It’s been about four months since Jeff and I officially moved back from the U.K. It feels like an eternity ago we held a London address, but after 2.5 years across the pond, we realized we have learned a lot from our experiences. Some of these things are small like I now have a new favorite drink thanks to a very nice bartender at the Loch Ness Clansman Hotel, but there are other, bigger, things that have had a more significant impact.
First, we learned how to efficiently travel. We took full advantage of the copious vacation days the U.K. bestowed to us (come on, U.S. — 10 days, is that all you can spare?) and were constantly jet-setting.
Have Heathrow, will travel.
We learned just what we needed for a two week vacation and what we could carry ourselves for hiking through the Scottish Highlands.
But there were definitely times we made a few missteps like when I forgot to pack my toothbrush and had to call down to the Casablanca hotel reception and ask if they had any. Or realizing that overnight flights would mean dental health would take a back seat, so I had to remember to carry-on my airline-friendly toothpaste.
By the time we left the U.K. for our 7 week adventure across the world, we managed to do it all with one suitcase and our two backpacks. Hot tip: scout out an AirBnB with a washer/dryer on site. And, always have extra underwear in your carry-on in case your suitcase doesn’t make it to its final destination. (Thanks for the tip, Mom!)
Speaking of major appliances, we are now completely skilled in international ovens. When we spent Christmas in Spain last year, we stared at the oddly numbered knobs and dials for an embarrassing amount of time, googling and youtubing any hints on how to use the thing. After more than an hour, we resigned ourselves to straight up salmonella or a very dry bird when our AirBnB host came to our rescue.
Over these last couple of years, I have also become acquainted with a clothes horse. We never had a full dryer like we do in the U.S., so we would wash our clothes and let them air dry. It would drive Jeff mad because a sort of musty funk would settle on the clothes. Thanks humid London air.
And then, when we finally moved somewhere that had an honest to God clothesline, the clothes would smell too much like “outside.”
Despite our lovely dryer we have stationed in our new place, I still find myself planning my day around laundry to make sure the shirts will be dry by the next day.
But one thing the Brits did introduce us to was electric kettles! Where have these glorious contraptions been all my life? Did you know you could have boiling water in about a minute? I’m used to staring at the pot on the stove and waiting for ages for a single bubble to burst.
There was a hilarious news report we saw about how spikes in energy have workers “at the ready” during specific TV advert breaks. When a popular show or game was on, the first commercial break would signal all of England to turn on the kettle for a cuppa, hence the need for precise energy control.
I have several new favorite words: cuppa, advert, sorted, “on offer,” knackered (tired), and proper.
In the months before Jeff and I moved from Austin, we spent as much time as possible with friends and family. I was a big proponent of having guests over for an intimate dinner instead of having a big farewell party, and I even hosted my first Thanksgiving. Then, we picked up and moved our entire lives, leaving friends, family, and our pets back home. We didn’t know a soul in London.
Because of that, we learned two very important lessons.
One: don’t sweat the small stuff. We were going through so much stress as newlyweds, expatriates, and with new careers that quibbling over things that wouldn’t matter come morning was not worth the effort. I honestly believe that it made us a stronger couple.
Two: communication is sacred. Without Skype and WhatsApp, talking to the U.S. would have been costly and less frequent. I’m pretty sure I talked to my mom about once a week through Skype, and friends would schedule “dates” for catch up sessions.
London is one of the most expensive cities in the world. It may be complete common sense, but I feel I really learned the true value of a dollar (or pound) because travel and experiences were more important than clothes and things. I learned how to shop smart, which I wish I had learned much earlier in life.
But the other thing about London is that it really is no different than any other big city. People generally want the same things, and they put their pants on the same way as they do there, here, and in Tokyo. That was a huge realization that Londoners are not “exotic” and the world is much smaller than we think.
Being overseas has also given us a more global perspective. We traveled to Greece right before it went bankrupt. We saw Casablanca when it looked like a run-down war zone. We saw Budapest and Krakow where the buildings still look like Communist structures. Stories of strife and war are no longer paragraphs in a textbook to us. We saw bullet holes in cement and the concentration camps with our own eyes. Now when we look at the news, we have a new appreciation for what’s happening on a global level.
Merely walking the streets of London, you can’t help but trip over history. They have ancient Roman walls reserved near the Tower of London. Plague pits are constantly dug up as the city expands. And pubs are still in use after three hundred plus years. When Jeff and I got married, we held our reception in a restaurant famed for standing for 300 years, and in London, I was standing at the grave of Edward the Confessor who died in 1066! Our appreciation for history has grown exponentially, and we have definitely brought that obsession home. [Blogs to come: famous battlefields, the American Civil War surrender, and presidential homes.]
A small thing that has altered us considerably is public transportation and walking. Back when I lived in Austin, I drove the quarter mile to the grocery store but ran on the treadmill. In the U.K., I was walking a mile or more just to grab a few things to fit in our tiny fridge, and because our fridge was so tiny, I would be doing this close to every day. Now that we have our car back, we drive the six miles to the grocery store because there is no close-by market. I do miss the walkability of London.
But, we have mastered utilizing public transportation. Trains, subways, and buses are all things we have come to rely on when we travel. Give us a map, a schedule, and we’ll figure out the rest. Russia had tokens, Krakow had random ticket inspections, and London had the Oyster card.
Looking over this long list, we realized the biggest lesson we’ve learned is to be grateful. We are so incredibly lucky to have been able to live abroad and travel as freely as we’ve done. We have never lost our luggage, been robbed, or assaulted. We’ve never found ourselves in danger of any sort, and only the one time did we find ourselves mildly sick.
The decisions we’ve made to live the way we do are not lost on us. And we do not take a single thing for granted.
Now that we are settled and living in Virginia, the “Grandmother of all states,” we’re are excited to see what our next chapter will bring as we travel around America.
Thanks for the memories, London, but it’s sure good to be home.
Just because it’s fun, these are few other foods and drinks I’ve discovered. I never, ever would have known about these delicacies if it wasn’t for our life upheaval.
- Becherovka: We had this in Prague as a digestif. Herby and sharp, this was my gateway drink to Drambuie (my Scottish love), Valhalla from Norway, Brevin (or Black Death) from Iceland, and Spiced Jagermeister. Evidently, I like spiced liquors.
- Cumin Vodka: There was a restaurant in Krakow that had dozens of infused vodka, and I am here to tell you the cumin seed infused liquor was divine.
- Port wine: A colleague of Jeff’s introduced us to fortified wine quite randomly. And we fell so head over heels for it, we flew to Porto, Portugal to get a full look and taste at as many as we could.
- Indian food: I never was a huge fan of Indian food until we were surrounded by it in London. From Brick Lane to our own borough, Indian food was everywhere, and I now crave it. Our favorite place was Dishoom on Carnaby Street, and I may have developed an unhealthy obsession with pickled lime.
- Coffee Jelly: Yes, it’s a Japanese dessert, but I first had coffee jelly in Croatia, and now, I’m obsessed.
- Truffles (not the chocolates): Never in my life have I ever had truffles, and after being sticker shocked at Borough Market, I never thought I would. That changed in the most dramatic fashion when we had a Michelin star dinner in Reims with my parents.
- Chocolate: It’s completely true that English chocolate is different from American chocolate. Apparently, Americans sour the milk before they mix it into Hershey kisses and the like. But English chocolate is quite waxy and coats the tongue. Nonetheless, thanks to Nigella Lawson and Everyman Cinemas, we’ve discovered honeycomb or hokey pokey. But I’m also a sucker for a good, old fashioned bag of Revels.