Other than the stolen money the return home has been beyond awesome. Our neighbors are great, one of them gave me a "care package" our first night back so I would have cold beer (thanks Kevin) and another neighbor cooked out for us on our second night (thanks Frank and Darby). Throw in Mark and Rod (and Frank again) who supplied trucks and muscle to empty our storage units and our neighbors rock! Our house still has a few rooms of boxes in it but most of our stuff has been unpacked and placed in its spot. When we came back the kids and I hung around for the weekend then went to the UP to see my parents and other friends/family members. We were there for about a week and had a great time catching up with everyone but unfortunately the vacation had to end. Fortunately for the kids and I, Lori had most everything put away from our weekend storage unit trips so the house looked somewhat organized for a few days until we emptied out the units. Kalle had a funny comment after the units were emptied and our house was full of boxes and containers. She jokingly said maybe we should go on vacation again. I laughed and told her I was going to tell her mother. The really funny part was that I had the same idea! Oh well, reality had to slap us eventually.
Some differences in living in America vs. England.
- Commercials, commercials, commercials. I miss the every half hour commercials breaks in England. They seem to be every fifteen minutes here unless you are watching a sporting event in which case they are every ten minutes unless you are watching the end of the game when they are every two minutes. I didn't convert to world football (soccer) during our stay but I loved their running clock concept. No time outs and the game only stops at the end of the half. Even ice hockey has the time out concept down but then they wreck it by having commercials during the periods.
- America and everything in it is HUGE! Wide roads, clothes washer and dryer (I would estimate our laundry load sized have tripled or quadrupled since moving back into our American house), even our showers are huge (I washed my hair our first morning back and didn't hit my elbows on the shower walls for the first time in two years), even laundry baskets are big, restaurant portion sizes (ugh - not good), and everything is spread out here (we were a half mile walk to Littleover village and a mile and a half from Mickleover village while here we are about three miles from Brownsburg town).
- Air conditioning is pretty nice in the summer. It doesn't typically get warm enough in England to justify the cost so I understand why they don't have it but it sure does feel nice to be outside in the blazing sun then walk into an air conditioned house. I read that almost 800 people have died in the current week long England heat wave which tells you how well prepared they are for hot weather. The story also said it has been above 86 F for six straight days which was extreme heat compared to our time there.
- Lots and lots of variety in America. Automobiles, food (peanut butter and beer styles for example), TV shows (seemed to be a lot of crime/mystery and reality type shows in England), and services options to name a few examples.
- LOVE LOVE LOVE parking in America and not hunting down the parking meter to feed coins or stepping out of a pub/restaurant to feed the expiring meter. Parking in general is great with all of the wide and available USA parking spaces.
- I don't think I have had to cross the center line once to miss a row of parked cars here. In England it is so common that it is written into their driving laws that if you need to cross the center line to avoid a parked car and there is oncoming traffic you are supposed to stop in your lane short of the parked car, let the oncoming traffic pass, then proceed past the parked car and into the other lane.
- I complained a lot about the food and beer in England for good reason - it tasted horrible. But it did make me think about food in America. Why does it taste so good and why does it stay so long in the fridge? Food spoils in the fridge faster in England so what preservatives and other artificial junk is in our food? England doesn't allow Mountain Dew in the country because of its ingredients but it is a top seller in America. So what are we putting in our bodies every time we drink a Dew? Food preparation in England restaurants was a lot of boring but healthier sandwiches like bread, meat, cheese, butter and chutney or bread, rocket, butter, egg and mayonnaise. Bland but natural and healthy except for the butter which was on EVERYTHING. Cooked food was a lot of fried like fish and chips (I don't get the fascination with fish and chips, they were just greasy tasting fried food IMO) which was not good for you. They also seasoned their food with salt and pepper instead of herbs and spices which is not good for you. Overall the food was good (in terms of natural ingredients) and bad (in terms of fried, butter and salt) which has really made me think about my diet in America. I plan on paying more attention to the foods I make and eat here so we'll see how long that lasts, hopefully the rest of my life.
- Beer was just awful. Cask Ale is the overly dominant type which means the majority of the available beer is usually a touch below room temperature, flat and bitter pint glass of disappointment. There also were a lot of lagers there but I just got tired of them. Jokester Lori suggested I quit drinking beer when I would complain to much - isn't she funny? After ales and lagers was cider in terms of popularity. I had one by mistake and had a couple more during the assignment to give it a chance but cider is not for me. Stouts and porters were available every once in a while and IPA's haven't dented the English beer market yet so I was pretty excited to move back home and have some choices again.
- England does a great job of embracing and preserving its past which means castles, manor houses, nature and landmarks are all available and interesting to tour. On the flip side their chokehold grasp on the past is not so great when it comes to technology, services or what the rest of the world is doing. In America it feels like all the companies are in a competition to come out with the fastest, smallest, best, etc. gadgets while the status quo is fine in England. This is especially common with our services experience. Eight weeks to fix a clothes dryer and a week without hot water (which supplies heat and hot water through out the house) was ridiculous. Granted you may have to pay extra in America to get a service person to come out sooner than their normal schedule allows but there is still that option. In the past we have had problems with our American services and after complaining to the company they would send out the "A-Team" of the service technicians. In England they just take your name and file it. I do want to note that not all American services and technology is great and English is horrible, it is just the mentally, or maybe culture is a better word, of the countries. I think it is because of the competitive free markets resulting from the capitalist economic structure of America. England has a socialist economic structure so most people depend on the government or cooperative businesses to help them out or when something needs to be done. One particularly frustrating part of living over there was everyone complaining about the poor services but everyone just accepts the slow and poor service, no one is able to change it. Down with The Man! Americans seem to work at making life more convenient or easier while in England they just accept life as it is. Lemming down! Lemming down!
- I won't even go into how disappointing the schools were there. Thankfully the kids have time to catch up to the rest of their US classmates. I do believe that they are much more enriched from the whole experience than if we had stayed in America for two years. Living in a foreign country for two years, making new friends, and adapting to a strange environment are all great life skills for them to accumulate at this stage in their lives. Plus they experienced different country's cultures, currencies, food, sights, sounds, world treasures, etc. first hand which is irreplaceable. I don't have any regrets from doing the assignment, only frustrations which are just small radar blips in the big picture.
- Everyday living in England was tough at times. We spoke the same language but the customs and culture are different. Other than our Washington State neighbors we didn't do much with the neighborhood. Here you go and talk to the neighbors and vice versa whenever someone is out, go out socially with them, get to know them after a while, etc. but over there it was more of a cursory "hello, how are you" chat so we never got to know the Brit neighbors very well. It was also a difficult transition to go from working full time to not working at all. Running errands, doing the housework, taxiing the kids, writing the blog, researching trips, and working out was just not as fulfilling for me as when I hit a milestone or accomplished something in my Indy job. A very difficult transition in the beginning as the non-working spouse is the support system for the kids and working spouse as they get settled into their new lives. It gets better over time but the feeling of fulfillment is lacking. Until it was vacation time in which everything we saw was worth the pain and frustration of everyday life abroad.
Some items I am struggling with right now. Holy Crap Batman do we have a lot of junk. We keep unboxing and putting away and unboxing and putting away and unboxing... and I can't stop thinking "do we really need all this stuff?". We are all guilty of the crime but after living with minimal extras for two years I can't help but feeling a bit materialistic. Car buying. So, so, so many options here - where to start? Putting a dollar limit on the car price doesn't help as there are still a ton of options. We may have to limit our search to a manufacturer in order to find something. Of course it doesn't help that I am still job hunting (means a lower cost vehicle) and our month long rental is a brand new spacious Ford Edge SUV (not a lower cost vehicle). I bet you can guess what kind of vehicle Lori wants.
I have adjusted physically to living in the US but not mentally. The five hour time difference is a little weird for me. This week I've woken up and turned on the Tour de France and British Open only to realize it is in the afternoon there already. Lunchtime here is quitting time there and I was just there a few weeks ago which I can process but it just seems weird. Driving on the right side of the road however was an instant adjustment which felt natural from the first time I sat behind the wheel. It took a week to adjust to driving in England and for a few months afterwards it was in the back of my head "drive on the left, drive on the left" while I haven't even thought about driving on the left here. I also miss the vacations already. Our homecoming was much better than I ever expected with our friends and family but the other day I saw an artwork picture of the Eiffel Tower and it made me a little sad. Lori and I want to continue travelling internationally but the assignment is financially draining so it will probably be a few years before we can afford another vacation. Mentally I am still on the "vacation every six weeks" plan but reality has definitely sunk into my thick skull.
Travelling had a strange effect on me - as we travelled I felt sheltered growing up in the US. Every time we travelled the residents spoke very good or pretty good English and I don't know a second language. There were a couple of place where we momentarily struggled - cab drivers in Jerusalem and some Zagreb spots - but for the most part we did not encounter any language barriers. Obviously part of it is due to the size of the US, I think I have seen about half of the states from a quick mental count but a lot of that has been work related or pre-marriage travel so as a family we have only seen a few states. Compared to the Brits we knew however we were easily jet setters. I only met a few families there who travelled internationally with Spanish islands/coast, France, and the US (New York or Florida mainly) being the most popular destinations. I even met people there in their forties who had never been to Wales or Scotland. That's only a three or four hour drive! Heck, when we lived in downstate Michigan we had to drive nine and a half hours to see my parents and we never left the state. And Michigan isn't even a top ten state ranked by area. In England you can drive from Land's End in southwestern England to John o' Groats in northern Scotland in fourteen hours per Google Maps. Such a small area, I don't understand why the Brits don't travel the UK.
In all we visited twenty-five countries, except Lori who only tallied twenty-four, on our European adventure. In an ironic twist of fate she missed Portugal which is the only trip she mostly planned. Our list of the other twenty-four countries is Iceland, England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Vatican City, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Germany, Greece and Israel. We also did get to Asia (Israel) so if you count America we actually have been to three continents in the last two years. Not to shabby I think. For the trips we developed a system. Lori and I picked the transportation and lodging (still don't think the Tel Aviv hotel was THAT bad although it didn't have a hair dryer) while I planned the itinerary based upon feedback from the family. Or what was usually the case I picked what I thought would be a little something for everyone as I found out my customers were better at providing feedback AFTER we toured something as opposed to BEFORE I scheduled the tour. But I enjoy a challenge so it was only mildly frustrating when I picked a clunker like Museum Day in Munich. We will NEVER do Museum Day again.
My top three trip places are the Greek Islands, Jerusalem and Dead Sea, and Rome. I feel that if you can only go on one European trip in your lifetime it has to be Rome. If I had to pick a single unique experience it would be sitting down in the Dead Sea and just floating. Second tier trip places were Switzerland, Paris, Stockholm, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. My favorites cities in addition to the above are Bath (England), Florence (Italy) and Mykonos(Greece). Lots of fun cities and fantastic memories but those stand out as special to me.
My top sights or memories in no particular order: pick any church in Rome and the artwork is amazing except St. Peter's Basilica which is an artwork masterpiece, the gilded gluttony of Palace of Versailles, visiting my cousin's house in Veliki Jadrc, Big Ben sparkling in the sunshine, seeing the Eiffel Tower in person was mesmerizing, Dachau was moving, and the post cards views of Mykonos and Santorini. I would be remiss here if I didn't mention the Better Halves Club lunches (you'll do great running it Laverne) and Bull's Head ex-pat get togethers which gave me a much needed reminder (and fun) of home. Also need to thank the Freys who were our companions on many outings and nights in and/or out. Not only was it great to have another family with the same age children around to occupy them, the adults always had fun. I will also miss mine and Steve's occasional pub crawls as they are still on assignment across the pond. I guess we will have to continue those nights when they return. Extra thanks to Steve who answered my blogging questions in the beginning then became a sounding board and advisor on travel plans. Feel free to enjoy a few more English Cask Ales in my memory Steve! I'll enjoy anything but an English Cask Ale in your memory. Enjoy your remaining time there Freys, we are looking forward to our next outing when your assignment ends.
As for the rest of the sights, how can I count them or recall all we learned? Famous authors (Dante, Rowling, Dahl, H.C. Anderson, Shakespeare), musicians (Mozart, Beatles, Sibelius), artists (Picasso, Gaudi, Dali, Michelangelo and the rest of the TMNT, Bernini, Warhol), houses (Chatsworth, Casa Dante, Mozart Birthplace, King David's in Jerusalem), churches (Holy Sepulchre, York Minster, St. Peter's Basilica, St. Gallen Cathedral, St. Paul's Cathedral, La Sagrada Familia), artwork (The Thinker, David, Mona Lisa, Rembrandt's Night Watch, Sistine Chapel), museums (Vasa, British Museum, Louvre, Rijksmuseum, Yad Vashem), castles and fortresses (Neuschwenstein, Tower of London, Conwy Castle, Akerhus Fortress in Oslo, Suomelinna Fortress, Castle of St. George in Lisbon, ), structures (Arch of Constantine, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, Parthenon, Pantheon, Leaning Tower), natural beauty (Peak District, Golden Circle Tour in Iceland, Greek Islands, Norway coastline, Giants Causeway), bridges (Bridge of Sighs, Tower Bridge, Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge, Rialto, Ha' Penny Bridge), beer (anywhere but England), food (Greek salad and fish [stuffed tomatoes and peppers for Lori] in Greece, Croque Monsieur in Paris, sauerkraut and sausage in Munich, pasta carbonara and tiramisu in Italy, apple strudel in Croatia, Belgian waffles, airy mountain meringue of deliciousness in Salzburg), world currency conversions (US dollars, GB pounds, Euros, all the different kroners, kunas, shekels, Thailand Baht), travelling between time zones, European geography (at the expense of US geography as I don't think either child could list all 50 states), English history (at the expense of US history), a couple million statues, the different building architecture styles (Amsterdam's Shel Silverstein looking canal buildings, Paris' and Lisbon's triangular buildings, England's charming old Tudor and Cotswold houses, Scandinavia's efficient and plain styled residences, Greece's Cliffside white walls and blue roofed houses), and everything else that slips my mind now. Such a great adventure.
On the other side of the coin is the disappointing sights: Stonehenge (a must do IMO for the history but still a downer), Cork including Blarney Stone, Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, Mannekin Pis in Brussels, and White Cliffs of Dover (although everyone else we know liked it so maybe we were just sabotaged by the weather like in Venice).
Would go we back to any of the countries? Maybe but I don't think so right now. It isn't related to the countries as our memories range from very good to great in all of them. Even Amsterdam with all of it drugs, sex and cut tulip stems is a better memory now for me. The canals and buildings along the canal were great as was the food, NEMO, Old and New Churches, and Ann Frank House so there was some fun for us there in retrospect. But now these past two years had stirred curiosity in us to see the rest of the world. Japan, Australia, South Africa, Egypt, Easter Island, South American ruins, and Russia are all on our list as are about twenty other places. Heck even cold and boring Canada would be nice to see again. (JK eh Dana.) That doesn't even count the US places we want to see - Niagara Falls, New York City, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Utah, the Rockies, Seattle area, Mount Rushmore and plenty more. That being said if I had to make a top five list of re-do's it would be Jerusalem, Veliki Jadrc (would love to go back there one day), Greek Islands, Rome, and Paris.
Once was enough for some countries. Denmark (okay sights but very dirty city), Netherlands (kind of conflicted as Amsterdam had high highs and low lows), and Spain (Barcelona was a little disappointing but I think any place immediately after Rome would be so I need to add an asterisk to this entry). But even those places had good memories so I can't say we had any bad trips, only some low points during a few trips.
How have we changed? I certainly feel more cognizant of other people - their nationalities, religion, customs, etc. - then when we left. England did feel less judgmental in both personal opinions and biased media coverage so I will miss that part of life. We came back for the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial and the omnipresent media coverage was extremely annoying. I also feel that we will travel more on weekend trips (once we are settled and have a few dollars to our name again) and hopefully national and international trips (once we have a lot more dollars to our name). I am glad that we went on the assignment as it allowed us to experience life in another country which will hopefully have a lasting effect on the broadening of our personal horizons. Especially the kids as the world keeps getting smaller so I think it is very likely they will have an international aspect to their job so when that time comes I want them to have the "no problem, been there done that" attitude when the times comes. I did not turn into a world football fan however, I just missed American sports more as the assignment wore on.
I don't plan on continuing my blogging career but haven't made a final decision on it yet. Some people have suggested I continue to cover local sights and compare how those day trips compare to England and I may do that once we are settled in. Lori and I plan on getting around the area more since there is a lot here we haven't seen a lot of yet - Brown County, St. Louis, Louisville, Nashville, Chicago, etc. Lots to see and do around us now that our eyes are open.
And finally, a massive thank you to all of the readers who have followed us on our adventure. Writing the blog started out as a way to keep in touch with our relatives at home and has turned into our European adventure travel journal so Thank You to everyone who took a little time out of their day to check in on us. Once I realized people were actually reading it I started putting more attention and detail into the final product which I am thankful for since this will be the account of our time in England. The blog turned into more work than I anticipated but it really turned into a labor of love. And I have all of you to thank for it. Your kind words and complimentary feedback meant a lot to me so I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
Until next time,
Thanks for listening,