Thursday, 27 November 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Off to school on a drizzly, foggy Thanksgiving morning.
Happy Thanksgiving!  Truth be told, it doesn’t feel anything like Thanksgiving over here.  Go figure.  I am home alone today, the girls have no break this week from school, and neither does Eric from work, there is no Macy’s day parade on TV and certainly no American football, and I can’t find one single can of pumpkin.  None the less, we will be having our own little Thanksgiving dinner here tonight (roast chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, etc.) because we have so very much to be thankful for this year and every year.  I’ve never made an actual list of what I’m thankful for on Thanksgiving before, but I’m going to this year and I’m sharing it with you.  So here goes.

I am thankful for the time this adventure of ours has given me to spend by myself and with my family.  We have all just slowed down because we have so much less going on, less material possessions, less stress (well, Eric may not completely agree with that one as he is very busy at work, but his home life is quite nice), and it feels very refreshing and fantastic.    

I am thankful for all my family and friends back in the US whom I oddly feel closer to even though we are 4000 miles apart.  I guess distance does make the heart grow fonder.
Thanks Taylor.  Had to steal this photo from you because I love it!
I am thankful for the friendliness the British people have extended to us.  It makes this huge transition in our life a lot easier to handle.

I am thankful that I brought along some thick books to get me through this long, dark, drizzly winter. 

I am thankful for the appreciation I have found for all the little things in life, things that I was very much taking for granted until I found myself planted 4000 miles from home in a foreign country where I hardly know anyone, with a lot of free time on my hands.
·       I appreciate the time I spend with the girls doing homework after school, instead of being half present with them because I’m thinking about the million other things I should also be doing.
·       I appreciate the house we left behind which had become a thorn in my side after 4+ years of working on it.  I miss it terribly now. 
·       I appreciate eating lunch.  Yes, this may sound weird, but I’ve actually been taking the time to make a nice lunch for myself everyday and sit down at the table and eat it without any distractions around me and I love it.  Ok, I admit it – I do occasional check Facebook or catch up on blogs while I’m eating, but I’m trying to cut out all screen time during mealtime.  It’s just taking some time to break the habit.

I am thankful that Eric and I can spend a night on the couch watching Pretty In Pink on TV because we have absolutely nothing else to do (he enjoyed the movie too – don’t let him tell you otherwise).

I am thankful that the English assume you want to drink your coffee at the coffee shop and put it in a real mug unless you specify it’s for take away.

I am thankful for my washer and dryer at home.  The two in one washer/dryer combo we have here sucks – there’s just no other way to put it.

I am thankful for umbrellas, raincoats and wellies.

I am thankful for the glorious bread and delicious yogurt and butter they have here in England.  

I don't know what I'll do when I have to go home and can't have this wonderful British made yogurt, butter and bread anymore.
Most importantly, I am thankful that I have a beautiful, loving family to share this adventure with.

And last but certainly not least, I am thankful that you all are reading and hopefully enjoying our family blog.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

My New Car

Here it is!  My frosty new car.

I finally have a car!  Hallelujah!  It took 44 days, but my shiny used Ford Focus is now sitting in the backyard (or back garden as they call it here).  This car-buying thing has been a true test of patience.  It started back on Oct. 12 when we went to the supermarket of used car lots (yes, it really is called a car supermarket here) – the Hilton Garage.  They had hundreds of used cars of all types and in all price ranges on their lot.  Upon arriving at the car supermarket, you see a group of blue jacket clad gentlemen standing by the door in a cluster and just assume that, as in the US, you will barely get your foot out your car door before someone is standing there offering to show you around.  Not in England.  No one came our way as we approached this huddled group by the door.  We walked right up to them before anyone acknowledged us and the conversation went something like this:
How can we help you?
Well, we want to buy a car. 
Ok – here is a 10-page list of all the cars on the lot.  Go have a look and let me know if you have any questions. 

Whaaaaat?  We get to show ourselves around?  And no one will be breathing down our neck the entire time?  In all actuality, it was a good and a bad thing.  Good because we felt very little pressure as we perused the car lot looking for the perfect little used car that will get me through our two-year stint here in England.  Bad because the car lot was huge!  After stumbling around for a while trying to figure out how everything was arranged, we gave up and, starting at one end of the lot, we literally walked up and down every row and looked at every car.  Luckily for us, the price of each car is displayed from a large sign hanging from the rearview mirror, so even though we had to walk the entire lot and look at each and every car, we could quickly discount most of them based on their price.  Apparently Eric wasn’t going to buy a Mercedes for me while here in England. 

We finally picked out a nice little Ford Focus that didn’t smell too bad inside (I am not sure what some people were hauling around inside their cars, but some of them here smeeeeeeeely).  We couldn’t drive it home that day because we didn’t have insurance, so we put a small deposit down on it with the credit card so they would hold it for us at the car lot, confirmed with the salesman that we could buy the car on our credit card which we could turn around and pay right off from our bank account in the US, and set up an appointment to come back on Thursday with proof of insurance and buy the car.  Everything went downhill from there. 

I will save you all the gory details, but needless to say, I did not pick the car up on that Thursday, but instead had to wait 44 days.  The main issue was with our US issued swipe and sign credit cards.  While we have had no issues using them at the grocery store or gas stations, it seems not all places are so willing to let us use them - namely car dealerships, insurance companies and cell phone companies.  You see, the credit cards are different here.  They have a chip in them so you insert the card into a machine, it reads the chip and then you have to enter a four digit pin number, just like a debit card.  It's more secure than a sign and swipe, because let's face it, no one ever checks your signature anymore.  During this whole car buying ordeal, despite what we were originally told at the car dealership, no one wanted to take our US issued credit card. 

Obviously, since it took us so long to get it, there are some differences in how you can buy cars and get insurance here in the UK.  There are some other differences with cars here as well.  First and foremost, the steering wheel is on the right side of the car and you drive on the other side of the road.  That’s actually not as hard as you may think.  It feels weird, but isn’t really that difficult.  Secondly, many cars don’t have gas caps.  The gas tanks have different size openings based on whether the car runs on regular gas or diesel and the nozzles at the gas stations are different as well.  Quite brilliant actually because you simply can’t fit the diesel nozzle into a car that takes regular gas so you never have to worry about putting the wrong type in. 

The third difference I just noticed this morning.  The temperatures over night dipped below freezing (yes, I can hear the “Big deal” coming from all of you over there in the winter locked Midwest) so everything is covered in a beautiful layer of frost this morning, including my new car.  Well, it’s more like ice really because everything is perpetually wet here.  The humidity hasn’t dipped below 90% in the past few weeks.  The driveway and even our roof are covered in bright green moss.  The sun is setting at 3:58 pm and it never gets above the treetops to the south of our house because it is so low in the sky.  We are receiving an hour less of daylight compared to Minneapolis right now.  Even a sunny day doesn’t dry anything out.  That means, when it freezes outside here, it’s kind of like you had an ice storm without anything actually falling from the sky.  Eric has looked around for an ice scraper for his car because he’s had frosty windows a couple of times, but all he could find was more of a squeegee type thing which does help when the inside of your car is covered in moisture, but I’m not sure it’s very effective on an icy windshield.  And that brings us to the third difference with cars here in the UK.  On our walk to school this morning, I saw, not one, not two, but three people using credit cards to scrape the ice off their cars.  Is that the English version of an ice scraper?  Good thing it seldom snows here because I’m not sure that would work well on 6-8 inches.  And, they may not want me buy anything with my US issued credit card here, but at least I can still use it to scrap my windows.  
I wasn't kidding.  Moss growing on the roof and in the gutters.
So now I need to decide where to take myself today in my new car.  Or should I just stay home because I don’t really need to go anywhere?  A few short months ago, I never would have stayed at home all day.  It was a rare day that I didn’t have something going on that required me to get in the car and drive somewhere.  And even if I didn’t have anyplace to be on any particular day, I’d usually find some excuse to run out for a bit.  But here, since I didn’t have a car for so long and this is a very small village, I couldn’t go anywhere during the week and I’ve gotten use to the solitude at home and come to enjoy it.  I get a bit antsy by the end of the week, but I also know then that the weekend is coming and we’ll be out and about for most of it.  So maybe I’ll just stay home and enjoy the frost out my window. 

Thursday, 20 November 2014

“The Most Beautiful Village in England” and a Vacuum

Welcome to Bibury!
I may have mentioned this before, but one of the very nice things about living in England is that you can get to a lot of really cool places with just a relatively short drive, especially for us because we live almost smack dab in the middle of the country.  We can plan a lot of weekend trips to see castles, estates, cute villages, or simply the countryside, leaving Friday after the girls are done with school or first thing Saturday morning and be back by Sunday night.  The only thing we have to watch out for is the weather.  It’s unpredictable here, but I’ve already learned that if they have rain listed in the forecast, it will rain.  Last weekend we were planning on such a trip to see the beautiful Wye River valley in Wales, but by late in the week, the weather forecast was not looking good, so we decided to ditch that plan and stay closer to home for the weekend.  No sense wasting money on a hotel room if you’ll just be stuck in it all weekend because of the weather. 

Rain, in fact, was forecast for most of England that Saturday, and sure enough, by midmorning, it was coming down steadily and continued to do so for the entire day.  So what did we do on that rainy weekend day here in England?  We FINALLY got a vacuum cleaner!  We had ordered it this time AND been told it was physically in the store, so we were sure to get it.  And get it we did.  We picked it up, stocked up at the grocery store and were home by early afternoon. 

A lovely lemon cupcake.
When we got home, I headed to the kitchen (my favorite rainy day activity) where I boiled some chicken and made some homemade chicken broth for the dish I was cooking up for dinner (I cannot find canned chicken broth here and I’m not a big fan of bouillon), and I whipped up some Death by Lemon cupcakes from scratch (had some lemon curd in the fridge to use up).  Meanwhile, Eric wasted no time getting the vacuum going.  The vacuums here are much smaller and lighter than those in the US, which is really nice for dragging it up and down the stairs.  But, I bet you are wondering, do they work as well?  And the answer is – yes, it appears so.  Eric had to clean it out five times on Saturday, and that was after only vacuuming the upstairs.  Seems like it works pretty well to me.  But it did leave us wondering - is it normal to fill up the vacuum cleaner five times while simply vacuuming a few bedrooms and one small hallway?  I’m thinking maybe the people who previously lived in this house had trouble buying a vacuum too!

Sunday was a much nicer day, so we jumped in the car and made the two-hour trip south to the little village of Bibury.  Eric had found some pictures of the village of Bibury on my UK Pinterest page and when he looked it up online, it was described as “the most beautiful village in England.”  Good grief, with a label like that, how could we not go.  Well, we still have A LOT of England to see, so I don’t feel qualified to give it “the most beautiful village” status quite yet, but what I can say is that IT IS PRETTY DARN CUTE!  We strolled around the entire village and some surrounding sheep fields and woods and I think the pictures below speak for themselves.  There’s really not much else to do in Bibury but stroll, but it was perfect!  It’s just been left to sit down in this beautiful river valley being as cute as it can be without a bunch of stores or other touristy type attractions popping up around it.  Ok, there was a trout pond which seems a bit touristy at first, but given the river that runs right through this quant village, it sort of makes sense – and it was also the cutest little trout pond I’ve ever seen.

Without further ado, pictures from “the most beautiful village in England.”

This is actually the trout pond.  Little different than the trout ponds in Wisconsin, eh.

There are roses still blooming here.

In the church yard.  The gravestone are from the 1800s.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Go Pack Go!

I miss a lot of things over here in England:  my family and friends, a separate washing machine and dryer that both work well in a timely fashion and aren’t located in my kitchen, snow (yes I will admit it – snow may be a pain sometime, but try living with 3 straight days of heavy fog and drizzly with no end in sight), driving on the right side of the road, canned black beans (how am I going to make my favorite Black Bean Chili).  But what I am really missing right now is FOOTBALL!  It’s fall.  It’s cold, windy and drizzle outside.  I should be spending my Sunday afternoon cooking up a big batch of chili and enjoying the Packer game.  It just doesn’t feel right to be stuck checking the final score of Sunday’s game as I have my coffee on Monday morning.  I miss football!

Now, I’m not a crazy football fanatic.  I would not spend every Sunday sitting on the couch watching game after game no matter who was playing.  While I have developed a bit of a soft spot for the Colts over the past few years (hard not to when you live in Colts country), I am and will always be a diehard Green Bay Packers fan.  Some of my earliest memories are of me and my dad sitting in our living room on Sunday afternoon watching the Packers’ game together.  I remember the anxiousness, my heart beating fast even way back then when it was close between the Packers and the Vikings, the outcome of the game resting on one final play.  I remember cheering for Lynn Dickey, James Lofton and John Jefferson.  When I met Eric my very first weekend at college, I wasn’t looking for the man I would spend the rest of my life with.  Then, he told me his family had season tickets to the Packers.  That certainly didn’t hurt his chances for getting me to stick around long enough to marry him.  Ok, I’m just kidding about that – I would have married him anyway (I think:). 

Now, 4000 miles away from home, when I check the score on Monday morning and see the final of 55-14 against the Bears, while I feel a HUGE amount of pride, I also want to cry because I missed it.  Yes, maybe we could get some kind of satellite NFL package here, but besides the Packer games, we just don’t watch enough TV to justify the expense.  And watching via the Internet isn’t an option either.  This is a very small village and high speed Internet isn’t available yet.  Besides, there is a six-hour time difference between here and Wisconsin and I don’t think I have it in me to stay up all night long for the late games.  We can actually catch a few games here on regular TV each season as the NFL is testing it’s international status by playing some games in London.  I turned on the TV last Sunday and happened upon the Cowboys versus the Jaguars and, even though it wasn’t my beloved Packers, I was momentarily excited none the less.  And then I heard the announcers.  I’m sorry, I love a British accent, I really do.  But not announcing an NFL football game.  They are much to cute and grammatically correct.  It just isn’t right.

So I will continue to check the headlines first thing every Monday morning for the final score and read all the recaps on the game (as long as the Packers won anyway).  And our fall weekends will continue to be spent exploring the English countryside right outside our front door.  Below are some random pictures we’ve taken since we arrived in England that I haven’t shared with you yet.  I would not trade in this experience for anything, but I really do miss the Packers!

Swarkestone Bridge over the River Trent.
This is the Swarkestone Bridge.  It’s located just south of Derby and Eric has to travel over it everyday to and from work.  It was built in the 13th century and crosses the River Trent and surrounding marshes.  It is a major thoroughfare despite being barely wide enough for 2 cars and in some place, not even that wide.  Despite this, the English will never replace this lovely bridge.

The story behind the Swarkstone bridge is that back in the 13th century, it was built by the two Bellamont sisters.  When the sisters both got engaged, they wanted to throw a joint celebration.  Before they could do this, however, their fiance's needed to meet with the local barons on the other side of the river.  While they were on the other side of the River, there was a big storm and the Trent became swollen.  The men, eager to return to their brides-to-be and their party, tried to ford the river on horseback but were swept away and drowned.  The Bellamont sisters then financed the building of the bridge so that no one else would suffer the tragedy they had.  Neither sister ever married.  They died in poverty having spent their fortune on the building of the bridge.  The bridge is now said to be haunted by the Bellamont sisters.

Swarkestone Bridge over the marshes.
Servants bells in the estate house at Calke Abbey, just like in Downton Abbey.  These are way up high near the ceiling.  My only question is - how did the servants know which bell was rung if they weren't looking right at it?

Tunnels under the house at Calke Abbey.  England is full of beautiful, creepy tunnels!

England is also full of the most amazing trees, like this hollow one at Calke Abbey.
City of Cirencester.
Fish and Chips, and peas???  Yes, that is how they serve them here.  If you like peas, mushy or whole, then England is the place for you.
There is LOTS of Holly growing in England.  This beautiful red berried variegated Holly tree is growing over the fence in our backyard so we can enjoy it too.

We have seen many rainbows here in England, right outside our front door.

Friday, 14 November 2014


We have a guest blogger today, Ellie.  Who better to give you an account of Halloween here in England.  And just for the record, I did no editing whatsoever on this.  The commentary on the pictures is mine, but what is directly below are all Ellie’s words.

Hello it is Ellie and I am going to tell you about Halloween in England.  It was quite nice on Halloween in England.  It was a bit cloudy with a high of 60.  Leah was Anna from Frozen ( she got an Anna dress for her birthday) and I was a gypsy.  We gave out candy for awhile ( mum saying the children that came were so cute with their costumes and English voices ).  Then we went trick-or-treating!  It was a lot of fun.  They have different candy like Mars bars, Haribo gummies (I got an egg shaped gummy), Twix, Snickers, Butterscotch and more.  There are not many people in our village who do Halloween so we didn’t get much candy.  But we only got a couple of the same thing.  I say there was such a wide variety of sweets.  When we got home we had dinner.  Then we watched It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.  It was a great night!  Happy Halloween!  

Getting ready for the trick-or-treaters.  The girls made these signs for our front door.  In England, it's not a house light being on that indicates you are welcome to stop at a particular house.  You either hang up a sign or put out a jack-o-lantern. 
Heading out the door for some trick-or-treating.
The total take for the night - combined!  And we walked around the entire village.  Definitely not the haul they get back in Indy.  Like Ellie said above, not many people celebrate Halloween here in England.  Usually just families with children who go trick-or-treating themselves.  There was one older lady however that got into the spirit of things.  She opened the door dressed as a ghost, invited the girls and Eric right into her home, and when they popped back out the door a few minutes later, Eric was munching on a brownie.  He got a treat as well.
A great end to Halloween night - It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!  I had sent some DVDs from home over to England in our shipment back in September.  The problem was, we had no TV yet.  So, we all squeezed onto the sofa, put the DVD in the laptop, pulled up a chair to sit it on, and had a cozy little cartoon watching session. 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Visiting Another Castle, World War Sites, and Beer!

Whew!  Just got back from dropping the girls off from school.  We walked in the rain.  I still don’t have a car so we have no other choice but to walk.  Even if I had a car though, we still would have walked.  I enjoyed it.  It’s just a slow steady rain, not much wind so we didn’t have to worry about the umbrella flying away.  If I didn’t have to get them to school, I probably wouldn’t force myself to go outside for a walk on a day such as this.  But, I had to go out and I actually walked slowly on the way back so I could enjoy the pitter-patter of the rain on the umbrella. 

Back to our vacation story.  Where were we?  Ah, yes, we were finishing up our time in the picturesque country of Luxembourg.  It was Friday and we needed to head back towards the English Channel where we would be catching a late afternoon ferry back to Dover on Saturday.  We decided to spend our last two days on mainland Europe exploring a couple of World War I and II sites AND visiting an Abbey where we needed to pick up some beer.  Yes, you read that right – our last stop before the ferry terminal would be the Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren where the good brothers apparently make the best beer IN THE WORLD!  I kid you not – just check out the RateBeer website if you don’t believe me.  But more on this later. 

We headed back across the picturesque country of Luxembourg on Friday morning toward the English Channel and our first stop that day was in a town called Bastogne in Belgium, located in the area where the Battle of the Bulge took place, the largest and bloodiest battle that was fought by the United States during World War II.  Just outside of Bastogne stands a gigantic monument honoring the 76,890 American solders killed or wounded during the Battle of the Bulge - the Mardasson Monument.  The crown of the monument is engraved with the names of all fifty states.  It was quite the site to behold, not just because of it’s enormous size, but also to see the United States honored and represented in this way on foreign soil gave me a better appreciation of what a significant part the US played during the world wars.  
The Mardasson Monument
From Bastogne, we headed toward Lille, France where we would spend the night.  The weather was not cooperating with us.  When we arrived in the city of Lille late in the day, we were greeted by rain.  But we were not deterred from seeing a little of the city.  After checking into the hotel, we walked to the city center which, like many European cities is a large square with lots of restaurants, shops and impressive buildings around it.  After walking around for a bit and ditching out of the first restaurant we took a seat in because of the dodgy interior and very peculiar smell (don’t worry, we hadn’t even ordered anything yet), we found a restaurant with outdoor seating under a tent.  They go to great lengths in France to be able to eat outside regardless of the weather.  No offense France, but we did not see the point.  It was cold and damp, water was running across the ground underneath us and every now and then, the maître de from the restaurant would come outside to tip the water that was collecting on the roof of the tent off, which would run like a faucet right down next to Eric, splashing all over the ground at his feet.  Next time, we will eat inside.  On a happier note, the girls had another amazing kids meal that was better than what Eric and I ordered.  The children’s menus in Europe rock!

The next morning, we headed out of Lille early because we had two more stops to make before catching the ferry later on that afternoon.  Stop one was back in Belgium in a small town called Zonnebeke where the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 is located.  This is the area where the Battle of Passchendaele was fought – over a hundred days, half a million casualties fell for only 4 miles of ground.  The wonderfully interactive Museum focuses on uniforms, battlefield archaeology and artillery from World War I.  There’s a huge collection of artifacts on display and many pictures from during the war showing how this beautiful, picturesque area was turned into a barren, muddy wasteland because of all the fighting.  In fact, one plaque said a lot of soldiers died by simply drowning in the mud.  You get to walk through a dugout deep underground which the British solders were forced to build and live in because there was no cover left by 1917 aboveground - every structure aboveground had been wiped out during the War and there was simply no place to take cover.  They were forced to go underground.  At the end of the tour, you go outside and down into a series of trenches to get a feel for what trench warfare was like which was absolutely amazing to see.  I thought eating under a tent in the rain in Lille was a bit unpleasant – hmmmm, don’t think that compares to what the soldiers in these trenches dealt with day after day after day.  It's hard to describe what seeing these World War I and II sites up close and in person feels like.  It's very humbling and very interesting at the same time, and it's very sad to imagine what the whole experience was like for both soldiers and civilians alike.  And at the same time, I felt an enormous amount of pride and respect for the courage of those soldiers back during the World Wars and up until today, all the men and women serving in the armed forces.  The girls found visiting the Museum very interesting as well.  Being so young, they didn’t fully understand what it was we were seeing, but the Museum was so well done and really brought the war to life. I’m sure they will remember their visit and someday better understand the significance of it. 
A part of the trench we walked through.
Our last stop before catching the ferry back to England was The Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren.  Now, you may be thinking we headed here to see some beautiful buildings, gardens, etc., but you are wrong.  We headed to this Abbey, in fact, to try and get our hands on some beer – some Westvleteren 12 to be exact.  These monks have been brewing beer for about 175 years and the Westvleteren 12 is touted as being the best beer in the world by many beer aficionados.  Now, this isn’t just any old microbrewery.  Don’t go looking for this fine Belgium beer at your local beer store because you won’t find it.  It is exclusively sold at the Abbey and nowhere else in the entire world!  In fact, you can’t even just pop in and expect to pick up a six-pack.  If you want to get your hands on some Westvleteren 12, you must follow these very specific rules:
(1) Call the Abbey between 1:30 and 3:30 (Belgium time) on the few days each month when they accept orders for their beer.  (2) Expect to try calling around a hundred times and MAYBE you’ll get through.  When 3:30 comes, if you haven’t gotten through to the beer phone operator, too bad.  (3) If you are lucky enough to get through, have your license plate number ready because you need to provide it to the operator as that same vehicle is not allowed to buy beer again for 60 days (you can’t call again for 60 days either – they track your phone number and you won’t even be able to get through).  (4) If you are lucky enough to connect with the Abbey, you will be provided with the date and time at which you can pick up the beer in person at the Abbey.  Don’t be late cuz they won’t keep it for you.

Eric wanted some of this beer.  Eric really wanted some of this beer.  He couldn’t call to order it in advance.  He was at work during their call time and I don’t have a phone that I can use to make out of country calls.  He was going to the Abbey none the less because, being a bit of a beer aficionado himself, he just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to at least try a glass of the best beer in the world at the only place in the world it is served - the Abbey owned café and visitor center right across the street.  And, if you are really, really, really lucky, they just may have some Westvleteren 12 in stock at the small store in the visitor center – but don’t count on it!

Enjoying some sunshine, beer (Cokes for the girls), and cheese
No such luck on that Saturday.  They did not have any of the Westvleteren 12 available.  Eric wasn’t too disappointed because he knew it was a long shot anyway.  And he didn’t go home completely empty handed as they did have some of their Westvleteren Blond available at the store (not as prestigious at the 12, but still pretty good), so Eric got in line, bought 2 six packs and some of their awesome cheese to make me happy, we got ourselves a beer from the café (he did at least get to enjoy one Westvleteren 12) and sat outside and enjoyed the sunshine, beer and cheese before heading on to the ferry terminal. 
A happy, happy man!
Beautiful field of brussel sprouts!
Fun Fact:  Do you know where brussel sprouts come from?  Why, Brussels, Belgium of course.  Personally, I never put two and two together to make this connection, but while traveling to the Abbey to pick up the beer, we drove through field upon field of this peculiar looking plant neither of us recognized at first. Finally, Eric stopped the car so we could get a better look and there they were – stem after stem covered in beautiful round brussel sprouts.  After some Internet researching, we discovered that brussel sprouts are wildly popular in Brussels and are believed to have first been cultivated in Belgium, possibly as far back as the 13th century.  Hence the name.  Who knew?

We made it to the ferry terminal on time, headed back across the English Channel to Dover where we spent the night so we could explore the great castle of Dover sitting high above the town on top of the White Cliffs.  Our hotel sat right on the water’s edge, so before we headed to the castle the next morning, we took a stroll along the water and what should we see – some crazy people standing in swimming suits on the rocky beach in the 55 degree weather getting ready for a swim in the English Channel.  And that is exactly what they did.  After a few minutes, they all jumped in the water and away they went. 
Time for a swim!
Our final stop was the Dover castle.  This is one of the best-preserved castles in England and exploring the interior was fantastic.  You would go from a huge, colorfully decorated stateroom to a long narrow stone corridor where you expected to see a ghost around any corner.  The girls loved it!  After we toured the castle, we headed up to take a quick walk along the top of the magnificent White Cliffs, and then headed for home.  We set the bar high on our first major trip over here, so many beautiful and amazing sites to see.  Good food.  The girls are awesome travelers!  And of course, we headed home with a trunk full of Belgium beer, French wine, cheese and a box of the best darn chocolates I have ever had.  
The girls favorite room in the castle - the kitchen.  Time to make the kings dinner.

Are these cauldrons for making stew or cooking children?

View from high on top of the castle.

Spooky, dark corridor.

The throne room.

A cozy fire in the castle.

Time for bed.

We visited the castle right before Halloween and got to enjoy a ghost tour.

High on top of the White Cliffs.