The Last One From Oxford

Well guys, this is it. I can't believe the time has come to leave our wonderful adventure of a year in Oxford and head back to New York City tomorrow. Our time abroad has been a life-changing experience, and I'm so happy you all have been with us on the journey via this blog. Thank you for subscribing, reading, and commenting throughout the year--I never once felt homesick, and I think it was because you all were with us the whole time.

A lot of you have asked what's going to happen to this blog. I plan on keeping it up--the name and theme are obviously going to change since we won't be abroad anymore, but I'm looking forward to sharing our adventures in New York City once we're back. This has been a really fun outlet for me, and I hope you will continue checking in. I'm going to go on a brief hiatus for a couple of weeks while we get settled into our new (old) home and I make a few changes to the site, but I promise to be back soon!

We're currently trying to pack our life up into 4 suitcases and 2 carry-ons, so I need to run. But, I'll leave you with my top 5 favorite blog memories from this year. See you soon, America! xoxo

1. Mrs. Stratton's Words of Wisdom - That time we received marriage advice from a sweet British lady waiting for the bus.

2. A Round of Drinks With a Real Oxford Native - That time we met a new friend at the pub.

3. Sleeping Among the Monkeys - That time we slept in a hut in Thailand.

4. Making New Friends Far Away From Home - That time we met our best friends this year.

5. What It's Like to Attend a High Table Dinner in Oxford - That time we did the poshest thing ever.

Postcard I found from 1903 of people standing in front of our Oxford apartment. Just had to share here so I'll always have it.

Weekend Adventures: Hiking In the English Countryside

On Sunday, Christopher and I met up with his sweet coworker and her husband. The two of them are serious hikers and wanted to show us a side of Oxford you can really only get to by car. So, we drove to the little village of Ardington to begin our five mile walk through the English countryside. Here are some pictures from our adventure!

house in ardington, oxford
This is a house that actually belongs to someone. Or perhaps the vacation home of Jay Gatsby.

Just hanging with a bronze statue honoring a horse that won "Best In Show" one year.

Oxford wildlife

The trail

#TBT: 6 Never-Before-Seen Pics From Our Year Abroad, Plus The Story Behind Them

In honor of Throwback Thursday, I thought it'd be fun to share a few pics that never made it onto the blog this year but are still some of my favorites. Check them out below, along with the story behind them:

Bangkok, Thailand
Our friend David took this pic during a dinner cruise in Bangkok. Besides David being one of the most amazing photographers I know (and he does this just as a hobby, BTW), I love this picture because it was taken right after Christopher tried his first shrimp as an adult. He used to be the pickiest of eaters but his palate has matured a lot recently. I like to think the Thailand trip changed him for the better. In fact, as someone who used to oppose fish, he's even requested salmon for dinner a few times this year.

Stuttgart, Germany
When we visited my college friends Elise and Truett in Stuttgart, Germany, we also got to hang out with their three adorable little boys. On our last day there, we woke up to the first snowfall of the season. The whole town was covered in a blanket of white, so we went into the forest and played in it, obviously. I was not prepared with my flimsy little tennis shoes, so needless to say, we had a lot of fun slipping and sliding on those hills.

Bordeaux, France
This is me and my mother-in-law inside a fancy wine cellar at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte during our trip to Bordeaux. We were just casually enjoying a tasting when the person working there hit a magic button that made the floor open up, revealing a glittery staircase that led us to a room stocked with vintage wine and this really cool wall (I'm not making this up, although, yes, I realize it sounds like a dream).

A Comparative Analysis: British Festivals vs. American Ones

This weekend, we stumbled upon a huge festival happening in our neighborhood park. There were rides, arts & craft tents, performers, and food--all familiar things, sure, yet there were still some little things that felt different. Here's how a British festival compares to an American one, in case you were wondering:

1. No offense to Brits, but Americans should never order a burger at a festival in England based on the one we got. It was so bland and quite possibly the worst hamburger I've ever eaten in my life.

2. I spotted a sign at a craft tent that read something along the lines of "Polite Notice: All reasonable offers will be considered." First, I love their "polite notices." Usually those are found around town with some kind of rule tacked on the end like, "Polite Notice: Be quiet in this area." The Brits are just so darn polite. Second, I love that this vendor was like, "please haggle with me."

3. The car shows feature vehicles that have weird-looking license plates and steering wheels on the wrong side.

A Short Guide to Navigating British Pubs

One of the things we're going to miss most about Oxford is everything you see in that picture right there. The White Hart is our local pub--it's where Christopher and I cozied up during winter date nights and played scrabble by the fire. It's where we've brought all nine of our out-of-town guests to show them a true representation of British culture. It's where we've had fascinating conversations with strangers, and belly-laughs with our neighbors.

There are a lot of differences between a British pub and a traditional American bar. It took us a few times to get the hang of it. Here's what we've learned this year:

1. Seat yourself and order everything at the bar, including food.

2. There's no need to tip, but you can buy the bartender a drink if you'd like. Just say, "And one for yourself," when ordering. 

3. It's customary to take turns buying rounds of drinks. For example, if you're with another couple, one couple buys the first round, and the other couple gets the next.

4. There is an "invisible queue" at the bar, but the bartender knows who was first. Just make eye-contact with him or her, and you'll be waited on in an orderly fashion. No need to wave money or shout. In fact, don't do that... ever.

5. Order the pie. And I'm not talking about apple or chocolate.

6. If you have a large table and extra seats, don't be surprised if strangers sit with you. In fact, you should talk with them!

7. That's not an underaged kid breaking the law. He's 18 and legally allowed to drink. (Still makes me do a double take every time!)

What I Wish I Would Have Known About Moving Abroad

Our time in Oxford is coming to an end soon--we'll be heading back to the US in a little over a month. The emotions I'm feeling are very mixed and very bittersweet. While I'm excited to be back (there's definitely no place like home), this entire year has been one magical experience in my life.

My friend Megan (who is an amazing travel blogger and was actually the first one to encourage me to do this blog), just told me she's going to be doing the whole expat thing herself, moving to Hong Kong for six months with her husband! I love it because while my time is almost up, hers is about to begin. I like to think I'm passing the baton over to her.

So, I've been thinking what kind of advice I could give her or anyone else who's moving to another country. What is it that I wish someone would have told me? I came up with a few things and thought I'd share right here (hope these help you, M!)

1. Try to find an apartment before you move-- Because of our work schedules (and not really wanting to pay for an extra trip), Christopher and I just hopped on a plane with only a B&B reservation, thinking we'd magically find an apartment within a few days. That's how it works in NYC, at least. But the agents pretty much laughed in our face when we asked for something immediately. Turns out, the market here works a few months before move-in-date. Oops! Needless to say, it was the most stressful week of our lives. By some grace of god, we found a place and moved in seven days after we got to Oxford. If you absolutely can't make it to the place before you move like we did, my advice is to have a temporary housing backup plan for at least a month or two.

A Harry Potter Fan's Guide to Oxford

I often feel like I'm walking around Hogwarts when I'm in Oxford. That's because not only are some of the scenes in Harry Potter inspired by the city, they've also been filmed here. My friends Laura and Molly came to visit last weekend, and we tailored a chunk of our famous Pennell-guided walking tour to Laura's love for HP. For those of you who are fans and are planning a trip to Oxford, be sure to add these sights to your list, too!

Christ Church College
The famous Hogwarts main staircase and landing used in The Philosopher's Stone and The Chamber of Secrets:

Christ Church College Hogwarts staircase

And the Dining Hall was the inspiration for Hogwarts' Great Hall. Fun fact: they couldn't film the scenes in here because it could only fit three rows of tables, but they needed four because of the number of houses in the story:

Christ Church College Dining Hall Hogwarts Great Hall

The Divinity School
This intricate room built in 1448 was used as the Hogwarts infirmary in four films. It's also the place Professor McGonnagal taught students to dance in The Goblet of Fire:

Divinity School Oxford, Harry Potter Hogwarts Infirmary