School is back in and my son is taking an ACT/SAT prep course. He's actually getting into this class. It's making him think about what he wants to study, where he wants to go to college and what he might like to do to earn a living in the future. My little boy is suddenly behaving a lot like a man - which is a good thing.
On the first day of class, his instructor asked if any of them had been overseas during the summer. He admitted to me that he was absolutely thrilled to be one of two students to raise his hand!
This past summer, I decided it was time to introduce my son and my husband to my favorite place in the world. It is NOT in the United States. I've been numerous times, and every time I came home, I would say wistfully that I wished I didn't have to come back (much to my husband's consternation). Now, he understands.
I started saving money last year, thinking we might do this - my grandmother who lives there is 96. She's still chugging along, but I realized that my opportunities to see her and spend time with her were becoming extremely limited. It was time to act! I got the guys downtown to apply for passports, and told Z that from now on, he should always have a valid passport because when opportunities to travel crop up, you want to be able to GO!
School wrapped up and the following weekend, we drove to Orlando to catch our plane. My friend Jennifer babysat our car and took us to the airport.
It's only been a couple of years since I flew to England, but things have changed already... You can pre-purchase specific seats for an extra fee (a rather hefty one at that). If you don't, you can choose your seats for free 24 hours before the flight - but if you're not on the ball, you won't get what you want. I did manage to snag a couple of extra legroom seats for Corky and Z, but I wound up sitting several rows up, squished between a snoring little Indian woman and a very large man. It was not the most comfortable way to spend 9 hours..
We flew into Manchester rather than London, since it was relatively closer to the part of Wales we were headed towards. I'd already rented a car and booked a hotel room because I knew we'd be too tired to drive down after the flight.
The car I booked was a stick shift, but I realized, having never actually driving in England, that I would rather have an automatic transmission so I could concentrate on the actual driving rather than working clutch and stick in an unfamiliar configuration while trying to navigate the streets. In the end, we wound up with a Mercedes hatchback (!) for way too much money - but as it turned out, it was a very good move on my part. Another good move was having traveler and rental insurance (more about that later).
Having arrived, settled our car and loaded our bags, we set out for our hotel with directions from the rental place. Now let me tell you this - road signage is NOT something the British road system is very good at. And many, many intersections are round-abouts with between 3 and 7 roads to possibly exit onto (but not labeled well) made navigating difficult to say the least. It's easy to lose your bearings when going around in circles. The hotel was a Holiday Inn in West Manchester, in an area called Salford - supposedly about 8 miles from the airport. FIVE HOURS LATER, after having stopped in a library in Eccleston and getting directions, we finally found the Sainsburys on the corner near where we were supposed to wind up. It was enough to go on, and we finally found our un-signed road and the hotel with the sign hidden in the bushes. Life is different in Manchester than in the US. In the US, there would have been signage screaming everywhere - STAY HERE! Just up the road a little more and you're THERE! This journey felt like we were tracking down a national secret - and when we finally staggered into the hotel after being awake for over 24 hours (for me), it was a huge relief. I can't even remember what we did about dinner (I think we walked to Sainsburys for cheese and crackers just to make sure our legs still worked), but when I hit that bed, I felt like I'd landed in a cloud and slept soundly (and, according to the guys, loudly) for at least 10 hours.
More to come.