As I sit on a plane back to LA for Christmas, watching a cheesy RomCom (as I love to do. Especially when they make me cry. The torture is my guilty pleasure. Like Grey’s Anatomy.), I got to thinking about our first year as expats.
We have missed friends, missed family, missed our kids. We’ve left great jobs and plopped ourselves in a city where we know almost no one. We’ve trudged through a British Winter and rush hours on the tube. I got teary-eyed thinking back on the struggle but suddenly it dawned me, as I sit here on this plane, with the man of my dreams to my left and my awesome son to my right… What we’ve gotten in return is priceless.
We’ve had family and friends visit us who may never have had the chance to see Europe. Our kids have collectively visited 5 countries they never dreamed they would see. We’ve made great friends we’ll know forever and mastered the art of bus/train/tube commuting. We’ve built snowmen in our garden and watched the sunset on the Thames and held hands through Hyde Park. We’ve lived in a flat in the city and a house in the burbs. And we still get to jump on this plane and go back to LA to visit the people and things we love for Christmas.
We are Travelling Monkeys and proper Expat Londoners. What more could a girl ask for?
Our Brit buddies have finally embraced the Halloween spirit by carving their first pumpkins so the next step was obviously showing them what Thanksgiving is all about…food and football.
It’s not Thanksgiving without some American football!
We have always gone to my grandma’s house for Thanksgiving and everyone brings a dish or two. My specialty: appetisers and desserts. You need deviled eggs? I’m your girl. Crab artichoke dip? Yup, no problem. Oh you want pumpkin bread from scratch the way my Mama taught me? Awesome. What I failed to remember was that I’d never roasted a turkey. I was hosting a Thanksgiving for both Americans and Brits and I had no idea how to work that bird!
Luckily, we have this crazy thing these days called the interwebs. I studied as many blogs and videos I could get my hands on and made that bird my bitch. She was delicious.
Look Ma, I roasted my first turkey!
Great food, Great friends, Great family
I’m thankful that we have a new house that feels like home, that we’re showing our teenage monkeys the world, and that we have made some rad friends here who are quickly becoming family.
One of the difficult things about moving overseas was not just leaving family and friends behind, but also having to move without our precious cat, Nani. She’s been apart of our family since the 15 was 3 so it was difficult to make the decision. But, she’s an old cranky lady and we knew it was best to leave her with Auntie Wobbie to be cared for. We get pics sent to us all the time so it’s good to know she’s doing well.
We knew moving would be a big adjustment for the teenage monkeys and some furry friends would take the edge off. We adopted two sisters from a local shelter and we were told that they’d been born to their mom inside the shelter so they’d only known being in their shared cage and a small cat room. They were also only used to being around the one woman who took care of them. They were extremely timid at first, but after 3 months of TLC they really came around and have become perfectly adjusted and fun members of the family!
Chelsea trying to get in on a Goodnight Skype call
“Hey Camde, wake up!”
They love their new conservatory
Are you leaving already??
I love Londontown because I can walk by some hardcore punks with purple liberty spikes asking for change and then walk by a cute old couple sitting on a bench watching butterflies dance across a flower bed. And there is something to be said for a town where you can take a different route home and happen upon something beautiful you never even realised was there. I’ve walked home from an afternoon in Camden plenty of times, but I usually just take the main streets. Today we turned down a random road, walked down some moss-covered stone steps, and followed Regent’s Canal all the way home. It was the nicest 2-mile walk we’ve had in awhile and even the teens enjoyed it. Along the way we listened to the water splashed aside by the boats, found a cool bookshop, walked by some of the ZSL zoo habitats, and saw the garden side of some of the coolest houses in Primrose Hill.
Little Venice Bookshop
Feng Shang Princess, a permanently docked boat turned chinese food
So, I have a cat. Her name is Nani and she’ll be 13 this year. I adopted her as a kitten for my then 3-year-old and they became instant besties. She never left his side and when we’d come home she’d flop onto her back to get belly rubs or go find her bottle cap to play fetch (yes, she thinks she’s a dog). Since we moved abroad, we left her in the care of Auntie Wobbie because frankly she’s a cranky old lady and would hate that flight hard. When we visit home we carve out time just for Nani and we get pics of her so we know she’s still doin her thing.
The funny thing is, I was always afraid of being labelled a cat-lady. But after reading a blogging-pal’s post, I realized that what I am is just a proud pet-owner. She’s been around for the majority of my son’s life. She’s moved from place to place with us. She’s stayed by my side through sickness and heartbreak. She turned dog-people into Nani-fans. She comes up to you and meows and flops around and you can’t help but think she is rad.
So yeah we miss her. We’ve adopted some great kittens here in London that are awesome and we’ll take them back to the States with us one day, but Nani. She’s badass.
One product that we love for our day trips around London are these flashcard-style walking tours for areas all throughout London. Anytime we’re stumped for something to do we go to the cards, randomly pick one out, and off we go!
What I love about these cards is they are so easy! They point out an Underground station to start at and give super simple directions on where to walk and points along the way. And the set is affordable on sites like Amazon, much cheaper than paying for individual guided tours all the time.
Not only do you learn a little bit about the area with the descriptions of various landmarks, but they also highlight good places to eat along your journey, maybe a bookstore you never knew existed, or cool pubs to pop into for a pint.
We’ve made it about halfway through our cards. We even let the teenage monkeys take turns picking out a card and it’s fun to go discover a new area we can go hang out in or show friends when they come to visit. I’d highly recommend this nifty little find to anyone who’d love a good walk about London!
For City Walks cards in other cities: Chronicle Books
So as you’ll quickly learn… we’re dorks. We love a good walking tour or cheesy day trip anywhere and when I tell my Londoner friends where we’ve gone, I always get the response, “Where’s that?!” or “I think I went there as a kid.” Luckily, one of my good friends here is just as bad as we are and told us about the National Trust, which has loads of great historical buildings, gardens, castles, etc. all over the UK that you can take tours of. There are some great places locally around London, but if you like short train rides or getting in the car and cruising through the English country, there are endless options for day and weekend trips. Dork urges fulfilled.
Our first adventure on the list was to Waddesdon Manor in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. We took an easy one-hour drive from London. It was built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1874 to display his art collection. The 45 rooms on view contain beautiful French furniture and decor from the 18th century.
Waddesdon Manor front entrance
Rolltop desk built in the 1700s for Marie Antoinette
A napkin sculpture exhibit
I mean….how long did someone spend on this?!
J’s new hat
You could then sit down and make your own sculpture. We got as far as a boot.
A Family Tree of Rothschild Houses
Trying to look like ladies in front of Frances Browne, Mrs John Douglas
The Victorian garden is considered one of the finest in Britain with its parterre, seasonal displays, fountains and statuary. At its heart lies the aviary, stocked with species once part of Baron Ferdinand’s collection.
View of the grounds from inside the manor
The stables are where the restaurant, shops and gallery installations are housed
T and J workin the hat selection
Getting T to be dorky with me
He can’t help but give in :)
Such a fun day out!
Before we headed out we took a nice nap in the front gardens
Before our drive back home we stopped at a local pub, Queen’s Head. Super nice atmosphere with an outdoor patio and a Thai kitchen.