London Calling

Near-constant rain was the backdrop of our London visit.

When we set out last Friday for London I wasn’t sure how I felt about going. I was excited about getting to see YaYu and spending time with her but also was somewhat dreading the logistics of navigating a new-to-us (very) large city, albeit an exciting one filled with lots to see and the potential for adventure.

On our way to London – that big cloud followed us the whole way.

Rain was the signature feature of our travel day. It was raining when we left Blockley and rained the entire way to London, with us getting soaked at the stations where we made transfers. We arrived on time though, and once we got to our hotel had a light dinner and went to bed early as we needed to be at Heathrow at 7:00 a.m. to meet YaYu’s flight. We almost arrived late for that though – we ordered a taxi in the morning and were told it would arrive at the hotel in approximately 10 minutes so we went back up to our room to get our bags. When we came back down another couple was finishing loading their bags into OUR taxi and off they went! So, a new taxi had to be called but it took its time getting to the hotel. We finally made it to Heathrow, went running to the arrival gate and just a couple of minutes later out came YaYu!

Our London Airbnb apartment was in the back attic of this terraced home.

From the airport we headed over to our Airbnb rental to drop off our bags – our host happened to be home that morning and said it was fine for us to check-in early. Our loft apartment, located in the attic of an older terraced home, was clean and modern, with a comfortable sofa bed for YaYu in the living room. It was a good thing though that YaYu and Brett can sleep through anything, and I was extremely thankful I had thought to bring earplugs along with me because one of the first things we noticed was that jets into Heathrow were coming in right over the house (apparently this happens only once or twice a year – lucky us).

And, just because I like to keep things interesting, on the way out of the station on the way to the house I had caught my foot on the steps and fell, jamming the big toe on my right foot (but otherwise OK). The pain was excruciating, but thankfully I could still walk.

After getting our bags put away, we set out for our afternoon walking tour in Notting Hill. It took a longer time than expected to get to our destination – our trip by bus and train there took nearly two hours because the double-decker bus from our location to the underground station was slowed down by road construction as well as being crowded and needing to make frequent stops.

One of the many interesting places we stopped at in Notting Hill. This regular-looking building is actually a very, very private hotel favored by celebrities. In September 1970 Jimi Hendrix overdosed on sleeping medication and died in the room under the window and behind the plants.
Arundel Lane in Notting Hill had the unfortunate distinction of being the most bombed street in London during WWII. It was rebuilt after the war to look just as it did before its destruction.

We arrived on time in Notting Hill with minutes to spare, found our meeting place, and soon set off on what turned out to be a fun and very interesting two-hour tour. Our group was small (only eight of us) but the guide really knew the neighborhood and its history, and told interesting stories and showed the group where several celebrities had lived or currently owned homes, or where famous events had taken place. It rained steadily during the entire tour, but it was so interesting the time flew by. After finishing we went back to a small restaurant our guide had pointed out along the tour, Mike’s Cafe, which had recently been voted as having the best breakfast in London, and had a great (and affordable, for London) late lunch/early dinner there. Across the street was a gourmet doughnut shop filled with decadent choices, and we each chose one for our next morning’s breakfast. We arrived back to our apartment that evening feeling extremely tired – we had walked five miles that day! My toe was screaming, and when I finally got a look at it, it was double in size and sporting a huge, deep purple bruise, not a good sign.

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Little did we know when we got up on Sunday that we would be calling on all of our resourcefulness and ingenuity to get ourselves where we needed to be. We had tickets to visit the Tower of London, but getting there wasn’t going to be easy in the least. There was a large eco-demonstration going on in the city and the two train lines that would get us to the Tower were closed down (one for scheduled maintenance, it turned out). We made it as far as Covent Garden, London’s theater district, and then had to find a bus. Locating the bus stop however turned out to be a major challenge because so many streets were shut down by the demonstration. There were police stationed all over though and one finally helped us find the stop we needed. We had a long, long wait for the bus, under a big theater marquee, but eventually the bus showed up and off we went . . . or so we thought. Twice the bus made stops where everyone had to get off and climb on another bus! We eventually made it to the Tower, but the journey had taken us nearly three hours!

We spent a couple of hours exploring the Tower, including viewing the Crown Jewels (which were spectacular), then walked over to see the famous Tower Bridge. The rain was light when it did appear but mostly the day was only windy and cold. At the Tower Bridge Pier we caught a boat and took a wonderful ride down the Thames to Westminster Pier, enjoying views along the way of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, and several other famous buildings. At Westminster Pier we sadly discovered Big Ben and many of the Parliament buildings were shrouded for major conservation work, so we didn’t hang around and instead walked over to Westminster Abbey. It was closed at the time we were there, but we enjoyed walking around the exterior and talking about the events we knew of that had occurred there (weddings, funerals, etc.). The Abbey was much larger than we thought; however, YaYu said that everything else we had seen was smaller than she had imagined, including the London Eye and Big Ben.

We had initially not planned on seeing Buckingham Palace but since we were so close we thought we should walk over and check it out before stopping for another late lunch/early dinner. From the Palace we walked over to Victoria Station Plaza to have another late lunch/early dinner at Wagamama and make a quick stop in Marks & Spencer for a few supplies. When we stepped outside after eating the first thing we noticed were blue skies and sunshine, giving us hope our final day in London might end up being a good one. Trains were running from Victoria Station so we had a fairly quick and easy trip getting back to our apartment. Once back we discovered we had walked five and a half miles that day – it was no wonder we all felt so tired! Thankfully when I woke up that morning the swelling in my toe had gone down and the pain had decreased as well so I had a better experience getting around than I thought I would.

My dinner selection at Wagamama, chicken & shrimp pad thai, was a risky choice – the last time I’d had it I broke my tooth. No problems this time though and it was delicious.
Westminster Cathedral (Catholic), across from Victoria Station. Sadly the blue skies and sunshine didn’t last long.

Because our behind-the-scenes tour on Monday for the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace had been canceled (there was an official state event that day – the Queen went to Parliament to make a speech), we slept in a bit on Monday morning but woke to heavy rain (again) and howling winds. We also felt more tired than we imagined we would, and decided not to push ourselves to go out again but instead spend the day together resting up for our trip back to the Cotswolds the next day. We eventually got bored though and rode the bus down to a big commercial area next to the nearest train station, and got a few more things at Marks & Spencer and had dinner at an interesting and inexpensive fast food noodle shop. I had initially been disappointed that our tour that morning had been canceled, but we all ended up feeling thankful because the weather was not fit for anyone or anything to be out in. We came home from dinner, packed our bags for the next morning’s departure and enjoyed some hot chocolate and watched some TV.

This is the main reason I visit Marks & Spencer! Best. Cereal. Ever.

After three days in London we were eager to get back to the more quiet pace of our little Cotswolds village. I’m not sure our short time in London was enough to form any kind of honest opinion about the city, and while we enjoyed our Notting Hill tour and the sights we visited on Sunday, we mostly felt overwhelmed by the transportation issues, crowds, and exhaustion (and in my case, a foot injury). The miserable weather added to the feelings of too much in a strange city. However, we absolutely loved the diversity we encountered there, all the languages we heard spoken, the variety of ethnic restaurants and shops, and the kindness of almost all the people we met or encountered during our visit.

We’re off tomorrow morning to visit Oxford. We’re booked on a walking tour in the early afternoon, and then plan to stop at a pottery studio and store I have long wanted to visit before going to our B&B. On Friday morning we’ll tour the Ashmolean Museum before getting YaYu over to the station to catch the bust to Heathrow for her flight back to the U.S.

In Search of Thatched Cottages

As we arrived in Broad Campden, a thatched roof could be spotted on the right.

Before coming to England and spending time in Blockley nothing said “English country village” to me more than a thatched cottage. While there appears to be none in our village, we did spot a few of these cottages as we passed through the village of Broad Campden on our way to Chipping Campden a few weeks ago, so when we finally got a break in the weather this past week we headed over to check them out.

Although it is possible to walk from Blockley to Broad Campden via the Heart of England Way, because of all the recent rain there had been (and the resulting mud) we chose to go over to the village by bus, and then take a shorter walk between the two Campdens, and catch the bus home from Chipping Campden. If we’ve learned nothing else in the past two weeks it’s that the weather can change quickly here – a sunny day can suddenly turn cloudy, cold and rainy in a matter of a few minutes, and vice versa and we did not want to get stuck if rain appeared again.

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Broad Campden was an absolutely beautiful little village full of pretty homes and cottages, a small but lovely church, and a Quaker meeting house that’s been used since the mid-17th century. As my father and his family were/are Quakers, I was especially interested in seeing this place. Other than one pub, there are no other businesses in the village. We spent approximately an hour after we arrived walking through the village.

And yes, we did discover thatched cottages, several of them. All of them appeared to have been plucked from a storybook.

At noon we headed to Baker’s Arms pub for lunch. The pub has been operating since the 17th century and is one of the local pubs our host recommended we try. Brett ordered a tuna sandwich on whole-grain bread for his lunch, while I chose a traditional ploughman’s lunch, with ham, cheddar, beets, Branston pickle, pickled onions, salad, and bread. The lunch was once again huge, much more than I expected, and I did my best to finish as much as I could.

The Baker’s Arms sits in the middle of Broad Campden.
The pub has been open since the 17th century. Interior pub scenes in the Father Brown series are filmed here.
My ploughman’s lunch was extremely generous

As we finished up our lunches we looked out the window and noticed that what was blue sky when we arrived was now dark, heavy, and clouded and the wind had picked up. We quickly settled our bill and set out for Chipping Campden, hoping we could make it before rain arrived.

The Heart of England Way left Broad Campden on a small path squeezed between cottages.
On the way out of the village we passed a pasture with freshly shorn sheep . . .
. . . and then headed out across some fields to Chipping Campden, with rain threatening the entire way.
Thankfully, the clouds blew over and the sun returned by the time we arrived in town to catch our bus back to Blockley.

As we started over the fields the clouds began to spit on us, and we were sure we were going to end up arriving in Chipping Campden soaked to the skin. But, the clouds blew past us and by the time we arrived in town the sun was back out again, ending what was a lovely outing on a high note.

A Short Visit to Edinburgh – Part 2

The view from Greyfriers Kirkyard at night looked like a scene out of The Exorcist.

We were quite tired when we got back to our apartment on Wednesday following the Marvelous Medical Tour in the afternoon. Our ice cream at Mary’s Milk Bar had perked us up a bit, but it felt good to put our feet up for a while before our last outing of the day, the two-hour Dark Side of Edinburgh tour.

We arrived back at the Grassmarket a little before 8:00 p.m. as our small group was forming and getting to know each other. Our guide, Rhona, chatted with us all for a few minutes and then said “Let’s get started,” immediately transforming herself into the character of “Madame McKinnon,” a bawdy former brothel owner who had been hanged for the murder of three customers back in the day. She stayed in character throughout the tour – it was quite amazing and entertaining, but she knew her history and kept us interested (and scared us a few times too) throughout the entire tour.

It was flat out creepy walking through the cemetery at night, and our guide had plenty of scary stories to go with the experience.
The George Heriot School for Boys, just outside the Kirkyard, had a bit of an unsavory past. The school building was J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts.
Our group stopped for yet another creepy story from Edinburgh’s past in an old close (alleyway).

Rhona took us through the Greyfriars Kirkyard (cemetery) in the dark, something I never thought I’d do (and enjoy), and we walked through alleys and other areas in Old Town Edinburgh that are said to be haunted. She had all sorts of stories and interesting facts about graverobbers, devil worshipers, sadists, and other unsavory characters including some of the places where we had walked during our earlier tour and on our own (Grassmarket, for example, hosted not only a market but well-attended public hangings as well). It was a fun and fascinating tour, and Brett and I totally forgot how tired we had been before it started. The two hours were over before we knew it.

Greyfriars Kirkyard was almost benign during the day. Several of the names J.K. Rowling used in the Harry Potter book came from graves in the cemetery (like Tom Riddle and Professor McGonagall).

We had one last tour to go on our last day in Edinburgh, a history lover’s tour of the Old Town. While our first two days had been sunny and pleasant, on Thursday the temperature had dropped by nearly 15 degrees and it had turned quite windy – not very pleasant weather for being outside. But, we kept reminding ourselves, at least it wasn’t raining. We started out a bit worried that this tour would be overkill, repeating some of the information we had learned on the tours we took the day before.

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We needn’t have worried; our final tour turned out to be the most interesting of all and although we visited some of the same places (we made a third trip into to Greyfriars Kirkyard and took our fifth walk down Victoria Street) we heard all sorts of new information about the places we’d been earlier and also went to many hidden places we had not seen before. Besides having a great sense of humor, our guide, Gains, also has a Ph.D. in Scottish history and was able to go into depth and help us put things together and make more sense of the history we were seeing and hearing. At the end of our tour, he offered each of us a small cup of whiskey (which I still don’t care for) before saying goodbye. Slàinte!

The Caledonia Hotel, Grande Dame of Edinburgh lodgings.
We enjoy not only our wine but the cozy chairs and warmth at the Caly Bar.

After the tour Brett and I walked over to the Caledonia Hotel, open since 1833 and now operated by Waldorf Astoria. Our goal was to 1) get warm, and 2) enjoy a drink in the Caly Bar, where our favorite fictional detective, John Rebus, sometimes met for a drink with “Big Ger” Cafferty, Edinburgh’s top gangster. The bar was posh and warm, and we each enjoyed a big glass of wine and watched what was going on out the window – the experience was everything we had hoped for.

The North Sea was dark and gray as we passed by on our way back to London.
We passed street after street after street of row houses as the train sped through Newcastle – some were new but most were old.

And then it was Friday and time to head back to Blockley. We went to bed Thursday night convinced we would be walking over to the station in the pouring rain (unless we got lucky enough to flag down a taxi), but wonder of wonders, the rain stopped as we left the apartment. We took a final walk up The Bow and walked a bit down the high street once more before turning left down Fleshmarket Close to the station (one of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus books is Fleshmarket Alley so this was a special treat for us). Our train left Edinburgh right at 10:00 a.m. and pulled into Kings Cross on time at 2:39. After that things fell apart though. Trains from St. Pancras were not on any sort of schedule, not that it mattered because any train departing from there left the station after our train out of Reading Station was scheduled to depart! We eventually got ourselves to Reading, and on to Moreton-in-Marsh, and a kind young couple from London offered to share their cab with us and we got home to Blockley a little after 8:00 p.m., exhausted but filled with wonderful memories of our time in Edinburgh.

All three of the great walking tours we took were booked through Airbnb Experiences, and the total cost for all three was $92, a bargain considering all we saw and learned. The tours were a fantastic way to get acquainted with Edinburgh and its deep history. The Distillery tour was booked online with Edinburgh Gin and cost £10/$12.25 each. It was also money well spent. If we’d had at least one more day we would have checked out the New Town (which is actually more than 250 years old!) and gone over to Leith to tour the former royal yacht, Britannia.

Yes, I rubbed the dog’s nose – maybe that’s why it didn’t rain during our time in Edinburgh.

*** We waited for our first tour by the famous statue of Greyfriars Bobby. All three of our guides, all from Edinburgh, were not particularly fans of the dog’s legend, and all the said the “custom” of rubbing the dog’s nose for luck was less than five years old, invented by a creative tour guide one day!

A Short Visit to Edinburgh – Part 1

Edinburgh skyline

How much can you see and do in an old, historically significant city on a three-day visit? Quite a bit, it turns out. We decided before we left that the best way for us to experience as much of the city of Edinburgh as we could was to take some small-group walking tours with local experts, so we signed up for three different, short tours as well as a distillery tour. While we left Edinburgh at the end of our stay feeling tired, we learned and saw more than we imagined while we were there, far more than we ever could have figured out on our own.

The big, old stations in the north of England, like this one in Darlington, have been modernized, but retain many of their original features such as wide, arching glass roofs and decorative iron pillars.

The train ride up to Scotland from the Cotswolds was long (10 hours, on four different trains), and we arrived to rain in Edinburgh. The signage in Waverly Station was only mildly helpful at best but we eventually found our way out of the station to the taxi stand and had a short ride over to our small, but cozy apartment. After getting ourselves checked in, we headed down the street to a small Indian restaurant that our taxi driver had recommended. I had lamb korma, Brett got a chicken biryani and we shared an order of garlic naan as each piece was the size of a large dinner plate. We were almost too tired to eat but managed to get half of our orders eaten and brought the rest back to the apartment for dinner the next night. Our one concern with the apartment was that the bed might be too soft, but both of us fell asleep quickly and slept soundly that (and every) night.

Cobblestone streets were the norm in much of Old Town Edinburgh.
Small covered lanes or closes (alleys) ran between larger streets in the city.
Edinburgh is a very old city, and beyond its castles, streets, and famous buildings its age and history can be found in the smallest of places. We had no idea what this place had been, with the words currently just a few feet above street level.

The taxi driver had said the weather would be good for the next couple of days after our arrival, but we woke up to gray, cloudy skies again. The rain had stopped however, so after breakfast (yogurt and oatmeal provided by our host) Brett and I set out to visit the city’s main attraction, Edinburgh Castle. Located only a 10-minute walk away from our apartment, we still had to contend with cobblestones, hills, and many stairs to reach the entrance. Blue skies were poking through as we arrived and before we knew it the clouds were mostly gone. For the rest of the day we enjoyed blue skies and sunshine.

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We spent over two hours touring the castle grounds and the Great Hall, and went up into the Royal Apartments where Scotland’s crown jewels can be viewed (while not quite as stunning as England’s Crown Jewels, Scotland’s are quite beautiful and considerably older). Also on view was the stone seat where Scotland’s kings and queens were crowned. Overall, the castle and grounds were magnificent as were the views from the castle, and our visit was well worth the price of admission. There was also a nice cafe inside the castle as well as a tea house and whiskey tasting room, and we opted to stay and have an affordable lunch at the cafe before heading down the Royal Mile (or High Street).

Kilts and bagpipes on the Royal Mile
St. Giles Cathedral
There was more cashmere for sale than can be imagined. Prices were consistent from shop to shop as well so it didn’t matter much which store you chose for your shopping.
I wanted the dress MacDonald tartan as I’m descended from the clan, but although I looked in more shops than I can count no one had it or anything close.

After lunch, we took a stroll down the high street toward Holyrood Castle, where members of the royal family stay when visiting Scotland. We wanted to get a cashmere scarf for each of us, and we were also looking for a shop that carried some of the best shortbread in Edinburgh. The amount of cashmere available on the high street was frankly overwhelming, with practically every other shop on each side of the street selling it in some form or another. Shop walls were lined with shelves holding scarves and sweaters, and there were often large tables set up, covered with even more scarves in every color and pattern imaginable. I was looking for a particular tartan – dress MacDonald – as my maternal grandmother’s family came to America from Scotland and belonged to the MacDonald clan. Brett and I eventually decided to stop in a shop called Marchbrae (we liked the name) and after nearly going out of our minds because of all the choices we eventually found scarves that we liked (it turned out that not one store carried anything in the dress MacDonald tartan, let alone a scarf). Leaving Marchbrae with our scarves, we walked further down the street to Cranachan & Crowdie to check out the shortbread. The store had samples available and we ended up buying ourselves a small tin of orange shortbread with chocolate chips. Let’s just say that real, small-batch shortbread tastes 100x better than Walkers, which is pretty good stuff.

Looking back up The Bow (Victoria Street). Lined with small, unusual shops, the street was J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley.

At that point, we had a choice between continuing down to Holyrood Castle or heading back to our apartment, and as we were both still quite tired we decided to go back and rest up for the next day, our “Day of Tours,” with three different tours scheduled. The walk back to the apartment was lovely, and we got a lovely surprise when the route we went took us down Victoria Street (“the Bow”) to the Grassmarket. From there it was just a few more minutes to our apartment. We were surprised to discover that evening we had walked over four miles and taken 10,000 steps. No wonder we felt so tired!

One of three stills at the Edinburgh Gin Distillery – this one is named Flora, and she was busy creating a batch of specialty gin the day we visited (it can be seen boiling through the porthole).
Edinburgh Gin produces seven varieties of gin and seven gin-based liqueurs. They also still distill two varieties of whiskey – the earnings from the whiskey is what allowed the owners to begin making gin.
At the end of the tour we were served a tasty gin & tonic, and also got to sample some elderflower gin.

The next morning we were up early for our first tour of the day, the Edinburgh Gin Distillery, located in the opposite direction from the castle, near the historic Caledonia Hotel. Our small group started with a presentation on the history of gin in Scotland followed by a talk about how gin was made. We were allowed to smell and taste some of the various botanicals used in the making of gin and learned that without the inclusion of juniper and possibly other botanicals gin is basically not very good vodka. Afterward, we went in to view two of the distillery’s three small-batch stills close up and then were treated to a sample of one of Edinburgh Gin’s varieties (elderflower, I think) and a gin & tonic made with their standard dry gin. Because we had been on the tour we received a discount at the gift shop and Brett and I chose a bottle of Seaside Gin, their most popular variety, infused with not only juniper but seaweed and plants foraged from the Scottish coast. It is delicious.

Chicken and mushroom pie for lunch at the Mitre pub on the high street. Brett chose a trio of mini pies for his lunch. The delicious, flaky crust on my pie was the best I’ve ever had anywhere.

Before we went to our second tour of the day we walked back to the high street and had lunch at the Mitre pub. We both wanted to try their meat pies which were reasonably priced (£12/$14.75) and came with mashed potatoes and gravy and vegetables. Both our orders were delicious and filling, and we left lunch feeling satisfied and ready to take on our next tour. The Marvelous Medical Tour took place on the city’s southside and covered Edinburgh’s heyday as the center of medicine in the English-speaking world. We were the only people signed up for the tour that day, and besides learning about the many medical techniques that came out of Edinburgh and getting to see a part of the city often missed by visitors, we also heard all about all sorts of things from grave robbers to the real-life Sherlock Holmes to chloroform parties to plague doctors and more. Our guide really knew his stuff, it was all interesting, and we had a great time.

The “new” medical college is only a couple of hundred years old. Medical students at the University of Edinburgh still take their anatomy classes here.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lodging while he was a medical student in Edinburgh. His professor, Dr. Bell, was the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.
The old surgical hospital is still used by the university today, but not for surgery. Innovations such as using chloroform for anesthesia and techniques for disinfecting wounds and surgical tools were developed here.
The Old College is no longer part of the medical school but is used by other university departments these days. Charles Darwin studied medicine here but decided he did not want to be a doctor.

We had a few hours between that tour and our final tour of the day, which actually was going to take place at night, so we walked back to our apartment to rest for a couple of hours with a stop for ice cream on the way at Mary’s Milk Bar, a cute shop in the Grassmarket selling sweets and artisanal ice creams and gelato. Unusual for us, we both chose the same flavor of ice cream, fig with honey, a delicious treat.

Later, just before the sun went down we headed back out once again, this time to learn about Edinburgh’s dark history . . . .

Closing Out the Books for September 2019

Worth every penny . . .

September was a very good month budget-wise. Well, it was until we got to the last two days of the month. Spending on just those two days blew up all our good work and we ended up with a higher put us above where we wanted to be, by a little over $5/day.

On September 29 we visited the nearby village of Broadway, and besides our usual stop for tea and scones, we also purchased a small gift for YaYu, and we picked up two bottles of gin at the Cotswolds Gin Distillery Shop. Specialty gin is not cheap, but it’s something we can’t get back in the U.S. and something we’re especially enjoying during our time here. At the very least, the two bottles we purchased (plus the one we later bought in Edinburgh) will be enough to get us through until the end of our stay in the United Kingdom. Anyway, our DSA before entering Broadway was $35.45, upon leaving the village it had jumped to $38.75.

The last day of September was our travel day up to Edinburgh. We bought a few snack items at the village shop the day before to have on hand on the way up and bought one bottle of water on the train. But, there was a Kiehl’s shop in King’s Cross, and since I needed to buy moisturizer anyway (I had planned to look for it next week in London) I went ahead and bought a jar at the station shop. We had a light lunch at King’s Cross (sandwich for Brett and Moroccan bowl for me) and a small dinner after we arrived in Edinburgh at an Indian restaurant just down the street from our apartment (which provided leftovers for next evening’s dinner). However, adding in our bus fare over to Moreton to catch the train and a taxi from the station to our apartment once we arrived, by the time that day finished our DSA for the month had climbed to $40.24. Ouch. It could have been a lot worse, but careful spending earlier in the month saved things from really getting out of hand.

Because of our visit to Edinburgh, we have started off the month of October with our DSA above where it should be (it’s currently just slightly over $38/day), although it is dropping quickly and we should be back to around $35/day or less by the time we leave for London at the end of the week. It will climb back over $35/day again while YaYu is here, but then we’ll have the rest of the month to bring it back down. With cold weather and rain in the forecast, we won’t be going out as much as we have been, and if we’re careful we should be ending the month at $35/day or a little below, right where we need to be.

Sunday Morning 10/6/2019: Week 5 in the UK

Looking out over the Old Town to Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags (in Holyrood Park) from Edinburgh Castle.

While we had a great time in Edinburgh this past week, we are also glad to be home again in our little village and in our cozy cottage. We stayed busy the entire time we were away, but the rides up and back, while beautiful, were long and tiring. The trip up to Scotland went according to schedule, but although we left Edinburgh on time Friday morning and arrived at our first stop in London on time, after that things fell apart. It turned out our ride from Gatwick out to Moreton was scheduled for 20 minutes before our train even left St. Pancras for Gatwick Station (I blame myself for not checking the timing better)! Then, to add to the turmoil, trains from St. Pancras station to Gatwick were not running on schedule anyway, with five trains already canceled. We were able to get on a train at 3:05 with hopes of getting to Gatwick in time to catch a 4:00 train to Reading (where we transferred to get to Moreton) but the train from St. Pancras quite literally poked along and we got into Gatwick at 4:25. We finally caught the 5:00 which got us into Moreton at 8:00 p.m., where a lovely young couple at the Moreton station offered to share their cab with us as Blockley was on their way. We were back in the cottage by 8:30 although feeling completely wiped out at that point. We spent yesterday doing laundry, reading, and resting and will continue the reading and resting today as we’re both still feeling a little tired.

This was the view from behind our apartment building – Edinburgh Castle was only a 10-minute walk away. All those clouds were almost blown away by the wind by the time we got up to the castle entrance. We were fascinated by all the chimneys everywhere – apparently back in the day every apartment (tenement) had its own fireplace (or two).

We enjoyed absolutely beautiful weather for our first two days in Edinburgh but woke up to a steep drop in the temperature, strong winds and cloudy skies on our third day (but thankfully no rain). Rain arrived on Friday morning but for some reason let up just when it was time for us to walk over to the station to catch our train, thank goodness. It’s colder here in Blockley now as well – we’ve got the heat on and the gas fireplace going in the cottage to keep us warm. Fall has definitely arrived.

We’ll be heading back up to London (Heathrow) on Friday afternoon – we’re spending the night there so we can meet YaYu’s plane early Saturday morning (before 7:00 a.m.). We plan to drop off our bags at our Airbnb in the morning and then head into the city for the day, or at least for as long as YaYu can handle being up. We’re doing a walking tour of Notting Hill early Saturday afternoon and a morning tour at Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard on Monday, but otherwise our time will be our own to fill and we’ll go along with what YaYu wants to see and do. On Tuesday we’ll come back to Blockley for a couple of days, and then go back to Oxford on Friday and spend the night there, putting YaYu on the bus to Heathrow for her flight back to the U.S. late Saturday morning. We’re thinking of going down to Bourton-on-the-Water for the day when we’re back here in the Cotswolds, but will have to see how we feel – we may just want to rest again and only do some walks around Blockley. Whatever happens, it’s going to be another busy week.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finally finished Middle England, but after we got back because I was too exhausted to read while we were away. I’ve just started Resurrection Men because I wanted to read something about Edinburgh and nobody does it better than Ian Rankin. He makes the city as much of a character as any of the people in his books.
  • Listening to: It is peacefully quiet here this morning both inside and out. Yesterday morning the church bells rang for over three hours! It was fun listening knowing how it was done and who was doing the ringing. It also rained quite a bit and the washer and dryer ran all day.
  • Watching: We didn’t watch any TV while we were in Edinburgh, but we did watch The Descendents on our last night there (the DVD was available in the apartment). We traditionally watch it on Thanksgiving, but missed it last year and will again this year, so we thought we should catch it while we could. It sure made us homesick for Kaua’i – can’t wait to be there again in January. I watched an episode of Endeavour on TV here last night but that’s it.
  • Cooking: We’ll be having leftover meatloaf tonight along with vegetable soup made from several odds and odds of vegetables that I want to use up before we go shopping tomorrow. This week we’ll be having chicken and vegetable stir-fry; chicken vegetable soup; meatballs with marinara; lamb burgers with roasted vegetables; tuna melts; and breakfast for dinner with eggs, sausages, and sauteed apples. YaYu doesn’t eat meat anymore so we’re also going to look for some vegetarian things to have on hand when she’s here at the cottage.
    After three busy days in Edinburgh, we were already tired when we started the long journey back to Blockley. But we were happy – we’d had a great visit!

    The scenery along the way going and coming back was beautiful, but it was especially thrilling to pass along the North Sea as we got close to Edinburgh.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: The train journey to and from Edinburgh was an effort and an accomplishment as each way involved four different train changes and getting through three rather large stations (including crossing the street to get from St. Pancras to King’s Cross). We also got stuck in rush hour traffic in London on our way back on Friday which kept things a bit more challenging. We made it to each of our four Edinburgh tours on time, a feat considering we had to figure out how to maneuver through a city we didn’t know very well at the time. We walked a minimum of three miles each day, and one day walked over six miles. Last Sunday evening, before we left I booked an Airbnb in Massachusetts for our stay for YaYu’s graduation, and another in Maine for a visit there afterward. We’re going to spend one night in Vermont or New Hampshire in between but haven’t chosen where yet. Laundry day yesterday was an accomplishment – it took over 10 hours to get everything done and put away (because the washer is very small and it takes nearly two hours for one load to run).
  • Looking forward to next week: We’re very excited about YaYu’s arrival next weekend and getting to visit London and Oxford with her, as well as showing her around our village. It was exciting seeing things like the Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the London Eye as our trains passed through London, knowing we’d be there soon. If it doesn’t rain this week we’re hoping to ride the bus over to the village of Broad Campden and then walk back to Blockley (around three miles).
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Everything went better than expected on our getaway. We had absolutely gorgeous weather for the first two days we were there as well, and the rain held off our entire visit and our walk over to the train station on Friday morning when we left (it was raining when we arrived on Monday, but we took a cab to our Airbnb). Even though we missed our original train home to Moreton, we were able to use our tickets for a later train at no extra cost.

    Chicken and mushroom pie for lunch at the Mitre pub on Edinburgh’s High Street. It came with vegetables, mashed potatoes, and gravy and kept me full the rest of the day . . . all for $14.75.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We took a bag of food up with us up to Edinburgh, and the apartment was stocked with yogurt (for me) and oatmeal (for Brett) which helped us keep our food costs down. We went out to dinner the night we arrived (which provided leftovers for the next day), and then had lunch out each day at a pub, where the meals were large and reasonably priced, and then ate leftovers or the things we brought at night. Other than taking the taxi from the train station when we arrived, we walked everywhere while we were in Edinburgh. We did buy some souvenirs but discussed those ahead of time so we weren’t tempted to make impulse purchases.

    Brett and I got ourselves a cashmere scarf, and we also bought a bottle of Edinburgh gin – we got a discount on it at their shop because we took a tour of the distillery (and because it’s delicious), and got a discount on the scarves because we bought two.
  • Grateful for: Once again, some very kind strangers stepped up to help us get back to Blockley when we were otherwise stranded. We were thinking we were going to have to walk into Moreton from the station when we arrived (in the cold and dark) and go to a hotel to call a taxi, but a young couple from London who arrived at the same time offered to share their ride with us as Blockley was on the way to their destination. We were extremely tired at that point and their kindness made a huge difference after a long day.
  • Bonus question: Did you eat haggis in Scotland? NO! I had absolutely no desire to give it a try before we went or while we were there and that still holds. We did get to sample a “wee dram” of whiskey on one of our tours and I was reminded once again of why I don’t drink whiskey and prefer gin instead. We did have some lovely pub meals, including incredible meat pies in one place. I’ve never had such a wonderful, flaky crust in my life and the filling (chicken and mushroom) was divine. We tried a can of IrnBru (Scotland’s soft drink) while we were there – it was tasty – and ate some authentic Scottish shortbread. I thought Walkers shortbread was pretty good until we visited a shop and tasted some that just melted in our mouths and were less sweet too – so delicious! I’ve been spoiled for life.

One thing Brett and I both realized on this trip is that although we are healthy, and in pretty good shape, we do tire more easily these days and couldn’t have sustained the pace we kept for much longer than the three days we were there. Our visit reinforced why we enjoy being able to stay in one place for a while and keep a less hectic schedule. Our time with YaYu will most likely be just as busy, but after that we know we can slow down again and not have to work so hard. We’re wondering now if we really want to do a full week’s driving tour down to Cornwall, and think maybe we might go down by train for a couple of nights instead.

I won’t be posting next Sunday as we’ll be out and about in London, and will probably not post during the week either. I do have a couple of posts planned for this week though but not sure what days those will go up.

That’s a wrap for this week! I hope everyone had a lovely week, with lots of good food, good books, good friends and good things happening for them, and is looking forward to the week coming up.

Sunday Morning 9/29/2019: Week 4 in the UK

Edinburgh Castle (Photo credit:

We are off to Edinburgh tomorrow! We’ll be traveling to Gatwick Station in the morning and then changing there for the train to London, departing for Edinburgh from King’s Cross Station in the early afternoon. Back when we were riding the train across Australia, we were told by several of our fellow travelers that the ride from Kings Cross to Edinburgh was one of the most beautiful in England and filled with gorgeous scenery almost the whole way so we’re almost as excited about this part of our getaway as the destination. Our Airbnb in Edinburgh sits just a couple of minutes below the castle and is also close to the meeting points for the three walking tours we’ve signed up for: a historical tour of Old Town, a mysterious medical tour (Edinburgh has a deep and sometimes creepy history with medicine in the UK), and a spooky evening historical tour. Hopefully, they won’t overlap, at least not too much. Outside of the walking tours, we’re going to visit the castle and a few other places, have a drink in the New Caledonia Hotel bar and tour the Edinburgh gin distillery (a whiskey sampling might be more expected, but neither of us particularly cares for whiskey). We’ll return on Friday following the same route we will take going up.

The Queen’s Head pub in Stow-in-the-Wold (I’m assuming that’s Queen Mary on the sign).
A side entrance to St. Edmunds church
We stopped in here while we were in Broadway . . .
. . . did a couple of tastings, and left with these (the nice shopping bag was complimentary).

This week’s been a very full and fun one in spite of some miserable weather. On Monday we took the bus over to Stow-on-the-Wold to see if we could find the elusive paper coffee filters at the Tesco superstore . . . and we did! We had nearly two hours there before the bus to Moreton-in-Marsh arrived, so we did some exploration around the center of town and also stopped for tea and scones (well, we actually had coffee with our scones). Afterwards, we headed over on the bus to M-i-M to do our weekly grocery shop at Aldi. We made it home from that errand just in time to miss getting soaked, and the rain made Tuesday a stay-at-home day. On Wednesday morning we met Laura and had a wonderful visit with her, including coffee at the village cafe and lunch at The Great Western Arms. It was like getting together and catching up with an old friend you haven’t seen in a while and I was so happy we were able to make this happen. Friday was another miserable, soggy mess and we stayed home, but we finally got over to Broadway yesterday afternoon where we toured the high street and visited the Cotswold’s Gin flagship store as well as enjoyed tea and scones (again), arriving home just in time to miss more rain.

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The bell-ringing experience on Thursday evening was fantastic! Before the group got their practice started I was showed how to ring one of the bells and learned very quickly that traditional English bell-ringing requires a great deal of skill. It was definitely not as easy to do as I imagined with a whole lot more to it than just pulling on a rope. We stayed for the whole practice and had a good time chatting with different members of the group who came over and sat with us during the practice as they rotated through their turns. One of the group, an 87-year-old man(!), has rung the bells in over 2,200 churches throughout the UK and Ireland! He was fascinating to talk with and I learned quite a bit from him about what was going on, about the bells, and so forth. At the end of the practice, Brett and I were invited to climb further up in the tower to see the actual bells (Blockley Church has 10 bells and is the envy of quite a few churches in the area). A few of their bells date from the 17th century, a couple from the 19th century, and two new bells were added during this decade. All of them were HUGE. Anyway, it was a great experience and I was invited to come back after we get back from Edinburgh and sit in on a few more practices during our time here. I know I would definitely learn to be a bell ringer if we lived here.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I took a sort of detour this week with my reading. I was reading Middle England one day and a couple of characters were talking about the Mike Oldfield song Tubular Bells. This got me thinking about the movie The Exorcist, which then got me thinking about the book. I read it when it first came out (1971) – I started it at around 9:00 one evening and ended up staying up all night to finish it because I was too frightened to put it down! Anyway, I ended up downloading the book again and re-read it in a couple of days because it was just as frightening and chilling as it was the first time I read it. I now want to see the movie again as well, although I’ve never found it anywhere near as scary as the book. Anyway, I’m back to reading Middle England again and am almost done. Then it’s on to The Pioneers.

    A spider web on our patio wall glistened with raindrops early Wednesday evening . . . and then a rainstorm blew it away that evening!
  • Listening to: I fell asleep last night to the sound of rain and wind, but woke up to just the wind howling outside this morning (and the church bells ringing). It’s definitely another good day to stay indoors. It’s quiet inside – Brett is reading now but in a little while we’ll get started on our laundry and finish up getting things ready for us to go tomorrow.
  • Watching: Besides continuing with The Great British Baking Show, we also started the new season of Doc Martin this past Wednesday. We’ve also watched a couple of episodes of Poirot and Miss Marple earlier in the week.
  • Cooking: Tonight we’re finishing up odds and ends in the fridge – I’m going to have some last bits of cheese along with fruit, and Brett will be having a leftover lamb kebab with some leftover vegetables. I going to make the meatloaf when we get back, and we also have a bacon and cheddar quiche and roast chicken to get us through the weekend after our return.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I can’t tell you how happy we were to find those coffee filters – who would have thought they would be that difficult to locate, especially since ground coffee is available all over the place? We had two great outings to two nearby villages as well, got our grocery shopping done, are packed and are ready to go to Edinburgh, and with a little help we finally figured out how to use the gas stove in the living room (important as it’s starting to get chilly at times).
  • Looking forward to next week: Visiting Edinburgh has been on my bucket list for ages, so I’m currently beyond the looking-forward-to-it stage for this getaway! We’re excited about our train trip up and back as well and the walking tours we’ve booked.

    Loved, loved, loved getting to finally meet “the other Laura.” Our meetup was the best thing that happened this week.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Everything that happened this week was good, even the rain.
    A fresh-baked plain scone with clotted cream and preserves and a cappuchino at Huffkin’s Tea Room in Stow-in-the-Wold . . .

    . . . and a fruit scone at Tisanes Tea Room in Broadway. Pure heaven.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We had three no-spend days this week and our daily average for the month would have been below $35 except we bought those two bottles of specialty Cotswold gin in Broadway yesterday which bumped us up to a little over $36/day, which we can live with. We spent just £44.46 ($54.92) for our weekly groceries this past week but and otherwise it’s been the usual: no wasted food, all leftovers eaten, and using what we have on hand.
  • Grateful for: The House of Representatives finally exercising its constitutional authority.
  • Bonus question: If you decide to keep traveling, what countries would be at the top of the list? We still talk about doing a long-term driving tour around the U.S. and Canada, but otherwise our most desired new destinations are Scandanavia; Germany and Austria; Greece, southern Italy and Croatia; Ireland; and Mexico. We’d love to go back to Argentina and see more there and spend more time in France and Portugal as well. For now, we’re booked through mid-June of next year but after that have no idea what or where we’re going to go, or whether we’ll continue traveling or settle down. We greatly enjoy our nomadic lifestyle and it fits our budget and temperaments well, so we’ll see how we feel about things in a few more months.
Getting her hair done . . .

We got a lot of fun photos from our daughter-in-law this past week because it was our granddaughter’s three-year-old Shichi-Go-San (7-5-3). Girls celebrate when they are three and seven, and boys when they are five, with a visit to a local temple in formal wear a rite of passage for Japanese children. For three-year-old girls, it’s the first time they wear a kimono, but it’s without an obi; that’s worn for the first time at age seven. I especially love how our granddaughter’s hair was styled for the occasion with pretty kanzashi pinned in and spilling down. There will be more formal photos coming, but we loved getting to see these ones our DIL took on K’s special day.

. . . and then formal portraits were taken . . .
. . . followed by a visit to a shrine. A big day for our little girl!

Finally, I won’t be blogging this next week because of our getaway, but the past couple of weeks I’ve also been thinking about changing up when and how much I post. I’m not going to stop writing, but I do want to give up pushing myself to adhere to a schedule like I have been, and I’ve decided that going forward I will post when I have something to say and on Sundays (because I enjoy doing these posts). So there may be one post up a week, or two or even three, or there might not be any at all. We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, I hope everyone had a great week, had lots of good things happen for them and is looking forward to what’s coming up next week!

From Bourton-on-the-Hill to Longborough

Star Cottage, one of beautiful old buildings along Bourton-on-the-Hills high street.

The bus we ride to Moreton-in-Marsh passes through the village of Bourton-on-the-Hill on its way, and Brett and I had been wanting to get off there and spend some time exploring the village with its large manor house, stately church, and wonderfully preserved old buildings. Our host had also recommended the pub there, The Horse and Groom. Combined with several paths leading out of the village to various destinations we decided to make a day of it last week to not only check out the village but also walk over to another village, Longborough, by way of the Heart of England footpath.

What used to be old shops and other businesses along the high street have been converted into cottages for either full-time or vacation residences.
The old rectory
This booth appeared to still be functional!
One of the many awards the village of Bourton-on-the-Hill has received.

Bourton-on-the-Hill has received many awards, including one for “best kept village.” I’m sure there must have been new buildings in the village, but all we could find were old ones, all of them lovingly cared for.

Our first destination after getting off the bus in Bourton-on-the-Hill was Bourton House, a 16th-century manor house and estate (the current house dates from the 18th century however). The grounds not only contain the grand house but a brewhouse, coach barn, stables, and tithe barn along with a beautiful three-acre garden that is open to the public from April through October. We had debated walking over to see another manor house in the area, Sezincote, but decided to pay the admission to the Bourton House garden instead.

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Suffice it to say that the garden visit was worth every penny we paid to enter (£14/$17.50). The entrance to the award-winning garden was through the large tithe barn, which contained not only the ticket table but a gift shop and tea house. Several tables were set up outside on the lawn, and the day was lovely enough that people were already enjoying tea outside, but the garden beckoned to us.

Every view in the garden was a delight for the eyes. Flowers were still in bloom throughout, and each area held something exquisite to admire, either from a distance or up close. It was not difficult at all to imagine characters from a Jane Austen novel walking through the grounds or carriages arriving up the drive for a party or a ball. We were especially impressed that the entire garden is maintained by just three people, a head gardener and two assistants. We easily spent 45 minutes there and could have stayed longer but we needed to climb back up the hill to the pub for some lunch before heading out on our hike.

The Horse and Groom sits at the top of the hill.
Besides serving delicious food, the pub also offers a boutique B&B for a stay in the village.

After a delicious lunch at The Horse and Groom (fish and chips for Brett, a stuffed pepper with spinach salad for me) we walked back down the hill a bit, then turned down a side street until coming to the Heart of England Way and headed out into the countryside. After clearing the village, the walk was primarily through lush green pastureland. Most of it was empty of animals but filled with huge, stately oak trees, but we pass a horse and of course some sheep and cows. The path was often difficult to find at times – only the faintest of footprints in the grass kept us going in the right direction.

A look back at Bourton-on-the-Hill as we headed out on the Heart of England Way.
Massive, stately oaks were found in almost every pasture.
Sometimes it was difficult to tell if we were still on the path or not . . .
. . . but eventually we would come across markers that let us know we were going the right way.
Beautiful country views could be enjoyed the entire walk.

We knew from the maps we had studied that Sezincote was in the area, and about half-way along our way to Longborough we spotted its dome peeking out through the trees. Then, after walking through a small stretch of woods and rounding a corner, there it was! Built in 1805, the neo-Mughal inspired manor is privately owned, but the house is open on Thursday and Friday afternoons for tours (May through September), and the Indian-styled gardens are open from January through October. We could see as we walked past that it would have taken quite an effort to walk there, and we were glad we had opted for the Bourton House gardens instead. It also looked as if some event was going to be taking place there (tents were set up outside and there were a few delivery trucks), so for all we knew the house wouldn’t even have been open at all that day.

We were rewarded with a spectacular view of Sezincote House, with its unique architecture and distinctive copper dome.

We finally reached the pretty little village of Longborough around 2:30 in the afternoon and headed for the village shop to get something cool to drink and to ask directions to the bus stop. When we arrived at the bus stop we discovered that 1) no bus stopped in the village that day, and 2) there was no time to either walk back to Bourton-on-the-Hill or on to Moreton-in-Marsh and catch a bus from those places. We went back to the shop to ask for the location of a payphone to call a taxi, but the shop attendant, Andrew, called a couple of taxi businesses for us only to discover that they were also booked for the next couple of hours (school runs). We were stranded. It was at that point that Andrew stepped up and offered to drive us over to Moreton-in-Marsh, an act of kindness we quickly accepted, and that cost us nothing more than a cold drink for Andrew from the refrigerator.

We were too tired and thirsty when we arrived in Longborough to do much of a visit, but we had walked for over four miles at that point.

All in all, it was a perfect day. We enjoyed gorgeous, warm weather, toured a gorgeous, lush garden, had a great lunch at a great pub, saw the stunning Sezincote manor house (from a distance), walked a good distance while enjoying beautiful scenery along the way, and were treated to a wonderful act of kindness that saved the day for us. We couldn’t have asked for more.

How We Do This

This past summer, some friends asked us for a blueprint of how we were able to set up our current nomadic life, and how we sustain it. The first point we made was that we weren’t the first to do this nor will we be the last, and how we are doing this is definitely not the only way. We have met other nomadic couples along the way, and every one of them is doing long-term travel differently from us and funding it differently as well. Our inspiration came from Michael and Debbie Campbell, the original Senior Nomads, but everyone who has committed to a big travel adventure is doing what works for their energy level, bucket list, and budget.

Our current lifestyle started from a casual comment Brett made one day when we were trying to prioritize a list of travel destinations. We were living on Kaua’i at the time, enjoying our life there (well, except for the humidity), but YaYu, our youngest, would soon be off to college and we were eager to hit the road on our own and go somewhere we hadn’t been before. As we were discussing different locations, Brett said, “I wish we could see them all.” We both stopped immediately, looked at each other, and at the same time asked, “Could we do that?” We spent the next few weeks talking about the possibility and crunching numbers and eventually figured out that by saving every extra penny we could, getting rid of almost everything we owned, and giving up our life in Hawai’i we could make our travel dream happen.

Many people assume that because we travel full time we must have a large retirement income but that isn’t true. We’re definitely not made of money (our income would probably surprise most people), but we’ve found it’s possible to travel full time on our income as well as cover our expenses with careful planning, no debt other than my student loan, and an ability to stick to a budget. Our situation was somewhat unique in that we didn’t own a home when we started and up until this year our daughters earned enough from work to supplement the scholarships and financial aid they were awarded to pay their own college expenses. However, homeowners like the Senior Nomads were initially still sold all their stuff and rented the house while they traveled, and we could have done the same. Because our income comes primarily from government pensions – Social Security and Brett’s military retirement (he also receives a small pension from his last employment) – it’s the same from month to month. We just had to figure out how to live off of that income while we traveled, covering our travel expenses and a couple of fixed payments, and still get our college-aged children to and from places. We have no other extra income, no big investments to manage, no secret slush fund, and we don’t take money from our savings. However, instead of paying for utilities, gasoline, insurance, car repairs or home maintenance we use our income to cover airfare, Airbnb rentals and daily living expenses.

Our current lifestyle works from two different directions: we carefully plan ahead and we have a budget and stick to it. For almost a year and a half before we set off on our Big Adventure, we saved as much as we could to cover as many up-front travel expenses as possible, like our train journey across Australia and our tour in India, and as many flights, Airbnb reservations and other expenses as we could. That got us started and we’ve been able to sustain the rest of our lifestyle on what we receive each month as we’ve gone along.

Planning ahead for where we want to go and what we want to do gives us plenty of time to find affordable flights and/or other transportation, and affordable Airbnb lodgings as well. Nothing is left to chance and there’s very little to no spontaneity involved when it comes to these big decisions. And, once we commit, we are committed – there’s no backing out or changing our minds, mainly because we’d lose quite a bit of money if we do. We still put money away into our travel fund every month to cover transportation and lodging expenses ahead of time.

Because our monthly income doesn’t change from month-to-month or isn’t dependent on outside variables – the only fixed bills we have are my student loan payment and our phone plan, deducted from our pay automatically each month – the amount we have in disposable income doesn’t vary. This amount covers everything outside of lodging and long-distance transportation costs, things like groceries and dining out, local transportation, admissions, souvenirs, etc. Brett maintains a diary of all our spending every day to keep track of how we’re doing and to let us know when we might need to cut back or tweak things a bit. We’ve had to adjust that amount this past month and lower our daily spending average because we want to help YaYu graduate from college without any debt or at least with as little debt as possible. We are also fortunate that we have military healthcare which covers us worldwide. In fact, because we have it we don’t qualify for regular travel insurance! Our main credit card benefits cover most of the other travel insurance items, such as canceled flights, lost luggage, etc.

We initially thought a year or so of full-time travel would be enough, and afterwards we’d be ready to settle down somewhere, but we’ve found the longer we travel, the more we want to continue. We’re having a much better time than we imagined, and have learned things along the way to make the experience go more smoothly. For example, we prefer longer stays of at least a month in a location versus moving every few days or even every couple of weeks – we tried that and it was exhausting – and that longer stays usually provide a sometimes substantial discount for housing. We’ve worked it out where we get together with each of our daughters a couple of times each year as well as spend time in Japan with our son and his family. We’ve made the lifestyle work for us and not the other way around.

There is no one-size-fits-all way to do long-term travel. How one accomplishes it or adapts to it is completely customizable according to one’s own circumstances, financial and otherwise. We’ve been flying from place to place, but have met others that are doing long-term road trips around the U.S. and Canada, staying in Airbnb rentals in the locations they visit. Some are pulling a trailer or driving an RV and camping. Other people we’ve met housesit and others have kept their homes but do house swaps. The one thing everyone seems to have in common is living within their means and living with minimal possessions, and prioritizing experiences rather than having things to show.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. 

Although the lifestyle is not for everybody, if you’ve ever dreamt of trying out the nomadic life for a while, I firmly believe a way can be found to make it happen in a way that works for each person or couple or even family. All that’s needed is imagination and the courage to take the first step.

Sunday Morning 9/22/2019: Week 3 in the UK

Across from our cottage are what were formerly shops in Blockley village square – they’re now vacation cottages but have been “converted” back at times when Father Brown is filming.

This past week has been yet another one for the books, complete with lovely weather, two great hikes, another wonderful pub meal (over at Bourton-on-the-Hill), and ending with a fun evening at the movies in the village hall. Last night we enjoyed wine and snacks, and watched the movie Fisherman’s Friends (a feel-good film about a band from Port Isaac, where Doc Martin is filmed), with about 40+ people from the village and had a great time. We met a few residents this past week who were born and raised here and learned quite a bit about the village’s history. Our little cottage was formerly one of two doctors’ surgeries, and there were other businesses located in the little square where we are: a paper shop was directly across from us, and there was also a pharmacy, a bank, a hairdresser, and a butcher. Back down the high street a bit we discovered where the old bakery was located – it’s also been converted into a residence. We took a long hike on Thursday through the countryside, paid a visit to a gorgeous local garden, got to see a famous manor house, and were treated to an unexpected kindness by a local resident.

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Last week’s maddening situation with IcelandAir turned out to have a silver lining. They refunded 50% of what we paid for the round-trip flight (which included what we’d pair for our seat upgrades) and I was able to book a nonstop flight back to San Francisco from Gatwick and from there a flight up to Portland for $182 less than our refund! The new flight schedule also allowed us to cancel a hotel reservation at Gatwick for the night before our departure, an additional $115 refund (the new flight doesn’t leave until the early evening, giving us plenty of time to get from Moreton-in-Marsh to Gatwick by train). We will be leaving England three days earlier than planned though and will have another l-o-n-g travel day going back, but I have a feeling that once again we will be feeling restless and ready to move on at that point. All that’s left for us to do now is find an affordable Airbnb or hotel stay until we can move into our rental in Portland.

Our son (on the right) with last week’s big win, on the day before his birthday!

This past week we offered WenYu the same graduation gift we gave Meiling last year, a week with us in Japan, and she jumped on it – yay! We will pay for half of her airfare over to Japan, and then all food, transportation, admissions, etc. while she’s with us. We had been stumped about what to give her, especially because she has said over and over that she doesn’t need anything, but she is thrilled (and so are we) about the opportunity to be in Japan again. Anyway, the hunt is now on for an affordable air ticket from Boston over to Japan and I am up for the challenge. Our son won two round-trip tickets at a gala he attended this past week: round-trip tickets to anywhere in Canada from Tokyo on Air Canada! He’s always been lucky, but this may be his biggest win so far. Meiling had a successful second interview this week and has been moved on to the next round. She has been frustrated so far in finding a job but is hanging in there. Her boyfriend continues to be supportive and is taking care of her expenses, but she’s very eager to get to work. YaYu has settled into college life but is excited about her upcoming trip over here – less than a month to go!

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I’m reading Middle England now and enjoying it, especially learning about how happenings here mirror in some ways what’s going on in the U.S. and do middle class attitudes (generally speaking). Granted, this book only skims the surface, but it’s interesting nonetheless (and a good read too). I just put The Salt Path by Raynor Winn on hold at the library; hopefully, I won’t have to wait too long for it to become available. It’s the true story of an older couple who walked the 600+ mile path along the southwest English coastline. The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough just came off of hold as well and I plan to start on that this evening.
  • Listening to: I woke up to the sound of the church bells pealing away – there was a lot more ringing this week than last for some reason. It’s quiet now though, and the only sound is birds singing outside. We had a terrific rainstorm come through last night – it woke both of us up because it was coming down so hard. We’ve had absolutely beautiful weather this past week, but that’s coming to an end with more rain expected most of this week.
  • Watching: I’m keeping up with The Great British Baking Show, and tonight we’ll watch the third episode of Joanna Lumley’s (of Absolutely Fabulous fame) visit to Japan. We caught the second episode last week, and I watched the first one online.
    We enjoyed a Caprese salad with our eggplant parmesan last week. Aldi has beautiful little basil plants for sale as well as fresh mozzarella.
  • Cooking: I fixed everything on last week’s menu, although we upgraded our cheese plate and had pâté instead of sausages. Tonight for dinner we’re having quiche Lorraine and broccoli. Other meals this week will be open-faced barbecued pork sandwiches and coleslaw, lamb kebabs with roasted Mediterranean vegetables, meatloaf, a Margherita pizza, and roast chicken.
    Sometimes the path we walked on Thursday could be hard to find and follow – if not for a few recent footprints or vehicle treads we’d have no idea where to walk.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Brett and I took advantage of the week’s good weather and did another couple of long walks, a two-mile walk in a different direction through the village, and a four-mile walk around the next village over, Bourton-on-the-Hill, and from there over to Longborough on the Heart of England Way. We also visited the village cemetery, which was very interesting – graves dated from the 19th century until this decade, and there was a large section where Polish refugees were buried – they came during WWII to a resettlement camp here which wasn’t closed until the 1960s. I so happy to have gotten our tickets back to the U.S. booked, and I also rebooked our rental car for our earlier arrival and I was able to reserve a larger car for the same price!
  • Looking forward to next week: I have two big things coming up this week that I’m very excited about! First, I will be meeting someone I have admired and followed for a long time, actually from the time I started blogging nearly 10 years ago. One of the very first frugal lifestyle blogs I discovered and was inspired by was Move to Portugal, and I’ve been a fan of Laura and her minimalist lifestyle ever since. She’ll be coming to Blockley on Wednesday and we’re going to have lunch at The Great Western Arms and catch up on everything. Second, I was invited to attend the bell-ringing class at the church on Thursday evening! I just hope I don’t do anything stupid but I think it will be fun. Brett and I may be going to Stow-on-the-Wold on Tuesday not only to check out the town a bit but more importantly to visit the Tesco superstore because we have just about run out of coffee filters and it may be our last chance in finding them. None of the other stores we’ve visited, including Aldi, carry filters but we were told the hardware store in Moreton-in-Marsh may have them, so we’re going to check there first before we go to Aldi. Fingers are crossed! If we get a day of good weather next week we’re want to walk over to Broad Campden, a lovely village filled with traditional thatched cottages, but our backup plan is to take the bus to the town of Broadway. Rain is expected for most of the week but you never know.
    Some of the pretty pheasant feathers we picked up along the way. It’s very sad to think so many of these beautiful birds will be slaughtered beginning next month purely for sport. Most of the kills will end up in a ditch to be turned into fertilizer.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Our walks this week were just about near perfect, and we met some lovely people, saw lots of beautiful things, and picked up some pretty pheasant feathers along the way too (and learned the shooting won’t start until next month – yay, I guess). It was exciting to learn about our cottage’s former role in the village. We found lilikoi (passionfruit) curd at the cheese shop in Moreton-in-Marsh, and it’s as good or better than what we used to get on Kaua’i, and much less expensive too. We’ve seen passionfruit growing around in places so this was an exciting find. We also discovered gingernut cookies at Aldi, and just 25p per package – delicious! I fell in love with a beautiful vase in the window of an antique shop when we were in Moreton-in-Marsh on Monday but I was sure it was very expensive so we kept going. Brett liked it too though and encouraged me to go in and at least ask about it. The price was a very surprising £15 ($18.70) . . . so I bought it! It’s a wonderful piece of sturdy English pottery, but with a Japanese feel to it.
    I am so pleased to have gotten this beautiful old pottery vase. Now I just have to figure out how to carry it back to the U.S.
  • Thinking of frugal things that happened: All of my dental billing has come through and after all the insurance payments were made it turns out we will be getting a refund of $200+. We once again purchased round-trip bus fares at every chance, but on Thursday the fare machine was broken so the driver let us ride for free. We stuck to our shopping list at Aldi but still put about six things back, and spent just £45.10 ($56.20) this past week. It was a bit more than last week because we bought a big bag of name-brand dishwasher detergent pods to get us through our stay. We had four no-spend days this week and are on just under our daily spending average. We of course ate all the leftovers and didn’t throw away any food.
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I are feeling very thankful these days to have that big Aldi store nearby. The prices are amazing, we’re eating well, and shopping there is helping us to stay within our daily spending limit, freeing up funds for other outings and treats. We were told that just a few years ago middle-class shoppers here wouldn’t let their cars be seen in the Aldi parking lot, but these days they can’t get enough of the store!
    Although there are still lots of bright flowers around . . .
    . . . fall is starting to make an appearance.
  • Bonus question: Are you ready for fall? I think I am. Although I’ve enjoyed all the sunshine and warm temperatures I am looking forward to cooler weather and the chance to pull out some of my sweaters. I’m also looking forward to seeing the leaves change color. I’m not especially looking forward to the coming rain though as we love to walk (and have to walk to get to the bus stop, get our groceries, etc.) and wet weather will definitely hamper our ability to get out and see things and experience the area as much as we have been able to this month.

Finally, we received some help this week, one of those occurrences that restores your faith in humanity and reminds you that at heart people are basically good and kind. At the end of our walk to Longborough on Thursday, Brett and discovered we were stranded – there were no buses nor time to walk to the next village to catch one, and taxis were all booked for the next couple of hours. The retired man tending the Longborough village shop told us he was just finishing his shift and would drive us to Moreton-in-Marsh, three miles away, so we could catch the bus in time from there! We offered to pay him but he wouldn’t accept anything from us except a cold drink from the cooler. Thanks to his kindness we made it home, and we are thinking of how we can pay Andrew’s kindness forward.

Andrew is retired and has lived in Longborough his entire life. He did not want to see us stranded in Longborough and kindly drove us over to the bus stop in Moreton-in-Marsh! It was our good fortune to meet him, and not just for the ride.

That’s it for this week! I hope all of you had a lovely week too, that you have good books to read, had lots of good things happen for you, and that you’ve been able to complete your gratitude scavenger hunt every day.