12.20.2010

Parting Thoughts

On the eve of our departure from the UK, we reflect on our time here by listing some of the things we won't miss, and some of the things we will. Some items are representative of the family; others an individual or two. Some are in jest; others, not so much.

And so, in no particular order...


What We Won't Miss
- The weather... it's cloudy enough over here that weather forecasts differentiate between white cloud days and gray cloud days.
- Urban congestion
- CCTV
- The three conventions in which phone numbers are written... is it 123 4567 8901, or 1234 567 8901 or 12345 678901?
- Being blocked from using Pandora
- Transit strikes
- The lack of competency and professionalism displayed by the agents and managers at Foxtons Richmond
- Trying to use "fortnight" properly in conversation
- The food selection in grocery stores, dry bread, and fatty cuts of meat
- The Wedding hoop-la... well, I [Kurt] won't be upset about not being around for that.
- Lack of good hiking, cycling and skiing
- High Street stores that leave their doors open during cold weather
- Single pane windows and drafts, combined with an antiquated heating system
- Hard water, for it makes rinsing shampoo out of hair difficult [clearly not a "Kurt" entry]
- Having to buy a license to watch TV
- The jingling and weight of coins, and the size of the paper money
- The "It's not my job" mentality
- Cricket... tried to understand it, but failed.
- Netball... understand it, but don't get it.
- Unnecessary bureaucracy
- Having to withdraw pounds at my UK bank's ATM using my US ATM card, just to deposit those pounds in my UK account
- $12 glasses of sub-par wine in pubs
- The rudeness of the Swiss
- Converting temperature from C to F
- Cookbook recipes in metric... AGH!
- Skype phone call quality
- UK customs and their holding of packages as hostages for money
- Cell phone plan shopping
- Washing machine drums the size of a thimble

What We Will Miss

- Meat pies
- Green vegetation in the summer
- Pub culture and the Sunday roast
- Friends
- More oxygen-rich air
- The lack of stop signs and the use of roundabouts
- Hearing/reading different perspectives of US policy and people
- Racing at Ascot
- Cathedrals and castles
- Being able to walk to a lot of places, including school
- Borough Market and those grilled cheese sandwiches
- Opportunities to visit other parts of the UK and Europe
- School uniforms
- Saying and hearing "brilliant" and "cheers" and "whilst" and "anticlockwise"
- Richmond Park
- Fan assisted ovens
- English mustard
- Warnings by newscasters that an upcoming clip contains flash photography
- Going out for high tea
- Watching Rugby Union... though we've been here for less than a year, I have seen enough to know that I do favor it over Rugby League.
- Rhubarb yogurt
- Rapid-boil tea kettles... seriously, you should see the thing we had and how fast it got water bubbling.
- Paddleboating on the Serpentine in Hyde Park
- Brouge Bistro... there's something to be said for a good pot of mussels, a nice Belgian beer and banoffee pie for dessert.
- Taking the Eurostar train to Paris or Brussels
- "SatNav Sally"... she guided us safely for many trips, and probably prevented a few speeding tickets, too.
- Caffe Nero skinny lattes... those things put Starbucks to shame!
- Being able to buy anything at Harrod's... it's like the McGuckins of London.
- Hamley's toy store
- "Mock the Week," "An Idiot Abroad," "QI" and being able to catch a football (soccer) match on TV at almost any time of day.
- The frantic search that takes places by retail staff not for a pen, but for the pen -- as if there is only one in the entire store -- when we need to sign our credit card receipt
- Early morning runs along the Thames
- Driving on the motorways... pass and get over, it really is that simple.
- The politeness of the English people


Cheers.

And, of course, Hi Kristin.


12.12.2010

Weekend in Brussels

Little did we know that when we booked a weekend in Brussels several weeks ago to check out the city and it's Christmas Markets, it would be out last "big trip" during our UK stay. So it became a pretty special trip for us, and we were treated to a nice send-off, of sorts.

Friday was Chloe's last day at her school, and because it was the end of the term, her school had a planned half-day, which allowed us to get an later-afternoon Eurostar train from London to Brussels. And like our trip to Paris in summer, we thoroughly enjoyed the direct, non-stop high-speed train trip... smooth, quiet, 2 hours and it drops you off in the center of the city.

After arriving and getting to our hotel, we dropped off our bags and headed out into the city to get our first glimpse of the markets and get some dinner. It was then we realized that our hotel was in a great spot to do both... the closest part of the markets was just a couple minutes' walks away, and there were restaurants aplenty around. Prior to dipping into one of the restaurants, we did get to see the one light and music show that was put on in the Grand Plaza... here's a grainy video clip of it.

video

On Saturday, we took our good ol' time getting ready, but eventually headed off to take a hop-on/hop-off sightseeing bus tour of the city. It's a beautiful city, with gorgeous plazas, parks and gardens, and a lot of European charm to it... grand cathedrals, cobblestone streets, etc. We hopped-off at the "Atomium" stop, a preserved structure and exhibit from the 1958 Worlds Fair. In its current form, the Atomium structure is a museum of sorts with part dedicated to its own history, and part dedicated to general science. The most interesting part, for us at least, was the structure itself, for how many times does get to roam around inside something that replicates a 165-billion-times magnified iron crystal? (More on Atomium can be found here.) Afterward, it was back on the bus and back to the area of our hotel for some lunch, and a nice little afternoon nap before heading out to the Christmas Markets at night.

Feeling refreshed after our naps, we headed out to take in the markets and other various attractions... and, of course, a stroll of the market wouldn't be complete without some gluhwein. According to the brochure, there are over 240 stalls for visitors to stop at. Being it was a weekend evening, there were a fair number of people strolling along like us, so it wasn't possible to see every one of the stalls, but we did get to see a lion's share. At the end of the main market plaza were the ice skating rink and ferris wheel. It seemed only right and festive, so Chloe and I laced up some skates and made our way around the ice for about 30 minutes (Peg wasn't too keen on the idea, so watched our stuff) and then made our way to the wheel to get an aerial view of the market plaza. It was then off to find a proper Belgian dinner - mussels and beer - followed by a visit or two to some chocolatiers, before calling it a night.

We had hoped to visit Bruges on Sunday, but given that we didn't get to bed until midnight, we thought the better of trying to get Chloe to a 9:15 am train and decided to stay in Brussels to do a little shopping and finish off our weekend. The one thing we were on the look-out for the entire weekend was a Brussels Christmas Tree ornament. Given the number of stalls, and that it was a Christmas Market in Brussels, Peggy and I thought this would be a slam dunk. To our surprise, it wasn't easy at all... we found ornaments, and things with Brussels on them, but not a combination of the two. We decided to get creative and buy two identical Brussels magnets, with hopes of making them into an ornament by removing and discarding the magnets and then gluing the backs of the remaining pieces together!

Our weekend excursion eventually wound down, and it was time to get back to the train station, and the Eurostar, and London and our flat where a final week of UK living awaited us.

** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

A slideshow of pictures from the weekend can be found here.

Below is a brief video clip of some street musicians we walked by... you might be able to hear the tail-end of "Flight of the Bumblebee" at the beginning of it.

video