I can (theoretically) drive a car!
Before I get into that though, I’d like to issue an apology. We haven’t been blogging. Sorry ’bout that. Sometimes life just seems to get in the way, and I honestly have no idea what happened to February. I know it’s a short month and everything, but I swear it only lasted 3 or 4 days this year. There is simply no way that February was a full 28 days. Impossible!
Anyway …. to get everyone back up to speed (including myself!) … here is a brief rundown of everything we’ve done so far this year.
1) We discovered an amazing little French restaurant in Chelsea (L’Art du Fromage), and I had my first tartiflette. The fondue there is probably the best we’ve ever had. Because it was a Savoyard fondue instead of a Swiss fondue they used less alcohol and a slightly sweeter cheese. It was divine!
2) We attended a birthday party for a good friend here in London. We had a mad dash around town trying to find the perfect gift, before settling on something from Hotel Chocolat.
3) Alex had a busy meeting here in London to prepare for and attend.
4) We took a long weekend trip to Exeter, a town in Devon in the southwest of England. It was a bit of a spur-of-the-moment thing when Alex found a really great deal to this cool hotel. The Magdalen Chapter is a former eye hospital, but they’ve done a really fantastic job of renovating the interior for use as a boutique hotel. They even managed to keep an “eye” motif in a lot of the design aspects, and not have it be at all creepy (hard to do!). We particularly liked the indoor/outdoor pool, and the restaurant even had our favorite type of wine. It was only for 1 night, but we had a nice time exploring Exeter and relaxing.
5) We both had dental appointments – our first in the UK! I know, I know … don’t yell. It’s embarrassing that we’ve lived here for 3 years without going to the dentist, but it’s just one of those things. Now we are officially registered with an NHS dentist, and we have regularly scheduled appointments for every 6 months. Huzzah!
6) Valentine’s Day. We celebrated in Exeter really, but Alex was very sweet and brought me some lovely tulips. He also surprised me by booking us in for some tango lessons before we head off to Argentina! How cool is that? I’ve been wanting to take dance lessons for YEARS, and now we’re finally going to do it. Haven’t had the course yet, but will promise to post pics if we’re not too awkward at it. 🙂
7) Alex had ANOTHER busy meeting here in London to prepare for and attend. This time he stayed at the hotel where the meeting was being held, because it was easier than commuting in from home every day. It was kind of odd saying “goodbye” but knowing he was only a few miles away…
8) Alex had his 2 year cancer-free appointment. Yay! I’m really happy that his BCC hasn’t come back. So keep your fingers crossed that the good luck continues.
9) We took a long weekend trip to St. Malo, France. We traveled by ferry from Portsmouth, leaving at 8pm on Friday night. The ferry takes about 12 hours, so you arrive in St Malo just in time for breakfast. St Malo is a really cute medieval-like walled town on the coast of Brittany. I say it’s Medieval-like, because the city was badly damaged in WWII and painstakingly reconstructed. It’s hard to tell what’s new and what’s old – especially because it’s almost all built in the same grey stone. We had a nice petit dejeuner (little breakfast) with fantastic croissants and bread, and then wandered around. I will admit that the timing was probably not our best, because it was FREEZING COLD the whole time. I will post some pictures later, but in all of them Alex looks like his patookis is about to fall off! I ended up having to buy a cute little hat to keep my ears warm. All in all it was a nice little trip, although it would have been better if they could have shifted the whole thing back by 2 hours, so you leave Portsmouth at 10pm, arrive in St. Malo at 10am, and leave again at 10pm that night. That would give you time for dinner in town, and you wouldn’t arrive in the morning before all the shops open. Next time we go, we’re going to rent a car for a day and drive to Mont St Michel, which is not far along the Brittany coast.
Which leads me to my exciting announcement for today…..
10) I passed my theoretical driving test this morning! Alex and I are quite proud of living a car-free lifestyle, but I will admit that there are occasions when it would be nice to rent a car. While on holiday in South America, for example, or when visiting family in the States. So a few months ago I started the process of getting my UK license. It’s not as easy as it sounds, because you can’t just exchange your US license for a UK one. Because driving privilege is a States Right and not a Federal Right in the USA, the UK will not recognize them. If there was some sort of US Federal Driving License they might, but there isn’t, so they don’t. You can use your US license for the first 12 months that you are a resident in the UK, but after that you have to get a UK license. I could still (theoretically) use my US license to rent a car in the US, but it expired last summer, and I can’t renew in New York State without legally declaring myself a New York State resident, which would make me liable for state taxes (and it’s illegal).
So the first step to getting a UK license is to request your provisional license. In the US, this is a simple matter of taking ID and going to the DMV. But here in the UK they don’t have DMV offices that you can visit in person. It’s all done by mail with a central processing agency in Swansea. So I had to mail off my passport and form and money order, and wait 4 weeks to get it all back with my provisional license. Except that the first time I did it messed up the form, because I didn’t include my UK residence permit (which the form did not explicitly state was needed), so I had to do it all over again. But I did finally get my provisional license.
Then you have to start studying for the theoretical test. It’s 50 questions from a bank of 800 questions, covering all kinds of things from signage to safety to stopping distances. I studied fairly intensely for one solid week before my test, and while I did quite well on the question portion, (98%), I just barely passed the hazard perception portion. That’s where they show you 14 videos of traffic scenarios, and you have to click the mouse every time you see a potential hazard, and every time that the potential hazard develops. The problem is that I was clicking too much. The test is monitored to make sure that you just don’t click constantly, or rhythmically, and apparently I was doing both, so I failed one of the 14 videos. Luckily I did well enough in the other 13 so I still passed overall.
The next step is to take some lessons. They cost about £40 per hour, and while they can’t legally require you to take them, the “official” comment is that “most people take between 80 and 100 hours of professional instruction before attempting a test”. That’s a lot of money! I’ve done some research through, and the other Americans I’ve talked to say they’ve taken between 6 and 8 hours of lessons and passed just fine. So I’ve booked the first 2 hours of lessons for this Saturday, and we’ll see how I feel after that about booking more. Because I drove in the US for 15 years before moving here, I’m not too worried, but we’ll see how it goes. My practical test (the driving portion) is scheduled for April 9, so I’ll let you know how it goes!