Monday, February 25, 2008

Laying low in Oundle

This weekend was very relaxing. Saturday was auction day, and it was a disappointing lot because they had just done an auction 2 weeks ago. But we still ended up with a barometer, which Nate has been wanting for months, and a "flagon"--apparently what they call a giant ceramic moonshine jug. It still smells like liquor! After the auction we went shopping and to lunch in Oundle with friends. Our favorite shop is "Wood N' Things", which sells some pretty amazing stuff. You can find anything from handmade leather photo albums from a small town called Cabrio in Italy, lamps made from 600-year old wood taken from a chateau in France, and art deco telephones from the 1940s. Plus, you can chat with the owner Geoff (a very candid man) about places to visit in Europe or general philosophies on life. The day ended with a leisurely walk to Ashton, a small town with all thatched roofs, and ordering pizza at our friends' house. Pizza ordering is a let-down here. There is practically no sauce, it is always lukewarm to cold, and never comes cut into slices. Care to guess why? Apparently it has to do with the Brits' obsession with cutting their food. Therefore, no picking up slices of pizza and eating them. And they call this behavior "sophistication." Could have fooled me!
Besides walking to the local grocery yesterday, we basically couch-potatoed the day away with a "Two and a half Men" marathon. I had never watched it but became a fan after 8 shows in a row. I am in the middle of Bill Bryson's "Notes from a Small Island," about his last-hurrah trip around the UK before returning to the states. If you have ever set foot in England, this book is a must-read.
People have been asking me how I am treated now that I'm 7 mon. pregnant. British people in our area ignore it, which may have something to do with the fact that every other woman in my town is pregnant or has a new baby. Most recent run-in with an American on base: I went to the gym in my maternity hoodie/sweatpants, and the man checking IDs announced my presence with a "Ho ho ho!" Must remember to burn this sweatsuit....

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Holiday Weekend

We went on a few day trips during the 4-day weekend (Nate had both Friday and Monday off) instead of one longer trip to Stonehenge because we're trying to save money. On Saturday we traveled to Stratford-upon-Avon, where we took a tour put on by a local actor of Shakespeare's life. Because of the freezing cold weather at 10:30am (and apparently some troubles with advertising), we were the only 2 on the tour! It was nice to have our own private guide. Stratford was very chic and full of people out enjoying the sun, despite the very cold temperature. After the 2-hour stroll around town, we stopped for a long pub lunch to relax and warm up my feet. Next we drove to Warwick, which was close by and has one of the best castles in the country. However, because someone purchased it to make it profitable and tourist-friendly, it had an incredibly steep admission price of nearly $40/person. So instead we wandered the grounds to appreciate the enormous cedar trees and found a peacock along the way.
It was still cold on Sunday, and I haven't been sleeping very well lately, so we decided to take it easy. We took a stroll at a nearby park (along with half the town it seemed), and then we saw "There Will Be Blood" in the afternoon. Yesterday we were back on the road, this time to an eastern town called Norwich ("Norrich"). We were under the impression all of east England would be like our area, very flat and full of sheep farms. We were pleasantly surprised to find entire forests of trees (!), and Norwich itself was quite hilly. University of East Anglia is here, so the college supplies the city with a hip feel, which is then compounded with the town's appreciation of a healthy lifestyle. It is full of vegetarian restaurants, so of course we stopped in one for lunch. What a treat! I had a field day at the health food store next door, though reminded myself constantly of the horrible exchange rate. We decided next to Cambridge and London, Norwich is where we would choose to live. It was charming and had more of a continental Europe feel--old buildings but new everything else (unlike the rest of England, which appears to be stuck in the 1940's).
We're still having foggy and frosty weather today, so I'm huddled indoors. The pregnancy is chugging along well. I have no complaints other than not sleeping well, which I've heard is preparation for the nighttime feedings to come. This weekend we are celebrating Nate's birthday by having some friends over for dinner.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

London Calling

We had a blast in London on Saturday! We wandered around all day taking in tourist sights, spotting celebrities (get to that in a sec), and then went to a party in the evening before crashing on a long train ride home. We started the day with St. Paul's Cathedral, which was fantastic, even with the zillion stairs to get to the top of the dome. What a view! Next we hopped on the tube to Kensington to have lunch and poke our heads over fences to see the private gardens. As we were pondering whether to have lunch at a Moroccan restaurant on a random side street, a cab pulled up, and out pops Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas (both tiny people by the way), and while we stand there starstruck they take the last outside table. Our first celebrity sighting! After lunch we strolled through Hyde Park and decided to relax for about an hour and people-watch in St. James Park. Next we passed by Buckingham Palace and stopped at Big Ben and Westminster Abbey to find thousands of drunk New Zealanders who were celebrating something called "Waitangi Day"--any excuse to drink and party! Our last tourist visit was to Trafalgar Square, and then we tubed back up to King's Cross for the party. I would definitely rate London in my top 5 cities I've visited so far (with New York, DC, Chicago, and Stockholm being the other 4).
This week it's back to the same old routine, but we've got a long weekend coming up (President's Day), so we're headed to Cornwall and Stonehenge (or the Lakes District, depending on the weather). We put off the Ireland trip because my visa got messed up, so I don't want to risk deportation, especially at this stage of my pregnancy. Big news in our town! I got the neighborhood paper today, the Nene Valley News, with this headline: "Noise nuisance carries hefty fine." Apparently the hot fuzz confiscated a bunch of TVs and stereos due to neighbors' complaints of loud noises. Music lovers beware!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Traveling England

The weekend of the 26th was pretty lazy, with our major visit being to Cambridge. At 40 minutes away, it's only slightly closer to us than London, but it is much easier to access. We visited King's College Chapel (pictured) and strolled around town. Like London, Cambridge has much more restaurant variety than our little town, so we enjoyed some Greek falafel and a movie in the afternoon.
This past weekend started with our favorite auction to date, in a town called Willingham. We were overwhelmed by selection and decided it was now or never on purchasing a true English antique. We ended up with 2 Victorian pieces (period from 1837-1901), a small table and a huge trunk for a total of $200, which felt like a steal even at twice the price. We ran into a problem on our way out in attempting to fit the trunk in the world's smallest car trunk (or "boot" as they call them here), which I have discovered to be my least favorite part about our BMW. We may as well have purchased a Miata for all its utility. Luckily the saab gets here this week, so we'll have no problem lugging it home. That car could fit a tuba, a suitcase, and a dead dog at the same time (see "Wonder Boys" if confused).
After the auction we continued east to a town called Ely. The name dates back to when it was "the Isle of Ely." Before eastern England was drained and levied, Ely was an island! And apparently swarming with eels, hence the name. It is a spectacular sight to drive through the fens (what they refer to as the flat, formerly marshlands of eastern England where we live...could be Kansas if it weren't so green year round) and come across the huge cathedral at the top of a tall hill (nothing here could ever be confused for a mountain). Ely's cathedral is the largest in England, and it may be the largest I've ever seen. It must be over 200 ft from floor to ceiling. Fantastic! We took a short walk around town, made shorter by huge gusts of freezing cold wind. My favorite stop by far was to a chocolate shop that reminded me much of Chocolat. After sampling incredibly delicious truffles and 2 very intriguing ganaches (rose and jasmine tea), we took in another movie in the afternoon and spent Sunday relaxing.
Our big news is that we are likely moving home this summer! I'm excited to be giving birth here because I love the midwives and their practices, but I wouldn't be surprised if we were back home in July. Stay tuned!


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