Isle of Wight Daycation.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hope you have a cup of tea or coffee sitting in front of you, this is a long'un!

Last week the pint-sized fellow Texan/Bristol resident/saving grace Sara from Bristol in my Pocket and I treated ourselves with a mini-vacation to the Isle of Wight for the day.

We had been itching to go on a day-trip together because I haven't really seen much outside of Bristol since I've moved here other than my jaunt over to London and an easy trip down the road to Bath earlier this week (watch this space) – while Sara works most of the week and deserved some fun! She moved here over a year ago and has explored her fair share of the region, so I wanted to go somewhere that was new for both of us but not further than 2 hours away.

Enter, Isle of Wight. We knew that this was mostly a vacation/holiday destination for the locals, so people thought it was a bit strange that we were literally just going there for the day, as I've caught on that it's pretty typical to load up the car with your family and friends and spend a good few days there.

In Texas, a two-hour trip is nothing. A breeze. We both made the 7(for me)/9(for Sara) hour drive to the same undergrad university multiple times a year like it was nothing. I made that drive so many times I practically did it with my feet and my eyes closed; do not attempt at home kids.

And yes, we lived in the same city for 3/4 years, participated in the same organizations, and never met each other until we moved to the other side of the world – life is funny! She's one of those friends who I find saying "ME TOO!!" with every time we hang out. From Harry Potter to music to makeup to YouTube videos to discussing weird cultural quirks of our expat home, we can pretty much find common ground on just about anything.

The day of our adventure, while Mr. Sun was still snoozing, we hopped on a train down to jolly old Southampton, the same port the Titanic left from – so the natural thing to do was to get on a boat, right? Too soon?

The advantage of being daytrippers opposed to families with vehicles in tow is that we got to hitch a ride on the much quicker "Hi-Speed" ferry which shaves 40 minutes off the journey, giving us a 20 minute cruise to the West Cowes harbor.

We congratulated ourselves on our prompt timing with breakfast and bloody marys.

The Coast Bar in West Cowes
The downside of being mere daytrippers was the lack of transportation options when we finally got ON the Isle of Wight.

We waited around for a bus to arrive, paid the hefty day-pass fare and made our way to the center of the island – Newport, which is also the main bus hub and gives you the most options of destinations. I had done some bare minimum research before arriving just to have a basic feel of the island, and had read that Sandown had a pier and some fun things to do. The longer-than expected bus ride took us through rolling hills and picturesque villages, and we had a front row seat on the second deck!

Finally we arrived to streets of pastel-colored homes and cheery bunting. We popped into a throwback sweet shop where I stocked up on fudge and Sara nearly shed tears at the sight of Jolly Ranchers, walked through the pier arcade and along the beach. The other great thing about our friendship? I can say things like "Hmm I think I need a new profile picture" and it's met with nods of agreement rather than judgement. What are friends for!

"Hahah look at this rock on this beach it's SOOooOoOoo funny"
It was around mid-day at this point and we decided it was time to move on to the next spot. I had read that Shanklin Chine was a neat thing to see and just down the road from Sandown, so it seemed like a good progression. We walked to the appropriate bus stop after a bit of confusion and waited. And waited. I called a taxi company just to see what the wait time was and it was 45 minutes – longer than the time the next bus was expected, so we turned it down. No bus. It just simply didn't show up even though the timetable staring right in front of us said it was. It was also the last one of the day, which we noticed about a lot of IoW bus stops – they all stopped running quite early in the day. We walked from street to street searching for timetables and finally found one that suited us. The bus arrived and the driver told us he didn't go to Shanklin. I cocked my head and looked at the sign flashing on the outside that was blinking "Shanklin", had no idea how to refute the bus driver other than pointing to the clearly marked sign, and went back onto the pavement.

We had been trying to leave Sandown for about an hour (maybe more) at this point, and decided to find the train station that I had read about. Easy enough, should have gone there in the first place. The next train was due in 25 mins (slaps forehead) and we sat at the silent platform giggling at our awkward misfortune. The train – clearly made up of outdated London Underground carriages, arrived and got us to Shanklin in no time. Lesson learned of many on IoW.

Upon arriving at Shanklin, we walked up the seaside path towards Shanklin Chine and stopped to take pictures of the landscape. I looked to my left and saw the same cliffs that we had seen at Sandown, thinking "Oh we must have just crossed over from the other side".

And then I looked closer.

Nope, there's the Sandown Pier. Right there. I burst into laughter and begged Sara not to look before realizing we had spent nearly 2 hours trying to get from point A to B, right before our eyes.

Shanklin over there towards the end, as seen from Sandown *Facepalm*

Her eyes widened and we were in fits of laughter, raising eyebrows from fellow tourists and people on leisurely seaside strolls. We consoled ourselves with some Instagram-worthy posing sessions.

Never knowing what to do with my hands. 

Shanklin Chine was lovely and very green, although I'd be lying if I said I fully understood what made it a gated tourist attraction. It's a gorge right off the beach with canopies of leaves and a waterfall at the end. Really nice to walk through, still wondering why it cost 4 pounds to see it.

Arachnophobics, close your eyes and hit scroll a few times.

Oi! We even made a friend!
It's okay you can look now, nothing to see up there...

Having learned our lesson about the public transportation system, we made our way into the center of Shanklin to catch a bus back to Newport so we could connect to West Cowes with plenty of time to spare. Except the main bus stop only led us to Ryde – no big deal, we'll just get another bus there. We sat in the bus stop waiting....waiting...flicking through pictures...stomachs beginning to rumble...and in the corner of my eye I spotted a bus on the side of the shopping center with "Newport" flashing. We stared for a moment, looked at each other, and hauled ass to catch it. Near-crisis averted.

We thought with the time we had left we would see East Cowes, where the big ferry come to port. Surely there would be lots of restaurants and activities waiting for the tourists, right?!

Not so much. There was a large Waitrose and some lonely looking shops, so back to West Cowes we go. The quickest way over the watery divide that I'm STILL wondering why there is no bridge between is the chain-ferry, free for foot passengers. Sitting on a ferry that took all of 60 seconds to cross from East to West, smiling in a daze about how much work going a few meters was, we set off in search of pizza. But the italian restaurant was closed. And so was the restaurant next to it. In contrast to their opening hours signs that insisted they should be open. Continuing to laugh at the weird series of events we just couldn't stop running into, we settled on a pub where we ordered so much food, our plates were tottering on the edges of the table. Sara looked up the timetables for the train and we realized that the next one was leaving in 40 minutes, scarfed down the remainder of our food, skipped to the ferry, hopped on the bus to the Southampton train station, and both fell asleep just long enough to roll into Bristol. Although I probably would have snoozed the whole way to Cardiff if Sara hadn't been there to poke me.

Accidental matching scarves. I told you we share a brain!

It was a wonderful and exhausting adventure. I really hope to go back to the Isle of Wight, next time with a few more days to spare to really get the chance to explore more...and our own vehicle wouldn't hurt.

Foreign Flubs #3

Thursday, October 23, 2014

1. The locals are far too amused when I wear my wellies on days with scattered showers. Without fail, I get comments about them from complete strangers every time I wear them – people in the streets, people in shops, waiters, you name it.

"Bit of rain and you chucked on the wellies, eh!!"

What I take from these encounters: Getting wet builds character, don't whip out the umbrella and boots until you think you're actually going to drown.

Considering I got stuck in a 20-minute downpour the other day with no umbrella, no raincoat, suede boots, and a very white t-shirt right before giving my first grad school presentation, I'm gonna air on the side of caution and continue to wear my wellies if there is precipitation falling from the sky.

How 'bout dem apples?
2. Still not on board with roll on deodorant.

3. Where oh where can I find GOOD mac & cheese or non-sweet popcorn?!? England is convinced that cooked noodles with some shredded white cheese melted on top constitutes mac & cheese (no) and I can find pretty much any flavor of popcorn imaginable (prawns, chili, coconut) but not just plain ol' salty!

4. It's pretty gorgeous and green and getting all Autumnal over here. Which means...


5. I rarely eat candy/sweets when I'm home in the US of A. When I was younger and we would go on family road trips I would maybe pick up a 3 Musketeers during pit stops, but that was the extent of my candy escapades and it fizzled out during the teenager years. Here, on the other hand, you could say I'm simply immersing myself in the culture *wink wink*. My favorite is hands downs Maltesers, which are particularly hard to turn down before a train journey.

6. Not having a car has its ups and downs, but overall I'd still say I'm happy to be free of that responsibility. Everywhere I've visited has had a decent to fantastic public transportation system, other than Isle of Wight which is definitely easier to maneuver if you have your own vehicle.

Pros: The leisure of not having to drive, gas/petrol prices here are insane compared to home, very little street parking/car parks are a luxury, they drive on the wrong side of the road (hehe) so I wouldn't know what I was doing anyway, significantly more aggressive than they are at home – I see a near crash on a daily basis. A bus I was on today actually hit a sign...and just kept on going.

Cons: Not being on my own schedule, having to pay every time I want to use public transport (still doesn't compare to gas but it just...feels expensive at times?), crowds, germs. Also I think my butt is getting bigger but not sure if that's due to excessive uphill walking or to #5.

7. I finally had my first Sunday Roast! My flatmate from South Africa and I were itching to try one so after a failed attempt at a completely booked pub, we stumbled upon the White Bear and after a bit of a wait, got our fix. My favorite bit was honestly the meat, I don't know if that makes me boring or if I'm feeling a little beef-deprived not being in Texas anymore. I put my Southern white gravy bias aside and dug right in.

8. I purchased a rail card which means I'll be up for more day trips around the UK! I've only used it once for a return ticket to Southampton and can already see that it is seriously worth it. The card cost right under 30 pounds and on this ticket alone I saved 12, so two or three more trips until it's paid itself off and then I get the joy of discounted train journeys. Now if I can only decide where to actually go – "everywhere" apparently doesn't count as a destination ;)

Snooping around the S.S. Great Britain

No but really, where can I find salty popcorn?

London Bubbles.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

In a recent sappy post about dreams, I mentioned I went into London for the day.

I booked a cheap bus fare for the wee hours of the morning – so early in fact, that as I was walking to the bus stop, people were coming home from the clubs. 

Why so early, you ask?

Simply put, I'm a breakfast enthusiast and I wanted to start my day off in a leisurely, cheery manner. I strolled along Oxford Street as it was just waking up and made my to The Riding House Cafe in Fitzrovia that I had read about through my girl crush/London food bible blogger: The Londoner. I was the first person in, right at 9am and was seated at a round table parked in front of a cushy bench, pillow and all. The staff were all friendly and the decor was gorgeous – shiny white brick, colourful splashes of turquoise, touches of copper. Industrial, cool, and vintage all wrapped into one.

I went for the Full and Proper English breakfast, which did not disappoint; the bacon was cooked just how I like it (a bit wiggly), I bravely ate most of the black pudding, and the eggs were juuuuust runny enough where they didn't make my toast soggy...I have issues with wet bread. I can't comment on the beans as I also have issues with beans, but everything else on the plate received a thumbs up from me! If you're in the area and looking for a good breakfast place, I'd recommend giving it a go! I did make reservations just in case, and it was pretty packed by the time I was leaving. 

With my tummy full, I made my way over to Camden Market to explore the many stalls and take in the extraordinary people-watching...

Huffed and puffed a bit to get to the top of Primrose Hill to scan the London skyline...

Ventured over to tourist paradise, Abbey Road and then 221B Baker Street.

I had never been to either and figured it was time to cross them off my list! Even with the crowd of people and frustrated Londoners trying to drive down the road, Abbey Road was fun to finally see. I didn't take a picture of myself walking across it because I rarely trust strangers with my camera, but I did walk across it in a free moment, hummed a bit of "Yesterday" and giggled to myself.

Baker Street, on the other hand, was a little underwhelming. The famous door and a Sherlock Holmes Museum (which received a "meh" review from my friend Sara) is shoved right into the middle of the commercial road and going out of the way just for a picture of the door hiding behind a queue of people wasn't really worth it. And I really love Sherlock so I had high hopes.

Following my counter-clockwise venture around Regent's Park, I got on the tube and headed East.

This far East, to be exact.

I had visited the Tower of London when I was 13 but not when I was in London a few years ago. I was debating going inside until I saw the hoards of people surrounding it. I'm not opposed to standing in a queue, but I'll save it for a weekday where I can breathe a bit more. But no worries, because there was plenty to see from the outside! To commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War 1, the Tower of London is installing 888,246 ceramic poppies in the moat, one to represent each British and Commonwealth solider who died in the war . It was really impressive to see and pictures do it zero justice. It'll be up until November 11 in case you get the chance to visit, for more details about the installation, click here.

Moseyed around the City of London, where this guy really knew how to be a crowd pleaser. Who doesn't love giant bubbles?!

I spent a few hours walking along the Thames until the effects of my 4am wakeup call began to take its toll and decided it was time for food.

Shake Shack is a New York City institution and has the cult following of a boy band. I'd never had it before and had been told there was one in Covent Garden, so I excitedly went there with anticipation. I had read that the queue could be insane, so I mentally prepared myself for a wait. It took under 15 minutes to get to the till and the area was absolutely mental, so I figured actually getting my food would take a while. I patiently waited for about 20 mins, started to be visibly annoyed at 30 mins, and around 45 mins my sanity was wavering. I had ordered one burger, one thing of fries, and one milkshake. When I approached the employees they were shocked that I had waited so long to say something and that orders should only take around 10 mins. Oops. She brought my food out to me within minutes yet I had no where to sit. The tables outside and inside were all occupied, and the roped of area in the main hall had its own queue of people. I circled around for a solid 10 minutes before carefully tapping the same lady on the shoulder asking if I could just go over the ropes and sit down since I already had my food. She nodded and waved me in. The food was good, probably really good. But nothing is that satisfying after waiting over an hour. Lesson learned.

London is a busy city, that's no secret. It was also a Sunday so the weekend was still in full swing however the sheer number of people and noise at Covent Garden was overwhelming for me. I don't know if it was amplified due to hunger and standing for nearly an hour, but from now on I'll avoid the area at peak dinner time on the weekend.

The weather began to take a turn for the colder and wetter side, and I had foolishly not brought a coat, thinking my jumper would suffice (I'm still a Texan deep down). After the food ordeal, I wanted to make sure I was warm and cuddly to prevent any grumpy moods, so I popped into Topshop and bought a furry-lined parka that will take me all the way through winter. (Heads up, it runs massive so I would go down a size or two if you're interested). I probably would not have enjoyed the rest of my evening without it.

Overall, I had a great day. My mission was to mostly just re-acquaint myself with London and re-master maneuvering around, as I haven't been in just over two years. There is still so much more to explore and I can't wait to keep adventuring (and eating) my way through the city. I even got to extend my stay, because my bus home never turned up!

I love you, London. You still have my heart, 10 years after we first met.

Any Londoners out there have suggestions for what I should see or eat next time? I'm also planning on visiting as much of the UK as I can, so share any other city suggestions as well!

When Travel Gets Tricky.

Monday, October 13, 2014

No matter how much of a planner or over planner (raises hand) you are, travel plans can take a sour turn.

You might sleep in on accident.
The airline could lose your luggage.
There could be turbulence, you could get sick.
You could lose your confirmation number or forget a document.
Weather could just ruin just about anything.
Get lost, miss a connection or reservation.
Your flight, train, or bus could be delayed or cancelled.

The list goes on.

I've encountered my fair share of travel mishaps over the years, from having to sleep on the floor of JFK airport atop my luggage to the brakes on a train in Italy going out, and my most recent addition: getting stranded at a bus station.

Catching some ZzZzZzs in Atlanta thanks to a rained out plane and no hotel compensation.

"What do I do now?" 
You want to take control of what you can. Be a proactive decision-maker. If you sit and wait for someone to hold your hand and guide you, you will be waiting a long time. You're a badass world traveler so act like one.

Okay so that might be an excerpt from the pep talk I've given myself in moments like these... But on a serious note...

Be a Tweet-er.

Brands are all-too aware of the power of social media and PR departments take their Twitter accounts pretty seriously nowadays. It's one of the fastest growing tools to get in touch with travelers because not only is it instant, it's all out in the open. In the past I'm sure it was easy to shove a complaint under the rug if it was emailed to them, but ohhh no – you can't hide an unpleasant complaint on Twitter, it's out there for everyone to see. Not good for the company's image and something they'll want to take of immediately.

Recently, I was at Victoria Coach Station in London waiting on a Megabus that I had a confirmed seat on to turn up and take me home. I was there walking in circles for over an hour, soaked from knee to toe, at night, by myself. Both of my phones were dead (see next bit of advice), and I finally decided to leave. I had been up since 4am at this point so in an attempt keep my head on straight and take hold of the situation, I hopped on the Underground to Paddington Station. There, I bought a train ticket, picked up a hot chocolate to keep my spirit up, and sat directly in front of the status board, trying to stay awake for the next train.

When I arrived home at 1am, I deliriously sent a short tweet to @megabusuk:

Not the most eloquent thing I've ever written, but I was exhausted.

By the time I woke up, they had followed me (necessary in order for Direct Messaging) and sent me a tweet. I messaged them with my reservation number as well as a photo of the train ticket I had to purchase in order to get home. Within minutes, I received an email confirmation of my entire bus ticket fare refund. They added that they would be sending me a cheque in the mail within 14 days in order to cover the train fare. An example of good customer service, indeed.

Be prepared.

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." (Benjamin Franklin)

No one can predict what's going to happen. It's much better to spend a bit of extra time preparing than to do nothing and be stuck in a serious pickle later on.

  • Have spare cash in whatever currency you will be needing, in multiple places. Every city has its criminals. I've never personally been mugged *knocks on wood*, but I have had fraudulent activity on my credit cards and had them cancelled with only $10 cash to my name. Don't let that happen to you. 
  • Have a hard copy of taxi phone numbers, addresses, reservation numbers, photo id, etc. I have multiple binders with copies of every important document. On two different continents. BAM. On a smaller scale, keep this kind of stuff with you for day trips in case technology fails. Speaking of....
  • Have the means necessary to charge your phone. (I failed majorly on this on my most recent adventure and it added to the stress.) 
  • Hold on to receipts, email confirmations, and ticket stubs until your journey is done. Had I not kept my train ticket stub, Megabus wouldn't have been able to compensate me for my purchase. And due to their error, in retrospect I came out as a winner: free trip to London and back!
  • Have snacks...or at least the means to get food. Frustation + exhaustion is enough. Don't let yourself get hangry

Be kind.

You know who wants to help a rude customer who is screaming or throwing a diva fit? No one.

^^^ Not travel-related but pretty relevant (and hilarious). Is it that poor employee's fault? No. Is it the fault of the stroller you are hitting? No. Did you turn yourself into the bad guy? Yes.

I know how frustrating it is when travel plans go awry. Exhaustion and a million other factors play into account and can send you over the edge. Keep in mind the scope of the situation (it could always be worse, will this matter a year from now, etc.) You are far more likely to receive compensation or help if you are nice and cooperative to the person trying to assist you. When talking or tweeting to an employee, don't use all caps/yell, curse words, or say anything offensive. Speaking from personal experiences working in various industries, I'd say that 99% of the time, the person getting yelled at is not directly responsible or even involved in the incident. Be firm and clear about what happened and what you would realistically like to be done, and they'll do what they can. It's their job.

Have you ever had travel plans go horribly wrong? How did you deal with it?

The Problem with Autumn...

Saturday, October 11, 2014 that you can't say cheesy things like "Fall is Falling!"

Whatever you call it, that season is well upon us. Even if all of the shops are trying to convince us it's actually Christmastime.

The states aren't that much better, but we do have the unwritten rule that it's not technically the Christmas season until you see Santa waving at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on the television and you're done unbuttoning your pants (trousers!!) post-Thanksgiving meal.

Back home, fall consists of a new school year, bonfires, Halloween, fun things like Austin City Limits Music Festival, slightly below sweltering temperatures, and most importantly: football.

I do miss the spirit of college football season. Waking up early to watch College Gameday, tailgating for hours, fans yelling obscenities at each other. Even if my team isn't doing so hot this year, our coach still is

Fall over here means Autumn and Autumn of my feet because I'm enthralled by leaves being colors other than green or brown.

Chic white jeans? Nope just my legs. 
Another day in my wellies, another string of people commenting about it.

^^^^^ Apparently I have a thing for black and purple.

Lots of people love Faltumn (just go with it okay?), so much so that it's comes with a bit of a stigma... I take pictures of my feet with leaves and I don't care who knows it!!!!!!! But in my defense, I don't drink Pumpkin Spice Lattes.

I can't wait to see what my first Autumn has in store for me here in England, even if it means less sun and chillier temps. Curling up in bed with a cup of tea, a packet of biscuits, and Downton Abbey on my screen sounds perfectly fine with me. I'm also looking forward to seeing what Halloween is like!

What's your favorite part about Fall/Autumn? If you say something from that Buzzfeed article, I won't judge you, don't be shy....

St. Mary Redcliffe & Dancing Light.

Friday, October 10, 2014

So...I'm a bit of a church-snob.

Not in the I'll hit you with my Bible and pray for you type of way (jokes), but that I've been very spoiled to have visited some of the most gorgeous churches in the world and have therefore become difficult to impress.

I strongly recall my mom having to practically drag me to St. Patricks' Cathedral in NYC. I grudgingly went along and barely lifted an eyebrow at the stunning Neo-Gothic architecture shoved into the middle of Manhattan. "I mean I've seen the Vatican so this really isn't thaaaat cool..."

*Rolls eyes* Bratty teenager alert much? And I was probably hungry...

Since then, I've learned to be a bit more appreciative of the fact that I am so lucky to travel as much as I have and am better at "oooh-ing and ahh-ing" where appropriate.

This week, I took advantage of my off day and the wavering sunny U.K. weather and visited St. Mary Redcliffe Church over in the Redcliffe district.

Nestled between a few buzzing roads, it's easy enough to find thanks to the spire reaching for the sky, making it the tallest building in Bristol. Upon walking in though the inner porch – the oldest part of the church, built in 1185 (!!), you are greeted with two friendly faces offering a short guide.

Hellooooo up there, you are very difficult to take a proper photo of....

The double-sided guide includes a labeled layout of the church leading you through like a maze. The paragraphs accompanying it correspond with the numbers on the layout, making it simple to follow along. There are fascinating bits scattered throughout, and it's easy to miss some of the I walked through it twice! But I'm also a fast walker...

Thanks to the temperamental weather (this day was a bit of everything, so my DSLR once again stayed nice and dry in my flat), I was treated with one of my favorite parts about visiting a church. The light. The way the sun pokes its way in and out of the clouds makes light dance between the pews, awakens the intricate walls, and colors burst throughout the nave. It makes every detail shine a little brighter and feel a bit more magical.

No saturation adjustment here, this is all natural baby.

More dancing courtesy of Mr. Sun.

That, and my new BFF Ann, made me absolutely fall in love with this church.

Ann was one of the kind volunteers who is parked at the entrance, just in front of the modest gift shop. She asked where I was from in order to log my visit into their book, and as I was speaking with the sweet man also stationed at the desk (who's name I frustratingly can't remember), one of my responses included "Yes sir" – as any good Southerner does, and Ann practically hugged me! She patted my back with a smile and went on and on about how she appreciates good manners and asked if I wanted to see her favorite part of the church.

Umm, yes please!

She took my arm and we walked towards the back of the nave, passing Sir William Penn's armor mounted to the wall, and came to the back wall, covered in a large blue velvet curtain. Still grinning ear to ear, she pulled the ropes to push the fabric aside and revealed the giant double doors taking up the height of half the wall, including a very tiny door that couldn't have been more than 5 feet tall. She squealed and made a comment about how short they must have been back in the day. I coincidentally love doors – they're one of my favorite things to take pictures of, so this was quite the treat for me.

Proof that something simple like good manners can get you places.

Tip: If you're planning a visit and want a picture of the full church free of light poles and traffic signs (which are cluttering my attempt...), head to the North East side of the building from across the street so you can snap a picture like this one. I discovered this a little too late as I came in from the West, but I'm sure I'll be back.

Entry is free, but donations are encouraged.

What's your favorite church/cathedral/temple/etc. you've visited? Or, any that you dream of visiting? 

Hagia Sophia, Sagrada Família, and Saint Basil's Cathedral are at the top of my list!

Foreign Flubs #2

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"Foreign Flubs" began as a way to document the differences I picked up on or challenges I ran into now that I'm living in a new culture. As the days progress, lots of things are already becoming more familiar and common sense rather than as a surprise, which has me feeling rather chuffed.

Royal Fort Gardens

1. School children here are more independent as well as sociable here. I remember getting picked up from school by my mom in her car, surrounded by dozens of other cars squeezing and honking their way into the parking lot or lining up around the block causing traffic jams, all trying to make their way back home. Handfuls of kids would take the bus or bike home, while an even smaller number would walk.  Here, primary school aged children (about the equivalent of elementary to intermediate school back home) are walked to and from school by a parent, talking about their day without the disturbance of a radio or driving. Just yesterday I was strolling behind a dad walking his daughter home hand-in-hand – I may have been grinning behind them like an idiot with tears in my eyes trying not to burst from sheer cute-ness. Older children and teenagers walk to and from school in groups, stopping at a park to play football or popping into Sainsbury's for snacks. No carpool mania or technology distractions, just kids genuinely spending time with one another. I really enjoy watching them and if it wasn't totally dodgy to snap pictures of random children, I would.

2. Fries with mayo really is better. Sorry, Ketchup.

Getting a head start on my built-in winter coat with help from the Primrose Cafe in Clifton – two thumbs way up.

3. Food here expires a lot quicker than it does back home. I was bamboozled the first few times I went into the grocery store, thinking that they hadn't put out recent stock. I'm hazarding a guess that it's because America uses pesticides and other chemicals to enhance our food, which also makes it last longer. But don't quote me on this because I'm no expert! Any food industry gurus reading this?

4. Socks. Other than food, socks have been my most constant purchase. Back home in Texas, the weather is usually a balmly 70+ degrees Fahrenheit up until November/December (if we're lucky), so flip flops, Chacos, or any other sandal is usually my foot wear of choice. Here, not so much. It sounds naive but I really never realized how little I wore socks back home!

5. Speaking of clothes, I absolutely love the style in England. It's very casual chic – clean, comfortable, stylish, but not looking like you tried too hard. Thanks to the Internet and whatnot I've been attempting to bum off Brit style for years (Alexa Chung, Zoe Sugg, you name it), but now it is just so accessible and thanks to the weather, a lot more acceptable. I might actually do a full post on this, as I could really ramble on!

6. According to the Weather app, this will be changing shortly, but I just want to announce that I've lived in the UK for just under 3 weeks and it has only rained once.

7. One of the greatest bits about living here: eating two lunches back to back, and no one will judge you as long as you call one of them tea.

"But what about second breakfast?" (If you know that quote, we can be friends)

Is it summer? Is it fall? Take your time, I'm loving the juxtaposition. 

I'm really hoping to pull my actual camera out soon although I know the classic UK weather is about to make its appearance. I don't know if anyone else is like this, but when I move somewhere new I always start out scoping the area and taking pictures with my phone because my camera is like my child and I don't want to be out flashing it in unfamiliar areas. Please tell me I'm not the only one! Such an inner conflict as it's gorgeous here and I know my camera would showcase it much better than my phone.

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