This Afternoon Tea giveaway includes a lovely blue and white porcelain heritage mug from Oxford and some Scottish shortbread from Edinburgh as well as a box of PG Tips tea bags. The mug is decorated with images of some of the famous buildings at Oxford University and is rimmed with gold; the shortbread is handmade from a traditional melt-in-your-mouth butter recipe.
To enter, please comment on this post only, with one entry per day permitted. Leave at least one comment telling me about one of your favorite travel tips. Another one-time extra entry can be earned if you’re already a follower of The Occasional Nomads, or if you become a follower of the blog – leave a comment and let me know. One more one-time entry can be earned if you mention the giveaway in your own blog; again, let me know in a comment.
The giveaway will be open through midnight PST Friday, November 29 (the day after Thanksgiving), with the winner chosen by a random name selector and announced on Sunday, December 1. I will contact the winner to get your address and mail your package out a couple of days later. I can only accept entries from the U.S. and Canada as overseas postage is prohibitive.
Should we keep traveling or should we settle down? That’s the BIG question for the Occasional Nomads that we have been and are STILL discussing.
Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, which is why it’s become a neverending topic of conversation for Brett and me. How do we see our future unfolding? That changes frequently, sometimes from day to day. Have we had enough of all this moving around? Some days yes, some days no. Should we settle down? It sounds good for a while, then it doesn’t, then it does again, and so forth. Won’t we get restless if we stop?
It’s wonderful to have options and talk about them but at the same time, it’s beginning to get a bit confusing and even boring at times too. Thankfully it’s not something we ever argue about – we share similar concerns. However, we’ve been going back and forth about this for months now and have reached a point where we need to decide the direction this journey is going to take going forward and then get on with it.
The primary benefit of continuing our nomadic lifestyle is that our income can be devoted almost entirely to doing something we love: travel. We’re not paying for utilities, insurance, and home maintenance, and so forth – we pay for an Airbnb rental and all those other things are included. We also don’t have the expense of owning a car and all that goes along with that, or other expenses that come with staying in one place. We’re blessed with excellent medical insurance that covers us worldwide at no cost. By carefully selecting our rentals we’ve been able to enjoy a quality lifestyle and experience locations and life around the world that would have been difficult to impossible for us to do otherwise.
At the same time, our fund for transportation expenses is diminishing and we’re not able to replenish it now that we’re committed to contributing a not-insignificant amount each month to help YaYu with her college costs. Since we’ve also decided to upgrade our seats for longer flights, we’re eventually going to have to dip into other savings if we want to continue traveling before we’re able to start building it up again.
We’ve discovered along the way though that we don’t like staying in a place too long and begin feeling restless after a couple of months. This is the biggest concern and fear we have about settling down somewhere. One – to two-month stays seem to be the ideal for us, with three months in one place too long (except for Japan because of family there). On the other hand, we dislike short stays because of having to pack and move everything after a few days, and the go-go-go of it wears us out. Being Occasional Nomads versus Short-Term or Long-Term has turned out to be a very good fit for us.
Brett is more enthusiastic about settling down than I am, but we both like the idea of getting our mail sent directly to us, having a regular family doctor and dentist, getting our prescriptions renewed easily, and having a place with our own things where the family can gather. We like the idea of learning to live frugally in one place, from getting haircuts to buying groceries. However, when we think about possibly owning a car again or paying utilities or having a mortgage or keeping up with home maintenance, those sort of things immediately take the shine off of the idea. Having to acquire furniture and other household items once again leaves us cold. Weather, particularly cold weather, has become an issue for both of us as well and limits where we could or would want to settle. We’re not even sure at this point if we want to live in the U.S. anymore.
I’ve always been someone who likes to know what’s happening and see the path going forward. I like to have a plan. When Brett was in the navy and it was getting close to the time for a transfer, I would become an absolute nervous wreck as he waited for orders, wondering where the navy was going to send us next. The not knowing was hard for me because until we had those orders there was no way to plan anything or get ready to move again – we were in limbo. We have plans now for the next seven months, but if we’ve learned nothing else it’s that the time goes by very quickly these days and before we know it that those seven months are going to be over. It’s starting to feel now like it did when we were waiting for orders.
We still have a bit of time on our side, but by early next year a decision is going to have to be made, one we can commit to and make plans for. Our hope is that a compromise solution can be found, one that satisfies our love of travel but also gives us a chance to settle for a while. That, however, may be an impossible dream. We will be talking with our children in the next couple of months to get their feedback, ideas, and concerns, and will work toward figuring out the “big picture” of what our future could, would and maybe should be.
It is very cold here! Temperatures dipped down to freezing this past week and are expected to stay well below normal until we leave. They’re now in the 40s during the day in our part of the world, and have dipped below freezing at night, but even colder temperatures are scheduled to arrive later this week. It seems Brett’s and my main activity right now is trying to stay warm. The gas fire is on all day, the radiators come on twice a day now, we keep the heavy drapes drawn over the front door and French doors to keep out drafts, and I cover up with a blanket when I’m on the sofa reading or writing. Still, we just feel cold all the time . . . winter really is coming. I am dreading our weekly trip to Aldi tomorrow because of the cold, and have my fingers crossed on both hands that it doesn’t rain.
Overall we had a good trip down to Bath, but now our focus will be on making the most of our last couple of weeks here in England and wrapping up the things we need to do and get here. A visit to Stratford-upon-Avon is number one on our list of things to accomplish with Bourton-on-the-Water not far behind. We’ve got our fingers crossed we get a couple of dry days so that we can get those trips accomplished. No matter how it goes though we are happy and satisfied with all that we have been able to see and do, and we have loved every minute of our time in the UK. Leaving here is going to be a sadder than usual experience for us.
Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK. Held on the Sunday closest to November 11, the day commemorates “the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts,” and is sort of a combination of the U.S. Memorial and Veterans Day holidays. Bells will be rung today at 11 a.m., the time that WWI ended, but will be muffled and somber. The red poppy is the symbol of remembrance (taken from the poem “In Flanders Field”) and people wear poppies beginning around the first of the month to commemorate those who died in service to the UK. Money donated for the poppies assists veterans in need.
This morning I am:
Reading: I finished The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn and now am back to reading Code Girls. I have also been going through the little book I bought in Bath, Secret Tokyo. We’ve only been to three of the places in the book, so there will be plenty for us to explore when we go back to Tokyo next year.
Listening to: Brett is rustling around in the kitchen fixing his breakfast, and the church bells just began ringing to call people to the morning service. The peal they’re ringing is especially lovely this morning too, although the bells will be somber later. Patches of blue sky and sunshine are visible outside so it should be a nice albeit very cold day. We may bundle up and go for a walk later if Brett feels up to it (he’s come down with a cold). However, yesterday started out nice and devolved into a wet mess so we have no expectation that things will remain as they are now.
Watching: The satellite feed to the TV stopped unexpectedly on Thursday night but Brett successfully got it rebooted on Friday so we could watch the next episode of Endeavour last night. We have been thinking all this time that it’s a new season but learned yesterday it has already been shown in the U.S. – I can watch the episodes online at PBS! While the TV was down we discovered we could still access Netflix, a good thing because the new season of The Crown begins next Sunday and we didn’t want to miss it if we couldn’t get the TV signal back.
Cooking: We came home from Bath to a nearly empty fridge, but stopped by the village shop and picked up a few provisions to get us through until we can get to Aldi tomorrow (weather permitting). Tonight we’re having breakfast for dinner: eggs, sausages, sauteed apples, and scones. Also on the menu this week will be tacos; meatballs in marinara along with roasted Mediterranean vegetables; sweet & sour chicken and vegetable stir fry; breaded cod filets (we love these!) and roasted root vegetables; steak & potato pasties; flatbread pizza; and quiche Lorraine with vegetables of some sort. We discovered a fish and chip stand in Moreton-in-Marsh that gets high ratings, so we’re going to go there for lunch tomorrow before we head to Aldi. We can’t leave England without having fresh fish & chips!
Happy I accomplished last week: Getting to and from Bath, and having a great time there, was our big accomplishment, especially with the last-minute changes to our train reservations. We also finished up the last bit of the Christmas shopping we wanted to do while we’re here – we’re going to pack all of that up and ship it back to the U.S. this week versus adding too much extra weight to our suitcases. I purchased our tickets to get us out to Gatwick on the 28th, but we still have to arrange for a taxi to get us over to the station that morning because the train departs before the first bus of the day leaves Blockley.
Looking forward to next week: We haven’t planned anything for this week, and will just take it as it comes. If the weather looks decent one day (i.e. no rain) and we feel OK we’ll head over to Stratford.
Thinking of good things that happened: The best of all was the meet-up with Chris and Jane while we are in Bath. I’m always wary and a little scared of first-time meetings, but they were a lovely couple and we never ran out of things to talk about. They also showed us a few things in Bath we wouldn’t have known of otherwise and I hope we’re able to get together again someday. After two nights in an uncomfortable bed while we were in Bath, coming back to the supremely comfortable bed in our cottage and getting a good night’s sleep was pure heaven. It’s true what they say: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Meiling messaged us to say she had a great first week at her new job, is very happy there and the company environment appears to be a very good fit for her. She even has a window in her office with a gorgeous view of Manhattan. We’re so proud of that girl!
Thinking of frugal things we did: We pretty much stayed on budget while we were in Bath, with the only unplanned purchase the Tokyo guidebook I found in the bookstore. One of the items we had planned to purchase we ended up getting for free, and we were able to find better-than-expected prices for the Christmas items we bought (and that’s all I can say about that!). For now, we’re only very slightly above our Daily Spending Average but have no more big purchases left for the rest of the month so that will be coming down and we’ll hopefully end the month with our spending below average.
Grateful for: About 18 months ago, our Japan Airbnb host, Yasuko, decided not to go ahead with licensing her rentals for Airbnb. Because of that decision, our Airbnb reservation was canceled and we received a large gift certificate from Airbnb to make up for the inconvenience. That certificate made this visit to the UK possible, something we couldn’t have afforded otherwise. We will be forever grateful for how it’s all turned out and for the experiences we’ve been able to have here because of that decision.
Bonus question:What have been your favorite sweet treats in Britain? We definitely haven’t stuck to a carb-free diet here, but have still tried not to go overboard with the sweets. I don’t think Cadbury makes anything that isn’t delicious, and besides enjoying their drinking chocolate we’ve also tried a few of their new and unusual (to us, anyway) chocolate bars now and again. Cadbury holds a contest every year where customers submit new flavors with the top three being marketed and the winner chosen by the public. We’ve gotten to try two of the three final entries for this year, but the grand prize-winning flavor, Choca-latte, has been impossible to find because it’s been so popular (its creator was just 18 years old!). I do love a Mars bar now and again but also loved the walnut whip I tried from Marks & Spencer. Both Brett and my favorite cake here is coffee and walnut, with lemon drizzle close behind (and I still want to try a slice of a traditional Victoria sponge before we go). As for biscuits (cookies), I have yet to meet a ginger nut or shortbread I didn’t love.
The big effort going forward for both Brett and me will be trying to stay and/or get well. With all the cold weather and damp, I’ve been teetering on the edge of a cold but so far it hasn’t developed into anything serious. Brett hasn’t been so lucky and acquired a sore throat and cough which has now settled into his chest. It seems that we spend an awful lot of our time resting and not doing much these days, but we know in this weather pushing ourselves or getting too wet and cold would probably lead to one or both of us coming down with something miserable – that’s what happened last year and we don’t want a repeat.
We’ve got just 18 more days left in the UK, and we’re focusing now on what we need to do to finish up here and get ready to go back to the U.S. As I mentioned above, we’ll be sending a package back to the U.S. this coming week with things we purchased here for Christmas. It will be expensive, but less than we would pay for overweight luggage.
I hope everyone is staying warm wherever you are, and that you all had a wonderful week full of good things, good food, good books, and good friends, and that you’re looking forward to the week coming up!
Our quick dash down to the city of Bath this week was over in less than 48 hours. We saw as much as we could during our stay, and Brett had a wonderful reunion with his former classmate.
The city of Bath absolutely charmed us, and we left wishing we could have given ourselves a few more days there. We arrived on Tuesday afternoon, and walked up to our Airbnb from the station, about 15 minutes away on foot. We checked in, dropped off our stuff and then headed right back out to visit the Circus and the Royal Crescent as both were only a short distance away. The sky was overcast and loaded with heavy clouds, but the rain was holding off and we wanted to see these places before it arrived. We crossed our fingers, took our umbrellas, and off we went.
Neither the Circus nor the Royal Crescent failed to impress – both were magnificent and thrilling to see. We walked along in front of two of the three terraces at The Circus and then turned for the Crescent. As it was growing darker we chose not to walk the full length in front of the Crescent but instead went down to the park to take in the full sweep of the building’s curve. I was thrilled to discover there was a ha-ha in the park! I have read about them for years and when I saw it I knew immediately what it was and why it was there.
Just before it turned fully dark the clouds opened up so we turned back into the city to find a grocery store to pick up things for breakfast (orange juice and French pastries as it turned out) and maybe something for dinner. We didn’t see anything that appealed to us though so instead stopped at a little restaurant just down the street from our apartment that served all-day breakfast, and Brett enjoyed a plate of banana french toast and I ordered eggs benedict. The rain was really coming down by the time we finished so we dashed back to our apartment to get ready for a busy Wednesday.
Brett had arranged to meet his classmate, Chris, for coffee at 11:00 on Wednesday morning at a cafe/shop up near our apartment, so we got up early and headed down to the Roman Baths to be there when they opened at 9:30. The temperature was quite cold, but we could see a few patches of blue sky above, a good sign, we hoped. I had purchased our tickets online the night before in order to save a few pounds and speed things up, and we were first in line when the Baths opened. There were only a few other visitors there with us, so we practically had the place to ourselves and were able to take our time to see it all. I am fascinated with Roman ruins and these did not disappoint – it was thrilling to walk on the same pavement stones that Romans had used nearly 2000 years earlier. At the end of the tour we were able to taste the famous water, said to have healing powers. Considering all the sulfur, iron and other minerals in the water I was expecting it to taste fairly foul, but it wasn’t that bad and I enjoyed two cups of it before leaving (Brett passed though).
Following our visit to the Roman Baths we walked around the Bath Abbey (construction is being done inside so we didn’t go in) and then headed over to find Sally Lunn’s, home of the eponymous Sally Lunn Bath Bun, a brioche-type bread brought to Bath from France by Ms. Lunn in the late 17th century. Sally Lunn’s is now a restaurant, but it is located in the oldest house in Bath and there is a small museum in the basement. We skipped the restaurant but checked out the museum and purchased a Sally Lunn Bun to eat later in the day.
The reunion with Chris couldn’t have been nicer, and we also had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know his wife, Jane. We started out over cappuccinos, then took a bit of a walk, stopping into a lovely little bookstore along the way where I bought a travel book called Secret Tokyo, filled with quirky and unusual places to visit for free in that city. From the bookshop, we walked to the Holburne Museum to have lunch in their cafe. I don’t think the four of us ever stopped talking – Chris and Jane felt like old friends we hadn’t seen for a long time. After lunch we headed back down to the Roman Baths where we said our goodbyes so that Brett and I could start a free walking tour of the city.
The walking tours given by the Mayor’s Guides are free and absolutely no tipping is allowed. Our group had only seven members, and we had a great guide who covered the history of the city from the Baths to the Abbey to the distinctive Georgian architecture. We stayed with the tour until we got to the Circus, but since we had already visited there and the Royal Crescent the day before we said thank you and goodbye then and walked back to visit the Assembly Rooms before they closed (groups had not been allowed in that day). When we came back out it was raining again, and as we had walked over four miles and nearly 12,000 steps at that point we decided to call it a day.
Two of the four Ballroom chandeliers
The Tea Room chandelier
The Great Octagon Room chandelier
The Assembly Rooms opened in 1771 and were a hub for high Georgian society in Bath – Jane Austen and Charles Dickens were among those who attended balls and other functions at the Assembly Rooms when they visited the city. The chandeliers were made by Whitefriars of London and are original to the Rooms, installed for the 18th-century opening. Their insurance value today ranges from £150 million to £300 million each although they are of course irreplaceable.
We still felt full from lunch in the evening and decided to just have our Sally Lunn Bun(s) for dinner. We thought the box would contain four small buns, so were quite surprised to find just one HUGE one inside. It was about the size of a personal watermelon but light as a feather. Our guide at the museum had told us the buns are traditionally sliced in half, toasted and served with butter so that’s how we ate ours. Brett and I each had half of the bun and it was plenty for the both of us (and plenty tasty too).
Sadly, our Airbnb in Bath was a disappointment. All of the Airbnbs we have stayed in have been lovely, well-kept places but this apartment was shabby, complete with worn, stained carpet, dirty windows, and mismatched, damaged, thrift store furniture. The host met us at the apartment when we arrived, gave us the keys and two rolls of toilet paper and then quickly departed telling us nothing about how things operated. We about froze the first evening until Brett eventually figured out how to turn on the heat. The apartment also wasn’t what we would call spotlessly clean – clean-ish was more like it. Thankfully the bed had crisp, clean sheets but it was the most uncomfortable bed we’ve experienced on our travels. We both slept poorly and I woke up each morning with a sore back. It did have one redeeming feature though, a superb location in the city near to shopping, dining, and sightseeing. Still, if we had been there longer than two nights we might have found somewhere else to stay.
We woke up Thursday morning to sunshine and cloud-free blue skies, feeling ready to get out of the apartment but sad to leave because there was still so much of Bath we wanted to explore. We had a quick cup of coffee with our pastries and were out the door a little after 9:00, even though our train didn’t leave until nearly 10:43. That was another thing that had gone a bit wrong for us – I had booked the 9:43 train to get us back to Moreton-in-Marsh in time to catch the bus back to the Blockley, but when I downloaded our tickets they were for the 10:43 train (along with a different itinerary). The new schedule got us into Moreton 30 minutes after the bus to Blockley had departed and with another two hours to go before the next one so we ended up having to pay for a taxi to get back to the cottage. And, to add a bit more insult to injury, I had also reserved forward-facing seats both coming and going, but our assigned seats were all rear-facing.
We are glad to be back “home” and looking forward to resting up this weekend and then enjoying our last two full weeks in Blockley. Our recent trips to Edinburgh, London, Oxford and now Bath have made us realize that while we were happy to have been able to visit these places, we really don’t care for the frenzy of short visits anymore and prefer to stay somewhere long enough to discover and enjoy a place at our leisure. While we’ve loved seeing what we could in these cities, the short, hurried trips left us feeling exhausted and unsatisfied because of all that we missed. But, you go with the schedule you have, not the one you wished you had.
What’s in a name? That what we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet. – William Shakespeare.
One of the delights of walking through any village here in the Cotwolds, whether our own village of Blockley or any of the others we’ve visited, is seeing the many different and creative names owners have given their homes or cottages. The variety is infinite, with some choices obvious and others less so.
Many of the house names in Blockley appear to have a historical reference.
House naming in England apparently has a long history, beginning with noble and/or rich families naming their halls, houses, manors, castles, and lodges according to ancestry, location, and family titles. Gradually the less well-to-do began to name their homes as well.
There are plenty of residences named for trees, plants and flowers . . .
British house names fall into several categories: Animals and birds (Badger Cottage for example), trees (e.g. The Willows), plants and flowers (e.g. Honeysuckle Cottage), locations and views (e.g. Meadow View), historical (e.g. Coach House), fairytales and old favorites (e.g. Thimble Cottage), and holiday or beauty spots (e.g. Windermere). The most common house name, believe it or not, is simply The Cottage, with Rose Cottage a very close second (we have seen one in every place we’ve visited). Since 1765 all houses have been assigned a number and road address, but in a small village the name is often better known when it comes to directions.
. . . and many named for their location or view.
Our own cottage here has a somewhat unusual name: Glebe Cottage. A glebe was traditionally a piece of land given to the vicar or other clergy to help provide them with some additional income. In our case, instead of land, the vicar received two additional buildings next to the vicarage. More recently, the bigger house next door was rented to the village doctor, and our little attached building was the doctor’s surgery/office, but the buildings are old and before that, we have no idea what they were used for and no one else seems to know either.
As you may have guessed from the pictures, name signs don’t fall any particular rules. They can be carved into the building or built into the stonework, or a unique plaque made for the house. One residence in Blockley has its name carved into a ledge halfway up the side and wraps around the corner of the house.
What would you name your cottage? Brett and I have frequently talked about this during our walks, and finally came up with three names we liked:
Brentford House (the name of the street I lived on as a child, with many happy memories)
Sunset Cottage (as we’re entering the sunset of our lives)
Little Hampton (a family name from Brett’s side)
We’ve even found a few whimsical names and the occasional mysterious ones.
We continue to find house names endlessly fascinating, as each house is unique and so are their names. Some, of course, are more interesting or mysterious than others but it remains a joy to read them and think about how or why a name was chosen for that particular house.
We’ve had another very low key week, and spent most of our time in the cottage trying to stay warm. The weather wasn’t too bad at the beginning of the week, but temperatures dropped into and stayed in the 40s and there was quite a bit of wind as well. We had to break out our winter coats and gloves when we went to do our food shopping last Monday, and even with the fireplace going inside we still spent a good deal of time wrapped in warm blankets, and drank coffee, tea, and cocoa trying to stay warm. My knees are already aching near constantly, a hint of what’s to come in Japan next year, especially when I have to climb up and down multiple flights of steps going into and out of the stations.
We’ll be heading out of town once more on Tuesday morning, this time to visit Bath for two days. Our Airbnb there is right in the center of town, just a few minutes walk from the Royal Crescent and other sights, and a few minutes more away from the Roman Baths. We plan to take a free walking tour and we will meet with one of Brett’s former high school classmates for tea. He has lived in the area for years and teaches at a local university, and Brett has been looking forward to getting together with him ever since we planned to come to England. We will stick with our usual meal plan while we’re there – breakfast and evening snacks at our rental and one (big) meal out each day.
This past week I went to empty my spam folder on the blog (I take care of this every other month as I thankfully don’t get a lot of spam) and discovered a few comments from readers that had gone directly there. Grrrrrr. If you have sent a comment and don’t see it appear this is most likely what happened and I apologize. Also, there still appears to be something weird going on between WordPress and Blogger as I’ve had absolutely no success in commenting on any Blogger platform either from my laptop or phone. WordPress can just be weird though – I have a couple of commenters who have been commenting on my blogs for years and I still have to approve them every single time!
Anyway, this morning I am:
Reading: It took a few days for the third book in the Morse series, The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn, to become available for download from the library so I started Code Girls: The Untold Story of American Women Code Breakers of WWII, about the women who worked in cryptology during WWII (it was mostly women who did this work). But, the Morse book became available on Friday so I’ve set aside Code Girls until I get it finished.
Listening to: So far it’s been a very quiet morning. It’s thankfully not raining (for now), there’s no one out on the streets, and Brett is reading. I slept in a bit this morning and missed all the church bells but all this quiet is very nice.
Watching: We watched the final of The Great British Baking Show this week and decided we just didn’t really care much for this season. No quirky/interesting bakers to root for as in the past – the bakers this year were mostly in their 20s and overly focused – and the bakes themselves were weird at times. We’re still watching and enjoying Doc Martin and The Accident, and caught the opener of Endeavour – it’s going to be a great season.
Cooking: We’re having sausage rolls and miniature pork pies for dinner tonight along with homemade applesauce, with any leftovers for breakfast on Tuesday morning before we catch the train. Tomorrow we’ll most likely be having meatloaf sandwiches. We’re not going to Aldi again until the 11th and will instead pick up a few things from the village store after we return to get us through until then.
Happy I accomplished this past week: The only thing I accomplished this past week was finding and booking some flights. It took a while, but I finally found a decent fare for YaYu’s trip from Philadelphia at Christmas on a schedule that worked for her but it took some effort (I have yet to ever find a real bargain on any flight between Philly and Portland, especially for the holidays). On the other hand I happened to find a very, very good price for Delta’s Premium Select seats on a flight from Tokyo to our mystery destination next April and snapped those up. We vowed after our extremely uncomfortable flight back to the U.S. earlier this year that we would not sit in economy seats again (other than on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner) for any flight longer than five hours, and we increased the amount in our travel budget to cover the cost of upgraded seats. Premium Select seats are wider, have a leg and foot rest, and recline more fully, and they also come with some first-class amenities, like dining on real dishes with real cutlery and drinking from real glassware and cups, all without a first-class price.
Looking forward to next week: Bath has been a dream destination for me for ages and had been our initial choice for where to stay during our visit to England, although we are now very happy we ended up in Blockley. So, we’re looking forward to our upcoming getaway, and fingers crossed, hoping the current weather prediction holds (cold but not raining) while we’re there. I’m also looking forward to having an authentic Sally Lunn bun in Bath – other than tea with Brett’s classmate and a stop at Sainsbury’s for a few things for the cottage I’m hoping that will be our only expense!
Thinking of good things that happened: The “BAD Company’s” (Blockley Amateur Drama Company) production of Cranford was wonderful, funny and well done and we’re so glad we went. I’m not sure if another happening around here this past week was a good thing or not, but if nothing else it was “interesting:” We spotted a small weasel-like animal running around on our patio one morning! It was most likely a ferret (at least we hope that’s what it was), but if we hadn’t figured out by now that we were living in the countryside, that would have done the trick.
Thinking of frugal things we did: A small thing: we passed on buying a tin of Cadbury drinking chocolate at the village store (@£2.29) last Sunday afternoon because we felt we could get it cheaper when we went to Moreton-in-Marsh on Monday. Yup – the same tin was just £1.35 at Tesco Express. We stuck to our list at Aldi and came in under budget (spent £43.50; our weekly budget amount is £50), even after buying some gift items to take back to the U.S. with us. We had five no-spend days last week, ate all the leftovers, and didn’t throw away any food.
Grateful for: While she was here YaYu checked out my laptop and let me know that the battery in my nearly four-year-old MacBook Air was living on borrowed time. It’s gone way, way over it’s predicted lifespan, so although it drains fairly quickly these days (usually in around three or four hours of use), I’m extremely grateful it’s hung on for so long and has that it’s been such a dependable workhorse. Currently, Apple is offering generous trade-in allowances, something else to be grateful for at this time, so I’m going to look into turning it in when we get back to Portland for a new (and lighter) model. However, I might just replace the battery if the total cost of going new is too much and stick with my old friend. We’ll see.
Bonus question: Can you choose a favorite “English experience” yet? At the top of my list would be walking through the English countryside (as long as there’s no mud). I have never lived or really spent time in the country so this was a new experience for me and have I loved it more than I thought I would. The landscapes and views have been magnificent every time and never fail to take my breath away. I’ve also found myself having more energy than I knew whenever we’ve gone out, and every walk we’ve done has gone straight into my heart. I’ve also enjoyed our visits to tea shops for tea and scones with clotted cream and jam. It’s been an effort not to do this every time we go somewhere, but again it’s been a uniquely British experience I will never forget.
I don’t want to believe November has arrived – our final month in England. We are growing a bit restless at this point though, but still have things on our list to see and do here, and hope the weather will cooperate at least a few days this month. For example, I don’t want to be this close and never get over to visit Stratford-upon-Avon.
As has been true with some other places we’ve visited, as much as we love and have loved being here in England, and love village life, we’ve come to see we could never live here long-term because of the weather. Fall and winter would be just too cold and gloomy for us. Somewhere along the way, we’ve turned into warm-weather people (although not hot and/or humid weather people) which we realize is going to narrow the number of choices we’ll have for where we eventually settle if and when we ever get around to doing that.
That’s all for this week – hopefully I’ll have some more interesting and uplifting news to write about next Sunday (no guarantees though). I hope everyone had a great week, full of good things, good food, good books, and good company, and are looking forward to the one that’s coming up!
Our souvenirs from Oxford: Brett got a Cheshire Cat mug (one of his all-time favorite literary characters) and I got a plastic-free reusable/sustainable travel cup in the Japanese “octopus” pattern at the Ashmolean Museum (the silicone top and sleeve and can be used on other cups). Both were purchased using a coupon, and cost less than £10 ($13).
We tried very hard to stay at or under our Daily Spending Average this month, but between our visit to Edinburgh and our time in London and Oxford with YaYu, October ended up being an expensive month for us and we are ending October with our DSA at $45.08. That’s $10/day over budget or $310 this month. Ouch.
We did a bit of traveling this past month, and we did buy a few things. Brett and I each got a cashmere scarf in Edinburgh (discounted because we bought two), and we also bought some shortbread and a bottle of gin when we toured the Edinburgh distillery. We ate out only once a day, nothing fancy, but otherwise, all meals were eaten at our apartment. We bought nothing in London other than three Oyster cards for transportation (£40/$52 each) and ate just one meal out a day while we were there as well. Even though we chose affordable places to eat (for London, that is), it was still expensive, usually in the $75+ range for the three of us. In Oxford, we walked everywhere, ate one meal out (full tea at the Randolph Hotel) and Brett and I stopped for coffee and cake at a cafe after YaYu departed. Brett and I also bought ourselves a coffee mug while we were there, our preferred souvenir these days. Along with the small rabbit pillow we got for YaYu (less than $25) before she arrived, it didn’t seem like much but it all added up and here we are.
Meat and dairy
Desserts and biscuits for afternoon tea
We spent £43.50 ($55) on this week’s groceries, enough to get us through until we return from our trip to Bath next week. That amount also included a few more items not shown because they will be used later for gifts.
We are finding food costs, if bought in a store like Aldi or Tesco, to be very affordable, much less than we paid in Portland last summer. We average around $50/week on food, with our monthly grocery store expenses less than $300 (our food budget is $450/month). However, everything else seems to cost much more here. Our round-trip bus ride over to Moreton-in-Marsh every week is £9 ($11.50), nearly triple the cost of a similar ride in Portland, and that’s after getting a discount because we buy a round trip ticket. A cup of tea and scones costs approximately $10 per person but we’ve learned to get a plate of two scones and share a pot of tea to save on that expense. We don’t do that very often though, maybe twice a month, and consider it a British experience we couldn’t do elsewhere. The different gins we are enjoying are also something unique to being in Britain. We’ve bought four bottles here of specialty gins, costing us about $180 total, but those have and will last through our entire three-month stay. They’ve been an absolutely delicious treat and we have no regrets (and we’ll go back to drinking cheap wine after we leave).
Anyway, we’ll keep trying and hope for a better result next month. We’re not quite sure where to make changes or cut back at this point. Brett tracks everything we spend, every day, and we think carefully about each purchase we make. We had several no-spend days in October and we’ll try to increase the number of those. Maybe $35/day is unrealistic, especially in an expensive country like England (and Japan) and perhaps we need to adjust the amount we’re putting away for YaYu’s college costs. We’ll see how November goes because December is also going to be an expensive month when we have all the girls with us for nearly a month.
After a rainy Friday, and an even wetter and windier Saturday (which blew almost all the beautiful red leaves off the vine at our cottage), we woke up on Sunday to blue skies and warmer temperatures. Yeah! After getting caught up with a few chores, Brett and I headed out for a walk through Blockley to see what fall colors we could find. We started off through the village and then turned down the road in the direction of the nearby village of Draycot, and eventually onto a footpath we hadn’t taken before (and probably shouldn’t have this time).
We now have a very good understanding of why a pair of Wellington boots are a must for life in the country. Still, it was a glorious day and we got some good exercise, found some great fall color, and had some fun, mud or no mud!
We have just a little over a month left to go in England.
Thirty-three days from now we will take the train to Gatwick Airport, board a plane, and head back to the U.S., to Portland again. We have seen and done almost everything here that we set out to see and do, with a short visit to Bath coming up in about 10 days (we decided against the driving tour to Cornwall). We still want to visit Stratford-upon-Avon and Bourton-on-the-Water, but otherwise, we are content to stay cozy in our little cottage when the weather is less than ideal (which is happening more frequently these days). The first feelings of restlessness have begun to appear now and again as well, letting us know the time is getting near for us to move on. Truth be told though we will be very, very sad to leave the UK – we’ve been having a wonderful time here.
This past week was a very relaxing one, although some of the relaxing was “mandatory” – other than our weekly shopping trip over to Moreton-in-Marsh on Monday (in the rain) we just didn’t feel like going anywhere or doing anything special. The weather was nice for a couple of days and we went for walks, but we spent most of our time relaxing and reading at home in front of the fire because other days were downright dreary (Friday and Saturday especially). We spent our time during our walks trying to figure out what some of the old shops might have been (we found the old wool shop, maybe where you bought yarn for knitting sweaters? And, we think we discovered a location where a pub had been in the past). Brett and I also tightened up our Christmas shopping list and as always, talked some more about future plans and how we see those possibly unfolding.
Also, there will be a small giveaway coming up in November! I plan to post about it around the middle of next month and then announce the winner soon after we get back to Portland so I can get it mailed off in early December – it would make a nice Christmas gift if someone wanted to use it for that. Stay tuned!
This morning I am:
Reading: I finished The Salt Path in two days – I couldn’t put it down – and then I finished the first and second books in Colin Dexter’s 13-book Inspector Morse series, Last Bus to Woodstock and Last Seen Wearing (just finished it last night). While I read those books I could picture how amazingly well John Thaw brought Dexter’s literary character to life in the TV series. Now I have to decide whether to just go through all of the Morse books together (they’re all available from the library and are fairly quick reads) or break them up with other books in between. I only have three more books to go to finish my goal of reading 52 books this year.
Listening to: The church bells are ringing! Brett is puttering around in the kitchen (putting away the dishes, fixing his breakfast) and making a bit of noise in there. I don’t know if it’s because the sun is out but the bells sound especially joyous this morning.
Watching: This week will be the final of The Great British Baking Show, but I’m not crazy about any of the three finalists so don’t really care who wins. My two favorite bakers were eliminated during the past two weeks. We started a new show this past Thursday, The Accident, which stars Sarah Lancashire, from Happy Valley and Last Dance in Halifax. We also watched Part I of a special about Prince Charles and his work in the Duchy of Cornwall and enjoyed that as well. Coming up on Saturday evening is the new season of Endeavour!
Cooking: We picked up some more Cornish pasties from the neighborhood shop to have this evening. The first ones we tried were amazing, so we wanted some more and this time we’re having chicken, bacon and potato ones. We’ll also be having applesauce – I’m making it today from British Cox apples that we picked up at Aldi this past week. Other items appearing on our dinner table this week will be breaded cod filets with roast vegetables; chicken masala along with vegetable samosas and onion bhajis; meatloaf with roasted root vegetables; and chicken en croute (ready to bake at Aldi and very affordable). Lamb seems to sadly be gone from Aldi these days.
Happy I accomplished this past week: I don’t think either Brett or I accomplished anything special other than keeping ourselves warm and dry (after getting drenched on Monday’s trip for groceries) and getting ourselves rested and rejuvenated after a very busy time with YaYu. I did purchase our train tickets to Bath so that trip is ready to go.
Looking forward to next week:We don’t have anything planned for this coming week, although the weather is supposed to be nice(r), especially toward the end of the week. If so, we’ll probably go over to Stratford-up-Avon on either Thursday or Friday. We’re also going to attend a local production of “Cranford” at the village hall on Thursday evening, put on by Blockley’s amateur drama group.
Thinking of good things that happened: Although most of the week was a rainy, windy mess, we did get some sunshine on a couple of days and got out for some walks. We enjoyed sleeping in every morning and being on our own schedule each day. British daylight savings began today so we’ll have longer days and more light.
Thinking of frugal things we did: Other than food shopping and buying tickets to see “Cranford,” we had a no-spend week. We have been able to stay under $300/month when it comes to our eat-at-home food expenses here, even with things like laundry detergent and paper products and such included, a good thing because this has otherwise been an expensive month. We ate all of our leftovers and didn’t throw away any food.
Grateful for: Both Brett and I are feeling quite thankful these days for having a lot of time to think and talk about our plans for next year. We have destinations scheduled through early June of next year (finishing with a visit to Maine following WenYu’s graduation), but I have to admit that after that we don’t have a firm idea at all of what we want to do or where we want to go. Should we continue traveling? Settle down? If so, where? We go back and forth and can’t seem to reach a decision about anything. Since we don’t really have to decide anything now we’re going to keep any ideas or plans to ourselves as we come up with something because it seems as soon as we think we’ve reached a decision and announce it, even to our family, a short time later something comes up and we change our minds again. Like our mystery destination following our stay in Japan next year, we’ll announce our plans when we get there as that seems to be the safest path for us to follow these days.
Bonus question: Overall, what’s the best purchase you’ve made this year? Hands down I have to say the best thing I bought this year was the pair of trail shoes I purchased in Portland at the beginning of last summer. They have been worth every penny, and I’m exceedingly glad I spent a little extra for the pair with thicker, more cushioned soles and a wide footbed. Those two things have made a huge difference in how long and how far I can walk, especially on pavement. The shoes made it possible for me to enjoy our time in Edinburgh, London, and Oxford, and the distances we walked there without collapsing in pain at the end of each day, or not wanting to go out again. And of course, they’ve been wonderful for countryside walks here in Blockley and the surrounding area. They are holding up very well too, and still look close to new.
All in all, this was not the most exciting of weeks, but that’s OK and one of the reasons we’re enjoying our longer stay here in Blockley. We don’t have to be out exploring or sightseeing all the time and don’t need to feel guilty about staying in and reading when the weather is nasty outside. We’ve used our time off this week to think and talk about lots of things, including our upcoming return to Portland and reunion with the girls, and what we’re going to do (and eat) when we’re all together. I’m also teetering on the edge of a cold, so staying indoors and out of the cold and wet, and getting lots of rest, has been a good thing for me to do this week.
That’s all from the Occasional Nomads for this week. I hope everyone had some glorious fall weather (at least better than what we’ve had) and is looking forward to Halloween and trick-or-treaters this week. We’ll be attending “Cranford” that evening so won’t get to experience what goes on here, although there have been lots of ads for the holiday on TV, and lots of trick-or-treat candy available at Aldi and other stores.
Finally, what are you all reading these days? I’d love suggestions and ideas for new books to add to my Kindle even if I do read all the Morse books together!
When I know we’ll be in a location for only a few days like we were in Edinburgh, London or Oxford, the first thing I look into is whether there are any walking tours that might pique our interest, and give us a different or deeper look into the place we’re visiting. In Edinburgh, we took three tours: one that focused on the city’s medical past, another that looked at the dark side of the city, and one that dug a little deeper into the Old Town’s history. In London, a walking tour gave us a fun and closer look at the neighborhood of Notting Hill, where we learned all sorts of interesting things about the area’s history, who had lived there, or what was going on there now.
With only a day for a visit to Oxford, the walking tour we booked through the city’s Visitor Information Center took us to places we wouldn’t have known to visit or gotten into otherwise, and we also received in-depth and fascinating information about the university and its history including how many colleges are included (38), its libraries (12 million books and counting), acceptance rates, how classes are taught, where and how students live while attending, how meals are taken, and the college’s extensive wine collection (which students can enjoy at low prices). We learned about famous people who had attended Oxford and which colleges they had attended as well as visited sites where scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed. The pictures below are part of what we saw in our two-hour tour, most of which we’d have never figured out on our own, at least not in a day:
The Sheldonian Theatre
Wadham College park is reserved for faculty
Student bikes at Wadham College
The Bridge of Sighs
The Bodleian Library
The Divinity School (seen in several Harry Potter movies)
The Radcliffe Camera
All Souls College
University Church of St. Mary the Virgin
Jesus College quadrangle
Early wooden building outside city walls
Exeter College Chapel
Exeter Chapel Interior
One of the many historical plaques throughout the city
The Ashmolean Museum
A smaller, quieter Thames River flows through Oxford
We’ve done guided walking tours in Buenos Aires, Paris, Rome, Edinburgh, London and Oxford, and self-guided tours in Strasbourg, Lucerne, Bordeaux, and Florence. Most every city we’ve visited has offered free guided walking tours and throughout our travels we have toggled between those and ones purchased either through Airbnb Experiences or local visitor centers. In some places, free tours can be offered through local volunteer groups as well. We had a free, custom tour of the Montmarte neighborhood in Paris arranged through Paris Greeters, and have used free local guides in Kamakura, Japan, for private tours as well. Our biggest issue with some of the larger free tours is that they can be too general, and the size of the groups that congregate for the tour can sometimes be 20 (or more) people, making it difficult to keep up with the group and/or hear the guide. These tours often also count on tips received from tour members at the end, so they’re not really free unless you stiff the guide. Tours booked for a fee typically are small-group, with no more than 10-12 people maximum, and a few times we’ve ended up getting a private tour or going with just one other couple. We have tipped on those if we’ve had an exceptional time, but usually, it’s not required nor expected.
Choosing tours is one of my travel tasks, and the first thing I do when looking for a walking tour is to read lots of descriptions to see if any tours sound interesting and like something we would enjoy. Once I’ve gotten two or three tours picked out I go on and read lots and lots and lots of reviews. Airbnb tours are rated on a five-star system, so I look for tours that have received high scores and have been taken by more than a few people. I also read tour reviews on TripAdvisor and other travel sites. A tour’s price is also a consideration – I’m not looking for the cheapest tours out there, but neither do I want the most expensive. Our three tours in Edinburgh cost the two of us $92 in total and ranged in price from $13 to $19 per person, but we could have done similar tours that cost more. I always check to see if a senior discount is offered as well; we did receive a nice one for the Oxford walking tour (along with a student discount for YaYu). Tours generally last anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes, although we did a three-hour one in Rome, and the distance covered in that time can be up to three miles or more. Comfortable shoes are a must!
Suggestions from our guides about other places to see or eat or shop are also some of the best things we’ve taken away from the walking tours we’ve done. All of our guides have been locals with deep knowledge and love of their city, and they’ve always been eager to share what they know if we ask.
We don’t always use them but have found walking tours a terrific way to explore a city if our time is limited or we want a more in-depth or unusual look at a city’s history. Whether free or for a fee, we’ve found these tours to be a good travel investment and one of the first things we investigate before traveling to a new city.