Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Provence Highlights

What can I say about my women's club weekend in Provence?  It was wonderful! It was four days filled with friendship and laughter, wine at lunch and dinner, art and history, beautiful scenery, and shopping.  We visited the charming towns of Aix en Provence, Arles, Les Baux, Nimes, Avignon, and Cassis.  I practiced my very, very rusty French,, and developed friendships with some wonderful women.
Gorgeous Market at Arles
The highlight for me was visiting the sites associated with Van Gogh.  I felt as if I had stepped into one of his paintings when I saw the garden he painted at the hospital in Arles, and when we ate lunch at the cafe featured in this street scene.  And visiting the St. Paul asylum in St. Remy where he painted some of his best known works was really fascinating.  I also visited the workshop of Cezanne in Aix en Provence.  What a striking difference between the lives of these two men!  Cezanne, the son of a wealthy man,  worked in his purpose built atelier with a wall of windows looking out over his beautiful garden.  Van Gogh had his workshop in a mental hospital which also overlooked beautiful gardens but obviously had a very different feel.  It was overwhelming to realize that Van Gogh painted 142 masterpieces during the 13 month period he resided at the asylum.  It is absolutely amazing.
Van Gogh in Arles
The weather only interfered with our plans on the last day when torrential rains cancelled our planned boat trip and we took shelter at a local winery for tasting session.   Not a bad way to spend a rainy morning!
Such a beautiful weekend in Provence!
When I arrived home on Sunday evening I felt refreshed and relaxed.  I was so happy to see my family!  The boys had made signs for me and all 3 kids were waiting at the door with the biggest smiles and the biggest hugs.  I am so glad I had the opportunity to go away for the weekend, and so glad I have them to come home to.  I hope you had a beautiful weekend, too!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thank You!

Thanks to all of you SITS girls for stopping by to make my feature day so fun.  I've been busy visiting each of your blogs and am really enjoying getting to know you better. 
My trip to Provence was lovely.  Such a great weekend away with a wonderful group of women.  I'm embarrassed to say I haven't even had a chance to get the photos off my camera yet! But I think I have at least a few good ones to share with you soon.
Things have been crazy busy around here and the sun has finally decided to show itself in England (after what felt like months and months of rain) so everyone has been outside enjoying the gorgeous weather.
It's nice to stop and take a breath before sprinting through the final weeks of school.  Bring on the summer!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Oh Happy Day

When you were a kid did you ever carefully cut the "Proof of Purchase" off cereal boxes, save them up for months and months and then send them off with the promise of redeeming them for some sort of amazing toy?  You'd wait weeks and weeks, checking the mailbox to see if your long awaited prize had arrived. 

Well, for me, that day is here- for two reasons!

First,  I am setting off on a much anticipated ladies-only trip to Provence.  I can't wait to soak up some sun in the south of France and I'm looking forward to telling you all about it when I get back next week.

Photo Credit
And secondly, it's my SITS day!  Hooray!

Months ago I joined this useful site and today is finally my day as the SITS Girls featured blogger.  If you're visiting from The SITS girls, welcome!  I'm so glad you've stopped by to take a look around.  I hope you'll pour yourself a cuppa and and stay for a bit.

I blog mostly about my experience as an American Expat living near London.  Before moving here I was lucky enough to be an expat in Australia.  You can read all about that adventure here.

Sometimes I find myself befuddled by the cultural differences I've experienced.  Like when no one eats birthday cake at the party or when people queue up for hours to have their cars washed (in the rain!),  or, wondering why I need to serve tea to the plumber.

We are on a mission to travel as much as possible while living here, and I write about dragging my kids around Europe, one playground at a time.  You can have a look at some of our trips over in the sidebar.

Thanks again for stopping by.  I love reading your comments and look forward to getting to know you better by visiting your blogs, too.  What a happy day!

Monday, May 14, 2012

UK Road Trip: East Yorkshire Coast

After touring the city of York we were ready to get out and see the country side.  Just 2 hours outside the city is the beautiful East Coast of England. 

We stopped in the lovely village of Staithes for a hike and some lunch.  

Staithes at low tide
Another view of Staithes

Then headed south along the coast for some fossil hunting.  We didn't have much time as the tide was coming in, but we were able to find quite a few interesting fossils.

North Yorkshire Coastline
The drive along back along the coast and inland to York was so beautiful.  I was snapping pictures like crazy out the car window and then we finally found a spot to pull over.  Here are a few shots from our roadside pit stop.

Zooming past the most amazing fields of blooming rapeseed.  It was everywhere!
Beautiful views of the country side and the sea

There is nothing quite like the English countryside.  I would love to come back to this part of the country in the summer to see the moors in full bloom, or in August when the heather turns the hillsides bright purple.  It must be quite a site to see!

Looking forward to our next road trip!

UK Roadtrip: York

I've become a fan of the road trip.  There's a certain thrill to loading everyone and everything into the back of the car and setting off the see the country.  And see it we did on our weekend trip to the north of England and the lovely walled city of York.

The Micklegate Bar is one of the entrances to the city.  Historically, it is the gate that royalty uses to enter York. 

Micklegate Bar             

Real Viking bones at Jorvik

Highlights of the trip included a visit to Jorvik- a recreated Viking village.  This museum is built right on top of an actual archaeological site where viking artifacts have been found.   My favourite part of the recreated village was the scene with the viking dad in the backyard outhouse holding a wad of grass to be used in place of toilet paper!  The main thing I learned about viking life:  it looked miserable and dirty. 

Then we headed to DIG where the children got some hands-on experience with real artifacts.  The guide was excellent and it was fascinating to learn about the people who have lived in York- from the Romans to the Vikings, right up to the Victorians. 

Learning about archaeology at DIG

One of the most famous sites in York is the beautiful (and huge) York Minster.  It was stunning.  Everything- from the windows to the carved statues to the tombs- was so grand and so detailed.   Can you spot the stone heart in the center window?  The Minster is often called the "Heart of York".

Bride and Groom driving away in front of the Minster

Interior of the York Minster
The National Railway Museum is another must-see in the city of York.  We loved walking through the Great Hall and looking at all the different trains.  We saw a Japanese bullet train, antique steam trains, and even the scarlet "Hogwarts Castle" that was actually used in the Harry Potter movies.  All the the trains were gleaming and gorgeous.  The museum is built on the tracks and they sometimes hold special events which include train rides.  We also had a chance to peek into the royal carriages used by Queen Victoria.  Talk about first class travel!

National Railway Museum
York is a great walking city.  This street, The Shambles, is one of the best preserved medieval streets in Europe.  The old timber framed buildings lean in towards each other and their roofs almost seem to meet in the middle.  The street is crammed with pedestrians and charming shops.  I couldn't help feeling like I was at Disneyland or on some type of movie set.  I can see why The Shambles was voted Britain's most picturesque street.
The Shambles

York was a fun place to visit with the family.  We were able to overlook the hordes of scantily clad ladies (I use the term loosely here) out for their "hens-do" parties (it was 45 degrees outside- I was shivering just looking at them!) and a few drunken idiots brawling in the street as evening approached.  Instead we focused on the charming atmosphere and the rich history.  And after getting our fill of the city we drove out to the East Yorkshire coast. 
Check back tomorrow to see some photos from part 2 of our road trip!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What Next?

The hardest part of being an expat is the uncertainty.  And lately, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about what comes next.

We came to the UK with a one year plan.  But now three quarters of that year have passed and I'm feeling so unsure about our plan.

It seems like we just got here.  I've just started to make real friendships.  The kids are settled in their schools.  And despite our constant travel schedule I still have a long list of places to visit and things to see in this part of the world.

And as much as I'd like to be closer to our extended family again, I'm not so sure I'm ready to go back.

But we have to make a decision soon.  Very soon.  And that weighs heavily on my mind.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Be Your Own Travel Agent

Lately I've been spending countless hours on trip planning websites.  The British plan their holidays in advance. Way in advance. Like a YEAR in advance.  I don't.  Which is why I've been spending all my free time trying to find lodging for a family of 5 (not that easy) over the upcoming Jubilee Weekend.  I'm happy to say it is all arranged now (a mere month beforehand). 

So, to help those of you who, like me, do not already have next year's Spring Break trip booked, I thought I'd share a few of my very favourite travel websites.

Obviously, the starting place for any trip planning.  For me, it's like the of the travel world.  I also really like their iphone app which I often use to search for restaurants in our destination.

The following sites list self-catering accommodation and holiday homes worldwide.
Air BnB

If you fancy a farmstay in the country, check out this link:
FarmStay UK

If you're feeling rather royal you can even book a cottage on the estate of Prince Charles: ( I think these look absolutely dreamy)
Duchy of Cornwall

For help with booking, the options seem endless.  Here are a few I like to use for comparison. 

Now I've got to run upstairs and finish packing for this weekend's trip.  
Here's a hint about where we're off to:

This city has more miles of intact medieval walls than any other in England

Which travel websites are your favourites?
Have anything fun planned for the long weekend? 
(Monday, 7 May, is a Bank Holiday here in the UK) 

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