That Time in Lincoln

No, not Nebraska. The first one. The one in its own ‘Shire (sadly, no one calls them that here). The one from Ye Olde Worlde! Lincoln, Lincolnshire. The next in my Travels While Living in the UK series! As I get further along in this process, you’ll see more hyperlinks in the travel log below:

November/Dec – Arrival in the UK, hotel living for a month, road trip around Southern England for Christmas and New Year’s.
January – Finally moved into our house! Visited Lincolnshire, England.
February – Oxford and York.
March – London for St Patty’s, then Oberammergau, Germany for a week.
April – Scotland and Madrid trips.
May – More local and Londonian fun, and a trip stateside for a friend’s wedding.

Lincoln was our first getaway after moving into our house, so is as good as any place to jump in and blog about. We had no idea what to expect, but as the home of one of four original copies of the Magna Carta, you know there’s some history.

King Westley the First
T’was a pet-friendly vacation! Here we have Lord Westley surveying our hotel room from his gilded perch.

Let’s jump right in and visit:

Lincoln Castle

Lincoln Castle is steeped in history. Constructed in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, this castle was built on top of a pre-existing Roman fortress. It was later used as a prison into modern times, but now serves as a museum where it houses ruins of its previous lives, as well as an original copy of the Magna Carta!

Each of the photos above has a brief caption, though you’ll note a distinct lack of Magna Carta pictures. They aren’t allowed. It must truly be seen to be believed! The interior display boasts how this important document introduced the idea that all men are created equal, and credits itself as the forebear to the American constitution and the concept of Civil Rights. While perhaps this is overstating the document’s staying power a bit, it was indisputibly fun to see the document with its original parchment, ink, and seal

Lincoln Cathedral

The castle’s nearby sibling, the Lincoln Cathedral is technically the owner of the Magna Carta, and is an impressive structure in its own right. Built around the same time, this cathedral was the tallest structure in the world for over 200 years due to its central spire (which, sadly, collapsed around 500 years ago).

In addition to its use for Anglican ceremonies (we a caught chorale performance of “evensong”) it’s also a big draw to tourists. And, oddly enough, despite quickly approaching its 1000-year birthday, we were invited to bring our dog inside. This only added to the unique experience of exploring one of the largest cathedrals in the UK.

Food, Drink, Fun

Get thee to a yummery! In Lincoln there are some delectable bites to be had, and I enjoyed my first taste of UK whiskey with samples at the aptly-named “The Lincoln Whisky Shop.” I decided to buy a bottle of “Writer’s Tears” which I’m saving for tears of joy, I’ll have you know.

That’s an actual, honest to goodness, Roman archway. Which leads me to…

My Takeaways

I couldn’t get over the beautiful history of Lincoln (and England as a whole). The “old town” is built up on a hill as part of the original castle defense, while the more modern area is along the river, down a hill so steep it would put San Francisco to shame. Funny, I must have been too busy breathing heavily to take a picture.

Our B&B was in this upper, historic part of town, but the entire area was a pleasure to walk daily. As a bit of respite from said overwhelmingly beautiful history, I managed to sneak an afternoon down to the riverfront cinema to catch the latest Star Wars flick:

Though part of my “awe” could be attributed to this being my first UK town to really spend some time in and explore, overall, I’d put Lincoln as a must-see for anyone travelling through the middle of England. And I wish I’d taken more pictures!


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That Time in Oberammergau

I’m coming up on living in the UK for 6-months! And while I’ve told you what parts I love, and what parts have no love lost, I haven’t stopped to tell you what I’ve been up to.
Other than, you know, that whole Star Wars reboot thing.

So, time to update my travel journals.

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Follow us on our ah-maze-ing adventures!

Here’s what’s happened so far:

November/Dec – Arrival in the UK, hotel living for a month, road trip around Southern England for Christmas and New Year’s.
January – Finally moved into our house! Visited Lincolnshire, England.
February – Oxford and York.
March – London for St Patty’s, then Oberammergau, Germany for a week.
April – Scotland and Madrid trips.
May – More local and Londonian fun, and a trip stateside for a friend’s wedding.

T20170327_102931he next six months look to be much more ambitious. The goal is to hit a different spot in the UK every month, and somewhere else in Europe every other month.

I should probably blog about all these things, and maybe I will, but for now I’m jumping into the middle. That’s a classic storytelling technique known as in medias res, which is Latin/Pretentious for “into the middle [of] things.”

So, let’s start with Oberammergau, Germany. This was our first European trip, so it’s a beginning of sorts.

Come with me, fly into Munich, which is actually Munchen, but is called Munich because…globalism? Then we’ll take the Autobahn and max out the rental car’s four-cylinder engine until the display screams, “SLOW DOWN – SNOW TIRES!!!”


Food and Drink

I’m not going to pretend to speak for the entire country, or even the region (Bavarian Alps), but I am going to make a few generalizations. The first, is that this is a “meat and potatoes” kind of place. If you ask for a salad, you’ll get one, but it’ll be made out of potatoes.

Let’s talk about the pictures above. Clockwise, from bottom right.

  1. Prost! Welcome to Germany, land of the beer. On this trip I discovered Weissbier, which in its unfiltered form, makes for a unique, tasty, frothy treat. Sort of like the Hefeweizen I’m used to, only more floral and playful. I’m still hooked months later.
  2. Though we went at the start of springtime, this is still mountain country and there was a chill in the air at night. Some warm mulled wine helped immensely.
  3. Bavarians are known for their sweets, and my week here did not disappoint.
  4. Ox steak. A new culinary adventure for me, if not for the region. Cooking ox with smoked hay seemed all the rage, and why not, it worked. Definitely a pricey meal, though not outrageous and certainly worth it.
  5. This fried chunk of meat  (bigger than the size of my fist!) was called a “pork knuckle.” Add a dumpling, cover it all in gravy, and you get a deliciously rich and heartburn-inducing meal.

Sights and Sites; Scenes and Seeings

In addition to having a really fun name, Oberammergau has many desirable qualities. Not the least of which, is that it’s a sleepy town without a lot of foreign tourism. Many German tourists do indeed travel here, and there are always foreigners present, because it’s the location of a NATO training school. But there’s a delightfully pastoral “untouched by the world” feel to the town.

I won’t go on and on breaking these pictures down one-by-one (though they do have captions). Instead, here’s generally what you see above:

We stayed in a mountain town with amazing views. The first picture is taken from our hotel. Others are right around–it’s a small hamlet. There is an awesome restaurant that one can hike to, which is a steep walk, but worth it. And boy does all that rich food taste amazing afterwards. There are walking trails everywhere, nice wide open ones. And there are monks who brew and distill. Like a lot of the Old World, the churches are the some of the most impressive sights in the town. They are a wood carving people, who also love their meat so much it’s stored in vending machines.

The Passion of Oberammergau

Once a decade, the whole town comes together to put on a play about the life and times of Jesus Christ. You read that correctly. Once a decade, for like three months straight. Hundreds of thousands of people journey to this remote hamlet for the play which is literally performed by the entire town.

Unfortunately, the play won’t be going on next until 2020, but I was able to learn quite a bit from the museum (pictures above). The story goes, that the town vowed to perform this play to honor God if He would spare them from the plague. Well, seems to have worked, because the townspeople have been dutifully holding up their end of the bargain for nearly 400 years!

Ludwig II’s Two Castles

Beyond the Passion Play, the area is most well-known for the architecture of King Ludwig II. The first castle we visited was his home in the last years of his life, while the second was the famed Neuschwanstein castle, still incomplete, yet world-renowned for giving its iconography to Walt Disney’s logo.

Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside. These were works of art, modern for their time and gilded to the gills. Beautiful spots, worth visiting.

My Takeaways

It was nice getting some springtime sunshine after the damp cold of British winter. I joked after I first arrived that the most notable difference between the two countries is that they sell sunglasses in Germany.

With a name like Schannep, I must have some German heritage somewhere (though no evidence of it in Oberammergau…).

Don’t mind me, just blending in.

I lived in Germany from kindergarten to second grade while my dad was stationed here by the Army. My memories are mostly of Kinder eggs, sledding, playmobile toys, and mainly just being a kid. I have memories of seeing a salt mine, some mountaintops, and sites outside of Germany like the leaning tower of Pisa.

And then there’s spaghetti eis.

“Eis” is the German word for ice cream, and this was without a doubt my favorite childhood dessert. A layer of whipped cream serves as a base, which is then topped by vanilla ice cream/gelato put through a press so it comes out to look like spaghetti noodles. A strawberry “meat” sauce topped with white chocolate “parmesan” shavings completes the illusion.

Spaghetti was my favorite meal, ice cream the best treat, which made this confection the perfect go-between.

I had spaghetti eis here in Oberammergau for the first time in at least twenty-five years. Mostly as a novelty, I ordered it up, expecting something deeply sugary-sweet, but I got more than I bargained for.

With the first bite, my entire body swirled with warmth, like a hug from a loved one after a prolonged absence. I couldn’t have described the taste or texture by memory, but this was comfort on an instinctual level. It’s moments like these that make travel so rewarding.


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What I love (so far) About Living in the UK

I’ve been living in England for two months now and I’m in love. I wouldn’t want you thinking it’s been all sunshine and rainbows (though, I’ll let you know when I see either), so I already got my early complaints out of the way.

Now, onto some of the good. It’s deep into winter and the short, cold January days are in full effect. So, like Julie Andrews, these are just a few of my favorite things:

The green
Yeah, it rains. A lot. But guess what that means? Greenery! While I love the mild weather of California and the seasonal changes of Colorado, nothing is more droll and dreary in winter than a brown countryside. Just look at this photo taken in the dead of winter:

Pastoral in the extreme, if such a thing is possible.
Pastoral in the extreme, if such a thing is possible.

The footpaths & walking
As my friends and family can begrudgingly attest, I am a walker. My favorite form of transportation is my own two feet. In fact, one of the top considerations I look for when house-hunting is an area’s “walkability” score. I asked if there was a similar system here and I received some pretty confused looks. Why? Because just about every place you can live is walkable to something or other. In fact,  the farmer’s fields are criss-crossed with public access trails known as “public footpaths.” I’ve just purchased an ordinance survey map of my area so I can explore all the ones nearby!

A lovely hike with an even lovelier lady.

Dog lovers!
We’ve had to do a bit of travelling with pets in-tow, but what a great place to do it. Oh, you have a dog? Sure, she can stay in the room. Bring her in the pub for dinner! I was blown away when our doggie was invited into a historic cathedral hundreds of years old.

Don’t mind me, just taking the dog for a walk…

The history
There’s a story around every corner here. Whether it’s the neighborhood we’ve settled in, which claims to be the oldest parish in England, or the Roald Dahl museum down the road, there is so much to see and explore. I popped my head into a castle when we were visiting Lincolnshire and, oh what do we have here? Just one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta!

I could get used to this.

The localism
Sure, there are chains (yes, McDonald’s has a foothold here), but so much of everything is local. From the pubs, food and ale, to the shops and community events. You can really tell this country has village roots. Each town has a “High Street” where you’re sure to find shops and food of all sorts.

Sometimes you'll find a misplaced Victorian timetraveller.
Sometimes you’ll find a misplaced Victorian time traveler.

The literary connection
Sure, they invented the language, but there’s more to it than that. Being near the birthplace of the classical masters, where this is a High Profession, brings out the creative spirit. Check out my visit in Oxford:

The people

Perhaps it’s because I’m a charming American (and I am certainly one of those things), but I’ve found the people here to be friendly and open. Sure, I’m not living in downtown London, but it’s nice when your neighbors say hello and you can make new friends just by sitting in the pub. To you, new friends, thanks for making a foreigner feel welcomed!

That’s it for now. Guess I’d better head out and make some more favorites…


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What the deuce is taking so long? (UK trials & tribulations)

Not that I’ve heard anyone utter that phrase, but I figured “bloody hell” might not be appropriate in a blog title.

Culture shock is a thing. Oddly enough, I didn’t experience it much during my first few weeks, but perhaps that’s because I’m used to being a tourist. Now that I’ve been in a foreign country for the longest span in my adult life (that’ll be two full months on Thursday), I’m forced to deal with the minutia of a different country.

Nothing shocking about that — except the shock and awe!

Sure, it’s weird being told I have an accent. And the food and beer might be different. But those things can be charming (and delicious!).

What’s less fun is the snail’s pace at which capitalism operates here. I mean, this is an island nation that could fit inside Texas and it gets the same degree of cellphone coverage as west Texas.

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Shouldn’t this whole place be glowing green like some kind of radioactive wasteland?!

Feel free to make your arguments about which side of the road is technically the “right” side, or how many words the letter “u” needs to be present in, or whether or not cheese is a dessert or an appetizer — BUT — one thing is for certain. USA reigns supreme when it comes to taking your money.

Here’s what I mean:

We found a place to live. Great! How soon can we move in?
Well, let’s see, today is the 6th of December. It’ll take a few days to draw up the application, run the proper checks and whatnot. But no one really wants to clean carpets or touch up paint over Christmas, so…
We’re living in a hotel with our dog and cat. They can paint with us in there. Seriously, how soon?
Well, if you’re in a hurry we can really speed things up and get you in on the 7th of January!

A rental agency in the US would get you in your house in a week, tops. Or, how’s this one:

Hi, Toyota dealership! We saw a car on your website that we’d like to buy. Let’s make it happen!
Well, I’ll have to check if that’s on the lot. Let me ask you some questions about the kind of car you want to buy.
Umm, this one. Here, look on my phone.
Well, I told you, I’d need to see if that’s here.
Can you…go do that, then?
Well, yes, but only if I can finish my questionnaire first.
Okay…
(later) Brilliant! We have the car.
Great! We’ll take it. Here’s a loan approval letter from a UK bank.
How does next week sound?
For what?
For buying the car.
We don’t own a car yet, I was hoping for sooner.
Well, then, how does *early* next week sound?

Yeah. The US would have you drive the car off the lot and the salesman would be treated to a steak dinner that very night.

Hi, I’m currently on a month-to-month plan for mobile phone service and I’d like to set up a yearly contract.
Well, you’d need a UK billing address first.
Okay, I’ll set that up. How about now?
Well, you need a UK credit card.
I use my US card for the month-to-month…
Right. That doesn’t matter. You need a UK card for this.
Okay, can I get a UK credit card?
No. You have no credit history in the UK. In fact, you’ll need to sign for all your purchases every time you use a US credit card (but no one else has to do that so don’t expect anyone to have a pen or even know what’s happening!) and if you go to Costco, be prepared to bring a suitcase full of money.
Okay, I guess I’ll just keep paying month-to-month like a drug dealer. Thanks!

If you think a US phone company would let you out of their doors without a phone contract, internet, and cable TV, then you’ve never seen true capitalism at work.

The reason I’m writing (whining) about this is twofold. One, I just finally got internet!

Hi, I’d like to give you money. i can haz nternets, plz?
You’re in luck! We’ll get you set up in two weeks!
Lulz

And two, because all my stuff we shipped from the US on November 14th still isn’t here yet. Well, that’s not entirely true. My household goods are in this country, I’m told, but customs isn’t ready to release them to us yet. Instead I get to answer questions like, “Does the pancake mix listed on your inventory contain dried eggs or dairy?”

Here’s an email I received yesterday, verbatim:

Customs have come back to us and they have asked: All seeds- Are these for planting or eating?
Hello, The seeds are excess gardening (planting seeds). There are not very many and I’m not even sure we’d use them. But we’d be willing to eat, plant, or burn them if we can get our household goods faster! Thanks for your help.

And that was literally my response, which probably means I have another month before I’m neck-deep in cardboard.

Okay, that’s it. Rant over. And yes, I realize I’m complaining about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that parallel-universe me would kill this-universe me for.

But that’s what blogging’s for, right? Thanks for letting me vent. Now to end it on a positive. If there’s one area that the UK crushes the US on, it’s the prevalence of puns. They’re everywhere. This was on my neighborhood walk:


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An American Writer in England

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So…guess what? I’m living in England. Oh, the blog title gave it away? Bloody hell.

I wish I could have blogged about my “Brentrance” a long time ago, but it was a real hustle just to release my fourth book before leaving the country.

I’ve now been in the United Kingdom for two weeks now, but just getting here has been such an ordeal that I feel like I’m only finally able to catch my breath. A book launch is my busiest part of the year, and that was on top of all the logistics of uprooting my life and preparing to replant it half a world away.

Not that I’m unfamiliar with the life of a wandering troubadour. I’ve moved fairly often over the last three decades; growing up as an Army brat before joining the Air Force myself and ultimately ending up as an Air Force spouse (that’s how this whole thing came about, my wife’s job). All told, if I’m counting correctly, this is my thirteenth move.

But moving countries was a whole other experience entirely.

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Photo by Kristi Celaya, who recently started blogging about her own UK journey and inspired me to get back to blogging. Read her awesome blog. 

I think I could probably start my own country with less paperwork than it took to move to the United Kingdom. The worst bit was probably bringing our pets with us. Fortunately, we were able to avoid quarantine, but the bureaucratic minefield leading up to it bordered on the absurd (and absurdly expensive — Merry Christmas, sweetie! I got you our cat and our dog this year).

I could bore you with the red tape details, but that’s not the interesting or important part, is it? The point is — we made it! We’re all here and we’re here for three years. And during that time, I’ll try to be better about blogging. After all, this is the experience of a lifetime! I’ll still be writing my books over here, of course, and I’m still working on my ultra-nerdy screenplay project, but now I get to try and set up author events in this part of the world too. I’m so incredibly excited to live here that I can barely put it into words.

In the next few days and weeks I’ll talk about the cultural differences, meeting new friends, finding a place to live, and of course — travelling.

I hope you’ll follow me on my journey!


 

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Ciao! Goodbye, Brazil

Brazil Travel post #13: Ciao! Goodbye, Brazil (intro post is here).

For our last night on the Tucano, the crew picked up a samba singer and dancer and we had a party on the top deck. The night was beautiful and one of the guides taught me how to make the perfect caiprinha. 

We had so much fun, we bought their music album to take home. (photo by Jerry Peek)
Caught me sampling an appetizer (photo by Jerry Peek).
Saúde! Cheers! I make a mean Brazilian cocktail…(photo by Jerry Peek)
It was a beautiful farewell (photo by Jerry Peek).

Manaus

The day we disembarked, we went for a city tour of Manaus before our afternoon flight. Below you’ll find the entry sign for CIGS; which is both a public zoo and a military installation.

The Jungle Warfare Training Centre – Centro de Instrução de Guerra na Selva (CIGS)

Here soldiers train for intense, jungle warefare, and at the same time have devoted themselves to protecting wildlife from poachers.

It doesn’t get much cooler than talking via parrot.
Thankfully, these are the only anaconda we saw.
There are manatees in the river, but seldom seen. Photo taken at INPA, a science center.

As we continue our Manaus tour, we saw the famed Teatro Amazonas, an operahouse built by the first Portuguese settlers so they could still enjoy European-style High Society when they weren’t busy exploiting locals into rubber production. Sure is a beautiful spot!

It has been repainted several times, most recently to this original color.
The opera stage (photo by Jerry Peek).

That’s all she wrote! Or in my case, all he wrote. 16 days total spent travelling, and almost that long telling you about it. Was the trip worth it?

You bet! I’m always ready for adventure.

And now we have a baker’s dozen Brazil posts. I might as well put it all in one place:


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Brazil: A River Runs Through It

Brazil Travel post #12: A River Runs Through It (intro post is here).

Pink Dolphins

Picking up from yesterday’s river post, let’s start with freshwater dolphins. Unlike their seafaring cousins, river dolphins don’t often jump out of water, nor are they known for chasing wake. So, my best pictures look like this:

Hey, a thing!
A dolphin?
Maybe!

Some places will take you to feed dolphins, though this isn’t very eco-friendly, so our outfit did not. However, their photos look like this:

Photo copyright National Wildlife Federation.

According to the folkloric stories told to us by our guides, river dolphins are revered friends, and are never killed or eaten. It’s specifically the pink dolphin that holds their attention, but the grey dolphins gets extra protection too. Why, you ask?

According to local legend, the following story has been known to happen from time to time. When the villages unite for festivals and parties, occasionally a handsome stranger will arrive in all-white, wearing a straw hat. He might take a fancy to one of the young women and make her his girlfriend. Invariably, she’ll wind up pregnant and he’ll disappear, but it turns out the man was a river dolphin all along! He wore that straw hat to cover his blowhole and had to return to sea. Instead of a negative, this event is seen as a blessing. The dolphin will give special powers to his new child, who will be the smartest kid and everything will come easy. They will eventually become the village chief or shaman.

To me, this sounds like a story told by a suave, handsome sailor at port, who said he has to head back to sea. Either way, good news for the pink dolphins! We got our best views early in the morning on our kayaks, or at sunset on the top deck of the Tucano.

Rare tree frog sighting

Here’s another fun story for you. One of the guides suddenly pulled his skiff over to the shore, and called the second longboat over to see what he had found. Ready? This is what he saw from a moving watercraft.

Do you see it?
Keep looking…
Well, hello there!
Nice work, Souza!

Piranha Fishing

It’s finally time! With all my foreshadowing, you probably guessed that piranha fishing was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Good guess.

First, some background. For those of you without rod-n-reel fishing experience, let me give you some basics: Sneak up on the fish, hide the hook in bait or a lure, and don’t spook it–you want the fish to come to you.

Here’s how you fish for piranha: Take a bamboo rod, thread about 10 feet of line with a hook on the end (a reel isn’t necessary). For bait? A piece of raw steak, no bigger than a fingertip. Remember that reference.

To get the fish’s attention, you slap the bamboo on top of the water’s surface, creating a thrashing motion to simulate a panicked animal. Then you throw in your wounded animal chunk (your bait) and within 10 seconds you either have a piranha or your bait is gone.

Success! (photo by Jerry Peek)

Your only real worries are getting the thing off the hook, since it can bite off a fingertip. Oh, and my sure you wear close-toed shoes, because they can take a toe and can get pretty big:

Yeah…that one is the size of the guy’s whole shoe!

Although the best part? Tastes like chicken!

I eat you! You don’t eat me!

The Meeting of the Waters

As I’ve said, we spent our week exploring the Rio Negro because it’s more remote than the Amazon River and allows for more wildlife exploration. On the last day, however, we went to the famous point where the Rio Negro and Amazon converge. It’s an amazing site, and an incredible viewpoint, because the waters don’t mix easily. Here’s what I mean:

Come with me!
To the meeting of the waters.
This image is so iconic, you’ll even see a black and white swirl on handbags and sandals for sale all over Brazil.
The Amazon is much siltier while the Rio Negro appears almost black from the surface.
We made it!

That’s it for today, and we’re almost done with our trip. I think that means tomorrow is the final post!

Click to continue to: Ciao! Goodbye, Brazil


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