Broom training at Alnwick Castle, England.

Broom training at Alnwick Castle, England.

Sorry I’ve been offline for so long, but I have a good excuse! We’ve been on our first big State Dept Family R&R. R&R stands for Rest and Recuperation, and your eligibility is based on where you’re posted. Hardship posts usually get one or two, but zero hardship posts do not.

So we had one R&R during our two years in Belize and used it to go back to the States for Xmas in 2012. London had no R&R because it’s awesome, and you don’t need one. Iceland is only 5% hardship but still gets two R&Rs in three years due to its isolation and long dark winters.

You have to use your own vacation leave and pay for all of your expenses, but State will pay for your plane tickets to the States, your designated R&R location (Iceland’s is Rome), or you can cost construct your own trip. If it’s less than the cost of a ticket to your designated R&R location, you’re in the clear. If it’s more, you pay the difference.

For our first Grand Family R&R we were originally going to do Greece and Italy, but it didn’t quite work out. So we opted to head back to the UK and hit some of the spots we’d missed that were on the bucket list when we lived there. We also had some friends we wanted to visit. So our R&R looked like this:

  • Flew into Manchester, visited friends and had a girls’ night in Freckleton, then went to the pier in Blackpool.
  • Took the train to Edinburgh, spent a day in town, then did day trips across the English border to Alnwick Castle & Lindisfarne Priory, and Hadrian’s Wall & Vindolanda Roman Fort.
  • Took the train to Inverness, checked out the town, went to the Highland Games, rented a car and drove to Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, visited Culloden Battlefield, took the funicular up and hiked around Cairngorm Mountain, visited a couple whisky distilleries and the Walkers shortbread factory.
  • Flew to London, visited friends, had a girl’s night, afternoon tea, playdates and picnics in Hyde Park, went to the embassy medical unit for doctors’ appointments, did a bit of supply and clothing shopping for A and mailed it all back to Iceland.
  • Flew to Paris, did a two-day hop-on-hop-off bus tour, visited the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Saint-Chapelle chapel, visited the fun fair in the Tuilerie Gardens, sailed toy boats on the pond in the Luxembourg Gardens, ate pastries and drank French beer with lemon syrup and relaxed in the outdoor cafés. 🙂

We booked all of our accommodations through Booking.com and were only disappointed once (Premiere Inn County Hall in London) and moved hotels the next day. But the rest of the time we stayed in vacation rental apartments, and they were all fantastic. Photos and details to follow!!

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