so I took them to my stomping grounds and we explored Shoreditch's street art, the Tate Modern, had a pub dinner, and even made our own mark on Abbey Road's graffiti wall. The next morning we were getting breakfast by the tube and saw hands down the most bizarre thing I've seen in London so far: a child, being held up in the air like a taco by his father, defecating in the street right near the entrance to a bustling tube stop. We sat there, shocked mouths agape, watching the whole thing, and somehow still managed to finish our breakfast. 

We headed back to Winchester in time for Christmas Eve where, after a good few hours of teaching our British cousins how to play night games, we went to midnight mass in the beautiful Winchester Cathedral. I even had a mini-celeb sighting here, as I saw the frontman for Brit band Flyte, who I had seen just a few weeks prior in London. Although, I do admit making a faux pas in my exclamation of 'Holy shit! You're the guy from Flyte!'. 'Holy shit' is definitely not the best thing to say in church on Christmas Eve. But whatever, Santa still came for me!

Christmas day we all headed over to my dad's cousin's beautiful house, which used to be a barn, for a big Christmas roast. Halfway through the meal, we turned on the TV and watched the Queen's Christmas speech. It was definitely a little surprising to me that this was part of the ceremony of Christmas lunch, but it was nice, and it was also the first time I've actually heard the Queen speak. We ended the night in the most British way possible: watching the Dr. Who Christmas special!

The next day we went to a Boxing Day fox hunt. Really, how much more British could this get? The horses were beautiful, and there were SO MANY dogs, it was great. The hunting dogs were super friendly and jumped all over us. After we saw the hunters off, we took a hike up a big hill near by. On the way down, dad, my uncle Richard, my cousin Phoebe, and I somehow got separated from everyone else and got terribly lost, which meant we had to wade through calf high water to find a random road and call for help. On our way back to civilization we stopped by to check out some beautiful old churches in the area.

I really loved getting to know my extended family better, and especially enjoyed not being
the only girl at Christmas for once!

After having a lovely time with family, my dad and I met up with our friend Naomi and her son Ben to head off to their house in southern France in a town called Prades. We spent about a week in Prades, enjoying the local bakery's pain au chocolat and croissants every morning on the roof of the house, going to the local market, hanging out with friends, and even skiing in the Pyrénées followed by a dip in the local hot spring baths. It was a really quiet little place (the town was virtually silent at midnight on New Year's Eve) but it was beautiful, and everywhere you looked you were surrounded by snowy mountains, and at night the stars were incredible.

The "Cheeky Chicken Man"

While in Prades, we took a little field trip to a nearby village called Eus, which claims to be the sunniest village in France. We hiked up the town, basking in the sun, until we reached the Church of St. Vincent at the top of the hill. 

We took another field trip to a city called Perpignon in search of a flea market we'd heard about. Having gotten lost, we asked for directions from a man at a bakery, and he ended up being so nice as to lead us in his car to where the market was supposed to be. To our surprise, and probably to his confusion, there was nothing to be found at our destination!

After a nice time in southern France, we spent our last two days of holiday in Barcelona, enjoying sea, sun, and LOTS of paella and seafood!

After returning to London from Barcelona, I only had one more night to enjoy with my dad before he headed off to the states. We said our goodbye the next day at King's Cross (Harry Potter, much?). Just a few hours later, I got a call from dad saying that due to the polar vortex plaguing Chicago with feet of snow, his flight home was cancelled and he wouldn't be going home for another three days! A Christmas miracle. We spent the next few days walking around London and going to the Tate Modern, Design Museum, and Victoria and Albert Museum. It was really lovely to have some extra time with dad, especially as it was the only part of his trip where it was just the two of us.
It was definitely one of the most memorable and enjoyable Christmas holidays I've ever had.

The Design Museum's replica of fashion designer Paul Smith's office was super interesting

Thanks for reading! 

- Nina

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