Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z is for Zed (and other "odd" words)

"Zed" is how the British pronounce the last letter of the alphabet..."X, Y, and Zed".

But that's not the only language quirk between British and American English.  Here's a pretty comprehensive list if you're curious, but I've outlined a few I commonly encountered.

The British tend to pull from the French whereas Americans tend to pull from Italian, so what
Americans would call a "zucchini" is a "courgette", and an "eggplant" is an "aubergine".  "Arugula" in American English becomes "rocket" in British English.

A shopping cart like you'd use in a grocery store is called a "trolley", though I've heard a fair number of variations in the states as well ("buggy", "carriage", etc.).

A cash register is called a "till".

If you're injured and need to go to hospital (not "the" hospital in the UK...just hospital), you'll be taken to the A&E, not the ER.  A&E stands for "accident and emergency".

Done with your restaurant meal and you want to pay? Ask for the bill, not the check.  A check (or cheque) would be something you'd pay the bill with.

Want to bring food home instead of eating it in the restaurant?  You'll be getting "carry out" or, more commonly, "take away" rather than "take out".  I like this one so much, I still ask my husband if he wants take away for dinner.

Here's an odd one...when you're in the UK and have to use the toilet, ask for that.  Asking someone where the toilet is isn't uncommon; a "bathroom" is considered to be a fully equipped bath (toilet, sink, bath tub, shower) that you'd use to bathe in.  It may sound crude, but just ask for, or follow the signs for, the toilet.

This list could go on forever!  Do you have a favorite?  Maybe one I missed?

Thank you so much for hanging out on my blog this whole month.  Each and every one of your comments has made me smile.  Please check out my past posts, especially those in my Editing Tips from a Real-Life Editor series, and stay tuned for future posts on writing and all sorts of related topics.

Until next time!

xoxo Sarah

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Y is for Yankee

Today, Y is for Yankee.  Sometimes I'd hear us Americans referred to as "Yanks", but it actually wasn't that common.  But since the population of Americans (and other nationalities, really) was fairly sizable in our area, we did get questioned about quirky things. 

One I got a few times was if we'd ever lived in Florida.  It seems that Florida (the I is pronounced in UK English..."Flor-i-dah" as opposed to "Floor-duh" in American English) was a hot spot for Brits eager to get out of the chilly damp weather and escape to somewhere where not only is the language similar, but the exchange rate is favorable.  Our gardener--hey, we didn't have a choice; we had no outdoor storage and couldn't keep any machinery--went to Florida every year or two and stocked up on his work clothes for a ton less than he'd pay in the UK.  I don't blame him!

Meatloaf also seemed to throw the Brits off...I remember being asked a couple of times what it was, exactly.  I couldn't figure out where the confusion was--it's literally a loaf of meat.  But we explained how it's made in different flavors and such, and that seemed to answer any questions of theirs.

When we'd ooh and ahh over the delicious scones (with clotted cream and jam, of course!) at the tea rooms, we'd inevitably be asked about the scones in the U.S.  After a short explanation about how they're triangular abominations dry enough to sand furniture, and no, we don't know why this is the case, the waiter or waitress would leave, pleased at the UK's scone's superiority. 

That's it for now!  Z is tomorrow.

xoxo Sarah

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X is for X-Pat

Okay, I'm taking some liberties with the spelling on this one, because no matter how hard I thought about it, I kept coming up empty for "X".  Seriously, UK...nothing starts with X.

Anyway, an expatriate--when it's properly spelled--is someone who, either temporarily or permanently, is residing in a country other than that of their citizenship.

Since moving to the UK wasn't exactly our choice--I mean, we could have said "no", but why would you?--we had a lot of resources at our disposal.  A family that was already over there sponsored us and helped us acclimate to life, which was a huge help, because we had no idea what we were doing.  Even simple things such as where to buy groceries, or where you would find that weird thing you need at that weird time, were tough to start out.

So what tips would I have for someone living outside of their home country?

If possible, link up with people from the same country you're originally from.  You can trade tips on living in your new home country, and get the warm fuzzies for the place you left behind, all at the same time.  Where would you meet these people?  I'd try searching Facebook for groups in the area you live in.

Kind of on the same token, make local friends.  They can help you understand local customs, figure out where to shop, and all that good stuff.  It's important you get to know the area and your neighborhood.

Use the internet.  This is probably the biggest one.  There are so many sites and blogs out there dedicated to people's experiences with living as an expat.  It's a whole mine just waiting to be dug out.

Don't give up, and don't be afraid to ask for help.  People are people, no matter where you live.

Sorry that one's a little short, but Y is up next!

xoxo Sarah

Monday, April 27, 2015

W is for War Rooms (Churchill's)

There are so many sights to see in London--the London Eye, Big Ben, St. Paul's Cathedral.  The list could go on forever.  We went numerous times, and I never got bored.

But one people miss that I feel is a must-see, is Churchill's War Rooms.  One of the Imperial War Museums, it's actually a secret underground compound that was used during WWII as the headquarters for the core of the British government, and it has been preserved and restored to look as it did when it was in use.  The machines used to communicate, the boxes, the pens, the maps.  It's like you've walked into a time warp back to the 1940s.

Not my picture...I don't think you could take any inside.

It takes a few hours to walk through the museum, but taking the time to see this fascinating exhibit is worth it.  I'd also recommend getting the audio guide; it explains a lot that the the posted plaques don't have room for.

So, if you find yourself in London and a spare afternoon, please take the time to see Churchill's War Rooms.  They're fairly close to Westminster, and even in the middle of summer when London is swarming with tourists, it wasn't terribly crowded.

Have you been?  What did you think?

Hang on for X!

xoxo Sarah

Saturday, April 25, 2015

V is for Visiting

Stubai, Austria
One thing I think everyone who manages to live away from "home" (wherever that is) for a few years should spend time visiting other places.  It's part of appreciating the world around you.

We did our best to exhaust the UK while we were there, though we concentrated mostly on visiting the continent when we had longer stretches of time.  Our thinking was that there were so many places we wanted to visit--and many of them were so different--that we wouldn't have time for everything, so best squeeze in what we could.

Vatican City (and Rome), Italy

Hubs and I were lucky to be able to see the things we saw and do the things we did--ski the Alps; visit the beaches and WWII sites of Normandy; have hot chocolate in a cafe in Amsterdam; get lost in the canals of Venice; climb the walls of Dubrovnik.  The opportunity to see people and places in different countries was fantastic, and I feel as though my view of the world has evolved.  We did our best to blend in and experience these places in their natural state, though we did our fair share of touristy stuff.  All of it was fun and worth the time and effort.

Prague, Czech Republic
Was it expensive to visit these places?  Honestly, it depended.  Some were extremely reasonable--a cruise we took was an excellent deal for what it was and how much we got to see.  Some cities are more expensive than others; sometimes it depended on the time of year you went somewhere--Rome and Barcelona were quite reasonable in the off-season (we went in December).  But I wouldn't trade the experiences in for anything.

We heard about so many people and families who, well, just didn't travel.  I'm not sure what their reasoning was for not doing it, though almost anything I could come up with--expense, family-size, know-how, etc.--would be BS.  If you really, really want to see the world, there were tons of ways to travel no matter your life circumstances. There aren't any good excuses for not visiting the places you were lucky enough to be near, and may never be near again.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Well, that's not quite true... The only excuse that I could see being valid would be "time".  There was never enough time--and never would be enough, no matter how long we would be there--to see everything, so you just had to see what you could.  Some things slipped through the cracks.  Scotland was one, and I also wished we'd done some more exploration on the UK mainland. But hopefully we'll get back at some point. 

But the idea was to visit--to expand your world view.  To enjoy other cultures--their customs and traditions, their food, their languages.  To learn how people are the same and different.  Visiting other places wasn't something to be feared; it was to be embraced and anticipated. 

Village of Oia on Santorini, Greece

So, no matter what your circumstances are, please go and visit somewhere else, no matter where you live--another state, another country.  You'll be better for it.

*note* All pictures in this post are mine.  

Get ready for W tomorrow!

xoxo Sarah

Friday, April 24, 2015

U is for Underground

Ah, the Tube, or, as some call it, the Underground.  It's a rapid transit train system (subway, really) built under London, and it's amazing.  It services the main London area, though there are a few lines that travel out a little bit farther.

We loved that we could get pretty much wherever we wanted to be within a reasonable amount of time, just by taking the Tube.  Now, don't get me wrong--there were times where it was easier, shorter, or faster to walk on the surface between stops, or where line closures made life a little difficult, but the benefits outweighed the costs.

The London Underground just celebrated its 150th anniversary a couple of years ago. Obviously there were some huge changes--lines being added; the Oyster card being added in 2003 (a contactless ticketing system that makes life super easy), lifts and escalators, etc.

Compared to other similar transport systems in mainland Europe (the Paris Metro, for example), the London Underground is clean, well-lit, and (fairly) reliable.  There's even multiple apps in case you need to know how to get from A to B.

I might be a little obsessed with things with the Tube map on them. I have some mugs, a magnet, and I'd happily have a map stenciled on my wall, but I think my poor husband might object.  Though saying, "This is the Piccadilly line train to Cockfosters" will never not be funny.

*note* The Tube map doesn't belong to me, obviously.

Time for V next!

xoxo Sarah

Thursday, April 23, 2015

T is for Trains and Transportation

When I travel, I hate waiting, but it's much more palatable if I'm not actually doing anything. It's much less stressful that way. So, hands-down, I loved the option to take trains places instead of driving.  Public transportation in the areas of the U.S. I'd lived in before the UK were lacking to say the least, and the train system--National Rail--was a refreshing mode of transport, no matter how much the British complain about it.

We most often took the train in from Cambridge or Ely to London.  If you caught the express, the journey took only about 45 minutes to an hour, and that was directly into Kings' Cross. There was no freaking way I was driving around London, what with the congestion zone, tons of traffic, and crazy road layouts, so this was perfect.  We'd often leave in the morning on a weekend day, spend the day in London, then come back in the evening.  The perfect day trip.

The Eurostar was amazing as well. It's the train that runs from London to the continent, usually Paris or Brussels.  If those are your final destinations, great, but you can also change trains and travel the whole continent if you want. The farther in advance you book your Eurostar tickets, the cheaper it is.  And it's super convenient--Paris is only a little over 2 hours out from London!

Part of what made the Eurostar so convenient was the ease of going through security.  Don't get me wrong; it was super safe, but there weren't the huge lines you'd get at an airport.

Have you had the chance to take some of the trains? How about the Eurostar?

We're winding down, but U is up next, and it's a favorite of mine...

xoxo Sarah

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

S is for Sandringham (and Sophie)

One experience I'm lucky to have had, mostly by virtue of living relatively nearby, was to go to Sandringham Estate for Christmas Day.

Sandringham, for those who don't know, is the Queen's privately-owned family estate in Norfolk, England, about an hour from where we lived.  We toured the house when we had visitors one summer and the house and grounds are absolutely lovely. The Queen stays there from mid-November/Decemberish through some time in February or March, but I don't know the exact dates--she's the Queen, and can stay there however long she damn well pleases.

Anyway, while she's there, the Queen goes to mass at the chapel on the property.  People are welcome to wait along the path to wave at her, though photos aren't allowed. However, on Christmas Day, you may take pictures, and, even better, there's a good chance that most of the royal family will join her.  The rest of the family walks the path from the estate house to the chapel while the Queen is driven in, and, on the way back, the family takes flowers from and mingles with the waiting public. In past years, the Queen will also accept flowers from the children waiting, though this year she
wasn't feeling up to it.

How not to dress when
meeting the royal family.
Having lived in England for three years as of last December and not gone to do this (we don't have kids), I figured it was now or never.  So I braved the cold, raw weather (I wished I'd dressed more warmly, though I had no intention of meeting the royals looking like Randy from A Christmas Story) and drove with some friends to Sandringham. The husband chose to stay in the nice, warm house, and I don't blame  him.

Walking from the house to church.

Once we got there and parked, we joined a growing orderly queue (see my Q entry a few days ago) and waited. After a bit, we were allowed to enter a gate and we filled in along a roped-off path--the path the family would use when walking from the main house to the church. We lucked out and got right up front, though we were very close to the gate nearest to the house and not the church.

Walking from the house to church.
Around 11am (I think--it was so cold time seemed to stand still), the gates opened and the family walked from the house to the chapel. And when I say "walked", I mean they were moving.  They were some speedy walkers, and I barely managed to get a few pictures before they were out of our line of sight.  The Queen was driven, and we didn't see her coming or going, unfortunately.

Walking from the house to church.
The waiting began again, and an hour later they began to trickle back from the church. The downside to our placement along the path was that by the time they got to us, the family was ready to go back inside, probably to get out of their high heels and put their sweat pants on.  This time, though, it was more of a stroll.  One of my friends called out to them and said it was my birthday (yes, I am a Christmas baby, so it wasn't a lie), and I was wished a "happy birthday" by the Queen's son, Edward, Earl of Wessex.
Sophie, Countess of Wessex,
taking my flowers!

Prince Charles stopped by to admire my friend's dachshunds she'd brought with them, and Kate and William made an appearance as well, though they unfortunately stuck to the other side of the path and didn't come over to us.  Kate is even more beautiful in person, and no, I don't know how that's possible.

As time went on, more people walked past us, though they didn't take our flowers.  But soon, Sophie, Countess of Wessex (Edward's--see above--wife), came by, taking her time.  She came over to us and seemed genuinely happy and pleased to interact with the people there.  She took the yellow roses I'd brought with me, and stopped by my friend to say hello to her new baby.  Sophie seemed to be having a wonderful time and to be a lovely person.

After, we all went home and I had a bath to thaw out, drawn by my not-freezing husband. Then I put on sweat pants, and I like to imagine that Kate did the same.

On another note, Sandringham also has an orchard that offers several weeks of picking to the public each autumn.  For two years in a row I went with friends to pick apples (I believe they have two or three varieties?), and it's been a fun experience.  Besides the apples for sale, they have apple juice and cider.  If you're in the Norfolk area, it's not to be missed.

*note* All pictures in this post are mine except for Randy...

I hope you enjoyed S!  Time for T...

xoxo Sarah

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

R is for Roundabout

R is for that wonderful traffic moderator, the roundabout.

They appeared in D (D was for Driving this time), and I love them so much that they're worth their own letter. And don't even get my husband started--he could wax poetic about them for hours.  Since we got back to the states, I can rarely take a ride with him where he's not saying, "This should be a roundabout," and I most often agree with him.

And clearly hubs and I aren't the only ones who think they're the cat's meow--there's a Roundabout Appreciation Society. No, I'm not kidding.

Why are they so awesome? Because a roundabout--or a traffic circle, as some people know them by--helps to control the flow of traffic by not completely disrupting it.  A roundabout allows traffic to flow while also providing a safe, simple means to get from A to B for everyone, providing you know the rules of the road. Traffic keeps flowing, and, unless there's an unusual amount of traffic, it's more efficient. They do require that people know what they're doing, and can take a few tries to really get the hang of, but are so much better than stoplights at intersections once you've used them for a while.

How do you use a roundabout in the UK? First off, if you're approaching a roundabout and there's no one coming from the right (remember, you're driving on the left), you don't have to stop. When you enter a roundabout without lights at the entrance, you should yield to approaching traffic, not stop completely. If you're getting off the first exit, you get in the far left lane (again, remember you're driving on the left, so this is the lane closest to the first exit), and signal left. This tells the other drivers you're exiting on the first one (see the orange car in the picture).

If you're going across a roundabout (like the one pictured), you can get in the left lane or the right one, but don't signal until you're past the exit before the exit you want.  This will tell the other drivers that you're taking it across (see the blue car in the picture).

If you're going all the way around (or taking the third exit, like in the roundabout pictured), you want to be in the right lane, and turn your right signal on as you approach the roundabout. Signal to the right as you take the roundabout all the way around, but signal to the left as soon as you go by the exit before the one you're taking (see the green car in the picture).  This also works for any time you miss your exit on the roundabout; just take the roundabout all the way around to the exit you want, but signal before the one you want to take. Easy peasy!

Sometimes at bigger roundabouts, the lanes will even be marked at the entrances, so you just find the lane you want to be in and take that one all the way to the exit you want. Even easier.

See the link above for more detailed instructions.

How do you feel about roundabouts?

Stay tuned for S!

xoxo Sarah

Monday, April 20, 2015

Q is for Queues

I quickly learned that, besides making tea, if there's anything the British are good at, it's the act of forming a line and waiting, also known as queuing. It's so prominent that there's even an entry on it on one of the London visitor guide sites.

The word "queue"--other than 80% of the letters in the word being redundant--is often surrounded by "orderly", and it's a rare time in the UK when a queue is anything but. And God forbid if someone enters the queue randomly, cutting in front of someone else. The act of "queue jumping", to the British, seems to be right up there with murder as a lock-you-in-the-dungeons-worthy offense, though the queue jumper will be punished through stern, reproachful looks and upset mumblings by the other queuers instead of a dawn hanging at the Tower. But you can tell which the other queuers would prefer happen...

Not quiiiite like this, but you get the idea.
It always amazed me how queues would be created out of nothing. I was at a bus stop one day in Cambridge--I'd been out for a full day of shopping, and it was far less expensive for me to take the Park and Ride in and back to my car instead of paying to park at one of the multi-story car parks. Anyway, I was waiting to take the bus back to my Park and Ride destination.  I was the only one there, at least at first, so I stood up by the bus sign signifying which buses used that stop, prepared to wait. A few minutes later someone joined me, but unlike in America, they just took their place behind me. More people joined in, and the group of people could officially be called a queue. The whole thing was orderly (of course) and just kind of happened

In a country where there isn't a lot of personal space, queuing makes sense. Things will happen when they happen--the bus will arrive; the supermarket shop-girl will ring up the next customer; the light will change at the roundabout--and you will get through it. There's no sense in complaining--stiff upper lip and all--so might as well be orderly about it.

*None of the pics are mine, though, as always, they should be back-linked.*

R is up next! 

xoxo Sarah

Saturday, April 18, 2015

P is for Peacocks Tea Room

Though I probably missed a big opportunity to wax poetic about Pimm's, there's no better use for the letter "P" than for Peacocks Tearoom and Fine B&B in Ely, Cambridgeshire.

A proper cuppa.
This was my friends' and my go-to place for a lovely wasn't uncommon for us to literally spend hours there.  I think once we arrived around 11am and closed them out around 5pm.

They have a ridiculously huge loose-leaf tea selection, and a few of us tried to get a different one each time we went. By the time I left, I'd hit thirty teas, and that's not counting the few times I went but had a duplicate.  Famously served on mismatched cups and saucers, each tea blend was delicious, and, if you didn't like the one you picked, they'd bring you another. And if you really like one, you can take a bag home! They have a large selection pre-bagged and priced for you, but they will do any that you request.

One of the specials: asparagus quiche, beetroot, and potato salad.
They've been ranked highly on the Tea Guild's top tea places, have a fantastic TripAdvisor rating, and have a Facebook page you should like immediately after reading this "P" post so you can torture yourself, as I do, with the daily specials they post on there.  

They don't take bookings, so make sure you get there early if you don't want to wait (they open at 10:30am on most days).  Also, they're closed on Mondays and Tuesdays for most of the year, but open on Monday bank holidays and during the summer they're open on Tuesdays. One more day to squeeze in a proper tea. 
Sticky date pudding with toffee sauce.

If the weather is nice, there is plenty of seating outdoors, and if it's typical English weather, there's plenty of room inside the main room, the kitchen room, or what we dubbed the "secret" room that was mostly opened on a particularly busy day.

Their sandwiches (my favorite: bacon, banana, and maple syrup!) and light lunches (favorite: croque monsieur!) are to die for, and their coronation chicken is the best I've had. 

And though you can't go wrong with a fruit scone with clotted cream and jam, the desserts--especially the specials--can't be missed.  They had a special menu for the Queen's diamond jubilee, and their gooseberry fool and lavender scones were superb. 

After a meal there, no trip to Peacocks would be complete without poking into Waterside Antiques next door for a bit. And make sure you go to Ely Cathedral and take the Octagon Tour. It's a must-do. Trust me.

So if you're in the Cambridge area, take the train up to Ely and enjoy the short walk to Peacocks.  They have a fabulous B&B now, so you can even stay there!

I keep saying it's not to be missed, though I miss it a lot--George's fabulous shirts, Patrick's elegant French accent, and Rachel's creations. It will always have a special place in my heart (and stomach). 

Q is up next, so stay tuned! 

xoxo Sarah

Friday, April 17, 2015

O is for Olympics

I consider myself very fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time, which led me to being able to go to some of the events of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Not my picture.

The whole experience of going to the events was surreal--I'm a huge fan of the Games and love watching them on TV every two years. And even in that respect, the UK had it together. The BBC's coverage of the 2012 games put NBC's coverage to shame. You could easily toggle between events and stations, find out what was on or what coverage was coming up, and everything was broadcast in real time. Yes, real time. Sorry, Bob Costas, but screw your prime-time coverage, NBC. Seriously. I'm silently weeping right now as I think about having to watch the Rio games next year BBC-less. 

Okay, I'm done.

The Tower Bridge was very festive! 
Let me get my one big complaint out of the way first: the ticket system was a total mess. 100%. There apparently was a lottery system for even tickets that you could apply for (I'm not sure, though, because the lottery took place before we even moved to the UK). Tickets within a few weeks of the Games and even within a few days were also ridiculously hard to get, which is super weird, because there were a ton of empty seats at some events (easily seen on TV, actually).  And we weren't being picky about the events we were searching for tickets for...sure, we had preferences, but we were willing to take literally ANYTHING to get to go. It was said that this had something to do with tickets given to athletes' families and them not showing, or delegates from the participating countries who were given tickets and people not showing, or, well, just people who had been given tickets and not showing. Unfortunately, there wasn't a good way to get those tickets back into circulation, so we all just had to keep hitting the "refresh" button on the ticket website until we got carpel tunnel. 

It worked out, but it had a lot of kinks.

View from our seats. Stadium is starting to get full!
Anyway, other than that, the Games were very organized.  With your event tickets, they gave you a pass to use on the Tube to get around for the day, which was very handy.  The arenas and event areas were clearly marked on the Tube maps both on and off the cars, and there were a ton of absolutely lovely volunteers who were eager and happy to help you find your way. 

I was lucky enough to be able to go to a few events: the women's team competition of gymnastics; the women's gold medal football/soccer match; and, finally, the men's bronze medal football/soccer match.  

USA gold medalists, Romania silver, and Russia bronze.
The women's gymnastics was incredible; the U.S. won the gold, and they performed their hearts out.  That was held at the O2 Arena, though because of sponsorship regulations, it had been renamed to something else, but was easy to find.  What I enjoyed the most, though, was how into it the crowd was...Team GB (Great Britain, of course) had done pretty well for themselves and qualified for that round, and every time a member of Team GB was on an event, the whole crowd went wild.  They didn't medal; they came in 6th overall, but boy was the crowd behind them the whole way.

The women's football was a bit of a crazy purchase; after watching the U.S. qualify with a nail-biting game against Canada, I had to see it. Thankfully, the ticket site was behaving itself, and soon my husband and I were seated in Wembley, watching the U.S. win against Japan.  

The men's bronze football match was the only one I'd purchased far ahead; one nice thing about the games was that venues around the countries of Great Britain hosted various matches--this match was in Cardiff, Wales, so we had to travel a few hours by car to get there.  We'd been in Cardiff before, but it was busier and there were tons of people.  Japan and South Korea squared off, and though it wasn't the experience of the women's match in London had been, it was a fun time.

Seeing the Games in person is a once-in-a-lifetime experience I'm lucky to have, and every minute of it was totally worth it. 

*note* All pictures in this post (minus the London 2012 one at the top) were taken by me.

Stop by for P! It's somewhere I love! 

xoxo Sarah

Thursday, April 16, 2015

N is for Newspapers (and their fantastic headlines!)

Good God, not exhaustion! 
For someone (like myself) who gets most of their news and goings-on information from the Internet, it might come as a surprise to you that one of the biggest pleasures of traveling around the UK, specifically train travel, was getting my hot little hands on a Metro newspaper. 

And that's because, after living in the UK for a while, I'm still not sure if the editors of newspapers--everything from major publications to local village newsletters--are oblivious, or have achieved troll level: master.  

This is news, apparently.

For those unfamiliar, though there are perfectly normal headlines and articles in UK newspapers, a good percentage of them are, well, ridiculous. And I thought I'd share some of them with you. 

Don't miss the part where it said she was
"dis-custard" after not being able to find any...
Thanks to the Internet and my inability to remember any of the ones I saw in particular, I'm going to lazily link to an awesome Buzzfeed article that was exactly what I'm looking for. Any pics in this post are from that piece of awesomeness, and click the link above to see more. 

Enjoy the puns and silly headlines, and see you for O! I promise you won't want to miss it!

xoxo Sarah

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

M is for Markets

Ah, the markets.  A lot of the towns and cities have markets at least once a week, sometimes twice.  the bigger ones will have them every day.

A lovely shot of Cambridge Market from Keith Edkins. Not my pic.

Cambridge Market, for example, is seven days a week.

Some in London are even more specific...Borough Market is pretty much just food. It's my idea of paradise, really.  But all are well worth a trip.

Different wares are available, but you can find whatever you want at a market. Food--fresh cheeses, bread, olives, produce--local and imported, electronics, appliances, kitschy nick-nacks, pottery, name it, you can probably find it.

What have I bought at markets? Besides produce and fresh food, I've purchased scarves, small bowls, and a refurbished Dyson vacuum that lasted me the three years we were there.  No, I'm not kidding.

Have you been to a UK market? What did you think?

Up next is N! We're halfway there.

xoxo Sarah

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

L is for London

One of the best pics I've ever taken.
The London Eye, Big Ben, and a double-decker bus, all in one.
London is one of my absolute favorite cities.


Let me tell you.

It has all the modern amenities one would want from a world capital, but still has its old-world charm.  The tiny offshoot streets with amazing pubs and shops.  The winding roads and lack of grid pattern common in the U.S.  Individual buildings with more history in them than some entire U.S. cities combined.

The transportation systems...the Overground and Underground.  I'm devoting U to that, but it's a total win for London.

Trafalgar Square with the big blue cock.
Yes, that's what the statue is called.

The food--the sheer variety always blew me away.

Want amazing pizza? Go to Homeslice. It's inexpensive (for London) too.

How about some of the best gelato ever? Try Gelateria 3BIS. They were so good we ate there twice in one day.

Vinoteca had great food and wine, and was reasonably priced. I whiled away the hours with Rumer Haven there for an entire evening. So worth it.

In the mood for breakfast? How about a place that serves it until dinnertime? The Breakfast Club is right up your alley...they had some delicious huevos rancheros. Yes, a weird choice for London, but it was to die for.

Want something a little different? A friend recommended Kish if you want to try Persian food. Inexpensive, big portions, and oh, so good.

But enough about the food for about the entertainment? You'll never be lacking for things to do in London. There were still things we didn't get to go to, but I think I'd never run out of options even if I lived there.

The London Eye?  A must-do.  Get your tix ahead of time and skip the line.

Tower of London? Definitely! Take a tour guided by a Beefeater, see the Crown Jewels, and take a Twilight Tour (if you dare!).

West End shows? Hit one up if you can! We saw Stomp, Wicked, Jersey Boys, and Book of Mormon.

Want to see all the big things, but don't have a lot of time?  We always recommended The Original Tour, which is given on a double-decker bus! We took most of our visitors on it--hop on and hop off at the stops near where you want to see something.  You could see the whole city from the buses as well, as long as you changed routes. Even better, I believe that during off-season (Nov-March, maybe?) your pass is good for 48 hours instead of the usual 24, but don't quote me on that.

Winter Wonderland happens each year in Hyde Park, and there's something for everyone.

Buckingham Palace is a must to at least walk by. Depending on the time of year, the changing of the guard can get crowded and hard to see.

Me in a phone box. Tower Bridge is in the background.
Love all things nerdy? Are you a fangirl or fanboy? Then Forbidden Planet is the place for you! My husband and I spent a whole afternoon here one day...totally worth it.

And don't forget to see Big Ben (which is the bell, by the way, not the clock as a whole, though it's come to mean that) and Parliament. Westminster Abbey is close by as well. We never toured, but we did get some good pictures.

Want something to entertain the kids? The London Science Museum and the Natural History Museum are literally right next to each other. My nieces and nephews love going, and they've been multiple times. They are definitely a fun day!

I really miss one of my favorite cities, and more London bits will appear in some of the other entries for the A-Z Challenge, so stay tuned!

The London Eye at twilight.
Have you been to London? What did you see?

Come on by for M tomorrow!

*note* All pictures in this post are mine.

xoxo Sarah

Monday, April 13, 2015

K is for King (or Queen!)

So, a couple of years ago, when Will and Kate announced that they were expecting their first child, there was a big to-do about if it were to be a girl, would the child be the future queen.

Thankfully, the outdated succession laws were reworked, and males and females were made equal in the Commonwealth.  Another provision about the monarch not being able to marry a Roman Catholic was also changed.

Not my picture, but he's a cutie!
As Prime Minister David Cameron said, "Put simply, if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were to have a little girl, that girl would one day be our queen. The idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he is a man, or that a future monarch can marry someone of any faith except a Catholic--this way of thinking is at odds with the modern countries that we have become."

While we often poke fun at countries for having outdated provisions and laws (U.S. states aren't immune to this ridiculousness...), it is pretty awesome that the UK and Commonwealth moved so quickly to correct this.

Of course, the world was then graced with the adorableness of Prince George, but it sure was nice to have known that a little Georgina would have been treated the same.

Time for L tomorrow! Stay's another one of my favorite places.

xoxo Sarah

Saturday, April 11, 2015

J is for Jacket Potato (and other common English food)

Now here's one I can really get behind...J is for Jacket Potato!  What's a jacket potato?  It's a baked potato, but an awesome one.  The UK has, like, a million kinds of potatoes (don't quote me on that), and they're all oddly suited for specific cooking methods...some are better for boiling, some for frying (like for "chips" (fries)), and others for mashing or baking.  So a jacket potato is the most delicious baked potato you've ever eaten, basically.  They can be topped with butter, or with sour cream, or with Coronation Chicken.

Let me back up for a moment...

People often complain (mostly tourists, I think) that the UK's food is bland, or doesn't have flavor, and I don't think that's accurate.  It's not as salty as American food, which is something my husband and I were thankful for, but I don't think it was ever lacking.

Coronation Chicken is a good example of a common dish with plenty of flavor. The recipe varies, and was created to blend Indian spices with British tastes for the Queen's coronation in the 1950s, and features tender chicken in a mayo/yogurt dressing with curry powder and often dried apricots or mangoes among other things.  It's served cold, sometimes on top of a jacket potato, and other times as a sandwich filling (my favorite way to eat it).

Apparently I don't take as may food pics as I thought...
Thanks, Internet!
Fish and chips are another common food.  You can find it at most restaurants and pubs, though some are definitely better than others.  The best version I had was at Hunstanton Beach in Norfolk, right on the seaside.  Fish and chips should never be greasy or heavy, and should be served with malt vinegar and/or tarter sauce.  A thick, firm whitefish is preferable--something like cod or haddock will do nicely.

Pies are always a win in my book, particularly steak and ale pie.  Pies in the UK are typically savory (think chicken pot pie) and a good one will have a crust you can't wait to eat with the rest of it (though the recipe I linked to above uses puff pastry). It will be filling and comforting, and come with extra gravy for your mashed potatoes, because you must have mash
ed potatoes with your pie (at least I do).

Mushy peas...  These little abominations are often found alongside your fish and chips or steak and ale pie.  I'm not a fan of peas, and these are just a whole wall of "nope" in my book.  I always opted for regular peas if possible, and it almost always was. Needless to say, I will not be linking to any mushy pea recipes.  There's even an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a Thanksgiving one) where there's a mushy pea conversation...

Couldn't find a scone picture, so thanks, Internet!
Before this gets too long (you have other A-Z blogs to read, I imagine), you're missing out if you don't have a pot of tea with a scone and clotted cream and jam. The tea plus the scone is listed on the menu of most dining establishments as a "cream tea", so keep in mind that a cream tea is not tea with cream in it. Clotted cream, despite sounding like something rather gross, is one of the most amazing foods to come out of the UK (I have no idea where it originated, so again, don't quote me).  Spread on a nice, warm scone, and then topped with jam, it's heaven in your mouth.  Also, Americans somehow feel that scones need to be triangularly shaped pieces of bakery so dry that you could use one to sand your deck down.  I'm glad I was cured of this evil.  Google some proper UK recipes if you want a good scone. Just trust me on this.

Have you tried proper common UK food?  Thoughts?

Come on by for K tomorrow (and bring a scone if you have one...I'm hungry now)!

xoxo Sarah

Friday, April 10, 2015

I is for Isleham

Sunset near our house.
First off, sorry for the weird formatting with Blogger in this entry...I can't get the pictures in and the text without it being weird, so you guys just have to suffer. Grrr...

Isleham is a village which is part of Ely, in Cambridgeshire in East Anglia, and where we called home for 3+ years.  It's peaceful and quiet and kind of out in the middle of nowhere, as we discovered people are more apt to drive through the bigger towns around it, and not through it.

The front of St. Andrew's Church
The town has a few churches, including St. Andrews (a lovely old building), two pubs (The Rising Sun and The Griffin) as well as a fantastic restaurant (The Merry Monk) which was literally down the street from our house.  There's also a Co-Operative grocery store (very handy for a quick bite or a forgotten ingredient) and a Post Office.

Roses outside a house in our part of the neighborhood.

If you're into history and old things, there's even the Isleham Priory Church.  For a while, I'd drive by this old building every day and wonder what it was...turns out it's old as dirt (or nearly was built around 1090, and no, that's not a typo). It was amazing to have something like that just a stone's throw away from where you lived, and no, I didn't throw stones at it. I'd probably be arrested.

Me, enjoying a pint of cider at The Griffin.
Isleham is out in the Fens, which are rich farmland.  And yes, that's pretty much all that surrounds it in every direction.  Isleham even used to be an island until the locals drained it (as we were told by, well, locals), back in its early days.

Wheat fields on the outskirts of town.
Isleham is about 25ish minutes from Cambridge, so it was super-convenient for when we wanted to shop or take the train to London.  The whole town was very walkable, though; both my husband and I enjoyed running around the town and always felt safe.

So if you think the only things to see in England involve cities, I'll just take the rest of this post and show you with my awesome pictures why you must explore the countryside.
The view over the farmland on my way back into town.
I'd often stop to take a picture or two of the sunsets. 

Come on by for J tomorrow!

*note* All pictures in this post are mine.

xoxo Sarah

Thursday, April 9, 2015

H is for High Street

High Street in Newmarket, Suffolk. Thanks, Internet!
The term "High Street" is used in the UK the same way people in the U.S. refer to "Main Street."  Simply, it's the "main commercial and retail street in a town."  High Street is often accompanied by the word "shopping", as most High Streets are lined with shops of all kinds, pubs and other restaurants, tea houses, and charity shops.

Most bigger towns and cities might have a street actually named "High Street", though smaller villages might just have a road referred to it as such. There's no mandatory proclamation that High Street must actually be  called High Street.

Pictured is High Street in Newmarket (a town known for horse racing) in Suffolk.  It's a lovely High Street to shop on, with plenty of shops and restaurants. Even though the area is very commercial, it never loses its appeal as a town center or feels oppressively busy.

Do you have a favorite High Street? Have you shopped on one?

See you tomorrow for I! It's one close to my heart...

xoxo Sarah

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

G is for Great Britain

I thought I'd take this opportunity to help teach something that I didn't know when I moved to the UK (and, I suspect, might need some teaching).

Thank you, Internet.
Great Britain isn't the same as the UK, or England.

I can hear the collective "Huh?" already.

So, what is Great Britain, exactly?

Great Britain is the name of the large island that consists of the countries--yes, countries--of England, Wales, and Scotland.

Let me stress that England, Scotland, and Wales are different countries.  I know.  I was surprised, too.

The United Kingdom consists of the countries of Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland), plus the country of Northern Ireland (which shares the island of Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, which is not part of the UK, but is a part of Europe...they use the Euro for currency).

So when you refer to the "British", you're generally referring to someone from Great Britain. So someone who is English is British, but someone who is British might not be English--they might be Welsh or Scottish.  Make sense?

And there you have it.

You're welcome.

Come by tomorrow for H!

xoxo Sarah

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

F is for Festivals

The UK is known for its festivals, and two we were fortunate enough to enjoy multiple times were the Cambridge Beer Festival and the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival.

The Cambridge Beer Festival is held in May each year on Jesus Green.  You pay your admission and get a commemorative pint glass (each one is dated, so people often collect them from each year), and then have access to a variety of beers and fermented alcohol, including ciders (there is no such thing as "regular" cider in the UK--it's all alcoholic) and mead. You can buy samples of the drinks in varying amounts--I believe anywhere from a quarter of a pint to a full pint--to enjoy.  I'd recommend going with the smaller amounts, then you can try more of them before you get too full (or tipsy).  There are usually plenty of food vendors to try, so you won't be hungry or thirsty.  The festival also goes on rain or shine, so bring your Wellies and rain jackets.  

The Cambridge Shakespeare Festival runs from mid-July to the end of August each summer, and offers up to eight plays for your viewing pleasure. The plays are stripped-down versions in the sense that they're not performed on a stage--they're performed in the lovely college gardens all around Cambridge.  You can bring your own seat or get there early to claim one, and have a picnic while you wait for the play to start.  Nibbles and wine are encouraged.  My husband and I have been lucky enough to see The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Taming of the Shrew.  I'm a firm believer that, in order to get the most out of Shakespeare, you need to see it performed, not just read it, and what better place to get that experience then like this.

G is up's gonna be great!

xoxo Sarah

Monday, April 6, 2015

E is for English Breakfast

This one is a two-fer, and both things I instantly loved when we moved to the UK.

Twinings English Breakfast packaging as it appears in the U.S.

Firstly, there's English Breakfast tea--a full-bodied and robust blend of black teas from Assam, Ceylon, and Kenya (other countries' teas are used as well, though these are the most common). It's also one of God's gifts to humanity (or something like that). All I know is that it makes one hell of a cuppa.  I prefer mine white with sugar, as the English say (that's with milk and sugar, for the rest of you), and my particular favorite is Twinings, though there are many good ones out there.
UK packaging for Twinings English Breakfast

Tea is accepted as a fine drink to have most of the day, and is what is often offered, so you'd better get used to it.  We learned quickly that a common courtesy was to offer anyone working on things in your house (an electrician, for example) a cuppa as you would usually a cup of coffee or a water in America.  

And I'll admit that I make a pretty good cuppa; I grew up in New England, and we enjoy our tea almost--almost--as much as Old England does. I like to think that I surprised a few English folks with my tea-brewing bad-assery.

A proper cup (with a tea bag) is brewed as follows: 

-Warm your cup with hot water so your tea doesn't cool quickly.
-Heat water in a kettle, then pour over the tea bag.
-Let the tea bag steep for 2-4 minutes, then wring out the tea bag--never leave the tea bag in the cup; the tea will become bitter. We are not animals, for God's sake.
-Add milk (preferably whole milk; something about the fat in it makes the cup of tea so much better) and sugar as desired.

The other English breakfast I adore is the actual meal kind.  Also referred to as a "full English" or a "fry-up", it is generally a heavy breakfast reserved for weekends or special occasions, and on pretty much every B&B menu in the UK, and rightly so.  While various parts of the UK have their own spins on the full English, they generally consist of the following:

-Eggs (sunny-side up, poached, or fried)
Full English breakfast (from Wikipedia)
-Bacon (back bacon, which is, upon first eating it, odd--it seems a combination between what the Brits call "streaky bacon" ("normal" bacon to Americans) and the more ham-like Canadian bacon)
-Beans (often Heinz beans, which aren't like baked beans in America; they're in a light tomato sauce and oddly awful on their own but amazing when put on buttered toast...I've seen them in the states in the international isle of the grocery store)
-Toast or fried bread (because you need the toast to go with the beans, of course)
-Fried or grilled tomato
-Fried or grilled mushroom
-Fried potato or hash brown
-Black pudding (sometimes)
-Tea and sometimes juice

Is it good for you? No, absolutely not; it's delightfully greasy and filling, and you probably won't want to move for a while after eating one. But it's a delicious experience, and I'd recommend you try one when you're in the UK. 

Now I know you're wondering...have I had the black pudding?  Yes.  I've had it once, and I liked it, though I've heard that, like most foods, it depends on where you get it and the recipe.  And for a good, proper full English that's available all day, I'd recommend La Hogue Farm Shop in Chippenham, Cambridgeshire, so stop by if you're in the area. 

Have you had a full English? Thoughts? How about your favorite brand of English Breakfast tea?

If you're not too full, come by tomorrow for F. It'll be a big party!

xoxo Sarah

Saturday, April 4, 2015

D is for Driving

One might think that, after driving for 14+ years, you'd have it all down.  But nope. Nope nope nope.  Absolutely not.

Driving on the left-hand side of the road was one of the most stressful parts of moving to the UK.  All of a sudden, after having driven for so long, you have to pay attention to everything, just like a beginner driver.  It was exhausting.  You crawl along for the first few weeks, freaking out at the small farm roads hardly wide enough for two vehicles to fit side-by-side (and sometimes not even that) with the national speed limit (60 freaking miles per hour!) and breathing a sigh of relief when you get on the motorways or the larger A roads where you don't feel like you're taking your life into your hands.  As much.  But you can't not go out; the more you drive, the better you get at it.
How to roundabout. Thanks, Internet!

Roundabouts, though...awesome. Really! They're efficient at managing traffic, and, once you have the hang of them, easy to maneuver around if you bother to follow the rules and signage.

For me, it took a solid six months before I was comfortable driving on the left-hand side, though there were definitely days were my brain wanted to question everything I did.

I'd compare being comfortable on the left-hand side to when you put a shirt on backwards--it's wearable, but it doesn't feel quite right.  Driving on the continent was soothing, felt so natural after being on the left.

Driving a British car--though there was more thinking involved and a lot of times when I'd whack my hand on the door when I went to go shift--was much easier than I'd thought it would be.

I weirdly miss driving on the other side now, and occasionally I'll catch myself thinking I need to turn on the other side of a car, or into the other entrance to a road.  But it's all good so far!

Drive on over (haha) tomorrow to see what I have in store for E. Here's a's a twofer, but one of my Es sounds like another letter...

xoxo Sarah

Friday, April 3, 2015

C is for Cambridge

Oh my goodness. Nothing made me feel luckier to live in the UK than being so close to such a lovely and historic city.  Well, maybe not nothing...there are a whole lot of wonderful things...but being able to explore Cambridge whenever we wanted is right up there.

Cambridge was one of places relatively close to where we lived that had a bigger-city feel to it and offered shopping, restaurants, and tons of other fun things to do.

Getting into Cambridge was easy for the most part.  There is a streamlined park-and-ride system that we often took advantage of, as well as a few multi-story car parks (aka parking garages).  The whole city is very walkable and if you have a bike, even better, though as a driver, I always wondered when I'd accidentally run a cyclist over.  Thankfully, no one ever got squished, at least by me.

Restaurants ranged from great pub fare to different international cuisines (including excellent Italian, Thai, Indian, and Turkish restaurants!) and chain restaurants.  No matter what you were in the mood for, Cambridge could satisfy that craving.  There were so many that I could happily have spent each day trying a different place.

Want to see a movie? There were two cinemas in town.

Want to do some shopping? There were stores in two malls, the lovely Cambridge Market which runs seven days a week, and the shops that line the winding, curvy roads around the colleges.

Want to see a show? The Cambridge Corn Exchange (yes, it's a weird name) had plenty of shows to choose from. We saw a Russian ballet production of the Nutcracker there one January.

Want to hang out in a park, have a picnic, and sit on a blanket and read for hours on end? You'll have your pick of parks, as long as you don't mind sharing them with locals who lose their shirts at the first sign of spring.

Want to get a good education?  One of the most famous universities in the world is there. You just have to choose which college within it to go to--if you get in.

Want to spend the day at a museum? The Fitzwilliam Museum has a great collection of items from tons of civilizations and eras, and is FREE.

Want to get to another part of the country? Cambridge has a major train station that'll easily get you to another city or another part of the UK. Our favorite was the express train into London.

Want to enjoy the day out on the River Cambs and get a history lesson besides?  Go punting!  But seriously, go with a's comical--and often wet--when people try to pole the boats themselves.

I even took a photography class that involved walking through the city and taking different shots throughout the day, and the city is very photogenic.

So I'll stop boring you with my writing and stick some more pictures I've taken of Cambridge.  Enjoy!  I'm going to go cry and drool in equal parts over Buzzfeed's Cambridge articles.

34 Reasons You Should Never Go To Cambridge

58 Reasons Living In Cambridge Ruins You For Life

26 Delicious Things You Have To Eat In Cambridge

*note* All pictures in this post are mine.

Stop by tomorrow for D...something that took a lot of getting used to when we moved to the UK.

 xoxo Sarah