Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Beautiful Bath

This weekend we set out on our first UK road trip.  We decided to head to Bath if only because it is in our "easy day trips guide" and another expat had casually mentioned that it was a good place to go.

As it turns out, Bath was an excellent choice.  Bath is to London what Santa Barbara is to Los Angeles.  It is close enough but still feels worlds away.  It has great shopping and a great atmosphere.  Lots of restaurants, beautiful buildings, plenty to do.  And Bath has the added attraction of the historic Roman Baths.

We started the first morning off with a free Mayor's walking tour of the city.  Our guide was charming and loved sharing interesting stories about his city.  The tour is meant to be 2 hours and takes you past all the major sites of the city.  Our boys petered out at about the 1.5 hour mark so we didn't get the full tour but I would recommend this as a great overview of the city.

Pulteney Bridge

After the tour we needed some lunch.  While browsing along the sidewalk a kind woman recommended the Lime Lounge.  It turns out she was the chef's mother!  So of course we had to try it.  It was delicious!  A great find and child friendly too.

Next up was the highlight of the trip for the little people in the family.  We found the most amazing playground at the Queen Victoria Park.  Seriously, they could charge admission this playground is so great.  Giant zip line, huge basket swings, tunnel slides, climbing walls . . . it just goes on and on and on.  We are on a mission to visit all the best playgrounds in Europe and I'd say we are off to a jolly good start thanks to the Queen Victoria Playground.  If you're planning a trip to Bath, don't miss it.  It is quite near the Royal Crescent.

On day two we visited the Roman Baths.  No pushchairs (aka strollers) allowed but they have free loaner backpacks on hand.  The Baths were fascinating- just to think the stones we walked upon were the same ones walked upon by the Romans 2000 years ago.  We were all captivated by it.

After finishing up our tour of Bath we decided to make a little side trip and check out Stonehenge- why not?  It was only about 30 miles away.  I thought it was amazing.  The little guy was less impressed.

Overall, our first family road trip was a great success.  Can't wait to see more of this culturally and historically rich country! 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Windsor Great Park (from the back of a horse)

Here's how I spent my day:

Not a bad view, huh?
I joined my local American Woman's Club because, let's face it, I need friends.  They have a saddle club (and a book club, and a group for country walks, art lectures, English history lectures, day trips, French lessons- you name it, they've got it).  I signed up for heaps of activities.  I mean, why not?  I have a perfectly good calendar that needs filling up. 

So today, with absolutely picture perfect weather, I set out for my first hack with the Saddle Club.  We trotted through Windsor Great Park.  The scenery was stunning.  I wish I could have taken more photos, but I was riding Lulu- the most opinionated horse in the field.  After some initial bumps we got on quite well.  It was a lovely ride through a gorgeous place.  I haven't seriously ridden a horse in 25 years so I had a constant string of  instructions running through my head, "heels down", "toes in" "bring in the reins".  About half way through I reminded myself to smile.  I'm here, in England, riding a beautiful horse through this amazing park where Queens and Kings have ridden for 100s of years.  And I'm soaking it all in.   Even if I don't have friends yet, I'm lucky to be here.  If I just keep trotting along it will all fall into place.

Friday, September 9, 2011

First Things First- Finding A School

The first order of business regarding our move to the UK was to find a school for our children.  Given everything we had heard about the school system there, we knew it was going to be a bit complicated.  Schools are all graded by Ofsted reports and the schools with the top scores are typically oversubscribed.  Unlike the U.S., living within the school's catchment area does not guarantee your child a spot at that school.  Since our move was scheduled for August we quickly abandoned all hope of finding a spot for our kids at a good state run school.  They would all certainly be full well before then.

Private schools were also ruled out for the sole reason that the high tuition fees would not be covered by our company.

Which leaves us with American or International Schools.  These schools also have outrageously high fees, but our company agreed to cover them as part of the contract.  So we quickly focused our search on the three main American options.

Initially, I assumed the American School in London would be our first choice.  Tom will be spending a fair amount of time in the central London office and I fancied the idea of living in the heart of the city.  But my hopes were quickly dashed when I learned they would not even accept the little guy's application because they were so oversubscribed at the pre-kindergarten level.

So we expanded our search to the home counties where several American schools are located.  As it turns out, my two older kids now attend two different American schools in Surrey.  And I'm really happy about that decision.

The classes are small (14 kids), the teachers are excellent, the curriculum is challenging, and the schools are specifically prepared to help "third culture kids" adjust to life in their new country. 

When it comes to schools, I'm not easily impressed.  But, based on what I've seen so far, these schools are truly impressive.  I feel lucky that my kids will have this educational experience.  And living in the beautiful suburban English countryside is turning out to be a little fringe benefit.  So far, so good!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I'm Back!

After only 2 short weeks of darkness, British Telecom has us up and running with a working phone and DSL internet!  Everyone loves to complain about BT, but so far (knock wood) I have nothing bad to say about them.  (I know what you're thinking : "Just wait . . . .").

To celebrate my return to the 21st century, I thought I'd take you on a little photo tour of my new neighborhood.  We're living in Surrey, near London and it is gorgeous here.  Of course I still can't find my way to Waitrose (our supermarket) without the sat/nav, but it is slowly starting to feel like home.

 Our new place.  I think it might be the smallest house in the neighborhood.

Apparently the British love to name their houses.  It's so charming to hear people say, "I live at Woodbury House (or Watersteps, or Christmas Cottage)"

The view down our street.  Perfect for bike riding.  Of course, my kids have never ridden in the street before and are completely terrified that a car is going to come along and run them over.  I wonder how long it will take them to get over that?

 So that's what it means to be on the verge!

Baby Jack and I like to take afternoon walks to this little patisserie.  
Warm cheese and bacon croissant anyone?

 Near the patisserie we have a little mini-market endearingly called Budgens.  There are so many Americans in the neighborhood that they have a little "Americatessen" section.  I found this rather amusing- The British seem to think Americans love Hersheys (yes!), Goldfish (yes!), Jif (yes!) and- not one but two-different kinds of marshmallow fluff (what??).  
But, hey, it's good to know it's there if I need it. 

And finally, this is Mittens.  She came by to introduce herself the day we moved in.  We're hoping she becomes our surrogate pet.  You know, the kind the kids can play with and then send home to it's real owners who have all the responsibility.   That would be just perfect.

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