London

“London opens to you like a novel itself… It is divided into chapters, the chapters into scenes, the scenes into sentences; it opens to you like a series of rooms, doors and passages. Mayfair to Piccadilly to Soho to the Strand.”

Anna Quindlen

This was my birthday trip, and I have no idea how Ben will ever top this. We had an awesome time and I loved every part of our trip (except the flights, of course). London has it all: museums galore, quirky bars, awesome food, and lovely parks. And royalty!

A Cultural Affair

We spent so much time perusing museums and even got to see a play in the Globe Theater! We visited the Tate Modern, the British Museum, and the National Galleries. We spent at least an hour or two at each museum, and could easily visit again and see more in every one. We typically spent our mornings in a museum, and found them to have excellent collections, but also to be crammed with visitors. The large museums in London are mostly free and that means lots of tourists visit on the weekends. But it’s worth standing in the midst of crowds (for me, anyway) to see works by Matisse, Dali, Van Gogh, and Renoir, among other big names in art history.

Visiting the Globe was a super exciting adventure for me, English nerd that I am, and I really enjoyed the play. We saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the set dressings were modernized with awesome costumes and minimal set design, but the dialogue was all Shakespeare. The play was easy to follow and they even pulled a spectator from the audience to play one of the minor parts! The show was funny and sweet and most definitely a spectacle. We had box seats, which ran us about £ 44 per ticket. But prices can be as low as £ 5 (if you’re willing to stand for a 3 hour show exposed to the elements) and go all the way up to our fancy box seats. If I were to go to another show there, I would book earlier and get the middle-of-the-road seats directly across from the stage. The seats are wooden benches, but you can hire cushions for the duration of the show for just £ 2 each. (If you book a gentleman’s box, there are already cushions on the seats.)

Magical Drinking Spots

We visited a few bars while we were in London, of which The Cauldron was my favorite. In addition to the Cauldron, we also checked out a speakeasy called Nightjar, a dance club type bar called …Loves Company, and a couple of local pubs The Friend in Hand and Three Crowns Pub. The speakeasy, Nightjar featured heavily ornamented cocktails and was a pricey, exclusive feel. We didn’t make a reservation, so they were only able to give us the table for an hour, so we ordered one cocktail each. My cocktail had a stem of eucalyptus in the glass and fruit leather attached to the stem by three toothpicks wired together. It made me wonder how good the cocktails would be if I ordered something simple, like a French 75. But the speakeasy had fun, low lighting and was underground. There were tables set off in little alcoves and more private spots and small tables for couples. There is apparently live jazz sometimes as well.

…Loves Company was a dance club type bar that we ducked in for a moment while the rush hour traffic eased on Monday. They have a great happy hour deal with a bottle of wine for £ 10, two (of the same) cocktails from a limited menu for £ 12, or 4 beers for £ 10. It was a good spot for watching harried commuters out the window, but would be even more fun if you find yourself in the dancing mood in Shoreditch.

Both pubs we visited had a more local feel. The Friend in Hand had excellent food and we stopped in for a steak and ale pie and half a roasted chicken for lunch one day. The beer was good, too! Three Crowns was close to our hotel in Shoreditch and we stopped in there for a drink after Nightjar. Both pubs had the order at the bar, drink in comfy spots, and we’ll leave you alone type vibes.

Last, but not least, was the Cauldron. This was actually a suggestion I saw on Facebook in one of my group pages, and once I looked it up, it was a must. You book a session for as little as £ 29 and with your session comes a welcome cocktail and two “potions lessons.” You work with your group to create your potions with lots of magical ingredients like “Fairy Dust” and “Bladdarwort Nectar.” The result is a delightful cocktail for each of you! I thought three cocktails per £ 29 experience was a pretty good deal and we had a lot of fun with the theatricality of the potion masters (servers) and the setting. This would be a great date night experience (as long as you know the person well enough to know they’d be into this sort of thing).

Amazing Eats

London is a kind of epicenter of good food. And it being such an international city, you can find all kinds of excellent options from all over the world! We had excellent Turkish food (which struck a chord with Ben, since he lived in Turkey for a while), traditional afternoon tea, a French dinner in complete darkness, and Michelin-starred Indian food.

Our Turkish food was from The Stone Cave, which had won some local award for best themed restaurant. It had a funky created-cave interior with gold accents and lots of Turkish lamps hanging from the ceiling. The food was excellent! Ben got a three course lunch menu and I got the Chicken Shish Wrap. We shared everything and couldn’t find a thing we were disappointed with!

Dans Le Noir is a dark restaurant. By dark I mean you literally can’t see your hand in front of your face. You order a menu of meat, fish & shellfish, or vegetarian and are lead into a pitch black dining room by a (blind) member of the waitstaff. You eat your dinner in complete darkness, and are served meals with traditional plating and bottled water you pour yourself. You must leave your light-up smartwatches and phones in lockers in the reception area. The food was good, but what this restaurant really excels at is a new experience. It was interesting to eat a dinner without our phones, without being able to see the food on the plate, or the wine or water in the glass, or the ambiance of the restaurant. We talked more than we usually do and met a lovely couple from Surrey. We talked all through dinner and then got to see each other once we left the dining room. Ben noted that while this was a new experience, it was also discomfiting. Our table-mates also spent a lot of time talking about what it would be like to be blind and have this be a normal experience. I was very glad we went, and it was one of the most social dinners we have had in a long time.

We were told (while we were in London) that the best afternoon tea is at the Ritz, but I have to say, it would be hard to beat the views and deliciousness of afternoon tea at Oblix. Oblix is on the 32nd floor of the Shard and the views are spectacular! We had a table right next to the window and were able to see the Eye and London Bridge from our spot. The afternoon tea included unlimited finger sandwiches, scones, and tiny desserts for £ 42 per person (which isn’t a lot compared to tea at the Ritz or the Savoy).

While we were at dinner at Dans Le Noir, our table-mates suggested Tamarind, a local Indian restaurant with a Michelin star and apparently a favorite spot of Gordon Ramsey. We decided to book there for lunch both to get a table and to try their prix fix lunch menu, which is just £ 25 per person. The restaurant has a beautiful upstairs dining room with green accents and lots of shiny wine glasses and fresh flowers. The food was stunningly beautifully plated and tasted lovely. I ordered the three chicken plate, which had three types of tandoori chicken. Ben had fish curry. The lunch portions came with a spinach dish and lentils for the table to share and we ended up having too much food to eat! It was a lovely experience.

Saturday in the Park

London is a bustling city with lots of buildings, concrete, and stone, but there are lots of green spaces tucked away too! We spent a lot of time rushing around this trip. On average we walked 8 to 10 miles per day, even using buses and trains to get around. So sometimes, it’s nice to take a break from the hustle of the street and soak up a little green. We loved visiting Green Park, Hyde Park, and Russel Square.

Green Park and Hyde Park are both close to Buckingham palace and we walked through Green Park to get to the palace to see the changing of the guard. There was a protest going on by a group called Extinction Rebellion down the street from the palace, so we walked down to check it out and found ourselves directly in front of one of the regiments of the guard. It was fun to walk along beside them as they headed into the palace grounds, our feet finding the rhythm of the band. It certainly stirs the spirits of camaraderie to march along to the beat.

After the changing of the guard, we walked along the park to visit Hyde Park, which had lots of beautiful flowers, a restaurant with lots of ducks, geese, pigeons, and crows on hand to eat any crumbs left by patrons. Don’t miss the upside down tree; a tree that created a canopy that touches the ground, allowing you and your sweetheart to sneak in and steal a few kisses (assuming there aren’t tons of other tourists coming in all the time).

Probably my favorite park though, was Russell Square. It was sunny (a rarity for our trip) and there is an espresso shop called Tropea. Ben ordered some espresso and a pastry and we sat on their patio watching the light stream through the golden leaves. There was a father and daughter duo collecting bouquets of fall leaves and a canopied walkway created by weaving trees’ branches together. Next to the walkway was a little birdhouse with a book in it. We pulled it out and found it was a book of secrets. I tried to come up with a secret to put in it, but couldn’t think of one, so Ben wrote a secret in the book and we put it back in it’s spot. In a weekend of cold, rainy weather, Russell Square provided us with a golden hour.

London Takeaway

If I have any advice for someone travelling to London, it’s MAKE RESERVATIONS. I made at least two reservations per day and while we were able to get in to some spur-of-the-moment locales, reservations made everything easier. We also broke up our day into just a couple of places we had to be and a list of places we wanted to visit. That allowed us to have some structure and some flexibility.

London is often rainy, so have some wet weather contingencies. Bring an umbrella and light rain jacket. They’ll come in handy! We liked being able to duck into a museum or coffee shop to get out of the rain and planned lots of bookstores to visit to wait out rain.

If you are flying into Stanstead Airport (as we did) there is a train called the GreaterAnglia. It will drop you off at Liverpool Street. If you’re traveling with a group of people, be sure you get a group ticket at the ticket vending machines. We didn’t the first leg of our trip and paid about double what we could have.

For traveling around in London proper, I highly suggest the Oyster Card. It allows you to load money onto the card and ride the bus or trains to wherever you need to go in the city. It can be topped up at any underground station, so it’s a great way to get around without having to rent a car. We traveled around the city for four days for about £ 10 a day per person!

Plane Purgatory

I have to admit to fighting some travel-specific anxiety today. One would think I’d be excited to be going back to Oklahoma tomorrow but I am a little anxious about spending several hours on a plane and jet lag and spending 10 days away from Ben and all of the general stressors of travel.

I remember the excitement of my first flight. I was 14; we were going to Orlando. On the other side of this giant tin can of engineering was my brother and Disney World. The plane wasn’t packed full, like they are these days, and we all got to sit together. We had snacks and soft drinks on the plane. I looked out over the tiny landscape, which looked like a diorama of real life. I loved the beginning of the flight and how you could feel the rush of force against you as the plane took off, rising, rising, your ears popping and eyes widening at this totally new sensation. I loved the luxury of having a soft drink poured for me into a tiny cup of ice, the condensation rolling off the cold can onto the tiny desks built into the seats. I loved the glossy magazines full of terribly overpriced and impractical goods that you could order RIGHT FROM THE PLANE. It was so exciting and glamorous!

But 19 years and many, many flights later, flying has lost its sheen. I hate flying. I don’t like the lines and there are ill-defined lines everywhere. I can never remember to take off my shoes and a TSA agent will make me go back and forth through the scanner repeatedly because I have forgotten that my cell phone is in my back pocket because I had to wake up BEFORE THE BIRDS to be at the airport. I hate how tiny everything is. I have gotten bigger than my 10-year-old self, and the seats have become too small for me to sit comfortably. And no matter how tiny you are, or your neighbor is, you are going to get jabbed with an elbow or run over by a snack cart because everything in the plane is made to barely fit as many people as possible. I hate how everyone is stressed out and frustrated. Their flights are late or have been cancelled and can they make the connection? I hate the unexplained delays and cancelled flights. And should your flight by some miracle be on time, you’re still making the people on stand-by angry by showing up to your flight. I hate that you have to show up two hours early just to sit in uncomfortable seats across from other people who also hate flying. (And then your flight will probably be delayed, so make that six hours of staring at people who are actively loathing you and flying and their very lives.)

The flight to Germany was the longest I have ever been on a plane. My hips ached from sitting in the exact same position for so long. During the seven hour flight, I got up only one time (to use the restroom and there was a line of five people waiting. Because of course, there are two restrooms for a cabin of almost 300 people.) I tried to sleep, but sleep on a plane is the worst sort: sitting straight up (because if you lean your seat back the two inches it will recline, you’ll crush the person behind you), no neck support, babies crying, lights on all around you, with a roaring engine for white noise. And turbulence to jolt you awake every now and again. I was too tired to read, too tired to write, I had forgotten to download music to my phone and had nothing to listen to. It was singularly one of the worst flights I have ever experienced.

Our flight took off at 10:30 at night and arrived in Germany the next afternoon (there’s a seven hour time difference). We checked into the hotel, deposited our bags and changed into different, less plane-smelling clothes. Ben’s sponsor took us to get phone cards and pick up our most basic groceries. By the time that task was finished, I was out. Done. Dead on my feet. Ben and Dan dropped me and the groceries back at the hotel and Ben told me not to sleep until bed time if I could help it. I couldn’t. I fell asleep at something like 6:00 PM and woke at 3:00 AM. My sleep didn’t normalize for about a week. I was moody and irrational and every. single. thing. made me want to throw something.

So the thought of making that same terribly long flight twice in the next two weeks is giving me a little bit of anxiety. If I come to see you on this Oklahoma trip, please be patient with me. I will be sleepy, missing my husband, and generally irritable. I will really try to put my bad moods in a box while I’m there, I will take melotonin to make myself go to sleep and set alarms to remind me to eat, but no guarantees.

American Sweets

Pancakes are apparently seen as a dessert here in Germany. At every festival and concession stand are crepes and waffles. If you go to a restaurant for breakfast in Germany, they often have a Parisian breakfast (croissants, juice, and coffee), a Norwegian breakfast (an assortment of smoked fish and bread), and “American Sweets” (pancakes and waffles).

Now, I’ve always considered both pancakes and waffles to be entirely breakfast foods (well, besides a waffle ice cream sandwich), but here these are desserts. And if they are offered at breakfast time, they are labeled “American.” I like to think of Germans scratching their heads in wonder. Why do these crazy Americans eat dessert for breakfast? And, I mean, they’re not wrong. We eat flat carb cakes covered with fat and additional sugar and call it a balanced breakfast. (Not that Parisians are any better. I think the only reason a Parisian breakfast works for Parisians is that they’re going to eat enough calories for an entire day in foie gras for Elevenses.)

In German grocery stores, you can find precooked, prepackaged pancakes like this:

10 American Pancakes. I wish I had gotten the price!

So if you’re wondering what legacy we Americans are leaving on the German population, it’s that we like to eat dessert for breakfast.

Hang Ups and Hassles

We started off the day with intentions of meeting my brother and sister-in-law in Baltimore, but things went haywire pretty darn quickly.

This morning we ate breakfast with Mom and Dad, put some of the last things that needed to be stored into their attic, and took pictures before taking off. We were on time and ready for the day.

When we arrived in Grand Prairie, TX to the car shipping facility, we were thirty minutes early for our appointment. After some initial confusion about where to park the car, we figured ourselves out and signed the sign-in sheet. We sat in the lobby and noticed that there were lots of people who were out in the parking lot cleaning out their cars. Ben had cleaned all of the personal effects out of the car, but our luggage was still in there. It was 11:15, so he had me stay in the lobby in case they called us while he went and grabbed the luggage.

After Ben brought the luggage in, he noticed that there were people being sent out to their cars with tape and rags to clean all the dust off the dashboards and sediment out of their carpets. There hadn’t been any mention in the approximately 30 pages of paperwork he completed before the appointment time that said the car needed to be detailed. The outside of the car also had to be spotless. We devised a plan where I would go get the car cleaned and Ben would stay to do the paperwork. I took the car to a well-rated car wash that specialized in cleaning cars for shipping. I paid for a basic clean and vacuum and the technician told me that he’d try to get the car ready to ship, but with the dog hair in the back, he wasn’t sure if it would pass inspection. He vacuumed and vacuumed until the owner of the place came to him and said he was taking too long.

20 minutes of vacuuming later, it was noon and Ben was finally being seen for his paperwork. He texted me to see where I was and the car was just being put through the wash. Another 15 minutes later, as I was getting ready to leave, Ben said we had lost our spot in line because cleaning the car had taken too long. The lady at the shipping office assured us that we would still be able to make our 2:15 flight, she would bump us up the list once I returned with the car ready for inspection.

I got back around 12:30 and put our names back on the list. If there was any list bumping, it took about an hour and a half to do. At 1:30, I was sure we would miss our flight and I hadn’t eaten since about 8:00 that morning. My mood was sour and I was about stressed and annoyed as I could be. Finally they called Ben’s name and I waited impatiently with our baggage as he talked to the clerk. When he stood up, paperwork in hand, I threw on my backpack, ready for escape.

“Order food,” Ben said, “We have to wait about 40 minutes until someone can inspect the car.” At this point, we were MOST DEFINITELY missing our flight. I ordered food from a Church’s Chicken that was two miles away (to be delivered in 50 minutes, wtf?), and called American Airlines to reschedule our flight. After being placed on hold and offered a call-back when a call center person was available to reschedule our flight, of course the food and call-back arrived at the same time.

I was on the phone with the ticket officer and trying to wrangle the Postmates delivery guy who was super uncomfortable with delivering to the vehicle shipping office. I was on hold, then not on hold while trying to collect the food and hand it off to Ben, and wrangling airline options while (of course) still waiting for our car to be inspected. After a thirty minute phone call, we had a new flight for tomorrow at 8:30 in the morning. Of course, this meant I would eat the cost of the $120 hotel room I had booked in Baltimore and would have to book another hotel room in Dallas, but we had a way to get to BWI.

I ate my room temperature fast food which despite being lukewarm, brightened my mood considerably and called Mom and Joy and explained the changes. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to meet Dave and Joy in Baltimore any more, since they were planning to leave about thirty minutes before our plane arrived in Baltimore. After the phone call, we waited. I read my book. Finally around 3:00, the inspector came to see the car. By 3:45, we could finally leave. We booked a hotel with shuttle service to the airport, took a long Lyft from Grand Prairie to Euless and are finally safely ensconced in our hotel room with a way to get to where we need to be for our flight to Germany tomorrow.

Was it an annoying day? Absolutely. But we are going to have Thai food for dinner and take a swim in the hotel pool, so it can’t be all bad. 

The Goodest Girls

Ruby and Foxy resting after a difficult morning of vaccinations, micro-chipping, and heart-worm tests.

Ruby and Foxy had a long morning. We went to the FedEX office to have form DD 2208 printed off to prove to the military that the dogs had been micro-chipped and that they had received a rabies booster in the last year. Once we had our form in hand, we went to the vet clinic where they met a lovely wheaten terrier, which was the highlight of the morning.

Less pleasant things were in store for them, though. The vet drew blood for a heart-worm test on them to renew their heart-worm pill prescription, inserted micro-chips, and gave them a rabies booster. The dogs were both pretty done with the vet by the time they had been poked with needles three times each, so they stared out the window impatiently waiting for me to pay. They were glad to get out of the vet’s office and now are (almost) ready to fly to Germany!

I am taking them to the local pet bakery this afternoon to pick out some treats, since they were very good girls.

Passport Problems

I need one of these. But not the one I had. A different one.

For Christmas (knowing I would need one to travel to Europe) I asked Ben for a passport. My very first. We waited until after we got married and I changed my name on all of the necessary documents, then he bought me a tourist passport. I had it in my hands by March and thought I was ready to go to Germany.

Not so, it seems. For an OCONUS (outside of the contiguous United States) move, I need a visa passport, not a tourist passport. We found out that I had the wrong kind of passport about 10 weeks before our move date. There was some concern I might not receive the correct passport in time, and Ben talked to the passport office on base to see what might be done. They said not to worry, I could apply for the visa passport after school was over, use my tourist passport, and they would write a letter explaining that I had applied for my visa passport as a military dependent.

Then, last Monday, I had a day off school for the storm. It was suggested I use this time to go apply for the correct passport in hopes that we might still get it before the move. I filled out the paperwork, just the way they wanted me to, provided all the necessary documents, had my photos taken, handed over my tourist passport for identification checks and was told, “Usually, the dependent passports are processed faster than other passports, so you’ll probably have it back in time for the move.” I was happy that I had beat the storms, made it to base, and checked something off my list.

Then, last night, around 4:00 am, I woke up and realized I GAVE THEM MY TOURIST PASSPORT. They sent it off with the passport application and told me it would be sent back AFTER the visa passport was returned. This literally did not clock on my radar until a week after I applied. And now the government passport office has BOTH passports and I have NO passports.

So, friends, pray that there is an amazingly quick turnaround on this passport application process, because if there isn’t, Ben may be going to Germany without me until I can prove I’m allowed to go to Europe. I can’t believe I did something so stupid.

A Journey Begins

I am moving in a little more than a month. I am leaving behind my life here in Oklahoma, filled with friends, family, a job, a car, a home, and I’m heading with my husband to Ramstein AFB in Kaiserslautern, Germany. I am going there with no job lined up, no car to drive, no home to move to, and unsure of most aspects of what day-to-day life will be like there.

This is a test of faith for me, a test of my bravery, to leave all of the life that I grappled with and built for myself. To leave behind the house I have owned for the past four years. To set down my career knowing I may not be able to teach for the next three years. To see my friends and family only occasionally. It’s a hard thing to leave all of this behind for a nebulous, undefined future. But I have faith that it holds exciting things for me.

I love traveling and moving to Germany provides me with a chance to see places I may not have ever had the opportunity to see otherwise. I can make new friendships and use this time to decide if teaching is a life-long career or just a step on the path to another. I can create a new home and a new future with Ben, building our little family and letting love grow. I can plant a garden, bless it with patience, and see what sprouts.

A couple of birthdays ago, my best friend gave me a framed print that says “Be open to whatever comes next” and that has become my personal motto. I am scared. I’m nervous. I’m worried about finding a job and building my independence in a brand new place. But I’m also open to whatever comes next.

A framed photo of a print featuring a drawing of a tepee with the words "Be open to whatever comes next" on it.