Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Vive la Différence!

I taught a class at a senior home in Houston once.  It was on spur of the moment, but I had all my material on my thumb drive, so away I went to the event room of the facility. There, I met some of the loveliest people who were beyond their travel years, but who genuinely wanted to learn about England.  I nearly burst out laughing when one elderly lady said, "my husband was over there and told me that the women had to go downstairs in the dark and use the toilet/loo in sort of an outhouse setting." England may seem backward in some ways to us, but they are charming and have modern technology (including electric lights and indoor plumbing!). It just goes to show how oblivious we can be about other cultures.

I thought you might enjoy a summary of a few of the more positive differences I see about “over there” vs. here.  You may want to add a few of your own after your visit!
  1. The English have better regulation of their food sources.  According to the Library of Congress:
The growth and sale of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are permitted in England and Wales, subject to an intensive authorization process that occurs primarily at the European Union (EU) level.
They also have more humane treatment of livestock being used in the food chain. There is an extensive description on the government website here.
  1. They do a better job of regulating and preserving history. This includes everything from listing historical buildings as Grade 1 and Grade 2 (depending on their link to history and the type of building) as well as making it more difficult to get planning permission for new build homes vs. refurbishing existing buildings like barns and old guard houses.  It’s also more eco-friendly, of course. 
In addition to this, there are many free historical sites to visit in GB and London, in particular, such as:
  • The British Museum
  • The Imperial War Museum
  • The British Library
  • The National History Museum
And many more.
  1. This is my own, personal, experience, but I find the English somewhat more reserved at first, but once you get to know them, they’d give you the shirts off their backs.  Our thinking may be more aligned to the picture of English aloofness that John Cleese wrote about so poignantly in the movie “A Fish Called Wanda”:
Wanda, do you have any idea what it's like being English?
Being so correct all the time? Being so...stifled by this dread of doing the wrong thing?
You see, Wanda, we're all...terrified of embarrassment.
But, I have not found kinder, more generous people on the face of the planet.
  1. The English, for the most part, have a great love for their outdoor space.  For fresh air and exercise.  Even the least athletic citizens take walks along tree-lined footpaths while the more daring climb the various mountain ranges and traverse long-distance pathways across the country’s length and breadth.  It’s ingrained in them to get outdoors no matter what the weather (because the weather isn’t great most of the time). 
They take great pains to keep national parks clean and well cared for. There are a host of public footpaths which crisscross the landscape, through pastures, and over mountainous terrain.  The government protects the right of walkers by the “right of way” laws which allow walkers to tread on private land.
  1. You won’t find a more animal-centric culture than the English.  Everywhere you look, dogs and cats are being treated like family members, taken to cozy pubs, or walked along the aforementioned public footpaths. Indeed, one of their most cherished authors, Alfred Wight, became famous writing about James Herriot, a veterinarian who cared for animals in the series “All Creatures Great and Small.”
  2. As for dining, England originated paper-lined baskets of fish n chips, Sunday roast lunches, and afternoon teas.  At Christmas the English enjoy steamed puddings (fruit cake) and at other times, sticky toffee pudding (which is delish) or a nice Victoria Sponge cake.
  3. There is a lot of whimsy to the English, but they only seem to show it when they think you’re not watching!  At Christmas, they celebrate by pulling Christmas crackers to obtain paper crowns which they wear at the dinner table. Their authors have given us Peter Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Monty Python, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
  4. The English are better at seeing what is possible and allowing it to happen. Their culture has provided some of the most incredible female leaders and role models in history to include: Boudicca, QE1, Victoria, QE2, Margaret Thatcher, and Princess Diana.
  5. Beyond that, they’ve given us Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, Richard III, Shakespeare, Stephen Hawking, Henry VIII, and a host of other notable historical personalities.
  6. English radio, television and stage productions run high on my list of things that make me “heart” England. Even now, I can turn on BBC 4 radio from my office in Austin and can listen to everything from historical shows to soap operas.  The English gave us Monty Python’s Flying Circus, All Creatures Great and Small, Jesus Christ Superstar, Phantom of the Opera, and Downton Abbey. No one can produce quality programming like England.
The world would not be the same but for this tiny country that I love so much. From its vast, rolling hills to the seaside towns and thatched cottages.  From the Shambles in York to Camden Market in London.  From Glastonbury Tor to Buckingham Palace – exploring England is a bit like coming downstairs on Christmas morning. You’re not sure what you’ll find, but you’re very sure you’ll be happily surprised!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Of "icks" and "burras"

My mom is the queen of mispronunciation. Losenges become “Louse-enges”, Statistics become “Stastisticks”, and Worcestershire sauce is “War-chesester” (or something similar).  I think sometimes she just doesn’t care (which is ok), but I know I even had trouble with pronunciation when I moved to England.
Here are some examples that may help to alleviate some of your angst upon landing in the UK.
Worcester is pronounced “Wooster”, Leicester is pronounced “Lester,” and Gloucester is pronounced “Gloster”. I guess our English ancestors even had trouble with pronunciation and finally just gave up! 
Things that end in “wick” are normally pronounced with a silent “w”.  So Keswick becomes “Kesick” and Chiswick becomes “Chisick”.  Berwick Upon Tweed is now “Berick Upon Tweed”.  Warwick is “Warrick”.  You get the picture.
If a place name ends in “burgh” or “borough” it's usually translated to “burra”.  Edinburgh becomes “Edinburra”.  Knaresborough is “Knaresburra”.
What about “wich” as in Greenwich?  Again, the “w” is silent, but the double e is shortened and you now have “Grenich”.  Just as Norwich is “Norich”.
I lived in a town called “Harrogate” which is really pronounced “Harrigut”. And I had trouble forever with Glasgow which is really pronounced “Glazgo”.
If there’s a town ending in “ham” you’d typically drop the “h”.  So Birmingham becomes “Birmingam” and Nottingham is “Nottingam”.
There are some crazy one-offs as well like Belvoir (pronounced “Beaver”) and Mousehole, Cornwall which is pronounced (Mowzel).  Oh, and by the way, Cornwall is pronounced more like “Cornwll” (the a is barely if ever heard).
Do not even get me started on Welsh place names!  I would have to be hauled away in a paddy wagon!
I was thinking of ending this piece with a limerick (even though we aren’t discussing Ireland at the moment).  Just take care to practice your “icks” and “burras” and you should do just fine! 
There once was a girl from Nantucket
Who pulled the UK from her bucket (list)
But when visiting a town
She made a terrible frown
And when trying pronounce just said… dang it!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Just in Case: Trepidations and Travel

Everyone travels differently. My friend, Sarah, is afraid to travel by plane, train, or boat – so she is relegated to traveling to wherever the car can take her. My mom has trouble driving, so a trip with her at the wheel wouldn’t be a great idea.

You might look at me and think I have no fear of travel, and you’d be right – for the most part. My boundaries are typically no third-world nations, as low on the terrorist scale as I can get, and places where they speak English. I’m not averse to going to other European countries (I’ve been to several).  It’s just that England seems to have what interests me most.

I am an organizer. I have certification in event planning and am a senior level Toastmaster (they are keen on leadership and management skills). I love planning a trip down to the nth detail – knowing that something will always tip the “bulletproof” meter at some point. You have to be adaptable when you travel.

When I think about my planning and organization skills, I can tell you that what drives them is a fear of forgetfulness. I’m pushing 60 at this point, and the women in my family aren’t known for their sharp memory. I put everything down just in case. When I say I put everything down, I mean to say that I create a trip book with a calendar, places, dates, phone numbers, checklists, confirmations, and tickets. This book (both hardcopy and softcopy) travels with me. I even upload it to Google Drive… just in case.

I write out in great detail all the bits I want my petsitter to know while I’m gone. How Maddie likes to chase the ball and won’t hardly eat and how Polly will gobble like a starving maniac and pay little attention to playing ball (unless Maddie does). Then, she’ll steal the darn thing.

If someone is watching my house, they need to know when the garbage pickup is and what the alarm code is and which lights to turn off and on. It’s a bit daunting all the buttons I have to press before I feel comfortable leaving home for other parts of the universe.

Then, comes the day of the trip. The alarm goes off, I shower, lock up the house, and it’s bon voyage ME! I typically leave my car at surface parking somewhere at the airport, lock the doors, board the shuttle, and that – my friends – is when two things happen:
  1. Extreme joy and happiness to be going on the trip I’d planned for all year.
  2. Extreme fear that something is going to go wrong.
In case something might happen on my way to the airport or if the ticket lines are long, I leave very early. This usually means that I arrive with a couple of hours to sit and relax before my flight. To ease into vacation, I sometimes get a chair massage while waiting. This helps calms my nerves because I’m all the while thinking about how much I’ll miss my dogs and my house and all my friends and family. I start getting a pit in my stomach about it, and the whole trip which was everso exciting to plan is now just a few hours to execution.

It was at about this time one year that my alarm system went off, and the company called me. I was in Houston minutes from boarding a flight. My house sitter hadn't fully shut the front door, and didn't have her cell phone with her. I was frantically dialing neighbors and trying to get my pets checked on. When I could finally do no more, I shut off the phone and boarded my plane. Sometimes, you just have to do the hard things.

Some folks swear by traveling spontaneously, and while flying by the seat of my pants may sometimes have its charm, it’s definitely not in my personality to plan my whole trip that way. Planning helps alleviate a lot of the stress I might feel otherwise about traveling and it also becomes a part of the trip itself – giving me months of joy at planning the adventure.

But when push comes to shove, and it’s all about me getting on that plane, I take a deep breath and grab the dream with both hands… knowing that I have Xanax in the carry on.

Just in case!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Pubs of Great Britain

Public Houses or “Pubs” as they are commonly called, have had a long tradition in GB. Most people associate pubs with drinking, and it’s true – pubs usually have a well-stocked bar.  But there is so much more to pub tradition, that I felt it was worth exploring.  So, here you have it!  A mini history and culture of pubs in Great Britain.


The first drinking houses in England sprung up during the Roman occupation of Brittania (circa 50 – 450 ad).  These were rest stops (called tabernae) for travelers who would refresh themselves along the Roman travel routes. 
When the Romans left, Anglo Saxons began a tradition of ale houses that grew out of private dwellings and became the focal point of many communities.  They were very popular! 
Around 970 AD one Anglo-Saxon king, Edgar, even attempted to limit the number of alehouses in any one village. He is also said to have been responsible for introducing a drinking measure known as ‘the peg’ as a means of controlling the amount of alcohol an individual could consume, hence the expression “to take (someone) down a peg”.
Out of ale houses grew the public house.  A traditional pub would serve spirits and possibly something to eat.
The thing that potentially differentiates an inn from a pub is that accommodation is provided at an inn. From about the mid 1600s to the mid 1800s, coaching inns were a vital part of transportation as they served coach travelers and their horses.  Since their demise, they now perform a similar function to pubs.
In 1830, to reduce the effects of public drunkenness, the Beerhouse Act was created which provided for a type of public house that only sold alcohol made from malt (which was seen as harmless, nutritious, and healthy).  Since the Act was passed during the reign of King William IV, many pubs were named after him.  Beer Houses existed until 1993 when the Beerhouse act was repealed.  Most beer houses  reestablished themselves as pubs.
As you look around the UK, you may notice signs for particular breweries on the mastheads of many pubs as well as some that say “free house”.  In the 1700s, most pubs brewed their own beer, but from the mid-1800s, breweries popped up and began buying pubs. These establishments, or “tied” pubs are still visible today, but it’s much more common to see free houses (pubs that sell a wide variety of alcohol).  Indeed, even those pubs who claim to be free houses are generally doing business directly with the brewers and may not always be completely free!

Tied House

Free House


The pub is much more than a bar to the British.  In fact, it IS the British culture encapsulated within building walls.  Many communities center around the pub even more than they do the church, and a pub that you frequent near home or work is called your “local”.  It is a place where the elderly can still have a social life, and where younger folks have a second family.  A pub is much more than a bar or a beer hall.  It is an alternative to the drudgery of everyday life.  Many pubs have dark, smoky, or colored glass windows to lend to the air of passing the threshold into another realm.  You can drop your worries at the door, come in for a drink, and communicate.  In this time where face to face communication happens so rarely, it is a gift to the British culture.

The Decline of Pubs

The 2000s may be defining the end of an era as far as public houses are concerned.  In 2007, a smoking ban was introduced to include all public buildings in Britain as a result of the Health Act of 2006.  Of course, this included pubs which, historically, were places where smokers frequented.  Much of the public saw the passing of this health act as the beginning of the current decline.  Of course, nothing is quite that simple. The banking collapse that occurred around the same time as the health act probably did more than a smoking ban ever could to contribute to the decline of pubs in GB.
The economic downturn in England began in 2007 when the first bank, Northern Rock, collapsed due to bad loan policies.  This economic decline is still being felt today with around 30% of British citizens unemployed.  So, when the government started taxing pubs (called on-licenses) higher than stores (off-licenses) for alcohol, people began buying their booze in supermarkets and stayed in rather than heading to the local after work.
Other contributing factors to pub decline are the higher standards required now for public houses to have not only alcohol, but tasty and affordable meals, clean facilities, lodging, and friendly clientele.  Some management can’t keep up with what it takes to make a pub successful, so the business declines.
To date, more than 30,000 pubs have closed in GB.


  • Tavern - an establishment for the sale of beer and other drinks to be consumed on the premises, sometimes also serving food.
  • Ale House - a tavern where ale or beer is sold
  • Off License - a shop licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption off the premises, as opposed to a bar or public house which is licensed for consumption at the point of sale (on-licence).
  • Local - a pub near to where a person lives, especially if they often go there to drink
  • Publican – Pub owner
  • PubCo - a company that owns a chain (group) of pubs in the UK
  • FreeHouse - a tavern that, having no affiliation or contract with a particular brewery, serves several brands of beer, ale, etc.
  • Public House (or Pub) - despite its name, a private house, but is licensed to sell alcohol to the general public.
  • Coaching Inn – an inn serving coach and travelers.  Coaching inns stabled teams of horses for stagecoaches and mail coaches and replaced tired teams with fresh teams.
  • Beer House - A beerhouse was a type of drinking establishment created in the United Kingdom by the 1830 Beerhouse Act, legally defined as a place "where beer is sold to be consumed on the premises".


Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Good Night’s Sleep

Let’s set the stage for a minute.  You’ve had a wonderful day of vacation and have adventured far and wide.  You’ve eaten well.  You feel drowsy, and are looking forward to a wonderful night’s sleep before starting in again tomorrow.
And that’s when all your best laid plans fall apart!
Your travel partner/spouse begins the nightly ritual of log sawing.  Plaster is falling off the walls.  The room shakes.  You huddle under the covers against the giant crashing waves of SNORE!
And that’s when you realize that traveling with a snorer is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Now, I’m not saying to leave friends and spousal units home, but the issue seems to be perennial and unassailable. I began my quest by just saying “No” to traveling with snorers, but some of my best friends snore (and I do too when I’m exhausted).  You don’t want your trip ruined, but there seems to be no respite! 

Here are some things I’ve tried (and am thinking of trying).  I’m looking for more options as I go, so feel free to comment if you have something to share.
Let’s see… my first response to traveling with a snorer is just to get separate rooms.  And that’s fine (if you have the money), but I don’t always.  Splitting the cost of vacation means you get to stay in nicer places and go and do more things.  But, you can’t do those things if you’re unable to remain vertical for any length of time.
I have a lovely friend who offered me a free cruise (which I was/am very grateful for).  But, her CPAP machine wouldn’t work and we were forced to sleep in shifts.  She would be out until 3 or 4 in the morning, and I’d get up about then.  It wasn’t the best of arrangements, but we got sleep.
I always bring earplugs with me on any trip, but 2014 saw me tripping with another lovely friend who snored.  Even earplugs with a high decibel rating didn’t work.  I was forced to either sit up awake or nudge her occasionally.  All night long.
I tried earbuds and turning the radio up, but you know, I must know some world class snorers!  The wall of snore was deafening.
At my job, I’ve been forced to use noise cancelling headphones to eliminate background chatter as I work in a sort of “pit” of technical people.  Just a bunch of desks in a room.  I find the headphones extremely helpful in blocking out sound (especially when playing Adele at high volumes), but I think I’d find these extremely difficult to sleep in.
They do make noise cancelling ear buds that I haven’t tried, but I believe from what I’ve read that a) they’re not as effective as headphones at eliminating noise, and b) they cost an arm and a leg.  For a good set, you’re paying $200-$350 or more.  I don’t know about you, but I’m always losing ear buds.  It just doesn’t seem that they’d be an effective answer.
So, what IS the answer?  I have a friend who uses a CPAP machine and she swears by it.  Not only has it eliminated her snoring, but the side benefits are:
  • She’s not having to take so many allergy meds (because she’s breathing pure, humidified air at night). 
  • It’s increased her blood oxygen levels which prevents a host of heart-related issues. 
  • It’s decreased her risk of stroke as people with untreated sleep apnea are 2 to 4 times more likely to have a stroke.
  • It helps prevent Diabetes as sleep apnea is related to glucose intolerance and insulin resistance.
  • It helps mood and concentration (you feel and function better when you sleep better).
The bottom line is that snoring isn’t just an inconvenience for your travel partner, it’s also a terrible health risk for you! 

If you’re experiencing snoring, sleep apnea, or exhaustion after a night’s “sleep”, it’s recommended that you speak to your doctor immediately.  The quicker you catch the problem, the better quality of life you’ll have.

Your travel partner/spouse will breathe easier too!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

An Insider's Airport Tips

I loved working at the airport! Visitor Information is a great training ground for anyone interested in travel. There were so many tips and tricks I learned (and things were always changing). This article will not only give you insight into my local airport, but may help you maneuver through yours as well!

How Do I Get There

One of the main questions we got at the booth was: “How do I get to Downtown?” And, to a lesser extent, “How do I get where I’m going?”

I wondered so much about people who traveled without knowing their destination and how to get there. At all!

 My favorite story is the last client I helped at the job. Her fictional name is Maria. Maria showed up at my desk with a) no money, and b) no idea how she was going to get to Laredo (a several-hour trip from Austin). Evidently, her sister bought her a ticket to Austin, she boarded a plane, and that was all she knew about the trip. I’m surprised she packed! The whole story is very funny (and sad) but, I spent several hours of my day trying to get money wired to her, driving her to a Western Union, and driving her to the bus station (a long way from our airport). The final ending included me buying her bus ticket to Laredo.
Well, I couldn’t just leave her there!

Airport Tip #1

It’s so easy to look up information these days!
  1. Make sure you have a good idea of where you are going once you hit the airport. 
  2. Know how you are going to get where you’re going. 
  3. Have enough money to get there.

Where is My Daughter?

I had more than one woman show up at my desk telling me her young (under 13) child was supposed to be at the airport. No idea which flight or what time it landed. Un-be-lievable! One was especially acidic when telling us that her “ex” (she almost spat the word) had made the travel arrangements and she didn’t talk to her ex. I’m shaking my head as I type this. I’m not sure that she ever made it to the right airline or gate.

Airport Tip #2

If you are meeting underage children or people with disabilities:
  1. Know the flight number of the plane they are traveling on. 
  2. Know their arrival time. 
  3. Talk to the airline to get a pass so you can meet them at their gate.

How Do I Get to the Military Base?

We had more than one soldier come to our airport with no way to get to his home base. There are no good transportation links between our airport and the fort. This upsets me (we should have support for our soldiers!), but the other side of the coin is that they are told to get flights into Killeen (where the base is).

Airport Tip #3

If you are a soldier, the only real answer to how to get to the base is:
  1. Make arrangements for a ride before you get to the airport (see “How Do I Get There?).
  2. Read your paperwork before booking into an airport where you will be stranded.
  3. Bring enough money to get you to your destination.

Where is My Luggage?

If you can’t find your luggage, you need to go to the airline’s baggage office. They’ll usually be somewhere near the luggage carousels (they are in Austin).

Airport Tip #4

Things you can do to locate your luggage more readily are:
  1. Tag your luggage and put your contact information inside the suitcase as well.
  2. Take photos of your luggage (inside and out) so that if it’s lost, the airline can find it more easily.Understand how much your airline will pay you for a lost bag.
  3. Check into trip insurance.

Missed Flights

Flights are missed for a number of reasons. Poor planning, bad weather, and flight delays of all sorts. Once, Dallas had extremely bad weather, so folks couldn’t make their connecting flights. A lady and her son couldn’t get out of Austin any other way than by rental car. They actually had to drive to Ohio because of the missed flight.

Airport Tip #5

While some things can’t be helped (as in this case), many can.
  1. If the delay is the airline’s fault and is of long duration, you might check with them to see about any reimbursements for hotel and food costs.
  2. Get trip insurance that covers flight delays.
  3. Get on a waitlist or standby list.   
    • The Waitlist is a program that allows you to be placed on a list and wait for a specific class of service or different flight in advance of going to the airport. The program clears you if the service or flight becomes available. The waitlist is closed three hours prior to departure. Waitlists are usually handled by a reservation agent.  
    • Standby is the list you are put on at the airport (you are standing by at the gate) The Airport Standby List is opened three hours prior to departure of your flight and closes about 30 minutes before. The gate agent is the one that clears this list not the computer.

How Do I Meet My Ride?

At Austin (as in most airports), you pick up your bags at the baggage carousel, then you exit to pandemonium as taxis, shuttles, metro buses, limos, and personal cars shuttle people away from the building. How do you know where to meet your ride?

Airport Tip #6

  1. Research the airport. Know where the exits are. At Austin, there are cement columns with signs for taxis, buses, shuttles, etc. as well as alphabetical listings. You can set up a meeting at column G (or any other) at that point.
  2. Uber drivers were constantly losing riders (and vice-versa) because they didn’t have this simple meeting point set up. Make sure that your driver knows *exactly* where to meet you. 
  3. Valet is available for folks who want to leave their cars and have someone else park and store it. If you leave your car with the Valet, know where to go to pick it up. Terminal and airport maps are typically available online.

Grid Lock

Exiting an airport when you’re driving can be daunting at rush hour.

Airport Tip #7

  1. Stop by the Visitor Information desk and ask if there are any other routes for exit than the main route.
  2. If the information desk seems hesitant in their answer, ask for a map of the airport and check for alternate exits yourself. I’ve had information folks route me to the wrong place simply because they were new and didn’t know the area well enough.
  3. Ask an airport policeman for directions. There are numerous police of both airport and city variety. They typically know the airport as well or better than the information desk does.

Mode of Transport

There are a lot of ways to get around Austin from the airport.  If you are not in Austin, these tips should guide you for help at  your airport as well.

Airport Tip #8

  1. Research your ride.  The blue airport shuttle isn't always your best bet!  If there are several in your party, splitting the cost of a taxi is usually cheaper than all of you taking the shuttle.
  2. Don't omit the local bus system.  Austin has a GREAT bus that takes you all over downtown for about a buck seventy-five.  Compare this to $25 for the cab or about the same for the shuttle.
  3. Get a deal! Shop car rentals if you plan on staying a few days to get the best deal.  Google search for the company and the word "coupon" or "discount" and see if you get any hits.  There are also reward programs and other programs that can get you discounts.  AARP or AAA members are typically those that get a nice discount when it comes to car rental, but also check your credit cards and your place of business to see if either of those offer up discounts as well.


You can see that there are so many ins and outs to airports. I hope I've given you some fodder that will help you navigate yours more efficiently and cost-effectively.  Feel free to leave other suggestions in the comments section!

P.S. For information on beating those TSA Lines and zipping through customs (at least on the U.S. side), see this article.

Monday, April 11, 2016

English Oddities

I remember sitting in front of my TV set in Harrogate and watching as the queen prepared for her annual speech to Parliament. There was so much ritual involved, and most of it totally unfathomable.

Part of the ritual is that the queen pauses while a servant, Black Rod, tries to gather the members of the House of Commons. The door is shut in his face. He then knocks on the door three times with his staff. The doors are opened and they proceed to the House of Lords for the presentation. It’s a grand play that has been acted out for centuries!

Sometimes, going to the UK is a bit like visiting an alternate universe. One in which time stood still somewhere back in the dark ages. Their language and dialects are different, their traditions are (mostly) different, and their ideas of propriety are also quite different.

I’m hoping to attend the Trooping of the Color this year, and if I get a box seat (this is all outdoors), I’m required to adhere to a dress code or I may be turned away! I can see the president telling Americans they must dress a certain way or they can’t watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July!

It’s odd to me that the English look down their noses upon one story homes (called bungalows).

 “Well, I don’t know about having a bedroom on the main floor,” I’ve heard them say. A big question mark comes out of my ears about that time. So… you really want to walk up and down stairs on a daily basis to get to your bedroom? I’d eversomuch prefer a “bungalow” to a two story home. Always have.

Having beans on toast as part of my morning meal seems odd enough, but then there’s this Marmite stuff that is just beyond horrible! I’m reminded of the scene in “What Women Want” where Mel Gibson waxes his leg and nearly kills himself in the aftermath. “Who would do that more than once?” he gasps. That’s how I feel about Marmite.

I find it odd that the English have a fear (and anger) toward Americans having the right to bear arms… but then, the first chance they get over here, they want to shoot a gun. I must say, the two times I’ve taken my English friends to the shooting range, they’ve seemed to have had a blast! (Literally)

Why is Northumberland also called Northumbria and Cumberland called Cumbria? And why is North Yorkshire divided into North, South, and West Yorkshire, but then the East Riding appears out of nowhere. Why are there administrative jurisdictions vs. counties? What does it all MEAN??? And, following up on that, why do we have Great Britain, the UK, Commonwealth Realm, Commonwealth of Nations, EU, Crown dependencies, and British Overseas Territories? I’m so confused!!!

When I first arrived in England, the tanks for toilets were perched high up on the wall with a pipe leading down to the toilet bowl. You had to reach up to flush! I guess it had something to do with water pressure because when I took a shower back then, the only water pressure in the shower was gravity from the holding tank in the attic to the shower head.

They’ve gotten much better at it these days, but the English were actually color and pattern blind when it came to room decorating in the 80s. The carpet could be red and gold axminster, lined patterned wall paper, and floral curtains. That was the décor of the bedroom I stayed in.

Paying for toilets has got to be the lowest. What if there’s an emergency? And then… occasionally, you’ll find a bathroom attendant who you tip before you go. Luckily, not all toilets are pay toilets, but in many places you must pay to pee!

You can still find dialects in England (though they are becoming rarer) where the use of thee and thou is still used. “Sit thissen dahn” in Yorkshire equates to “sit thyself down”. How’s tha doin’? How are thou doing or How are you doing?

I know this sounds strange (and isn’t really English), but in the northern counties of England you’ll find hairy coos (cows) that look a bit like a large dog on hooves with horns. These highland cows are very novel to Americans and they are quite sweet, really, when I’ve come across them in my hikes.

I’m sure I’ll add to this list in the future, but what have you found odd in England or the UK? Life’s such an awesome adventure, and to experience this “alternate” universe is a wonderful gift I am so grateful for.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Tea and the Confounding of Americans

I wish I had a nickel for every time an American has held a “high” tea, but never knew what the term meant.

To Americans, high tea is little sandwiches, cakes and hors d'oeuvres. We usually have no concept of what time to have tea and don’t really care (because it’s all about the poshness). Besides, who doesn’t like tea and cakes?

I was watching a British show this morning where the announcer was having a cream tea and realized, “I bet Americans don't know what a cream tea is!” So, in all brevity, I plan to give you an overview here.

The history of tea as a meal began in the mid 1800s when the Duchess of Bedford, feeling a bit peckish, asked her servant to bring her something to eat. In those days, luncheon was at noon and supper around 8:00 pm, so there was a long break where food was not available. This tradition caught on with Queen Victoria (since the Duchess was a lady in waiting to her majesty). Today, this would be called an afternoon tea or low tea. It’s meant as a refreshment and not a full meal. It’s traditionally provided around 3-4 pm.

The working class would have been working hard all day and a light refreshment wouldn’t be the ticket, so around 5 pm to 7 pm (after all the duchesses and majesties had taken their afternoon tea), the workers would sit down to a meat tea. This was, basically, a full meal with (you guessed it) MEAT and assorted pies, cheeses, and the like.

Meat tea is also called high tea, so if you’re having those little tea cakes and sandwiches, you are having an afternoon tea and not a high tea.

There are other terms referring to tea that you may not have heard.

Elevenses is a term taken from The Hobbit and refers to a late morning snack (you guessed it – at 11 am). It’s composed of muffins, scones, or cookies and hot tea or coffee.

And then, there’s the cream tea. What’s up with that?

It began in the area of Cornwall and Devon (hence, cream tea is also known as Devonshire tea, Devon cream tea or Cornish cream tea). The tradition of spreading Devonshire cream over scones or Cornish “split” bread became popular. So extreme was the rivalry between the two counties for ownership of cream tea’s origin that it even comes down to how you “butter your bread” so to speak. In Devon, a scone is slathered with Devonshire cream before adding jam. In Cornwall, the tradition is butter, then jam, and finally, the cream.

You can also call an afternoon tea a “cream tea” because this type of food would be served then.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the English invent these long and complicated systems for dealing with life to confound Americans and the rest of the world. I bet they love to be asked, “Why do you do that?” Because they can proudly answer, “It's because we are English, dahling.”

Tea at Fortnum and Mason

Monday, April 4, 2016

Size Matters (Sometimes)

I was thinking back to my 2014 Trip Of The Century, and thought I’d share a little with you about driving in England.  When I first made my trip plans, I showed them to my English counterparts.  They were aghast.

2014 Trip of the Century
You can’t do that!  It’s way too much driving.  You’ll poke your eye out (sorry, a little reference to Ralphie’s dilemma there).  They were just *sure* as heck that 2.5 weeks was not enough time to see large parts of England, Scotland, and Wales.

“There are roadworks and closures everywhere,” they told me.  “You’ll be spending your entire holiday in your car!”  “You wouldn’t find ME doing that!”  On and on it went.  They finally scared me so much that I contacted my Texas friend living in the UK.  “Can I do this?” I asked her?  “I think so,” she said.  “They have a different idea of time and space here.”

That’s actually something I’ve had to grapple with, myself.  When you look at that map of Great Britain, it seems huge!  But, we are equating the size of a country to the USA.  In fact, the UK is only 35% the size of Texas.

UK is 35% the size of Texas

As Texans, we are used to taking day trips to Dallas or Houston (6 hours round trip). Or heading to Padre Island (8 hours from Houston).  So, England (which is equivalent to about the size of Louisiana) doesn’t appear very daunting to us.

Flip that, and look at it from the British perspective.  Their entire universe lies within a relatively small country.  At one point, the British Empire governed over about 458 million people, one-fifth of the world's population at the time, and covered more than 13,000,000 square miles, almost a quarter of the Earth's total land area.

How could anything be larger than Great Britain?  And, England lies at the heart of both GB and the UK.

Centuries of driving their roads has taught them that the distance between Leeds and Bradford would take you at least a couple of days with a layover in between! And, if you want to park your car, you should find the car park (consisting of two spaces) at the post box near the Smith’s farm on Underbelly road and walk to the pub ¼ mile down. 

The truth of the matter is that I did the trip around GB handily, and with only a couple of minor traffic issues.

In years past, I had a couple of English friends come to visit me who wanted to see Disney World (doesn’t everyone?).  So, I told them I could drive it, and to give them some perspective, I told them it would be like driving from London to Rome.

Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

If you’re an American (and especially a Texan) traveling in the UK, don’t be afraid to check out drive times and settle up your trip accordingly.  You’ll see tons of great landscape with fairly little driving “skin” in the game. 

Now, there are some things to be aware of.  Like sheep being herded along your path or giant, scary roundabouts that the GPS always gets confused on.  “Enter Roundabout” and “Recalculating” were two of my LEAST favorite phrases!

But, we made it, alive, intact, and no worse for wear.  It did help that I had not only GPS, but a great navigator in my side seat.  So, travel on, me ducks! It’s not as bad as you might think!