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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Our original assignment ended at the close of Dec 2017 but as we contemplated returning home we felt peaceful about staying (there’s plenty more for Andrew to do here work-wise and we like living in Poole) and honestly we just haven’t traveled enough for our liking! Our current plan is to stay through next fall. Andrew’s new contract ends in fall 2018 but we’re not sure exactly when we’ll be headed back to America the beautiful as we could opt to come home earlier or stay longer.
Right about the time we decided to stay our landlords informed us they were ending our lease as they decided to move back in.
It was a long process to find a new apartment as there wasn’t much available this fall that really got us excited.
The positive was that this time round we were better prepared for the task of apartment hunting. We knew most places are anti-dog and only want a six month lease. We did find a place in the historic part of Poole that we loved and even put down a deposit on it but the landlord backed out at the last minute! So we were back to square one 🙁 We considered a place in Bournemouth that was an estate house that had been converted into apartments: the tall ceilings were to die for and the updated kitchen was a dream, but our gut said ‘no, stay in Poole’. After lots of prayer and heartache, we settled on a place that is only a 15 minute walk from our previous abode, one that we had originally decided against.
Our lease ended on Nov 15th. There was a small problem with that date: we were leaving for France on November 11th, a trip that had been booked months in advance. Luckily we were able to get everything approved, checked, signed-off and rubber-stamped by Wednesday, 8 Nov so we could move in the day before we left for France.
Goodbye, sweet home
Our last day in the apartment/terrace house. We were having fun and saying goodbye to our closet under the stairs aka Harry Potter closet and our kitchen (US flag). Note Andrew’s blue steel.
Our new place is north of the boating lake in Poole, which is north of Parkstone Bay and east of the quay (see map below). It’s a three bedroom apartment with a view of the lake and a nice outdoor seating area. The building used to be a 9 room bed and breakfast before the owner converted it into apartments, one on each floor.
Our new casa- front, back porch with view of the little lake and kitchen/living/dining. We are on the second floor.
Moving was hard emotionally. We loved our terrace house so much: the view could never be beat. There was a ton that went into moving to the UK and that apartment was our sanctuary when life felt overwhelming and/or scary = adulting + a new country, figuring everything out + not knowing what you don’t know. Having a space that felt like home made that transition and the stressful days at the beginning easier. After reflection and some tears, I reframed the move as an opportunity to stay in the UK instead of the disruption and heartache of leaving a home we adored. Cheers to chapter 2 of our European adventure! #grateful #thankful #blessed #adventure!
The superchorus: Tudor Roses, Spirit of the South and Wessex Harmony on stage in Bournemouth.
Back in the spring I was missing my choir back home so I jumped on the interwebs and found a singing course offered by a local choir. I enjoyed the 6 week class and ended up joining the choir after passing my audition. Wessex Harmony is an a cappella barbershop ladies chorus that is part of the Ladies Association of British Barbershop. The equivalent in the states is called Sweet Adelines. There are some chorus’ in Europe that compete in Sweet Adelines competitions, usually when they consistently place first in the European competitions are looking for the next level of competition.
Some top choirs
When I joined in the spring, the first task was for me to learn the two songs my chorus was preparing for the Convention at the end of October. Because my chorus is relatively small, we banded together with 2 other groups to join a super-chorus. Coaches were hired to improve the group’s singing and everyone met up on a few Saturdays to perfect our efforts. Each member of the chorus was required to submit a recording of themselves singing the songs, which the section leaders reviewed to ensure that the members were singing the right notes.
I’m a tenor so my section is very small: we are usually referred to as the “sprinkles on top”.
“The Barbershop Cone: Barbershop harmonies have a different balance than the cylindrical SATB- Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, i that our top voices sing with less weight and intensity than our lower voices”
Convention was great! I roomed with another member from Australia and we whooped it up! There are songs called Polecats that every chorus learns so everyone can sing the songs together at gatherings. Andrew was even able to join in Bohemian Rhapsody!
Instagram filters with roommate Kelly, The Wessex Harmony Tenor Section, Crazy Cat on my head
Our super-chorus performed on Saturday, 10/28, and placed 16 out of 28 in our category, which was better than we expected especially given that there were limited rehearsals all together. It was a wonderful experience. There was such a feeling of camaraderie and celebration and I enjoyed ever minute of it. The ladies in my chorus are absolute gems!
After everyone competed there was a party themed “A Night with the Stars”. One of the groups took this in a different direction than most of the choirs who dressed up like Divas and went literally to the stars in their Star Trek costumes!
Watch our performances here. “Love Me” and “Once Upon a Time”. The judges noted that our second song was very challenging so we were happy with our performance.
I flew home to Montana in July to throw my future sister-in-law a bridal shower. From the moment I landed, my mom and I buzzed around Billings, Montana to gather all the necessary decorations. We camped out at my aunt Denise’s house to get all the food ready. Luckily my mom and aunt are real champs and let me talk them into staying up past their bedtime to get everything done the night before the shower. It wasn’t a hard sell: my mom and aunt grew up making shenanigans so they were in their element helping me pull everything together.
We had a great shower with lots of tea and love and presents! The theme was Bride With Tea: Renee’s Instagram handle is Renee with Tea so it was a take on that. My mom made delicious chocolate chip scones and finger sandwiches and unearthed her vintage tea set for the occasion. I printed Renee and Peter’s engagement photos printed 8×8 at Costco which was a nice touch and gave Renee the photos after the shower. Given that I was in the UK prior to the shower, I used postable.com to create and send the invitations as the service addresses and posts mail for you.
Renee enjoyed herself and loved the scones! Success
Renee’s Mom, Ellen, Renee, and Amy (my mumma)
Now on to prep for the wedding… (Andrew photoshopped the sign!)
For our anniversary, or as we call it, our annual honeymoon, we flew to Croatia. Like Luxembourg, Croatia wasn’t on my radar, but Andrew suggested it so I was game. There were two main draws for Split: 1) it lies on the coast= beaches and 2) the Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO world heritage site.
The palace is the only UNESCO site that is active: approximately 3,000 people live within the palace walls upper levels while the the ground level is occupied by vendors and restaurants.
Diocletian’s Palace is an ancient palace built for the Roman EmperorDiocletian at the turn of the fourth century AD, that today forms about half the old town of Split, Croatia. While it is referred to as a “palace” because of its intended use as the retirement residence of Diocletian, the term can be misleading as the structure is massive and more resembles a large fortress: about half of it was for Diocletian’s personal use, and the rest housed the military garrison.
The Palace is one of the most famous and complete architectural and cultural features on the Croatian Adriatic coast. As the world’s most complete remains of a Roman palace, it holds an outstanding place in Mediterranean, European and world heritage.
Recently Split has experienced a boon of tourism due to the Game of Thrones (Season 4) filming that took place in the palace.
Things we dun
We ate! In fact we it feels like we did a lot of eating, as one does on vacation. We loved restaurants Perijov, Bokeria, Mazzgoon. We ate at a Pancake House called Stari Plac quite a few times- we just couldn’t get enough Nutella Crepes!
As we wandered around looking for dinner one night I noticed many people drinking what looked like fizzy orange booze . I sought out a bus boy to reveal the name of the secret drink and he happily obliged: Aperol Spritz. (Aperol is an Italian apéritif made of bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb, cinchona and other ingredients.) The drink is made of Aperol, Prosecco and soda. It wasn’t quite my cup of tea but I was glad to sate my curiosity.
We spent a lot of time exploring the palace and walking through town. There were many restaurants and shops inside.
There was a garden in a square near our Airbnb that was home for a half dozen or so stray cats. Ever time we walked back to our Airbnb we made a game of counting the cats. The restaurants in the square would put out food for the cats. I image they have a pretty good life dozing in the sun and being fed by the kind restauranteurs and tourist.
On the 13th while we were walking around the vendor tents just outside the Palace walls I saw a lot of women carrying lilies. My curiosity could not be contained so I finally asked a local. She revealed that June 13th is St. Anthony’s Day. St. Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of lost things. He was known for his eloquent homilies.
The reason St. Anthony’s help is invoked for finding things lost or stolen is traced to an incident that occurred in Bologna. According to the story, Anthony had a book of psalms that was of some importance to him as it contained the notes and comments he had made to use in teaching his students. A novice who had decided to leave took the psalter with him. Prior to the invention of the printing press, any book was an item of value. Upon noticing it was missing, Anthony prayed it would be found or returned. The thief was moved to restore the book to Anthony and return to the Order. The stolen book is said to be preserved in the Franciscan friary in Bologna. (From Wikipedia)
Reading bout him made me wish I could jump in a time machine and meet him. The older I get the more history interests me so those time-machine-moments happen more and more frequently. (Although we’ve been watching Doctor Who and I’m learning about all the dangers of time travel! haha)
We climbed the bell tower
We toured the Roman cellars
We walked down the coast
We took a day trip via boat to a town north of Split and swam in the rain.
Andrew went scuba diving and got his Advanced Scuba certificate so that he can go on deeper dives. A lot of the ship wrecks he wanted to see are deeper than we were certified for so he decided to take the opportunity to get certified. Unfortunately, I caught some kind of flu that made dizzy, weak and miserably uncomfortable so I had to sit this adventure out which was super sad since we’ve been scuba diving together in June 4 out of the last 5 years. So while Andrew scuba’ed I rested, read my British chick-lit and researched my new interest in bullet journaling on YouTube.
While there I did a bit of browsing the jewelry stands and found myself drawn to Turquoise rings. Last year I worked with a woman who wore a lot of Turquoise and coral jewelry and since seeing her pieces I was on the hunt for a Turquoise jewelry.
I found a ring I was particularly drawn to one at a vendor in the Palace Cellars. After hemming and hawing for a few days and doing some research online, I decided to bite the bullet. I told Andrew about my decision and we went to make the purchase. Lo and behold the ring was gone! It had been sold. I was bummed since it hadn’t been a quick decision as I’m trying to make smart purchases that I will love for years to come. I told Andrew I knew it was silly (first world problems) but I was sad that I’d missed the opportunity after giving it so much thought. He was a little bit crap at comforting me and when I addressed this he agreed which was an odd conversation and he even remarked “Yeah, I’m not being real empathetic”. When we got home that night he beckoned me to the bathroom to ask me a question. I talked to him for a minute before turning around to face the mirror. The ring I had agonized over was sitting on the mirror’s ledge! I was shocked. How had the ring gotten there?! He had created quite the roose. I don’t know why but I was so surprised I started crying. We had a good laugh and I was feeling very loved by his well orchestrated surprise. I think my love language is all five! (words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, physical touch)
The Plitvice Lakes National Park Excursion
At the tail end of our trip we rented a car to drive 3 hours north to the National Park in Croatia. Originally we weren’t planning on visiting the lakes but during our stay in Luxembourg our friends (the Lloyds) mentioned they were a must see. So north we drove.
We got to the park at 8am to beat the crowds that bus in for day trips. The park was amazing, though that word does not do it justice. I felt like I was in a movie or a super surreal version of DisneyLand. While the pictures Andrew took are phenomenal, I just cannot describe how beatiful it was being surrounded by waterfalls,lakes, streams and running water. I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon or the Red Wood Forest (Bucket List!) but I imagine the Lakes are on par.
After six hours of me walking around with big eyes commenting to Andrew how dumb-struck I was, we returned to our Airbnb near the park. (We had taken one of the paths that led us from one end of the park to the other.) We laid down for a nap but were awoken by a hail storm. Our host was very panicked and Andrew came to the rescue, helping bail out water from the pond that had formed in front of her garage door.
The 83 year old lady living next door said she had not seen a storm like that in Croatia during her lifetime. Perhaps to our host’s annoyance, Andrew and I were like giddy school kids as we had seen these kind of storms growing up in Montana/Colorado/Seattle. We were very thankful we had left the park before the storm struck. I was imagining terrified groups of tourists running down the boardwalks to get back to lakes’ shores. I was also a bit bummed I had missed the insanity that I’m sure ensued, although it probably would have been very un-fun to hike back to the car in soaking wet shoes. We saw huge groups of Asian tourist many of whom were very nicely dressed with nice cameras so I hope they all weren’t too miserable. :/
I hadn’t realized prior to this trip that Rome and Split are on the same latitude. Croatia felt very much like what I had always imagined a Mediterranean locale to be. It was hot but not stiflingly so though the bar was forever raised after visiting Hong Kong during the summer of 2014.
We both enjoyed people watching during our trip and there were ample opportunities as we did a lot of walking and sitting at restaurants and on the prom. I really enjoyed taking note of the fashion trends. I saw hardly anyone wearing jeans or jean shorts. (I brought jean shorts on the trip but ended up wearing my dresses or olive green shorts.) I did see a lot of white jeans and people dressed up somewhat during the day. Lots of adorable rompers, cold shoulder tops and lots of white. I don’t recall seeing flip flops which I’ve come to realize are a sure way to stick out as an American. I saw a lot of platform sandals and rose metallic sandals.
While we were in Split we stayed close to homebase = our Airbnb. We are still finding a balance between relaxation and activity while on vacation, we both get antsy but at different times and in different ways. It was really great to have an Airbnb that was within walking distance to the palace and the beach, grocery store, and restaurants. We ate lots of gelato and had fun wandering around the palace. On our anniversary we like to reflect on our goals and figure out how we are working together on common goals. We spent a lot of time sitting on the prom and talking about life and making goals for the future. Here’s to year 5 of marriage! (Tink!)
We jetted off to Luxembourg in May to meet up with Andrew’s cousin, Nick, and explore. Luxembourg wasn’t originally high on my list of places to go, but after strategizing with Andrew about our travel plans for the year, we decided to seek out destinations off the beaten path: locales we would be unlikely to visit again once we returned home to the USA. So after learning that cousin Nick was in Luxembourg, we booked our tickets1 for a long weekend.
After our two hour flight we found our Airbnb and met up with Nick for dinner on Friday night. Nick’s expat family friends, Debbie and Kevin, were hosting him during the Luxembourg leg of his post-college backpacking adventure. They generously invited us over for dinner. (I love being able to visit people in their homes to see what daily life is like in other countries! This has been a really fun part of staying in Airbnbs abroad) We had a great dinner and got some excellent advice on touring around Luxembourg City.
We got up late because this girl likes to sleep and walked into town. (Our Airbnb was about a 40 minute walk from the city center.)
First stop was coffee then on to Cathédrale Notre-Dame, the only cathedral in Luxembourg. Fortunately there was a church service going on, so while we weren’t able to understand the service because it was in French/Latin, we were able to hear a mezzo soprano sing a gorgeous hymn.
We had some time to kill before our walking tour that afternoon so we visited the Luxembourg City History Museum. The museum structure is made up of four restored houses from the 17th to the 19th century which still bear archaeological traces from the Middle Ages. The structure was just as impressive as the contents of the museum: the museum used glass staircases and partitions so space is open and airy and you can see all the original structures.
Here’s what I gleaned from the museum:
Luxembourg is primarily known for two things: 1) being one of three capitals of the European Union and 2) previously being a tax haven for business. I say previously because after the Great Recession laws were amended which made it a bit less desirable location to headquarter a company. Many companies (Amazon, Paypal, Skype) still have their European HQ in Luxembourg City.
Its capital, Luxembourg City, is, together with Brussels and Strasbourg, one of the three official capitals of the European Union and the seat of the European Court of Justice, the highest juridical authority in the EU. Its culture, people and languages are highly intertwined with its neighbours, making it essentially a mixture of French and Germanic cultures. This is emphasized by the three official languages, Luxembourgish, French, and German. The repeated invasions by its neighbor countries, especially in World War II, resulted in the country’s strong will for mediation between France and Germany and, among other things, led to the foundation of the European Union.
In fact, a few days before we arrived, Kate Middleton was in Luxembourg to celebrate 150th anniversary of Luxembourg’s independence, marked by the 1867 Treaty of London. Some in the media are calling the royal couple part of the “Brexit Charm Offensive” aka “Brexit Ambassadors” to EU countries.
We grabbed some grub before starting our walking tour which began with a short introduction to Luxembourg’s history before delving into the Bock Casemates (literally death house), a complex network of underground tunnels that — because of Luxembourg’s striated geology — also provide an ideal place to attack from. Back above ground, we saw the remnants of the Roman road from Reims to Trier2 and the residual fortifications, the majority of which were ordered demolished by the 1867 Treaty of London. For a fun tangential six minute read, Andrew suggests: Why 1866 Set the Stage for Two World Wars.
On Sunday we took the train to the town of Fond-de-Gras to ride a steam train. The first leg of our journey took us to an old mine where we took a second train into the mine and de-boarded for a short tour of the mine. The tours are run by volunteers who were very happy to answer all of Nick and Andrew’s questions. The train engineer even let them ride in the locomotive car and look in the workshop.
Although my original enthusiasm was not near the level of Nick and Andrew’s for this outing, I quickly got on board (pun intended) and thoroughly enjoyed the ride and tour.
On Monday morning we had brunch at an outdoor cafe facing an open courtyard. There was a band playing classical music in the courtyard bandstand and everything felt just right with the the world. I was even able to coax a cheeky smile out of my adventure mate.
Prior to our departure that evening, Debbie took us to the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Hamm (Thank you, Debbie!!). The cemetery honors the fallen US soldiers of WWII including George Patton, who is buried on the grounds. The US essentially owns the plot of land as in 1951 Luxembourg granted the US free use of the land in perpetuity, without tax. This stop was on my list of must see things in Luxembourg. I knew I would kick myself if I didn’t make a visit.
The site is meticulously kept and is a beautiful tribute to the fallen. I was very moved by it. My paternal grandfather fought in WWII (Both of Andrew’s grandfathers served in WWII as well) and my grandmother served as a nurse. I imagine they may have known someone buried in Luxembourg.
From the Cemetery literature:
2nd Lt. Nancy Leo is the only women buried in the cemetery. She was a nurse with the 216th General Hospital. She joined the service in hopes of seeing her sister, Angela, also an army nurse. The sisters made arrangements to finally meet in Paris in July of 1945. As Nancy traveled to Paris, she was involved in a car accident and seriously injured. She died on her way to the hospital, never seeing her sister, Angela. Her sister was the first to learn of her death.
There are 25 US cemeteries outside the US. I am hoping to visit the Normandy Cemetery this year.
It was a good trip and I enjoyed getting to know Nick. (We bonded over our shared love of cotton candy). I think we convinced him to make a stop in the UK 🙂
Next Stop: Croatia’s beaches for our anniversary celebration. Luckily the traditional 4th year gift in the UK is fruit so I can totally nail that one.
Right after we arrived in Poole, we drove in to see our Seattle friends Kimi and Charlie who were in London for work. It was a quick day trip on a Sunday to meet up for dinner but so worth it to see our friends!
Girl’s Day Out
Later that week I (Rachel) rode the train in to explore London with Kimi.
We had a lovely brunch at The Albion; it was the best eggs benedict I’ve ever had! We explored Liberty of London’s haberdashery and children’s section shopping for Kimi’s soon-to-arrive little one, walked around Leicester Square, and got Kimi tickets for Phantom of the Opera the next night! And were women of leisure with adequate coffee and snack breaks (Hoi Polloi).
The Long Weekend
Andrew and I rode the train in for a long weekend. Our AirBnb was in Dalston, a neighborhood in the Bourgh of Hackney. It was further north than was ideal but given the price and easy transport via bus it couldn’t be beat. From the Wikipedia entry on Dalston
Dalston has attracted immigrants for over 100 years; at the turn of the century it was a popular area for newly arrived Jewish people from central Europe. In the 1950s and ’60s, as the Jewish community became more affluent and moved out, they were replaced by a large Caribbean community, which accounts for the wide choice of Caribbean food available in Ridley Road. As the Caribbean community slowly drifted out of Dalston it then became popular with the Turkish, as well as the Vietnamese. Recent arrivals include Poles, judging by the numbers of Polish delicatessens now appearing and other stores catering to Polish tastes.
We definitely felt the immigrant influence as there were no shortage of Turkish restaurants in our area.
Our AirBnb host had a very eccentric decorating style. Her living room and dining room were red (including a huge red SMEG fridge!), and our room had a huge lighting centerpiece, for lack of a better term. There was a huge buddah head in the bathroom and a beautiful crucifix in the living room. I suppose eclectic is the word.
Dalston Food Stops
Because I planned this trip and am the foodie in our family of 2 (+ Ezra), the itinerary included a few culinary gems: We had dinner at YUM YUM on the Friday night of our arrival, per a recommendation from our host. The food was amazing and the atmosphere was very posh.
We stopped at Mangal 1, a kebab house on Sunday night again based on the suggestion of our host. We literally and figuratively got some of the local Turkish flavor. Andrew ordered the mousaka and I had the tavuk sis (chicken kebabs). Delish.
On Sunday morning we tried to find a creperie but stumbled upon the Acoustic Cafe. While the food was good and the restaurant was a nice reprieve from the rain and we enjoyed a simple meal.
Holborn: My Old Dutch Pancake House
Oh man, I love this place. It’s carbs on carbs and I love it. If I had no concerns for my mass I totally would have ordered their crazy 2 foot wide pancake with ice cream and snickers bars and whipped cream…but I did get butterscotch pancakes that were prettttty great. And look at this boy I found outside waiting for his date.
Even though we weren’t able to eat at Dishoom, I did get a peak at their restaurant. Dishoom is a 1970’s Bombay style restaurant with gorgeous verandah seating that I desperately wanted to experience. It wasn’t in the cards for this trip as we decided to make haste and grab some pastries at The Albion across the street instead of pushing back our timetable. The pastries were great!(Or as they would say on The Great British Bake Off – the lamination was perfect!!!) The Albion and Dishoom at are at the top of our list for next time.
Believe it or not, we did do more than just eat in London!!
Andrew and I split up for a bit on Sunday. I attended an Evensong service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. I’ve found I enjoy visiting churches more when you can participate in the service and you usually get to hear someone sing, which is a real treat for me.
In his pursuit of all things engineering, Andrew visited the London Transport Museum. He reported that while it was interesting to see and learn how fast London’s transport system developed, it wasn’t as fun as the Science Museum. He plans to visit the Depot later this year.
We met up for dinner and had to settle for shake shack because the UK does not have Chick-Fil-A (yet). After dinner we went to the production of 42nd Street at the Theater Royal, Drury Lane West End Theater. The show was based on a depression era movie. The dance numbers were huge and phenomenal. Wow, what a production!
If you get the chance, go to Novelty Automation! It’s well worth your time. It’s a tiny “museum” full of quirky arcade style games you can play, or rather experience. Very fun and right up my alley.
Before we left on Monday we stopped at the Geffrye Museumof the Home because it was super close to our Airbnb. We only spent about a 1/2 hour there but enjoyed looking at the displays of living rooms from different periods in time.
We spent a lot of time riding the bus. Initially I was planning on taking the tube because it’s novel for me, but Andrew pointed out that there were new caps on the transportation costs so we were able to ride the bus all day for no more than 4.50 while the tube would cap out at a higher amount. It was great because were were able to see more of the city above ground. And once we figured out that we had to hail the bus (instead of simply passively waiting at the stop) we had great success. While I appreciated their text system (text a number and receive a text back with the bus schedule), I was mentally praising Seattle’s OneBusAway App that always shows the real time bus delays. Watch this short video Andrew made!
I enjoyed doing a bit of shopping. I’d never heard of Fortnum & Mason but really enjoyed my time there. It was originally a food shop opened in 1707 but later grew into a department store. My favorite areas were the vast array of teas for sale and beautiful tea pots.
I also explored the Shipping Container Pop Up Mall in Shoreditch. Lots of hipster, cute shops.
Here’s our itinerary by day if you’re interested (I really enjoyed creating it!)
Next Stop: Luxembourg….
Sidenote- I’d love to know if anyone has thoughts or info on how common it is for public transport to gentrify an area because I’m reminded of reading about the same thing in Seattle. Here is one of the articles talking about gentrification in Seattle as it relates to the Link LightRail ↩
Looking for an apartment for the next 8 months proved challenging. We had specific parameters that were at odds with the market:
Pets: Very few rentals allow pets: I’ve asked around a bit and it seems that people either keep their pets against their landlord’s wishes or they buy a home. Because there are so few apartments that allow pets you have to be the first caller to secure a viewing in order to even have a chance of getting the apartment.
Student Apartments: Quite a few of the rentals are “student lets” i.e. leases run the length of the school year. I’ve even seen a few clever promotions that offer students a pass to a nightclub when they sign the lease. The rules are different for student lets as you have to register with the local government and obtain a special license.1
Furnished: It’s common to find furnished apartments which I rarely came across when looking for apartments in the states.
Holiday Lets: Because Bournemouth and Poole are hot destinations for Brits in the summer months, some desirable apartments are short term lets to maximize profit during the warmer months.
Even with all these limitations we found an absolutely gorgeous house in Bournemouth that had everything we wanted: three bedrooms, a “garden” aka yard for the dog, and it was furnished to boot. It was recently remodeled by a contractor and interior decorator husband and wife team. It was a dreamy house with a high ceiling in the kitchen and lots of natural light. But there was one big catch: we could only negotiate for a 7 months lease and we would have had to move at the end of November on our own dime. We considered it but ultimately decided that the expense and inconvenience of moving in the winter couldn’t justify the benefit of living in such an enchanting space. I was stuck on living in this seemingly absolutely perfect house but I knew that it just didn’t make sense. And I was afraid that we wouldn’t find anything nearly as nice that allowed pets. The heart wants what it wants, but the head knows best.
So we kept searching. We toured a house that was amazing! right on the water in Bournemouth. But the house felt more like a weekend getaway than a home: it was somewhat neglected. I could tell the little things would have gotten old and wouldn’t have felt like home longterm. We contemplated a small three floor apartment that ultimately felt too small for more than one person. And we fell in love with a posh house in Christchurch that had the most amazing bathroom with LEDs lining the tub and a huge secret-garden-style yard. But none of them were just right. So we went back to the internets. Oh, the agencies we called and called! But struggle we did, for the perfect combo we could not find.
Now at this point my heart was still hurting that we had to let go of the beautiful house in Bournemouth, and we were getting discouraged and stressed about finding a place to call our own. We were tired of living in our small furnished apartment and were ready settle in for the year. So I said my prayers and asked for provision, not thinking that any place could compare to the Bournemouth house. Then after a night spent anxiously hunched over our laptops feverishly scouring listings, Andrew found a newly listed prospect and called to book a viewing.
So we waited ’til our appointed day and toured the apartment. And it was everything we were looking for! We signed the paperwork following the viewing. We were both so relieved to find a place to live. And I felt at peace.
Now we are moved in and while our apartment did not at first seem as dreamy as the Bournemouth house, I know we are in the right place and my heart is at peace (and I also really love our apartment). You see, I set my heart on living in Bournemouth because it is quite hip and has lots going on, but in the end our Poole apartment ended up being a better choice than the house in Bournemouth (even if the lease length hadn’t been an issue). If we had ended up in Bournemouth, I think I would have felt very isolated: Our Poole apartment has a stunning view as we are right on the quay. We very close to the high street, grocery store, and the mall. I can walk to coffee shops, the pool, the library and the gym. We live right by a huge park where Ezra dog can play and frolick.
So yet again, God knew best and provided something that would be for my good, even better than what I had set my mind on. And I feel like He even said, ‘ see, I am watching out for you and really do have the best things in store’ because we moved from the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle to Ballard Road in Poole: I don’t believe in coincidence, but I do believe in providence. Thanks be to God. We are grateful.
“If the property has three or more storeys, five or more unrelated people living there, or there are two or more households living there, you will need to register your HMO with the council and secure a license” http://www.independent.co.uk/property/house-and-home/property/if-you-want-to-let-to-students-then-do-your-homework-9101637.html ↩