Side Trip To Sintra

On the Sunday of our weekend trip to Portugal, the husband I and decided to get a bit outside of Lisbon and head to Sintra.  We woke up a bit late, again, so decided to take an Uber to get there to save some time. Everyone that we’d talked to that had been to Portugal said that Sintra was a must-see.  It’s located about 30 minutes northwest of Lisbon, making it an easy half-day, day, or weekend trip.  Sintra itself is both a town and municipality and there is a LOT to explore in the area.

 
View out to the Ocean from the Moorish Castle in Sintra

We were dropped off by our super nice Uber driver in the center of the city right outside the Sintra National Palace.  Whilst beautiful, and I’m sure very interesting, we were short on time and had two other stops on our list, so decided to skip it.  We walked 1.5 blocks to a bus stop and hopped on a bus to the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle), which stands on top of a hill above Sintra.  You can walk to the Castle from the town, but it’s about 45 minutes straight uphill. We were lazy short on time, so we hopped on the bus.

 
Exploring the Moorish Castle

I didn’t do a ton of research into the castle before going, and needless to say I was a bit unprepared for the terrain. I always used to laugh at the people who visit a tourist site in the completely wrong attire. To the people at Machu Picchu wearing high heels, I’m sorry I judged you for your inappropriate choice in shoes. I´ve since felt your pain.  You see, the castle is not really a castle, but ruins. This means lots of cobblestone, dirt pathways, and uneven walking surfaces. As we arrived, it became clear that nearly everyone except us was in hiking gear. I had read that it was in a National Park, but clearly didn’t put two and two together enough to not wear skinny jeans and booties. Hiking is, quite literally, the only form of exercise that I love. I was more than a little bummed that we were going to have to miss out on the beautiful hiking/picnicking in the National Park just because I chose 10 more minutes of sleep over doing proper research into what exactly these sites we planned on visiting entailed.  I eventually got over it and had a lovely time exploring the grounds of the castle, even if it did take a toll on my shoes (and my ankles).

 
Not pictured: my horrible choice in footwear.  Pictured: the only coat I brought to Europe and thus my awkward look for hiking

Located in the Sintra National Park, the Castelo dos Mouros was built by the Moors in the 10th century to defend the city of Sintra during the reconquest.  It’s been in various hands, including Ferdinand I, since that time, and suffered significant damage from an earthquake in the 18th century.  It ended up overgrown and in need of TLC.  Thankfully, it was cleaned up and is now a lovely spot to explore for an hour or so before hiking through the park in which it resides and enjoying the views of the sea from the vistas.  Admission is only 8 euros and well worth the cost.

 
A little better than the topography of Columbus, Ohio, I’d say

After the castle, we walked to arguably the most famous site in Sintra, and definitely the one that appears on the front of all of the postcards, the Palácio Nacional da Pena (Pena National Palace).  It, like the Moorish Castle, stands on top of a hill, and can be seen from Lisbon on a clear day.  It’s brightly colored to say the least, and is one of the major expressions of 19th century Romanticism in the world.  It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and, as if that’s not enough to get me to want to go there, one of the seven wonders of Portugal (we’d already seen two of the wonders–Bélem Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery).

 

After grabbing a quick snack in the little cafe in the palace, and enjoying the views for a few minutes, we explored the Palace.  It started off as a chapel constructed in the middle ages after an apparition of the Virgin Mary, and later a monastery was constructed on the site.  It, like the moorish castle ,was damaged in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, and remained in ruins until King Ferdinand II came around in the 1830s.  From the ruins of the monastery, he created a palace to be used as the Portuguese royal family’s summer home.  The last queen of Portugal, Queen Amelia, lived there until her exile, after which point it became a popular monument.

 

A rare non-selfie

I must admit, the outside was quite impressive and beautiful.  There are clearly islamic influences, among others, in the design, and I found its bright colors beautiful and not at all garish.  The inside is worth a quick walk through, but not as impressive as other palaces I’ve visited.  (Perhaps that’s because the two that come to mind are Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, both of which serve as homes for real-live royal families to this day.)

 
This reminded me of the tiles decorating Mosques in Turkey

  

An inner courtyard again with lots of islamic influences

After Sintra, we took a 45 minute train back into the heart of Lisbon.  We explored the Praça do Comércio for a bit, popped in a very strange but also cool free (at least the first floor was free) art museum, the Museu do Design, and then headed down the street to our lunch spot, where we ate, arguably, the best burgers we’ve ever had.

 

My sensible hiking attire

  

How pretty is this street?  All the sidewalks and pedestrian zones are this beautiful cobblestone laid in a pattern

We had an awesome trip to Lisbon and Sintra.  It didn’t hurt that we found the Portuguese to be among some of the nicest people we’ve encountered while traveling.  We also loved low-key, ocean side vibe of Lisbon.  It’s a lot smaller than the other popular tourist destinations in Europe, but has a very distinct culture and authentic feel to it that can’t be beat.  We tend to enjoy the places that don’t feel as though half the population is tourists, and Lisbon feels more local than most.  I could stare at the washed out tile facades of the buildings with a nice glass of vinho verde and a book all day long.  The husband and I definitely want to make it back to explore more of Portugal, indulging in all the delicious food along the way.  Maybe I’ll even get super adventurous and try some fish.  Let’s be honest, probably not.

  

Love this guy and loved Lisbon

 

Amar Lisboa, part 1


Life has been more than a little hectic in central Ohio.  Between the dog’s weekly (except one) vet visits since coming home in February,  our crazy travel schedules (4 out of the last 5 weekends plus the husband’s weekly travel), getting used to two new jobs in two different cities, and the other parts of life that seem to rear their ugly heads at just the wrong times, I’ve not had much time to do anything but work.

One of the few trips outside the UK that the husband and I took was to Portugal for a weekend to celebrate my (belated) birthday.  I hesitate to write about how much I loved it because then others will discover the amazing secret that is Lisbon, but chances are I won’t get back there anytime soon, so here goes.  I started to include all of the amazing food that we ate while in Lisbon, but the post became massive, so I’ve decided to do a Lisbon post, and a Lisbon food post.  It was just that good.  Warning: be prepared for lots of photos.

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Random Square in Lisbon.  Even the streets are beautiful.

We didn’t rent a car in Lisbon, and I wouldn’t if you are planning a trip.  The public transit system is pretty good, and what it doesn’t cover (Sintra) you can get to via Uber.  We took an Uber to our hotel after a late arrival in Lisbon.  Our hotel, The Sheraton Lisboa Hotel & Spa, is located in the tallest building in Lisbon, so we headed to the rooftop bar/restaurant for a quick bite and beautiful views of the city before heading to bed.

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View over Lisbon from our hotel room

Saturday morning, we woke up bright and early late and grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel before heading out to explore the city.  We started the morning off at Torre de Belém (Tower of Bethlehem), a UNESCO world heritage site.  It was built in the early 16th century after being commissioned by King John II of Portugal to be a part of the defense system of the Tagus river, as well as to serve as a ceremonial gateway into Lisbon.  History aside, the tower is beautiful and definitely worth a visit.

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The husband and I at the Torre de Belém

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The tower sits in the Tagus River, as you can see

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View looking West from the tower

I’m not a huge meal eater, and eat more like a toddler, snacking my way through the day.  Given that it had been roughly 2 hours since our last meal, I was starving after our tower visit.  We were very close to one of the pastelarias that sells the famous Portuguese pastel de nata, so we grabbed a few before heading to our next stop (more on the deliciousness that is the pastel de nata later).

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Enjoying my delicious snack

After enjoying the pastéis de nata in a park across the street from the pastelaria, we headed to Mosterio dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastary) to explore a little more of Portugal’s history.  I was super excited to see it because, well, it’s another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the hubs was excited because, as I learned on this trip, he has a secret love for Vasco da Gama, who just so happens to be buried in the monastery.  We skipped the museum portion of the site and opted to marvel at the beautiful architecture and enjoy a little sunshine instead.

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The husband and his buddy, Vasco da Gama, per his request(am I the only one that finds this a touch creepy?)

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Could the skies be any more blue? #nofilter

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Outside of the Mosterio dos Jerónimos, the courtyard was much more impressive

After an hour or so, it was time for lunch, so we began meandering through the streets towards our pre-lunch-snack spot.  Wandering through the streets and taking in the different colors of ceramic tiles on the buildings was one of my favorite parts of our trip.  Each building seemed to be different, and prettier, than the last.  The bright, slightly worn colors of the buildings reminded me a bit of San Juan’s streets, but prettier.  After a snack at the Mercado de Ribera, we headed to Bon Jardim for lunch.

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Don’t you just feel like you’re in a painting?

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Think people would think I was weird if I covered my current house in these tiles?

With full stomachs, we continued to meander through the streets, making our way over to my favorite stop of our trip, the Castelo de São Jorge.  The site is an old Moorish castle, located on a hilltop overlooking the centre of Lisbon and the Tagus river.  It was a citadel used in the medieval times in Portugal, and is now a major tourist attraction for the city.  The first fortifications were built on the site in 48 BC, and were rebuilt in the 10th century by Muslim Berber forces.  The castle was dedicated to St. George in the 14th century, and a royal palace was built on the site in the 15th century.  It was the setting for the reception of Vasco da Gama by King Manuel I of Portugal after da Gama returned from discovering a maritime route to India in 1498.

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The Castle Ruins

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View of Lisbon from the Castle

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Castle Grounds 

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You’d never know that it was pouring 5 minutes before this

The views of the city and river from the castle are gorgeous.  The site is mostly ruins, which allows you to walk around the enjoying both the architecture and the views.  While we were there, the Wine With a View wine cart was selling Vinho Verde, my favorite wine, in unbreakable keepsake wine glasses.  I highly recommend getting yourself a glass if you go- it’s still the best Vinho Verde I’ve had (the beautiful setting may have made the wine taste better than it actually was, but I promise, it’s still good).

 

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 Views from the castle looking East

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Again, #nofilter

By this time, it was nearing dusk (I know, we managed a lot in one day, right?) so we meandered through more streets in the Alfama neighborhood surrounding the castle, and hopped on the 28 Tram towards dinner.

IMG_5885One of Lisbon’s famous trams

6 Hours in Melbourne

The husband and I flew home for a week to see our families over Christmas (including our lovely dog, Callie) and then we were off to Australia for a friend’s wedding.  The wedding was in Perth, but as you can’t fly from the states directly to Perth, we had to stop in either Melbourne or Sydney.  I visited Sydney when my sister lived there, but this was the husband’s first time in Australia, so he got to pick where we stopped, and he wanted to see Melbourne.  We purposefully scheduled a long layover so that we would have a bit of time to see the city, even renting a car so we could maximize the short amount of time that we had.  After we landed at the airport, I quickly put on shorts and a t-shirt.  I mean, we were in Australia in the summer, so it had to be hot, right?  Wrong.  It was in the mid 60’s and I mostly froze until I dug a jacket out of my luggage.

IMG_5236  Almost There, So Close!

Once we hopped in the car, we were off to the center of the city to do our usual first activity when arriving in a city, a bike tour.  Unfortunately for us, though we arrived to the meeting place in Federation Square right on time, the tour had already left.  While I was bummed, a bike ride after 24 hours of travel sounded a little ambitious, so I was half grateful to not have to get more sweaty and gross than I already felt from our travels.  I’m addicted to showers and can turn into a very evil person when I don’t get one.  I can’t help it, I would shower twice a day every day if my hair wouldn’t turn into straw as a result. Bike tour off the table, we walked around the Federation Square area for a bit and then hopped back in the car to drive to St. Kilda for breakfast.

Our friends who were getting married used to live in Melbourne and kindly sent us a list of things to do and restaurants to try.  Unfortunately, the Aussies do holidays much better than Americans, and the restaurant the suggested for brunch/lunch was closed for a few weeks as the owners were on holiday.  We quickly found another place, and had a delicious lunch on a very hipster street in St. Kilda.  As we were sitting outside we noticed that the temperature was quickly dropping, and by the time we were back in our cars, it was very windy and rainy.

We quickly realized what people meant when they said that Melbourne can experience four seasons worth of weather in one day.  Given the rapid change in from sun to downpour with giant wind gusts, our plans rapidly changed as well, and I was more grateful than ever that we missed that bike tour.  Instead of walking around, we decided to hop in the car and drive along the coast.  We attempted to get out and walk up to the beach, but it was so windy and the sand was blowing so hard that it felt like sandpaper was whipping us in the face.  The wind was also so strong that I literally couldn’t walk any further so we aborted the plan to walk on the beach and just kept driving up the coast.

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However, just like they said it would, within 20 minutes, the weather had changed again, and it was bright and sunny outside, like it had never rained at all (except, you know, the fact that the ground was still soaked).  We explored the coast for a while, mostly including a long stop at a playground to swing on the swingset.  We eventually had to hop back in the car and head to the airport.  Our 36 hours of traveling were ALMOST over: we were so close to arriving in Perth, and a shower and bed were in sight!

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The Boy Loves Swingsets

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See What I mean?

These are a few of my favorite things

We’ve been in London for nearly two months now but  I continue to discover new things to see and do on a daily basis.  I have, nonetheless, found a few favorite touristy places that I find myself returning to over and over.  These are my top five favorite places in London.  It’s hard to pick just five, as there are so many amazing things to see (Buckingham palace, anyone?), but I’ve done my best.  Some are obvious and others not as much, but all are definitely worth a visit.favorite places

 The V&A  // Kensington Gardens // The Tower of London // The Royal Mews // Westminster Abbey

The V&A:

The Victoria and Albert museum is the largest museum of art and design in the world, with over 7 miles of exhibitions.  It was started with funds from the Great Exhibition of 1851, with the first museum opening in 1852.  Henry Cole was the first director of the museum, and helped to create the museum with the idea of art and design being accessible to everyone.  He kept the museum open late so that working people could visit with their families, installed gas lamps so that people could still see after dark, and added dining halls so that people could take a break to eat while there.  What started out as a small museum has extended to become a massive complex, with even the buildings themselves being a work of art.

My favorite part of the V&A is the free guided tours.  I don’t know much about art, and can only read little placards describing different pieces for about 30 minutes before I get bored and my mind starts wondering.  The amazing volunteers at the V&A take small groups on hour-long tours of the museum.  There’s an introductory tour a few times a day, a tour of the British Galleries, and then a few other specialized tours.  The tours leave on the half hour  from 10:30 to 3:30 and are all given by different volunteer guides who receive no formal training.  It seems impossible to do an hour-long tour of a place with 7 miles of exhibitions, and it is.  For this reason, the guides each select a few of their favorite pieces and tell you about them.  I’ve been on at least 5 different tours and have only repeated an object once, and even then, learned new things about it.  You learn so much more about the art from these guides than you ever would going around yourself.  Much of the time, they tell you about the excruciating process by which the pieces were made, which makes you appreciate the works that much more.

If you plan to visit the V&A, there are a few things you can’t miss.

  1. The Rafael Cartoons:  Made by, you guessed it, Rafael.  They were painted as templates for tapestries and fill a very large room in the V&A.  They are worth a visit if just to learn about their storied history
  2. Tipu’s Tiger:  This isn’t my favorite, but is one of the most famous pieces in the museum, and worth at least a walk-by.  It’s a working musical instrument, and you used to be able to play it yourself when visiting.  It’s now protected behind thick glass.
  3. The Great Bed of Ware: Mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays, this is a very famous, very large bed in the British Gallery
  4. The Cast Courts: Created by Henry Cole so that England’s artists could come and see all of the most famous works throughout Europe without having to travel.  It contains famous works like The Gates of Paradise, Michelangelo’s David, and Trajan’s Column.
  5. The Three Graces: A beautiful sculpture by Antonio Canova, located in the British Gallery.  The marble is so perfectly carved that you just want to touch it, it looks so soft and smooth.
  6. Chinese Imperial Lacquer Throne: It’s a pretty chair, but what’s really impressive is how it’s made.  They apply hundreds of layers of very thin lacquer, with each taking 2-3 days to set.  They then carve not into the wood, but into the lacquer, a process that takes years of painstakingly delicate work

 

Kensington Gardens:

Located directly west of, and connecting to, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens is a great place of an afternoon walk.  There is a kiosk near Palace gate that has, literally, the best Sausage sandwich I’ve had.  Try the high tea in the Orangery or visit Kensington Palace, both located in the park.  There is also the amazing  Diana Memorial Playground, in honor of Princess Diana, complete with a Pirate Ship that’s definitely worth a visit if you have kids.

The Tower of London:

This is obviously a very touristy site, but for good reason.  Get there early, as sometimes there can be an hours-long wait to see the crown jewels.  I’ve been a few times recently just to see the poppies, and twice to see the inside of the tower.  It’s a huge place and can take a half a day or more to visit.  Definitely take the Yeoman Warder tours which leave from right inside the entrance.  In doing so, you get to enter a chapel that is otherwise off-limits and you learn a lot more about the Tower’s long and bloody history than you otherwise would.  I mean, the Yeoman Warders live at the Tower so they know a LOT about it.  Given the size of the place, the audio guides are very helpful to know what you are looking at as well.  I ended up getting a membership to the Historic Royal Palaces, which allows entry into Kensington Palace, The Tower of London, Kew Palace, and Hampton Court Palace.  Even if just for the views of the Tower Bridge, it’s worth a visit.

The Royal Mews:

I had never heard of this until I saw a sign for it outside Buckingham Palace, but am so glad to have discovered it.  The term mews comes from houses where the horses were housed on the ground floor, with the family living above.  The Royal Mews is still very much a working stable, and houses the royal horses, their equipment, and the royal coaches.  The Diamond Jubilee State Coach and the Gold State Coach are both on display, among other royal coaches.  The free audio guide tells you all about the different coaches and their uses.  When I was there, I even got to see a few workers exercising some horses, pulling a carriage behind them.

Westminster Abbey:

I’ve visited Westminster Abbey a few times since coming to London.  The husband and I went to church here together, a took an audio-guide tour with a friend, and my parents and I took a Verger Guided Tour.  I would definitely recommend the Verger Guided Tours.  They last 90 minutes, and cost 5 GBP more than the normal admission price.  You should make a reservation ahead of time, but when we visited, there was plenty of room.  You get to go places you otherwise wouldn’t, like The Chapel of St. Edward the Confessor, where Kate and William signed the registers after their wedding.  Our Verger had worked at the Abbey for a long time, and was able to tell us a ton of interesting facts that we wouldn’t otherwise have learned.

While I feel as though I’ve left out some great places in London, these are my favorite touristy places to visit so far.  There is something here to interest everyone, and I love that I can discover a new place every week.  I’ve learned so much about art and history, and it amazes me how much more there is to learn.  One could spend all day every day for years visiting all of the museums and still not see them all.

A Sunday Roast

After weeks of talking about it, the husband and I finally made it to a local pub for a Sunday roast.  I grew up eating the equivalent of a Sunday roast for Christmas and other special family occasions, so the idea of being able to get it at a nearby pub any Sunday I wanted was a very exciting one.  After a little bit of research, we found a place about a 10 minute walk from our place, The Builder’s Arms, and made a reservation.  Sunday roasts are just like they sound.  It is an old British tradition of eating a roast meat, usually beef, with sides, typically vegetables, potatoes, and yorkshire pudding, as the main meal in the afternoon on Sundays.  There are now nut roasts, even, to cater to vegetarians.

Builders Arms

 We ordered a pork roast and a beef roast to share.  They both came with roasted potatoes, vegetables, gravy, and yorkshire pudding.  While we waited for our food to come, we were entertained by the two very large English Bulldogs sitting in the booth next to us.  Dogs are allowed in restaurants, which I love, but I often find myself distracted by their cuteness.

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The roasts were both amazing; it was some of the best food that I’ve had while in London.  The husband and I make a very good Sunday roast team; he really likes the meat, while my favorite part is the yorkshire pudding, which he doesn’t touch.  It was all very delicious, and left me wanting to come back every weekend.

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When enjoying our Sunday roasts, I realized why I love pubs so much.  Our Sunday roast was really delicious, quality food; we could have easily been in a nice restaurant eating the same thing, but we weren’t.  I like good food, but I don’t love the stuffy, stuck up attitude that sometimes accompanies nice restaurants and good food.  Many pubs actually serve really good food, but instead of white tablecloths, you get a place that looks like your friend’s living room.  The pub where we ate our Sunday roast even had board games to play with your table.  We’ve been to far more pubs during our time in London than we ever did bars back home, and I think this is probably why.

IMG_4878After a delicious sticky toffee pudding and vanilla ice cream for dessert, we headed to the Natural History Museum.  It’s really close to our place, and was a major site in the Paddington movie, which we saw a few weeks ago.  The husband hadn’t yet been inside, so we made a quick visit where I showed him a few highlights.  Even if you don’t like history or anything natural, it’s worth a visit as the building is gorgeous inside, plus, it’s free!  We got home just in time to watch a very embarrassing Brown’s loss to the Bengals and relax a little before the start of the new week.

Lost in Translation

I knew that getting hit by a car was a real possibility when coming to London, with them driving on the left side of the road and all, but I never considered that, in coming to a country that speaks the same language I speak, I might be confused or misunderstood when talking to people.  I certainly have.  Nevertheless, I really love learning all of the differences between American and British English and find it very interesting to think about how these differences came about.  There are, obviously the more well-known differences such as the use of the u in words like colour, and preference for the letter s in words like organise, but there are many others.  As I’ve learned, we have different names for a number of things, and the same phrase and term can mean something very different from one side of the pond to the other.

So that you can laugh at, and potentially learn a little from, my confusion and mishaps, I’ll share the times where I’ve been tripped up by the linguistic differences between the American and British English.  I’ll also share some common differences between British and American English that I’ve seen confuse others.

In making this list, I’ve realized that there are more differences than I first thought, so I’ve broken it down into categories.

Food:

  1. Lemonade.  This first came up when I was traveling in London this summer.  It was literally London’s hottest week on record, and many places in Britain aren’t air-conditioned like they are in the states.  This can make for a VERY hot lunch when global warming decides to rear its ugly head and make a normally temperate maritime climate into a scorching hot one.  Now that I’ve set the stage for the sweating that was going on during this lunch, you can probably already guess what I ordered to drink- lemonade.  As it turns out, their lemonade is what we call sprite, 7UP, you know, that clear, lemon flavored pop/soda.  If you want real lemonade, you have to order cloudy lemonade.  Even so, sometimes that is carbonated, so if you just want some refreshing lemonade on a hot summer’s day, you really have to pay attention to what you are ordering.  I, regrettably, forgot my misstep this summer and once again ordered lemonade and got sprite soon after we arrived in London.
  2. Aubergine.  This one is easy if you know French, but isn’t if you don’t.  Aubergine is eggplant.  It’s pronounced oh-ber-gine.  We were looking at menus to find a place for dinner just last night, and my mom thought that aubergine was a fish before I assured her that it was not.  I’m sure she is not the only one.
  3. Rocket.  It’s not the thing that you shoot into the sky, but rather, arugula, the leafy green stuff that you eat as one of your 5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
  4. Biscuit.  It’s not the thing that you put with gravy and sausage in the morning, but a cookie.
  5. Courgette.  Yet another food term that you may know if you speak French.  A courgette is a zucchini in American English.
  6. Pudding.  Pudding is not the vanilla or chocolate creamy stuff made by Jello, but rather a generic name for a dessert.
  7. Chips.  I really have to think about this one, and still mess it up.  These are not the flat, crunchy potatoes of the Lays variety, but rather fries.  If I’m being honest, they will also know the term fries, and I’ve heard people use the terms interchangeably.  However, if you really want potato chips of the American English variety, see #8 below.
  8. Crisps.  When you want chips, order crisps.
  9. Jacket potato.  A baked potato

Phrases:

  1. Quite Good.  I actually just learned this very recently, so I wanted to spread the word.  I’ve heard this phrase used a lot, and I love it, but didn’t realize that I was confused as to its meaning.  In England, quite good does not mean quite good, but rather, a bit disappointing or just okay.  Don’t tell someone that the food they cooked you is quite good when in England.  It will be insulting.

Clothing:

  1. Pants.  Luckily I heard about this one before I used it.  Pants in British English are underwear.  Please don’t tell someone in Britain that you like their pants, you will sound really creepy and they might wonder whether their underwear are hanging out.
  2. Trousers.  In case you are wondering what to say when you really do want to tell someone that you like their, in the US, pants, call them trousers.  Pants in the US=Trousers in England.
  3. Jumper.  It’s not the dress that we put on little girls, but a term for sweaters, used for both men and women.

Miscellaneous:

  1. Till.  Cash registers do not exist in Britain.  They are tills.
  2. Toilet.  This may seem self-explanatory, but the restroom in the US is the toilet (or the loo) in Britain.  Most people will know what you are saying when you say restroom, but not always.  I’ve definitely had a few blank stares until I corrected myself and asked for the toilet.  Britain is very multicultural and there are a number of non-native English speakers working in stores and restaurants.  As a result, if you ask someone whose primary language is not English, you might get some funny looks if you don’t know the British word for the room with the toilets and sinks.
  3. Cash Machine or Cash Point.  What does ATM stand for anyway?  In England, the ATM is a cash machine.  It’s really a much more sensible name, if you ask me.
  4. Hob. It’s not a stovetop, it’s a hob
  5. Garden.  A garden is a backyard.  It does not imply that you grow tomatoes or aubergine there.
  6. Petrol.  The stuff that we put in our cars to make them go is called petrol, not gas.  If you ask for a gas station, you might get an entirely different thing altogether, and a funny look to boot.
  7. Chemist.  This is not someone who sits in a lab and mixes together chemicals, but rather, your friendly pharmacist.
  8. Fanny.  A word that in the US is sometimes a more polite substitute for the word butt.  Here in England, it is a slang term for vagina. You should maybe shy away from also using the term fanny pack when in the UK.
  9. Holiday.  In Britain you go on holiday, not vacation.  Happy Holidays isn’t really a thing, so it really sounds like you are saying Happy Vacation (though everyone will know what you mean).

I’m sure that there are plenty more, but these are the most obvious ones that I can think of at the moment.  I wonder if, as our world becomes more and more global, and we share our respective cultures with each other more and more through television, etc, these differences will persist, or fade away.  I love how our cultures are different in some ways and similar in others; just when you think you could just as well be in Anytown USA, you are quickly reminded that, ‘You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.’

Belgium…not just waffles and chocolate

I am a little behind on posting as it’s been a crazy few weeks (in a good way).  A few weeks ago, the husband and I took a train to Belgium.  We wanted to ride on the Eurostar, which goes from London to two places, France and Belgium.  We have both, separately, been to France, so Belgium it was.  The train departed from St. Pancras (think the outside of the train station in Harry Potter) at about 7:30pm on Friday, and we were in Brussels 2.5 hours later.  It was so dark outside that we didn’t even notice going under the English Channel, through the Chunnel Tunnel, which was probably best.  The night before our trip, people were stuck in the train for 8+ hours due to signal failures, so I was a little nervous that the same might happen to us.  Luckily, we had an uneventful journey, and arrived to our hotel without issue.  Given that it was already late, we went straight to bed in order to catch an early morning train to Bruges.

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On Board the Eurostar

Bruges is in the Northwest of Belgium, in Flanders, very close to the North Sea (which we did not see, much to my disappointment).  You might know Flanders from its role in WWI.  Many of the bloodiest battles of the war were fought in Flanders, and there is a well-known poem, In Flanders Fields, remembering those who fought there.  The population of Bruges is 110,000, with only 20,000 living in the historic city center.  The center, or “egg” of the city, as they call it, is largely unchanged from Medieval times, making it a UNESCO world heritage site (Which, if you didn’t know, I LOVE.  There’s an app for that, you know!).

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One of the Main Squares in Bruges

When we got to the city, we immediately set out to get breakfast.  Mike found a place via Yelp called The Gingerbread Tea Room.  It’s a cute little family run place a block or two off the main square of the city.  Their menu says that their food is made with love, and they mean it.  They literally squeeze the orange juice after you order it, and the eggs and bacon I had where some of the best I’ve ever eaten.  If you are in Bruges, you must go.  It’s a cute, idyllic little restaurant with delicious food and lovely staff.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

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 The best orange juice you will ever taste

The husband’s preferred method of seeing a city on the first day is by bike.  So, despite the chilly weather, we took a bike tour with Quasimundo Bike Tours.  Our bike tour guide was awesome and took us all over the city to see the different historical sites.  My favorite part of the tour was probably the stop at the pub, Cafe Vlissinghe, where I sat super close to (read: almost in) a fire that was actually being used to cook food.  It was welcome relief from the freezing outdoors.

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This is real life, not a painting

Bruges is one of the most beautiful cities that I’ve ever seen, and some of the photos that I took looked like paintings.  I only traveled with my iPhone, as it’s hard to bike with a big camera, so I assure you that it was NOT my superior photography skills, but rather the sheer beauty of the city.

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Canals of Bruges

After a nice 2 hour bike around the city, we walked around the Christmas markets and looked at the different stalls.  Mike enjoyed a beer, and I attempted to drink some hot apple cider.  What I ordered was called hot apple juice, which seemed close enough to hot apple cider to me.  When the man handed me my drink, it was in a plastic wine glass the size of a shot glass.  I should have known better and asked questions, but I didn’t, mainly because they speak Dutch and I, well, don’t.  I instead took a sip of the nastiest drink I’ve ever tasted.  Think the worst liquid cough syrup you’ve ever had mixed with bottom-shelf whiskey and pine-sol and you are halfway there.  Something was certainly lost in translation, because apple juice it was not.

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Skating rink in the center of the Christmas Market

Having failed to get a hot drink to warm myself up, we moved on to find my mom some Belgian chocolate; she loves chocolate more than anyone I know, especially truffles.  As my parents were coming to visit in a few weeks, I wanted to get her some chocolates for when she arrived.  We got a list of the three best chocolate shops from our tour guide, which I always recommend, and headed to check them out.  We ended up getting the chocolates at Dumon Chocolatier due simply to the fact that you could pick and choose your own little bag.  While my mom will tell you that they are the best chocolates she has ever had, I will tell you that it’s the worst shopping experience I’ve ever had, and you should avoid them at all costs.  I will save you the story, but suffice it to say, the staff there is incorrigible and yells at their customers.  Think Dick’s Last Resort in a chocolate shop, but not in a joking, funny way.

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Chocolatier at work

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Even their low-income housing is gorgeous

After a few more mishaps (raw-in-the-center-donuts, no service at a restaurant for an hour), and awhile longer perusing the shops, we headed back to Brussels.  While I encountered some of the least-friendly people I’ve met while traveling in Bruges, I still loved it.  Some of the people we met were lovely, and I have to think that it was just a comedy of errors that led me to the crabbiest people in the city that day.

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 In Bruges

We explored Brussels on Sunday before getting the last train of the day back to London.  While Bruges is Dutch speaking, Brussels is very much French.  It was great to have a chance to actually practice some of my French, as there were a fair number of people who spoke no English, and none of the menus were translated into English.  Overall, however, I have to say, Brussels was nothing compared to prettier, shinier Bruges, and the half day that we had there was plenty.  Maybe it was due to the fact that we had just seen Bruges, but we both found Brussels to be a little dirty and rough around the edges.

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 Main Square in Brussels

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Selfie in Brussels

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Street off the main square

We ended our trip with drinks and waffles with Mike’s friend/work colleague at this cute little cafe in Brussels before heading to the train station.  It was a great time, and I had the best apple cider with cinnamon I’ve ever tasted, which more than made up for the awful “cider” the day before.