This has been the month of the quick visits.
Erin came to London town for the quickest work trip in history. Fortunately, we snuck in an afternoon of catching up at the Newman Arms, famous for their traditional English pies.
In case you were wondering, they were phenomenal.
During Jen’s whirlwind trip, we camped out at Anglesea Arms in South Kensington for pint after pint. After pint.
I saw Melanie at the tail end of her London trip. When she informed me she had yet to have a Full English Breakfast, I remedied the situation at Charlie’s Cafe in Notting Hill, followed by a stroll through Portobello Market, which, yes, is far much manageable on a Sunday vs Saturday.
During her visit, Emily and I saw the Queen, amongst many other fun adventures. I let her be in charge of photography, so you can wait with baited breath to read about our adventures.
Rediscovered my Ireland iPhone photos (I forgot about them). It was perfect timing as we’re plotting a return trip with Joel’s family this Spring.
Our Aussie friends, Tristan and Jen, had us over for dinner and schooled us on everything down under. And us, in return, on everything American.
The menu included boeuf bourguignon and pie because they remembered that we served pie, instead of cake, at our wedding. It was so touching and another reminder of how lucky we are to have met such wonderful friends in London.
Returned to Borough Market (read about my first visit here). This time I went for the most adorable little quail eggs, a German bratwurst, mulled wine, and my very first taste of raclette (i.e. melting oozing cheese over potatoes.)
P.S. Joel grew out a moustache in support of Movember.
And finally, spent the actual night of Thanksgiving visiting my first German holiday market at Southbank’s Winter Festival.
Even though it was a bit cheesy, I’d venture to say it was the least cheesy of ones I’ve visited. And certainly the most rustic.
The market is also the perfect point to take in the city lights.
Trying my first kürtőskalács, also known as a “chimney cake”, which originated in Transylvania and Hungary.
It’s like a crispy on the outside, super duper doughy on the inside donut drenched in cinnamon.
I don’t even like donuts, but this treat would be worth the visit alone.
London - you’re doing December right.
"Is Thanksgiving or Christmas the biggest holiday in America?"
An American friend and I debated this question last week. She voted for Christmas, I voted for Thanksgiving.
Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving doesn’t exist on this side of the pond, but last Thursday, I felt strongly that I was missing the biggest “family” moment of the year and for a couple hours (particularly while I was working away at the office), I turned into a bit of a grinch and experienced a tremendous pang of FOMO (fear of missing out).
Then Saturday rolled around, and along with it, our Expat Thanksgiving/Friendsgiving. With a snap of a wish bone and a sprinkle of pumpkin fairy dust, all was right in the world.
Still feeling the turkey buzz, I figured I’d write a little poem to commemorate the special evening.
Alex and Barlow graciously hosted 20+ of us at their beautiful South Kensington flat,
Book/wine club members, former schoolmates, friends of friends of friends, we are all American expats.
For hours we mingled with bourbon cider, wine, and beer,
Even though there was a Brit in the room (and a Canadian!), it was full of American cheer.
Each guest prepared a dish to warm our souls and fill our plates,
While our hosts tackled their first ever turkey, which was epic and first rate.
The decor was pure Autumn - deep yellow, orange, and red,
As we indulged in pure ‘Merica gluttony, pushing us straight to the gourmet/waistband edge.
There were speeches and toasts, a true reminder of how lucky we are,
And we raised our glasses to a clink, toasting to the USA from afar.
And just when I though the night had hit its peak,
It was festive props + group photo time, making the evening truly unique.
Now I’m coming up to my ‘living in London’ four month mark,
And yes, there have been times that I’ve felt in the dark,
But how thankful I am to have met this amazing expat crew,
And kick off the holiday season the way only us Americans can do.
My spirits were particularly high since I knew that the Changing of the Guard was set to take place, an event that only happens on select days.
As this was Emily’s first trip to the UK since early childhood, I knew she’d appreciate the pomp and circumstance.
But I could have never prepared myself for what was to come…
We exited the train station and made our way to town where I immediately knew something was off.
The crowds were way too large and lining up much too early for the 11am changing of the guard. I moseyed up to the nicest security man in existence to see what was what.
Me: Changing of the Guard isn’t until 11am, correct?
Security Man: Yes ma’am, but the Queen is in residence today…
Me: SHE’S AT THE CASTLE TODAY?!?
Security Man: Well yes, but she’ll be driving through town…
Me: WE’LL GET TO SEE HER CAR DRIVE BY?!?
Security Man: She’ll actually be driving to that church (points 1 block away) to view some new stained glass. So they’ll be a little ceremony if you want to watch.
Me: [Breaths deeply] Two questions. One - is she really getting in the car only to drive 1 1/2 blocks? Two - can we just go stand by all those other people behind the barricades over there? (Pointing across the street to the growing crowds.)
Security Man: Yes ma’am, for security. And instead of standing with all those people far away over there, why don’t you just go down there (points to small side street with secret access)? You’ll be much closer to the Queen.
Me: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!
We skipped our way down the road and found ourselves with the best seats in the house right next to the press. (Side note: THANK YOU FOR THE TIP, SECURITY MAN!)
And then the magic happened.
The Queen’s car pulled up directly in front of us.
As in, 20 feet away.
Liz made her way into the church with Prince Phillip a couple paces behind (because he has to…)
The doors closed and I tried to explain to Emily that this was a really big deal.
Once in a lifetime, even.
My step mother and I still talk about seeing the Queen drive by us during our visit to London in 2000.
And then ten minutes later, she emerged again…
Smiling ear to ear in her royal blue (get it?!) suit.
I like to think we made eye contact and she sent me the mental message of “You’re such a lovely ex-pat, Casey”.
Same goes for Prince Phillip.
Doesn’t he look like the definition of a cheeky fellow? (yes, that phrase absolutely applies here).
And then it was all over.
What a moment!
It’s only been 106 days since I moved to the UK, but I finally saw the Queen.
Up close and personal.
It doesn’t get any better than this (or does it?)
Royal dreams to come true.
Once we had experienced Cork’s city, fishing towns, and rocky coasts, there was one final area on our list….
25 miles east of Cork is the village of Castlemartyr.
Guess how many people live there?
With another 2,000 in the immediate vicinity.
Our large group took over a converted 17th century country manor that can only be described as out of a Jane Austen dream…..if Jane Austen book’s took place in Ireland.
The resort was incredible and, fortunately/unfortunately due to Ireland’s not so great economy, is a very affordable luxury. I only wish we could have stayed longer!
The resort’s extensive grounds include a farm, woods, rolling hills, even a castle, and I was eager to explore them.
But just when I think life couldn’t get any better…..it did.
Earl and Countess, sibling irish Setters, are residents at the manor.
But their responsibilities don’t just include welcoming guests….
This beautiful pair are also tour guides.
So while the 60 other people in our group slept in recovering from the previous night’s village pub shenanigans, I pulled Joel out of bed (literally) to have Earl and Countess take US for a walk.
At first, I was completely confused by the idea.
Me: So how do I know where to take them?
Concierge: They’ll take you.
Me: I’m sorry, what?
Concierge: They know exactly where to go and when to turn around.
Me: But, how, why, that’s so cool!
So off we went….
And it was astounding - they knew exactly where they were going and didn’t allow anything that deterred them from their training (i.e. stopping for photos…turning around for a photo once they had returned the manor…as is evidence above.)
I don’t even care that this is cliche, but….
Castle and manor aside, the whole experience was a dream and only reinforced my feeling that I’m so much happier in the country and wouldn’t mind leaving city living sooner rather than later.
Lady would obviously be on board with the idea, too.
From my two previous Ireland posts, you may have assumed that Joel and I visited the Emerald Isle alone.
We’ve become friends with a couple Irish folk who wanted to organize a trip that would take anyone interested to see “their” Ireland.
One email went around and within a matter of hours, 60 people were signed up!
I may have had my doubts (due to the large number), but the getaway was perfectly organized, an excellent balance of city, country, and coast, local activities and the must-see tourist spots.
My favorite part of the weekend?
Our group was shuttled the hour from Cork to the coast where we were met with this.
A sunny, yet hazy brisk Autumn day with views of the Celtic Sea.
Single file, the 60 of us curved the coast.
From my view at the end of the group (that’s what happens when you keep stopping to take photos), everyone looked like ants.
Although we were surrounded by cows and goats, we finally ran into other human life….along with my favorite kind of four legged creatures.
(Yes, I am crazy dog lady.)
At some point, we had the crazy idea to descend the cliffs.
Did I mention they were steep?
And it was windy?
And that I just missed the hand railing at one point and almost fell?
But totally worth it.
So much so, that I ended the walk with a side kick in the air…that the camera just missed.
If you’re ever in southern Ireland, you must add Ballycotton to your list.