Tag Archives: Travel

Farewell to Cambridge

It has been far too long since we have written on here and a lot has happened since our last entry.  It has been a very busy, intense two months, but things are finally starting to settle down for us.  Well, sort of.  Our time in Cambridge has just come to an end and now we are spending about a month with our families before we move to Chicago.  We are moving to Chicago as Ben will be starting a job at Moody Bible Institute in July which we are beyond excited about.  I will be starting my own wedding and event planning business so as you can imagine, I am pretty elated.  We are excited, but there is also a lot of change ahead of us.

Before I start looking forward though, I want to reflect on all that has taken place the last few months.  Our time in England was such a wonderful, unique time in our lives and I want to share some of the highlights of the last few months.  In no particular order, here they are…

1.  In April my mom decided to take a last-minute trip and come visit us before we left.  It was a whirlwind visit but it was incredible.  I wanted to show her everything, so we did from walks to Grantchester (even in the freezing cold wind!!), afternoon drinks with my girlfriends, walking around the colleges, a day trip to London,  and afternoon tea, we did it all!  We had such a great time and it was wonderful to just enjoy the city I love with my mom.

A couple of days before my mom came she decided that she wanted to also do a short trip to Italy so we spent about four days in Venice toward the end of her stay.  It was an amazing trip and we had so much fun together.  We laughed so hard my mom was bent over holding her stomach and couldn’t even walk!  We kept getting turned around in the canals and we just couldn’t stop giggling.  We enjoyed gelato, Italian opera, views from the bell tower, a gondola ride, and of course, tasty Italian food!  It was such a memorable trip and I am so glad I got to share it with my mom.  The only thing that would have topped it off would have been having my dad, brother, and sister-in-law there!

2.  For most of the last year, we had been praying about what to do when our time at Cambridge came to an end.  Graciously, the Lord answered our prayers – after teaching us many lessons in patience – and opened some exciting doors for future ministry.  Ben couldn’t be more excited to start his job at Moody.  Chicago is going to be a wonderful city to move to.  We feel incredibly blessed, and we can’t wait to start the next phase of our lives there.

3. We went out with friends to Wimpole Hall one day and it was one of the most relaxing afternoons I have had in months.  We sipped on hot chocolate, walked the gardens, escaped a hoard of mangy looking cows, and strolled through fields in the fading sun.  It was afternoon of fun as we posed for photos, played on the bridges and hiked to castle ruins.  The setting was gorgeous, but it was the people that made the afternoon so wonderful.  The Brock family along with Jack, Jess, and David never fail to keep me laughing.

4. One of the things that we have not really shared on our blog has been our desire to start a family.  Through our training in natural family planning, we have known ever since we got married that we may have some problems with getting pregnant.  When we moved to England we began trying to have a baby, but after two and half years the doctors in the NHS told us that we would not be able to conceive without surgery and in vitro fertilization.  No sooner had we received that depressing news than we found out that we were pregnant!  That’s the NHS for you (sorry British friends…you know it to be true).  We couldn’t wait to tell our families once we returned home, but sadly we lost the baby around 8 weeks and this was devastating for us.  We had a very difficult few weeks as we grieved the loss of our baby.  Nevertheless, the very fact that we were able to get pregnant has filled us with a hope that one day we will get pregnant and eventually hold a baby in our arms.

5. Another highlight for me was a girls weekend away in the Peak District.  Me and 10 of my girlfriends rented a house in a little village named Calver and we had such a great time!  It was a weekend filled with great conversations, painting our nails, an afternoon at Chatsworth House (where Pride and Prejudice was filmed), cooking amazing meals together, reading in front of a cozy fire, dancing in the kitchen, playing games, and just enjoying each other’s presence.  This weekend came after my miscarriage so it was exactly what I needed in terms of rest, laughter, talking, and great food!  I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend or more amazing friends.

6. Our lease ended in late April and so we were in need of a place to stay until we left on the 21st of May, and our Cambridge family came to the rescue!  We stayed with five different families during this month and we could not have been more blessed.  We were not only given a bed to sleep in, but we were provided meals, rides to and from here and there, a washer to do our laundry, and best of all, quality time with each family.  While it could have been a really stressful time, our friends made it a time of real blessing and encouragement.

7. Our last two weeks in Cambridge were amazing.  We were showered in love nearly every day.  We had two going away parties that were just incredible.  The first one was a surprise party where everyone was dressed in Victorian apparel and it was unforgettable!  Not only was everyone dressed in Jane Austen style clothing, but they provided us with matching attire!  There was a five course dinner to follow complete with menus, candelabras, and place cards with me and Ben’s silhouettes on them.  Like I said, it was an unforgetable evening.

We had another going away party that was in the Tyndale garden and this was another memorable evening.  The night was filled with all the things we love…burgers, an all chocolate dessert buffet, vases and jars filled with peonies (which is my favorite flower!!), and country music!  My favorite part of the night was once the sun went down and we sat around a fire eating smores.  It was such a sweet time of everyone just enjoying being together.

Our going away parties were so special, but we had a hundred other ways that we were blessed.  We received some of the most incredible gifts and we could not say thank you enough.  From gigantic Cadbury bars (and I mean GIGANTIC) to lovely bracelets, an underground sign with messages from our youth to a painting of me and Ben, a book of photos and notes from friends to a slide show of photos of Cambridge with music by Taylor Swift, we could not have felt more blessed. We felt so, so loved these last few weeks and it made it that much harder to leave.  Thank you to all our Cambridge friends.  When I say that you have been family to us these past few years, I mean that.  Leaving you all and this special time in our lives has been very difficult, but we are so thankful for the time we had with each and every one of you.

There are so many more highlights, but I will stop there for now as anyone who has read this far is probably now in need of stretching their legs!  Below are some photos from the last few months (sorry for how jumbled they are).  More will follow I am sure!!

The whole gang at our surprise going away party...don't they all look amazing?!

The whole gang at our surprise going away party…don’t they all look amazing?!

The whole group at Wimpole...even the family dog made it in the photo!

The whole group at Wimpole…even the family dog made it in the photo!

I love the Brock women. :)

I love the Brock women. 🙂

Me and Lady Roe squeezing each other to death!!

Me and Lady Roe squeezing each other to death!!

Ben and Jack looking cool with their jackets over their shoulders!

Ben and Jack looking cool with their jackets over their shoulders!

Venice...so beautiful.

Venice…so beautiful.

Me and mom having a laughing fit in London

Me and mom having a laughing fit in London

Mom and me posing in Notting Hill

Mom and me posing in Notting Hill

Mom laughing in Venice...how fitting that it was in front of the crazy bar!

Mom laughing in Venice…how fitting that it was in front of the crazy bar!

Me and mom in the Peterhouse gardens.

Me and mom in the Peterhouse gardens.

Amy...our resident chef for the weekend!

Amy…our resident chef for the weekend!

Jackie and Ben posing in their period clothing!

Jackie and Ben posing in their period clothing!

Group photo at Chatsworth!

Group photo at Chatsworth!

Brittany and Laura in Mr. Darcy's garden...so fetching!

Brittany and Laura in Mr. Darcy’s garden…so fetching!

Dinner with the girls in the Peak District...so fun!

Dinner with the girls in the Peak District…so fun!

My beautiful peonies and chocolate desserts!

My beautiful peonies and chocolate desserts!

I love these girls :)

I love these girls 🙂

The guys playing it cool

The guys playing it cool

Amy LOVING her first smore!

Amy LOVING her first smore!

Amy making her first smore

Amy making her first smore


Surprise!

One thing you should know about me is I love surprises.  I love to be surprised and I love to surprise others.  I absolutely live for the challenge of pulling off a great surprise.  This Christmas I pulled off my biggest one yet.

We had the blessing of being able to go home this Christmas and we decided that instead of telling my parents we were coming home for the holidays, we would simply show up on their doorstep on Christmas day.  I started planning with my brother (Zach) in October making sure that he and his wife (Stephanie) would have some time off and that they could plan to be with my parents.  Not only would we get to spend some quality time with them, but it would also ensure that my parents didn’t plan some sort of last-minute Caribbean cruise or something!  With the planning underway, we got more and more excited.

When I spoke to my parents, I carefully avoided the subject of what we were doing for Christmas and talked more about my company’s Christmas party and all the things our church was doing.  Finally on the 23rd of December, we set off for the airport.  We had a fun two days leading up to Christmas day and I couldn’t get over how excited I was to see our families.  My enthusiasm for all things America and family just kept bubbling over.  I was like a giddy schoolgirl.

Christmas morning finally dawned and it was an amazing day from beginning to end.  We enjoyed Christmas morning with Ben’s family and then had a great lunch together.  We then set off for my parents house.  I have to say that I loved the two and half hour drive to their house.  After having not driven in over a year and a half, it felt great to be on the open roads.  We arrived at my parents house and I drove extremely slowly up their driveway so that they wouldn’t hear the car.  We gently shut the doors of the jeep, crept up the walkway and then slowly tried to open the front door.

It stuck.  I had to mash the handle pretty good before the door gave way and opened.  I could hear my family talking in the living room as Ben and I slowly walked in.  As I turned the corner I said cheerfully, “Merry Christmas!!”  Everyone turned our way and my dad was the first to respond.  He promptly shouted, “What?!  Who is this?!”  My mom’s hand flew to her mouth as she gasped out loud.  The next thing I heard was my dad saying, “this is so cool!”

It finally sunk in to my mom (who thought she was hallucinating!) and she got up and put her hands on both sides of my face and just stared at me for a minute.  Then she kissed my check and pulled me in for a fierce hug.  My dad had finally recognized me by this point and after hugging Ben, he wrapped his arms around me and my mom who were just standing there hugging.  It was the best Christmas gift I have ever been given and the best surprise I have ever pulled off.


A Visit to Milwaukee and Chicago

Oh how I love thee, America!  Last week I was back in the US for a couple of conferences in Milwaukee and Chicago.  I presented a paper, met up with tons of old friends and mentors, had a few interviews, made some new friends, and ate copious amounts of unhealthy but delicious American fast food! (I forgot how much I love Panda Express!)

Among the highlights of the trip:  (1) The weather was way better than I had anticipated.  You grow up hearing horror stories about how bad the weather is in Chicago, but for the time I was there it was warmer than it has been in Cambridge this Fall.

(2) My first forays into Wisconsin were a smashing success.  My friend Chris and I took a bus from the Chicago airport to Milwaukee, and it’s hard to explain how great it is to listen to a friendly bus driver with a deep Wisconsin accent shoot the breeze about cheese crackers, beer, and the Christmas lights in Milwaukee.  On my second night in Milwaukee, I went with a couple friends to a great German restaurant and ate a Pork Shank.  That’s right, a pork shank.  If it was good enough for Ronald Reagan – and the menu assured me that it was – then it’s good enough for me!

(3) Of course, food and weather are not as important as people, and I was truly blessed by many great interactions with dear friends over the course of the week.  It was so nice to catch up about life, talk theology, and laugh about shared experiences with friends I miss here in England.

(4) My paper went well.  It was on discipleship and the death of Jesus in Luke’s gospel, and I was very happy with the interaction and input that followed the paper.  I feel like I was able to take some good ideas from the discussion and will be able to develop the essay a bit more and submit it for publication.

(5) I didn’t get lost while travelling around Chicago on the subway.  I took a little trip out to Oak Park, and since I had no phone, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to figure out where I was and I would be stranded.  Thankfully it was very easy to navigate the subway system.

Downsides were:  (1) Rachael was not there.  (2) The conference in Chicago was inconveniently located, so I didn’t really get to see as much of the city as I had hoped.  (3) No good sleep the whole time.  The latest I was able to sleep without waking up was 5:30am one morning.  (4) I foolishly went on a pizza-making binge in the weeks leading up to the trip, so when I was in Chicago I didn’t really have much of an appetite for the amazing pizza.  I guess there’s always next time.


Another Roman Holiday

At the end of my parents’ visit in June, we took a weekend trip to Rome.  My parents had never been there before, and Rachael and I were happy to see the eternal city once again.  We saw too many places to mention, including many of the same sights as our first trip.  One spot that was new for us, however, was Ostia Antica and the beach at Ostia Lido, about an hour outside of Rome.  We had a blast.  Lots of memories, and lots of laughs.  Thanks Mom and Dad!  Here are some pictures from the trip:


A Visit to Brighton

On the first weekend my parents were in England, they kindly took us on a little trip to Brighton, on the south coast.  Rachael had always wanted to visit Brighton because of its prominence in Jane Austen stories.  Needless to say, the city has changed quite a bit since Austen’s time, but it remains just as popular a place for Londoners to spend a weekend.

We stayed at an excellent bed and breakfast right across from the seaside.  Strangely, you can’t smell the ocean in Brighton, even when you’re on the pier.  Plus the beach is made of rocks.  In other respects, the boardwalk is similar to a lot of the coastal cities in the US.  There’s an amusement park at the end of the pier and a big ferris wheel on the beach.  The place is packed with people.  It’s a very fun atmosphere, and the city as a whole has a whimsical atmosphere that’s reminiscent of a small-scale San Francisco.

We happened to get very lucky with the weather.  It was in the high 70’s and sunny the whole weekend.  Apparently, many Brits haven’t learned about skin cancer yet, because we saw a shocking number of people who were sunburnt to a reddish purple from head to toe, just laying out in the sun even after it was clear that they probably ought to seek medical attention.

Speaking of sunburns, the best moment of the trip was when the host at our B&B walked in to greet us as we ate breakfast one morning.  Upon seeing my father’s rosy cheeks, she cringed in surprise and asked whether he was in pain.  My dad matter-of-factly replied in his cordial southern drawl, ‘My face is always this red.’  My mom, Rachael, and I couldn’t stop laughing.  Thanks for the trip Mom and Dad!

Here are some pictures:


My Newest Addiction…

While we were in Zambia, we were persuaded not only to do a safari, but to visit Victoria Falls.  We decided that we would make this an early anniversary trip.  We only went for four days, but they were the best four days we have had in a very long time.  We spent the first two nights at a very budget motel and then splurged the last two nights on a hotel that was out of this world.  Well, let me be more accurate, we stayed at a luxury chalet.  Oh baby!!!  We would normally never be able to afford a place like this, but one of our dear friends at Northrise University helped us to get a massive discount.  It was one of the best gifts we have ever been given.

Our first night we enjoyed the splendor of Victoria Falls and got sufficiently soaked.  Seriously, we had two rain coats on and we were still soaking wet!  Then the next day we went on our day safari.  The next morning we left for our luxury chalet.  We had no idea what to expect, but we were not disappointed.  We spent an hour driving to the most remote hotel I have ever stayed in.  Then we turned off the main road and basically went four wheeling for about thirty minutes.  Eventually, we pulled up to the front gate of the Islands of Siankaba where we were greeted by our hosts.  Our bags were taken away and we signed in at the front desk.  We were then led out to the docks where we boarded a boat that speed upstream.

We eventually came to an island in the middle of the Zambezi River and my breath was completely taken away.  There was a large sweeping veranda with plush sofas and large cushy chairs.  There were fire pits everywhere, and off to the right were swinging rope bridges that lead from one island to the next.  On the next island you could see the chalets peeking out of the tree tops.  It was like a luxury Swiss Family Robinson.  I was in awe.

Our room was this amazing tent that had a heated bed, a beautiful claw-foot tub, and a porch that over-looked the river where hippos came in at night. We woke up each morning to tea being delivered to our room and we would sit and watch the sun come up as monkeys played on our porch.  It was surreal.  We took walks around the island, got massages, and were able to go out to the village of Siankaba where we met the most amazing people.  The hotel staff were all a apart of the Siankaba tribe and they take great pride in their village.  My favorite part of the whole trip was meeting all the children who attend the local primary school.  The sang and danced for me and Ben and my heart completely melted.  I wanted to take all of them home with me!  Those two days were filled with fun as we adventured around our tiny island.  I felt like a kid chasing monkeys and searching for hippos.

There was no TV, internet access, or phone signal so it was just me and Ben and nature.  It was two of the best days we have ever had together.  Since it was an all-inclusive hotel, we were able to enjoy all sorts of activities for no extra charge.  We ate the most amazing food, went on sunset river cruises each night, and just enjoyed the company of the other guests on the island.  The most amazing part of the whole trip was our last night when Ben and I happened to be the only guests staying on the island!  The staff went out of their way to make it a special night for us.  They set up an enclosed gazebo for us so we could have an intimate dinner together.  They lit lots of candles and served us the most delicious dinner.  We even tried crocodile tail (a bit on the chewy side, but pretty tasty)!  After dinner we crossed over the rope bridges and headed off to our what was our private island for the night.  Talk about a once in a lifetime opportunity.

I could have stayed there forever, but alas, we had to return to Cambridge.  I have never stayed anywhere with better service, more delectable food, or a more peaceful environment.  It was the best early anniversary gift we could have given each other.  I don’t know if we will ever be able to return, but I know I always remember those two days at Siankaba as two of the most relaxing, most romantic days we have shared together.  What can I say, luxury suits us well!

Here are some pictures from our trip, but please take a look at the webiste as I couldn’t even capture how beautiful this place was! http://www.siankaba.net/


Up Close and Personal

I have fed large animals out of the palm of my hand and seen prowling cats just a few feet away, but all of this was with large fences and glass enclosures separating us.  Though the experience is fun and admittedly cheaper, it can’t compare to the uniqueness of a safari.  I like animals just fine, but I am not what you would call an animal lover. So you can imagine how surprised I was at how much I loved a day spent just driving around looking at animals.  I have never experienced anything like it.

We hadn’t planned on going on a safari while we were in Zambia, but everyone there was adamant that this was not to be missed.  And really, how could we pass that up?  We crossed the border of Zambia and entered Botswana where we headed to Chobe National Park.  We were only able to do a day safari, but it was one of the most memorable parts of our trip.

We did a river safari in the morning and a game drive in the afternoon.  Never in my life have I seen so many animals.  The river especially, was teeming with life.  We saw crocodiles, hippos, water buffalo, warthogs, huge iguanas (which we mistaked for a snake swimming next to our boat and Ben nearly jumped out of his seat!), antelope, elephants and so much more.  Both of us thought that you would spend most of the time driving around and occasionally see animals, but we would barely go two or three minutes and there would be another group of animals.  It was astonishing.

The river safari was Ben’s favorite, but mine was without a doubt the game drive.  We saw hundreds and hundreds of monkeys and I have to say that they were probably some of the cutest animals I have ever seen.  I could have fit some of them in the palm of my hand.  It seemed that around every turn there were fifty more monkeys and to my surprise 20-30 elephants.  The elephants were my favorite part.  We saw well over 200 and it was just incredible.  We saw little baby elephants lying in the road and huge male elephants that towered above our jeep.

At one point we turned a corner and the jeep came to an abrupt stop.  The road was blocked by elephants and to our right there was a massive female elephant.  She kept inching closer until she was only an arm’s length away.  I am normally a pretty fearful person, but I had to resist the urge to reach out and touch her trunk.  She got so close that the Japanese man behind me actually cried out!  He scooted across the seat until he was practically sitting on the lap of the girl sitting next to him.  Ben and I along with the girl got a pretty good laugh at that.

The day was filled with the most amazing discoveries.  Seeing God’s creation literally EVERYWHERE was incredible.  I don’t know quite how to explain it, but it just left you speechless.  Up close like that you just see how everything works together.  The elephants, giraffes, monkeys, antelope, and warthogs all stick together and watch out for each other.   It was like watching the live production of Lion King…well, minus the lions!  The shere number of animals we saw was amazing, but we didn’t see any cats which was a bit disappointing.  I guess that just gives us an excuse to go on another one!  Seriously though, this was one of the most memorable days of my life.  I am now completely addicted to safaris.  So who is going to be joining me and Ben on our next one?!!