We went to our first London fashion show last weekend, and it was pretty cool! Everyone has probably heard of London Fashion Week. It’s one of the “Big Four” fashion weeks, along with New York, Milan and Paris that’s primarily a fashion industry trade show attended by supermodels, celebrities and fashion designers as well as fashion magazine editors and anyone else lucky enough to be invited.

The British Fashion Council states that “it is attended by over 5,000 press and buyers, and has estimated orders of £40 – £100 million. A retail-focused event, London Fashion Weekend, takes place immediately afterwards at the same venue and is open to the general public.

“The current venue for most of the ‘on-schedule’ events is Somerset House in central London, where a large marquee in the central courtyard hosts a series of catwalk shows by top designers and fashion houses, while an exhibition, housed within Somerset House itself, shows over 150 designers.” (Wikipedia)

London Fashion Weekend starts on Thursday and lasts until Sunday. There are various levels of tickets that you can purchase depending on when you want to go, how many catwalks you’d like to see and what level of access you’d like. The lowest level bronze ticket will get you access to Somerset House and all the retail shops set up throughout the halls, plus an empty tote bag, for £20.

A Luxe ticket at £130 gets you a welcome reception with champagne and canapés, a front row seat at one of the catwalk shows, access to the LUXE Lounge, a private till point with shopping collection service, complimentary gift wrapping service, and a designer tote bag filled with goodies.

We opted for something on the lower end since we planned on taking our son and figured he wouldn’t be up for too much stimulation. So we picked up silver tickets for a reasonable £37, which got us access to all the vendors, one catwalk show, and a tote bag stuffed with fun samples that included make-up remover wipes, nail polish, mascara, coffee, eye drops, a £25 gift card for a local health food delivery service and a fashion magazine. Not a bad haul!

The catwalk show was lots of fun with some beautiful outfits, and our son was really well behaved. He got a little wound up when we were looking at the vendors afterward though, so we didn’t spend as much time looking around as we would’ve liked to have.

But Sunday was a great day to go. It’s the last day of the show, and all the items are on sale. We headed straight for the accessories hall. They had everything from shoes to jewelry to sunglasses, and there were lovely £300 scarves on sale for £100…I settled for one for £30, which is more than I’d usually spend on a scarf, but it was also a great souvenir.

The shows happen twice per year in February and September. If you get a chance, I highly recommend it. Next year, we might even upgrade to a Gold ticket and see if we can get a front row seat!

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We just got back from five days in the Orkney Islands in northern Scotland, and it was fantastic! After the crush and energy of London, it was so nice to go somewhere with seas and wind where there’re only 35 people per square kilometer.

Getting there and back was a pain in the butt though. On the way up we went from London to Edinburgh to Kirkwall. And they lost our bags on the way…mainly because the baggage agent at the Virgin Atlantic counter at Heathrow thought our son was soooooo cute that she let him press the button on the baggage conveyor belt…before putting the baggage claim tickets on it.

So we now get to file a £75 claim for the toiletries and pajamas we had to buy for the first night until our bags arrived. On the way back we were delayed due to fog and missed our connection in Aberdeen completely. So we had to exit security, reclaim our bags, get rebooked on a new flight, and go through security all over again. At least the little girl at the snack counter was nice enough to pour me a glass of wine in a paper cup so I could take it on the plane. :)

Transportation issues aside, I thought Orkney was quite a magical place. It’s made up of one big island called Mainland (perspective?) and a bunch of little islands. We stayed in the main town of Kirkwall (population 8,686) and found a great 3-bedroom rental cottage for only £250 per week. You can barely get a closet in a hotel for that price. So we really enjoyed it! We also rented a car so we could putter around the island.

The tiny town of Kirkwall on the left.

The tiny town of Kirkwall on the left.

Our little rental cottage.

Our little rental cottage and car.

Most of Mainland Orkney is classified as a World Heritage site called The Heart of Neolithic Orkney. It has not just one but TWO rings of standing stones (Stenness and Brodgar), one chambered burial mound (Maeshowe) and a few settlements. The most famous settlement is Skara Brae, which is considered the oldest and best preserved Neolithic settlement in Western Europe having been dated to about 3,000 BC.

Skara Brae.

Skara Brae.

Our son with his Viking sword in the Ring of Brodgar.

Our son with his Viking sword in the Ring of Brodgar.

The Ring of Brodgar was truly awesome, but I’m slightly more interested in Viking history. The Vikings featured heavily in the development of Orkney and even have their own saga, the Orkneyinga Saga. Even the sign above the airport is written in Norse runes. They also have an amazing red cathedral that was built in 1137 for the Viking Earls and Bishops of Orkney and their accompanying crumbling palaces.

Kirkwall airport with sign in runes.

Kirkwall airport with sign in runes.

St. Magnus Cathedral.

St. Magnus Cathedral.

Part of a plaque inside the cathedral.

Part of a plaque inside the cathedral.

Earl's Palace.

Earl’s Palace.

But I think the most unique site has to be Maeshowe. Not only is it a great example of a chambered cairn…but when the Vikings plundered it, they left graffiti on the walls in runes. With 30 inscriptions, it’s one of the largest, and most famous, collections of runes known in Europe, which is phenomenal!! And their translations are hysterical. Things like: “Haermund Hardaxe carved these runes.” Basically, Haermund Hardaxe was here! “Ingigerth is the most beautiful of all women.”

Exterior of Maeshowe.

Exterior of Maeshowe.

Interior shot borrowed from the internet.

Interior shot borrowed from the internet.

Close up of runes borrowed from the internet.

Close up of runes borrowed from the internet.

Other highlights remain from WWII. There’s an Italian chapel constructed of two “Nissen” huts…the Brit equivalent of what we call Quonset huts…and beautifully painted by Italian POWs who also constructed the two massive barriers in the bays between two of the southern islands. There are also the visible wrecks of several ships that were intentionally sunk to block German boats.

Exterior of the Italian chapel.

Exterior of the Italian chapel.

Interior of the Italian chapel.

Interior of the Italian chapel.

WWII wrecks still visible in the water.

WWII wrecks still visible in the water.

And let’s not forget the food and drink. I opted for seafood for almost every meal…scallops, scallops, more scallops and a seafood platter with crab and scallops with a few sides of mashed potatoes and black pudding. And my hubby was always on the lookout for haggis, which he found. It was also his birthday, so the lovely staff at the Kirkwall hotel restaurant brought out his dessert with a candle in it. Happy birthday, baby!

Orkney also has no shortage of beverages. For an area of less than 400 square miles, they have three breweries (Orkney, Highland and Sinclair) and two distilleries (Highland Park and Scapa). Orkney beers were my favorite not just in flavor but because of their great names…like Skull Splitter, Raven Ale, Northern Light, Dragonhead Stout, and Dark Island! My hubby also picked up a lovely 16-year-old single malt from Scapa.

For the most part, our son was pretty well behaved in the restaurants…especially since my hubby had recently downloaded 20+ new episodes of his current favorite TV show, Rescue Bots. But his favorite part of the entire trip was throwing rocks in the water at the beach. I guess if we ever want to plan a trip that will make him really happy, we can keep it pretty simple.

Hanging out on the beach.

Hanging out on the beach.

I spent three days in Wales at the beginning of the month supporting the NATO Summit. I had visions of sleeping in with no children around, pampering myself at the hotel, touring Wales in my off time and being part of something truly important. Well, one out of four isn’t bad. I ended up on the night shift.

We took a car from the embassy in London over to Wales and arrived on Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday morning I worked from 5am to 11am. I also killed four spiders in my hotel room, so needless to say I didn’t sleep much before I reported back to work at 1am on Friday morning. I worked until 9am and then went back at 5:00pm to help break down the office we’d set up.

So I didn’t end up seeing much outside of the hotel I was staying in and the one I was working in, which weren’t actually the same thing and made for an interesting commute at 4am. But at least I got to see some bright stars in the sky, which is difficult with all the light pollution in London. And I got to stay here…

Tortworth Court Four Pillars Hotel.

Tortworth Court Four Pillars Hotel.

And I did get some alone time. I also got to follow the Summit events on the news, knowing I was helping out a little, and that it was not too far away. And it looks like some great things came out of it. Here’re a few details:

“The summit was hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron. Attendees included U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. There were another 180 VIPs, and 4,000 delegates and officials from approximately 60 countries.

“The following declarations and agreements were made :

  1. Wales Summit Declaration reconfirming their commitment to each other.
  2. Joint Expeditionary Force Agreement signed with partners from Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Norway, that aims to develop the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) so that it is fully operational before 2018.
  3. Armed Forces Declaration reaffirming support for the men and women serving in the Armed Forces and their families.
  4. Joint Statement of the NATO-Ukraine Commission pledging support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.
  5. Declaration on Afghanistan thanking international and Afghan military for their support and outlining continued peace processes.

“At the end of the summit Ukrainian President Poroshenko announced a ceasefire which had been agreed with one of the leading pro-Russia separatist leaders, under terms proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which was cautiously welcomed by NATO leaders.” (Wikipedia)

World leaders pose for photo at Cardiff Castle.

World leaders pose for photo at Cardiff Castle.

Last Sunday, we took the family out and met up with our favorite local friends at Granary Square near King’s Cross for “Battle Bridge”: Boudicca vs the Romans! I love Roman-British history, so I was really interested to see what fun things they’d come up with.

The area was thought to be one of the spots were Boudicca attacked London back in AD 61. The Granary Building is a grade II listed building built in 1851 that was used to hold grain and coal brought to London from Lincolnshire and northern England.

It wasn’t particularly big budget, but I thought they did a pretty decent job of putting a fun family day together. There were horse and cart rides, gladiator workshops (which unfortunately we missed because we were on one of the previously-mentioned horse rides, and there was no clear schedule of events), and Roman dress up and photos.

There was Roman food and drink advertised, but I didn’t see any of it anywhere. So we settled for cheeseburgers and mediocre pale ales from one of the vendors. But I did get a lovely hand massage from a Roman woman carrying a decanter of rosemary-infused olive oil. And I even talked my son into making me a little mosaic that I will treasure forever. :)

We also had good weather, and it wasn’t too crowded. So I’d say it was a pretty successful outing. Although I think the most fun the kids had was playing ping pong in the Granary Building right before we left.

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Promotional still from the event website: http://www.kingscross.co.uk/battle-bridge.

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Our son playing in the fountain next to some costumed Romans in front of the Granary Building.

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A Roman horse and cart ride.

We took a tour of Buckingham Palace on Saturday, which is the pinnacle of any trip to London! It also requires a bit of planning as the palace is only open to visitors for two months out of the year (August and September) when the Queen is away in Scotland for her summer holidays. And it did not disappoint!

This was probably one of the best tours that we’ve had, if for no other reason than we did not bring our son! Don’t get me wrong, we love him like crazy, but for once we didn’t have to chase him down the hall, attempt to keep him from touching everything in the room with a “DO NOT TOUCH” sign on it, or carry him out of the building screaming. We were able to go at our own pace, enjoy the fine things and actually listen to the audio tour the whole way through…in every room!

And the rooms were absolutely stunning. There were no photos allowed inside, so I have a few exterior shots and then a couple borrowed from the official website of The British Monarchy. It seemed like every square inch was covered in gold trim, beautifully carved moldings or silk wallpaper, and the picture gallery was full of Rembrandts, Canalettos and Rubens.

The Ballroom.

The Ballroom (courtesy British Monarchy website).

The White Drawing Room.

The White Drawing Room (courtesy British Monarchy website).

The Throne Room (courtesy Royal website).

The Throne Room (courtesy British Monarchy website).

There was also a lovely exhibition called Royal Childhood that covered 250 years of family life at the palace with “objects from the Royal Collection, the Royal Archives and the private collections of members of the Royal Family, as well as previously unseen photographs and film footage.” I was particularly impressed by a watercolor of a children’s ball and the massive cake made for the sixth birthday of Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria’s youngest son.

For a little history, Buckingham Palace was built in 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham and used to be called Buckingham House. Originally it was just the main front building. “It was subsequently acquired by King George III in 1761 as a private residence for Queen Charlotte and was known as ‘The Queen’s House’.

“During the 19th century it was enlarged, principally by architects John Nash and Edward Blore, who formed three wings around a central courtyard. Buckingham Palace finally became the official royal palace of the British monarch on the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837.” (Wikipedia)

So many of the monarchs in the 100 years before Queen Victoria (King William III and Queen Mary II, Queen Anne, and Kings George I & II) actually lived in Kensington Palace in Hyde Park.

The Children's Fancy Ball at Buckingham Palace, 7th April 1859. by Eugenio Agneni in pencil and watercolour.

The Children’s Fancy Ball at Buckingham Palace, 7th April 1859, by Eugenio Agneni in pencil and watercolour.

Buckingham House, London, England, as it appeared in 1775. Wood engraving, English, c1875 by Charles Henry Granger.

Buckingham House as it appeared in 1775. Wood engraving c1875 by Charles Henry Granger.

Speaking of Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace also has a pleasant garden area that can be included in your tour. The back lawn is huge, and it’s easy to visualize it full of garden party-goers, but the gardens themselves were pretty low maintenance and felt more like a park than a manicured garden. The arrangements in the public space in front of the palace and in St. James Park across the street are much more impressive. But there’s a little lake, a small rose garden, and a tennis court.

The most interesting part was probably the Waterloo Vase, which is “the great urn commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate his expected victories, which in 1815 was presented unfinished to the Prince Regent. After the King had had the base completed by sculptor Richard Westmacott, intending it to be the focal point of the new Waterloo chamber at Windsor Castle, it was adjudged to be too heavy for any floor (at 15 ft high and weighing 15 tons). The National Gallery, to whom it was presented, finally returned it in 1906 to the sovereign, Edward VII. King Edward then solved the problem by placing the vase outside in the garden where it now remains.” (Wikipedia)

We had about an hour and a half to kill between the end of our tour in the palace and the beginning of our tour through the garden. So we spent the majority of the time goofing around in the gift shop. Should you ever decide to visit the palace, the rates really are quite reasonable…£17.85 for adults, or £26 if you want to include the gardens. And there are some fun things in the gift shop as well. :)

The rose garden and the Waterloo Vase (courtesy of The British Monary Facebook page).

The rose garden and the Waterloo Vase (courtesy of The British Monarchy Facebook page).

Queen Elizabeth II smiles as she walks out to greet her guests at a Garden Party she is hosting in the grounds of Buckingham Palace on May 22, 2013. (Photo by John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Queen Elizabeth II at a Garden Party she hosted on May 22, 2013. (Photo by John Stillwell – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Me in front of the rear entrance to the palace by the garden.

Me in front of the rear entrance to the palace by the garden.

Yes, I know it’s an incredibly touristy thing to do…but I’m okay with that! And our son absolutely loved it. And I like to think that only the locals are crazy enough to dress their kids in costume, which we did! So on Sunday morning we boarded our embassy-rented coach at Grosvenor Square and set off for the country.

It took forever to get out of London, but eventually we made it into a series of country roads that were so small that the hedges on either side of the road scraped both sides of the bus…at the same time. We also managed to scare one car and two cyclists who literally had to back up or turn around until they found a pull-out because there was not a hair’s breadth to squeeze by us.

We arrived around noon and headed straight for the Moat Restaurant for an overpriced hot dog, pulled pork sandwich and chicken Kiev. After grabbing a quick bite to eat we continued over to the castle itself. Unfortunately, they didn’t allow photos inside, but I imagine you can take pictures of the fancy rooms that are separated out as accommodation if you want to stay overnight in one of those, which would be pretty cool.

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My favorite picture of the day.

Great portcullis and moat!

Great portcullis and moat!

The castle itself “began as a country house, built in the 13th century. From 1462 to 1539 it was the seat of the Boleyn family. Anne Boleyn, the second queen consort of King Henry VIII of England, spent her early youth there, after her father, Thomas Boleyn, had inherited it in 1505. He had been born there in 1477, and the castle passed to him upon the death of his father, Sir William Boleyn. It later came into the possession of King Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. In the 21st century the castle is a tourist attraction.” (Wikipedia)

We were determined to have a pleasant and fun family visit this time and hurried our son through the castle to avoid any meltdowns. Obviously we hadn’t learned our lesson the last two times. But he actually did really well (although he still tried to touch everything)! As a reward we let him run around the grounds for another 30 minutes and feed the ducks in the river.

The joust officially started at 2:15, so before that we all gathered in front of the castle to meet a couple knights as well as the king and queen. After a quick photo op we all hiked over to the playing field. The joust itself was lots of fun to watch…very Medieval Times. But the best part was when they called out all the children.

Once we gave him the okay, our son was off like a shot racing across the field. And I must say that my heart jumped a bit as I watched him run headlong into the unknown without even a backward glance at us. And he looked so small. Probably because he’s THREE.

So they rounded up about 25 children, formed them into some semblance of a line, armed them with wooden pikes and spears and a few foam severed heads (seriously!) and marched them around the ring. It had started raining but the kids loved it. And once they were done yelling and cheering, our son ran back to us with a huge grin on his face.

To avoid the crowds, we left the joust a tiny bit early, to visit an ice cream stall and then head back to the bus. Definitely a great family adventure. :)

Our son running off to join the children's procession.

Our son running off to join the children’s procession.

All the kids cheering with the king.

All the kids cheering with the king.

The knights who say Ni!

The knights who say Ni!

Red vs Blue!!

Red vs Blue!!

Bidding season has been under way for less than ten business days, and I’m ready for it to be done! Happily most of the posts that were on the projected bid list were also on the actual bid list for Summer 2015. So I had already done a lot of research, consulted with the hubby and pretty much knew where we wanted to go.

I’ve already submitted my bids and done all my lobbying, because…why drag it out? But bids aren’t due until the middle of October, so now I just get to wait and obsess about the bid count (number of people bidding on each post).

It’s actually been really interesting to see, even this early on, which posts are the most popular among the midlevel OMS crowd (Bangkok?). Although I have been told that you can’t really judge anything by the bid counts alone…because you have no way of knowing which posts people are serious about and which ones they’re just using to fill out their list.

And I totally understand, I officially bid on 14 out of a possible 15 posts, but only “lobbied” for five of them. I wouldn’t be at all upset to get any of the other nine posts, but the chances are slim that they’ll consider me if I’m not really pushing my interest and qualifications.

One thing that is obvious is the posts that are NOT popular. Strangely enough, the half dozen posts that I can see in Africa aren’t getting much love. Perhaps something to do with the Ebola outbreak?

And there is one post that I bid on, and lobbied for, where I am currently the only bidder. This makes me happy. But I’m trying to be realistic and not expect that I will still be the only bidder in eight weeks when this is all over. But I’ll keep my fingers crossed. ;)

United States foreign service posts and Department of State jurisdictions, February 2006

That’s right folks, we are no longer “entry-level” bidders! The bid list for our next post comes out on Friday, woo hoo! Although technically it’s not that exciting since they’ve had a great new function for mid-level bidding for a while now called Projected Vacancies.

So instead of blindly waiting for the list to come out, you can now run a little search based on your bidding cycle, federal pay grade, and job title and see what positions are scheduled to be available. And we assume that it’s fairly accurate since we all know going in whether a post is usually one, two or three years long.

But there are a few big differences between entry-level and mid-level bidding. They are as follows:

Directed vs Lobbied

Your first two entry-level posts are “directed.” So you are handed a list of posts by your Career Development Officer (CDO), and you rank them according to preference by high, medium and low. You can send your CDO a short narrative explaining your choices, that person then decides where you will be assigned.

Mid-level bidders are not directed. They have to “lobby,” which means they have to contact the person in the job they want, talk to them about the position, send a letter of interest to the hiring manager for that job (usually a supervisor), and interview in competition with other bidders…just like in the private sector.

It is entirely possible that you will not be hired for ANY of the 15 jobs that you bid on. In that case, you then have to start all over again with a new list created from the jobs that are left over from other bidders. Not an ideal situation.

So it is not uncommon for people to create “bidding strategies” involving a certain amount of hardship posts that presumably other people don’t want that will increase your odds of getting them. But be careful! If you bid on it, you just might get it. ;)

The List

Our first list had 19 posts with entry-level jobs on it, and Belize was a medium choice for us. Our second list had 50 posts on it, and London was high (obviously!). When you’re bidding mid-level, you can see every position that’s available for your bid season. It is your job to filter them correctly to match your pay grade and job title.

You then have to bid on at least six “core” locations that fit those criteria. And your list can have no more than 15 posts…quite a change from the 50-post bid list! Your non-core bids can be in any field at any grade. But most hiring managers will probably choose from core bidders to fill a job because they’re often the most qualified.

Duration

Almost all entry-level posts are two years. You may volunteer to go to an extreme hardship or danger post for one year, but that is separate from the usual entry-level list. Most mid-level posts are three years…again, extreme hardship and dangerous ones are one year…and some random posts are two years based on weather extremes or isolation level. For example, Iceland is only two years, while the rest of Scandinavia is three. Go figure.

So that is mid-level bidding in a nutshell. Good luck to any fellow bidders!! I’m curious to see if the actual bid list remotely resembles the projected vacancies. And we should find out where we’re going sometime in November!

One of the places on my UK bucket list since before we arrived has been Chatsworth house. A stately home in Derbyshire, it is the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and has been home to the Cavendish family since 1549. If you’ve seen the film The Duchess with Keira Knightley then you’ve seen the house and the story of one of the infamous family members that lived there, the 18th-century English aristocrat Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. It was also the filming location for Pemberley in the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice also with Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen.

With time literally flying by at this point (the bid list for our next post comes out next Friday!), I realized it was time to take matters into my own hands, stop relying on calendar holidays, and take some time off to explore! So we took this last Friday and Monday off to run around the Peak District.

On Friday we left London around 10:00am, drove up through Nottingham and stopped for lunch in the only Hooters restaurant in the UK. I know a lot of Americans find the chain tacky, and apparently a lot of Brits find it flat out offensive. But I spent enough time in the restaurant industry not to stress about how tight the uniforms are; plus it was nice to get a bit of American flavor back in the wings! Of course, we really knew we were back in US territory when I asked our waitress what ales they had, and she wasn’t sure to what I was referring. Hmmm.

Hooters restaurant in Nottingham.

Hooters restaurant in Nottingham.

From there we continued to the town of Wardlow where we’d rented a holiday cottage for three nights. The trip up was a bit of a struggle though. We’d left out about an hour later than I was hoping and got stuck in construction traffic twice, and then our GPS rerouted us without our knowing it. So our four-hour journey took closer to seven hours, and we weren’t able to visit Haddon Hall in the afternoon, which was one of the filming locations for The Princess Bride that I’d thrown on to the agenda at the last minute.

We also stopped on the side of the road for our son to go to the bathroom (as you do), and he promptly stuck his right arm in a stinging nettle plant and started screaming. Happily it was only his arm, so I wiped it with a magic baby wipe, and it calmed down quickly.  Eventually we made it to the cottage and settled in for the weekend after popping into the village of nearby Tideswell to peruse the 14th century Church of St John the Baptist and have dinner at the pub in the George Inn.

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The Church of St John the Baptist.

Pews with carved edges.

Pews with carved edges.

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Tomb of Sir Thurstan and his wife Margret de Bower from approx 1423.

Saturday was the main day on the itinerary. We spent the morning at Chatsworth House, and it did not disappoint. The house was absolutely stunning inside. Unfortunately, our son had a screaming meltdown about 1/3 of the way through, so my hubby was kind enough to take him out to the car while I finished perusing the house.

Once through, we met up again and grabbed a couple lamb pasties and sausage rolls while we walked around the massive gardens in the pouring rain. Even wet, our son was much more amenable to the great outdoors. This being the second time in a row that he’s flipped out in a big fancy house (Windsor was the first), I think we will no longer subject him to them and vice versa. Happily he did not fuss during our lovely dinner at the Bull’s Head in Foolow.

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On Sunday, we drove up to the little town of Castleton and hiked up the hill to Peveril Castle. The castle is a ruined early medieval structure founded sometime between the Norman Conquest of 1066 and 1086 that was later confiscated by King Henry II in 1155. The only thing left is a bit of wall and the keep, which is in great condition.

But there’s also a great view of Cave Dale, another Princess Bride filming location (where Buttercup pushed Wesley down the hill). So we walked around the keep, took photos and our son rolled down a different hill a dozen times until he was thoroughly soaked by the damp grass. But he didn’t complain! And we finished our day in Castleton with a lovely meal and an ale at a second pub named the Bull’s Head.

View of Castleton from Peveril Castle.

View of Castleton from Peveril Castle.

View of Cave Dale from Peveril Castle.

View of Cave Dale from Peveril Castle.

The keep.

The keep at Peveril Castle.

Monday was the day we planned to return to London, so the only thing I was hoping to do was to visit a little Victorian sweet shop called Edward & Vintage on the way south. On the drive up I’d noticed a sign in the town of Stoney Middleton advertising their well dressing festivities. We’d seen a program on ITV about both the sweet shop and well dressings, so I added that to our little list of things to do on the way out of the area.

Happily it was an absolutely gorgeous day, and we took our time driving along the sunny country roads. Stoney Middleton actually has three wells, so they had three well dressings! Based in solid pagan traditions, well dressing “is a summer custom practiced in rural England in which wells, springs or other water sources are decorated with designs created from flower petals” (Wikipedia).

But these aren’t just any designs, they are AMAZING. The main one we saw in Stoney Middleton was a 100-year memorial to the start of WWI and the men and boys the village had lost in that war…created completely out of flower petals. They also had one at the Children’s Well dedicated to the World Cup, and one closer to the edge of town that was the image of a fox in a log.

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Stoney Middleton with well dressing on the right.

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Names of the fallen villagers.

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Close up of the petals, leaves and seeds used to make the dressing.

Our last stop on our journey home was Tissington, the home of Edward & Vintage. The shop was in a lovely little cottage with walls lined in glass jars full of old-fashioned candies. We spent about £15 on assorted bags of Pink Champagne, Gin & Tonic, Derbyshire Mint Cake, Rhubarb & Custard, Dark Chocolate Ginger, and Cornish Sea Salt Fudge among others…all classic British sweets with the occasional candy necklace thrown into the mix. A thoroughly satisfying end to a great trip into the Peak District.

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Edward & Vintage sweet shop in Tissington.

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Old-fashioned jars of sweets.

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Cornish sea salt fudge….yumm.

I don’t work for Public Affairs, and I probably never will as they are not one of the embassy departments that commonly have direct-hire OMSs. But I’ve always thought it would be fantastic to do so. Both Public Affairs and Protocol are the fancy face of the embassy. They have all the interesting contacts and plan all of the parties.

As an entry-level OMS my presence is rarely needed at such functions. So you can imagine how delighted I was to receive an email from the Front Office last week inviting me (among others) to attend a UK screening of the third season of Veep at the Ambassador’s residence. The season had already finished in the States but was due to air this week in the UK.

I RSVP’d and immediately began an exhaustive search for a sitter as my hubby was out of town for work. I finally found one, literally, in the 11th hour…it was 5:05pm, and the event started at 6:30pm. But what a wonderful night it was!

For some reason, I originally thought it was going to be more of a work get together that might involve maybe 15 people…until I saw the guest list with 150 names. The majority of them were British journalists, relevant employees from Sky TV, and American script writers. But I recognized one name: Sally Phillips.

Sally Phillips is a prolific British comedic actress who appeared in two episodes of Veep as the Finnish Prime Minister. And any hopeless romantic from the 2001 (such as myself) would also recognize her as Shazza from Bridget Jones’s Diary…the one who liked to say f*ck…a lot.

Thankfully they were serving champagne, so after a couple glasses I finally mustered the courage to ask Ms. Phillips if she would be kind enough to take a photo with me…not wanting to be the annoying fan at the embassy party. But she was super sweet and obliged. So now I have this wonderful photo to add to my list of amazing memories of London. Thank you, Sally! :)

 

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