Char and John eat in England

Okay, I do not get why English food gets a bad reputation. I loved it. I mean granted, the French food was better, but the food we had in England was very tasty and sat better with us. And the portions everywhere we went were huge! Again, I had a hard time finishing my meals. Overall, Europe has us beat on fries. Paris and England make way better chips than Americans make fries.

We prepared a lot for the cultural difference of eating out in France than eating out in America, but I never thought to look into cultural differences of eating out in England. We ate at a lot of pubs though, and our second night we had a hard time navigating pub etiquette. Apparently, you seat yourself and order at the bar. It took wandering into the second pub and asking some questions to figure that out. But it worked out because as we were finishing our dinner, the large party at the table next to us included an ex-pat American and all his friends, and they invited us to join them. It was a relief and great time to be able to chat with new people, make some friends. We talked all those weird differences between cultures: accents, cultural perceptions, traveling and living abroad. They answered all of our dumb questions and gave us a lot of recommendations. They truly made our trip memorable.

When we visited Shakespeare’s Globe, we were tired and hungry and little cranky when we arrived, and we had plenty of time before our show, so we headed upstairs to the Globe’s restaurant. I was expecting an overpriced tourist trap, but what we found was a delightful restaurant space that was well-decorated and one of the best meals we had our whole trip. Our waitress was very friendly and sassy. She recommended the tiramisu for dessert saying “I’m from Italy and I’m recommending the tiramisu, so you should get it.” We had beers; John had the best fish and chips he had the whole trip, and I had a delicious shepherd’s pie. Of course we had the tiramisu, and our waitress wasn’t lying. It was incredible!

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One day for lunch we wanted to stop by Speedy’s Cafe, the real restaurant outside Sherlock’s Baker Street residence in BBC’s TV show Sherlock, which we love if you haven’t guessed by now. The location is actually on North Gower Street not Baker Street. The restaurant still feels like a local place. There are some pictures on the wall of the owners and staff posing with the cast and some Baker Street signage, but if you weren’t paying attention or weren’t familiar with the show, you might not even notice. John ordered bangers and mash, and I ordered the Sherlock wrap, which was the best wrap of my life: chicken, bacon, cucumber, sharp English cheese, red onion, red pepper and mayo wrapped and grilled. The description of this wrap (just on a printout on the wall) explains all the nutritional reasons why Sherlock would include these ingredients. Of course, there’s a Watson wrap too.

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In Oxford at the Eagle and Child, I had a sausage sandwich with some kind of a marmalade on country bread, and it was amazing!!!!! John had some fried shrimp and was very pleased. My beer was kind of warm though, and that was sad. Still, it was a good lunch.

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As I said before, we ate in a lot of pubs and a lot of fish and chips. Maybe too many fish and chips, but one of the pubs we ate at was The Victoria, which apparently used to be frequented by Charles Dickens. The food was good, but the decor and atmosphere was better. It was recommended to us by our new friends, which means it was very crowded, so I didn’t get any pictures.

By this point in our trip, we had eaten pretty much nothing but meat, bread and white potatoes since arriving in Paris, and John and I were tired. So I found a noodle restaurant not far from our hotel, and we got some ramen for dinner. I had heard from friends who live in bigger cities like New York and Philadelphia that these chain noodle shops were starting to take off, and as a person who loooooooooves Japanese noodles I really wanted to try one. So when I found the Wagamama chain in London, I was excited for something different. I ordered the grilled duck ramen while John got their specialty. I really liked mine, but John was seriously disappointed by the miso broth in his. Sama Zama is way better he declared. Even though I liked mine, I have to agree with him.

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We got our last English lunch in the airport. We both ordered salted beef sandwiches, and even though they were over-priced, they were actually really tasty. John even found a beer that he hadn’t had in years because he can’t find it in the US. He was really excited to drink Lowenbrau, and it was just as good as he remembered.

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Char and John go to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital

We left London for Scotland on Saturday afternoon, but we got up early to visit St. Bart’s hospital to see the site where William Wallace was executed. The yeoman warder who lead our tour at the Tower of London told us that little fact, so we decided to check it out if we had time.

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I had no idea St. Bart’s was so huge. We found the hospital easily enough, but it is a big place with many different buildings, and parts of it are under construction. Luckily we found an employee walking through a courtyard, and he pointed us in the right direction. When we found it, we stumbled upon some school field trip and leaned in on the leader’s talk about William Wallace. Mostly he talked about Braveheart and how while it was a good movie, it’s not super accurate.

Anyway, it’s a lovely little memorial in honor of the man, and I know John loved seeing it.

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Again, St. Bart’s is so crazy old and still operating. Above the door is this inscription: 
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If you can’t read it, it says the hospital was founded in 1102 and then refunded in 1546. This building was erected in 1842. What?! Again, blown away by whole old and lasting things can be.

P.S. We also geeked out over the fact that this is the hospital Molly Hooper works at in BBC’s Sherlock and the one he jumps off of at the end of Season 2. Yes, we are nerds.

 

Char and John go to the British Museum and Camden Market

Our last full day in London, we decided to hit up the British Museum and Camden Market for some souvenir shopping. John had been to the museum and thought it was important for me to see the Rosetta Stone, which was very impressive, I have to admit. I knew that it was considered the beginning of written language, but I didn’t realize exactly what that meant. If you don’t know, what makes the Rosetta Stone so special is it is a large black stone with the same message written in three different scripts (hieroglyphs, demotic and Greek). This find allowed researchers to translate hieroglyphics. Just like the Mona Lisa this was a bear to get a good picture of. The replica made for visitors to touch was much less crowded.

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The museum delightfully surprised me. They had a whole exhibit on ancient England, and I loved it! All the old swords and pottery, seeing REAL celtic art…so cool. Oh jeez, growing up with a teacher for a mom turned me into quite the nerd (Hi, mom!).

England's Sword of State, a ceremonial sword of the Prince of Wales

England’s Sword of State, a ceremonial sword of the Prince of Wales

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Armor and sword from the middle ages in England.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I found the Horn of Winter.

I found the Horn of Winter.

After the museum we got lunch in Camden Town and visited the market. We bought the majority of our souvenirs here: Dr. Who t-shirts, scarves, an old compass, more old postcards and prints of the places we visited in England. It was a quirky, fun time.

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John and Char go to Oxford

While we were in London, we took a day to visit Oxford. This part of the trip was very important to me because this is where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien’s friendship grew. I wanted to eat at The Eagle and Child, the pub hang-out for Lewis and Tolkein’s writing group, The Inklings. And I wanted to visit C.S. Lewis’ church, Holy Trinity Church, which is also where he is buried.

It was about an hour ride on the National Rail from our Paddington station to Oxford. Once we got there, we had to figure out the bus system, which was a bit of a pain because you have to know when your stop is coming up and alert the driver you want to get off. This is why I love subways and trains. They stop everywhere and have maps all over the carriage to let you know where you’re at and which direction you’re going. Buses confuse and stress me out, and it is the way to get around the town of Oxford. Since Holy Trinity Church is way out in Headington, using the hop-on/hop-off bus tour was not really an option, though I think that bus tour looked very good though. If I go back, I think that would be a good option to see the rest of the city. But I had very specific things I wanted to see, and I was going to make them happen.

Well, we found the right bus to get us to Headington, and it took between 20 and 30 minutes to get out there. The bus dropped us off in a neighborhood, which led us on a 10 minute walk through neighborhoods, passing stay-at-home moms on their morning walks with their babes, and dads dropping kids off at a school. We knew we were on the right path when we came upon this sign:

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Char and John go to Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London

The next day we kept up the momentum by hitting Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. Those were the two major sites I wanted to see in London. In middle school and the beginning of high school I kind of become obsessed with English history. Basically my early childhood obsession with fairy tales and knights evolved into obsession with the history behind that culture. I’ve been anxious to see where all these famous people ruled, fought and now lay in death.

I completely geeked out in both sites. Westminster was beautiful, and I was estactic to see all the details put in under King Henry VIII, the king with whose family my obsession fixated on. It was incredible to walk on stones commemorating the resting places of William Wilberforce, Oliver Cromwell and Geoffery Chaucer. I could not believe I was walking past the vault of Elizabeth I, one of my historical heroes, and then one of her rivals Mary Queen of Scots.

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I loved the Poet’s Corner, seeing all the memorials. I picked out those dearest to me: Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. Charlotte Bronte shared a memorial with her sisters, Emily and Anne, with the inscription “With courage to endure.” I also really wanted to see C.S. Lewis’ memorial, but I couldn’t find it. We asked for some help of a worker. He was very helpful and took us straight to it on the floor near Chaucer. His stone was inscribed with “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.”

We were admiring Lewis’ spot, and I was fighting the urge to take a picture even though no photos are allowed in the still-functioning church, and the employee struck up a conversation:

“Are you from America?”

“Yes.”

“You know how I could tell? You’re smiling.”

What proceeded was a quick discussion of where he’s been in America (South Carolina) and BBQ (which he liked in South Carolina as well as all the other food). Also, turns out this guy’s picture is in the brochure, so we had him sign it for us.

Before you leave the Abbey, be sure to check out its small museum. That’s where you can see the practice Crown Jewels for the Coronation ceremonies and all the effigies they still have of the kings and queens you just saw buried. It’s creepy and awesome to see stare into their faces.

After visiting all the famous dead people in Westminster Abbey (and the Coronation Chair) and getting some lunch we headed to the Tower of London. Something we noticed, first: Notre Dame in Paris was free to visit while Westminster Abbey was not. However, in Notre Dame, you pay for the audio tour while in Westminster Abbey it’s free. So it all kind of evens itself out. I would highly suggest using the audio tours though if a guided one isn’t available. Also, for the record: John was right. Westminster Abbey is prettier than Notre Dame.

The Tower of London was AWESOME! I love love love how old everything is. I mean the White Tower in the center was built by William the Conqueror. I mean that was completed in 1100ish! WHAT THE WHAT!? And it’s still there????? That kind of stuff just blows me away. We highly suggest the guided tour by one of the Yeoman Ward. Our guide was hilarious, and even though I thought I knew a lot of the gory history of the Tower, I learned A LOT, which being the nerd that I am I loved.

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Again, it was so incredible to stand in the places where Anne Boleyn stood, first entering the Tower as a welcomed bride to a King and second as a disgraced traitor about to lose her head. The memorial marking the place where hers and so many others’ scaffolding stood is beautiful and creepy at the same time: just a glass pillow on a circle of glass on which the names of the eight people given the courtesy of a private execution within the Tower. In the church on the premises, we saw where she is laid to rest too.

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We marveled at the engravings prisoners carved on the walls of one of the towers before their execution. This one says Jane, the name of the man’s wife. They both lost their heads; he on Tower Hill and she was giving a private execution.

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And of course we saw the Crown Jewels. Super shiny. Shiniest, most glittering, beautiful things. And again, CRAZY OLD!

One of the funniest things at the Tower though was learning the Yeoman who work there must live there with their families on the premises. If you stand on the top of the inner wall, you can see all their little apartments within the outer wall with potted plants, cars parked, grills and clothes lines. It’s quite surreal. We saw a man sitting on his front stoop reading while we stood on the wall, and it took everything in me not to be THAT person who yells “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” I refrained, however, promise.

 

Char and John go to Shakespeare’s Globe

After the work was finished in Paris, it was time for the real fun to begin! We headed to the train station to hop on the Eurostar and take the Chunnel to London. Trains are my favorite way to travel, so I was really excited to take the high-speed train instead of flying, and I was excited to be in a tunnel underwater. To be honest, it looked like any other tunnel, but even though I’m not claustrophobic, it was a bit eerie to think we were underground and underwater at the same time!

We stayed at 27 Paddington Hotel, which was nothing special. It’s basically a clean room with a private bathroom and free breakfast. You stay there for the good train station. Paddington Station offers access to multiple underground lines as well as National Rail, which we found helpful when we went to Oxford for a day. Things we covered during our stay in London: Shakespeare’s Globe, Westminster Abbey, The Tower of London, Oxford, The British Museum and Camden Market. There’s so much to share, though, we’re breaking up the blog posts by day, so first up, Shakespeare’s Globe!

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Char and John eat in Paris

As I said before, the best thing about Paris was the food. I LOVED the food. All of it. Except that there is an entire salad course, and they give you an enormous, expensive salad. Seriously, what Americans are complaining about portions in Europe? I was so full after ever meal that I couldn’t have possibly snacked between meals. One server actually commented on the fact that we didn’t finish our frites. Did she see how much food she had brought us before the frites?! Did she see the size of the steak on the same plate as the frites?!

Things we ate in Paris:

  • Ham and cheese sandwich on baguette
  • Hot dog (a hot dog with ketchup in a baguette, what!?)
  • Sausage and cheese crepe
  • Salmon with creamy rice
  • Steak with frites
  • Macarons (got crushed in my bag on the way to England, but I ate it anyway, and it was still delicious)
  • De Clerq hamburger and chips (the burger patty was fried, people, FRIED!)
  • Ice cream…people, the French know ice cream, and I had no idea.

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Char and John go to Paris

This post will probably make some people angry because I’m going to confess something. Paris has never been on my list, you know, the list we all make of places we HAVE to see. I don’t know why, but every time I would make my list of places I would visit on my imaginary dream Europe vacation, Paris never made the cut. We always would visit England and then hope over Paris to get to Italy. But when work offers you a free trip to Paris, you don’t turn it down, and who knows, maybe Paris would surprise me I thought. I mean, it’s the city that launched a thousand books, movies, romances and food bloggers credibility…it’s gotta prove me wrong, right?

Well, I don’t know if I just missed the boat on this whole Paris thing, but it didn’t knock my socks off. Don’t get me wrong, the food is great! The French know how to prepare food and eat food, and we are fully on board with long meals in which to savor every bite. The cafes, patisseries, brasseries — loved every minute of eating in Paris.

We stayed at Hotel Des Grands Hommes, which was paid for by the trade show I attended, so I’m not sure I could have afforded it on our own. It was located right next door to the Pantheon and was beautiful. The concierge staff all spoke English and very willing to help and answer questions (though we did have our favorites). The “free” breakfast was confusing but delicious and the add-on charges weren’t outrageous, so we didn’t complain. The neighborhood it was in as far as we could tell was great! There were a ton of cafes within walking distance that were tasty enough for us as well as a good train station, the Luxemborg Garden, a patisseries, an ice cream shop, sushi, Chinese restaurant and tasty French restaurant that I’ll write about later.

As far as the rest, we did some famous Paris things: Notre Dame, The Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. Our hotel was next door to the Pantheon and down the street from the Luxembourg Garden, so we strolled around there one day eating our crepe and hot dog for lunch.

Of all those wonderful Parisian things, however, my favorite thing we did (besides eat) was visit Les Puces, Paris’ flea market and the largest in the world. It’s got everything from tourist trap junk to high-end antiques, so high-end, the dealers wouldn’t even look at us because it was so obvious we weren’t their clientele. But have no fear, we found the market just suited to us and found some wonderful prints and scarves to take home as souvenirs. That’s my kind of shopping.

In The Louvre, we were completely irreverent. Basically, this world famous art museum  can be summed up by these gems that we uttered while walking around this labrynth of art:

“Everyone in these paintings is either getting crucified, drunk or laid.”

“That’s not a bench. That’s not a bench! THAT’S NOT A BENCH!”

“I never knew there were so many ways to tastefully cover nudity.”

A painting of the world's first duck face is housed in The Louvre.

A painting of the world’s first duck face is housed in The Louvre.

And this is definitely a painting of a man copping a feel...in The Louvre.

And this is definitely a painting of a man copping a feel…in The Louvre.

Notre Dame was beautiful (and free to visit!). The Eiffel Tower we visited at night to see it all lit up. It was gorgeous. It makes everything around it glow. We did not go up to the top because this gal is not a fan of high spaces.

I think Paris would have been more awe-inspiring if I knew more about it going in. I was so excited to visit England because I got really obsessed with British history in my teen years, so I was itching to see where all these famous events had happened. I know nothing about Paris or France, except Marie Antoinette and her “Let them have cake” drama. My brother had to tell me, after we had come home, that the Eiffel Tower was built for the World’s Fair. That is how clueless I am about Paris.

So the lesson here: If you ever get the opportunity to go, and it’s dumb to say no, read up on some Parisian history before just stumbling in. Otherwise you’ll be running through the city just checking off all The Important Paris Things without really caring about what you’re seeing.

Char and John go to Europe too (but just for vacation)

So Ash is moving to Europe, and I have just returned! Whew! We are crushing our bucket lists over here at tea@elevensies.  If only we could have gone together…but let’s be honest, I started planning my second trip to Europe as soon as I read Ash’s post. I’m thinking Spring 2016?

If you don’t follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, you may not know that I just spent the past two weeks running around Paris, London and Scotland. I had the opportunity to go to Paris for a work trip, and when the work was done, I took vacation days and hopped on a train to London to see all the things I’ve always wanted to see.

I’ll be posting some stories, thoughts and photos of each leg of the trip here, so you can read along if you want to. This was my first real vacation that I planned on my own, not to mention my first oversees vacation planning as an adult. Typically our vacations are to visit family and friends. I’ve been to Mexico and Brazil since leaving the nest, but it was always on a college trip or family vacation, so someone else was planning it for me. The Paris part was taken care of. The trade show I was attending booked my flights and hotel, so that was easy. I just had to fill in the gap between the end of the show, and our flight home from Glasgow. I had a world of help from my cousin and a friend from grad school who have both gone before me to these places. They were kind of enough to type up all their tips of traveling around Europe, saving money, where to stay, where to eat. I couldn’t have done it without them answering my dumb questions.

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I hope you enjoy the next few posts! I already have ideas for our next big trips over there. I want to go back with Ash. I want to get on a train and travel around the English countryside because we didn’t really get out of the city too much, and there is so much more to see! I want to explore Scotland more! I need to go to Ireland too. And I’m curious what the rest of France is like. Let’s not even talk about countries I haven’t been to yet. I’m still stuck on the UK.

 

Au Revoir / Auf Wiedersehen / Äddi

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Have you heard the news? in the next few months, the Monroes will be packing up their lives and moving to the lovely little slice of Europe called Luxembourg. Typing the words is still surreal, I can hardly believe it’s true. We’ve been quietly working towards this for about five years, but in the last few weeks/months, things have been rapidly moving forward from pipe dream to actual reality.

Want to know more about how this adventure is happening? Read on, dear friend.

So…how are we doing this?

If you’ve never looked into immigration or expatriation, trust us on this fact: it is no cake walk. One of the reasons we’re able to make this happen is because Andrew is transferring within his company from a US office to a Lux office. They are helping us with many aspects of the situation: facilitating the visa process, the financial burden of moving your life to another continent, and of course, giving Andrew employment while we’re living abroad and a job to come home to.

I also freelance for incredible employers who have consistently allowed me to shape the life I want. I am already a remote worker for them, and they’ve graciously agreed to support our move to Europe by continuing to send me work.

Less practically but most importantly, we’re only getting to do this by the grace of God. There were an infinite number of things that could have gone wrong in this situation, or made it impossible for this dream to be fulfilled. A few months ago when this was starting to move from pipe dream to possible reality, I exasperatedly told a friend that if this was going to happen, it would only be by God’s hand: there were just too many obstacles that no matter how hard we worked, could prove insurmountable. The recent period has been an extreme exercise in trusting God to take care of this incredibly precious dream of ours. And he has knocked our socks off in his responses…to the point of leaving us awestruck at his blessings.

Photo by Yomadic

Luxembourg City, by Yomadic

But really, why are two kids who have never lived outside of Southern California uprooting their lives and moving to Europe?

The short answer is that we really, really wanted to. Andrew and I love traveling together, and Europe has always been high on our list of places we wanted to see – the culture, the history, the different pace and focus of life have always intrigued us. But both of us felt really dissatisfied with the idea of skipping quickly through a number of countries, and missing so many of the day-to-day, local things that make a place special. The obvious answer to that is, of course, to take some time to live there.

So why Luxembourg specifically? Back in 2010 when Andrew and I were dreaming of living in another country, he casually mentioned that Luxembourg might be a good idea for his career, since it is a major financial hub in Europe. Up to that point, we had only been seriously considering English-speaking countries – but I began researching Luxembourg, and the more we learned the more we fell in love with this small piece of Europe. (A bit more on that later.)

Photo by a bit of lux

Snow, snow, snow, snoooow! Photo by a bit of lux

When are we leaving?

Currently, the plan is to head out sometime in late May and return around June of 2016.

For those of you who are curious, Moose will come over too eventually! It is really unsafe to fly a dog during the summer, so he will likely stay with my parents for a few months, and then we will ship him over in the fall.

If you will happen to be in Europe during the next two years, we do hope you will come stay with us! Once we get settled in our new country, I’ll put up a blog post with some more information.

Photo from visit the world

The Grund, found on visit the world

And just for fun…

Here are some of the reasons we decided to pick Luxembourg:

Luxembourg is bordered by France, Germany and Belgium: each of which has major cities (and of course scenic countryside and villages) that are easily accessible by car or train. For two people whose European goals are to travel, it’s hard to go wrong with Lux.

Luxembourg’s latitude is higher than any point in the contiguous US. These delicate west coasters are going to be living in snow and rain and actual seasons for the first time in our lives!

Luxembourg has three official languages: French, German and (yes it’s a real language) Luxembourgish. Andrew and I have started learning French, and I’ve been brushing up on my German in recent months. We may be a bit hopeless at first, but we’re excited for the challenge and the opportunity to learn by immersion. And of course, we are fluent in the not-always-clear but fairly-universal languages of pointing, gesturing, and Google-translating.

The expatriate population in Luxembourg City is incredibly high (about 60%). This means there’s a lot more support for expatriates than you would find in other areas. We also love the idea of meeting people from all over the world.

As you can see from the beautiful photographs above, Luxembourg City isn’t your typical major metropolis. And even though there’s tons of fantastic travel options, we’re also really looking forward to digging into our local area: taking lots of hikes, exploring the wine of the region, seeing buildings that are older than our home country, and taking lots of photos.

Expatriating often has some real difficulties hidden beneath its romantic-sounding surface, but Andrew and I are looking forward to facing the challenges together, in full confidence that this is a God-approved course for our lives. We are so, so excited – and are fully aware of the remarkable privilege – to see and experience more of this incredible world, and to be doing it together, hand in hand and oar to oar.

But before we take off…

We technically move out of our apartment this weekend, and will be couch surfing around LA, OC, and the Inland Empire while we finish working and preparing for this adventure. If you are in one of those areas and want to see us before we leave in late May – well we would love to see you too!! Let’s make plans to hang while we still have the chance.