Here are some deets on the process of getting my license in the UK so you’re not into the nitty gritty, or aren’t planning on moving to the UK anytime soon (totally understandable) feel free to skim this post. But if you’re a curious cat, by all means dig in (meow)
I (Rachel) passed my driving test last month and am pretty pumped about it! I just received my drivers license in the mail am considering framing it 🙂 I would if my picture wasn’t the required level of terrible for such things.
Here is a not bad picture of me immediately after passing my driving test
Andrew passed his test back in March after having to reschedule due to a freak snow storm (link). Our US licenses allowed us to drive in the UK for 12 months, requiring us to get UK licenses after March of this year. We both drove our rental car without incident since we arrived in March 2017.
Some friends and acquaintances have seemed surprised that I drive in the UK as many of the expat wives refuse to drive (not sure if it’s fear or disinterest) but I never gave it a second thought. It may be something in my nature:
- I don’t think of myself as particularity adventurous but that’s probably part of it and
- growing up in Montana public transportation is not an option so I equate the ability to drive with the essence of freedom of moment and just freedom in general. ‘MERICA
Full disclosure: even though I’m a confident and arguably good driver it was stressful to drive in the UK initially as it required me to reprogram my brain! Andrew, who had been driving in the UK frequently during 2016, was a good coach and gave me a few tips that helped put my mind at ease. So when March came to a close it was time to get back in the saddle…
The Theory Exam
Actually, back in the office chair: the practical exam can only be registered for once you pass your theory exam. I spent about 6-8 hours studying the material as I wanted to be sure to pass the first time. Luckily “there is an app for that” which prepared me well for the exam.
The test includes videos where the test taker is required to click on the screen when a hazard emerges. There is a five second gap during which you can click and the test taker is assigned points based on how early the hazard is identified. This part of the test was a bit crazy making for me as I never felt sure if something on the screen (car, pedestrian, cyclist) was considered a hazard or just a normal part of traffic. A car starting to pull out of a driveway may not initially be a hazard, but if they proceed to pull out in front of you, they are a hazard. But at what point is the determination made when the car changes from not a hazard to a hazard? If you click too much you fail that section of the test. “Click the screen! but not too much! click now! no, now! not now! you clicked too much! don’t click on the cat!” Ahhh!
After I passed the written theory exam I began driving lessons. I spent about 2 months taking 1 lesson per week. The average is for students to take about 10 lessons so I’m perfectly average 🙂 Luckily I had a very good and chill driving instructor who Andrew and his co-worker, Robb, both recommended.
Here are main things I worked on:
- Roundabouts and lane discipline: I needed clarity on the correct way to enter and exit roundabouts. I felt challenged when there were multiple lanes on large roundabouts or when the lanes weren’t marked on small roundabouts. I also had to learn lane discipline to stay in my lane and not drift into someone else’s lane when rounding the roundabout. I now feel very confident in my driving and realize that part of what made me crazy was that other drivers frequently illegally change lanes or illegally pull into my lane when they selected the wrong lane initially. The shame! I got a big kick out of having people illegally pull into my lane during a driving lesson and witness my driving instructor roll down his window to give two drivers a good talking to at the next stop light.
- Speed Limits: I learned that unless marked the speed limit is 30 in built up areas/areas with streetlights (unless otherwise marked), 60 on one lane highways and 70 on two lane highways. Because there are lots of speed cameras in the UK and I come across a handful when driving around Poole, it was frustrating to not have clarity on if I was going to be in danger of received a nice £100 ticket in the mail. Thank you, Big Brother.
- Parallel parking in a right hand drive vehicle: Seattle has made me into a parallel parking master (thank you back up camera), but parking with a right hand drive takes some practice. Luckily my instructor was really great about teaching me tricks on this.
- General good driving habits: A biggie was forming a habit of push pull steering instead of using a hand-over-hand motion. Also ensuring that I use the “mirror, signal, maneuver” instead of signaling, then checking my mirrors. I’ve also learned to check my mirrors and blind spots more frequently for bikes and other hazards.
The Practical Exam
The actual test was 40 minutes and included
- 1 Maneuver: out of 4 possible options of reverse bay parking, parallel parking, forward bay parking and parking on the right side of the street. I had to reverse bay park although I extremely well prepared to demonstrate my parallel parking skills.
- 1 Emergency Stop: requiring the driver to lock up the brakes- I thought to myself “I’ve done this a hundred times. It’s called NOT hitting a deer on the highway”
- Sat Nav: Following the GPS instructions for 20 minutes. This is a relatively new addition to the test and was the easiest part of the test as far as I was concerned. If you made a mistake and took a wrong turn it didn’t count against your score as long as you didn’t do anything unsafe.
- Pulling Over: there were several points where the instructor had me “pull over on the left side of the road when it is safe to do so” and safely merge back into traffic. I I found this to be the most annoying part of the test as it was necessary to pull over in awkward places I never would have chosen in real life.
- Following verbal directions from the instructor
- “Show me” and “Tell me” questions: examples include show me how to use your rear windscreen wiper, show me how to turn on the defrost, tell me how to check that your brake lights are working, tell me how to check your oil
In the weeks leading up to my test I learned that a maneuver could be attempted more than once. This made me feel like the test could be easily passed. But then I learned that doing the maneuvers correctly was not sufficient: every action must be done “in a safe manner”. This means always checking your blind spots and swiveling your head round and round like an owl to make “adequate” observations of emerging hazards. So not only do you need to execute maneuvers and drive around, you need to ensure you are always swiveling your head, which sounds easy but took practice for me to do consistently. For example, I was able to perfectly parallel park, but if I wasn’t checking my mirrors and blind spots while doing so, I would fail the test. :/
My instructor was very good at helping me to become more observant and swivel my head like a doll. There are lots of videos online with info about the test that helped me prepare but ultimately the test came down to staying calm and confident, but not too calm to the point of complacency. I had a lesson right before my test where I remember telling myself silently “don’t freak out” as I had drove over a curb and was getting too in my head about the test.
The Big Day
On test day I was pretty calm. I passed my mock exam and felt confident I could pass. Things went well with the exception of when I had to pass a cyclist: my confidence wained momentarily when I had to navigate oncoming traffic and the cyclist. I completely support sharing the road and love to ride my bike but this emergent situation was not something I had extensively practiced like every other aspect of the test. This is not something I would normally stress about but having the instructor evaluating me made me doubt myself. Skinny roads + cyclists + oncoming traffic = 🙁
In the end I passed with only one mistake! (You are allowed up to 15) My instructor was pretty sinking happy too and gave me a great big hug! It was such a relief to pass!
I remember my driving test at 15 being super easy and kind of a joke compared to the work that went into ensuring I passed in the UK. My high school offered driver’s ed and had a minimal cost compared to the hundreds of £s paid for the tests and driving lessons: the grand total was in excess of £500.
While I dreaded the lessons and the tests were stressful I’m glad I polished up my driving and learned how to navigate roundabouts with confidence. I wish I would have taken a few lessons when I first moved here to clear up confusion, especially about the dreaded roundabouts. Being informed has made me more confident and the process taught me good skills that I can practice in the UK and the US. And now I even know how to flip someone off in the UK! (It’s with 2 fingers!) (Not that I’m ever going to do that…hehe)
So glad to have that crossed off my list! Rachel’s Taxi Rides at your Service!
Here’s what my license looks like. Do you like my blonde hair? My license is good for 10 years although technically I’m supposed to relinquish it when I am no longer a resident but I’m definitely keeping it for my scrapbook! I earned it!
When I moved to Seattle in 2012, Andrew and I were not yet engaged and I struggled to find my place in the Emerald City. A group of women living next door to Andrew’s Green Lake bachelor pad reached out to me and became fast friends. Out of that group a women’s bible study was born. This bible study later morphed into a book group held at a house in Queen Anne inhabited by some of those same women. This group of women became one of the most important communities of my Seattle life. Once a week we gathered for prayer, fellowship, laughter, tears and some zaniness. Sometimes we would even discuss a book. The group was a constant in my life. A safe place where honesty was always welcomed.
A few months ago the rent on their Queen Anne house was raised to an untenable level necessitating the relocation of said friends. While this is bitter, there is also sweetness, as one friend is moving out of state to pursue a dream and another just got engaged. These are happy things, and yet, I struggle: The band is breaking up (on good terms) and I am mourning the loss of a community hub.
The houses inhabited by these women were the location for general hang-outs, celebrations, movie binges, house parties, low-key and fancy dinners, and general merry making. The number of friendships and romances that were born and tended in these houses is a credit to my friends. I want to emulate the way they prioritized community and hospitality. In these houses our community had a place to land and was always welcome. What will I come back to? Will there be a house where we all gather? Do I have a part to play?
While I couldn’t have verbalized this a year ago, I realize now I had the idea that I would return to a Seattle untouched by time. Like Sleeping Beauty, I believed that I could enter a state of altered reality and the world would do the same, waiting for me. The reality is that friends are buying houses, getting engaged, married and having kids. A golden era may be ending.
Lately, I’ve really come to embrace what I call the “greyness of life” in which two, seemingly opposite things are true simultaneously. I can be wonderfully happy in my present circumstance, while also being sad that something beautiful is ending, changing and shifting. “How am I?” “I’m happy AND I’m sad.”
In my brain, I know that something new and equally delightful may come into my life or a new iteration of that community life may emerge. But right now, in my heart, I’m sad. I am surprised and sad to realize that something I thought of as a constant will no longer look the same when I return. It makes me feel a little naive and a bit vulnerable to admit.. But that’s where I am. And I’m going to sit with my sadness for a while.
Life changes and people move on, but I’m not quite ready to do that yet. ~
The Royals are coming! This Saturday Meghan and Harry will wed at St. George’s Chapel in the town of Windsor.
I am a bit sad I am not throwing a party for the wedding! In 2011 I stayed up all night to watch Prince William and Kate Middleton get hitched. I baked a cake, decorated my apt and hosted friends to celebrate. Not that I went overboard or anything. I mean, maybe I did, but who doesn’t love a good party!?
Andrew and I will not be attending the wedding (ha) nor will we be celebrating in Windsor (although I’m having a bit of FOMO!) I am happy enough to watch everything at home with my pupper and a glass of bubbles! Andrew even said he would watch the wedding with me. Major points for him!
While we won’t be in Windsor on Saturday, we WILL be there tomorrow. We decided to go to Legoland as it is on Andrew’s UK Bucket List and Legoland is about 10 miles from where the wedding will take place.
I’m wondering if this is a big mistake as it’s estimated that 30,000 people will camp out on Friday night and another 150,000 will show up on Saturday for the event. The church accommodates 800, obviously all of the seats are spoken for, but the wedding will be streamed live on large screens. The main draw is that there will be a 25 minute procession through the town of Windsor where the public and can glimpse the newlyweds.
For those lucky enough to get an invitation, they have to arrive at the church at 9:30am. Family will follow at 11:20 and the ceremony will begin at noon. (That’s 4am for you Seattlites!) The first reception will follow at Windsor Castle for 600 guests. A second 200 person reception will be held for family and friends that evening. It’s assumed there will be a fireworks display similar to Will and Kate’s nuptials. (If you need ALL the deets- check out this article)
My impression from the Brits I’ve talked to is that most people will be watching the wedding and celebrating with a barbecue or low key party.
- Wills and Kate were married on Friday, April 29, 2011 at Westminster Abbey in London. The date was declared a holiday (just for that year) and people were given the day off work. Because Harry is lower on the totem pole his wedding wasn’t given official holiday status and was scheduled for a Saturday so people could celebrate. Also, there are already two holidays in May so having three would be a bit excessive.
- Meghan’s real name is Rachel Meghan Markle. A pretty good name if you ask me.
- Pubs were allowed to apply for permits to extend their operating hours for the occasion.
- The town of Windsor is 25 miles west of London.
- Windsor castle is where the Queen and Prince Phillip spend the majority of the year.
- Andrew and I toured the castle with our friends from Kansas City. I’m thrilled that we toured the hall were the first reception will be held (below)!
- The royals are paying for the wedding although it appears (I can’t find anything official) that public money will be spend on some aspects like airport level security for the visitors to Windsor on Saturday.
I am enjoying seeing all the merch for the wedding. I get a big kick out of it. And NO, I have not bought anything but there are some super cute commemorative coffee cups that I am tempted by.
I’ll let you know how Legoland goes!
Flights, kennel, hotels and rental car: check, check, check and check.
Time to pack our bags: Andrew and I fly to Ireland tomorrow night to spend a few days with Andrew’s college friends, Kim, Ben and their little tyke, Luca, who are in Europe for a vacation and conference.
This trip is a homecoming of sorts for me as I spent a cold wet six months in Galway for a study abroad program. (Perhaps to prepare me for a future life in Seattle?) So I’ve been strolling down memory lane.
2007- The year I studied abroad, visited Paris and London for the first time, told Andrew farewell as I didn’t accept a job offer from Boeing (we were just friends) and graduated from college.
I had a chuckle when I read my journal from January of 2007. At the time I knew I wanted to travel and/or live abroad. I believe my time studying in Ireland paved the way for Andrew and I to embrace a UK adventure.
In college I knew I wanted to study abroad but was set on studying in France. The conflict was that I wouldn’t be able to meet my goal of graduating in four years if I studied in France due to the way the credits transferred. While my junior and senior year were some of the happiest days of my life, I struggled for a patch of time during my senior year when I wasn’t getting enough sleep and wasn’t managing my time, my social life, and sorority obligations very well. The overwhelming reality that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up felt suffocating. With all the chaos in my head, I wrote off studying abroad.
Plot twist! The week before the deadline to apply for a study abroad program an Irish student spoke in one of my classes about his experience at MSU. A lightbulb lit up above my head. I made a split decision and turned in my application to the College of Business Office the next day. (I wouldn’t have made the decision to go if it weren’t for my mom’s encouragement and support. Thanks, mom!)
And so I went. And journaled. I’m struck by how my entries from that spring are full of optimism: everything was novel and exciting:
I arrived in Ireland on the 1st of January. It was a long plane ride, but somehow not as tiring as my flight to Lithuania last May. After staying in a hostel for a few nights (an excellent experience, resulting in new friends all over Europe) I moved into my apartment.
My Irish, roommate, Dervla, has been a good resource, educating me on the colloquialisms of Ireland (many of which I’ve integrated into my everyday speech). College started on the 8th and has been an experience in itself. Registration for classes is done in person and differs from department to department. This proved somewhat frustrating, but as they say ‘nothing worthwhile is ever easy.’ I’ve navigated the campus fairly easily and am no longer lost, as I frequently was during orientation last week. (The trick was to look for other lost-looking Americans and band together.)
My apartment complex, Dunaras, is a 20 minute walk from campus. It’s not a bad walk, but the rain takes some getting used to, or rather, learning how to stay dry and be prepared for frequent down pours. A good deal of Americans live in the complex and I’ve met many of them. Some seem surprised when I tell them I didn’t come with a program: in fact, I’ve gotten a bit tired of telling them in essence, I traveled here alone and yesterday jested that I came with the ‘Rachel Hofacker Program for Excellence.’
Yesterday I registered for an Irish language course: while the course is not-for-credit, it’s a once in a life time opportunity and seems to be a good bit of fun combined with a dynamic learning environment. I’m also registered for a ‘Women in Irish Society’ course that commences next week and an English class that studies literature concerning the American South (it seems somehow unreal to be sitting in a lecture hall in Ireland hearing my professor explain the historical context of works written about slavery in America).
All in all, things are grand. The few hiccups are simply static compared to the friendly demeanor of the natives, the beauty of the land and the unbounded opportunity for travel during my hiatus in The “Emerald Isle”.
I’m so excited!
We’ll explore Galway, the University and the surrounding national parks and find some live music!
Cue Galway Girl. Which was shot in Galway!
Trains are not running and flights are cancelled. Schools are closed. Super market shelves are bare. Storm Emma is killing the UK right now. It’s said to be the worst storm since 1962. Headlines read:
And people are going ham
The red warning covered parts of Devon, Somerset and south Wales and prompted Devon and Cornwall police to declare a major incident.
It was only the third such warning the Met Office has issued since the current system came into force in 2011. The red warning means: “Widespread damage, travel and power disruption and risk to life is likely”.
Storm Emma, named by the Portuguese weather service, pushed up from the south bringing heavy snow and gusts of more than 60mph.
People are stranded on the roads and are abandoning their cards. A drive that usually takes Andrew a half hour took him two hours. He almost abandoned the car as he was within walking distance to home. He helped push several cars up hills and had to have someone push our car.
Despite warnings, people are still taking to the roads
The weather is costing the UK millions. The AA estimated that there were 8,260 collisions on Britain’s roads from the snow chaos in just three days, with the insurance cost already above £10m.
Havoc aside, everyone is enjoying playing in the snow, including Team Great Britian’s Billy Morgan, just back from Pyeongchang with a Winter Olympics bronze medal, who took to the streets of Essex to perform tricks and spins.
Andrew I were both scheduled to take our driving tests so we can get our UK license but the tests have been cancelled. Time to snuggle in for a long winter’s nap. Luckily Andrew can work from home!
- After learning about the opportunity in December we finalized our decision to take an assignment in Great Britain for 9 months. Andrew’s 2016 schedule had him in the US for 1 week a month and we decided we should live in the same country in 2017.
- Rachel accepted the Chapter Advisor position for the Alpha Omicron Pi chapter at University of Washington (this was in the works before we decided to go to GB). Rachel was in the AOII chapter at Montana State University in Bozeman as an undergrad.
- Rachel traveled to Nashville for an AOII Leadership convention to network with other leaders and learn more about the organization.
- As our departure date approached Rachel said goodbye to her job at Mary’s Place in Seattle. She was worked as part of the employment team as a career coach, coaching people experiencing homeless on job skills, and company liaison, building relationships with non-profits willing to become employers. Read about Mary’s Place: http://www.marysplaceseattle.org/
- Andrew traveled to GB one last time before the big move.
- We packed, threw a going away party and moved!!! Was this ever a task! Not only did we have to pack everything up, but deciding what to take for the next nine months proved challenging. While I (Rachel) knew that GB would have everything we needed, I knew it would be nice to bring some things that would remind me of home (pictures, knick knacks) and some creature comforts (favorite polar fleece blanket, down comforter) and some more practical things, like over the counter medicines that require a prescription in the UK (Melatonin, Alieve, etc). I should have made a decision tree for that one but it probably would have looked like a bad football play.
- Upon arrival Ezra went to quarantine even after a vet review and USDA representative review of his paperwork: Mr. Doggo had a three day gap in his rabies vaccination resulting in a 21 day kennel stay. The blessing in all of it was that we were able to choose where he was boarded and somehow (Providentially) chose the most benevolent kennel owner who had a soft spot for Ezra and cooked him chicken and rice when he wasn’t feeling well (stress). We visited him during his jail time and worried but he came home just fine and didn’t seem worse for the wear. In hindsight we should have hired a firm to handle the paperwork but we thought we were being frugal by doing it all ourselves. Read more: https://andrewandrachel.com/2017/03/17/uk-arrival/
- Upon arrival we moved into an executive serviced apartment (ESA) while we looked for a place to call home. The ESA felt more like a hotel than a place we could relax for the next 9 months.
- Finding an apartment proved difficult as few rentals allow pets. We eventually found a place with a view that knocked our socks off. Read more: https://andrewandrachel.com/2017/04/23/home-home-on-the-quay/
- Seattle friends Kimi and Charlie were in London for a work trip so we drove into London for dinner. Rachel rode the train in during the week to have some girl time with Kimi. We miss our sweet friends! Read more: https://andrewandrachel.com/2017/06/02/trips-to-london-town/
- Our shipment from Seattle arrived so unpack we did the items we had deemed un-live-without-able and started navigating life in Poole.
- We opened a bank account which was no easy task. (I’ll blog on that eventually)
- Andrew had a three day weekend so we made a get away to London. Read more: https://andrewandrachel.com/2017/06/02/trips-to-london-town/
- Andrew’s cousin, Nick, was in Luxembourg doing some post-college-graduation (same University as Andrew!) travel so naturally we booked a low-cost-carrier flight east. We loved spending time with Nick and friends the Lloyds. Read more here: https://andrewandrachel.com/2017/06/06/lovely-luxembourg/
- I (Rachel) was missing my choir back in Seattle so I found a singing course offered by an a capella group. I enjoyed the 6 week class and joined the chorus after passing my audition.
- We celebrated our 4th anniversary in Split, Croatia. Read more here: https://andrewandrachel.com/2017/07/02/croatia/
- Andrew’s aunt, Theresa, visited for a weekend after meeting up with her son Nick whom we visited in Luxembourg (see above). We had the best time catching up and visiting Hurst castle together.
- Our friends from Seattle, aka the Lovebirds, Bryan and Caroline, were kind enough to meet up with us on their honeymoon so we spent a whirlwind 24 hours together in Londontown.
- Rachel flew to Montana to throw a bridal shower for her brother, Peter’s betrothed, Renée. A week later Peter and Renée married on a beautiful day in Billings, Montana. Andrew made a quick trip to the states to celebrate with the Hofacker clan. Wedding photos by Sara Jeanne Photography
- Rachel stayed in Montana for a few weeks post wedding to attend the 100th anniversary of the Alpha Phi chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi at Montana State University. She celebrated with loads of friends from college (or as the Brits would say – mates from uni) and met an AOII who studied abroad at MSU and lives in London.
- Andrew’s program wasn’t going to finish within the year, as we thought would be the case, so we decided to stay in the UK for a bit longer, until fall 2018 give or take. While we have traveled on the continent we have failed to explore much of the UK. But we are determined to change this. Read more here: https://andrewandrachel.com/2017/11/20/chapter-2-2018/
- At the end of August we received notice that our landlords were giving us the boot and moving back into the terrace house we were renting. And so the hunt began for a new abode.
- Rachel’s parents came for a visit in October. Highlights were trips to Corfe Castle (UK) and a steam train ride, London and Paris. You can see we enjoyed all the culinary delights Paris has to offer. teehee
- Since we were extending our stay in Jolly Ol’ England, we transferred our church membership to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England we attend. The timing coincided just so that Rachel’s parents where able to attend the service.
- The Sunday Rachel’s parents departed, we flew to Morocco to join friends Teresa and Charlie on the African leg of their overseas trip. Andrew and Charlie traveled together post-college so they were happy to reunite for adventure 2.0 with wife upgrades. We really had the best trip together.
- The week after our Morocco trip, Rachel competed with her chorus in the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Convention in Bournemouth, UK. Read more here: https://andrewandrachel.com/2017/10/31/ladies-association-of-british-barbershop-convention/
- On the 31st, Rachel took the train to London for a special Reformation Service at Westminster Abbey to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
- We struggled to find a new apartment but eventually settled on a space relatively close to our original neighborhood. We packed, signed the papers for the new place and moved the day before we left for France, a trip scheduled before we knew of our landlord’s intentions.
- Pack, pack, pack. Move, move, move and we hopped on the chunnel for Disneyland Paris. We enjoyed the French interpretation of Disney magic and subsequently spent a few days in Paris proper before heading home.
- We unpacked and are still working on making our “house into a home”.
- Rachel’s chorus provided the entertainment for visitors to Upton house, a historic home in Poole.
- For Thanksgiving Rachel collaborated with Andrew’s coworker’s wife, Sheryl, to plan and host a traditional feast for Andrew’s Expat coworkers. It was a huge success and everyone appreciated the taste of home!
- Another Christmas singout: Rachel sang with her chorus, Wessex Harmony, at a historic state house called Kingston Lacey!
- We are settling in, trimming our tree, decorating ugly sweater cookies, and caroling loudly for all to hear. (And watching Elf on repeat, obv)
- On the 7th we will fly to Hamburg, Germany to experience the Christmas markets, drink mulled wine and visit a miniatures museum Andrew has had his eye on for some time http://www.miniatur-wunderland.com/
- Rachel has a Christmas concert on Dec 14th!!! Much excite!
- We are headed to Scotland on Boxing Day to find some snow and drink cocoa by a fireplace for a week. Ezra is coming along as we secured a dog friendly Airbnb. And it’s just not Christmas without a ball of fur/joy who licks your nose and snuggles next to you.
Here we are another year older, hopefully wiser! It has been a wild ride and we count our blessings every day for this awesome European adventure. We miss you all and wish you a beautiful Christmas and New Year!
Love, The Fergs aka Team USA