Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

My life here is so awesome.  How awesome, you ask?  Well, one day I'm in a church cemetery drinking beer and walking ferrets, and the next day I am in the middle of a parade featuring men on stilts; people dressed as chickens, sheep, wolves and seriously creepy puppets.  Does life get any better?  I don't think so!


Monday, September 26, 2011

Learning to Drive

I waited a few weeks to write this post to make sure that it had at least a semi-happy ending.  Good news...I'm still alive!

Over here, manual shift cars are huge.  There are automatic cars, but they're a lot more expensive and harder to come by.  And, when we travel on the continent most rental cars will be manual.  So, that left us with the idea to buy a manual car to replace the American car we left behind.  Just one problem,  neither Dan nor I know how to drive a stick shift!  We've both been driving automatics for the past thirteen years, but just never learned to drive stick.

 To rectify that situation, we decided to take driving lessons in town.  It was pretty reasonably priced at 5 lessons for £50.  I've completed all of my lessons now and Dan is two hours in to his.  The good news is, we're actually doing it!  It is really hard trying to learn this completely new skill--not to mention trying to learn it while driving on the other side of the road and using your left hand!  There is a lot of re-training the brain involved.  I'm so used to doing things a certain way and you just can't do it that way when you're driving a manual.  The gas petal is not the panacea that it is in an automatic.  If you're not moving, you can't just punch the gas and go.  You've got to use the clutch.  Conversely, if you need to come to a quick stop, you can't just slam on the brake.  You've got to use the clutch to make sure you don't stall.  That's something I've never had to do before.

This weekend Dan and I rented a car and attempted our first solo trips.  It was scary!  So far, we've been driving with our instructor who has a clutch petal and brake on her side.  I don't think either of us realized how much she had been helping us to keep us from stalling or shifting into the wrong gear.  I took the first turn driving since I've had more practice so far.  Dan picked a place for lunch that was only a few miles away.  Little did we know that those few miles went straight through the Yorkshire Dales National Park and included really narrow, twisty roads.  It took us almost 45 minutes to drive 13 miles!  But, I didn't stall even once!  I had some rough shifts, but I did it!  And we were rewarded with the most beautiful views and the cutest little village called Bernsall. We even got to see a bride and groom in an old fashioned Bentley!  The driver was wearing an old-time leather helmet and goggles!

Beautiful Bernsall

Dan in Bernsall

We also drove around Harrogate, and to and from the closest big city, Leeds.  On Sunday we even took a trip to find the kosher grocery store in Leeds.  It is only around 20 minutes away.  Even though Dan has only had a couple of hours of instruction, he's picked it up pretty quickly.  We're both having some difficulty starting on hills, parking, and managing traffic, but each time we drive it's getting much better.  I know what I'm supposed to be doing, now it's just a matter of practicing it over and over.

In England they have stickers that new drivers can put on their car to let others know they should leave a bit extra room.  Dan and I already ordered this sticker to put on our car once we buy one.  Hopefully that will alleviate the pressure a little bit and let people know to cut us some slack.  Case-in-point, yesterday when I was having trouble on a hill, a woman rolled down her window to ask me where my learner's sticker was!  Oops!

The adventures continue!  Wish us (and the drivers around us) good luck!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Beer, Ferrets and Tombstones

Beer, ferrets and tombstones...what do these three things have in common?  They were all a part of the Pannal Beer Festival!  A few of our friends live in Pannal, which is just two train stops (10 minutes) outside of Harrogate.  They invited us to a beer festival that was being held at a local church.  This festival so far exceeded my expectations that I don't even know where to begin.  I guess I'll start with the fact that it is a beer festival at a church.  That seemed strange enough, but then it turned out it was actually in the church's graveyard.  I can't say that I ever drank among tombstones before.  Apparently though, that's a big underage tradition in some parts of the states.  Who knew? 

Drinking in the cemetery

The admission price for the festival included a souvenir glass and five tickets for half pint samples.  The beer part of the festival was a lot smaller than I thought, but there were still twelve different beers to try.  Some of them weren't bad; I liked the Monkey Wrench and Dan liked Olde Trip.

My day got exponentially better when I found out they were taking bets on ferret races.  Seriously!  They had cages of ferrets who were ready to run down these flexible tubes.  It was amazing!!  Dan even got to start one of the ferrets off.  Unfortunately, Dan got a little too excited and started clapping at his achievement.  This led the ferret to run back to him instead of running to the end of the tunnel and the finish line.  It was hilarious.  I also got to take a ferret on a walk after the races.  This was way more fun than it sounds.  The ferret had a harness and was running all around the grounds.  This may or may not have taken place after sampling several of the local beers.

That ferret was feisty!

After the festival, we went back to our friends' house for a good old-fashioned BBQ.  It was just a fantastic day!  Definitely not what I expected, but a ton of fun!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

More Things I Love in England

I've heard several people comment that Harrogate sometimes gets all four seasons in one day.  So far, I'd say it's true!  Yesterday, for example, was absolutely beautiful in the morning.  It was bright and sunny and basically the perfect fall day.  Then, a couple of hours later, it got a bit breezy and started just sprinkling.  Then the torrential downpour with the hurricane-strength winds came.  How do you really dress for that kind of day?  Good thing I just got my brand-new rain jacket!

So, first thing I love:
  • My new rain jacket!  It is perfect!  It's the Merrell Aberdeen Ladies' Jacket.  It is deep purple and has a great belt to keep me from looking like a giant stuffed marshmallow.  It has a hood that will keep me dry when umbrellas are useless--which, by the way, is all the time here.  It's way too windy for an umbrella to function.  It has really nice, warm, fleece pockets and a soft lining.  I just got it yesterday and already had a chance to try it out.  Love it!

When the weather is kind of gross out, it helps to have a nice, warm, home-cooked meal.  That's why the second thing I love is:
  • Having a kitchen!  Even though the appliances are all tiny and the fridge is basically a college dorm mini-fridge, it is really nice to be able to cook again.  Our new house has a much more modern, American style kitchen (hooray!), but our temporary housing is definitely British.  For the next month I am definitely going to have to get used to making much smaller portions.  I'm used to making a lot of food and then freezing it for lunches.  Three problems with that.  Firstly, we don't have a freezer here!  Can you believe it?  What kind of kitchen doesn't have a freezer?!  Secondly, even if we put leftovers in the fridge instead of the freezer, there just wouldn't be enough room.  Thirdly, the pots and pans are so small that I can't really make larger portions because they don't fit!  I made a shephard's pie yesterday (see favorite item number 3) and had to do it in two batches because the filling couldn't all fit in the pot!  This will all be fixed when I get my pots and pans from home though.  I'm just so happy to be able to make my own food that I can definitely deal with the Barbie-sized kitchen.
  • Veggie Shephard's Pie.  Other than salads and pre-made pasta, this is the first real meal I've cooked since we've been in England.  I thought I'd go traditional for the first meal so I found a recipe for shepherd's pie.  This has a slight twist because it uses sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes.  It is really hearty and comforting.  Definitely something you want to eat on a rainy day.  The lentils fill you up, the sweet potatoes add creaminess and sweetness, and, do I even need to say the benefits of hot, melty cheese?  I think this recipe might become a regular in our house.
Photo courtesy of BBC Good Food

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Our (Temporary) Digs

Now that we've officially signed a lease for a house (!!), we have to just wait it out in temporary housing until the house is available on October 19th.  Considering we've been here since August 26th, it seems like we've been in, and will be in temporary housing forever.  And, to make matters worse, we're actually in our third temporary house in less than four weeks!  Fortunately, the new place we're in is it until we move to our house.  Yay!

So, why have we moved so often?  The first place we were in was fine, but tiny and had twin beds.  We probably could have toughed it out there, but the management company asked us to move to a different apartment because someone else was moving in.  Our next place was a bit of an upgrade since it had a double bed...ooohh.  It was also pretty small, but it worked.

It was actually pretty charming, with it's fireplace and large windows and high ceilings.  It had a teeny, tiny kitchen, but that was fine since we were mostly eating out anyway.  Once we knew we'd be in temporary housing for another month though, the kitchen seemed more important.  Eating out is fun, but for people like Dan and myself, it got old pretty quickly.  I just wanted to be able to cook a meal!  Especially with the Jewish holidays coming up, it would be really nice to have a home-cooked dinner. 

But again, Dan and I could have toughed it out for the next month.  Our decision was made for us when the management company again asked us to move.  At this point we'd heard from a couple of other people that this was standard practice for these apartments and it may happen again in the next month.  No thank you!  So Dan and I took matters into our own hands and found a new place that let us sign a one-month lease.  Now we're able to unpack and get settled in more.  Best of all, it has a great, modern kitchen!  I even made my first real meal since we've been here.  I made a veggie shepherd's pie with a sweet potato mash.  I thought I'd go traditional for my first British meal :) 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Harrogate Flower Show

This weekend Dan and I, along with some friends, went to the Harrogate Flower Show.  We have been to similar events back in DC and always have a good time.  It sounds super nerdy--and to be honest, it kind of is--but it's really cool to see these huge floral displays.  The flowers were just unbelievable!  There were dahlias, gladioli, ferns, bonsai, cacti, and so much more.  This show also included a vegetable tent that displayed gigantic onions, leeks, carrots, cabbages and other root veggies.  In fact, we saw the official world's largest onion.  Any guesses as to how many pounds the world's largest onion is?  Keep reading and I'll tell you at the end of the post :)

We also explored the food offerings, of course.  They had tons of fresh Yorkshire dairy products, including ice cream, cheeses and chocolates.  The ice cream was really among the best I've ever had.  It was so creamy and rich.  I sampled a horseradish cheese that was incredible, but unfortunately I walked away without purchasing it.  We did have to try the pasty though.  We've completely fallen in love with the Cornish pasty, which is basically just a portable pot-pie.  They come in all varieties, but I'm loving the cheese, onion and chutney ones.  Yum!

The show grounds were absolutely beautiful, and for the most part the weather cooperated.  All in all, it was a fantastic day!

Here are some of the highlights:


 The world's heaviest onion?  Here she is: 17 lbs 151/2 ounces!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Anniversary Celebration

Just one week after Dan and I landed here, we celebrated our third wedding anniversary!  We both have wanted to live abroad for a long time, but I'm not sure that either of us thought we'd be so lucky as to be accomplishing that goal so soon into our marriage.  I won't get too sappy on here, but let me just say publicly that I have the best husband ever.

Anniversary flowers
Moving overseas is an amazing opportunity to challenge ourselves, see the world and grow as individuals and as a couple.  But the actual move is very stressful.  Deciding what to pack and what to put in storage; finding renters; making arrangements to ship the cats; quitting my job; saying good-bye to friends and's a lot to deal with.  But Dan has been really great throughout the whole process.  He's been really understanding about how I'm feeling (stressed, overwhelmed, excited, nervous, anxious to get settled) and lets me blow off steam when needed :)

In these past few weeks, we've spent a lot of time together--especially since I don't have a job, we didn't know anyone at first, and we're eating all of our meals out.  I am pleased to report that not only are we still on speaking terms, but we actually still love each other.  We took a moment out on our anniversary to do something extra special.  My wonderful husband gave me potted flowers.  Then we dressed up and went to one of the nicest restaurants in town to celebrate how lucky we really are.  I can't wait to see what the next three years bring!

Dinner at the Orchid

Friday, September 16, 2011

More Things I Love in England

There's a restaurant here called The Tannin Level that is just amazing.  We've had some really good food since we've been here, but this one takes the cake...or pudding as they call it here :)  The Tannin Level is an up-scale restaurant that is best known (by me) for their sticky toffee pudding.  Since I had never heard of sticky toffee pudding before we moved here, allow me to explain what it is.  It is a steamed sponge cake served with a caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream or custard.  Trust me when I say it is 10 times better tasting than it sounds.  And this sticky toffee pudding is served with the caramel sauce on the side so I can pour it in my mouth over the dessert.  I've tried a few different ones around town, but this one really is the best so far.  But for you, dear reader, I will continue on my quest to find the best in Harrogate and the UK as a whole.  I will not let you down.

Sticky Toffee Pudding!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Good to Know...

Apparently the British do not take food to go.  Dan and I went to a really nice restaurant in town and, since we're still on per diem, ordered appetizers and a main course.  By the time the main course came, I just wasn't so hungry any more.  The food was delicious so I wanted to take it home with me for lunch the next day.   When I asked the waiter if I could take it to go, he looked at me like I was asking the chef to come home and make my meal for me the next day.  He said he'd see what he could do.  When he came back to our table, he gave me my food in Tupperware with foil on top.   It may not be pretty, but it worked!

Me and my to-go container

Monday, September 12, 2011

House Hunters International: Part 2

Welcome back for another edition of House Hunters International, starring Dan and me!  When I last left you, I had seen several properties that were not quite right.  There was potential there, but nothing perfectly fit the bill.  And since we still had several weeks of temporary housing allotted to us, we could afford to be picky.

Now it's been more than two weeks since we arrived in Harrogate and I've seen more than ten properties.  The range of houses in terms of size, upkeep, layout, etc., is remarkable.  Harrogate really seems to run the gamut from Edwardian houses full of "character," to modern cookie-cutter boxes.  Here are a few of my favorite--either because they were actually great properties, or they were so bad that they provided lots of entertainment for Dan and me.

House Number 1:  Modern townhouse close to city center

This house was the perfect-on-paper house.  It is four bedrooms, walking distance to town center, close to Dan's work shuttle route, and well within our price range.  Unfortunately, inside it was completely devoid of character.  The rooms were just little boxes with no interesting details.  The kitchen was relatively large, but of course it contained the standard (read: tiny) British fridge and freezer.  Other minor issue?  Our bed actually wouldn't fit in the master bedroom.  It had such a weird layout that I'm not even sure if a British bed would fit in there.

House Number 2:  Edwardian charmer full of character

This house was also very close to town center and on Dan's shuttle route.  On paper, it had the added benefit of being full of charm and character.  It is from the Edwardian period and had great architectural details like thick crown moulding and a fire place in every room, big bay windows, and a large cellar for storage.  In person though, it did not live up to its potential.  The big windows were beautiful, but not double-glazed.  This meant that in the winter we would literally be freezing in our own bedroom.  In fact, the letting agent told us that he had similar windows growing up and would actually wake up to frost on the outside and inside of the bedroom!  Also, there was a sink in the bedroom.  I have no idea why this would be.  It was just a sink.  No toilet, no mirror. 

House Number 3: Huge garden just outside of town

On paper, I wasn't sure about this one.  While it had plenty of space and a modern kitchen, it seemed like it might be too far from town.  But in person, it really checks all of the boxes.  We actually found this house because our sponsor was driving us around town to better familiarize ourselves with Harrogate and its surrounding areas.  So far we had been limiting our house hunt to city center and those houses on the shuttle route.  Our drive with our sponsor showed us neighborhoods that we wouldn't have considered before because we hadn't seen them yet! 

This house has four bedrooms, an office, a conservatory(!), a separate dining room, two sitting areas, a laundry room, and a huge backyard with a koi pond(!).  It's actually bigger than our house in DC.  While it looked kind of far away on the map, in person it's really close to town.  The local bus stops directly in front of the house and it's a less than five minute drive into city center.  There's also a train station just a couple of minutes away.  Dan would have to drive to work, but it would only be around 15-20 minute commute.  And best part is, the house actually comes with a gardener so we wouldn't even have to take care of the yard work ourselves.

So...maybe it's a bit obvious at this point, but can you tell that we found our house?  Today we put a deposit on House Number 3!  Unfortunately for us, it's not available until October 19th which means we'll be staying in our one-bedroom flat for another five weeks.  Ugh!  Guess it's time to start making this place a bit more homey until we can move in to our new house.  Can't wait to share more details as I get them!!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Day Trip to York and "Jewish Heritage"

Although we're pretty far north in a seemingly remote area, there are actually a lot of things to do in and around Harrogate.  Leeds, Manchester and York are all within an hour and a half of here.  Edinburgh and London are only around four hours away.  Dan and I definitely have our work cut out for us to make sure we really make the most of this opportunity.

We started our travels by taking a day-trip to York this past weekend.  Our train to York only took around 30 minutes and cost £11!  And York was fantastic!  It is a great little city that is most well-known for York Minster and its Roman ruins.  What I will always remember York for though is the two-hour Jewish heritage tour we took.  I wish you could have been there with us.  It was the most amazing/ridiculous thing I've ever seen.

 We stumbled upon a sign saying there was a Jewish heritage walking tour starting in about an hour.  We couldn't believe our good luck!  We gathered at the meeting point at the appropriate time and waited with the rest of our group.  There were actually quite a few of us interested in York's Jewish history.  Our tour guide asked us all to say why we had chosen this tour and what our interest in Judaism is.  Out of the thirteen people on the tour, Dan and I were the only Jews.  Most people said they just had a general interest in the subject.  Our tour guide  Here's what he said.  

"I am interested in Judaism because when I was seven I met a Jew and saw how different he was.  He let me see his Bible that had colored pictures in it.  Then, when I was older in school, I remember making fun of Jewish children's names because they were not English.  This isn't being antisemitic, it's just making fun of them because they were different.  As an adult I set up a Christian heritage tour, but no one wanted to pay for the tour so the business failed.  But then I realized, you know who would pay for a tour?  Jews.  So I set up a Jewish heritage tour because it is much more commercially viable.  And do you know what?  It worked.  You all each paid £5.50 to be here!"
Our "Jewish heritage" tour

WHAT?  Seriously??  Dan and I just looked at each other and thought, what did we get ourselves in to?  Well, I'll spare you all of the details, but let's just say the next two hours did not go well.  It was painfully clear that the tour guide had no real knowledge of Judaism or York's Jewish history other than what he had read on wikipedia and in the book he was selling.  In fact, he kept telling us that he was not an expert and that he was simply throwing out questions for discussion. 

The tour was so ridiculous that at the end people came up to us and asked whether we were insulted by it.  It was seriously one of the craziest things I've been through.  Definitely worth the £5.50!  Ha!  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

That's so British

The Brits are so proper that when we encountered a guy peeing on the side of a house on our walk home from dinner, he turned to us and apologized, calling himself "very rude."  That's so British!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Epic Win

Though I have mostly been running around trying to find a place to live and a place to work, there has been some down-time--especially while Dan is at work.  So, I've been exposed to some pretty awesome British TV.  One show in particular I'd like to highlight is called Epic Win.  It may be the greatest show of all time.

The premise of Epic Win is that they take a contestant who is really good at something and then make him perform that skill, but with a twist.  Here's an example: they had a butcher who was renowned for really knowing different cuts of meat identify meat with his feet while blindfolded!  Another great one was the bulldozer operator who had to use his bulldozer to pick up, open and pour a bottle of champagne into a flute.  If the contestant successfully performs the task, he gets an Epic Win trophy.  If not, he has to leave the studio through the Fail door.

Just when you think that it can't get any better, it does.  There are three judges who assign a value of this skill from 1 pound to 1,000 pounds.  (P.S. I still need to figure out how to make the pound symbol on here.  I'll do that soon.)  The contestant presses this giant ball to spin a wheel that shows a monetary amount.  He then guesses whether the judges thought it was worth more than that.  If so, he can press the ball again and raise the amount.  This will keep going until the contestant decides that the value shown is how much his skill is valued by the judges.  If he's right and the value is at or under the judge's amount, then it's an Epic Win and he gets the money.  If not, it's a fail and he leaves with just the trophy.

Did I need to spend more than 300 words describing this show?  Probably not.  But I'm telling you, this show is amazing.  A real Epic Win!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Things I love in England

I will continue to add to this as time goes by, but so far, I'm gathering quite the list of things I love in England.  Here are a couple of quickies:

    Proper Tea
  • Proper tea at Betty's.  I mean, what can I say?  Tea, scones, pastries, finger sandwiches???!!!  Amazing!  And Betty's really does it best.  I'm so lucky to live so close to one.  We'll see how lucky I feel when I weigh myself for the first time.  Seriously though, the tea itself is fantastic here in England.  I'm not sure why it's so good, but Yorkshire tea is just delicious.  I love it black, but I have to say I'm really getting into the idea of putting cream and sugar in too.  You can see why I'm concerned about the first weigh-in, right?

    Big Breaky
  • Yorkshire breakfasts.  What a great start to my day.  I've only had one big breaky (as the Brits call it), but it was delicious.  It includes roasted tomatoes, grilled mushroom, poached eggs, two pieces of toast, baked beans, hash browns and sausage.  I got mine with veggie sausage.  I cannot overstate how delicious this breakfast is.

My first British Chinese restaurant

Apparently, people in Harrogate love Chinese food.  There are a ton of Chinese places in town, with the most famous appropriately named "Chinese Restaurant."  Very clever.  We decided to try a different place though.  The Imperial Chinese Restaurant had good reviews on Tripadvisor so we gave it a whirl.  It was a really fun experience, and so different than American Chinese restaurants.

When we first walked in the restaurant and told the host we didn't have a reservation, he said he could seat us as long as we could be out by 8:15.  It was only 6:30.  We didn't think it would be a problem.  It turns out that he needed to set a time limit because it was an all-you-can-eat, cooked-to-order, restaurant. 

Imperial Chinese Restaurant
This place was such a great find!  We told them we don't eat meat or shellfish and they came out with a ton of different veggie dishes for us.  We had about eight small dishes in all, and they were all delicious.  My favorite was the seasoned bean curd.  Trust me, it tastes a lot better than it sounds.  The restaurant is a really cool concept because they make the portions different sizes depending on how many dishes you order.  So you can feel free to try lots of different things.

We also decided to have some sake with our meal.  Yes, were were at a Chinese restaurant ordering a Japanese drink, but they had it on the menu.  They must want people to order it :)  The Chinese waitress definitely thought we were crazy.  She said she doesn't drink sake because one of the small cups would make her drunk.  To each their own.

Overall, it was really fun to see how the British present Chinese food.  Very different, but very good!

Friday, September 2, 2011

House Hunters International

I think it really started to hit me that I'm not just on vacation when I started house hunting.  House hunting in Washington, DC was a really fun, but stressful experience.  Dan and I were buying our first house together using money we'd been saving for years and money we'd received as generous wedding gifts.  It was a really special time.  The actual house hunting was pretty stressful though.  It will come as no surprise to those who know us, but I guess Dan and I can be pretty...discerning?  I'll use that word instead of snobby :)  We have very high standards and want to live comfortably.  We are also pretty realistic about what we can and cannot do ourselves.  We are no John and Sherry Petersik or Dani and Brian.  We did not want to buy a real fixer-upper that required a ton of work.  After months of looking, we finally found the perfect house for us and lived happily there for the next two years.

The point of this little trip down memory lane is that when I thought I was just on vacation here, it was great.  I could deal with all of the little quirks about British houses.  Ok, so what that hot and cold water don't come out of the same tap?  So what that you have to adjust each room's temperature using separate radiators?  So what that the door frames are so small they must have been built for Kate Moss?  But once you start thinking that we'll be living here for longer than we lived in our wonderful DC house, it gets a bit more real.

So with that somewhat negative outlook, we began house-hunting.  I am happy to say though that things are definitely looking up.  I've only seen four houses so far, but I am feeling a lot more optimistic about what's out there.  One house was so small that we literally would not be able to get our furniture in the front door, but the others were really decent options.  Of course the one house that was absolutely perfect in every way was just out of our price range.  But, it really showed me that with a little patience and a lot of luck, we'll find something that perfectly suits us.

Stay's just getting good!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

If you are what you eat...

this is what I would be right now:

Fish and Chips

New Beginnings!

I'm here!  I love it! I've been in not-so-sunny England for almost a week now and I can already tell I am going to be very happy here!  Harrogate, located in northern England, will be my new home for at least the next three years.  It's pretty crazy to think about.  Since I've only been here a few days it still feels like I'm on vacation (especially since I'm not working), but little things are starting to add up letting me know that this is not a normal vacation.  It is going to be a big adjustment, but I think I'm ready for it.

I'll try to keep this blog updated as Dan and I navigate our new beginnings.  I'll let you know all about the house-hunting, job-hunting, car-buying, food-eating and site-seeing  Stay's going to be an interesting ride!