Saturday, April 16, 2011

4 years, 2 months, 4 days

… and it feels like 5 minutes. Didn’t we just get here?

No, it turns out. Four years of adventures. Four years of living. Four years of working. Four years of playing.


We get complimented a lot on making the most of our time in England. This was a conscious decision. Before February 2007, we had two TVs and two TiVOs in our one-bedroom apartment. Our YMCA memberships rarely got used. Moving to England was going to mean leaving that behind. Getting off the couch. Experiencing life in another country.


A few months ago, we started to panic about all the stuff we hadn’t done, all the places we hadn’t seen. Should we try to fit them in?


In the end, we settled for one last trip – a week in Ireland. Europe will still be here no matter when we come back. And rest assured, we will be back.


A colleague at work asked if we were leaving home or going home. After careful consideration, I’ve decided that the answer is yes. We are leaving home, and going home.
After all, home is where your bunnies are.


Cheers, England. It’s been, in a word, incredible.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

One last ...

We're down to the last week. We've had gorgeous weather lately, so this weekend we took a break from packing and rode our bikes up the river to Fen Ditton for one last Sunday roast. Absolutely lovely.

Are You Ready for the Royal Wedding?

I was biking through the small village of Fen Ditton when I came across these signs. Many villages and city blocks throughout England will be hosting wedding parties when Willie and Kate get married later this month. I think KT and I have mixed feelings about being gone for it. It would be amusing to see how the nation goes crazy that week--but it's probably better to leave while we still love it here. Still, we will have one momento of the occasion. My office gave us a great parting gift: a royal wedding beer mug! -JT

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Red Notebook.

I got the red notebook out yesterday.

It's not a particularly special notebook, really -- just a CVS notebook of a nice size with perforated pages and a pocket. Probably only my mother and I care about these features, but they are features that make it a good workhorse notebook.

It has been about 4 years since I used it -- to organize our move to England. We filled it with to-do lists and questions and information. We jotted down notes from conversations with people who had lived in England or others who had advice for us. It was full of phone numbers and names. By the end, there were binder clips on the three non-spiral sides holding in scraps of paper, business cards, reminders. When we arrived in Cambridge, we used it to take notes during our flat hunting expeditions.

I cleaned out sometime after that, and haven't used it since.

We have settled on a move date. A date that once seemed far away. Now it's soon. Very very soon. Long past beyond time to start making lists. The lists have been in my head for weeks; it's time to commit them to paper.

So, I got out the red notebook and made a good first-pass list. Buy tape. Assess box needs. Cancel phones. Make lists of other things to cancel.  Sell car. Make lists of other things to sell.

But that top item was one we need to do. Buy plane tickets.

We did some price comparisons: One-way vs. Round-trip. (Round trip is cheaper.) BA vs. Virgin Atlantic. (exactly the same.) Economy and one suitcase or economy plus with two suitcases? (The latter seems worth the extra cost, methinks.)

We were almost there -- almost ready to cross the first thing off our Move To America to-do list. But then, with little dithering or deliberation, we both closed our laptops, put on our coats, and went for a bike ride.

And lo, it was good.


JT bought the tickets today.

We will be celebrating our 7th wedding anniversary in Washington, D.C.

In 5 weeks.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Still Feeling Peakish

As the last weekend in January approached, work seemed overwhelming and the weather was dreary and cold (32 F is cold here), so the idea of a road trip wasn’t as appealing as it had been earlier in the week. But we woke up Saturday morning and decided that we don’t have enough time left here to waste any opportunities. The road trip was back on.

The plan was to head to Castleton, because 1) it was just a 3-hour drive away, 2) it must have nice pubs and walks as the local Cambridge walking group planned to go (on a weekend we couldn’t), and 3) we had greatly enjoyed our first trip to the Peak District. Deciding to go at the last minute did offer an unexpected challenge as I quickly found almost all of the small villages hotels and B&Bs booked up—amazing for a winter weekend. I finally booked a Saturday night stay at a modest B&B and we started packing the car—only to see one tire (or tyre, if you prefer) was almost flat. Still determined to go, we inched over to the gas station, topped up the tires, and set off.
Monsal Head
As we approached the Peak District, hunger set in and KT had the inspiration of stopping in for lunch at Monsal Head Hotel, where we had enjoyed a great dinner on our last trip. The hotel, restaurant and great bar overlook a well known river valley, the Monsal Dale, which we had not been able to see the first time we visited (after dark). But this time, as the sun fought to part the clouds, we could see the beautiful scenery. We had planned a long hike Sunday, but as we ate, we thought, why not sneak in a walk now? The staff kindly found a local trail map that had a nice route that would take us across a viaduct, around one of the ridges, then down and through the river valley before climbing back to the hotel. (This walk and this walk are similar to what we did but a bit longer). It was chilly but far from too cold to ramble and we had no regrets on the spontaneous decision—we had some gorgeous views. 

From Monsal Dale, it was just about a 20 minute drive to Castleton. Our B&B was in the center of town and more importantly, across from a nice inn with a roaring fire and good beer in its pub. In fact, roaring fires and good beers must be a requirement for Peak District pubs or inns. We soon moved onto a second, the Bulls Head Inn, where the dining area was a bit fancier--so we simply grabbed a couch in a lounge area that had an even bigger fire and shared an excellent halibut and curry dish.


Sunday morning brought the typical English breakfast at the B&B. We packed up and moved our car over to the Castleton visitor center, the starting point of our (somewhat) big hike. The goal was the summit of Mam Tor, a 1,696 ft hill just outside Castleton that was once home to an iron age fort and was inhabited long before that. During the summer, tons of people make the climb to Mam Tor, walk along the ridge to several other summits and circle back to Castleton (or do the circle the other way). We headed up using the road to get the ascent out of the way early in the walk. We were surprised to see many mountain bikers whizzing down the road and huffing and puffing up it. Some were just out for a vigorous winter ride (there’s actually a trail along the ridge) but others were part of a orienteering competition, following maps to specific places on their mountain bikes (here’s one of the riders describing the event).

About halfway on the ascent, we came across the famously torn apart road—a result of massive landslides that occasionally afflict the so-called Shivering Mountain. Hopeful one wouldn’t happen today, we proceeded on the easy path to the summit, following flagstones laid by the National Trust. Almost at the top, we paused to watch the crazy paragliders who had carried parachutes up the slopes and taken off in the cold air—apparently during the summer, when the warm air provides more life, dozens at a time take flight from the area.

Finally at the summit, we paused to enjoy some tea and gaze over the valleys, including down to Castleton far below. A stroll along the ridge path brought more majestic views.

We then descended down a badly-kept, incredibly muddy trail—I lost my sense of humor for a bit when my feet slid out from below me and I landed with “plop”on my butt in the mud. I had largely regained my good mood by the time we made it back to the car park, where I quickly changed out of my muddy clothes. The mood then brightened even more when we landed a table at the George Hotel and gorged ourselves on a huge ham hock (KT) and lamb shank (me) before sharing an amazing hot fudge chocolate cake. Then we were off in the car and back home, less than 36 hours after we had left.

The glorious day had some unfortunate sadness accompanying it as we learned the tragic news that one of our neighbors, the wife in the couple next door to us, had finally succumbed to cancer. They’re about our age and we’ve regretted not getting to know them better. But it did serve as a reminder to me to not pass up adventures with your loved ones. I’m glad we didn’t that weekend and hope we won’t in the future.--JT

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My First Love

Perhaps you've gathered that I love Cambridge. I love its compact size, its public green spaces, the old colleges, the river, the silly town-versus-gown tussles, the pubs, its gardens, its bike-ability.

But it's not my first (English town) love.

That hono(u)r goes to Oxford.

I got my very first passport in 2000 to come to Oxford for work.

I don't really remember that first trip specifically -- it blends together with three more trips to Oxford I'd make in subsequent years -- but I'm fairly certain I wasn't a very good tourist. I was grateful for the pre-arranged walking tour, for group dinners out to eat the fanciest food I had surely eaten in all my 24 years, for assistance crossing the road because, despite my two college degrees, my brain simply couldn't grasp the idea of looking to the right before crossing the road.

 I found it all so quaint and charming, and, well, English.


The academic scene was so different than my university. C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll wrote here. John Wesley was here. The pubs and churches they frequented are still there.

There was an actual town market. Like you read about in books.

John came with me on my third trip in 2002. So, since that was one place in England we were pretty familiar with, we didn't make it a priority to visit. As our days as England residents are numbered, we're down to visiting places because it would be embarrassing not to. So, one Saturday last month, we hopped in the car and made the 80-mile, 2+ hour journey.


For the most part, I found it to be exactly as I remembered it. Cambridge has now captured my heart as my English home, but Oxford will always be my first love.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Year's Rambles

We hadn't really done much walking -- in the English way that walking is a sport/serious hobby -- since the walking weekend we went on last February. In fact, we just talked about whether that group thinks we were scared away. Not at all; we just got busy with lots of houseguests and lots of travel, and then it was time to get on our bikes, which we rode at every opportunity. Travel, houseguests, and cold surfaced again in November and December, and when we tried to eek out one last ride in early December, some black ice took JT out, leaving him intact but with a very sore shoulder for weeks. And leaving us more inclined to go back to two feet instead of two wheels until any trace of ice is well gone.

So, the day after New Year's Day, we dusted off the walking boots, picked up friends A&E, and headed south for some walking in Essex. We started in a village called Rickling Green, and headed for the village of Rickling. Which was pretty much a church, a few houses, and a farm.
Public right of way means farmers have to provide a path for people. Note path.

We encountered rather a lot of mud along the way.
Rickling's church.
 A church service was letting out as we walked up. We got to chatting with some of the folks, who asked where we were heading. "Wicken Bonhunt," we said. "Oh, that's a lovely village. Shame that the pub is closed." Oh. So much for our destination. But, we carried on. Across the street from the allegedly closed pub, we met Pat the cat. Pat would have followed us back to Cambridge if he could have.

Instead, he just followed us into the pub, the Coach and Horses (not to be confused with the Coach and Horses in Newport), which was most definitely open. There we met Michael, who had just taken over the pub and reopened it a couple of weeks earlier. He had a roaring fire in the fireplace and didn't mind our muddy boots, so we were quite happy. After a little while, two regulars came in and we got filled in on the village gossip. Michael was hoping to start up serving food sometime this month; we wish him the best of luck because we sure did enjoy our visit there.

We carried on to an old chapel, St. Helen's Chapel, which, it says here, is first mentioned in a record from 1340. I (stupidly) didn't take a picture of the outside, but you can see from the inside that it's held up well for being 700 years old.

We carried on back to Rickling Green for a late Sunday lunch/early dinner at the Cricketers Arms (not to be confused with the Cricketers in Clavering, which is, incidentally, owned and operated by Jamie Oliver's parents). Some seriously terrible service and obviously rewarmed food meant we were quite happy to leave that pub, but it was still a fun day out.


Last weekend we headed west to Oxford and stayed 10 miles north in Woodstock. That meant we woke up Sunday practically at the doorstep of Blenheim Palace, which Queen Anne gave to the 1st Duke of Marlborough in 1704, and which was the birthplace of Winston Churchill.

The palace itself was closed but there are 2,000 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds to wander. We spent about two hours doing just that, through paved paths, farmland, woods, and finally back to the beautiful palace.



This weekend, we're having unseasonably warm weather -- about 45-50 degrees F. We decided to head out with one of the Cambridge Ramblers groups to the Gog Magog hills, just 20 minutes from our house by car. Whereas our usual group stops at pubs, this group stops for tea. And that is perfectly fine. We think we went about 7 or 8 miles, and we met some very nice people.

 We didn't have a rambling resolution or anything, but three walks in the first three weeks of the year does feel good. (Though don't tell that to my feet.)