Saturday, August 25, 2007

And back again

Boy, all this transatlantic flying is getting to be exhausting. We had a pretty good time in Dover. The castle and Secret Wartime Tunnels were fascinating, especially the tunnels. The castle was quite impressive. Most castles I've seen were either ruined fortresses or preserved homes, but this one was a real fortification, still used up through WWII -- incidentally, I'm not sure they use that phrase like we do. At one point it was referred to as "the 1939-45 war." We enjoyed exploring the castle and going up and down the winding staircases. There were fabulous views across the countryside, and we could see France off in the distance across the channel, even in the bad weather. From a lookout point right on the edge of the land, we could see the famous white cliffs, and they were lovely, although we had to imagine how they would look without the sprawling modern ferry terminal at their base. We didn't get to walk down to the beach, so I couldn't tell you if Matthew Arnold's poem Dover Beach had it quite right. The town of Dover wasn't particularly nice, and we had no reason to linger and walk in the rain. We found some decent fish and chips for lunch, but they were still nothing to the ones we had in Robin Hood's Bay. How frustrating that my first fish and chips would turn out to be an impossible ideal to meet thereafter!

But back to the cliffs, where during the 1939-45 war, tunnels were carved into the soft chalk. Dover, poised on the very edge of England, was a major front in the war from the beginning. Just a few months in, the Maginot Line had failed, Belgium and France had fallen, and the British troops were trapped in a tiny area of land, cut off from both sides by German troops and constantly battered by Luftwaffe planes. A retreat was called, and everyone made for Dunkirk, just across the channel from Dover. From the planning and communications rooms in the secret cliffside tunnels, a rescue mission was launched. Boats from the area, everything from huge navy vessels to tiny fishing dinghies, were called into service and launched across the channel to pick up the exhausted troops. By the end, 350,000 men had been evacuated safely. Astounding. Almost as astounding to us, though, was that we had never even heard of it! Most Americans forget that the war even started before we got there, and we certainly never learned about it in school. I can't wait to learn some of the other exciting bits of history I've missed out on. Anyways, now these tunnels, with their original medical and communications equipment, including rows and rows of telephone switchboards and those clear, vertical boards you always see in movies used to track the movement of ships, and enormous maps with troop placements, are now open to the public. They even try to recreate the experience with sound effects and momentary blackouts. A little cheesy, but it does add something, I suppose.

Our other excursion in the Dover area was to Canterbury, which is a very nice little market town. Actually, a pretty big market town. It was filled with shoppers, and we enjoyed looking at all the shops and finding Mommy a big, woolly, sheep-shaped tea cozy. We saw the cathedral only through the small opening in the wall where you pay admission. At 13 bucks a head, we decided to pass, which was frustrating, as that was what we had come for. But we did see a ruined monastery elsewhere in town that was one of the earliest Christian sites in Britain and was torn down by good old Henry VIII. The major historical organizations, English Heritage and the National Trust (both of which we are members now), really ought to send him a thank you note for providing them with so many evocative ruins.

We camped near Dover, and what with the bloody English weather (terrifying thunderstorm one night, gale force winds the next), we spent a lot of time in the local pub. It was a nice mini-break, though, our first of many, to be sure. And then we began the long journey home. We stayed at a hotel near Heathrow the last night and watched the England-Germany football match with a big crowd. (England lost, of course, and it was all blamed on the goalkeeper, Paul Robinson, who is also keeper for our local Premier League team, Tottenham Hotspurs). The next morning we caught a flight to JFK, took a taxi to LaGuardia, sat there for seven hours, and finally flew to Orlando, where Nicholas and Katie waited for us with smiles, hugs, friendly dogs, a delicious, home-cooked meal, and a comfy bed. Yesterday, we drove up to Tallahassee, where we'll be for the next week. Andrew's work permit has come through and we've sent in our paperwork for our entry clearance. Now we just need to finish packing the last few things, enjoy our families, and get ready for the final move. Another deep breath is in order. Wish us luck. Cheers!

Monday, August 20, 2007

There again

Hey everybody. It's been an eventful week or so since I last posted. We're in England again, and we've found a cute flat in Enfield. Right now, we're in Dover, camping and seeing the sights. It's been quite a trip, though.

We arrived in London on Thursday morning. The flight over was okay, but it wasn't the same service as our first flight over, and since it was an overnighter, I couldn't sleep and was exhausted when we arrived. We gathered all our luggage (we maxed out the luggage allowance so we could start moving our stuff over in batches) and staggered to the train, then hauled everything on trains and tubes and buses to a storage unit in Enfield. Hellish, but done. Except, when we got there, we found out that, due to antiterrorism laws, you can't rent a storage unit without a valid UK address and utility bills to prove residence. We needed to store our stuff so we could find a place to live, but we couldn't store it until we had a place to live. Fantastic. So we had to haul all our stuff back to town on another bus (keep in mind the no-sleep factor here and the approximately 250 pounds of luggage we were dealing with). We got back into Enfield town (apparently "town" means London; "Enfield town" means downtown Enfield) at a complete loss and sat in the train station trying to figure out what to do. Camping was right out, with all that luggage, but hotels were too expensive, and we needed to find some storage option so we wouldn't have to drag everything around for 8 days and back on the plane. Andrew scurried around looking for a hotel while I watched our stuff, and I met a very nice gentleman who offered to help and gave me a Christian pamphlet. I smiled and thanked him, but I felt a bit weird about it. He went on his way and Andrew came back with no luck. We couldn't even think, we were so tired and sore from carrying the luggage, so we broke down and booked a room at the only nearby hotel for £65 a night. Yikes. Oh, and it was raining, of course, and I slipped and hurt my wrist. Fabulous. But we got to the hotel, dragged our luggage upstairs, and collapsed on the bed and fell asleep immediately. A few hours later, things were looking much better and we went to the library to check email. I was sitting in a chair at a second computer while Andrew was checking his email, and a gentleman walked up and asked if he could have the chair to use the other computer. He saw that we were Americans and introduced himself as Tony. He was very friendly and full af local information and advice, and he gave us his contact information. We were pleased at the friendliness of our new neighbors and went to find some dinner before crashing for the night.

The next day, we went back to the library and got a newspaper and did some research on flats in the area. Andrew had discovered the previous day that it might be very difficult to get a flat without previous rental and banking history in the UK. This did, in fact, turn out to be the case. We'll probably have to pay for 6 months in advance, which, coupled with the crappy exchange rate and the fact that we haven't yet started earning pounds, is a very expensive prospect. But I guess we should have expected it to be difficult, moving to another country. At any rate, we found that flats were not only expensive but also rare. We went from office to office asking for the same sort of flats, only to find that they had all been rented out the day before. We started to get nervous about it but forged on. Finally we got to an office that had a flat to show us, and it was great, available, and not too expensive. We almost took it on the spot but held off to try one more office. They had another one to show us that was awful and more expensive, so we rushed back to the other one to see if it was still available, and, thank goodness, it still was, so we snatched it up and we now have a place to live in Enfield! Hooray! We celebrated with a nice Indian meal and a bottle of wine. Ahhh...

The next day, we were filled with out flat-finding success, but we still had all the luggage to deal with. We couldn't move in to the flat until September 8. We asked at Barclays if we could store it there, but no luck. The flat-rental office also couldn't take it. We couldn't get our friend Courtney on the phone. So I called Tony from the library to ask for advice. He turned out to be our Enfield hero. He let us store our stuff in his garage in a very nice neighborhood not too far from our flat, he made us tea, he drove us to a nearby campsite (the hotel was too expensive for another night), and he even joined us for dinner and a movie later on. And what a fascinating guy. He's lived and traveled all over the world and had great stories and strong opinions. Obviously, he's extraordinarily friendly, too. So we got rid of our stuff and made a good friend already. Success. Yesterday we took the train down from London and camped near Dover. Now we're off to see the castle and the cliffs, and tomorrow we'll head up to Canterbury to see the cathedral. It's good to be traveling again, and it's good to know that this is our home turf now. We're really excited, and I'll post a thorough description of the new flat and its special challenges later on. Cheers!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Back in the homeland

We're back in Tallahassee for a few days now, finally. Once we got back to the States, we went to New Jersey and saw Uncle Fred and rested up for a day, then we drove up to New Haven to pick up Elise and drove to Boston for a night of fun with old friends and new. Robert, Todd, Lauren, and Michelle showed us a good time. Then it was back to New Haven, back to New Jersey, and down to DC for more catching up with Adam, Michelle, Zack, and David. Then we drove to Blacksburg to pick up all our stuff from the storage unit (thank you, Daddy) and say goodbye to our friends there. Brian and Cami threw a wonderful party for us, and we got to spend some quality time with Amy, Alex, Gil, Luke and Amy, Nicole, Adam and Krista, Savanna, and Elizabeth and Tim. I can't imagine a nicer way to say goodbye to Blacksburg. From there it was an easy drive to Tallahassee, and we've been spending time with family and friends and organizing our lives before the big move. More later on that progress.