Favourite things about a trip to the UK

British american flag

We had to go back to the UK to collect our new visas. Our old visas ran out on the 15th October and we couldn’t get an embassy appointment until the week after. All of which meant we had to spend a nice long holiday (well, 2 and a bit weeks) in the UK!

There have been a couple of lists doing the rounds recently about the little differences between the UK and America (for example this one). So I thought I’d do my own list of 10 things I loved and had missed about the UK.

Hovis hill
‘Hovis’ Hill (despite the advert’s implications, it’s not really in Yorkshire at all, but in Dorset – its real name is Gold Hill) and my mum in the foreground (taken back in 1981).

1. Pubs. We had so many pub lunches while we were in the UK! Some in city pubs – Wetherspoons and Nicholsons – others in proper country pubs with roaring fires and excellent beer and cider. Which brings me on to…

2. Pints. These are bigger, and we were able to practice what is considered a party trick in the US: carrying three pints at the same time from the bar to the table. Which brings me to…

3. Self-service. Sometimes I don’t want table service. Sometimes I just want to pop into the pub for a swift half on the way back from a walk. Buying in advance from the bar means I can just up and leave when I’m ready, rather than having to get someone’s attention and wait for the ‘check’. Which brings me to…

4. Not having to tip. Things feel so much cheaper when you don’t have to add on tax and that extra 20%. We tip around 12% when we feel it’s deserved but otherwise we really don’t have to. But let’s get on to…

5. British food. I wrote myself a list before we got to the UK of all the things I wanted to eat, and proceeded to cross them off. We have enjoyed:

  • Proper Yorkshire fish and chips (in Whitby), with crisp batter, vinegary chips (for me), bread and butter and Yorkshire tea.
  • Yorkshire pudding – as part of a great pub roast (beef) and as toad in the hole (I know this is a great mystery to Americans so see recipe here).
  • Homemade apple/apple and blackberry crumble – my favourite dessert.
  • Melton Mowbray pork pie and Scotch eggs.
  • Full English breakfasts (‘fry-up’s) with proper British/Danish back bacon (it’s nothing like Canadian bacon before anyone says anything), fried mushrooms, fried bread and black pudding.
  • Bacon sandwiches – not possible with anything other than British/Danish back bacon.
  • Crisps! – the British ‘chips’ come in way more exciting and varied flavours.
  • Malt loaf – does this really not exist in America (see here for what I mean)? Because I’d forgotten how much I love it for breakfast.
  • Curry – it’s always so reliably good pretty much anywhere in the UK.
  • Lots and lots of English tea.

6. Drinking to excess. I know this sounds bad, but I rather like the fact that in the UK it’s perfectly acceptable to order a bottle of wine even if there are only two of you – and it’s lunchtime. There’s also something about getting drunk with friends or family that just bonds you together on a deeper level… or so it certainly feels at the time!

7. Borough Market. R and I used to spend so many weekends here, and when we had a couple of hours before we had to get on to our next stop we just had to pop down and go back to our favourite stalls. It felt like no time had passed at all since the last time we’d stood in the autumn sunshine eating chicken burgers followed by treats from the Cinnamon Tree bakery. But this is just part of my love for:

8. London (and its integrated transport network!).

london-rail-and-tube-services-map

This city provides so many wonderful experiences, like browsing in Borough market, wandering the old streets around Mayfair, and enjoying the Thames at nightfall from one of the restaurants on the Southbank. But most of all I love the fact that I can dash around this huge city so easily using my lovely London buses and the most famous and best of underground systems – the tube. Since we were last in London the Overground had completed its extension so we had even more choices to get us to the mainline stations we were using to visit friends and family. Which brings me to:

9. Short distances. After traversing America and getting stuck in the comparatively close city of Boston, I really appreciated the way that you can travel to most parts of the UK really quickly and easily. We had so many people we wanted to visit and such a short time, that it just wouldn’t have been possible if the UK weren’t as small. In two weeks we visited people in Pickering, Sheffield, St Albans, Cambridge, Oxford, Winchester, Exeter, Chagford, and Tunbridge Wells. For many of these we used trains, but for the SW we hired a car. Which leads me to:

10. British driving. A lot of the things mentioned in the American’s list of 100 things I referenced earlier are related to this. After driving in the US we were very attuned to the differences. Apart from being confused that we’ve still not embraced automatic cars (when even parking is automated now), we mostly found this a pleasure. We were back to signage that made sense, was consistent and didn’t distract with too much text! We were back to a consistent speed limit that people pretty much followed! And when people flashed their lights, we realised, they were actually thanking us for overtaking in a considerate manner! I don’t think this is entirely an issue of national characteristics (maybe we’re more polite, but I wouldn’t generalise), but perhaps more of consistent enforcement. As that American noticed – ‘If you speed on a motorway, you get a ticket. Period. Always.

11. (Bonus!) The best thing, of course, was seeing friends and family again. Although we have made new friends in the States, there’s something about old friends. No matter how long it’s been you can just get right back to how you were, and it seems like you’ve barely been away.

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