#NomadicNordgrens March 2018 Travel Update by Rachel Nordgren

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Hello again, friends!

Every month, Hans and I send out an email newsletter to our friends and family, updating them about where we are and what we've been up to. To keep you lovely readers in the loop, I've begun posting those newsletter updates on my blog as well. Make sure you haven't missed January or February's updates!

Want to know where we are now? Make sure you check out the #NomadicNordgrens hashtag on Instagram, or sign up to receive our monthly email updates as we send them out.

Hooray, Springtime is (almost!) here!

March was a bustling month! After leaving the farm in France, we dropped Banjo off with our friends Paul and Jenny in Le Vast (because taking a dog into England is rather a pain with paperwork, and we would only be there for a little over a week) and then crossed the channel. We housesat for a lovely woman named Lizzie near Petworth, and had the pleasure of watching her two darling dogs, cuddly cat, and a characterful French hen named Florence.

After leaving Petworth, we spent a night in London before picking up Dean (Rachel's father) and his girlfriend Roxann from the airport. They flew over for a whirlwind week with us...we covered London, Normandy, and Paris! It was so good to spend time with Dean and Roxann. We saw a lot, too! Some of our favorites were Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, the Normandy beaches, and seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up at night!

(we also ate far more pastries than is dietarily advisable, and we regret nothing)

After they flew back to the USA, we headed North to Leer, Germany. In high school, Hans did a foreign exchange student program with a guy named Thilo from Germany. They’ve kept in touch all these years, and we spent a delightful week in Leer with him and his family. After that, we made our way to Bielefeld to visit some of Hans' extended family. We'll tell you more about them next month!

On to the photos!

1. Hans the Giant
2. Roxann, Rachel, Dean, and our guide Leo on our Parisian bike tour
3. Hans, Rachel, Dean, and Roxann by the Tower Bridge in London
4. During Dean and Roxann's time with us, Banjo got booted out of his normal spot in the car and had to squish at Rachel's feet...and was superbly disgruntled about it
5. The Golden State Coach at the Royal Mews in London


Most Interesting Things We've Done or Seen

Hans' favorite: touring Utah, Omaha, and Gold beach with Dean
Rachel's favorite: basically all of London, but in particular going to a sung Eucharist service at Westminster Abbey and seeing the Crown Jewels (so sparkly!)
Mutual favorite: spending time with Dean and Roxann!

Best in Food

You guys. The French have food figured out. In Paris, we took a "Bike and Bite" tour with a phenomenal guy named Leo. We cycled around the central Arrondissements of Paris and gathered supplies for a (cold!) picnic by the Seine. We visited a fromagerie with hundreds of varieties of cheese, where Leo selected half a dozen types for our picnic and had us sample a bright blue confection with lavender flowers in it.

After that, we picked up charcuterie and baguettes before heading down to the banks of the Seine. It was a history lesson (Leo knows Paris like the back of his hand) and quintessentially Parisian picnic all wrapped into one!


A Note From Banjo...

I h8 Deen. I had da hole bak of da car 2 myseelf untel he and Roxxann shewed up. I had to be squeeshed ento where my lady hooman puts hir pawz. HIR PAWZ. Iss not comfee down dere, u kno? Im not a cheewahwah. Iss all Deens fawlt. He deednt geev me any of his crisoonts eeder, 'nd he ate lik, a hooondred. I got 2 stay weef my freends Poul, Jeeny, May 'nd Alfee 'nd I got lotz of petz. Dey deednt make mee squeesh ento the pawz spot.

I still have feelings for that cheese shop in Paris, you guys. Take me back!! March was incredibly busy and fun, and we felt like tourists way more than we usually do. While we are generally in favor of slow travel that feels more rooted down to the places we are in, there is something to be said for the excitement of seeing as much as possible in one short week. I think there's space for both kinds of travel, and advantages and disadvantages to each. One thing is for sure, though...I definitely want to spend more time in Paris, preferably when it's warmer!

Have you been to Paris or London? What did you enjoy? Let's chat in the comments!

#NomadicNordgrens February 2018 Travel Update by Rachel Nordgren

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Welcome back, friends! Did you enjoy the January update? The journey continues with our February update, which was our time on the farm in France.

As always, if you're looking for more travel musings you can check out our #NomadicNordgrens hashtag or sign up to receive our monthly updates in real time right here.

February was fairly quiet for us, which was a lovely change! As fun and exciting as travel is, it's also really nice to unpack our bags and settle into a routine. We've been looking after a small farm in Laz, which is in the Brittany region of France, near Quimper. There are 10 horses, 7 sheep (and three lambs that have been born this month!), a lovely dog named Harry and a super cuddly cat named Robinson. It's kept us pretty busy!

On to the photos!

1. Banjo frolicking through a nearby field after a storm left a gorgeous rainbow in the sky!
2. The Le Vast Cascades
3. Two brand new baby sheep! We've named them Nottie the Brave and Her Ladysheep Effie von Fluffenstuff III
4. The French version of a grocery store wine aisle
5. One of the lovely horses we've been taking care of!


Most Interesting Things We've Done or Seen

Hans' favorite: chopping firewood for the wood-burning stove in our gîte, and sitting by the fire reading Seabiscuit by Lauren Hillenbrand and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Rachel's favorite: going horseback riding through the French countryside
Mutual favorite: taking care of baby lambs!


Best in Food

We've eaten a lot of meals at home this month, like the one pictured above. However, at our AirBnB in Le Vast, our hosts Paul and Jenny graciously invited us to share a family meal with them on our last night. They invited a couple of neighbors, and we were treated to one of our favorite dinners of this entire trip so far! Paul and Jenny used to own a restaurant, so the food was excellent.

We had prawns roasted over an open fire, a goat cheese and pear salad with honey and balsamic vinegar, delicious risotto and fish that we think was called St Pierre, more varieties of cheese than we could possibly keep straight, Belgium waffles with a dark chocolate rum sauce for dessert, all accompanied by 5 bottles of wine. A decent portion of the evening's conversation revolved around the merits of various wines and cheeses because it's France.

It was a beautiful evening. We felt truly blessed by Paul and Jenny's hospitality and stellar cooking!


A Note From Banjo...

I want 2 stay heer furever. Der are big doogs called "horsees" dat I lik to play wif. My hoomans wont let me chase dee sheeps and dat sux, but I lik looking at der fluffy bumz. I git to run and run and run with Harreey. But I want to chase dee sheep insteed. At nite we sit by dee fireplace and iss warms. Sometimes I eet hoorsee poo and my hoomans git mad. I wood stahp if dey let me chase dee sheep. I want to chase dee sheep. I need to chase dee sheep. Halp me chase dee sheep.

February felt deliciously slow, quiet, cozy. The farm was definitely a lot of work, but incredibly rewarding at the same time. Because I work online, it's always refreshing to reconnect with things that are tangible, solid, earthly. Although, because I work online, Hans ended up doing a lot of the tangible farm work, ha! But it was always a lovely and satisfying feeling to end our evenings together with our feet up in front of the fire, glasses of wine in hand, after delivering dinner to nearly two dozen animals and tucking them in for the night.

Do you enjoy slow-paced travel? Why or why not?

#NomadicNordgrens January 2018 Travel Update by Rachel Nordgren

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Every month, Hans and I send out a travel newsletter to update our friends and family about our European adventures. It has been a lovely way to keep in touch with family and friends back home, and stay connected to new friends as we make our way across the map.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing some of those newsletters with you on the blog! If you'd like to read about our adventures in real time, you can check out our #NomadicNordgrens hashtag or sign up to receive our monthly updates right here.

Thank you so much for wanting to share in our nomadic adventures across Europe! We're incredibly grateful to have friends and family who are interested in our journey and want to follow along!

Every month, you can expect to see...

  • 4-7 photos (there's more in this one because we're making up for Nov. - Jan.)
  • Where we've been, where we are, & where we're headed next
  • The best thing we've eaten that month
  • The most interesting thing we've done or seen
  • A quick note from Hans & Rachel
  • An even quicker note from Banjo (his lack of opposable thumbs makes typing rather difficult)

Enjoy, friends!

1. We saw The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in NYC!
2. Banjo in his Queen Mary 2 "regalia" in Southampton.
3. Our dinner companions on the QM2; Erich, Emily, Ian, and Julie.
4. Our leased car, a Peugeot 308 SW we have named "Fleur."
5. We've fallen in love with classic British cream tea.


1. Poppy, Jasper, and Banjo in Porlock
2. Reggie, Walton, and Banjo in Bath
3. Max, Mylo, and Banjo in Rushden
4. Oscar and Banjo in Ilmington
5. Lucy and Rachel in Cheddington

Where we have been: We started off in Kansas at the end of October. Since then, we've been to...

  • Vermillion, South Dakota
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Frostburg, Maryland
  • New York, New York
  • The Queen Mary 2, The North Atlantic
  • Southampton, England
  • Quick jaunt to and from Dover to Calais to pick up our car
  • Rushden, England
  • Porlock, England (in the Exmoor National Park)
  • Cheddington, England
  • Bath, England
  • Ilmington, England (in the Cotswolds)
  • Honorable Mention to Oxford, where we took a delightful day trip

Where we are now: Le Vast, France (near the D-Day beaches!)

Where we are headed next: Laz, France (in the Brittany region of northwest France)


Now, for one of our favorite subjects...FOOD.

So far in our travels, we've eaten really well. Banjo particularly enjoyed our time on the Queen Mary 2, because he got fresh chicken and bacon from the kitchens at every meal! We've also loved sharing meals with our housesitting "hosts" as well. We have been blessed by wonderful hospitality at every turn, and we're so grateful!

Hans' favorite meal: a venison burger at the Top Ship pub in Porlock
Rachel's favorite meal: fish + chips and cider at the Bottom Ship pub in Porlock Weir

1. The view of Porlock + the surrounding fields from one of our walks.
2. The "dreaming spires" of Oxford University.
3. Bletchley Park, home of the codebreakers during WWII.
4. Advent candles in St. Dubricius Church in Porlock.

When it comes to interesting things to see and do...our brains feel a bit like oversoaked sponges. There are simply TOO MANY amazing, significant, historic, stunningly gorgeous places to visit in one lifetime! It's impossible to pick favorites, but if we had to...

Hans' favorite: our long walks on the moors surrounding Porlock in Exmoor
Rachel's favorite: anything and everything to do with Oxford University

Most of all, we're really grateful that we're in a season of our lives where we can travel around Europe like this. This has been the thing at the top of our "Bucket List" since we got married, and (as some of you know) the last season of our lives definitely reminded us that we don't always have as much time as we think we do. We have been deeply thankful to have met such lovely people (and animals!) along the way, too.

There are lots of purposes to this trip, but these are the big ones...

  • Figure out where "home" is (what sort of place do we want to settle down in?)
  • Have adventures we'll still be talking about when we're 80
  • Reconnect with who we are as individuals and as a couple
  • See as much of Europe as we possibly can!

And now, the reason you are REALLY here...a note from Banjo:

Uruope smellz funee sometimez. Der are lots of doggee bumz 2 sniff. I lik it when my hoomans take me 2 pubz. Lots of nise peeple huv pet me and geeven me treets. Dey call me a purdy doggee and my hoomans say "thank you" like dey made me or sumthing. I miss my freends Randee and Oloover from the beeg boat. I doont huv 2 weer a leesh as much and dats nise. My hoomans doont let me sleeps on der bed anymoor. Boo.

It's terrific fun to relive our adventures! Hans and I keep pinching ourselves...how crazy is it that this is our life? Traveling Europe together with our dog in tow? We're so grateful for the ability and opportunity to travel, and see this part of the world that we've been in love with from afar for so long. We are determined to make the most of our time here before heading back to the States in December.

What do YOU think are some of the purposes of travel? Let's talk in the comments!

Transatlantic Travel: a review of Cunard's Queen Mary 2 by Rachel Nordgren

Transatlantic Travel: a review of Cunard's Queen Mary 2
From personal experience, I now realise that staggering round a transatlantic liner in a dinner jacket with a martini is the normal, rational, reasonable way to cross the Atlantic. Heading for an airport and strapping yourself to a flimsy aluminium tube is an unfortunate and eccentric aberration.
— Mark Smith, from the travel blog The Man in Seat Sixty-One

Inevitably, one of the first questions a European asks us when they see us with Banjo is, “How did he do on the flight over here?” To which we respond, “Actually, we took a ship!”

I had read one too many horror stories about dogs in the cargo holds of planes, we knew it would be so much less stressful for Banjo (and for us), and traveling by ship with a dog ended up being just a few hundred dollars more expensive (we booked during a sale) than flying.

So we figured, why not?

Transatlantic travel by ship is, without a doubt in my mind, the classiest way to go between the States and Europe. There’s something quite elegant about setting sail aboard a majestic vessel, feeling the steady thrum of the massive engines as they propel you into the arms of a new adventure, watching the sky and sea steadily slip by day after day.

Embarking on a “crossing” feels thoroughly glamorous and sophisticated. Even if that sensation is merely the product of cultural nostalgia, years of clever marketing, and our collective tendency to romanticize the Titanic…spending seven days traversing the Atlantic aboard a 151,400 ton marvel of human engineering and ingenuity is still pretty damn cool.

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Before the advent of air travel in the 1950’s, a ship was the only way to get across the Atlantic Ocean. Which means that, for Hans and I, the journey from New York to Southampton felt like a sort of reverse-immigration. Our ancestors sailed into the New York harbor, and a couple hundred years later we were sailing out. We waved goodbye to the Statue of Liberty and watched it fade into the distance, a mirrored reflection of how our forbearers came to the New World.

We were talking with a friend about air travel vs. ocean travel, and while flying is definitely faster (although we did switch time zones one at a time on the ship, helping to avoid the dreaded jet lag) and can be cheaper, it can also feel a bit, well, “abnormal.”

Don’t get me wrong, that can be pretty great. It is amazing that human innovation has advanced to the point that you can get almost anywhere on the globe in less than 24 hours. But traveling by boat allows for a bit of margin, a sense of breathing room that allows you to mentally process your journey at a more natural pace. I for one am looking forward to that processing time when we head back to the States at the end of the year.


I ought to clarify something: the Queen Mary 2 is an ocean liner, not a cruise ship. The QM2’s hull is constructed with 40% more steel than a cruise ship, has four stabilizers that are each roughly the weight of the US Space Shuttle “Endeavor” (most ships only have two), and was designed with the strength and speed necessary to take on the North Atlantic.

She eats cruise ships for breakfast.

Also? On a transatlantic crossing, you’re not stopping off at lots of exotic locations like you might on a cruise. There are two ports of call: New York and Southampton. That’s it. Your exotic views include water, more water, occasionally some dolphins, and then for a change of scenery there’s some more water.

Personally, we loved it. Even though we sailed in November, the sea was mostly calm and we spent lots of time out on deck, albeit somewhat bundled up. In our modern age of constant connectivity, it was actually refreshing to feel so isolated for a week.

The Queen Mary 2 travels the same Southampton to New York route as the ocean liners of the gone-by golden age of transatlantic travel, and it also sails in the same “lanes” as massive cargo boats. While onboard, your range of visibility is only about 12-13 miles (which is basically nothing in the North Atlantic), so even though you can go days without seeing another ship, the reality is that you’re not totally stranded. The bridge, of course, can “see” for hundreds of miles around with their fancy-pants navigational instruments.

It is almost impossible to be bored on the QM2. There are fifteen restaurants and bars, 24/7 room service, five swimming pools and a smattering of hot tubs, a ballroom, a spa, a theatre, a gorgeous library, and the first planetarium at sea. There are theatre productions and musicals, insightful daily lectures, movie screenings, an art gallery, and a mini shopping mall. You can go to a class for just about everything: fitness, ballroom dancing, how to use Facebook, watercolor painting.

The great English entertainer, Beatrice Lillie, once asked a crew member aboard the original Queen Mary, "When does this place get there?” The ship truly does feel like a floating city. There’s even a glossy, bright red post box in one of the main atriums.

Even though we were staying in the lowest category of stateroom (an interior berth on one of the higher decks), our whole experience aboard the QM2 still felt luxurious. We ate like kings, dining on a scrumptious five-course dinner every night in the gleaming Britannia Restaurant whilst being serenaded by a harpist, utterly immaculate settings on the crisp white linen clad tables. High tea is served daily to the tune of a string quartet in the Queen’s ballroom, complete with enough polished silver and tiny delicacies to give the Ritz a run for its money.

Fun fact: the annual tea consumption aboard the QM2 would fill an Olympic size swimming pool.

As I was reading reviews about the Queen Mary 2, I came across two schools of thought. The majority of people raved about their experience, singing the praises of the ship, the food, the crew, the on-board activities. On the other hand, there were some folks who I could almost see looking down their noses at the rest of us through the Internet, complaining that “the whole thing has gone to the dogs since they let the riff-raff in.”

Here’s what I think: if you can find something to grumble about after crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2, you are likely either a massive jerk, or you are a crew member who has had to put up with the massive jerks with a smile on your face.

We have officially booked our return crossing from Southampton to New York for December 2018, and all three of us are really looking forward to it. Well, Banjo would be, except his concept of time is rather limited.

Find out more about Cunard's Queen Mary 2 right here.

Have you ever considered traveling by ship? Why or why not?

Image sources here and here.