Brodsworth Hall and Gardens

We’ve had some fabulous weather lately, and there is nothing like sun and blue skies to get us to venture to new places. A few weeks back on a particularly beautiful day, we decided to take advantage of our English Heritage membership and visit Brodsworth Hall and Gardens in Doncaster.

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I am by no means a gardener – that’s become a hobby of Richard’s – but I can definitely appreciate a beautiful garden when I see one and Brodsworth Hall boasts a number of unique gardens. Each of the gardens has its own style and is home to a variety of flowers without much repetition in flower types amongst the gardens.

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The hall is set on 15 acres, and it is an easy walk around the grounds. There is also a nice playground on the grounds, which our girl was keen to find. Some of the play equipment was a bit too big for her, but she always manages to have fun and that day was no different.

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After some play time, we walked up to the house for some lunch. With the weather as it was, we enjoyed our food al fresco in the outdoor dining area just off the tearoom. There was a range of hot and cold food on offer, and we all found our sandwiches to be delicious.

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We decided to walk around the grounds a bit more and allow our girl to stretch her legs. She also had a fun time playing hide-and-seek with us amongst the trees and bushes. The West Lawns are a great place for kids to run. On that day, they had an area set up for croquet complete with mallets and balls.

It was great to visit a new place and to see so many families spending the day together in the sunshine!

Our Quick Visit to Lake Windermere

This summer, we attended a wedding that I was told was in the Lake District. Yet, when I mentioned to a friend that we were going to this wedding in “The Lakes,” she asked where in the Lakes, and I replied with, “Carlisle.” It was then, after months of thinking I was finally going to visit this beautiful part of the country, that I realized I had been had. Carlisle is not in the Lakes. (I should mention though that the wedding, although not in the Lakes, was stunning and romantic. We stayed in a log cabin along the River Lyne with some of our best friends and had an incredible weekend!)

Lucky for me though, we decided to do an overnight visit to the Lake District over the Christmas break. We booked into the Macdonald Old England Hotel & Spa on Lake Windermere for the night of our anniversary.

In the month or so leading up to our stay, there was a lot of flooding in the Lake District. It was devastating for the area. I half wondered if the flooding was going to reoccur because of the incredible amount of rain we had around Christmas and Boxing Day, but the weather report for the 29th of December was clear so we headed north on the day.

Funnily enough, my former boss and mentor from college was returning from the Lakes as we were heading there, so we met her, her husband, and two of their friends at Low Sizergh Barn, a farm shop and tea room not far from Lake Windermere. It was so great to see them again and to have them finally meet Richard! (The girl and I took the train to Liverpool in July 2014 during one of their visits to see family, so they loved seeing how much our girl had grown since then.) It always makes me happy when my life in the US collides with my life in the UK, and this meet up was wonderful. It didn’t hurt that we had a lovely lunch to go with the conversation. I only wish we had more time with them – next time!

We parted with lots of hugs and ‘see you soons’ and continued on our way for another 20 minutes until we reached the town of Bowness-on-Windermere. As we drove in, we could not get over just how many tourists there were in the town. The temperature was mild yet getting colder and there was no sun to be seen, but the town was certainly bustling.

After we checked into the hotel, we put our girl in the backpack and ventured out for a walk. We walked along the lake for a bit and then turned back to head into the town for a little nosey in the shops. I love towns and villages like Bowness with their narrow streets and range of shops. There were a few Beatrix Potter-themed places (as she penned her stories in the area), independent shops, chain stores like Joules and Fat Face as well as a mix of restaurants and cafes. We enjoyed our wander, even treating ourselves with a few items from the after Christmas sales.

We had booked into the restaurant in the Old England for dinner that night. Being that we had our girl with us, we chose to book for as soon as they began serving the evening meal, which was 6:30 PM. We arrived and were the first guests there. Our arrival was followed shortly by an older couple who appeared to be regulars at the hotel and restaurant. Our table was great as we were against the windows and in the corner. (Too bad it was dark out or we would have had a spectacular view of the lake!)

The regular menu had some excellent options for us and the children’s menu had macaroni and cheese, which made our sweet girl happy. Our food was delicious. All three of us thoroughly enjoyed our food choices. However, the service was lacking. I was really disappointed to see a place with so much staff seem to forget that we even existed. Our starters came within a reasonable amount of time, but once those plates were cleared, there was no sign of more food coming our way. After I noticed that the older couple who came in after us was leaving after eating a two-course meal, I managed to get the attention of a server and ask if our mains were ready. A couple of apologies later and our mains were delivered to our table. Our girl was getting tired at this point, so we finished our food and chose to return to the room to order dessert from the room service menu.

The room we were in was very nice and spacious and looked out onto Lake Windermere. The bed was comfortable and the shower had excellent water pressure. (A huge plus in my book.)

After a good night of sleep, we woke up to driving wind and rain. Over a delicious breakfast in the hotel, we discussed our plans for the day. A walk was just not on the cards because of the weather, so we decided that we would check out and head north to drive the full loop of the lake making stops as and when we pleased. We soon set off to be encountered by puddles the size of ponds across the road in a couple of places. We had visions of more flooding as this rain was not letting up and chose to make the drive home instead. Our trip was cut short, but it was still nice for the three of us to get away and see a different part of the country.

As we drove away, I found myself thinking about the chapter in Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island. Not only did I have a good chuckle thinking about him walking into the residents’ lounge of the Old England Hotel to find it “casually strewn with ageing colonels and their wives,” but also about the conversation that followed when one of the said wives took it upon herself to discuss all of the shortcomings of America only once she realized that he hailed from the U.S.

There was one especially poignant part that struck me, even after such a quick visit to the region. It was when Mr. Bryson discussed the relatively small budget that the Lake District National Park has to function on each year. He wrote, “That the Lakes are so generally wonderful, so scrupulously maintained, so seldom troubling to mind and spirit is a ringing testament to the people who work in them, the people who live in them and the people who use them.” 

And even after the area had experienced such extreme flooding, this statement hit me especially hard to witness this beautiful area thriving and recovering because of the people who love it so.

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(I only wish I had some photos to show that do it justice. However, the measly 4 pictures that I took are quite depressing. I’m not sure what I was doing with the camera that day, but it clearly wasn’t working!)

 

 

A Magnificent Day in Malham

This past weekend was Richard’s birthday, so we decided to have a family day out since the weather was to be nice. We brainstormed, and I did some Google searches when I stumbled upon a walk to a waterfall in Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. I mentioned it to Richard and he said, “I was going to suggest Malham!” He had been before on a school trip when he was 17 and I have never been, so we were both looking forward to a family hike and enjoying the sunshine.

We set off on Saturday morning and decided to keep an eye out for a place that sells sandwiches that we could take on our hike for a picnic. We were getting close to Malham when Richard spotted Town End Farm Shop, so we swung in and ordered some simple sandwiches to go. It was such a cute little place with a tea room that was packed to the brim with cyclists stopping for a quick refuel. The three of us shared some delicious homemade granola bars whilst we waited. As you can tell from the photo below, our girl particularly enjoyed the one with walnuts with chocolate.

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Arriving in Malham we came across a line of cars already parked on the roadside, so we pulled in behind them. There is a sign stating that parking in the village is free however they ask for a £1 donation into the giant milk jug. We were happy to oblige for a prime parking spot. If there is no roadside parking available, there are a couple of car parks in the village although I’m unsure if they charge for parking.

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Whilst at the farm shop, Richard picked up a brochure with a few walks around Malham. We found one that went to Malham Cove as well as Janet’s Foss, the waterfall that I had seen online. It was roughly 4.5 miles long, which was perfect for us. We set off toward Malham Cove and it’s quite an impressive limestone wall as you approach it. The cove along with the cows in the vibrant green field and the beautiful stream make it truly an idyllic site.

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The walk then took us up the hillside to the top of the cove into a field of limestone flags. From there, we could see for miles – some of the best views in Yorkshire for sure! The directions on the map were a bit mysterious, so we ended up needing to backtrack a bit and managed to get back on course. It was all fine though as we were so enjoying the weather and being together. Our sweet girl is a connoisseur of animal noises at the moment, so the theme tune to our walk was compromised of her humming, moo-ing, and baa-ing. It kept us laughing and smiling the entire way!

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Once we got to the bottom near Gordale Scar, we grabbed a seat in the grass and enjoyed our sandwiches. They were the simplest sandwiches, but they tasted so good after all of that walking. Our girl finished her lunch and decided she would set off on her own adventure. We sat and watched her wander around as other walkers gave us little smiles when they spotted her enjoying her walk. I love that she brings joy to nearly everyone who sees her.

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Once we rounded her up, we decided not to go further into Gordale Scar and instead turned around to grab ice creams from the refreshment van parked along the roadside. It was the perfect treat to continue the birthday celebrations of our favorite guy.

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We then set off again in search of the waterfall, Janet’s Foss. I thought we still had a bit further to walk, but it was more or less across the road and through the trees! It was beautiful and there was quite a crowd gathered around the waterfall soaking up the day in the shade of the trees. We enjoyed the rest of the walk through the beautifully lush forest before it ended on a trail through some fields leading us back into the village.

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I’d love to go back and check out the village as well because it looks adorably quaint. We really enjoyed our family day celebrating Richard’s birthday walking around Malham. I’d definitely recommend a visit to the area as it truly is stunning!

Enjoying St Brelade’s Bay

After the not great weather we had on Saturday, we were hoping for a day of sun to explore a different part of Jersey. Thankfully, the sun came out and the sky was blue as could be! The temperature was around 50 degrees Fahrenheit making it a great day to check out St Brelade’s Bay.

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A friend of mine had recommended we eat at Jersey Crab Shack, so we booked a table for 12:30 on Sunday and took a taxi to St Brelade’s Bay about an hour before. As I mentioned in my first post about Jersey, the people were so incredibly friendly, so when we told our taxi driver where we were heading, he came up with a plan for us to enjoy walking on the beach and end up at the Crab Shack just in time for our reservation.

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The tide was out when we arrived leaving us loads of beach to explore. We strolled nearly the entire way to the far end away from the hotels and restaurants of St Brelade’s Bay before turning back. It was truly beautiful with the sun shining down. St Brelade’s Bay is a bit of an oasis as it is much quieter and tucked away from the city and the main road around the island. It would be a great place for families to stay when visiting Jersey.

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Our lunch at Jersey Crab Shack was absolutely delicious. We’re so glad we booked a table too because we saw group after group of people come in only to be turned away because the restaurant was completely booked. (Yes, even in the winter!) If you ever plan to visit Jersey Crab Shack, definitely make sure you reserve a table ahead of time – it’s so easy to do online through their website.

We had a table right at the window and drooled over the menu for a few minutes before deciding on the crab bruschetta to share as a starter. For our main courses, Richard ordered the crab tacos and I ordered the seafood platter (I think that is what it was called). When our meals came, we couldn’t believe how generous the portions were and how great the food looked. Richard’s tacos were brimming with crab meat and my whole platter was just mouth-watering. They tasted as good as they looked, too!

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After finishing our meal, we got a taxi to take us to St Aubin. We were dropped off on one end of the bay, which allowed us to continue enjoying the nice weather by walking along the bay back to St Helier and to our hotel. It was the perfect end to a wonderful Valentine’s weekend.

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I would most definitely recommend Jersey to anyone considering a visit there. We loved everything about the island and are looking forward to returning in the future with our girl.

 

Bohemia Brilliantly Delivers

Our weekend in Jersey was well underway, and after a full day of exploring St Helier, we returned to the hotel in order to take advantage of The Club Hotel’s spa facilities. As a guest of the hotel, you are able to use the indoor salt water pool as well as the salt cabin, the experience shower, and the sauna. We really enjoyed the relaxation and the quiet of the spa, particularly the pool and the salt cabin. We didn’t book any treatments, but I had a look at the spa menu and it looked wonderful.

That evening, we had extra special plans to have a meal at Bohemia, which is the Michelin-starred restaurant in the hotel. For Valentine’s Day, they were offering an eight-course menu and we were both really looking forward to it. We arrived at the restaurant and had a seat at one of the tables in the bar. Richard ordered us drinks – a gin and tonic for him and the special Valentine’s champagne cocktail for me. We let them know we were eating in the restaurant and were brought the delicious canapés shown below. We savored these in the bar whilst we browsed the menu for the evening and soon it was time to be seated at our table in the restaurant.

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As I mentioned in my previous post, we definitely went all out during the entire weekend and decided to do the wine pairing with the meal. We were so glad we did this. Each time a course had a wine paired with it, the sommelier came to the table to explain why he chose that wine to accompany the course. I’ve been fascinated with how wine can (or can’t) complement food since I lived in the heart of the wine-producing region in eastern Washington state, so it was fun to have a little lesson during the meal. Being that we both really like Tempranillo, we were excited to try the Tempranillo Blanco. It was definitely our favorite, and it was neat to try something which is the first of its kind.

So, that was the wine, but how was the food? I’m not sure how to accurately describe this meal, aside from saying that it truly was out of this world. I’ve never had a meal where I have sat between bites and thought about the flavors and how the ingredients went with one another. Over the course of the meal, we spent time discussing what we were tasting. It was honestly incredible with everything cooked to absolute perfection, especially the scallop and the venison.

Because the menu listed the ingredients, we found ourselves wondering how the next course would be served and what it would look like. We were never disappointed as the presentation of each course was an absolute work of art. (I knew from the outset that I wouldn’t be taking photos during the meal because I wanted to focus on being with my husband. Once we were seated, I was so glad I made that decision as it would have felt completely inappropriate.)

Quite possibly the biggest surprise of the evening was the dessert described on the menu as a Valentine’s Kiss. If I remember correctly, it was passionfruit, blood orange, and chocolate served in the shape of very realistic albeit large lips! I loved hearing the chuckles and seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces as their desserts were presented. It added an aspect of humor to the meal and I loved that, plus it was absolutely delicious.

A lot of my fondest memories involve eating at great restaurants with some of my favorite people. This meal at Bohemia has been added to those memories of mine and is most definitely one I will never forget. Yes, the food and the wine were the highlights, but the service was impeccable as well. Because of all of that, I can say that it is the best meal I have ever had. Honestly.

Bohemia is a must-visit if you are in Jersey and want to experience world-class dining at its finest.

This quote was used in one of the publications in the hotel, and I think it is a brilliant description of our experience at Bohemia:

“I dreamed about the food when I went to bed. It was a fairy-tale dinner, and Steve Smith is a magician.”

-The London Metro

 

A Valentine’s Weekend in Jersey

Months ago, I had seen an advert on TV for Jersey. I wondered where this stunning place was, as surely an island with crystal clear beaches was not located that close to England. A quick Google search proved how wrong I was. I made it known to Richard that I was really intrigued by Jersey and would love to visit at some point. I assumed that trip was a while away as we have a lot on in the upcoming year, but he’s sneaky, and at Christmas, he surprised me with a trip to Jersey to take place over Valentine’s Day weekend…for just the two of us!

For those of you who don’t know, Jersey is one of the Channel Islands and is located to the south of England just north of France. The island is 5 miles wide by 9 miles long and full of some of the nicest people you will ever meet. I’m not joking about the nice people, and that is saying a lot from two people who live in Yorkshire. Everyone was always up for a little chat or available to offer recommendations. We were truly blown away by their kindness and overall relaxed mentality.

We flew from Gatwick for a number of reasons I won’t bore you with, but you can just as easily fly from Leeds Bradford or Manchester. From Gatwick, the flight was about 35 minutes, so I’m guessing it would be about an hour-long flight from Leeds or Manchester. Super easy and super short. Ideal.

We arrived on Friday night to misting rain and darkness, so we could just make out that we were driving along the sea during our quick taxi ride from the airport to our hotel, The Club Hotel and Spa, in St Helier. When we arrived at the hotel, we were greeted warmly by the staff at reception. Richard had contacted them a week earlier for a restaurant recommendation for Friday night as we were eating in the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant on Saturday, so once they knew who we were, we were asked if we wanted them to book us a taxi to the restaurant that evening. The service was flawless from the get-go. I’d highly recommend The Club if you are looking for an adult getaway.

The rooms are spacious and extremely comfortable and fully stocked with everything you could need. When we got to the room, we were greeted with bottles of chilled water by each bed side and freshly baked shortbread. The kettle was there if we needed it and real milk for tea or coffee was only a phone call to reception away.

As I mentioned earlier, the hotel recommended a restaurant, Ormer, for us the first night and it certainly did not disappoint. I should say that we definitely splurged on this trip and went all out on food and drink. We decided from the start that we were going to spoil ourselves and that we did! Ormer was incredible. We both had fish for our mains. Richard loves dover sole, which is traditionally served on the bone, but Ormer served it off the bone in the style of a deconstructed fish pie. He was a happy man. I have such a sweet tooth and I always go for a sweet pudding at the end of a meal, but that night I ordered the cheese board and it was a nice change. I really enjoyed the selection of cheeses that I was given, plus I had a little flashback to my study abroad days in Argentina as they served a bit of dulce de membrillo or quince paste with the cheese board. Exciting!

We were super rock star that night and promptly returned to the hotel after dinner and collapsed into bed. I believe we slept for roughly 10 hours! It was such a wonderful feeling to wake up refreshed on Saturday morning.

That day we decided to wander around St Helier and check out the shops. It was a good idea as the weather wasn’t spectacular, so going in and out of the stores was the best thing for a rainy day. (Plus, it gave Richard a chance to truly enjoy carrying the ultra lovely umbrella the hotel provided us in our room. This is serious. He became a full-fledged umbrella aficionado in one day.)

We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Relish, which is this funky little deli that serves these fabulous platters. (It is also a cool shop boasting an incredible assortment of meats, cheeses, antipasti items, and wine. Honestly, we would be broke if we lived nearby as it is was such a great little place full of culinary treasures.) I had the antipasti platter and Richard chose the reuben style one – they were both delicious! The balsamic marinated onions blew both of our minds!

IMG_6597After lunch, the rain had let up a bit and we decided to stroll along St Aubin’s Bay. About 15 minutes into our walk, the light sprinkle became a full on wind and rain storm in which we were both trying to cram under the umbrella. We sought some relief from the weather in one of the little shelters along the promenade until it calmed enough for us to head back to St Helier. It did clear up once more, so we enjoyed wandering around the harbour in St Helier and gawking at the incredible boats docked there. Our walk back to hotel included a stop for a glass of wine at a bar/restaurant where we were served by quite possibly the only unfriendly person in all of Jersey.

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Once back at the hotel, we took some time to relax as we had big plans for our Valentine’s Day meal that evening! I’ll share about the rest of our weekend in my next post. Hope you’ll come back to read about the rest of our time in Jersey!

Back to Sherwood Forest

A few weekends ago, we went to CenterParcs in Nottingham with Richard’s side of the family. It was the third time in as many years that he and I have visited the lovely holiday resort. This time though, we stayed in one of the Exclusive Games Lodges, and it was amazing! It was the perfect size as there were 6 adults and 2 little ones in our group. It had four bedrooms all with en-suite bathrooms, a full kitchen, dining area, and a lounge with fireplace. The best parts though were the games room with pool table and giant beanbag chairs, the massive outdoor hot tub, the sauna, and the steam room. It was nice to have so much space and not have to tip toe around since the little babes were with us and went to bed early.

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(I was so busy enjoying time with my family that I didn’t take many photos. However, I blogged about CenterParcs Sherwood Forest one other time and there are some photos there.) 

As I mentioned in my first post about CenterParcs from 2012, you are only permitted to drive through the resort during check-in and check-out times, which makes it a great place for families. Kids can ride bikes and scooters on the road or you can push a pram without constantly dodging cars. We enjoyed a lot of walking during the weekend bundled up against the cold.

On the day we arrived, we went for a swim in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. The swimming area is really great with the pool, rapids, water slides, kiddie pools, and hot tubs. If you plan to spend the day swimming, there is a cafe inside as well, so you don’t have to worry about leaving. It is a fabulous set up. We had a great time swimming with our girl. I take her swimming once a week, so I think she loved having her daddy there because she did not stop smiling and giggling the entire time. We spent most of our time in the big pool, but also checked out the kiddie pool. She kept trying to crawl in the water and had us cracking up because her legs would float not allowing her to get far at all.

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That evening, after she went to sleep, Richard and I snuck away for a meal at Rajinda Pradesh, which serves Indian food. We’d eaten here last year and enjoyed it, so decided to make a date of it this year. If you go to CenterParcs, I would definitely recommend this restaurant. (And maybe stay away from the Viognier on the wine list…it was quite possibly the strongest wine I have ever had and I was feeling tipsy after a half of a glass!)

On Saturday, the three of us went for brunch at The Pancake House on the lake. I had a nice stack of American pancakes with a side of crispy bacon. Just like home! That heavy meal was followed by me taking a yoga class. It was nice to have a little bit of me time and get a nice stretch in during our weekend away. The afternoon was spent relaxing in the hot tub and hanging out around the lodge. That evening, all eight of us went for a meal together at Cafe Rouge. When we got back to the lodge, we played poker and Richard came out on top winning us a little pot of money!

Sunday was also relaxed with a game of bowling and more swimming. We ended the evening with a walk to pick up some takeaway and enjoyed our pizza on the sofa watching television. It was the perfect finish to an enjoyable and relaxing weekend with family.

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I really recommend CenterParcs to anyone. We’ve been with and without kids and had fun during all of our trips. It’s a nice place to getaway without having to go far from home. Definitely consider it as an option if you are looking for a weekend away within the UK!

Conquering the Art of Driving in the UK

A long, long time ago, I wrote about taking driving lessons in preparation for my UK driver’s licence exam. (That is not a typo rather that is how licence is spelled here.) For my first couple of years living here, I walked, took the bus or train, hired taxis, and relied on friends and family to get me where I needed to go. I didn’t mind any of that, and, truthfully, I didn’t miss driving. However, with a baby on the way, passing my driving exam would present me with more independence here in England.

I had many months (from July 2013 to March 2014, to be precise) of driving lessons with a brief hiatus for the birth of our daughter. I studied hard for my theory exam using the recommended dvd and taking multiple practice exams. The exam has 50 multiple questions as well as a hazard perception test in which you have to click the computer mouse every time you see a potential hazard. It was not easy and nothing like the test I took in the US. It was much more intensive and I invested so much time into making sure I passed. Thankfully, I did pass with flying colors in October 2013 and continued on with my driving lessons. I booked my practical exam for two weeks after my due date because I was convinced she would be early…hahahahaha! She ended up being born two weeks late, so I rescheduled my exam for January 2014.

My instructor felt I was ready, and, more importantly, I felt ready too. We even looked at a few cars the weekend before my exam…maybe that jinxed me! You can probably gather that I failed. It was all going so well until I was about 5 minutes from returning to the test centre with the examiner. I got a little too much speed and things got messy. I didn’t crash or anything, just had a weird sort of stall thing happen that caused me to hold up traffic. It was not my finest moment. So, I failed. I’m a perfectionist and that fail was not easy to take.

Test number two was scheduled for some time in February. I failed that, too. Again, I was doing so well and was about 10 minutes from returning to the test centre. The examiner and I were chatting away about how I liked living in the UK. I came to a roundabout and my driver’s side tires (which are on the left side remember) went onto the white dotted line separating the two lanes in the roundabout. I knew at that moment that I failed again. I could have burst into tears, and I’m quite sure that I did later in the day. Talk about gutting! It is the worst to tell people that you’ve failed once, but to tell people you failed again is really not fun.

There was no way I was giving up though as we had invested a lot of money into my driving lessons and my (ahem…multiple) exams. I got home from that second failed exam and immediately booked on for my third attempt.

At this point I should explain that the driving practical exam is done in your driving instructor’s car with you and the examiner (who carries a dauntingly thick clipboard and makes notes randomly whilst you are driving, which leaves you constantly questioning how many marks you are receiving). The exam lasts approximately 35-45 minutes and includes driving on the roads as well as at least one parking maneuver.

This is compared to my US practical exam which lasted all of 10 minutes in which I drove around a neighborhood and parallel parked within four parking cones set up in the car park of the exam center. If I remember correctly, I ran a stop sign and still managed to pass on my first go. Honestly, there is no comparison. A good friend sent me this article and I can completely relate to the author’s experience. He puts it perfectly with, “A UK license is basically a PhD in driving.” I wish I could say this was an exaggeration. It is not. At all.

Test day number three rolls around and I awoke to absolute pouring rain. Great! The day was starting off differently from the other two already, so as much as I didn’t want to say that this time felt different, it really did. I sat anxiously with my instructor in the waiting room anticipating my name being called. I met the examiner and we headed out to the car. I had to defog the front windscreen and it took ages, so we sat in silence. It was awkward. And then, I realized I didn’t have the key turned the whole way, so only the electrics were working. I attempted to play it cool by slyly turning the ignition on, but obviously he knew. The windscreen cleared rapidly then and we were off.

I was more cautious driving than I was with the other two tests, but I felt calmer this time. I also felt confident that this was the last exam I would have to take, but I didn’t want to get too cocky. About 20 minutes into the exam, the examiner started to ask me questions about why I moved to the UK and if I like it. (Everyone wants to know!) I picked up on his Cockney accent, so I asked him similar questions about being a Londoner living in Yorkshire. The chatting made me feel even more relaxed and I just continued driving as if I was driving with someone I knew.

We pulled into the car park for the exam centre and the examiner usually waits for your instructor to come to the car before telling you if you have passed or failed. My instructor was walking towards us when the examiner told me I passed, so I literally yelled my instructor’s name and “I passed!” Way to keep your cool, Becky – ha! I was so excited!

As soon as I had a chance, I called Richard and could hear the hesitation in his voice as he waited to hear the result. Needless to say, he was thrilled, particularly because that meant the end of dishing out money for lessons and exams!

So, the UK driving exam was definitely a challenge. And, despite the fact that I now drive an automatic here (yep!), I am so glad I went through the process of obtaining the full licence in a manual.

A couple of months after I passed and after not driving a manual during that time, Richard left me in Edinburgh city centre to park his car as he was running late for the start of the Edinburgh Marathon. I spent the first 5 minutes trying to figure out why the car was making a weird noise every time I tried to drive. Yea, the parking brake was on. Oh well, at least I could still drive the manual. I knew it would come in handy at some point!

The Santa Special Steam Train

Yes, Christmas is long behind us, but I can’t not blog about the fun we had on the Worth Valley Railway’s Santa Special steam train. In the autumn, we had talked about looking into a Santa train ride, but it slipped my mind a few times. Then, my parents booked their flights to be here for two weeks in December, and we thought about how fun it would be to do this train ride with all four of the grandparents. I booked in October and they were only able to get all 7 of us on the 3:55 train out of Oxenhope. (If you are interested in this for Christmas 2015, I would definitely try to book in September when the tickets first become available. That’s our plan this year!)

At first, when I saw the nearly £17 (roughly $25) ticket cost for adults, I thought we should maybe give it a miss. But, that is because I thought the 10-mile journey with stops in Keighley and Haworth would be on a train similar to the commuter trains with the TransPennine Express. Oh, how wrong I was! This gave Richard a good laugh and he set me straight by explaining that this was actually a proper old-fashioned steam train, I became extremely excited. Honestly, I could not wait for the 13th of December!

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We arrived at Oxenhope station and it felt so Christmas-y — from the old-fashioned gas-lit lamps lining the platform to the ‘Winter Wonderland’ they had set up in the railway museum. Of course the moment we had to step outside to wait for the train, the rain started, so we kept the little lady covered as best we could and the rest of us anxiously awaited the train’s arrival with the hope of warmth once aboard.

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It was so neat to see the proper steam engine pull into the station (because of the rain I didn’t catch a clear photo of the engine), and it felt as if we had been transported back in time. We boarded our carriage and found our seats then were greeted by the jolliest woman who made sure we were comfortable and ready for a good time. I loved that the carriages had the original seats, upholstery, and luggage racks. Those details along with the Christmas decor really added to the festive nature of the train ride.

Soon, we were on our way and prepped for what was to come – a visit from Rudolph, Scrooge, and Santa and his elves. Well aware that we had a one-year old with us, the hostess on our carriage was kind enough to let us know there would be loud singing once Scrooge arrived as we needed to scare him off with our Christmas cheer in the form of Christmas carols. We would quite certain it wouldn’t bother our girl, but it was nice of her to forewarn us just in case. As we suspected, she was completely fine with the additional noise plus she loves music, so I think she enjoyed watching us sing along.

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I can’t remember at exactly what point they came through the carriages with mince pies and sherry for the adults, but that was a big hit with our parents…particularly our mothers who seemed to let that sherry go right to their heads! Hilarious. Our little lady surprisingly loved the mince pie. They do have a very specific (and almost spicy) taste to them, but she finished one on her own!

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Soon enough, Santa came through the carriage with an entourage of elves. It was a pretty impressive operation to ensure that each child received a gift appropriate to their age. Our girl got a great gift set that came with a book about an eskimo and a stuffed penguin like the one in the book. She LOVED the penguin!

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We were so happy with the entire train journey and our sweet girl seemed to enjoy it, especially the food part of it! We’re definitely planning to make this an annual tradition and look forward to making more memories on the Santa Special steam train in years to come!

To Londontown We Went

Last year, during the last weekend in October, Richard and I went to London for our last getaway before our baby was due. This year, unknowingly, we booked the same weekend for the three of us to travel down south for a couple of days in our favorite city. In 2013, we had no idea what we were in for with a baby on the way, but I do know we hoped she would be an easy traveler and that she would just go with the flow. So far, she has proved to be an awesome addition to our travels – both near and far!

We had no real plans for our time in London aside from taking her to Hamley’s and Harrods to check out the toys. She is extremely curious about everything around her, so we were both excited to see how she would react to these two places full of sensory overload. If we had to do it again, we would skip Hamley’s. It was just too crowded.

Harrods toy department, on the other hand, was really enjoyable and just the right amount of hectic. It probably also helped that we got there just as it opened on Sunday, so we avoided a lot of the normal tourist onslaught. Our little lady loved looking around at everything there was to see, and we loved gawking at some of the crazy (expensive) gifts on offer. We actually found her Christmas gift there, which we think she will really enjoy.

After we left the toy shop, we wandered around the children’s clothing department and happened to notice The Disney Café. It was lunch time, so we thought we would give it a go. We really enjoyed it! The food was top notch, which we had expected from a restaurant in Harrods. The girl had a ham and cheese toastie cut into the shape of Mickey Mouse, Richard had a savoury crepe, and I had the mini cheeseburgers (and I was pleasantly surprised when the server asked how I would like them to be cooked). And, imagine my surprise when Richard ordered us a bottle of wine! It was such a nice lunch, and we loved watching our girl (wearing Minnie Mouse ears!) chomp away at her toastie whilst looking around at all of the older kids. She was in her element for sure!

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After leaving Harrods we walked towards Hyde Park Corner to Buckingham Palace and on to St James’s Park. We stopped in St James’s Park because it was time for the girl to be fed. (Yes, she had just eaten, but sister needed her milk!) I plopped down to feed her underneath some fabulous towering trees. When she finished I sat her next to me in the leaves and she was amazed by them. She examined them and played for awhile, and it was fun to just see her taking in the textures and the colors of the leaves. Richard would pick up bunches of leaves and throw them up in the air, which absolutely amused her!

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After leaving the park, we headed to Westminster and crossed the Thames at Westminster Bridge to the Southbank. There is a carousel on the Southbank, so Richard took the girl for a ride. She was unsure when they first sat down on the horse, but after a thorough inspection, she smiled big whilst pointing directly at me stood along the side. (Someone had to look after the pram and our shopping!) She seemed to absolutely love the ride, and Richard laughed the entire way around. And me? I could not stop smiling! I love those unexpected moments that we share when we are all together.

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After the carousel ride, we decided it was time to call it a day (plus we had to get back to watch the Strictly Come Dancing results), so we set off walking back to Islington. Once we were near the hotel, I happened to spot an advertisement for Chipotle, and it was all I could think about since it has been ages since I’ve had anything remotely resembling decent Mexican food. We located said restaurant and grabbed takeaway to enjoy in the comforts of our hotel room. The day ended with us plopped on the bed in comfy clothes chowing down on delicious burritos and chips and salsa.

That weekend was made up of so many little moments that were completely unplanned. We smiled a lot and laughed hard and introduced our daughter to a number of new places and experiences. I don’t think either of us could have anticipated how much joy we would get from observing our daughter absorb the world around her. It was great to slow down and really watch her take everything in. This trip allowed us to look back on where we were a year ago – full of wonder about what our daughter would be like and what we would be like as parents – and realize that we are living our life as a family of three in the best way that we know how. And, in my mind, that is a great way to be.

I’m hopeful that we now potentially have a new family tradition of spending an October weekend in London! (What do you think, Richard?)

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