The Pacific Northwest

When I say the name Pacific Northwest, one word comes to mind – OUTDOORS.  I’ve always thought – and here comes a generalization – as though people who live there spend on average a much larger portion of their day outside.  And as a result – or maybe just as correlation – they are generally more relaxed also.  After visiting, I think this is true.

We had the fortune of traveling to the Pacific Northwest and the end of summer, and what a trip! Sunshine literally every day, even in Seattle, which I hear is rare.

A few points that are typical of (US) travel with kids that I had kind of forgotten about.

  1.  No matter how attractive the Southwest Airlines fare – do not – under any circumstances – arrange a stopover in Vegas, if you have small children. I had forgotten there are slot machines literally everywhere in the airport.  My almost two year old doesn’t quite understand the 18 and over only signs and didn’t understand why mommy wouldn’t let him push the buttons.  Luckily for us, it was a short layover.
  2. Just don’t change planes with kids, if you can help it.  With all their stuff, you really feel like a clown act, unpacking it all for a very short flight, to repack it, and then do that all over again on plane #2.  We get caught by that rule every time.  We see a cheaper fare by $100, and think, “oh, we’ll just change planes.”  Once the day comes are we’re actually doing it, we say, “wow, it is totally worth the extra $100 to NOT change planes.”  So find out what your dollar “breakeven” point is – and keep that in mind when booking.  And if you must change, make it on the way there, when you have the most energy.

We landed at the Seattle Tacoma Airport, and jumped into the rental car and drove directly toward Vancouver, arranging a stopover in Bellingham, Washington, a cozy little seaside town.  Knowing this would be 10 days filled with many hours in the car, I arranged to stay at a hotel with an indoor pool; sometimes my children, ages one and four, only remember the pool, or when asked what their favorite part of the trip was, it was swimming!  We toured historic Fairhaven, with its cute downtown area, reminding me quite a bit of my home town of New Buffalo, Michigan, except with hills.  Surrounded by unique shops, art galleries, and of course, coffee shops (more to come later), in the late 19thcentury Fairhaven was believed to be the next Chicago, with rumors that the second northern transcontinental railroad would be built to terminate there.  However, these plans changed, and the railroad chose a site further south.  But Fairhaven remains a very quaint, cute place, and with nationally designated historic district as most of its downtown.

The Village Green

They have a fabulous town square they call the Village Green, pictured here, with its decorative wooden pergola, looking as if it was specifically made for hosting many outdoor events and farmers markets throughout the week.  With a downtown as inviting as this, it just calls you to enjoy the outdoors.

We ventured down the hill to the cruise terminal, where boats leave for Alaska and the San Juan Islands, both of which are places on my list to visit.  By late morning, it was back in the car.

Vancouver, British Colombia, has an earthy, urban feel.  We were lucky to stay with friends who used to live in Chicago, to avoid the exorbitant lodging costs.  With Vancouver only

Peace Arch

about a three hour drive from Seattle, it was a place we couldn’t miss. We managed our way through Border Crossing in about 30 minutes, which was fun with kids.  We discussed with our daughter what it was and why the officers checked our passports.  I love travel planning and sometimes I plan out each day – what we see, what we do, sometimes even where we eat!  But for this trip, I had basically figured out the lodging, and that was it.  It is sometimes fun not having an agenda.  So we did what we usually do when we’re in a new city.  First, ask, “What do all large cities have for kids?  Zoos, aquariums, parks, museums, and in this case, waterfronts.”  So into our GPS we programmed our first destination – the Vancouver Aquarium.  Along the way, we were not at all prepared to enter Stanley Park, a 1000 acre oasis situated on the North coast of Vancouver, and the city’s first public green space.  It was a beautiful a combination of forest, waterfront, play grounds, splash pad, trains, a theatre, and the reason we came – the Vancouver Aquarium.  It had a unique indoor/outdoor footprint so we were able to enjoy the beautiful weather while we watched the dolphin show.

After having lunch, we wandered into Klahowya Village, an authentic First Nations exhibit honoring some of present day British Colombia’s first inhabitants, and giving a glimpse into their culture and heritage.  In the US, we use the term Native American for our native population; in BC and other parts of Canada, they use “First Nations.”  There were aboriginal performers, dancers, story tellers, and crafts, and the miniature train ride was themed to an ancient legend “The Raven Saving the Sun.”  What a great day!  And it was fabulous to find so much green space in an otherwise very densely populated city.

Day two was spent in Granville Island, filled with markets, shops, street performers and its

Street performer in a box!

own kids market, complete with indoor climbing structure and outdoor splash/water park area. I was reminded of what I miss about large cities: being able to get just about any type of food you want, made any way you want, at any time of day you want.  Indian at 2 a.m.? No problem.

Granville Island Water Park

Gluten free pizza crust with no sugar added tomato sauce?  Not an eye was batted.  Our kids had a blast staying with friends that were close in ages to them, and we were lucky to come back to a home, rather than hotel room, each night.

After two glorious days in Vancouver, complete with biking hills for the guys, and shopping at Whole Foods for the girls, followed by a foot massage, we made way to rural Washington State, whose beauty of tall trees and cliffs I believe is one of America’s

Washington State

hidden gems; and its bounty is surprisingly similar to my home state of Michigan.  We passed multiple farm stands advertising local berries, peaches, pears, corn, grapes and of course, apples.  It was an opportune chance to speak to my children about farming and growing; my inquisitive four year old was excited to see so many “Christmas” trees growing in the mountains!

Washington sunset

I was impressed by one of the most perfect sunsets I’ve ever seen, and that is saying a lot since I grew up near the water.

After a few days taking in the rural beauty, we headed to Seattle.  Now, I took a few minutes before we left on our journey to speak to the children about what we would see.  Not ever having been there, my knowledge was limited.  But of course I knew of the Space Needle and monorail, which was maybe enough for my daughter’s four year old mind.  We chatted a few minutes and that was it.  So many days later when we arrive in Seattle, she is asking me about the “Space Pin.”  My husband and I laughed out loud, and it just goes to show that sometimes kids really are listening to what you say even when they are standing there with that silent, confused look!

Seattle really is the city of coffee shops.  Of course, we had to trek to the very first Starbucks in the bustling Pike Place Market with my coffee loving husband.  Eleanor got

Fish Market

the celebratory ice pack on her head at the fish market.  Pike Place Market is sometimes called the first farmer’s market.  As the story goes, back in 1906, the cost of onions had risen tenfold in a year.  Outraged consumers found a friend in city councilman Thomas Revelle, who proposed using a public space for farmers to sell their produce directly to the consumer, cutting out the middleman.  The site would be at the corner Pike Street and First Avenue, and on that first day, eight farmers showed up to sell their bounty – and the crowd that showed up to buy was close to ten thousand!  The produce ran out at 11:00 a.m., and many consumers left empty handed, but out of that chaos, a new concept was born.  And by 1907, the indoor market building was completed, and each space was filled.

Pike Place Market

Today, space is still rented by the day, and occupied by approximately 100 farmers and 190 crafters; and they are joined by 240 street musicians and entertainers, making Pike Place Market one of Washington State’s most frequently visited sites, by up to approximately 10 million people per year.

There is great seafood and a good selection of ethnic foods.  We wandered into an Indian grocer across the way from a German deli and store, near a Polish bakery and then an ice cream shop.  And kudos to the German jerky we purchased – delicious!

But even beyond Pike Place, there really is coffee on every corner.  And there were even unique signs posted about where you can – and cannot – consume coffee – like this one at the Seattle Children’s Museum.  It reminded us yes, coffee is everywhere, but where and how you can consume your coffee can be regulated; according to the sign, it must have a spill proof lid, and it even gave brewing temperature guidelines!  We walked for two days straight, mostly along Seattle’s waterfront, went up in the Space “Pin,” and spent our final day on a harbor cruise overlooking the markets on one side and Mount Rainier on the other.

Ten days is a long trip with children.  We had our requisite DVDs, car toys, coloring books, travel games, etc., which helped us get through the long stretches in the car.  But you definitely wouldn’t need to force me to go back again.  In fact, we moved around so much, that we really want to go back when we can have more time in each spot.  What I tell my husband – once the kids are out of diapers and car seats (and sleeping through the night, which ours are not) – all of a sudden, travel will become much easier!

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Home, or on Vacation?

After spending almost two years living as expats in London, my family and I have settled back into U.S. life, adjusted to new pre-schools, culture and it has been interesting watching my daughter.  We left when she was just age 2 1/2, so I doubt she remembers much before leaving for London.  I’m finding many of her memories exist there.  Not only in vocabulary – it’s pram instead of stroller, and a bin instead of garbage can – but also in her many, many questions.  She is in that “Why?” stage and many of her inquiries circle around everyday life and culture.

“Why are we driving everywhere?”  (Because it’s cold.)

“Why aren’t there trains?”                  (Because most U.S. cities are so spread out.)

“Why is there food at the store that is bad for us?  (Because it’s cheaper to make.)

“Why is it so cold?”                            (Because we live in Michigan.)

While we adults know we have returned home to the US, it may seem like a holiday for her, as just yesterday, she said she didn’t want to get on an airplane unless it was going to London.

As great as it was living abroad, you do feel like a section of your US life is missing.  I remember this well when I studied in Rome in 1993-94 especially, before the days where everyone had internet, mobile phones, and laptops, since news happenings were not as fluid as they are today.  Still, there are news stories we missed (hey who is Casey Anthony?), not to mention births, marriages, deaths, etc. of friends and colleagues.  Speaking of news cycle, the news abroad is definitely more world-centered rather than US centered, so while we missed some US stories, we were well versed in what was happening in Africa, Europe, and everywhere else.

We are in a rural area of Southwest Michigan, and live about four blocks from the beach, and it’s beginning to become tourist season here.  Dear daughter’s pre-school has finished for the year, another sign of impending summer, vacation, and holidays.  You can tell your in a resort town when the local bank has a sign such as this posted in its window.

Rural life has become a bit slower, but it has been nice to slow down.  Friends of ours recently moved to Australia with their two children, so I guess it’s our turn to live vicariously through them for a little while.

Perhaps the key to really enjoying life where you are is to live like you are a tourist in your own town.  So we’re walking to the beach; seeking out playgrounds and ball fields; visiting the local school carnival; eating ice cream; playing in the rain.  One thing traveling has taught me is to live it up where you are because you never know when you might be back there again.  No harm in adopting that attitude here I don’t think?  It is easy to fall into the trap of being so focused on where are we going and what are we doing that we don’t enjoy life to the fullest.  My goal this year is to live in the moment.

In a recent article posted at WholeLiving.com, Sister Karol Jackowski wrote “The Road to Real Success: Four Simple Steps.”

  • Be glad to be you
  • Love what you do
  • Don’t give up
  • Don’t be a know-it-all

I’ll be incorporating these into my new “live in the moment” attitude.  And maybe I’ll spot you at the beach this summer?

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An Education

So our short time in London has come to an end.  I can hardly believe 18 months has gone by.  While living abroad, I’ve learned about myself, others, nations, culture.  I’ve seen the pyramids in Egypt, the hills of Ireland, countless castles and was whisked away on the two hour Eurostar train to Paris for the weekend.  My daughter talks often of the “great big world we live in and how many places there are to see, like Egypt, and Spain and California and London.”  My challenge now will be keeping the perspective fresh for her, and instilling this perspective in her younger brother as he grows.
As much as I miss my family, travel is what makes me tick.  It is what I love, what I live for.  Sure I also missed many of the American comforts, like large washing machines, clothes dryers, “lazy boy” like driver’s seats, even driving a car.  But I love travel.  Folks may say it has made me more worldly or smart (clever, as they’d say in England), but really it has been an education.  To live in London, as cosmopolitan as it is, has been an education on people, culture, nations, races.  I was lucky to have the opportunity and hope to have the chance to live abroad again.  What a fantastic way to learn!
Sitting in a café as I wrote some of this, I was thinking how I’ll miss my cappuccino and pain au chocolat, our lovely child care provider who has given me the freedom to write (and exercise regularly!) a couple mornings a week, who the children absolutely adore.And there are more practical things I will miss:  Walking everywhere; more free museums than one can imagine; finding green parks everywhere; groceries and milk delivered to my door; my daughter’s fabulous pre-school.What I will not miss:  Walking everywhere; traffic jams all hours of the day; our tiny flat; finding no grocery stores open past 5pm on Sundays.
While this is the end of living abroad (for now!), it is not the end of my blog, as I have so much more to write about, like our Eurostar adventure to Paris; our beautiful long weekend in Ireland, and quirky things like what the heck are “man size” tissues?  And some new topics to talk about too.  I hope you’ll keep in touch as we re-acclimate to American life.

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London Transport Museum

We happened upon the London Transport Museum one sunny afternoon in search of air conditioning.  What we found was so much more: loads of history on all forms of transportation, in a compact museum nestled among Covent Garden’s outdoor cafes, shops and street performers.

I thought I knew quite a bit about London’s tubes, busses and tramlinks, as it is our primary mode of transport, not owning a car.  Now knowing the history makes it even more fun to jump on the bus!

In 1800, most Londoners didn’t live beyond walking distance of their work, shops, and churches.  Everybody walked. The first real mode of public transport became known as the Hackney Carriage, a horse drawn carriage from the Hackney area that would be hired out for travel between London and outside the city limits, solely by the wealthy.  The name stuck, as Hackney Carriage remains the official name of London’s “black cab” today.

With the railway boom of the 1830s-1840s, all modes of transport were leading to London, creating busy and dangerous roadways.  A solution was proposed in 1860’s: an underground railway system.  Construction began with the “cut and cover” method: shallow ditches were dug, then roofed over to create the tunnel.  By 1884, three underground lines were up and running.  While this was an amazing technical accomplishment, using steam trains underground created quite an odor and haze.  As described in a Times Editorial, the stench while riding the Underground was a “form of mild torture that no person would undergo if he could conveniently help it.”  By the early 1900s eight core underground lines were operational, and not until the 1960s was capacity increased with the addition of the Victoria Line.  Today, the 13 lines of the London Underground carry approximately 3 million people daily, and if you squint you can probably see all 13 on the map, right.

Another advent around the birth of the “tube” was the tramway, better described as a horse tram, as early as the 1850s in Britain, following the 1830’s example in New York and New Orleans. George Francis Train gets credit for these, and in 1870 tramways became the first mode of transport that most Londoners could afford to use.

In the 1890s, many other cities had electric tramways and taxis, but by 1900, London was still using 50,000 horses to pull passengers from one corner of London to the other.  For one vehicle to operate for one day, six horse changes were required, or 12 per vehicle per day.  But London finally got on board and by 1915 most transport was by auto or electric.

In 1929 George Shillibeer invented the first “omnibus,” from the Latin, meaning “for all” for local transport of passengers within London.  It was not cheap but it was less expensive than hiring a stagecoach.  It was also the first time customers didn’t have to book in advance and could pay the conductor directly as they boarded.  The first route was from what is now Paddington Station to Bank Station.

Busses quickly became more popular than trams as they were more comfortable and also easier to maintain.  The famous red Routemaster bus, pictured here, from 1959, still runs two routes in central London, and you can usually catch it near Trafalgar Square.

Today, with two children and no car, we typically go on “nap” rides on the bus when we all need a break…a great and cheap way to see the city!

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Please, Let Me Give You Money!

OK, dear Husband, I got your attention, didn’t I?

Another frustrating shopping experience in England!  I arrived at the department store make-up counter at 10:15; the store had opened at 9:30.  After asking several clerks (standing around doing absolutely nothing) if anyone might be able to help me at the Estee Lauder counter, I get frustrated with waiting five or so minutes.  Unfortunately, I want to try a few things and I’m not exactly certain what I want.  The others explain that while they may be able to find a product, they don’t know anything about it and can’t help me try anything and it’s best to wait for the designated clerk to show up.  I ask when that will be.  They tell me they don’t have any idea; maybe she is late or maybe she is sick today.  So after a few more minutes I decide to leave.  Yeah, I know…impatient American.  But it goes deeper than that.

I had a similar experience at a shoe store last weekend.  The “adult” shoe clerk could not help size my child’s foot while the “child’s” shoe clerk spent 10-15 minutes on one kid alone; so the first clerk proceeded to clean the shelves while we waited.  My mother, visiting from the U.S. observed that back home the clerk would not only be helping that first kid try on his shoes, but would be sizing my daughter, and welcoming a third or fourth to the store, apologizing for the wait and offering to call another staff member to help momentarily.  Has no one in England heard of cross training the staff?  Does this bother the English or are they content with it?

My husband, only half jokingly, mentioned he’d make a standing consulting offer to many English shops with staff in the service industry to let him run it for a few weeks and he could make a good living splitting the increased net profit.

I know, I know, the answer I get from people when I talk about these things goes something like “the concept of ‘customer service’ is just not part of the culture here as it is in the U.S.”  (Understatement.  Understatement.)  Baloney.  Ask anyone from Marketing 101 and they will explain to you the causal link between positive customer service and increased sales.  I’m sure the English like to make money just like the rest of us.

My husband’s approach when receiving particularly bad customer service is to walk away, stating “you’ve just lost a sale” or “thanks, we’ll take our business elsewhere.”  But most of the time this really doesn’t bother those in the service industry I have come across.  And it’s honestly very difficult to find that “elsewhere.”  Please, I’d love to hear back from anyone who knows of customer friendly shops in London.  You’ll have some new customers straight away.

Now off to buy that make up if I can get anyone to please take my money!

*UPDATE*

My faith in English shops was restored after a very positive boot shopping experience a few days later, and decent clothes shopping journey just today.  I was approached by a sales clerk in good time after entering both shops, and received help the entire time.  I still believe this is more the exception than the rule, but you never know…maybe those good old American customer service ideals have begun to swim across the pond.  😉

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Ahh…America

Living in London has definitely been a good exercise in learning what we can live without.  In such a large city of 7 million people, everyone is quite literally living on top of one another, and we have gotten a custom to our tiny living spaces, and sharing a wall with our upstairs and side neighbors.
We have a 3 bedroom/ 1 bath flat, which my husband would correctly label a 2 bedroom plus office; the bathroom is situated upstairs; tiny washer and dryer; no air conditioning; no dishwasher.
Questions that arise.  Do I really need to dirty three pans in the kitchen or can I prepare my meal with only two?  Do I really need to wash those jeans or can I wear them just one more day?  Can I survive a summer without air conditioning?  Can I live without a vehicle?    Do I really need to spend money on fuel and do I want to spend time waiting in traffic?
It is not that no one has dishwashers, it’s that we’d probably have to pay double the rent to get it, while we’re already paying roughly twice the mortgage of our Chicago town home with about the same square footage, plus exorbitant utility bills, plus council taxes (like property taxes, but paid by the resident).  Most people in our size flat do without dishwashers and tumble dryers…they wash their dishes by hand and hang their clothes out to dry.  But go over a few streets and you’ll find double the space for twice the price, along with dishwasher and tumble dryer, automobile, and probably a nanny as well.
It’s a similar dynamic on the roads; while many of our neighbors have cars, they also walk a lot and take the trains.  Trains from our neighborhood to Central London take half the time of trying to drive there.
I wondered when I moved here why everyone seemed so much more eco-friendly?  Now, it is easy to see why Londoners are seen as more “green.”  Like it or not, the economics and geography has made living here that way.  After that, it becomes easier to jump on the green bandwagon with other things, such as carrying reusable bags and recycling everything possible.  And then these behaviors spill over into your every day lives and you just find yourself operating that way automatically.  (Of course I’m writing this as our airplane is burning a ridiculous amount of jet fuel flying across the Atlantic.  But we had to get home somehow.)
So we do what we can in other areas.  It’s not practical to walk or take the train everywhere in the U.S…in most cases, its just too geographically spread out.  And I will welcome with open arms my air conditioning, dishwasher, full size laundry equipment, and my vehicle.  But I suspect I will also think twice about using so many dishes to cook dinner, open windows more often, and walk to the grocery store with my reusable carrier bags in tow.
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The English Riviera

This part of England is called the “English Riviera” and I am learning why.  Its coasts are just magnificent!  After a relaxing morning and a swim, we decide to battle the car again.  Now you may think we’re nuts, and so do we sometimes, but there is so much to see.  And we have learned to give our three year old a dose of Dramamine before leaving; car sickness averted.
We arrive in Penzance for a late lunch.  I don’t really know anything about Penzance except for Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance.  No pirates, but a cute harbor town, so after a couple  delicious Cornish Pasties we have a nice sea side walk.
So if you don’t know the story, a pasty is a delicious pastry filled with savory mixes of beef, potato, onion and rutabaga, but can also be made with other meats, vegetables, cheese, and spices.  According to my research, a proper pasty’s ingredients are never cooked before wrapping them in the dough; this is how they differ from an empanada.
Coming from Michigan my husband thought they were Finnish as he’s telling me the story of the Finns bringing them to Michigan.  But we’ve discovered they actually came to fame by Cornish Miners in the 16th century.  If you see the photo, you’ll see a large curved crust end (my favorite), developed that way so the miners could hold that part with their dirty, contaminated hands and eat the rest.  When finished, they threw down the thick crusted edge part, now toxic from their mining hands, and it is said this would keep the spirits at bay who could lead the miners to danger.  A shame, I think, they used to throw out the best part!
Anyway, because it was the Finns who followed the Cornish miners in the late 1800s to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,  and adopted the pasty for use in the copper mines, we have the legend that pasties are a Finnish invention.
From Penzance, amongst some of the curviest and narrow roads imaginable, we drove out to Lands End, nine miles away and the farthest point East you can go in England.  Just the name – Lands End – has had my curiosity since we’ve been here.  We passed by The Last Inn in England, an actual inn where travelers can stay, just before reaching Lands End.  We arrived, paid to park, and set out to see the coast.  My husband’s co-worker had warned him it has been a bit built up as a tourist trap in recent years, but I wasn’t really prepared to find what I’ll liken to Mackinac Island-style gift shops, ice cream, and fudge stores, etc.  Yes, it is commercialized, but you still can’t beat the beautiful coast line views.
Next stop was the Minack Theatre, an amazing Greek style theatre where the ocean is its backdrop.  We arrived around 5:00 pm and show-goers were just lining up with their picnic lunches and wine, for the 7:30 show.  Sounds like an amazing thing to do, sans children, someday.
We were also lucky to try “Cornish Cream Tea” which is a pot of tea, scones, jam, and clotted cream, this yummy yummy buttery like (and undoubtedly artery hardening) substance.  I’ll try my best to describe: picture fresh whipped cream but whipped slightly less so it’s a more buttery substance with less (or no) sugar.  You spread it on scones, with or without jam.  It really is one of the best food items I’ve sampled in quite a while.
Next day, we spent the better part of the morning exploring Pendennis Castle, built by King Henry VIII around 1540 to keep both France and Spain at bay. It was built up again by Queen Elizabeth I during her reign to keep off foreign invaders, and was used as a defense as recent as World War II.
I was impressed with how much we could see.  Virtually every room of the castle was open to visitors.  You can faintly see my daughter’s face through the tower’s upper window in the photo.
By afternoon it was time to make our way back up to Devon so that we could catch our return train to London the next day.  This time we managed to stay on the correct route, at least as much as is possible, and averted crying and car sickness, having learned much from our week long travels.  But before returning our rented car, we had to giggle at the brush stuck in the passenger’s side door handle…those really were some narrow roads!
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Getting There is Half the Fun

Getting from Plymouth to Falmouth proved challenging.  What should have taken an hour or so by car turned into a 3 ½ hour trek, complete with screaming baby, flat tire, and a sick three year old.
So since my baby boy was born in London and we don’t own a car here, he’s not been exposed to a car seat very much at all.  And let me tell you at seven months old, he hates it.
When we’re trying to see a lot, limiting road travel to nap times was really difficult.  Inevitably, we were running behind so instead of leaving Plymouth during his afternoon nap, we spent his afternoon nap touring Plymouth Gin Distillery and letting Eleanor find the bouncy castle that was closed when we arrived the night before (but unfortunately she saw it and we only heard about it 100 times so to give us all a little bit of peace we really needed to find it before we left).  So we’re leaving Plymouth at 4:00 pm instead of 2:00 pm hence missing nap time.
We discover early on baby does much better with me in the back seat.  So here we are being chauffeured around by Dear Husband.  I have trouble being much help as a navigator as I’m in the back seat, feeling sick myself.  But alas finally both children are asleep so I move to the front seat for a little quiet and enjoy the drive with my husband.  Not 15 minutes into this, as a oncoming truck is heading what seems to be straight for us, husband hits the curb and we hear a long hisssssssssss.  Yes, a tire has blown.  So we spend our children’s late nap time changing a flat. AHH!
Back on the road again, both children awake, so I am again sentenced to the back seat.  Dear baby boy is just hating road travel again so we decide to pull off and rearrange car seats so that he is in the middle so that I might be able to reach him better and keep him occupied.  But this means car sick daughter is now no longer in the middle, not able to see out the front window.  In hindsight, not such a good move.
About another hour in, and winding, hilly roads, my three year old can’t keep her smoothie down.  I am getting very good with the vomit bag in a moving car so let’s just say damage was kept to a minimum.  But again another stop is created.  Will we ever get there???!
Finally we arrive at The Falmouth Hotel, 7:30 pm, not having had dinner yet.  But what a beautiful seaside resort!  Dear Husband somehow gets us upgraded to a larger room.  I intentionally spent a little more time to find a hotel with a pool, thinking mid-holiday we would appreciate that, and I know my daughter would just love it.  We have found paradise!  And it doesn’t take us long to realize it’s time to slow down a bit, so we cut out our next stop and decide to spend another night in beautiful Falmouth, our first planned stop in lovely Cornwall.
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Pilgrimage

Our next stop was Plymouth, by way of Torquay, as we wanted to take the “scenic route.”  The scenic route though picturesque, didn’t prove to be the best move with children, which we learned the hard way…more on this later.  So we stopped for a very late lunch in Torquay, a pretty sea side city and found a local pub on the water.
So then on to Plymouth, the launching pad for the Mayflower, 1620, and we learned it was also port for a host of other ships bound for America much earlier even, say 1500s.  Kings and Queens sent fishing boats to fish the waters off the Eastern coast of America; they would leave in Spring and return in Fall.  Some boats even stayed, and the settlement of Plymouth was actually established before 1620 by an earlier vessel settling there.  But we honor the Mayflower as the “first” for a couple of reasons.  First the pilgrims were leaving to be able to practice their religion freely.  Second, they were a mixed group, meaning it wasn’t all men, it was actually a mix of women and children too.
I’m remembering fourth grade social studies as I write this, but I don’t remember learning at the time that this was not the pilgrims first attempt to establish somewhere else.  They actually left England to what is present day The Netherlands to practice their beliefs freely, and stayed for about 10 years.  But then they decided that their children were becoming less English and more Dutch; they also complained the Dutch were a bit too liberal for them.  So they wanted to find a new place to settle.
Other interesting facts? Plymouth was not the Mayflower’s initial departure port; they first left Southampton, England, then stopped in Dartmouth, England, about 20 miles up the coast, for repairs of their sister ship, the Speedwell.  They had to stop for repairs again at Plymouth when the Speedwell began taking on water.  So when they finally left for America, the Mayflower goes it alone and it was Plymouth that gets credit for port from which the Mayflower departed.  Due to bad weather, the pilgrims arrived late in the year, after getting off course, and ended up in Cape Cod instead of Virginia.  Here we are at Plymouth harbor overlooking the famous “Mayflower Steps.”
Beyond this bit of American History, there is also a historic gin distillery.  And I can’t end before I tell you about Plymouth Gin.  It was a great little distillery tour, where learned about the history of gin.  In the 17th century the Dutch drank a drink called jenever, the precursor to gin, before going into battle, and for this reason it was nicknamed “Dutch courage.”  William of Orange brought it with him to England in 1688, and the Royal British Navy became fond of it.  The Navy would store the gin on their vessels on the same deck as the gun powder.  To test, a mix of gun powder and gin would be placed on deck and lit; if it burnt with a clear blue flame, this was “proof” that the water content in the gin was small enough not to ruin the gun powder, should it become spilled in battle.  And herein lies the origin of the measurement “proof” for an alcoholic beverage.
Fast forward to the 1850s, the British are in India, and needing to take a daily dose of quinine to prevent malaria.  So they mixed in some gin, soda and ice, and this was the birth of the gin and tonic.
Coincidentally, the pilgrims spent their last night in this building (before it was a gin distillery) before heading to America on the Mayflower in 1620.  In 1793, Mr. Coats began distilling gin in the building, and today Plymouth Gin is only made in this location in Plymouth, England.  Unlike other alcohols that need to age, gin can be made in approximately eight hours, so they don’t need lots of storage space.  And what differs it from vodka is only adding juniper berries; without them you would have flavored vodka.
Plymouth has a beautiful seaside park, great marine museum, a large lido (public swimming pool) right on the sea, and a historic light house that sits on its beautiful harbor.  I can’t do it justice by these few photos, but hopefully you get an idea.  If you ever have a chance to visit, I’d highly recommend it.  It was a trip for my family and I to remember fondly as we celebrate this Independence Weekend.  Happy Fourth of July!
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Half Term Break

“Half Term” is the English version of Spring Break, but each of the three school terms has one.  So for this term, my daughter’s Half Term was spent vacationing in Devon and Cornwall, the two most southwest counties in England.  So here begins part one of what I’m sure will be a series of blogs covering our trip, start to finish.
Rather than driving the entire way, my husband had the brilliant idea of taking the train part way, then renting a car to explore the more rural areas.  In theory this sounds great, but having two young children means having to lug travel beds and car seats and a stroller and diapers and extra clothes, etc, etc, etc.  We’ve probably chosen the time in our lives where travel with children is the most difficult.  They just have so much stuff and aren’t yet old enough to carry any of it.  As I sit at Paddington Station waiting for our train to depart, I see families with 6-8 year olds, wheeling their own small bags.  Ah, that will be us someday.  But until then, we are making it work with my husband, a.k.a. the pack mule.  I truly wasn’t sure how we were going to manage until we did.  But if husband didn’t mind being the pack mule, and we could take a mini cab to the main train station, I agreed.
I’ll begin with some ideas to pass the time with children, whether your travel is by train, boat or plane.
1.  Eating as an activity easily “ate” up (pun intended) about half an hour of the trip.   And this doesn’t have to mean a lot of preparation time.  A loaf of bread, ham, hummus, packaged smoothie, fruit.  If you’re going to eat it within a few hours, no ice pack required.
2.  Looking out the window to count sheep, cows, fields, etc.  Although on our train at about 100-120 mph, this became difficult.
3.  Taking walks down the aisles.  But again, difficult on high speed trains or airplanes with turbulence.
4.  A new toy or activity book stashed away until absolutely necessary.
5.  When all else fails, a laptop and a video.
The train actually proved to be very good, and we arrived in Exeter, England in just over two hours on our +100 mph train….versus about four hours via car.
After settling into our hotel, we explored Exeter’s elaborate St. Peter’s Cathedral in the city centre, one of the finest Gothic cathedrals in Britain.  Exeter was inhabited by the Roman army in as early as 50AD, so is one of the oldest cities in England, and we encountered remains of the Roman wall throughout our afternoon walk.
One unique highlight was discovering the medieval underground passages tour. These underground tunnels were built in the 14th century to provide clean drinking water to the city.  They are the only such passages open to the public in Britain.  They were actually built not by tunneling but by digging deep ditches, then constructing the ground up and over them.  Lead pipes were laid to bring the fresh water from streams outside the city to the city centre.  The tour is definitely not for the Closter phobic…as I had to duck for about one third of the tour.  But interesting? Yes, definitely.
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