ATX ✈ LON

We're from Austin and now we live in London. Follow along!

We’re Moving Back!

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Well, despite earlier indications to the contrary… Lee’s contract wasn’t extended for another 6 months/year. To say we are bummed is an understatement.

That being said, we are also excited! We will be relocating back to Austin at the end of August. Once the decision to move back was final, we agreed the best thing to do was for me to fly to Austin for a few days to find us a place to live. I spent a week in Austin in early July finding and leasing us an apartment, setting up all our utilities, and getting my old job back! All things considered, it should be a fairly smooth move.

Lee’s brother came apartment hunting with me and helped me weed several complexes out, and then my mom came down for a couple days and helped me make a decision. I am not an excellent decision maker, especially when it is not just a decision for me. We also don’t plan to move again until we buy a house, so I wanted to be sure we would be happy wherever we are until that time comes. I think we found a place that fit all of our criteria, so I’m getting a little excited to move in and see all of our stuff again (since most of it has been in storage for a year)! I am also very glad that I went when I did; I found very few apartment complexes in our target area that still had availability for the end of August! I guess that is a busy time! Small plus: I was in Austin for the 4th of July, so I was able to go hear my sister’s choir sing at the Capitol, and go to the fireworks in downtown.

Warning! Begin rant…

Traveling alone was a little strange. Lee and I have travelled so much in the last year and we’ve got a nice routine down, so it was a little weird to do it all by myself. Plus, I had to rent a car and stay in a hotel alone, which was strange. Everything went smoothly though… well, mostly. I will never ever (ever, ever, ever) fly into JFK from overseas again. We had to make a decision pretty fast – we had visitors arriving on July 11, making it a kind of now-or-never situation – so we booked my flight the day before I left, and JFK was the only route with seats left on both flights.

At JFK, I had a nearly 2.5 hr layover and was pretty panicked the whole time I was there that I would miss my flight. I waited:

  • 45 minutes in the “quick connections” line in immigration (I shudder to think what it would have been like in the normal line),

  • 10 minutes to find my bag (which had been removed with all the others from my flight and placed in a remote corner of baggage claim),

  • 10 minutes to “recheck” my bag, which really just meant I stuck in a pile with a bunch of others and hoped it made it,

  • and 1+ hour waiting in the security line.

If you are counting, that means less than 25 minutes to get from Terminal 4 to Terminal 2 (via bus!) and get on my flight. Thankfully, I made it (and so did my bag, amazingly), but it was a very stressful few hours. Once in Austin though, everything went very smoothly.

… end rant.

We’ve had Lee’s family in town for the last week and a half, which was a blast (another blog post to come), so we are just now starting to have time to figure everything out. It is going to be a crazy month, especially considering I will be making one more short trip back to the US for my little sister’s wedding before we move!

A Long Overdue Update

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It’s been a crazy few months and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. This post is a bit delayed; I’ve been working on it since May and I just keep adding to it as things happen.

We had our second visitor in May. My parents came back in November, and we had a good time, but I don’t think we had lived in London long enough to really know what we were doing. This time though, we’d lived in London for about 9 months and were much more effective tour guides. Lee’s brother Andrew stayed with us for about a week and a half. We spent several days being tourists in London and got to visit some of the places we’ve skipped since moving here. We also rented a car and went to Canterbury and Dover for the day. Lee and Andrew even got to go to Paris for a few days. We had a really great time and I think Lee really enjoyed getting to spend some time with his brother.

A few days after Andrew left, we spent some time in Texas in June. We had semi-planned to take a trip back at some point this summer, and Lee was asked to be in a wedding that happened to be on the same weekend as my youngest sister Katie’s graduation, so we decided it was a perfect time to go. My middle sister, Jessica, has since gotten engaged and they are getting married in August, and so I’ll be heading back alone for a few days in August so I can be there for all the excitement! However, our trip to Texas was great! We got to spend some time with each of our families, see friends, go to a Ranger’s game, and Lee spent a few days working in Austin and hanging out with his brother. I was also very glad I got to spend some time with Jessica before she gets married! I am so excited for her, but it is really hard to be so far away while they are dress shopping, and well, planning everything, since I would normally be able to be there for a lot of it.

The summer craziness is no where near over though. We arrived back on Sunday morning (June 16). Lee went back to work on Monday, and we tried to get back to normal as quickly as possible since another visitor was about to arrive!

My whole family originally planned to visit London all together this summer, but between weddings, graduations, work, and school, that just wasn’t going to happen. It looked like no one would come, so in a moment of genius, I suggested that my parents just send my sister Katie, thinking it would take some convincing. It didn’t! She arrived the Wednesday after we got back to London, and spent a little over a week with us, and we had a blast! Lee worked while we ran all over London, then on Saturday we rented a car and he drove us all to Stonehenge, Bath, and Caerphilly Castle in Wales. On Sunday night, Katie and I headed to Paris. What an adventure that was! Amazingly, everything went smoothly (we didn’t even get lost, which is impressive since we don’t know a word of French!). Well, almost everything went smoothly. Katie got pick pocketed… They only took her wallet, which was an amazing blessing since all she needed to replace was her driver’s license and debit card. Thankfully, her passport, phone, and camera were left untouched. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to spend that time with my sister. She is awesome, and since she was about 10 when I moved out for college, my time with her in the last few years has been limited.

While Katie was with us, we had our first experience with British healthcare. On Saturday night, I started having severe stomach pains on my right side, nausea, etc. I don’t think I have ever been in that much pain in my entire life. After several hours of sleeplessness for both Lee and I, we took a taxi to the hospital at about 3am. I don’t really remember much of what happened at that point, because I was pretty much beside myself in pain. I do know that they originally diagnosed me with appendicitis, and were ready to take me to surgery without any further tests, but since it was 4am, they didn’t. They did give me some pain killers and anti-nausea medicine and moved me to a holding area. And then a strange thing happened… my pain never returned, even after the painkillers had long worn off. When it became clear that it was not appendicitis, they didn’t order any further tests (or really do anything), they just wanted to keep me for another night for observation even though I was showing no symptoms at all. It would take several hours for a doctor to come see me, since once had seen me first thing in the morning, and once a day is all you get? Since we had a flight to catch, and I seriously felt fine, I signed an “against medical advice” form and we left. I have had no other symptoms and its been a few weeks, so thats good? I really hate not knowing what it was, but I could not lay in the hospital bed any longer feeling perfectly normal, stressing myself and Lee out, and ruining our Paris plans. Katie was so understanding and kept telling me to stay if I needed to, but I just couldn’t do it. I really took it easy in Paris and didn’t push myself, and I felt nearly 100% normal by the time we got back.

Anyways, it’s been a very busy summer so far, and it’s not slowing down in the slightest…

Roadtrip Through Wales!

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This past weekend was a bank holiday, so we decided to hit the road for a few days. We picked up a car from Heathrow on Saturday morning and set out for Wales. I semi-planned the trip, but mostly I just picked a few things to see and figured we’d wing it. It was a really great weekend!

Our first stop was actually still in England. In my trip planning, I saw pictures of a castle right on our route, so we stopped at Beeston Castle and Woodland Park for an hour or so. It was a little hike up to the top of a hill where the old castle sat, but from there you could see for miles in every direction.

Next, we headed up to the northern coast of Wales to the walled town of Conwy and Conwy Castle. This was an awesome little town right on the water. We spent a while walking around the castle and then set off to explore the town. We did a little shopping and then walked the perimeter of the town on the wall. Very cool!

Saturday night, we stayed at a hotel right on the edge of Snowdonia National Park. The hotel itself was fine; we were in the middle of nowhere, so we ate dinner at the pub onsite. After breakfast in the morning, we walked literally across the street to Swallow Falls. We had to pay £1.50 to get into this little section of the park, but it had awesome vantage points of the falls. We walked around for a little while before hitting the road for another full day.

We got a small peek at the scenery for the day as we drove to Caernarfon Castle which is on the west coast of Wales. (Sensing a theme? I accidentally picked 4 castles for us to visit without realizing that is what I did…) Since it was a holiday weekend, they had a bunch of people dressed up in medieval clothing doing exhibitions. It was kind of goofy, but we had a good time exploring. What was neat about everywhere we went was that they didn’t have a set path to them; we got to explore on our own through seriously old buildings, which was awesome.

We spent the next several hours winding our way through Snowdonia National Park, and then just basically drove south through the entire length of Wales. It was quite an adventure. Lee has pretty much mastered driving on the other side of the road, whereas I – with my terrible depth perception – sit in the passenger seat and silently meltdown because it feels like we are going to hit the brick walls and shrubs we are driving next to. That being said, we had a great time. Roadtrips have always been something we’ve enjoyed doing together, so we turned the music up and just had a fun day.

Sunday evening, before heading towards our hotel, we made our last stop at Carreg Cennen Castle. This was one that I randomly stumbled upon the night before we left. It’s mostly just the remains of a castle sitting up on top of a hill, but still very cool.

This is when we had a big adventure. We looked at all possible routes to our B&B in Caerleon, and Google showed one that Apple maps didn’t (and believe it or not, we usually prefer Apple maps for these road trips). It was through Brecon Beacons National Park, and looked like it would be scenic, so we took it. What we then experienced was 30-45 minutes of driving down private roads only wide enough for one car in most places. With sheep! Lots of sheep. At one point we chased a herd of 4 sheep all the way down a road because they couldn’t find an open gate and wouldn’t just get out of the way. After all that, we reached a major thoroughfare that we took the rest of the way, but man, that first little section was quite an experience.

I found a gem of a B&B to stay at on Sunday; I found it on TripAdvisor, and Lee being the cynic he can be, thought there was no way the reviews (76 5-star reviews out of 77 reviews) were all true. He was wrong. The room was beautiful and clean, and the owners were super friendly – hug you when you walk into breakfast friendly. They also visited with us while we ate and shared other places in the UK we should visit. The only thing I’ll do differently next time will be to avoid going on a bank holiday weekend, as the pubs surrounding our B&B were madhouses on Sunday night until late and all the restaurants closed early. Honestly, I really didn’t know anything about Caerleon before we got there, but it turned out to be an old Roman town, complete with baths, an amphitheater, and barracks dating to around 75AD and all completely free to visit, so that’s how we spent our Monday morning.

On our way back towards London, we stopped in Bath for a few hours. If you’ll remember back to the last time we rented a car, we got to Bath just in time to not be allowed into the baths. This time, we made it! We spent most of the afternoon in Bath; we had lunch, did a little shopping, and visited the baths before heading back to London to drop off the car.

All told we had an amazing – if not exhausting – weekend. Lee is already trying to figure out the next time we can rent a car!

See more pictures from this trip on Flickr

What We’ve Been Up to Lately

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This month overall has been pretty great! It’s been a while since we’ve posted a non-trip-focused update on our lives, so here goes.

Easter weekend it was still cold and dreary here, but we went out on Saturday to Walthamstow Market on the east side of London because I had heard about good deals on fabric. The rumors were definitely true; most of the fabric I saw was for £1-2 per meter which is so much better than you can find just about anywhere else. For Easter, since we don’t have a home church here, we set out for central London and went to St. Paul’s Cathedral for a service and then stayed for an organ recital. The service was beautiful, if a little atypical for us. We tried to get a nice picture of us in our Easter finery when we got home, but the cats kept photobombing… so we embraced it.

Last weekend, we spent Sunday at Kew Gardens. I have been a couple times before, but Lee never had. I bought a membership a few weeks ago hoping we would go a lot this summer. Believe it or not, the two of us only have to go twice to get our money’s worth, and I foresee us visiting more often than that. Anyway, it was a beautiful day. We really just wandered around for a few hours and enjoyed the day.

More photos from Kew on Flickr.

This past weekend we decided to get out of London for a little while and took a train to Cambridge on Saturday morning. Cambridge is less than an hour away, and is truly a beautiful city. Unfortunately, we were apparently there during exams (April to June??), so most of the colleges were closed to visitors. A little disappointing, but we still had a great day! It was a little bit of a different approach for us; we went with no expectations or plans, and it turned out awesome. We were both about ready to head home, and as we were walking towards the train station, Lee spotted a park. We followed the lead of the tons of other people spread out across the park, and ended up laying in the grass just talking and relaxing. Of course, our day was not without its hiccups; we got back to the station to find out that all trains back to Kings Cross for the next several hours had been cancelled. We ended up on a completely packed later train to somewhere on the outskirts of London and we took the tube from there. It all worked out, but it was an adventure getting home.

More photos from Cambridge on Flickr.

In other news, my mood has taken a big upswing. The funny thing is, I didn’t even know how under a cloud I was. Before we moved here, our doctor told us that we may suffer some ‘seasonal affect’ (her words, not mine) because of the short days and general dreary-ness here during the winter. I definitely didn’t think it was having much of an effect on me, but since the time change a few weeks ago, I have so much more energy and my mood is so much better! I am finding excuses to get out of the house a lot more, instead of finding excuses to stay in. Also, it helps that the weather is absolutely beautiful.

During the week, I’ve been doing a bit of sewing. I’ve made a few shirts, and I’m working on a skirt right now. I’m having a lot of fun trying new things, and I think I’m getting a lot better! It has been really nice to really have time to cultivate a hobby, as I’ve never really had the time to do that before.

Overall, things here are going great! We are in the process of planning a few more weekend outings, as well as looking forward to having some visitors this summer. Lee’s brother will be here for a week next month and that should be a lot of fun!

Amsterdam

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Note from the Editor: It’s been a long time since Steph’s let me I’ve volunteered to write a blog post, so I figured I’d write about our recent visit to Amsterdam.

In the days leading up to our trip to Amsterdam, we weren’t sure how well it would go; Steph kept finding places we wanted to visit that were closed (like the Rijksmuseum) or not ready for tourists (like the tulip fields). However, we had a great time, and I’d definitely go back.

We flew out on a Thursday evening and landed in Amsterdam roughly an hour later. Amsterdam isn’t a huge city, but Schiphol Airport is on the outskirts of town, so we took a train to get to the city center. From there, things got interesting… Amsterdam Centraal station is fairly large and is also currently undergoing renovations, and we had the hardest time trying to figure out where we were supposed to buy transit passes for the local trams and buses (there were ticket machines everywhere, but they were all for the regional trains). Steph finally found them (there were only two and I’d passed them off as ATMs), so we picked up a couple single-trip passes and caught a tram to our hotel.

The hotel was our first real introduction to Dutch residential architecture, which is to say it was our introduction to the steepest staircases we’d ever seen, much less climbed. We later learned that at one time, buildings were taxed according to their width, so most of the older buildings are very skinny. We were exhausted from an evening of travel and ticket frustrations, so we crashed pretty quickly.

Friday morning we picked up a couple bikes from MacBike (a local bike renter) and set out to find some breakfast. Steph had done some research ahead of time and had already picked out several local eateries for the trip, and so despite a little trouble finding it, we ended up at a cute little cafe named Gartine. Steph had the French toast, I had the pancakes (which were more like thick crepes), and though we weren’t able to make it back, we both agreed that we could eat there every day. We also apparently got really lucky; we were able to walk in and get a table immediately, but we took the only empty table and everybody that came in after us was told that the rest of the tables were reserved already, and some additional research afterwards showed most reviewers mentioned needing a reservation.

We spent most of the rest of the day riding our bikes around the city and visiting some touristy areas like the Bloemenmarkt and the Royal Palace. We also took a canal cruise, which was a great way to see the city. We finished the day with a visit to the Anne Frank House. This was probably the most crowded touristy thing we did in Amsterdam; there was a long line to get in and then the tour was pretty much single-file through the building, and it took a while to get through it. The house was pretty neat and the hiding place was indeed well hidden. At the end they had in interesting installation where they were showing videos presenting modern discrimination situations, and at the end of each short clip a question about the scenario would be asked, and people in this area could vote with buttons placed around the room as to how they felt the situation should be handled; it was very interesting to see how the room voted on many of the issues presented. Afterwards, we had dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant just a few blocks north of there, and then rode our bikes back to the hotel.

On Saturday we took a self-guided day trip out to Edam, Volendam, and Marken. Remember when I said Amsterdam Centraal Station was undergoing renovations? Yeah, that included the area where we were supposed to catch our bus, and the signage in this area was exclusively in Dutch so we were a bit clueless on where to catch our bus, and so we ended up wasting about an hour before finally heading out. Edam was a lovely area, and fairly tourist-free for a weekend day. We toured the Edam Museum (the oldest house in Edam), the Edam City Hall, and then we bought a small wheel of cheese before heading out for Volendam. There, we ate lunch and Steph found some fabric at a market before we caught the ferry out to Marken, which was just as quiet and charming as Edam was. A couple travel snafus not withstanding, we had a great time exploring the Dutch countryside.

Sunday was another day filled with riding our bicycles around the city – more than 15 miles of riding (this was the day it finally dawned on me to have RunKeeper tracking our rides)! First, we visited Vondelpark (a large city park much like Central or Hyde Park); it was beautiful, and had generously wide paths throughout for cyclists and pedestrians alike. Next up was the Houseboat Museum (just a single houseboat turned into a small museum), then two windmills (the first being crappy enough that we sought out a better one), and then the Red-light district, which included “Our Lord in the Attic” (a hidden Catholic church), a Buddhist temple, and some awesome Thai food. The Red-light district was interesting (to say the least), and the hidden church was actually fairly impressively hidden.

Monday was fairly low key since it was our return travel day, so we turned in our bikes that morning and visited a local market before stopping at the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch. After that wonderfully American meal (we need one of those every now and then) we picked up our luggage from the hotel and headed back to the airport.

See more pictures from this trip on Flickr.

Side notes:

  • The bicycling culture in Amsterdam is amazing! There are cycling paths just about everywhere, and I never once felt unsafe sharing the road witch cars where we had to (and without helmets, mind you). I really wish more cities would embrace cycling to the degree that Amsterdam has; I could really get used to it.
  • As an American, you tend to grow up with certain stereotypes around native languages; natives and non-natives in America speak English, and that’s what’s normal. What’s mind boggling then, at least at first, is to travel somewhere in Europe where the native language isn’t English, and to see/hear non-natives speaking the native language… say – for instance – Asians in the Netherlands speaking perfect Dutch.
  • The above being said, it was interesting how “English-friendly” Amsterdam seemed to be; much more so than Paris was, at least. Most of the signage in the airport and other public areas was mainly in English with some Dutch subtext, which was very helpful.

Dublin

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Our trip to Dublin went pretty well – all things considered – but it definitely wasn’t our best attempt at traveling.

We left London on Saturday morning, so we were in Dublin before noon. Unfortunately, Lee wasn’t feeling great when left (food poisoning), and was pretty miserable by the time we got there. We were, however, able to check into our B&B immediately, so Lee was able to get some rest, and it was located very close to the city center so I was able to go out on my own without having to go too far. So, I spent Saturday afternoon/evening wandering around a little on my own and sitting in front of the fire in the B&B’s sitting room.

Sunday, Lee was feeling a little better so we ventured out to a walking tour. Despite being one of the most highly rated things to do in Dublin, we were a little underwhelmed. The tour guide was decent, but he was quite long-winded when it came to pretty much everything but the sites and history. We did get to see a fair amount of the city on foot which was great.

After the walking tour, we headed out to the Guinness Storehouse. The tour covers the whole process of making Guinness and ends in a room where you learn the proper technique to pour a Guinness and then you get to take your pint up to the bar at the top of the building with a beautiful panoramic view of Dublin.

On Monday, we took a day tour to the Cliffs of Moher on the east side of Ireland. We were looking for something similar to the tour we did in Edinburgh. This wasn’t really it. We took this one because of its high rating on TripAdvisor, and while it wasn’t a bad tour, it just wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. Plus, our tour guide left the microphone on the entire time he was driving, and proceeded to do something that sounded like he was eating hard candy THE ENTIRE DAY! I’m super glad Lee and I have a similar sense of humor, because making jokes to each other is about the only way I didn’t go crazy listening to ridiculous noises. After we got back, we went to a pub near our hotel, and had yummy pub food and listened to some live Irish music.

Tuesday was our last day in Dublin, but since our flight wasn’t until 7:45pm, we had almost another whole day. We checked out of the B&B and took the light rail to Kilmainham Gaol. This is an old jail and museum that was used for a few hundred years up until the late 1920s. It was a pretty interesting tour with a lot of Irish history.

After that, we went to the Old Jameson Distillery. It was another tour that ended in a bar - sensing a theme? Lee volunteered to be part of the “taste tester” group, so at the end of the tour he got to compare Jameson with a scotch and an American whiskey, and then he got a certificate naming him an “official Irish whiskey taster”. Afterwards, we spent a little time shopping, and headed to the airport.

Of course, we made sure to get to the airport in plenty of time, and our flight ended up being delayed. We got back to our flat about 10:45pm last night, which was a bit later than planned, but what are ya going to do? All in all, it was a fun trip. Lee never did feel 100%, and I think he kind of pushed himself since we were on vacation, because he pretty much cratered when we got home last night.

There are definitely some things we would do differently next time. We are, however, already talking about our next trip to Ireland. There was so much we didn’t get a chance to see this time and we would love to go back.

More photos on Flickr.

Day of Adventure!

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We spent yesterday driving through the English countryside. That’s right. Driving.

We decided that it was time we attempted driving a car. (by we, I mean Lee…) And what an adventure that was. We picked up a car at Heathrow yesterday morning and headed west.

Our first stop was Stonehenge. We spent maybe an hour walking around, listening to the audio guide, and taking pictures. I have to say, it was pretty neat to be somewhere like that, but we are going to need to go back when its a little warmer to truly enjoy it. It was so cold. The weather yesterday was a little overcast and sat right at freezing all day. It was also very windy and snowing? Not the kind of snow we are used to in Texas where it is very wet snow and everything is icy. The kind where there are flurries hitting you in the face all day long. Which is pretty but not super enjoyable when you are standing out in the open with nothing to protect you from the cold cold wind.

Our next stop was Old Sarum, which is the remains of an ancient castle and cathedral. The castle was demolished in the 1200’s, but after some excavation in the early 1900’s, most of the foundation and some wall remnants are visible.

After lunch, we decided to detour a little on our way to Bath to drive through Bradford on Avon, because I had seen some pictures, and it seemed like it would be a nice detour. The city was beautiful and very old, but that just meant that the roads were super narrow and confusing, and there were pedestrians everywhere, so that was an adventure.

After that, we headed on to Bath to go to the Roman Baths. We had every intention of arriving 30min-1hr before the gates closed, which would have still given us 1-2hrs to go through, but that definitely didn’t happen. We didn’t prepare enough for where we would need to go once we got into Bath though, and ended up driving around for forever and then once we finally got parked, we discovered that the “pay and display” parking machine only took coins and I was £2 short… so back in the car we went to find another lot. By the time that was all said and done, we arrived at the baths in time to have the door shut in our faces. Now, we were still a few minutes before closing, but the guard said that they were full and was turning all sorts of people away. Big fail on my part, but we moved on. We went to Bath Abbey and listened in on an orchestra rehearsal, and then walked around the city for a while before heading home.

Overall, it was a great day full of adventure. I am very glad we did it. I am also very glad we had the forethought to rent an automatic car. By and large, most cars here are manual, and while Lee and I both have learned how to drive a manual, it would have been a nightmare for our first attempt at driving in the UK. The road signs are completely different, not to mention the driving on the other side of the road, and the car. I think we will definitely do that again for another day or weekend trip somewhere, but we may put a little more planning into where exactly we need to be to save ourselves some stress and frustration.

More photos on Flickr.

Next time, we will also actually remember to get gas before getting back to the rental return. I definitely did some looking while we were on our way back and found out where we needed to go to get gas before dropping off the car, and then we completely forgot. The lady told us that if we had the time it was better to go fill it up ourselves, as they (the rental place) would charge us twice as much. We had time, so we left to go do that, following an employee’s directions… and we got ridiculously lost. Thirty minutes later, we finally made it back, gas tank full, feeling a little defeated, but happy the ordeal was over.

Since We’ve Been Back

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We’ve had a few weeks to get back into a routine here, and we are back to normal I think. The first week or so we were back was mostly spent catching up on sleep, laundry, housework, and cat snuggle time.

I’ve started going to a Zumba class on Monday nights right down the street. It’s kicking my butt, but its a lot of fun, even though I have zero rhythm or dancing ability, and I look like a total goof. :)

We haven’t done much in the way of travel or sightseeing since we’ve been back. Last weekend we spent some time at the British Museum. We’ve been there twice before, but it’s free and huge, so we don’t feel bad going for just a hour or two when we have some time and we still haven’t seen nearly all of it.

More photos on Flickr

Lee and I went out on Wednesday for Valentine’s Day. I’ve never been very big into Valentine’s Day, but I like how we celebrate. We got engaged on Feb 13, 2009, so since then we have gone out on a date on the 13th instead. Then on Valentine’s Day, we just stay home and order a pizza and watch a movie. It’s nice, and low-key, and we get to celebrate on a day that has a special meaning to us. Anyway, he took me to an Italian restaurant on the river. Nothing super fancy, but we did have a nice view while we ate. :)

This weekend we set out to be tourists for a little while. Yesterday, we went into central London and rode one of the “heritage routemaster” bus routes. Basically it is just one of the regular routes through central London, but some of the buses that run it are very very old, and it’s a pretty cool/cheap way to see some sights. After that, we spent a few hours at the Tate Modern art museum. I don’t think either of us have ever been huge museum people, especially art museums. We are, however, living in a place with so many cool (and FREE) museums, so we are trying to see as much as we can while we are here.

More photos on Flickr.

I am planning a few trips in the near future for us. I think the first weekend in March we are going to Ireland, and then at the beginning of April, Amsterdam. Very excited! I think we are also going to take a day trip next weekend. Maybe if it’s still as beautiful as it is right now, we’ll go to Stonehenge.

While we were home, Lee was finally able to get the camera he has had his eye on for quite a while. He is loving it, and taking some seriously awesome photos. It’s also a lot more compact, so we have been cataloging more of our daily life, because I think we will both want to look back on that sort of thing some day.

Visit Home

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We arrived back in London on February 1 from our first visit back to the states. We had a really great time, but I think we were both ready to get back to real life.

We spent the first few days of our visit staying with Lee’s family. We were able to celebrate Lee’s birthday with them, and have our Christmas, and mostly just hang out. It was really nice to actually have time to just relax together.

The next few days we spent staying with Lee’s brother Andrew in Austin. Lee was able to spend a couple of days working in the Austin office, and I took the opportunity to relax… and shop… I know Lee enjoyed getting to spend some time with his brother, plus we got to eat at some of our favorite restaurants (not ashamed to admit we pretty much planned the trip around food).

We spent the last week at my parents house. Since our families live so close, we did a fair amount of shuffling back and forth the whole trip which was nice. We didn’t really do anything major. I got to hang out with my mom, have dinner with my dad, go get pedicures and lunch with my grandma Mimi, and spend some time with my sisters.

Overall, it was a very nice visit and we were able to see almost everyone we wanted to see. Our next visit is in June and will probably be much shorter, because we are coming mostly for a couple specific events, but we are looking forward to it already.

Paris and Christmas

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Well, we’ve officially had our first Christmas on our own. We had a really nice day, but we also really missed time with our families.

We didn’t really have much of a “traditional” Christmas. We decided that instead of exchanging gifts with each other we would take an impromptu trip to Paris, so I started looking at prices last weekend and was able to get a pretty good deal on a hotel and flight, and we decided to go for it.

Our flight left from Heathrow on Friday afternoon, and generally it is very easy for us to get to Heathrow because we live on the Heathrow Connect rail line. However, there had been a fire in one of the signaling boxes for that line overnight, and so instead all trains (except Underground) to Heathrow were cancelled, so instead it was a bit of a nightmare. Lee had trouble even getting home from work so we could leave, and ended up power walking the 20 minutes home from the tube stop semi-near us, so we could turn around and power walk another 10 minutes in another direction – with suitcases – so we could catch a bus that took us to a Tube station that would get us to Heathrow. It was fun.

Once we got to the airport, our trip was pretty much smooth sailing though. We landed in Paris on Friday evening with enough time to get checked into our hotel, grab a quick dinner, and stop at a French bakery for amazing desserts.

Saturday, we pretty much hit the ground running. It rained nearly all day, so we tried to pick places to visit that were mostly inside. We started with breakfast at a cafe near our hotel, and then headed to Notre Dame. We spent some time walking around inside and then climbed up the bell tower. It was an overcast day, but the views were still awesome. After we finished at Notre Dame, we started walking with really no direction. We decided on crepes, and then headed to the Musée National d’Art Moderne (National Museum of Modern Art) at the Centre Georges Pompidou. We spent several hours there before stopping to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up and grabbing another quick dinner.

See the rest on Flickr.

Sunday was another long day. We took the opportunity to sleep in, so we didn’t head out until late morning. Our first stop was the Arc de Triomphe. We climbed to the top – what an awesome view! Not just the views of Paris, but it is fascinating to watch the traffic driving around the very large roundabout that surrounds the Arc de Triomphe. There appear to be no rules – or even lane markings. After that, we made our way to the Lourve for a couple pictures and then went to the Musee d’Orsay for the afternoon. We thought about actually going to the Lourve for the afternoon, but it just felt too overwhelming. The Musee d’Orsay was worth the time (plus I got in for free for being an under 25 resident of the UK) and it was also a bit more our speed (not a huge museum and several recognizable works). We ended the night by going up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Awesome.

See the rest on Flickr.

Our flight on Monday wasn’t until 6pm, so we had most of the day to do more sightseeing. We took the metro to Montmartre. Montmartre is set up on a hill in the northern part of the city and is known I guess as the artist-y area. There is a beautiful cathedral (Sacré-Cœur Basilica, or Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris), as well as a ton of artists set up painting, and some neat shops and cafes. We spent a few hours there before heading back to our hotel to pick up our bags and head for the airport.

See the rest on Flickr.

Overall, it was a great trip and we were so glad we were able to go. Of course, as soon as we got back to London, things went downhill a little… Lee somehow managed to leave his iPad on the airplane. Luckily, we figured it out while we were still at the airport, so while I headed home to start on dinner, Lee stayed at the airport to try and get it back, and after a little over an hour of phone calls and talking to departure desk staff, they found the iPad on the plane (which thankfully hadn’t gone anywhere) and brought it out to him. Anyway, another hour or so later, and some fun getting home thanks to transport shutting down for Christmas, he made it home and we were able to have a nice Christmas Eve.

We pretty much spent all day Christmas Day doing nothing. We made breakfast tacos(!) about noon, I made an apple pie (otherwise known as apple soup… my first attempt at a fruit pie ever, and it didn’t turn out quite right…), and we basically just hung out in our pajamas. It was a perfect Christmas Day. We didn’t exchange gifts with each other, so we only had a couple things to open that were sent from overseas. It really was just a low-key day, which was exactly what we needed. We listened to a lot of Christmas music and watched Elf, and it was just a good day. It was really hard for both of us to be away from our families on Christmas for the first time ever, but having to miss it because we get to live in London made it seem okay.

Not sure what is up next. I’m trying to pick a place for us to go ice skating outside this week. I have always wanted to do that, and this appears to be our opportunity. Lee is home until January 2 or 3 I think, so we still have almost another week of enjoying our lazy holiday.

We are also looking forward to our trip back to the states in January. We will be there January 15-31 and will spend some time in both DFW and Austin. It is going to be a great couple weeks. :)