Ten things I learned in Scotland and England…

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We’re home at last!  And boy, did we have ourselves an eventful trip!  Since we were gone for almost two weeks and a lot happened, I’m going to do something now that I usually do after I write up my vacations.  I’m going to type a list of ten things I learned on our most recent trip to Scotland and England.  I’m doing that now because I know some readers would prefer a quick and dirty recap and I have a feeling this trip report will consist of many moving parts.

Even though Bill and I have been to England and Scotland before– and I even lived in England at one time in my life– we always learn new things when we travel.  And this trip taught us some truly surprising things.  We spent the first week on a whisky cruise on Hebridean Princess in Scotland.  The cruise focused on visits to whisky distilleries, though we also had a few non boozy excursions.   Next, we went to England and caught Avenue Q in Stoke on Trent and visited my old stomping grounds near Mildenhall Air Force Base.  We had an unforgettable trip that I’m itching to share with everyone.  So here goes.

10.  Apparently, Scotland has its own money.  Yes, it’s true.  Even though Scotland voted to remain a member of the United Kingdom, more than once, we ran into problems when we tried to use Scottish bills in England.  In fact, this morning Bill tried to pay a fee at the Norwich airport with a Scottish note and it didn’t work!  He quipped that he’d have to find a “non-Confederate” note.  But, just so you know, Scottish money is legal tender in England.  It’s just that they don’t seem to see it that much or something.

9.  Driving on the left isn’t so hard.  Bill was very nervous about trying to drive in the United Kingdom.  As it turned out, it wasn’t bad at all.  We had visions of Clark Griswold style driving mishaps when we first considered driving in the UK, but Bill did just fine!  And now he has a new skill to brag about.

We did not have any encounters with Eric Idle in England.

 

8.  There are many roundabouts in England… more than there are in Germany.  Fortunately, none we encountered were as bad as this one.

I heard there’s a really scary one in Swindon, though…

 

7.  My old house in England still looks the same as it did in 1978.  We drove to Mildenhall Air Force Base, which is where my dad did his very last assignment as an Air Force lieutenant colonel.  I was almost six years old when we left England, so it’s where my earliest memories come from.  Very surprisingly, it was easy to find the housing area where I once lived and the house my family lived in.  I sent a photo to my much older sisters who confirmed that I got it right.

6.  But Mildenhall itself is very different…  There are some things around the base that are the same, but I was very shocked by how many more people are there and how much housing there is.  Also, I was surprised by the traffic!  Forty years ago, Mildenhall was surrounded by small towns and lots of open space.  Not so, now.

5.  The story my mom told me about the street named after my dad was not bullshit…  And I will write an updated post about that eventually to explain everything.  Suffice to say, I found the street supposedly named after my dad and having seen it and noted where it is, I believe my mom’s tale was truthful.

4.  It’s not a good idea to drink from the same cup, especially among strangers.   Even though I am supposedly “overeducated” with master’s degrees in social work and public health, sometimes I still do really stupid things.  I did something dumb on this trip and ended up in deep doo doo.  On a related note, toilets in the UK are kind of weird.  It takes practice to be able to flush them effectively.

3.  Scotland is as beautiful in March as it is in November…  I managed to get some gorgeous photos on this trip.  I also got lots of video, which I hope to turn into a new YouTube film.  I will be busy for the next couple of weeks!

2.  Haggis can be delicious!  I don’t remember liking haggis that much the first time I tried it, but this last time, I thought it was very tasty.  That was quite a surprise for me.  I don’t know if it was because of the chefs on Hebridean Princess or just because of my Scottish ancestry.  😉  Having written that, I think haggis will be one of those dishes I sample only when I am in Scotland among people in kilts and surrounded by whisky.

1.  A cruise on Hebridean Princess is a marvelous, yet expensive way to see Scotland.  Okay, I knew that already, but it was reaffirmed on this last trip, even though I got hit with a stomach bug on the last day.  I will explain more about what happened as I blog… or, for those who have strong stomachs and high curiosity, there is a rather graphic account on my main blog.  I promise to keep the account on this blog more or less PG rated.

Anchors Aweigh!

Now, on with my trip report!

On being a young American kid in Europe…

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My very first passport photo before we moved to England.  I was about three years old and two feet ten inches tall.   I was born in Hampton, Virginia and my parents moved us back to that area when I was eight.  I grew up in Virginia and it’s now “home”, but I don’t miss it that much. 

As I was watching the dogs outside this morning, I had a sudden thought about being an American kid in Europe.  I spent part of my early childhood in England at Mildenhall Air Force Base.  We lived on the base, but I went to a British school instead of the American school.  My sisters went to the American schools.  At the time, living in England was perfectly normal to me.

I didn’t know I was in a foreign country, although I do remember my mom and sisters explaining to me that we were Americans living in England and that it was a “different country” than where we came from.  At that time, I didn’t have a concept of countries, though.  England was simply “home”.  I still have vivid memories of the primary school where I attended kindergarten with British and a few other American kids.  My mom told me she sent me there because the school day was longer and it kept me out of her hair.

Our backyard in England on Mildenhall Air Force Base bordered a big field with cows in it.  I was fascinated by them.  To this day, I still hate wearing shoes… and I love livestock.

We moved back to the States in 1978, when I was six years old.  At that point, I had spent half my life in England and it was really the only place I remembered.  I have only the vaguest of memories of our time at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Even though I’m American and was finally back in the United States after three years abroad, it didn’t really feel like my home.  It felt like a foreign country.  The time I spent as a small child in England changed me somehow, even though I am very much an American.  I guess living in England made me more aware of the world around me.  It definitely gave me a perspective that a lot of my peers didn’t have, although quite a lot of my peers were also military brats and a few of them had also lived abroad.

 

Me and my mom going to high tea at the Swan Hotel in Lavenham, England.  This photo was so fascinating to me that I used Google Earth to figure out where we were.  This hotel is still open and there’s a chance Bill and I might book a room there in March.  It depends on how nervous he is about getting us to the airport on Easter morning.

For some reason, I was thinking about kids who are born abroad and spend their formative years in another country.  They go to school with host country nationals, probably learn to speak the local language.  It’s “home” to them.  Then they move back to the country where they’re really from and it somehow feels “foreign” to them.  Even though they are among their people, they are different.  They were different when they were abroad, too.  They weren’t locals and weren’t likely to stay there longer than a few years, but they were mingling among the locals and got to see things through their eyes.

I think sometimes the first place you remember as a child is a place that really leaves an imprint.  I have always been kind of fascinated by England, though I haven’t spent a lot of time there since we moved back to the States in 1978.  We went to London in 2009 and I remember being questioned by the customs people.  They wanted to know if I’d ever been there before.  I told them I used to live in England.  That piqued their interest, until I told them I lived there as a young child in the 1970s.  Then it was okay.  I suspect there are a lot of Americans like me, people who lived abroad when they were kids and kind of feel like their childhood home is actually “home”.  I think my mom thought of England as home, too.  She said she cried all the way back to the States when we had to move.

My parents kept in touch with my dad’s British secretary from when we lived in England.  Before my dad died in 2014, they went back to visit her a few times.  She visited them, too, and even became friends with my Granny.  In fact, I saw her right before Bill and I got married.  I remember her fondly.  Before we left England, she asked me when I’d be back to visit.  I told her I wasn’t coming back until they built a bridge across the Atlantic Ocean.  She reminded me of that when I saw her last.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve flown across the Atlantic Ocean since 1978… or really, 1995.  I never took another trip abroad until I joined the Peace Corps.

My sisters cautioned me against marrying a military guy.  They saw my mom’s life as an Air Force wife and how it didn’t make her very happy.  I mostly enjoyed being an Army wife until Bill retired in 2014.  The lifestyle took me in a direction I wasn’t expecting, but I’ve been around the military my whole life.  It’s kind of second nature to me.  I didn’t have the globe trotting experience my sisters had because my dad retired from the Air Force when I was six years old.  But I definitely made up for that as an Army wife.  I eventually had roots when my dad retired, but now I’m not sure if I’ll root anywhere else.

Hebridean Princess in November 2012.  We’ll be back aboard in March.

In March, Bill and I will be going to Glasgow, Scotland to catch a cruise through the Hebrides.  We have decided that after the cruise, we will visit my old childhood stomping grounds, possibly with a stop in Stoke On Trent so we can catch a performance of Avenue Q.  If we do make it to Suffolk, Bill will probably have to acquaint himself with British driving.  I know it makes him nervous, but I feel confident he can do it.  If my parents could do it, he certainly can.  And who knows?  We may even move to England at some point.  The expat life definitely suits us.

I spotted this sign in Edinburgh.  My maiden name is Tolley.  My married name is Crossen.  Seems like a clue from the past.

I always thought I’d put down roots somewhere and raise a family.  That lifestyle is apparently not in the cards for me.  My expat career started with my being a very little kid in England and mingling among Brits.  Then I went to Armenia as a young woman and worked with others who also later became expats.  Seriously, a lot of my old Peace Corps friends are living abroad.  Now I’m on a second Germany tour.  I have no burning desire to move back to the United States anytime soon.  If I could, I think I’d stay abroad for the rest of my life.  We’ll see what happens.

For now, I’m really looking forward to going back to England and seeing somewhere other than London.  London is amazing; don’t get me wrong.  But it’s not what I remember about the first childhood home I actually remember.  Besides, England, Ireland, Scotland, and even Germany is where my people were from in the first place.

We lived in England when this happened…  

How my dad got a street named after him and a beer in England…

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I just heard an interesting bit of family lore today.  I called my mom, thinking it was Mother’s Day.  It’s not Mother’s Day, of course, and I woke her from her usual Sunday nap.  Nevertheless, despite being disappointed by some photos I’d sent her by request (she was hoping for full body shots), she was in a pretty good mood.  We had a nice chat.

We got on the subject of Bill and me potentially trying to go to Mildenhall AFB in England in a couple of weeks.  I was telling my mom that it makes me nervous to take a trip right now, since Bill doesn’t have a job lined up yet.  On the other hand, this trip would not be as expensive as it could be, since the flight there on military transport would be close to free.  Mom said if we manage to get to Mildenhall, we should see if Tolley Cobbold Road is still there. 

Tolley is my maiden name.  My dad is Charles P. Tolley, but everybody calls him Bill.  Bill is a childhood nickname given to him by my Aunt Jeanne that stuck– she evidently preferred the name “Billy” to Charles.  Apparently, my dad liked it better, too.

Anyway, I do remember Tolley Cobbold Road, even though I was very young when I lived in England.  When I was growing up, we had a British road sign that my dad had put up in his picture framing business.  I was told that the sign was the result of a practical joke one of my dad’s Air Force buddies played on him when he was finishing up his Air Force service in the late 70s.  You see, Tolley is a very English name.  And, for centuries, the Brits produced a beer called Tolly Cobbold Beer.  I even have a bar towel that I purchased from a Brit on eBay a couple of years ago.  Tolly Cobbold Beer was made at a very old brewery near Bury St. Edmunds, which is the neighborhood near Mildenhall.

I bought this bar towel because we used to have a light blue and white one…  Tolly Cobbold Beer went extinct in 2002…

One time when he was stationed in England, my dad had to go TDY to the United States.  There was evidently an unnamed street on or near the base that didn’t have any houses on it.  One of my dad’s co-workers, an Italian guy, had a sign made for that empty street.  The sign read “Tolley Cobbold Road”.  It was a play on my dad’s name, using the “e” in our last name, and the name of the beer, of which my dad was probably a diehard fan.  They put the sign up on the street.  When my dad got back to the base, the military police called him asking where “Tolley Cobbold Road” was, since someone had had an accident there and they had never heard of it before.  That’s when my dad found out what his buddies had done.

About twenty years ago, my dad had occasion to visit Mildenhall and the sign was still there.  I looked on the Internet, and lo and behold, it does appear that Tolley Cobbold Road  may have actually become official.  I see that if you look on maps, the street is spelled “Tolly Cobbold Street”, but if you search for it using the “e”, there are many references spelled as my maiden name is spelled.  In fact, I don’t see any references of it, other than notations on street maps, where it is spelled “Tolly”.  And again, my parents actually saw the sign posted, got photos, and were even presented with a replica of the street sign.

Of course, I understand this story could very well be bullshit… but I’m guessing it probably isn’t.  My dad is a memorable character.  Indeed, though my dad retired in 1978, his former secretary, Faith, still works at Mildenhall.  About ten years after my dad retired my cousin, Jeff Tolley, was in the Air Force and based at Mildenhall.  He happened to run into my dad’s former secretary who, before knowing who Jeff was, commented that he reminded her very much of a gentleman she once worked with.  She said my dad’s name, and Jeff said, “He’s my uncle.”  Mom says if we go to Mildenhall, we should look Faith up and say “hi”.  They have kept in touch all these years; Faith even sent me a wedding gift!

Given this crazy bit of family lore, I feel I owe it to myself to check it out.  Besides, what better way to end my Bill’s years in the Army than by checking out my dad Bill’s last duty station?  I need to get there and take a photo of that street sign.  And if it turns out it is actually spelled “Tolly”, no big deal…  I can still enjoy the UK and Ireland anyway.

I hope I inherit that way cool street sign someday.

Update!  We found Tolley Cobbold Road!

Great booze tourism spots…

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While there’s no denying that some people shouldn’t drink alcohol and over imbibing can lead to health problems, there’s also no denying that booze tourism is a trend that’s been growing in popularity.  Bill and I have definitely enjoyed some fun booze touristy spots in our travels.  Here’s a list of some of the places we enjoyed the most.

Vinopolis– London, England  (ETA: Sadly, Vinopolis is now closed!)

Bill and I visited Vinopolis in January 2009 over Martin Luther King weekend.  We were living in Germany at the time, so it wasn’t too hard to get to London.  I had heard about Vinopolis by watching Samantha Brown’s Passport to Europe.  Knowing how much we enjoy tasting booze, we knew we had to make a point of stopping there.  We tasted everything from Slovenian wine to Czech absinthe.  Afterwards, we staggered to the Clink Museum next door and looked at all the prison memorabilia.

Bill tries out the moped through Italy’s wine regions…

Weee!

Waiting for a Bombay Sapphire gin cocktail.

Chodovar– Chodova Plana, Czech Republic

I never thought I’d take a bath in beer, but I sure did when we visited Chodovar.  I first heard about Chodovar when I saw it featured on Zane Lamprey’s drinking show, Three Sheets.  In February 2009, I decided we needed to pay the place a visit.  I neglected to bring my camera on that trip, but if you click the link, you can see plenty of photos of the pewter tubs where you soak in hops and sip beer.  Afterwards, we relaxed in a dark room, then enjoyed massages.  The whole experience was very reasonably priced.  I think for the entire weekend, which included meals, parking, and three nights in the hotel, cost us less than $500.

Pilsner Urquell Museum– Plzen, Czech Republic

We saw this museum on the same trip in February 2009 and it, too, was featured on Three Sheets.  This museum offers a great history of Pilsner Urquell brewing and beer making in general.  After you’re finished looking at the extensive museum, you can stop by the restaurant and sample the beer.  We also had a nice lunch there.

This show is worth watching if you are curious about the Czech Republic and all the boozing you can do there.  On a side note, I sat in the same tub at Chodovar Zane Lamprey is in.

Asheville, North Carolina

We went to Asheville to celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary and were delighted to find a great beer culture there.  There are a number of craft beers made in Asheville, many of which offer tours.  If you prefer wine, you can stop by the Biltmore Estate, which offers tours of its winery and tastings.  Bill and I took the tour and were very impressed by the quality of the wines sold there.

Dinner at a brewpub…

The Biltmore on a cloudy day!

Beautiful Asheville!

Texas Wine Country!

Living near San Antonio, Bill and I aren’t too far from Texas Wine Country, which is in the hills northwest of San Antonio.  There, you will find a string of wineries offering surprisingly good products.  One of my favorite stops is Comfort, Texas, which is where you’ll find Bending Branch Winery and Singing Water Vineyards…  I’m sure there are more I’d love, but we haven’t visited them yet.  In all seriousness, Texas Wine Country boasts 37 wineries.  With San Antonio, Austin, New Braunfels, and  Fredericksburg all in the vicinity, there’s plenty of opportunity for non booze related fun, too.  Of course, there are craft breweries in Texas too… and excellent tequila.

Museum of Creveja– Lisbon, Portugal

Okay, so the Museum of Beer in Lisbon isn’t all that exciting in terms of beer tourism.  I mean, you wouldn’t go to Lisbon just to see the beer museum unless you were extremely hardcore.  But if you happen to be in Lisbon, it’s not a bad idea to stop by the beer museum to learn about Portugal’s influence in brewing.  It’s three euros a person to see the exhibit, which includes a sample.  Then you can head to the bar where you can imbibe to your heart’s content.

Bill drinks with a fake monk.

Bill and I went to Scotland and visited two whisky distilleries.  We also visited the Scotch Whisky Experience, which is pretty cool if you can’t go to the distilleries.  Granted, the distilleries may be more authentic, but the Scotch Whisky Experience is right there in Edinburgh.  On the other hand, we learned much about the scotch making process at Arran and Springbank distilleries.  And the Springbank distillery was especially cool, since it offers one of the few examples of Campbeltown style scotch whisky.  Campbeltown used to be a big whisky hub, but sadly a lot of the distilleries are gone now.

The Scotch Whisky Experience has an enormous collection of scotches…

 
JailHouse Brewing Company, Hampton, GA  (now closed)

Okay, so Hampton, Georgia isn’t exactly on most peoples’ tourism hotspots, but if you’re willing to get there, you may be in for a treat.  Bill and I used to live in a town close to Hampton, which is where a local entrepreneur purchased the old jailhouse and made it into a craft brewing facility.  You can take a tour and taste their excellent brews, which have really caught on in the Atlanta area.  Bill and I can’t get JailHouse beers in Texas, but luckily we have friends who can send it to us.  If you’re in the Atlanta area and don’t mind taking a trip south of the city, I recommend a trip to JailHouse Brewing Company!

As you can see, Bill enjoyed his taste of the Breakout Stout!

I’m sure there will be more posts on this subject as we keep traveling!

How I became a traveler…

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I think maybe the travel bug was instilled in me at an early age.  My very first lucid memories are of being a little girl living in England.  My dad was in the Air Force and his last duty station was at Mildenhall Air Force Base in Suffolk.  I was born in Virginia and lived briefly in Ohio before we moved to England when I was three years old.  But I don’t remember much of the time before England.  We lived there until I was six years old, so I have a lot of memories… even though that was a long time ago.  While we were living in England, I got to visit Tunisia with my parents.  I also visited Wales and Ireland, though I don’t remember them.

Me and my mom on a camel in Tunisia, New Year’s 1978…

We spent two more years living near Washington, DC, a very cosmopolitan place as American cities go.  I remember in first and second grades having kids in my classes who came from different countries.  I remember one girl was from Iran.  Her name was Gissou and this was during the height of the whole Iranian hostage crisis deal that was in the news.  She probably heard lots of variations of the old song “Barbara Ann” turned into “Bomb Iran”.

I also remember learning about different countries in those years.  In first grade, we learned about Japan and even had a day in which we tasted Japanese food and learned a few Japanese words.  In second grade, we learned about Thailand.  I distinctly remember learning about houses on stilts.  Incidentally, I also remember learning about Vincent Van Gogh that year.  I wonder if today’s teachers have the same freedom my teachers did back in the day.  My guess is that they don’t.

When I was eight, we moved to the Tidewater area of Virginia, where I was born.  My parents opened a business and I grew up in a much more rural and redneck school system…  I was still exposed to different cultures, though.  In Gloucester County, where I grew up, there is a section called Guinea, which is where Cornwallis’s defectors supposedly settled.  In the early 1980s, there was a time when you could hear their very distinctive guttural dialect and, if you weren’t from there, you wouldn’t understand a word they said.

My parents continued to travel, though they never took me with them on their trips.  My eldest sister joined the Peace Corps and lived in Morocco for two years.  She lived in several different countries, as a matter of fact, and learned to speak several languages.  She’d always bring me gifts from her travels to places like Egypt, India, and Jordan.

I remember going to college and having a roommate for ONE week.  This roommate, who turned out to be a complete bitch, told me she was passionate about traveling.  I remember feeling indifferent about travel.  In fact, at that time in my life, I just wanted to get a degree, get a job, and have a family.  I moved out of that dorm room after a week because my travel loving roommate had a penchant for bringing people into the room at 3:00am and turning on the overhead light.

Things didn’t turn out the way I planned them to after I graduated from college.  I had trouble finding a job.  I also had a burning desire to leave my parents’ home… and they wanted me gone.  So, following in my sister’s footsteps, I joined the Peace Corps and went off to Armenia for two years.  I still didn’t have the travel bug, though.  In fact, the love of travel wasn’t awakened in me until the summer of 1996, when a friend and I went on a trip to Turkey and Bulgaria via bus from Armenia.  We spent three days on a bus going to Istanbul by way of the Republic of Georgia.  Our trip took three weeks and was fraught with challenges…  but that’s when I learned to love travel.

A photo taken on April 24, 1997 at Armenia’s Genocide Memorial.  I used to live across the street from this, but when I lived there, the eternal flame was only turned on on April 24th.

In 1997, I took a month and traveled by train for a month around Europe on the way home from Armenia.  I saw Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Italy, France, and Spain, with a very brief stop in Amsterdam.  Ten years after that, my husband and I moved to Germany, where we visited all of the aforementioned countries except for Slovakia.  However, I added Switzerland, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Hungary, Sweden, Estonia, Norway, Denmark, and Poland to the list of countries I’ve been to.  My husband also went on a few trips that didn’t include me and we also went to England for the first time since I was very young.

Since moving back to the United States, my husband and I have gone to the Caribbean twice, hitting the Virgin Islands (both British and US), Puerto Rico (yes, I know it’s in the US), St. Barts, Antigua, Barbados, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Grenada, St. Vincent, and St. Lucia.  I also went to Jamaica in 2002 to provide music for another sister’s wedding.  In 2012, we visited Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, and Scotland.  And in 2013, we will go to Italy and Greece… and I’m really toying with the idea of going to Costa Rica or Mexico.  We’ll see how things pan out.

I didn’t end up with a family or a career, unless you count writing as my career.  I did end up with a travel bug, though…  And now it’s time to write about it.