Today began with a visit from my half-brother and my youngest niece, who came out from Oxford for a quick visit and the usual requirement any time we visit the country: breakfast cake. My mom made her father’s breakfast cake for my family on one of our earliest trips here, and it quickly became a staple of our visits here. The cake is topped with a crust of coconut, butter, brown sugar, and walnuts. Pretty much delicious, and lethal. Yum.

We sent them off before lunch, my niece flying high on a sugar and my brother on caffeine. Even having said no to both sugar and further caffeine, I was pretty amped myself after nearly four days without exercise, so my brother and I threw on our running gear and set off into the drizzle to get some sweat in before our afternoon activities.

I’ve always found running in foreign countries to be a challenging but worthwhile endeavor. You see different facets of a place via sneaker than you do in a car, and can also make some wonderful sociological observations. For example, at the start of my 10+ year running career, I never saw anyone running on the British streets, and got some extremely strange looks when I did so myself. By the time I lived in London five years ago, running had caught on, and I prided myself on being the slowest runner on the Thames Embankment — I never passed a single other runner during an entire year of running there.

Since being here this time, I’ve spotted a couple intrepid runners on the nearby country roads, so I felt relatively comfortable going for a trot. Even so, my brother and I got some extremely odd looks from people in passing cars — perhaps because we were both wearing shorts and T-shirts in the cold drizzle and had huge grins on our face as we broke our recent endorphin fast. I did see some beautiful scenery though, and always enjoy running with my brother, so it was well worth the looks we got from old ladies in cars and old men on tractors.

I spent the afternoon with the rest of the family, exploring Roman ruins and then a museum — both perfect activities for a drizzly summer afternoon. I had vague memories of visiting these same sites with my family when I was a kid, where I diligently bought postcards and took notes for a school project. But as an adult (and a certified history geek), I was blown away by everything I didn’t remember, all the historical details and evolution of the Roman empire in Britain and the area.

Funny to see remembered things through adult eyes, and to gain a whole new perspective in the meantime. I look forward to inflicting all these great educational sites on our kids. Ha.

Last but not least, we went to dinner at the local pub. Now, I know that British fare is reknowned for not being the greatest, but actually, it’s quite good — as long as you like heavy food. Gabe ordered chicken breast… smothered in BBQ sauce and cheese. There was also lasagna, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, Sunday roast (pork, beef, or turkey)… well, you get the idea. Not great for the lighter appetite. My aunt and I, being those of lighter appetites, ordered salads with shrimp, dressing on the side. Sounds pretty light, right?

Wrong: the salads arrived with a huge dollop of mayonnaise on top of the shrimp. When my mom said to the waitress, “I thought the dressing was going to be on the side?”, she said, “Oh yes, just a second,” and promptly came back with a jug of actual vinaigrette-type dressing. Oh joy! Just what I need: some dressing with my mayo. A nice light salad indeed.

I’d forgotten that there is a distinction here between salad cream (aka mayo) and what Americans would call salad dressing. I really love encountering language barriers when everyone involved speaks English. Even if it means I am still hungry when I leave dinner.

Such adventures! Such observations! I love this country.

Here’s some of my uncles’ pictures of the farm we’re staying on, plus the boys’ punting excursion, and more of the local town fete.

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