Finally Vienna (and Budapest, Brno, and Bratislava)

A few weeks after I got back from Poland, Chris and I had planned to visit Vienna.  It was a place that we’d always wanted to visit and what better time then Christmas.  Chris got a bit overly-ambitious and also planned for us to see Budapest, Hungary – Brno, Czech Republic – and – Bratislava, Slovakia.  This meant we’d see a lot more places and Christmas markets, but that I’d also be driving a lot more.  I just prayed that it wasn’t bad weather.  Like the previous post I’ll be doing my Top Ten (because I’m a slacker).  If you want more detail then you can always check Chris’ blog posts.

Vienna (and its neighbours) Top Ten

1.  Budapest, Hungary

I have to say this was my favourite part of this visit even though it was FREEZING!  We caught the train early in the morning and spent the day in Budapest.  We got to explore LOTS of Christmas markets and it was a very picturesque city.  I could have probably spent more time there (I didn’t get to see the Synagogue – not pointing any fingers….. Chris).  We took the City Sightseeing Tour, which included all the different routes and boats and everything.  We stuck to the first line and after 45 minutes on the open top of the bus, we pealed ourselves from the frozen seats and got out to see the market.  But it was a beautiful city!

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2.  Driving Through the Countryside

We decided on one day we’d visit the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  It sounds like a lot, but they were all very close and only a few hours at the most away.  I was so glad that it was nice weather.  It was foggy, which kind of ruins sightseeing while driving (and pictures), but that cleared and led to some off track sights and beautiful countryside.  Oh by the way, check your rental car for the Vignette before you pay for a new one for only a few hours – right Chris?

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Ode to Conchita Wurst (said in a think Austrian accent – by me). 

No idea who she is?  Well, SHAME!

 

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3.  Brno, Czech Republic

After finally parking the car in what might have been the tiniest car park ever (ever mindful of the rental deposit), we took a nice walk to the town centre to see the Christmas market.  Chris and I both remarked about how strange it is that you can cross a border (Austria to the Czech Republic) and immediately see the influence of the Soviet Era.  It was a quaint little market with a live nativity lots of little stalls and yummy food.  I really like the smaller markets, they are less commercial and have a lot more atmosphere. 

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4.  Bratislava, Slovakia

This little town was suggested by a wonderful friend when we once had a conversation about the places we have loved to visit.  I knew with her suggestion we couldn’t go wrong planning in a visit.  Vienna is only 30 minutes away and so we added this gem to our visit.  I wasn’t disappointed it was a lovely little town, one that I’d never visit otherwise, but well worth it.  We found a place to park just as the sun was setting so we didn’t get to see a lot of the scenery.  We walked past a little preview of a market and followed the crowds to a huge market!  Like most, it was in the shadow of an old church.  We walked around the stalls and through the Old Town.  I would love to go back here too!  A few hours wasn’t enough.

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5.  Schonbrunn Palace

The next day we had the whole day to spend in Vienna.  Unfortunately it was raining…. a lot.  Luckily we made it to the Schonbrunn Palace before it started to pour.  Chris really wanted to visit here because he’d seen in on TV.  It was spectacular!  We didn’t know it but, we got a Christmas market to boot!  It was pretty packed with school trips and LOTS of tourists.  It was quite the setting.  It may be the one place in Vienna I’d like to go back and see.

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6.  Vienna

I cant do a top ten of Vienna without adding Vienna, can I?  To be honest it wasn’t my favourite place ever.  I don’t think that helped that it was freezing and absolutely pouring down!  Would I pay to go again, no.  Would I go if someone paid for me, yes.  I am sure it has so much more to offer than what I got to see.  But, in-between the downpours I did see some lovely architecture and it is really nice to be completely surrounded by history.  Later that evening after drying off we headed to a concert we had tickets to.  We stopped by another market and, luckily it had stopped raining.  The market was WAY to commercial for my liking but it was a nice setting.  We tried Kinderpunch (the non-alcholic version of their version of mulled wine).  It was really nice and we even got a free mug! (Okay, not free they charge you a lot for the drink). 

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Did I mention it was raining… a lot…

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Equality street signs – I loved these.  They were left from when Vienna hosted Eurovision earlier in the year.

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7.  Audio Tour by Rick Steves

I find it crazy that Chris doesn’t know who Rick Steves is.  I spent many Saturday morning with him when I was growing up (maybe that’s what ignited my wanderlust).  I guess he is just an American treasure.  Anyway, this American treasure has an app to download free walking tours around Europe.  I found one for Vienna and decided that it was a great idea.  Unfortunately the rain, cold, and Chris had other ideas.  I was chuckling to myself during the first part at all of his lame jokes (they didn’t translate for Chris).  Before we turned it off and went to seek cover, he took us to an amazing memorial for WWII.  It was out of the way of the bus tour so I’m glad Rick (yeah, we’re on a first name basis – well at least I am) helped me find it.  From Chris Blog:

It is located in the triangle of Augustinerstraße, Fürichgasse and Tegetthoffstraße.

There are 4 carved granite columns (the granite comes from the Mauthausen Concentration Camp near Linz in Austria). Behind and to the middle of 2 of the columns is a cast iron statue of a Jew that was forced to clean Anti-Nazi slogans from the streets of Vienna afterAnschluss. This statue showed just how much the Nazi’s were prepared to degrade and humiliate the Jews and those not of the Aryan race.

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8.  Strauss “Concert”

While we were waiting for the sightseeing bus, we got accosted by a man dressed like Strauss (or that style) telling us about a concert that night full of Strauss and Mozart.  Chris was sold at the word Strauss (his favourite composer) and I was sold (well I was sold before we even met the guy – I was looking at tickets the night before) by the word Opera.  We got to the Palace Auersperg and got to see a semi-professional concert.  It was really beautiful, but don’t believe the guy when he says he’s giving you a deal because he only has a few seats left.  There was a great mix of ballet, instrumental, and opera.  The venue made it even more impressive.  We couldn’t record anything or take pictures during the show, so you’ll have to just take my word for it.  Worth the money?  Not really but if you love Strauss or Mozart you wont be disappointed. 

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9. and 10.  The FOOD

Okay, lets just pretend that I had 10 things I loved from this trip.  After looking through all the pictures there is one thing that is highlighted more than any other – the food.  The markets were full of unique food and I don’t think we’ve ever tried so much of it!  So here are some of the things we got to try.

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Holiday to Normandie, France: Part Cinq–Headed Home

Part five??? Really???  I have to say, I think the reason why I have spent so much time on posting about this holiday is because it really impacted the way I think about WWII and history in general.  I know there are people who I love, who will never get to have the opportunity to visit these places in person so I want to show and tell as much as I can so they can understand and appreciate the things I’ve learned and seen.

I realize how incredibly lucky I am to have the opportunity to live in this part of the world and get to experience these things.  There are moments when I am looking at things as I travel that I never thought I’d be able to experience and the moment seems surreal.  I always make sure to count my blessings in those moments.

So before I get on to the last of holiday I just have to put up another album of the scenery in Bayeux, France.  There is a great D-Day museum there and it didn’t quite fit in anywhere.

Also these pictures:

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This parking always makes me giggle.  I wonder how the French are driving around without flat tyres!!  I drive up on the kerb and worry that I’ll hear a loud POP.  They do it here in England, but don’t have the signs to accompany it – and the kerbs are a lot lower.  Can you imagine parking like this in the states?!?! 

Also you cant go to France without the obligatory French Fries picture.  Problem is, I’ve been in England for so long that I kept calling them “chips” totally ruining the whole joke!

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I also wanted to make sure to post these panoramic pictures that Chris took from our various stops (aren’t smart phones great!):

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German Cemetery

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Arromanches

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Omaha Beach

We asked for a late check out on the day we were leaving and managed to nip to Juno Beach in the morning.  The hotel turned out to be really good having our own kitchen area.  Sugar honestly was such a trooper.  Rabbits aren’t good travellers and I was worried about him the whole time.  It did affect our holiday and I don’t think we’ll take him again – mostly for his sake.  But he made it through with flying colours.  He didn’t ruin too much in the room (hey, the base board was questionable before he got to it!) and adapted really well.  He was fine being left alone while we were gone and did a lot better than most rabbits probably would! 

We packed everything up and began the drive home.  We were doing it in one go this time so there would be stops but no overnight stays.  It was 3 hours to Calais, France and the Eurrotunnel.  35 minutes in the train and then, 2 1/2 home. We just prayed that there weren’t delays this time.  Luckily this time it was a lot cooler and everyone seemed a lot more comfortable.  As a rule rabbits don’t usually eat (or anything else except sit) while travelling but Sugar got so used to it he would just nibble away.  I kept asking Chris how Sugar was doing.  At one point I asked and Chris responded, “He isnt breathing a…..”  I immediately freaked out that I had killed the rabbit by taking him with us.  Then Chris finished his sentence, “as fast as usual.”  He was told in no uncertain terms to NEVER start a sentence with the words “he isn’t breathing” unless he wasn’t, and maybe not even then!  Let me just show you his set up for the ride:

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That is the whole back seat.  Complete with cold pad, USB fan, all you can eat veggies, and anything else his little heart desires!  He could either hide in his carrier (which was covered for shade) or sprawl out on the seat without worrying about falling.  All while on the comfort of his rug from his cage.

As we made our way home, we noticed some pretty dark clouds rolling in.  Out of nowhere we were caught in one of the worse rainstorms I have ever driven in.  As we were making our way up the motorway at a crawl a lorry and a car passed at the same time.  The water completely engulfed the car and I could see nothing but water.  It was REALLY scary and we were very lucky (blessed) to be looked over while I just took my foot off the gas and hoped for the best.  I was glad to get out of that rain, and after that, the bridges didn’t seem so scary.  Luckily we drove away from the rain and had pretty good weather the rest of the way to train. 

There was no delay on the train and we even got on an earlier train.  A completely different experience than leaving.  While we were waiting for the train, the screen said that the motorway we HAD to go home on was closed for a junction with a diversion in place.  There was nothing we could do but hope that it would be sorted out by the time we got there. 

When we got to England we were met with rain and stand-still traffic.  We waiting in traffic for about 30 minutes and then it started moving and it was smooth sailing until we got home.

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The many moods of France

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The sunset that helped us home in England.

I love that I get to travel and I love that I am married to someone who loves it as much as I do.  I think road trips are a great way to grow a marriage.  Don’t get me wrong I turn into a monster when I am tired, as Chris (and my mom) can attest, and this holiday was no different.  But, crazy moods aside we never laugh so much as when we are on road trips.  I am glad I have such a willing and understanding (and forgiving) travel buddy!  I really believe learning and exploring together cant help but strengthen a marriage.

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  I cant really put into words (though I sure have tried!) how much I learned on this holiday.  But, we were glad to be home, to have Sugar be more settled, and to have our own beds and pillows!

Holiday to Normandie, France: Part Un

When Chris found out there would be a little gap from when he ended his last job and started his current job we decided to take a quick holiday somewhere.  At first we were planning on Scotland but found it would be less expensive to visit France.  Chris is pretty interested in the D-Day history and beaches and so we planned on visiting that area.  Once we get to France from the tunnel crossing it was only a 3 hour drive.

It seems like the trip was going to be tricky from the start.  Nothing seemed to work out!  We started with trying to find a place to stay that was pretty central and it just got more complicated from there.  We also decided that Sugar (our pet rabbit) needed to get used to travelling because of the move back to the states and so we decided to take him with us.  We kitted out the car with premium rabbit transport and got everything in order.  We didn’t count on the weather being SUPER hot and the newly fixed air conditioner not working.  We left mid-morning and planned on staying in Folkestone for the night before we got the train to France (mostly for the rabbits sake).

Well, we got to the hotel and we were all dying of heat!!  The hotel then put us in a room that, I swear, was sitting right on top of a boiler.  We sat in the room, the rabbit was suffering (they don’t do well in the heat) and so were we.  We visited every option: leave a day early, going home, get another hotel, or even (I am not kidding) sleep in the car.  Chris decided to go to the front desk and see what could be done.  Low and behold he came back into the room with a new key in hand and a promise of a room with a balcony!!!

It was bliss (compared to where we were).  We had a spectacular view and a nice breeze.

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The view from our balcony – Folkestone, UK

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Sugar’s room in a room.

The next day we woke up and got ready to get on the train.  We weren’t in a hurry because usually you can travel two hours either way of the time of your ticket.  Our ticket was for 10:35 so when we got there 5 minutes late we weren’t worried because we figured we’d just get on the next train.  BAD IDEA.  For some reason there were major delays on the tunnel and the next available train was at 3:30.  We were so frustrated!  I wont lie, there were some tears shed on my part.  I was mostly worried about the poor rabbit and the heat.  It was 30* and we were supposed to wait in the unshaded, full, car park for hours!  We had no idea what to do.  We decided to leave the car park and make the decision to go home or to wait.  We called the vet to make sure the rabbit was going to be okay to travel in the heat, called our favourite bunny boarder to find she was full (it was the summer holidays after all!), and then decided to go back and wait.  We FINALLY got on a train around 4:30.  We still had to drive to Caen, France but we were just happy to be on a train.

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Our train!!!!  Looks like a normal train but if you look down the carriage, you can see where you drive the car in.

We were so happy when we got to France but I was not looking forward to the drive.  It was HOT (have I said that already?!?) and not even the promise of new scenery and travel could get me excited.  It was beautiful scenery though, and it was nice to go South instead of North (like we usually do).  We stopped at a rest stop and let Sugar out to run around.  He was in heaven and had Chris chasing him while he ran as far as he could on a leash (or should I say as fast as Chris could follow).  He had drooled so much on the ride that his chin was red raw (that is why it looks funny in the pictures).

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We finally got into Caen about 9:30 at night.  We drove around the block of the hotel about 1,000 times (okay not that many) because we didn’t know where it was – there was some yelling at the Sat Nav, by me.  When Chris finally called we found out we’d missed check-in and had to get into the safe and a whole bunch of other rubbish.  We finally made it in.  We were staying in a hotel/apartment type place and so we set up Sugar’s room in a room and went to sleep, hoping that the holiday wouldn’t follow the mood of the first days!!!

Just as a side thought:  I hate bridges – look at the ones I had to cross in France!!!

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To Be Continued…

I’m Too Old For This!

In January Chris and I got, what we now call “the letter”, saying that our current car insurance would not be able to cover me driving in England any longer and that I needed to get my UK drivers license. Chris and I had been under the impression (for nearly 3 years) that I was okay to drive in the UK as long as I left the country every 12 months – WRONG. We found out that a USA license is only valid for 1 year from the time you move into the county.

Here in England they do things MUCH more different than they do in Utah. I first had to take my theory test. I didn’t feel like studying much for that test and, of course, waiting until the last few days to study and then being VERY frustrated that every sample test I took, I failed. Here are some of the things in the Highway Code:

*Motorized Scooters should NOT be used on motorways (freeways).

*When riding your horse on the road, make sure you can control them.

*Make sure that children in the car are kept under control.

*The rules in the HIGHWAY CODE do NOT give you right of way on the road (you mean just reading a book doesn’t give me right of way??)

*Note: Night is considered the hours of darkness.

*Be patient, everyone makes mistakes.

*Never use a handheld microphone while driving.

*You MUST ensure you do not hit anyone while opening the door.

*Give way to sheep.

Yes, they are all in the handbook we are meant to study. After passing the theory test (even with the silly questions) – I then had to start on the second leg of my testing, taking driving lessons and taking the practical test.

I was lucky enough to find a great instructor who I had great chats to, the whole time I was in the car (luckily he liked Americans). He was so positive that after the first 2 hour lesson I booked the test scheduled for April 30th. Herein lies the problem – Chris and I have a wedding to go to on the 16th of April and I needed to drive by then. So I was “lucky” enough to get a cancellation spot – ONE WEEK AFTER MY FIRST LESSON – panic ensued…

My instructor packed in 5 more hours of lessons this week in preparation for the test today.

I was so nervous… shaking, sick, speechless nervous! I know I am a good driver – 12 years, 4 countries, 5 cars (sick and auto) – and no accidents later proves this but, this test shook my confidence… like and earthquake!

It shouldn’t have – I passed, and in a test where not looking in the mirrors enough, hitting the kerb, lane discipline can not only give you point off but fail you – I only got 3 points off out of the possible 15. I even managed to have a great conversation with my examiner during the test.

I am so pleased it is done! I can get the car fixed (tomorrow – I don’t waste time!), tax, and MOT it and I AM FREE AGAIN!!!

I may be eating rice for the rest of the month, but I will be free!!!

Hey, Can I have a Ride?

Don’t you ever wish you could just turn back time and remain ignorant of certain knowledge you’ve acquired??  I don’t, for much, but this past Friday I WISH I could!
It started quite simply with an innocent letter from our car insurance company saying that the couldn’t re-new the account, but never said why.  We figured that it had something to do with my foreign license and so while Chris was out doing errands I started calling around for new quotes, getting continually denied – ending up with me calling our current provider and asking why we couldn’t re-new… the woman said, “because you cant drive, you’ve been in the country for more than a year.”  This rule I thought I knew, I thought the rule was that you couldn’t drive on a US license for more than 12 months from the LAST TIME YOU ENTERED THE COUNTRY.  For this reason alone Chris and I spent a few days (and LOTS of money) in Paris in 2007 and experienced Brussels earlier in December (THE TRIP FROM HELL) – all in aid of me getting a new stamp in my passport, thus ensuring 12 more months of driving.  The woman on the phone said this was illegal and to stop driving immediately (not that I was driving, but to never drive again — you know what I mean).  I didn’t want to take this answer and so I called the DVLA to get an “official” answer.  I told the woman on the phone the situation and she assured me that it has been illegal for me to be driving in the UK since July 2007 – and that it was the rule that you could drive 12 months from the time you became a RESIDENT of the UK.  She then told me I shouldn’t drive and that I HAD to get a UK license before I could drive again.  So what do I have to do?
1. Apply for a provisional license – £50
2. Take driving lessons – ££££££
3.  Take the Theory Test – ££££
4.  Take the Practical Test – ££££ (and also RENT A CAR FOR THE TEST!)
WHAT?!!?!?  I could, and I DO count my blessings every.single.day that I had NO problems for those months that I was an unknowing rebel, and because of that, and my HORRIBLE luck – I wont take a chance driving the car until everything is done and dusted with the shiny new license … it will increase my heavenly £16.16 monthly insurance payment, no doubt, because to the companies I will be a new driver – even though in reality I have 12 years experience and NO CLAIMS – but I don’t think they’ll care.
I went into the situation strangely confident — with my horrible Life in the UK test (see archives) I didn’t know anything – but with this I had nearly 2 years practice…  the downside??  That confidence has been SQUASHED with 4 practice tests all ending in FAIL.  I think I have more studying then I thought …
And what do I need to study??  The Highway Code – a foreign book of sorts that deals with 4 different kinds of pedestrian crossings (pelican, zebra, toucan, and puffin) and questions like:  A person herding sheep asks you to stop you should:  B – stop and switch off your engine … and so much more — I think I am in for some serious studying – 2 years practice or not!
So now I am stuck in STUPID March!  BORING March – and at the mercy of family to get us where we need to – NEED being the operative word — I know I’ll be cursing the DVLA when I have to WALK to the doctors tomorrow, leaving the house at 8:15 to get there – I’ll just pray for no rain (yeah right)!
And so Internet, if you’ll excuse me I’m off to learn the rules of the British road – and to pray not only to pass the test but that, that pesky MONEY TREE will start sprouting pounds so I can pay for it all!!

Two and Counting….

After the weekend I think I can confidently say I have done some damage to the car and the kitchen that will have to be left until we grow some kind of money tree.
Friday I went to a job interview.  I am not good at finding places in Salt Lake, and that’s a grid system, but put me in a place where there is no rhyme or reason to the streets and I get completely lost.  I had to find the centre all on my own because Chris had work so I FINALLY found it and went to pull into the car park and I saw a sign that said “2 MPH”.  I figured this was warning me to slow down because there might be children around, so I slowed down – to “5 MPH”.  Right as I was doing that I hit the “Mother of all speed bumps”…. It was one of those, that, I thought immediately in my head, “THATS going to do some damage!” and it did… I parked the car and went into my interview, forgetting all about it until I walked out and saw my muffler about 2 inches from the ground, clinging to dear life.  The problem comes when I have to drive home and hope that I don’t hit a bump.  I pulled out onto the main road and was driving at a crawl.  Not only was I driving pretty slow I was strategically trying to miss all the man holes, bumps, and any uneven ground.  I crept home in one piece, all the while praying out loud that I could just make it home.  And how did we fix it?  Well….  Chris and I tied it up to the car with washing line string, to get to his parents and, at there his brother came up with a novel way to fix it – now the muffler is very secure with plastic cable ties.  Considering the car is about 14 years old and we purchased it for £150 and its run this well for this long, I guess I cant complain about some plastic ties.  I have become uncharacteristically complacent about my car at this point.
I also tried to put in a shelf this morning in the kitchen that I’ve asked Dear Husband to do several times and I cant be bothered to wait any longer.  I measured where to put holes on the wall by drawing circles on some masking tape and then using it for a template.  I started to drill and the drill ran out of battery, so I thought I’d hammer in the drill bit to make a hole for the screw.  So I got the wooden legs of our couch and proceeded to hammer in the drill bit so far that I had to make another hole next to it to get the drill bit out.  Then I tried to fill the extra hole with some blue tack (I know, I don’t know why either, but it seemed like a good idea at the time) and then proceeded to screw them in… it didn’t hold, so I got a small screw and hammered that into the wall above the first holes, but it ended up just connecting the two holes together, so now I have two quarter size holes in my wall and still no shelf! 
So until the money tree starts sprouting pound notes, we’ll have to settle for kitchen holes and cable tie mufflers….
                            
Bella the Car….                                                                   The new kitchen decor… 

Miracles do Happen….

For anyone who knows me at all… they know that the less work involved in getting somewhere  – the better.  Church is right down the street?  I take a car.  Kim lives a street away – I drive to her house.  Well, as I am happy to report, here in England I did something I would NEVER do in America – I took a BUS to the store.  Chris was sweet and gave me great instructions.  Although, as good of the instructions – it didnt stop me from worrying a little every time I got on the bus – that I was quickly getting lost in LONDON – a town where so much looks the same and there is no rhyme or reason to the streets.  I hear that is how it is in other places – mostly everywhere besides Utah.  At any rate I managed to get the right bus – shop at TESCO… find my way through the new foods (well, new to me) and find good old ingredients for spaghetti.  HURRAY!!!  Then, even after that I managed to keep my purchases down to 4 bags full (unusual for me) and take the correct bus home.  That was a little more difficult then getting there – as I didnt know where the bus stop was so I took a little bit of a stroll to get there – but I got there – that is all that counts!  Now I am home (Chris’ home) and waiting for Chris to bring the missionaries over so we can feed them dinner. 

I do love it here…. I love everything about it.   I love the sights and smells and sounds of England.  I always have, and probably always will.  Could I see myself living here (and at that, riding the bus everywhere)?  YES without hesitation – YES!