Back From Abroad!

Back From Abroad!

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We’re home!! And it was wonderful, magical, challenging, expensive, enchanting, familiar, exotic, and as always, life-changing and perspective-changing. It was a terrific adventure.

But first things first, my apologies for being extremely quiet over the last two months. The updates dwindled because of extremely challenging, very precarious events taking place at work which came to a head, spilling fourth drama the likes of which I have never seen in my professional life before. It caused anxiety and stress that I also have never experienced in my professional life, and a lot of uncertainty regarding the future. HOWEVER. It seems the storm is passing and things are really looking up, so now that the flurry of crazy has died down, I’m looking forward to directing my mental energy back to the things that make me really happy, this blog being one of them!

OK. With that out of the way…

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It was marvelous, guys. I could write about the wicked financial hangover we’re nursing (…we knew it was coming, and feel it was worth it, but it still hurts!), or the inevitable let-down of returning to every day life (not as bad as last time!), or the very real challenges that the three of us encountered that make up the experience of travel…but I won’t bother, because all of those things pale in comparison to the graces upon grace that we were given daily, and the seeds that have been planted in our souls from these experiences, preparing to bloom and ripen over the coming months and years. I sincerely hope you don’t get terribly bored of seeing travel pictures and hearing travel stories, because that’s going to be a major theme of my blog for a long time to come!

We started our trip in London, staying in a beautiful apartment in an award-winning, eco-friendly building in Elephant and Castle, a vibrant and diverse neighborhood that won our hearts immediately. This was the view from our bedroom:

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We stayed in London for four days, and it was fantastic! We did a lot of sightseeing, catching up on sleep, walking, riding the busses and the underground…but the downside was that London was in the middle of the the worst heatwave they’ve ever had and we were hot as HELL. Poor London just doesn’t have the infrastructure to deal with heat like that, and our apartment, the busses, the tube, basically everywhere, didn’t have adequate air conditioning. We were sweating buckets and remained sticky the entire time. Still, we did the best we could and saw some glorious sights:

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Possibly our favorite London experience was getting to eat at St. John, a Michelin-starred restaurant owned by renowned chef Fergus Henderson. Who I met. Who I got to thank. Who I kind of fangirl-fawned over as I gushed to him, and who graciously thanked me and told me he hoped we enjoyed our lunch. Guys…it was basically the highlight of the entire trip. I almost cried several times after returning to my table, but forced myself to hold back the tears remembering I was wearing mascara. Oh, the food was outstanding, by the way! I’m planning to do a second food retrospective post for this trip, so you’ll get to see what we ate!

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We visited Stonehenge and Bath:

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Both were lovely. This was the most touristy thing we did, and it was fun but I wouldn’t do them again (at least not by chartered tour bus). This was a challenging day because we were all very tired and Sister was worn thin, but we still got many fun memories out of it and I will definitely remember it fondly.

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Husband and I got to do a day exploring London on our own while Sister rested, and we had the best time! We visited ancient tea shops and ancient perfume shops (surprise, surprise, Husband bought his very first grown-up cologne and it’s MAGICAL). We visited the London Transport Museum, to Husband’s delight, and we visited my beloved Twining’s tea shop, to my delight.

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Then in the evening we ate at this lovely place, a beautiful pub. There is so much beauty in the U.K., it’s almost unbelievable. Everywhere you look there is something ancient, eternal and charming looking back at you. The details make all the difference, and we were constantly looking at each other and saying things like “This is REAL! It isn’t Disneyland…it’s REAL!” It sounds so silly, but the beauty, the details…they fed us. They fed us right up, filling starving parts of our souls that we didn’t even know needed nourishment.

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After London we took the train to Holyhead (home of the Holyhead Harpies, for you Harry Potter fans!) and stayed in a lovely B&B. I took an evening stroll by myself and was rewarded with these vistas.

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The next day we took a ferry to Dublin and, after a near-disaster regarding return-ferry scheduling that Husband heroically solved, we spent seven hours in this remarkably and stunningly beautiful city.

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We decided immediately that next time, Dublin is where we’ll be coming, sorry London! We’ve had enough of you! Dublin was just…comfortable. Next to the hustle and bustle of London, Dublin was like your grandpa’s easy chair…we felt we could sink into it with a hot drink (a real Irish coffee, perhaps) and just stay indefinitely. Alas, we had to return to Holyhead…but thankfully we got a stateroom on the return journey, and one with a fantastic view:

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Mostly we slept, though. Then, of course, we got to Conwy. OH, CONWY.

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If you read my (long) post about Wales you’ll know my love for Conwy. I can’t possibly reiterate it here, but suffice it to say, Conwy is my most favorite place on earth. If any place feeds the starving parts of my soul, it is north Wales, and Conwy might as well be the capital.

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Of course, there are other stunning towns in north Wales, like the almost absurdly picturesque Llanwrst:

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We spent a few days in the north just taking in the splendor, and then said goodbye to Conwy at it’s lovely little train station:

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Now we are home, jet lagged, still needing to do laundry, unpack, prepare for the work week (I return tomorrow!). But I’m going to ease back into the grind, and I have a handful of changes that I’m going to be making to improve my quality of life. Last August I wrote a post called “First Fruits,” discussing the “fruit” that travel bears in the weeks after returning home. I’m already seeing these first fruits, but I’m looking forward to the harvest, which will come in time. Of course, it feels so good to be home. Traveling is exhausting and it’s wonderful to be in my own bed again, with my own sweet kitty curled up next to me. We are so lucky and so grateful, and we’ll definitely bask in this glow for weeks to come.

 

 

Summer Surprises!

Summer Surprises!

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The weekend is here, thank goodness, and February is underway. Husband and I have taken it upon ourselves to undertake an “Uber Frugal Month,” inspired by the great Frugalwoods family:

http://www.frugalwoods.com/category/uberfrugalmonth/

We wanted to start this neat challenge last month but, alas, there were just too many conflicting priorities that got scrambled up. Part of the reason we’re putting our noses to the grindstone this month financially is because…

Surprise, surprise!! We’re going to the U.K.!! *Trumpets and fanfare*

A few posts ago I sadly shared my 2016 U.K. vacation food retrospective because we had just determined that visiting the U.K. wasn’t feasible. The thing is, it wasn’t feasible for the month we had been planning it. After the initial disappointment, I put on my thinking cap and decided that I really didn’t want to write off international travel for the entire year of 2018 so early on. Husband, Sister and I put our heads together and finally came up with some dates over the summer that (although painfully far in the future from a February vantage point) work for the three of us, and even allow us to take a longer trip than initially planned. Tickets are purchased, and there is no turning back!

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We are still pinning down all the fun things we’d like to do and the places we’d like to see. At the moment, it’s looking like London, the English countryside, North Wales and Dublin, Ireland are all in the plans for what will be Sister’s first international trip and our second visit to magical Britain. It’s funny, but I have a hard time mustering any imagination for traveling elsewhere— I feel like I could spend my lifetime visiting Britain and never get enough. Who knows? Maybe Husband and I will buy a vacation home there someday, or retire there. One can dream!

Although the trip is half a year in the future, I am already planning my packing, the souvenirs I want to bring home, ideas for saving on meals and accommodation and other minutiae. I’m dreaming of full English breakfasts, and afternoon tea served with thick slices of coffee walnut cake. I’m remembering the elegance of Tudor market towns, and the childlike joy of riding the trains—so convenient! One thing is for sure—we will be taking the train a lot. Husband adores riding the trains in Britain and I don’t blame him. Their railways are fast, efficient, and they take you EVERYWEHRE. The scenery is beautiful and there are trolleys just like in Harry Potter (it was a revelation to me that much of what’s in the Harry Potter books is there because *Britain* is like that, not because it was invented for the story!). Alas, the minute I sit down in one of the comfortable seats and begin gently swaying while the green meadows and picturesque towns fly by I fall asleep. I can’t help it!

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Things we know we’ll be doing and things that have made the tentative list include: seeing Hamlet at the Shakespeare Globe, visiting Stonehenge and Bath, taking a ferry across the Irish Sea to Dublin for a day trip from Holyhead, staying in our BELOVED Conwy, and visiting Snowdonia National Park. I’m also hoping to eat dinner at St. John, a wonderful restaurant in London that we neglected to experience last time.

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I get really excited about mundane things, so I’m already looking forward to getting myself the perfect carry-on hard shell suitcase and planning my fully-carry-on-able wardrobe. While Husband and I have been to Britain only once, we’ve been to Puerto Rico several times, and flown around the country to various places a bunch, and our rule of thumb is to travel only with carry-on no matter where we’re headed or for how long. We made an exception to this in 2016 for one reason—souvenirs! We both packed all our belongings as carry-on and checked a big suitcase to fill while abroad, which was fun! As we’ve done it, though, I don’t feel we need the burden of doing it again. Not having the space to shove any and every kind of British thing into my luggage forces me to reflect upon what might be the most meaningful things to bring home. Also, it makes me wonder if I’m willing to shell out some pounds sterling to ship myself care packages! I have plenty of time to decide.

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Anyway, THAT’S our big news of the week, and until we have the details all pinned down, reservations for accommodation booked, train tickets purchased, and cab rides scheduled, I’ll feel very aflutter. We are well on our way, though, and I’m crossing my fingers that all goes smoothly. I am so deeply filled with gratitude that we were able to make this happen, and that we have the resources to do so. Traveling is a priority, and a gift that we cherish. Our travels have enriched our lives beyond expression; we literally think of our travels abroad daily, and feel they are well worth their cost. I’m going to bask in the excitement, try not to worry about what-ifs, and just be thankful for this blessing. Thanks for letting me boast a little, I’m too excited not to share! Peace and love to you all. ❤