Why We Keep Coming Back to the United Kingdom: House Sitting & Schengen
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As we travel Europe, we seem to find ourselves visiting the UK (United Kingdom) more than we’d imagined we would when we started this adventure. It’s actually not something we’ve tried to do, it just seems to have worked out that way, for what we think are two primary reasons. First, we’ve found that House Sitting is a fantastic way to travel and save dramatically on lodging costs. We’ve done house sits all over Europe, including London, Budapest, Amsterdam, Paris, Prague, and Vienna, just to name a few. However, we find that from the worldwide selection of house sits that are posted daily, when it comes to Europe, there’s a higher concentration of sits listed within the UK. This works out well for us since the UK is quite large and there are plenty of interesting places to visit, but it also works out well because of reason number two, which is Schengen. Simply put, as American citizens we can only spend a cumulative 90 days in Schengen countries for every 180 day period. Therefore, to abide by travel and visa regulations, we need to spend 90 days in non-Schengen areas. So you guessed it, the UK isn’t a part of Schengen and therefore it’s a fantastic location to spend time while we wait for our Schengen clock to reset.
All that being said, it’s actually been quite a while since we’ve been in the UK. In the last several months, we’ve mixed our travels between Schengen countries and non-Schengen countries, but all without having stepped foot in the UK since our house sit in Faversham and the White Cliffs of Dover concluded. We ventured beyond the UK by taking ‘breaks’ from Schengen countries and explored Istanbul in Turkey and Cairo in Egypt. We then spent an entire month in Bucharest, Romania, and loved the area so much that we did one of the world’s most fantastic road trips on the Transfagarasan Highway and then spent over a week in the Transylvanian town of Sighisoara. During that same period of time, we also took full advantage of our travel time in Schengen member countries and traveled through France, Norway, Slovakia, Austria, Poland, and the Czech Republic!
Since we have some exciting travel plans in the works that are mainly within Schengen areas, we knew that after our house sit in Prague, we’d need to spend a bit of time in a non-Schengen country. Additionally, something we haven’t written about much, is the time between sightseeing and exploring that we use to get work done, recuperate, and replenish. Prague was the last city on a full, fast paced four week itinerary (Bratislava, Vienna, Warsaw, Krakow, and Prague), so we both needed to recuperate and keep 'our house in order'. Therefore, when a house sit became available in Leeds, United Kingdom, we jumped on the chance and applied. Fortunately, the homeowners selected us and we were invited to Leeds to care for their home and Percy (an adorable cat!).
We’ve realized along the way that the UK is a great place for us to re-visit while traveling Europe. As we said above, it’s not a part of Schengen, house sits are regularly available, and it’s a rather large country. Additionally, when it comes to countries on this side of the ‘pond’, the UK is one of the most like ‘home’ to us. There are enough differences to make it significantly different from the United States, but enough similarities for us to feel a higher level of comfort than many other European places. For example:
- English is the primary language… with the caveat that it’s British-English, not American-English. So, chips are crisps, French fries are chips, the bathroom is the loo, a jumper is a sweater, a trainer is a tennis shoe, and a biscuit is a cookie, etc. Since we speak the language, it makes just about everything easier, from transportation to grocery shopping.
- Food customs are relatively similar in the UK to the US. Of course, they’re different in many ways (when was the last time you ordered 'blood sausage' at Denny's?), however we don’t need to shop in the ‘American’ section of a store to find the staples on our grocery list. On a side note, we found Jamie Oliver cookbooks in nearly every kitchen we visited while house sitting in the UK!
- Law and order in the UK is similar to US. Codes, regulations, and laws are quite similar, therefore we’re relatively clear on how to behave, both culturally and legally. Although, it’s not like we’re ones to consider wild and law breaking activities, but if we did, it's nice to know what we could get away with.
- It’s easy to find products that we use, in the UK. We know where to go to get all of our supplies, from contact lens solution and vitamins to clothing. In many countries, we’ve found it hard to find where to purchase the odds and ends that we need to replenish our supplies. In the US (and usually in the UK), you can go to a big-box store and find it all, however in many countries, we’ve found that not to be the case. For example, in Romania, vitamins had to be purchased at pharmacies and contact lens solution could only be bought at optic stores. Of course, not the end of the world, but it's a learning experience in every new country.
- Retail products and sizing are similar. Sergio has big feet, so big that it’s hard to find shoes in his size in many of the countries we’ve been to. When we ask for his shoe size (size 14-15 US), we’ve gotten shocked looks, smirks, genuine laughs, and out right incredulity. So much so, that people think we’re kidding until we show them Sergio’s feet. On the other hand, the UK is the one place we know for certain that we can walk into a store and chances are high that they’ll have a few reasonable options in his size.
It’s not hard to say that the UK is one of the closest places to home we’ve had while in Europe. We’ve been to many parts, from Belfast and London in the first few months of our travels, to Chester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, and Dover further into our adventures. Each place has its own personality and uniqueness, very similar to the differences from state to state in the US. So, having an opportunity to visit Leeds on a house sit excited us, and we looked forward to learning about the city and seeing all of its must see attractions.
In between our house sit in Prague and the one in Leeds, we had a few days to ourselves. We figured it would be a great time to ‘hangout’ in the UK, use some of our Hilton Honors Reward points (taking advantage of the 5th night free Hilton Honors Rewards benefit) and stay at the Hampton Inn in Sheffield. It was a great location, just a short train ride from the Birmingham Airport and another, even shorter train ride to our house sit in Leeds. It was also in downtown Sheffield and a short walk from a mall, making it easy to go on the hunt for replenishing and replacing supplies, including Sergio’s (giant!) shoes. The hotel was comfortable, had a gym and breakfast included, and was a great place to catch up on work and touch base with clients. We enjoyed walking around town and seeing the charm and history of the city. Sergio even found a barbershop that needed 'models', so he got a free haircut in exchange for being a model for a barber in training. All-in-all, our time in Sheffield was everything we wanted it to be, productive and relaxing!
Leeds House Sit
It didn't seem like we'd been in Sheffield very long before it was time to get on the train and head to Leeds. Once in Leeds, we disembarked our train, stopped by a grocery store to pick up supplies for dinner, and started our way to our house sit. We were genuinely surprised how busy Leeds was when we arrived. Granted, we walked right through the center of the shopping district, but still, so many people were out enjoying the afternoon that it became clear to us that Leeds wasn’t a ‘sleepy’ city! After walking three miles, we arrived to the cottage that would be our home for the next two-and-a-half weeks. We were so kindly welcomed into the house and discovered that the home was gorgeous! To top it off, we were introduced to a very friendly cat named Percy. He had quite a personality, and to be honest he had Shannon wrapped around his little ‘paw’! He’s the only cat we’ve known (to this point) to prefer his water straight from the faucet, it’s as if he can tell the difference from stagnate water in a bowl and water dripping from the tap. And since there were other cats in the neighborhood that we’d spot on our walks that looked just like Percy, the owners fondly called them ‘Percy-nators’!
Needless to say, we very much enjoyed the house sit and Percy the cat. We used our time wisely and finished work projects, replenished and replaced supplies, and got some much-needed rest. Not to mention, it was Sergio’s birthday during our stay in Leeds! We celebrated with a day of relaxation, blackberry picking, games, and movies. And of course during our visit, we took time to tour the city and see all it had to offer, so don’t miss our pick of must see attractions and all of our pictures!