Saturday, May 30, 2009

Warm weather = Spiders Galore

Why does this country not believe in installing screens on their windows? I realize that air conditioning is pretty much non-existent here because of the typically moderate climate, but I do not understand why houses do not have screens....Today, our windows were open in our house. 
It is quite warm for late May - it reached 24 degrees Celsius (about 75 degrees Fahrenheit) which is a warm summer day for our area in England. It has been beautiful outside, but because we do not have air conditioning, we have been running our fans and opening our windows to let the breeze inside. There are a reduced number of bugs in general over here (most likely due to the bats we see flying around our house at night!! -another story), but the spiders in this country might just get the best of me....I killed 5 spiders alone this morning! I realize they are supposed to be "good" bugs but they creep me out and I HATE seeing them weave their web in my home. I am positive they just walk right into our house because there are no screens preventing them from doing so. Why oh why can't this country adopt screens to keep the bugs out???

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Point of Origination

I have posted a few notes about the grocery stores over here already. This bit has to do with mostly produce items within the stores. The produce and vegetables here are packaged in all kinds of various plastic containers. Luckily they promote recycling of all of those containers but it does seem to be a bit wasteful. 
The other part about the produce and vegetables sold in the grocery is the detailed outline on each package about the point of origination for such item. When I bought my strawberries the other day, I was surprised to find the name of the grower on the packaging! Normally, the package will say where it was grown and what variety it is, along with appropriate expiration dates. Thanks to Chris Hoggard in Yorkshire, UK, I enjoyed these strawberries last week...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bank Holiday Weekend in York

This past weekend was a "Bank Holiday" weekend, the second one in May. We decided to take advantage of the three day weekend to explore a new city within the UK. We met friends from London in York which is in the north of England.  York is a former walled city with a rich English heritage that has been the back drop to many political events throughout its two millennial of existence.  We spent one day touring the sites inside the town of York and another day exploring the surrounding countryside.
The "walled city" of York. A view of a small portion of the wall surrounding the city. The walls are about 3 miles in length and they have been maintained over the centuries, still containing many remnants of the original Roman structures. 
A view of York Minster. This splendid Church of England features stained glass from the 14th and 15th centuries. York Minster is the second largest gothic cathedral of Northern Europe.
While at York Minster, we decided to climb the tower up to the top. There are 275 steps leading up the tower at the minster and they are definitely some of the steepest and narrowest stairs we have encountered. As we were climbing the stairs, we tried to compare the experience to that of climbing down into the pyramids in Eygpyt - the pyramids still qualify as the more hair-raising climb due to the lack of oxygen and 5,000 year-old-air in that situation, but this tower was not meant for small children or the weak....
Scott as we climbed up the stairwell inside the tower. Does the photo look off kilter or as if it needs to be turned? It might, but that just shows how narrow the winding staircase was inside! 
Up at the top of the tower, the view of the Minster's West side make quite impression. It was a beautiful sight from above. 
The top of the tower was "caged" all around. There were little open holes where you could take a photo of the view. BJ, Beth, and Scott tour around the top part of the tower viewing area.
What comes up, must go down.... Beth & BJ try to make their way down the tower again. They are only a few stairs apart here, but they look far apart due to the steepness of the staircase!
Woo-hoo I made it out of the staircase without falling down! 
Back inside the Minster, we viewed the large stain glass windows which are beautiful.
While in York, we had to taste Yorkshire Pudding, which of course originates in the region. Yorkshire Pudding is made from a batter dough and it is often filled served with roast beef, chicken or any other type of dish with gravy. We had dinner at a restaurant called Melton's Too which I would recommend if you are visiting York. It was good food and quite reasonably priced. 
The Yorkshire Pudding with a beef type stew and horseradish sauce on top. It tasted a bit like a popover with a pot roast type beef on it. Now that I have tried it, I will be ordering it again. 
On Sunday, we took a drive into the rolling hills of the Yorkshire countryside and headed towards the Yorkshire Moors. Our first stop, one we accidentally stumbled upon, was to see the Kilburn White Horse. We had read about it in our UK guide book and then all of the sudden, we saw it in the distance, so we decided it was worth a visit. 
Here, Scott is trying to be funny and is trying to "pinch" the horse in a photo...but he really couldn't align his fingers with my trigger of the camera. We saw the white horse from a country road in the distance. The view of the yellow fields and rolling hills was stunning. 
We drove to the closest point where cars are allowed, and then got out and walked up the remaining way to see the horse in person. The White Horse is a hill figure formed in the hillside village of Kilburn, North Yorkshire, England and the horse is about 318 feet long and 220 feet high. It covers 1.6 acres, which is hard to see in this photo, but it was large in person. 
The sign along the walk up to the top of the horse, explaining the Kilburn White Horse. It was created in 1857 and is formed of limestone. During World War II, the horse was covered to prevent it from becoming a navigation landmark for potential bombers
BJ & Scott making their way up MORE stairs. All of our legs were pretty tired by Monday! In total, we climbed over 800 stairs on this attraction and York Minster in just two days. 
The view from the top of the horse. What a great view of the Yorkshire countryside in bloom.
Bethany & BJ at the top of the hike to see the white horse. 
Cassie & Scott - a bit windblown...
After the White Horse, we drove further into the countryside and stumbled upon the first of a few Abbeys in the area. We toured Rievaulx Abbey's remains in North Yorkshire Moors National Park. 

The former entrance to the Abbey and most likely the Nave. 
Cassie inside the Abbey's remains. Rievaulx Abbey was founded by St Bernard of Clairvaux in 1132 and became one of England’s wealthiest monasteries before its dissolution by King Henry VIII in 1538.
Scott inside the remains.
From the Abbey, we continued to head north and ended up coming to a town called Ampleforth. The Ampleforth Abbey is in this town and also has a large college next to it, called Ampleforth College. "College" means preparatory boarding school here, so it essentially a premier high school here. The reason we stopped at this school was because it is the origination point to an all-boys school in St. Louis, The St. Louis Priory School. Since BJ attended this school, we made a stop to see the school and abbey. Inside the school, there was a photo of the St. Louis school on the wall which was neat to see. 
A view of Ampleforth College. 
A stop for a late lunch outside to enjoy the most beautiful spring weather was next....
Scott contemplating the menu at The Honeypot Tea Room in Nunnington. They had a great little patio with plenty of tables and chairs for dining al fresco. 
I ordered a lovely tea platter with sandwiches, a scone and cakes. It was so civilized and delicious! 
After Beth & BJ caught their train back to London, Scott & I decided to drive towards the East Coast of England and see what towns we may find along the way. Since it stays light outside until almost 10pm right now, we figured we had a few hours to drive before it got dark.
Our first stop was a town called Hull, or Kingston-Upon-Hull. 
After a stop near the harbour area, we decided it to was quite industrial and there wasn't too much for us to see. We got back into the car and headed further south along the coast...
We crossed a massive suspension bridge en route - The Humber Bridge. (this area is often referred to as Yorkshire & the Humber region). 
We arrived in a town called Grimsby and it again, did not look to be the seaside town we had we followed signs posted towards the "resort" town. We ended up in a town called Cleethorpes. I will preface that we did not know what type of town this was. Upon our return and after a few conversations with locals in our area, we now know we would have never gone to this town if we were planning a seaside get-away. In no way could we have prepared ourselves for the jersey-shore'dness of this town...
The board walk area by the sea.
Cotton Candy, aka Candy Floss was for sale so I was happy! 
The beach at Cleethorpes. 
Eating my candy floss seaside. 
There were rickity looking amusement rides for the kiddos...
The Rock Shop along the board walk - a strange name for a candy shop but maybe a reference to candy rocks? 
A token American stand along the beach...although the food they were selling didn't really look American! 
Our dinner in Cleethorpes - fish and chips. We had high hopes for an upscale seafood dinner, but given the situation, fish and chips was the best option. 
After our bellies were full, we downed a few tums and hit the road to go home...

Friday, May 22, 2009

English Tea

I have added two more English bone china tea cup trios to my collection....I love each one more than the next!!! I cannot wait to host a tea party some day to use them all. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

An Apple a Day...

Is said to keep the doctor away....let's hope it works because I do not want to be going to the doctor over here! 

In my opinion, one of the glaring differences in living over here has been the healthcare system, known here as NHS (national healthcare system). I will tell anyone who favors socialized medicine to come over here and live for a year and see how things work. 
It seems that because there is free healthcare for all citizens, there seems to be a lack of preventative care in general in order to save money because it is a government funded situation. 

A good friend (American family) had a baby a few months ago over here and the mom took the baby in for her first round of shots. She asked the doctor when she should plan to bring the child back for her next well child visit how often they would occur. The doctor said "Well Child visit? - Why would we need to see your child if she's well!" Right. That experience, coupled with the fact that she had this baby in a rather terrible hospital setting (I will refrain from going into that situation because I could write a novel and it wasn't even my experience!), makes all of us want to keep our American doctors so that we can visit them when we are back on a home visit. 

I am not impressed with the health care here, yes, I will admit it, and I could even be called a bit negative when talking about it. I know the resistance is partially due to the fact that we have been very lucky and fortunate with good health care insurance and access to premier doctors in the US. Living over here makes me REALLY appreciate that aspect of the US and I hope that I never need to know to what extent the US is ahead of the rest of the world as far as medical advances are concerned.  

Last week I needed to have a MRI run on my knee because I have been having bad knee pain for a few months. The results were alright and luckily it is just some fluid under my knee cap and a bit of tension on my IT band which will hopefully correct itself with a steroid injection and some PT. However, I had great anxiety about the results of this MRI because of the way the situation was handled.
First, let me share with you a photo I took of the "hospital" I visited to have this MRI scan. 
It is a house that has been converted into a "hospital." I know everything is much older in this country and so there are not as many new buildings as we are used to in the US, but it is VERY strange to walk into a hospital setting that you would otherwise consider to be a dining room or living room! It did not feel very sterile and definitely did not feel like a medical facility. The NHS hospital by us is not very clean - as they have had a diarrhea outbreak for the past three months that has been difficult to contain. Sorry to have to publish such gory details but simple steps of sterilization and cleanliness would probably help curb such issues! If we had to use the ER, I would probably drive further away just to avoid that nearest hospital because of its issues. 

Overall my experience for the MRI itself was just fine - aside from it being in a house. The machine was newer and quite fancy. I had the scan on a Monday and on Friday I thought to myself that it was odd that I had not heard the results from the doctor. Low and behold, I received a letter in the POST saying that I was scheduled for an appointment with the doctor at 5:30pm on a Wednesday the following week to discuss the results. Discuss the results in person??? I thought it MUST be TERRIBLE news if the doctor needed to see me in person! Furthermore, how did they assign me this appointment time without a call first to see if I were even available? 

As it turns out, even though I saw this private doctor and he does not see NHS patients, his practice still operates like the NHS system - sending all letters for appointments via POST and assigning you a time without your consent. Within the NHS system if you (as the patient) need to cancel an appoint, they will just re-issue you a new appointment slot with a letter/notice via post. 
For a country that recycles everything and anything possible, I find it is crazy that they waste so much time, energy and paper by posting letters for your doctor's appointment. Wouldn't a phone call work much faster and easier for all involved in scheduling???

In my situation, I ended up calling the doctor's office and explained I was not used to such letters being sent to me for appointment bookings and would prefer it if the doctor could call me with my results first and if I needed to come see something on the scan, I would be more than happy to come into the office. (I am sure they thought I was crazy for not coming in to the office!!) However, I felt that the suspense of having to wait for an in-person appointment was too much to handle. I ultimately kept thinking the worst.... I guess if I knew about such system before having my first experience with the doctor, I probably would have known it was proper protocol. Either way, I still find this health care system to be more than a bit undesirable and inefficient. Fingers crossed we really don't have to use it while we're here...

Thursday, May 14, 2009


I have been working at a job here where I am actively engaged in the business relationship that the US & UK share. I work with UK companies who are looking to grow and succeed within the US marketplace, and vice-versa. It is a great organisation and a job I am enjoying. Because of my job and the transatlantic nature of it, I was invited to the ribbon cutting and press event for a new transatlantic route launching from our area airport, in order to represent businesses with transatlantic interests who will use this new air route. The flight is going into Philadelphia and so there was a ROCKY impersonator at the gate and on the tarmac prior to the flight's departure....and you wouldn't believe how many photos were taken of this guy by the passengers and airport workers. They all seemed to know him and love him here! Here is one of the press photos from the event - note how they have me (the American!!) with a flag draped over my shoulder to clearly identify what I represent! 
I also had my first UK media interview yesterday on camera with the BBC news...however, I didn't end up making the cut on the evening news. Maybe next time.... 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More English Walking

My walk on Thursday was so nice with the expat ladies that Scott & I decided to enjoy the enjoyable weather over the weekend by exploring another English countryside walking trail. We attempted to take a 8 km walk around a little town called Henley-in-Arden. It is very close to Stratford-on-Avon (Shakespeare's home) but not nearly as large. While we did not encounter cows or sheep, we climbed our fair share of hills and crossed a few stiles to make the walk a bit more challenging. 
We set out to follow along this walk:, but somewhere along the way, we took a wrong turn. Luckily we continued on the Heart of England Trail which was clearly marked so we felt at least we would be able to get back to where we started! ( We had a nice view of the countryside and enjoyed spending the time together. 
In a field of yellow dandelions and many other weeds....
A view from the top of one hill - the town of Henley-in-Arden in the distance.
Climbing over a stile along the path. 
We returned to the town of Henley-in-Arden and walked along the town's High Street. When we saw this house, we had to stop for a photo. Let's just hope neither one of us end up there!!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Expat Walking in England

On Thursday, I enjoyed the nice English weather and spent the entire morning walking with the ladies of the American Expat club here in our area. We walked for three hours on a trail around a little town called Lapworth. We passed over canals, saw lambs (and babies too), toured an old church and graveyard, walked through a cow pasture, climbed over many stiles, and even ended up at a stately national trust property manor house with well manicured gardens. The public footpaths and walking trails in this area of England are quite nice and are a bit of a hidden gem - they prove for a nice time to enjoy the scenery and weather (when it's decent). 
A few of the canal boats on the Stratford Canal. 
Walking through the cow pasture. I tried not to get too close! 
A dodgy part of the walk...trying to cross a brook on a rotted tree branch!  
A view of the English countryside. 
The ladies on the walk - towards the end of our walk in the gardens of the Packwood House. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Andrew Visits England

Scott's good friend Andrew was back in Europe on business again, so he decided to tack on an extra weekend to visit our neighborhood in the UK. We spent the weekend as locals and so we took Andrew to a big market in our area that we had driven by many times but had yet to see in person. On Saturday, took him to the Wellesbourne Airfield Market which is basically a huge outdoor flea market, with all kinds of random goods for sale. The market has been in existence since 1975 and is one of the largest open air markets in Britain. With all of the advertisements I constantly see for it, I have been curious to see what the fuss is all about.
We seem to come across quite a few markets throughout Europe and I get the impression Europeans are used to this type of shopping. I cannot say I often frequented these type of venues in the US, but I have enjoyed wandering the many aisles of stalls in the markets over here.  
A butcher trying to persuade the public to buy cuts of meat from his stall. 
Random trinkets and goods for sale....everything and anything could be found! 
Including metallic mats for your car floors....
Andrew & Scott take in the sights of the open air market. 
Bargains were there....lots of things for sale for merely 1 GBP....I am not sure what practical these items might have....
A few stalls were even selling toilets! A mere 35 GBP....what a bargain! 
Prams (aka Strollers) were hanging out in a few booths waiting to be sold...
My favorite sight of the day. A lady was actually walking around the market with this beast of a backpack!!
And of course the market had lots of British food....their version of carnival food....Chips and Bacon Baps. (Translation - French Fries and Rolls with bacon (ham) on the inside - a sandwich really). 
The British Pork Flag was flying, so Scott & Andrew stopped for a sampling of the pig roast. 

Scott & Andrew enjoying a British Pork sandwich with the trimmings.
I preferred the taste of a fresh hot donut. 
It was pure goodness, rolled in sugar and hot out of the grease! 
Saturday evening Andrew taught us how he makes homemade pasta dough at his house. Having just returned from our Italian vacation, we were itching to try this very simple but delicious pasta dish (a simple goat's cheese & pepper pasta sauce, known from the Lazio region of italy) that we had eaten at a restaurant in Rome. 
The pasta dough cut into little bits ready to be rolled out into noodles. 
Andrew & Scott busy rolling out the many strands of fresh pasta dough. 
We worked on a few....
and then finally finished the entire batch of dough. Here it is ready to be boiled and then eaten! It was a delicious meal and a great relaxing visit with Andrew for the weekend.