Monday, April 29, 2013

England to France via EuroTunnel

Road trips were an annual event when I was young.  Whether it was moving to our next base, heading to Tennessee to visit the cousins or a trip to Florida, my brother and I would pile into the car with my parents and hit the road.  Eight to ten hours in a car was nothing.  Some of my best and craziest memories are road trip shenanigans.  (Think the Griswolds in Vacation.)  "Are we there yet?"  was the mantra of my childhood.  

One of the coolest things about road trips in the UK is that they take you to places like France, Belgium and Luxembourg.  Over Easter break, Matt and I decided to do just that.  I've written before about taking the ferry across the English Channel and we've take the Eurostar to France and Belgium a few times now.  This was the first time we took our own car across the Eurotunnel

The train leaves from Folkestone, England (which is where Matt grew up) and arrives in a village just outside of Calais, France in just over half an hour.  We booked our tickets in advance online for a specific time, but they do offer flexible tickets.  (When you get to Folkestone, be on the look out to your left for a large white chalk horse in the hillside.)

We arrived in plenty of time and passed from line to line.  First we checked in at an electronic kiosk using our reservation information and received a ticket to hang from the rear view mirror with our Boarding Letter displayed.  Once you're all checked in, you are directed to the terminal to wait.  We parked and went in to relax for a bit. 

The terminal is large with a duty-free shop and several fast-food options.  There is a departure board to alert you when your assigned letter group is starting to board.  (The process coming back was almost identical and there is also a nice terminal on the French side.)  Once our letter was displayed it was back to the car and off to France. 

Well, not quite yet.  Time for more queuing.   Getting through all of this and onto the train, takes longer than the actual ride through the channel tunnel.  There were times when we turned the engine off and just sat there.  It was a busy weekend because of the holiday so I'm not sure if it is always like this. 

Eventually, one by one, each car is loaded onto the train.  There are two levels and we took a wager on whether we would be top level or lower level. Obviously, the train is open all the way through for loading.  But before it departs each compartment is closed off.  But there are doors on either side so you can walk along the full length of the train and even go to the other level via the stairs. 

There are toilets every few cars, but most of them were out of order that day so after waiting in a line, I had to use a pretty icky toilet without any toilet paper.  And there are no extras like a snack bar to get a sandwich or soda.  There are several attendants that walk through often if you need assistance with anything. 

Then you just sit in your car for the journey.  Usually it's pretty quick so the toilet thing shouldn't be an issue.  But, there were problems on one of the two lines so we were delayed.  Once boarded onto the train we sat there for another hour before we were able to leave.   

One last thing to mention, the train smells strongly of car exhaust obviously.  When you add to the equation the fact that you're in a deep tunnel, the air can feel very heavy.  I was getting over a chest cold and was feeling pretty uncomfortable.  There is always a chance you could be delayed so I'd recommend if you use one, have your inhaler close by.  (And also please disregard how filthy our car is.  Yikes, it needs a wash.)

 Here are some fun facts about the Eurotunnel.

The Channel Tunnel opened in 1994 and 
consists of three tunnels, two for trains and one service tunnel which are all connected.

The Channel Tunnel is just over 30 miles long and 24 of those miles are under water.

The Channel Tunnel was built at a cost exceeding £9 billion.

Eleven 15,000 ton tunnel boring machines were used to drill the tunnels at a rate of 15 feet per hour.  

The chalk that was excavated from the tunnels by the British was dumped into artificial lagoons behind protective sea walls at the base of the white cliffs of Dover.  The resulting 86 acres of land is now a nature reserve called Samphire Hoe

Once off the train on the French side, we went through passport control while still in our car.  The booths are on both sides of the car, so either of you in the front seat may be the one communicating with the guards. With one last reminder to "Please drive on the right as you exit," we were able to continue our road trip in France.  

If you plan to drive in France, be sure to check out the Driving in France requirements.   There is a great checklist of all of the items that are required to drive legally in France including a Breathalyser, reflective jacket, emergency triangle and a GB sticker.  We were able to purchase a kit for about £20 online that contained everything that we needed.  There is also a shop at the terminal that sell automotive supplies.  

More to come tomorrow.  

What is your best road trip memory?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Liebster Award Lovelies

I've been extremely remiss in not yet responding to three wonderful bloggers who nominated me for The Liebster Award.  Liebster is German for sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, and lovely.  And that is exactly how  I would describe these three bloggers.

And I'm so proud to have been nominated by Melissa at Bright Side Up, Gladley at Glad Blog, and Emma at Adventures of a London Kiwi. Particularly since these are three of my favorite bloggers.  Thank you so much, ladies.  And please forgive me for not responding sooner.  

The Liebster Award is a way for bloggers to show their love to other bloggers.  It's also a great way to discover new blogs, so if any of these blogs are new to you, please click over and tell them I sent you.  

The rules are that you tell 11 random facts about yourself and answer the 11 questions from the blogger who nominated you.  Then you nominate some blogs and give them 11 new questions to answer.  And you pass on the love.  

I'm struggling to come up with 11 random facts so here's 3 quick ones.  

I struggle with the meat-to-bread ratio of a standard hotdog. 
To address this issue I slice the hot dog in half longways.

I think mustard is the most disgusting thing ever created.
I can't bear to see it, smell it, touch it, much less put it on my now perfect hotdog.

I like to put Doritos on my ham sandwiches.  

I'm also fairly certain that you do not want me to answer 33 questions.  So, I'm going to cheat a bit and pick one question from each.  

Melissa asked "What is something you enjoyed in childhood that you would like to do as an adult?"

When I was in Kindergarten and first grade, we were living in the Philippines and I took ballet lessons, (I think) at the Youth Center on Clark AFB.  I really enjoyed it.  My mom bought me books to read about beautiful ballerinas.  I loved getting dressed up and posing for pictures in my tutu.  As I got a little older and more shy about being on stage I stopped.  But, I've always wished I could take ballet lessons again.  I can't imagine stuffing my big ol' butt into a leotard at this age.  But, I think it would be wonderful to dance again. 

Gladley asked "What book that I probably haven't read would you recommend to me?

Okay, this is flat-out a shameless plug.  My husband is not only a globe-trotting accountant but he is also a published author.  (And by published, I mean self-published.)  It's a great book and I'm not just saying that.  His pen name is Matt Elham and the book is called Ignoble.  It's a conspiracy thriller with lots of travel and action.  It's available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a paperback or for Kindle and Nook.  He is now working on the second of the trilogy.  End shameless plug.  (I was not compensated in anyway for this post.  Yet.)

Emma asked "If I gave you £1,000 right now, what would you do with it?"

I would fly Jessica over here for two weeks.  And I'd take her to Italy for a Mother & Daughter weekend.  I miss you, Sugar Bear!!  (I think we might need to make this happen.)

Now it's my turn to nominate!  

I'm going to steal some questions from Melissa, Gladley and Emma.  (No, not because I'm lazy, but because their questions are so awesome.)

1.  What is one challenge you have set yourself this year? 
2.  What is something you enjoyed in childhood that you would like to do as an adult?
3.  Do you prefer to read, write or watch?
4.  Do you participate in any volunteer programs for your community?
5.  What are some of your favorite sayings?
6.  What movies could you watch over and over again and still love?
7.  Describe one of your life goals.
8.  When do you feel your happiest? 
9.  What's the one thing you can't leave the house without and why?
10.  If I gave you £1,000 right now, what would you do with it?
11.  Where would you want your dream house to be?

I can't wait to hear your answers!

Tomorrow I'll be starting a series of posts from our Road Trip to Luxembourg and the Champagne District of France.  I hope you will join me!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Expat to Expat Q&A - Season Edition

Found Love.  Now What?

Today, I'm linking up with two other American Expat Blogs,  Found Love, Now What?   and The Hemborg Wife.  

They've started a new monthly link-up called Expat to Expat Q & A that I'm really excited about.  I hope you will take a look and join in.  This is a great way to get to know some other expats scattered all over the globe.  And to learn about some of the cultural differences that we all experience living away from our home countries.  

This month the questions are about Seasons.  

What was your favorite season back home and is it the same now; why or why not?  

In Texas, there is really only one season and that’s obviously Summer.  It’s either hot, hotter or surface-of-the-sun hot.  In London, my favourite has to be Spring.  (Holy cat, I just spelled favorite with a U.  What is happening to me?)  London and Springtime are perfect together.  The weather is mild.  The sky is blue.  Everyone is outside.  The days are getting long.  The Cherry Blossoms are blooming.  It’s just magic. 

Is there a place you would want to move to based solely on the weather?

I think Australia would have to be pretty high up on that list.  I haven’t been yet, but Matthew lived there for about six years and even has dual citizenship.  He raves about it and would love to get back there someday.  I do love hot weather as long as there is a body of water close by.  The lifestyle that I've read about in Australia is very appealing; beaches and barbecues.  

What is an article of clothing that you had to buy for your new home due to the weather?

I must have worn low-heeled boots and a scarf every single day for 5 months.  And coats and jackets in a variety of weights were definitely needed for layering.  I’ve now hidden the boots in the back of the closet and hope to actually have the opportunity to wear a pair of flip-flops very soon.  

Have you found the weather stereotypes of your new home to be true?

Of course, I’ve heard all the fuss about England and rain.  But, we’ve had some really beautiful days in the past 18 months.  The rain isn't that big of a deal.  It never really pours.  Most of the time, it’s just an annoying mist.  As long as you are dressed for it, it’s not (always) horrible.  What I was not prepared for was the darkness.  When we had less than 6 hours of daylight, I almost went nuts.  Add a low cloud cover into the mix, it can get very claustrophobic.  It really affected me much more than I had anticipated.  

Is there somewhere you would never live based solely on the weather?

I probably would never live anywhere further north so as to avoid the dark days.  And I don’t love snow on any long-term basis.  A flurry is nice and white snow is pretty, but I know from residing in Indiana for many years, that it’s not much fun to live with.  

What are you looking forward to most this spring?

Daylight! Sunshine!  And being out in it as much as possible is the plan.  We have a long list of things to do this Spring.  Our weekend strolls around London are always fun.  And I’m also looking forward to taking pictures with blue sky backgrounds instead of the low light of Winter. 

Where you live, what is your go-to outfit for spring? 

Ballet flats or Converse sneakers are the norm.  I haven’t worn heels in ages and even flip-flops are tricky in London.  I’ve come to like the scarves so I have some nice warm weather options.  I always carry a light jacket with a hood for the occasional rain shower. The hood works much better than a bulky umbrella, especially on a crowded London street.  Those things are dangerous.  And my camera case is usually slung across my body with a small purse.  

What is one thing or event that you miss that happens back home at this time of the year? 

I might need a moment here to gather myself.  I am missing Fiesta San Antonio!  Sob!!!  Fiesta is a huge, massive, wonderful party that dates back to 1891.  Local charities fund amazing events and concerts all over town over a period of 11 days.  There is even a parade along the Riverwalk which is amazing.  So much food!  And Music!  And Fun!  And Cascarones!!

I’m all Verklempt.  Talk amongst yourselves.  

If your hubs could bring home a bouquet of any type of flower, what would you pick?

A big, fat bouquet of yellow roses (of Texas) and some Texas Bluebonnets would be perfect right now. 

What does your perfect Saturday look like?

Matt and I waking up whenever we wanted to.  And then a stroll over to the pub for lunch.  Oh and we would have a dog with us!  (I’ve been begging Matt for months).  Lunch would be followed by a walk along the South Bank all the way to Westminster Bridge.  Then we would have dinner with friends some place fun.  And if it was a completely perfect day, my daughter Jessica would be with us.  

Bonus:  Are there any special holidays in your new country in the month of May?

We get two bank holidays in May which is a treat.  I see a weekend on a Portugal beach in our future.  I’ll be whipping out the flip-flops!  Finally.

I hope you join in on the Link-Up!

How are you enjoying Spring where you live?

Friday, April 26, 2013

I Spy Friday

I'm happy to report that I had a normal week this week.
I'm starting to see a routine happen and I'm getting things done.  It seems that for three things that I check off my To Do List, I'm adding six.  But, things are getting accomplished.  And for the first time in my adult life, I actually have clothes hanging in my closet that have already been ironed!  (I know, right?)

I'm bringing back the I Spy Friday posts (again).   What is this?  Maybe my fourth restart?
Oh well, I like doing them.  It's basically just a post of random things I've done and seen over the past week.

The sun has arrived in London and suddenly it seems all sparkly and shiny.  And nothing makes me happier than just walking along the Thames on a weekend and indulging in a cheap glass of "pink" prosecco. London is the best place to people watch.

And now that the weather has finally turned warmer, Londoners are doing what I like to call "The Spring Plop."  Everyone goes out, finds the closest green spot and just plops down on the grass.  Add your favorite friends, your dog, some munchies and bottle of wine.  What could be better?  It's amazing how the mood has lifted in this city.  London and Springtime go together like peanut butter and jelly (or bangers and mash, for you Brits.) 

And I think we've found the smartest busker in London.  The Beach Captain is set up below the Thames path along the muddy shores of the South Bank.  He has 3-4 sheets and buckets set up and passersby stand along the edge of the walkway and toss down coins.  He even has his own Facebook page.  Genius, I tell you.  I asked Matt for a coin.  Then one more, then another.  And then, once I got the hang of it and started hearing that satisfying ting of coin hitting metal bowl, I made Matt empty out his change pocket.  He had to drag me away.  (He hates when I give change to buskers, but I always donate when I'm taking photographs.)

I didn't donate or even purchase when I took a photo of these adorable owl cookies biscuits at the Borough Market, but I did ask nicely if it was okay.  Aren't they sweet? 
Here is another picture I've been wanting to get...

Harry Potter's Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station.   I just thought it was there along the wall, no big deal.  But now there are ropes around it and a line (queue) of  people waiting to get their photo taken with it.  And they've now opened up an Official Harry Potter Shop close by. 

I also took some quick shots of the newly renovated Kings Cross Train Station.  It's a beautiful space with the soaring curved ceiling, the old brick facade and so much light.  

The reason I was at Kings Cross was a visit to the British Library to explore and get my Readers Card.  The British Library is an impressive place.  

Is this not the most fantastic thing you've seen?  It's a huge multistory window filled with lovely, gorgeous books.   Pop over to this British Library Facts and Figures link real quick to read some basic facts.  I'll wait... 

Pretty impressive, isn't it?  And now that I'm all official, I can head to one of their Reading Rooms and request some ancient manuscripts to be called up from their vaults for my perusal.  Maybe I'll come across Ashmole 782.  (Please let me know if you get that reference.  Great book!)

The library also has exhibitions throughout the year.  I have this one on my calendar. 

This is a statue outside the library by Eduardo Paolozzi called Newton.  (It was inspired by a William Blake painting of the same name that you can see at the Tate Modern.)  

Speaking of books, I passed this somewhere on my travels last week.  Unfortunately, I can't remember where.  According to Google it was over by the Strand, which makes perfect sense, as I was over that way three times in the past week or so.

Once to see One Man, Two Guvnors which was hysterical and a lot of fun.  I was laughing so hard that I was doing my weird, squeaky laugh.  (I apologize if you were in the audience.)  Another time we were over that way was to see Love Is All You Need which was very sweet.  The lead actress is a delight and Pierce is hot.
What's not to like?

My third trip to the West End was to see The Book of Mormon.  Matt had tickets on his Christmas list and being the fabulous wife that I am, I purchased them.  I knew it would be irreverent and cringeworthy, but I had no idea.  I absolutely HATED IT!  It was awful.  I didn't see anything clever, funny, intelligent or groundbreaking.  I realize that makes me one of the minority, very unhip and and probably old (Get off the lawn!!), but oh well.  If you are going to waste your money go see it, then I would just advise you to do some Googling, so you know what you are getting yourself into.  (And while your at it Google "what's funny about female genital mutilation?")

Wow, I so didn't expect this to end on such a low note. 
(Which is what I felt like after that show.  I told Matt I needed to go pet a puppy.)
I'll throw in this oldie-but-goodie photo just to lighten the mood a bit.

My pup Sugar, who is now happily living on a farm in Texas with her buddy Mister.  Isn't she adorable?

Have a wonderful weekend!!

I'd love to hear from you.


P.S.  Matt liked The Book of Mormon.  He found it a very well-construction production which was occasionally quite funny.  However, he said it wasn't quite as smart as he had hoped.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

London Marathon 2013

I apologize in advance for the number of photos in this post.
I just couldn't narrow it down any further. It was such a great day.  
We knew the London Marathon route would be passing very closely and had discussed heading up to the pub to watch.  When the tragedy in Boston happened, we were more determined than ever to get out there and support the runners and volunteers.

About 9 that morning we walked over to the 12 mile marker which was right before the runners turned onto Tower Bridge Road.  It was a nice, relaxed atmosphere with more people arriving as the morning progressed.  We got there just in time to see the first group go by which were the wheelchair athletes.

You can spot British 6 Time Gold Medal Paralympian David Weir in the photo above with the werewolf on his helmet. Shortly after, preceded by the camera truck, were the Elite Female Runners. 


Included in this group is Ethiopian Tiki Gelana, the gold medal winner of the 2012 Olympic Marathon and Kenyan Silver Medalist Priscah Jeptoo who went on to win the marathon.  Unfortunately, later in the race the favored Gelana collided with one of the wheelchair racers. It negatively affected both of their races but luckily there were no serious injuries.

  There have been serious calls for the organizers to change the start times so the Elite Women and the Wheelchair Athletes do not have to dodge each other. 

We moved along around the corner towards Tower Bridge and stopped to watch the next group.  The Paralympian athletes are such an inspiration.  There was a large group of visually impaired who were running with a guide. 

You should have heard the crowd cheering for Richard Whitehead.  He is a British gold medal winning Paralympian and holds the world record in both the full and half marathons for athletes with a double amputation.

The Elite Men were then running towards tower bridge.  Mo Farah, the British double gold-medal athlete only ran half of the course as a practice run for his plans to run the full marathon in 2014.  Sorry for the poor quality of the picture, they passed us pretty quickly. 

After the paralympians and the elite athletes, all of the other runners started reaching Tower Bridge.  You could tell how excited they were.  Many were on the phone or taking pictures of the bridge and themselves running the London Marathon.  I have to admit that I teared up several times during the day.  It was so moving.

The crowd was so loud and excited.  We were joined by our friend Erin and we stood there and cheered for the runners for over two hours.  If they had a name on their shirt we would yell it out to encourage them. "Go, Dave!!" 
If there was no name, we would just yell anything.
"Mohawk!"  "Go USA"  "Guy in green shirt!" "Canada!"  "Go, Pink Wig!" 

We were standing with two of the cutest little boys.  They were cheering their heads off!
One of them, must have yelled almost every name on those shirts.
At one point, he yelled "I don't know all of your names, but GO everybody!!"
Sweetest thing ever.

It was so precious when one of the runners would see a loved one cheering from the sidelines.  They would cross all the way over, run backwards, whatever they could do to get that encouraging high five, kiss and hug to get them through the next 14 miles.  I'm tearing up just thinking about it.  I've seen few things like it in my life.

 And almost every single runner that passed us was wearing a black ribbon in 
remembrance of the tragedy in Boston.  There were several runners who had run in the Boston Marathon that were now running the London Marathon. 

There was a definite police presence, but there was no fear.  And I've read that the crowds this year were bigger than ever. 

Of course I have to mention the thousands of volunteers who passed out water, energy chews and a quick swipe of Vaseline to the 36,000 runners. 

Did you know that the London Marathon is the largest annual fundraising event on the planet?!  Isn't that fantastic? According to their fundraising website, runners have raised over £500 million dollars for charity since the race began over 30 years ago.  Many of the runners are dressed up in crazy costumes.  Can you imagine running 26 miles in some of this get up?  I don't think I could run in the Rhino costume for one mile. 

And yes, this lady was actually knitting as she ran the 2013 London Marathon.  

No British event is complete without a stop in the pub.   The Official Marathon Guide even listed all of the pubs on the route.  Many of them had live music and special deals.  Such a fun atmosphere on a glorious, sunny day.  

 We watched as the last of the runners passed.  Everyone started packing up and leaving.  Crews started tearing everything down and clearing the route.  You should have seen the water bottles!
There had to be millions of them.

 And the fun was certainly not over.  As we sat outside the pub, we heard loud popping noises and then squealing.  As the clean up trucks were going along, they were running over all the water bottles.  They were exploding and spraying water on anyone that happened to be in the area.

Eventually, the truck made its way right in front of the pub.  Everyone was laughing and diving for cover like a bunch of kids.  I think we all three managed to get splashed.  It was hysterical and so much fun!

 Long after all the spectators had gone and all of the excitement had died down,
one lone marathoner passed by with his number displayed on his chest.  He was proudly wearing his 2012 London Olympics gamesmaker uniform and stopped to give us some encouraging words.

 Everyone outside of the pub put down their drink, stood up and clapped, whooped and cheered him on as he continued on his way to finish the 2013 London Marathon
It's a moment I don't think I'll ever forget.
I never knew a 26 mile run could be so much fun
and more importantly, such a moving and inspirational experience.

(Guess who started running again yesterday?) 

Were you at the London Marathon?
What moment inspired you the most?