Although I’ve only written about Paris so far, this yearlong adventure really began in mid-January with a trip to London. Yes, we flew from Boston to London, back to Boston, and then to Paris, all in the span of three weeks. The trip totally messed with our circadian rhythms.

As crazy as it sounds, the trip was actually super helpful for managing our 2018 taxes. (That’s probably not where you expected this post to go, huh?) Over the past few months we’ve learned quite a lot about the ins and outs of U.S. tax law, and it turns out that if you’re out of the U.S. for 330 days in a 12-month period, you may be exempt from the health insurance mandate. (Which we fully support, by the way. We just didn’t want to purchase a year’s worth of health insurance in both the U.S. and France!) So anyway, after our original plan to do Colin’s Caribbean field work in January fell apart, we knew we’d need to skedaddle out of the country for a while or else be on the hook for U.S. tax penalties.

Skedaddle we did.

We picked London for three reasons:

  1. Colin’s good friend Ben is in London for grad school, and he was happy to host us.
  2. No one wants to go to London in January, so airfare was cheap.
  3. I’d never been to the U.K. before, and although Colin had, he’d never been to London.

We were there for ten days, so we had tons of time to explore, see the sights, figure out public transportation, and just hang out at coffeeshops and pubs. It was a refreshing change of pace from the packed itineraries of most international vacations. At the same time, being in London started making us really nervous for Paris. Even without the language barrier, figuring out all those little teeny cultural differences in the U.K. was at times overwhelming. Things like ordering food directly from the bartender at pubs, finding your table before ordering at coffeeshops, knowing that restaurants close their kitchens by 6 or 7 and bars by 11, and understanding pedestrians’ place in the traffic hierarchy. (Tip: all the way at the bottom. Although London is definitely walkable, traffic systems are not, shall we say, encouraging to pedestrians.) Colin and I would look at each other and wonder, “If it’s this stressful to adjust to another English-speaking country, how are we going to manage in French?”

That’s the thing about travel—it’s usually more fun in hindsight than at the moment you’re living it. But, with that said, we really did have a wonderful time in London! We learned so much history, drank so much tea, and ate so much fish and chips. A few of the highlights:

  • Yeoman Warder tour of the Tower of London. Our Yeoman Warder guide was not, as we first thought, a costumed tour guide, but instead one of the most elite members of the British military. Yeoman Warders are solely responsible for guarding the Tower and crown jewels, and to be considered for the position, they must have served in the military for 22 years and have amassed a number of honors (and women are welcome to apply). There are only 37 currently. As our guide pointed out, more people have gone into space than have served as Yeoman Warders. Anyway, our guide was excellent. The Tower of London has an impressively bloody history, and the crown jewels did not disappoint.

Tower of London

  • Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms. While we’re talking about bloody history, let’s talk about the Churchill War Rooms. These rooms are an underground bunker that Churchill and his cabinet used to strategize during World War II. The interesting thing, though, is that they told no one about the rooms, even after the war. The bunker was sealed a few days after the war ended and remained vacant for decades, until it was turned into a museum. You walk through with an audio guide, seeing everything just as it was when the war ended. Large maps with pushpins and string tracking troops’ movements. An envelope with rationed sugar cubes, saved for some cabinet member’s coffee. It’s really, really cool.
  • “All’s Well That Ends Well” at Shakespeare’s Globe. Shows don’t run at the outdoor Globe during the winter, so we bought tickets to see a show at the adjoining indoor playhouse instead. That turned out to be hugely fortuitous! It would have been such a shame to miss this experience. The playhouse was built – like the outdoor Globe – as a detailed reconstruction of theater in Shakespeare’s time. Unlike the Globe, which seats 1,400, the playhouse seats only 300. Our tickets were in the “lords’ boxes” right next to the stage, so the actors were practically in our laps. In another sign of Shakespeare’s time, the theater has no electricity and is lit entirely by candles. The actors each carried their own and used them to excellent dramatic effect—one of my favorite moments was when one actor snuffed out another’s candle in an angry huff. The show incorporated singing, as it would have during Shakespeare’s time, and the acting was probably the best I’ve seen.

Shakespeare’s Globe

  • Lumiere London. Also fortuitously, we happened to be in London for the second year of the Lumiere London art and light festival. Artists transformed landmarks around the city with nighttime light displays, and while I’m sure each was a lot of work, the one that took my breath away was the transformation of Westminster Abbey. I like to call it “Westminster Abbey and its amazing technicolor dreamcoat.”

Westminster Abbey during Lumiere London

Okay, this post is turning into a novel, so I’ll just note that we did SO MUCH MORE and it was all incredible. We walked over Tower Bridge and London Bridge almost every day, wandered through Hyde Park to Kensington and Buckingham Palaces, toured Westminster Abbey, had tea and scones overlooking the Thames at Tate Modern, attended Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral, took a day trip to Cambridge and Grantchester (yes, that Grantchester), saw the Rosetta stone and a million other things at the British Museum, and scored discount tickets to 42nd Street in the West End. Oh, and at Colin’s request, we also visited the Natural History Museum—you can read his glowing review here.

In sum: London was a great start to our year of international travels. We were seriously impressed by their public transportation system (Boston, take note!) and are happy to know we have a friend just across the Chunnel. Thanks for helping with our tax planning adventuring, Ben!

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