England Part I: A Royal Adventure

On October 12, our 90-days in the European Union had come to an end so we had to leave the area in order to comply with the union’s current regulations. We took a flight to the UK where we must stay for at least another 90 days before being able to return to the EU.

As always, we did our research before flying into England to make sure we were aware of any specific requirements so there would be no surprises once we arrived at immigration. Everything we researched said the UK was super chill and did not require proof of leaving the country with an exit ticket. So we didn’t bother purchasing them and arrived with one-ways.

You can imagine then how completely shocked and terrified we were after being detained upon arrival to the London airport and almost being sent back to the US for lack of having exit tickets!

The whole ordeal lasted a couple hours. It started with a very grumpy old lady on a power trip who began interrogating us from the get-go. She wanted to know the who, what, where, why and when of our stay in England which warranted us telling her our story of taking a year to travel the world. A story which she did not like. She seemed to believe that we were somehow lying and that what we were really trying to do was to settle down forever in the UK illegally. (Insert eye roll).

At that point, I politely reminded her to take a look at the pattern and history of our travel thus far, which would prove that we had been to 14 countries, never staying longer than 60 days in any of them. Apparently, she didn’t seem to care about that.

She wrote up an order for us to be taken into custody for further investigation with the possibility of deportation. Meanwhile, in the waiting area, I was receiving messages from our housesitting host whose family was waiting for our arrival with dinner prepared. We had no choice but to tell them what was happening and that if we were going to be allowed into the country, we were going to be a couple hours late. Oh, and to expect a call from an immigration officer who didn’t believe that we were in contact with an American expat family in London.

Finally, another officer came and got us for round two of interrogation, only he was even more thorough to the point of demanding enter and exit dates into every country we have been to, proof of how we are making money and bank account statements showing exactly how much money we have. In addition to that, we had to make the officer understand the concept of international housesitting and prove that we have been housesitting in different countries over the last seven months.

After two hours of uncertainty and high stress, we somehow convinced immigration officials that we are not criminals nor are we seeking permanent refuge in their country and were finally granted access to enter.

While it was an unpleasant experience, to say the least, there was a hard lesson learned. And that is… don’t believe anything you read on the internet! And always, always, ALWAYS have proof of onward travel no matter what anyone tells you.

We made it out of the airport and hopped onto the Paddington Express, a fast train connecting Heathrow with central London. We arrived late but the family was kind enough to wait for us and during dinner lightened the situation by making jokes about our shady business and near downfall of our smuggling empire.

The family left on their holiday the next morning and we were left to care for their two old pets for a week. The Great Pyrenees, Monty and the sweet, old kitty, Whipper proved to be a handful and made for one of the most challenging housesits we have had thus far. Every day we would take Monty out to walk around the block and he would slowly and very unsteadily make it halfway when he would just collapse on the sidewalk (due to either exhaustion or spite, we’re still not sure) and would refuse to get up. Which wouldn’t have been such an issue if weren’t for the fact that he was a 70 lb. bear who would have to be carried all the way home, half a block, every single day. I found it absolutely hysterical. Daniel not so much as he was the one doing the heavy lifting.

On one of the last days of our housesit, we were out with Monty on his regular route and out of nowhere, the oldest and slowest dog in the world took off in a full-blown sprint at the speed of a racehorse. The two of us were chasing him down the street, running as fast as we possibly could, worried that he was going to run out into traffic. After turning a corner and running into the neighborhood security guy, we discovered that Monty had been chasing one of the many foxes that roam the area, which prove to be the only thing that makes the old dog move faster than a turtle. And to think, all that time he had us fooled.

The most amazing part of this housesit was the location in St. John’s Wood, central to everything in London. We were only three blocks away from Abbey Road where the Beatles shot the photo for their album cover.

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We were also just a short walk away from the Primrose Hill, overlooking the beautiful skyline of the city.

One day we were feeling brave and decided to visit the famous Marble Arch by renting bikes (or hiring cycles, as they say). This turned out to be a poor choice and one that I immediately regretted. I saw my life flash before my eyes on multiple occasions and was certain that we were not going to survive. London has some of the worst traffic in all of Europe and cyclists are expected to drive along the road with the millions of cars. Some streets have bike lanes, but many do not so the bikers are sprinkled in amidst the chaos of blaring horns and merging vehicles coming from every which way.

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To add to the fear and uncertainty of biking in a foreign city on unfamiliar roads is the fact that they drive on the left side here so everything is opposite. And it can be extremely confusing when you are not used to it. But the signs at every crosswalk served as a helpful reminder to us newbies for how to survive and not get plowed over by a moving vehicle.

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It was just a quick tube ride to get to all of the other famous landmarks so we ventured out and visited the London Bridge and Tower Bridge and saw The Shard and Borough Market.

We were even able to attend the official watch party of Daniel’s beloved Seahawks at The Barrowboy & Banker Pub the day they were playing in London against the Raiders. He was especially excited that this was his first time watching a Seahawks game surrounded by fellow fans. And the place was packed so it was definitely a fun way to watch and celebrate a win. We had the best traditional English food, fish & chips and pies.

Throughout the rest of our stay in central London, we explored all around and were able to see Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, London Eye, Parliament, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. We took advantage of the short week and feel like we got the full London experience!

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We then headed East towards our next housesit in the Cotswolds but first we had a couple days to spend in Oxford. There we toured the campus of the oldest university in the English-speaking world. It was truly impressive and I must admit, made me miss being a student.

Upon arrival in the Cotswolds, more specifically, the village of Bledington, we were warmly greeted by our host as she picked us up from the train station. We were brought to her family’s beautiful and cozy country house and introduced to Coco the kitty who liked us so much, he brought us a bird into the house that he’d caught on our second day there.

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We had heard about the common use of the Aga in English households but it was at this housesit where we learned how to actually use one. An Aga is a very expensive cast iron stove (and source of heat) that burns constantly using oil. So basically it’s a stove that stays on 24/7. Whenever you want to cook, you simply open the hotplate and you can boil water in under two minutes or if you want to bake, the oven is always ready at 425 degrees. It is such an interesting concept to us, as we have never heard of anything like it but in England, Aga’s are very popular, especially in country homes and we came to love it!

As this was our first rural housesit, we had to sacrifice the convenience of public transportation and having everything we need nearby. So our second day there, we trekked four miles to the nearest town of Kingham to get groceries. It was beautiful fall weather that day and was a lovely nature walk to we certainly didn’t mind the distance.

Aside from a school and a church, the only other public space the village had to offer was a pub called King’s Head Inn which just so happened to be the current “UK’s Pub of the Year.” So obviously we had to check it out to see what the hype was about. We visited on our last night and enjoyed 10 pound (as in price, not weight) local burgers and sat near the fireplace in the most quaint and adorable little cabin pub ever. We loved it.

Next, we traveled back to London for another housesit where we celebrated our first wedding anniversary along with our six months of traveling. We had a lot to be thankful for. So we treated ourselves to a nice dinner and a West End Musical, The Book of Mormon (courtesy of the Moreno-Denton family!). It was the most hilarious show we have ever seen and did not stop laughing for two hours. The show will actually be in Kansas City December 26-30 so for all of our KC friends and family, you should go see it!

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Our anniversary weekend celebration continued with a day trip to Stonehenge and the precious city of Bath. It has always been a dream of ours, especially Daniel’s, to visit the prehistoric monument that was built over 5,000 years ago and whose origin remains a mystery to this day. It is mind-blowing to imagine how these 40-ton stones were brought all the way from Wales and set up on their ends in a circular formation without the help of modern-day machines. Stonehenge was truly a site to see and even more impressive than we had imagined.

The tour then took us to Bath, the appropriately named city known for it’s Roman built baths. The city became a spa in 60 AD and some of the baths are still there to this day. Bath is also known for its Cornish pasties and fudge, which we indulged in both and we also had lunch at the oldest house in town, built in 1482.

Our next adventure took us to the coastal town of Brighton, located in the South along the English channel. Although it was rather chilly during the Halloween week we were there and way past beach weather, we had a great time nonetheless. We walked along the Brighton pier, explored the marina, ate lots of delicious food, got lost in The Lanes and saw a movie in the theatre for the first time in six months.

We took a ride on the British Airways i360 glass viewing pod 531 feet in the air, overlooking the city, the ocean and the countryside. We could even see across the English Channel to France!

Any who knows us knows that we are Halloween freaks. It is by far our favorite holiday and since we started dating 5 years ago, we have gone all out every year with our face paints. This year was obviously a little different but we couldn’t miss out on the Halloween fun so we threw together some last-minute cheap props and went out. To our surprise, even being a Wednesday night, the entire town of Brighton was not only out but EVERYONE was dressed up! We went to three different bars and drank and danced the night away.

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When we got back to our hostel room we had luckily had to ourselves for three nights, we opened the door to see that we had a roommate for our fourth and final night. This would normally be no big deal, as it was just one guy and just for one night. Until I looked over and saw a middle-aged Indian man wearing my flip-flops! I had been drinking after all, so I told Daniel (in Spanish) so that he could confirm that I wasn’t in fact, imagining things. I knew it couldn’t be a coincidence that this man had the exact same women’s Nike sandals as me. So finally I approached him and said, excuse me, are those my shoes? As he casually kicked them off towards me he replied, oh, you’re okay, as if I was being an inconvenience to him and that wearing a stranger’s shoes was somehow perfectly normal! But seriously, WHO DOES THAT?? It was yet another awkward hostel moment that we can now laugh about in hindsight.

Our next housesit took us north to the little town of Burgess Hill where we sat for Kiba, one of our favorite kitties we’ve had. It was the first housesit where we didn’t even meet our host. We showed up, found the hidden key, let ourselves in, stayed a week, locked up and left. Kind of the perfect set up for anyone who wants to travel the world and stay in amazing places for free! Our visit there was short and sweet. We worked a lot, explored the Bedelands, the nearby nature reserve and went to the town’s tiny, one-screen theatre. It was here where we also discovered our addiction to macaroons and nearly ate our weight in macaroons throughout the week.

We left on a train that brought us to Sunningdale, the exclusive golf community right outside of London where we currently are housesitting a sweet kitty for five weeks. We were picked up at the station by our host’s lovely parents who brought us to the house, gifted us a freshly baked cake and shared an afternoon tea with us while sharing stories about travels (theirs and ours). Our host later messaged us telling us that her parents want to adopt us. So we now have English grandparents (who make the best lemon cake we have ever tasted!) We are happy that this will be our longest housesit yet, allowing us plenty of time to settle in, live like a local and focus on working.

Our first week here, we took the train to London and visited St. Paul’s Cathedral and Stamford Bridge, the stadium that is home to Chelsea FC, one of England’s most successful soccer teams.

Being only 20 minutes by bus to Windsor, we of course had to take an afternoon to go explore the 1,000-year-old Windsor Castle where the Royal Wedding was held. We spent several hours exploring the beautiful grounds of the castle and cathedral, inside and out. We were even there when Her Majesty The Queen arrived!

 

We still have another month in Southern England before we move on to Wales, Northern England and Scotland. But what we have seen thus far of this amazing country has been bloody brilliant!

Stay tuned for Part II of our England adventures. Until then… cheers, mates!

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