Have you ever been welcomed into a friend’s home with such kindness and generosity that your heart practically bleeds with gratitude? That’s how we feel after spending 12 days at the Clark family’s house near Brighton, England. We first met the Clarks in Bali last year. Their kids are similar ages to ours and we hit it off so well that we spent several days together during their two trips to Bali, and enjoyed touring around Sri Lanka together earlier this year. We’ve been looking forward to visiting them at their home in the UK ever since.
The Clarks had only returned from their two year round-the-world trip a week before we arrived, and have been busy unpacking and adjusting to life back home. Yet, they were fun and incredibly gracious hosts. It was interesting to hear their thoughts and feelings about getting back into work and school and house maintenance after having been gone for so long, and it made me think more about what it will be like for us as we look to settle for longer in more developed countries. We had many long talks late into the night, laughing and playing, enjoying each other’s company, and even learning to play snooker.
We arrived by train from London, and their entire family greeted us at the train station in Southwick, about 30 minutes west of Brighton on the southern coast of England. Most of the kids rode home on scooters or walked, and others rode in the car with the luggage. At the entrance to their beautiful 100-year old house was a sign hanging from the mailbox that spelled the word “WELCOME” in lego bricks. And more welcome decorations adorned the walls inside. And we did feel welcome.
Martin spoiled us nearly every night with his amazing home cooking. We could tell he was happy to be in the kitchen again after so many months eating out, and we could relate to being tired of restaurant food. Fortunately, he was an incredible cook and we loved the food he prepared! The first Sunday, we enjoyed a traditional British meal of delicious roast beef, potatoes and other vegetables, yorkshire pudding, and summer pudding for dessert made with some berries from their garden. What a heavenly meal! Other favorites were the homemade bread, applesauce, sweet potato fries and parsnips, cooked red cabbage, pastas, Thai curry, salmon with creamy dill sauce, apple crumble with vanilla custard cream, blackberry mousse, and so much more! My stomach was very happy every day. We also did a picnic or two with sandwiches, and often snacked on carrots and cucumbers with hummus in the kitchen.
Oh, and we mustn’t forget the wine, which, thanks to the Clarks, I’ve finally learned to appreciate and enjoy. They treated us to several different types of wines, with grapes from vineyards all over the world. Our favorites (and theirs) tended to be the New World wines with pleasant mixtures of fruity flavors that linger on the tongue. Here a picture of my favorite:
The kids even got into cooking. They made gingerbread cookies a few times, decorating them with all sorts of sprinkles. They also made cake twice — first, a “friendship cake” with lemon icing and our last names spelled out together, and later, a chocolate cake to celebrate Emily’s 11th birthday. Martin helped Emily make her own bread, too. And Jen made bagels a couple times, which were great. I sliced a banana for my own breakfast (with a spoon). And I helped with dishes.
One day, we had a visit from another traveling family, the Princes, who are from the UK but have been living in Singapore for the past 15 years, and after a couple months in Thailand, are now traveling full-time. I’d actually corresponded with Daniel a few months earlier via email, and it was a coincidence we happened to be staying with the Clarks when they were in town. We had a great time talking, and all took a walk to the playground and to the beach, which was a bit cold and windy.
In fact, the weather was cold a windy (and rainy) a lot there. But there were also nice patches of sun and warmth. It was hard to predict, which I guess is normal for an English summer. I decided to buy a pair of jeans to keep my legs warmer, and often layered up.
Speaking of clothing, in preparation for school, the Clark children needed to get school uniforms. Jen and I went with them to Lancing college and chapel, which is for older kids, but is where the uniforms are sold. The whole experience was a bit Harry Potter-esq, with large outdoor arched corridors made of stone, and students organized into houses with prefects, etc. The chapel on the grounds was also glorious.
One day, Jen and I took a double decker bus to Brighton, while the kids all stayed home (because they were having so much fun on the trampoline, in the hot tub, making bracelets, play-dough, baking, and playing minecraft, that none of them wanted to leave the house). We had a great time walking through the laines at the old shops, enjoyed some Spanish tapas, and toured the glamorous Royal Pavilion, which was built as a pleasure palace by Price George of Wales. Some of the rooms were absolutely breathtaking, pairing elements of India and China with a European flair. Carved Chinese dragons, statues, and paintings lined many walls. Thousands of cockle shells covered the ceiling like dragon scales. And there were even separate corridors for servants to use so they were out of sight of the house guests. They wouldn’t let us take photos inside, but here are some I found on the Internet, along with my outdoor pictures.
One of the highlights of our time with the Clarks was the trip to Arundel castle (not to be confused with Arendelle). There was a medieval festival going on all week there, which was so much fun! People were dressed in period costumes, from the Roman times (Romans used to live here), up through the 1800’s. We saw knights in all sorts of armor and learned about how the armor improved over the centuries. We watched them battle it out in the fields against each other and archers. We saw Roman gladiators, too. I was interested to learn that many swords aren’t necessarily sharp on the sides. They were used mostly to stab through weak armor or bruise, but weren’t usually used to slice through things.
There was a falconry demonstration and the kids got to hold a beautiful white owl and see other birds. We saw (and heard) an artillery demonstration where they fired off period guns and canons. We listened to a storyteller, and walked around other tents that were set up where these people would be living for a week, and even cooking their own food over fire.
We also walked through the Arundel castle, which was originally built in the 1100’s, but has been rebuilt and added onto many times since then. (No indoor photos here either.) The nearby chapel was beautiful, too, and it was all surrounded by a cute little twee town.
For an additional history lesson — and some entertainment — we watched the movie Young Victoria, because we found out that parts of it were filmed in Arundel castle and Kensignton Palace, which we visited in London. It was interesting to learn more about Queen Victoria and the events surrounding her early years.
In addition to all of these fun things, the kids played a lot at playgrounds, rode bikes and scooters, had other friends over for sleepovers, and even went to a 2-day drama class where they danced, sang, and acted all day long. During this time, I took the opportunity to dig deeper into my business and came out with renewed purpose and vision. I worked full 8-hour days for the first time in years (two days in a row), and it felt great to have that time to focus and become more clear on how I want to move forward.
Our last night there, we celebrated Emily’s birthday by going out to a sushi restaurant (Emily’s favorite food) in Brighton, which was delicious, and a fun way celebrate. The kids did a little fashion show for us at the bus stop on the way back, which you can see in the video at the bottom of this post.
This week, we’re traveling through the southwest part of England. We’re going to miss the Clarks, but we’ll be spending one more night with them before we fly out to Barcelona next week. It’s wonderful to have such great friends.