Friday, August 28, 2015

What I Did on my Summer Vacation: Double-Dating in England

The kids are back in school (phew) and I have a moment to breathe in the serenity of a quiet (for now) home.  The last time I felt this relaxed was- oh, just a few weeks ago.  I had to look through my old posts to confirm the unbelievable - I hadn't yet blogged about the greatest, most fantastic part of my summer.  My instagram peeps got to see the best of the photos but now I realize that I never actually wrote a record of it.  So here goes...

What I did on my summer vacation

A few years back, my friend and her husband hatched a great plan for a dual-family vacation.  We were going to do something EPIC for our husbands 40th birthday and go to Europe.  All 6 of us and 10 of them.  It was going to be crazy - rent a villa, invite some more friends, and just hang out in the south of France or somewhere equally cool for a few weeks.

We got passports for all the kids.

We looked at amazing places to rent.

We looked at plane tickets.

Then we booked a place in California.

It turned out to be a wonderful vacation, but it certainly wasn't the European Get-Away of our dreams.

Fast-forward to spring, and these same friends are at it again talking this time about a couples trip to England.  Now England is one of my favorite places. I love
the history, the countryside, the people, the cider.  In college my husband and I spent a semester at one of the Universities which makes us Alumni and gives me some feeling of connection to the country.

When I found cheep tickets (relatively speaking), we booked the trip and the babysitter and started dreaming of scones and pints and fish'n chips too.

Our friends left a few days earlier with another couple they knew (they were all going for a wedding), and we met up with them at our hotel on the banks of the River Thames.  After a sleepless flight across the pond we powered through the day and just explored.  We did Westminster and Parliament, the Tower of London and a pub on the river, then headed over to Trafalgar square, St. Martins in the Field and another pub.

The next day my husband showed just how brave he really is and we rented a car.  Good Lord. Stay to the LEFT! We actually only had one near death experience. He was fabulous and didn't mind our commentary at all.  It was a challenge and he is always up for that!

We left the city and explored a wonderful area called the Cotswolds.  It is your quintessential English countryside.  Amazing.  Many of the BBC and PBC British period dramas are filmed in the area-  Father Brown, Downton Abbey, Wolfhall to name a few.  We are actually huge Father Brown fans and were thrilled to hear that the town in which we were staying, Stow-on-the-Wold, was actually used in the upcoming season.  But I digress.

We found our little town for the night and I fell in love.  In love with the town, the people, the little inn, and the fact that I got a room upgrade.

Stow on the Wold was the cite of the last battle from the English civil war in 1646. Apparently they have some connect to an American town who but no one knew which one. It is only relevant to us because when we arrived Market Square, their town square, was decorated with American Flags.  It was really strange! Apparently we had 'just' missed their celebration on the 4th of July. I wondered if it was a 'farewell traitors' or 'good riddance you colonists' celebration… the locals weren't really excited about it either. Sounds like it is a tourist gimmick. 

One thing England has in plenty (but doesn't seem to use much anymore!) is churches.  St. Edward's - is in Market Square and mostly from the 14th Century, although parts date back to the 11th and all in between.  Now Angelican, it was of course Catholic at it's inception because that was the only Christian faith back then. That was a strange thing - looking at these old churches and knowing that they used to be Catholic. The church the tree trunks actually as a part of the church - they grow into the church foundations. It was amazing.  You-tube actually has a tour of the church. 

The only thing I was not in love with about this town, was St. Edwards' bell tower.

This thing chimed ever hour on the hour and once in between, and was across the square from my bedroom window.  Pair this bell chiming with the jet lag and I didn't sleep much.

  Most of the tourists leave on the big busses about dinner time so we were left in a pretty deserted town. We closed up the night at the local's pub. It was a wonderful little pub in the town square.

The locals had a bet as to whether we were Americans or Canadians.  They guessed American's but were hesitant because we were friendly. Yikes.  By the second round everyone, but Cyril (above) and two guys behind him, was sitting at our table. We talked religion, politics, engineering, tourism, history, healthcare.. all of it.  I joined Cyril for a little while as he told me old war stories.  Literally. It was awesome.  His family had been in Stow-on-the-wold since the 1840's and he was such a lovely historian for us. My conversation with him was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. He told me about serving in the last few months of the war, of losing his son in an automobile accident, of his families history land-ownership woes and the involvement of the crown many years ago. It truly was a brilliant conversation. Not that we were brilliant, I just wanted to use that word because the English like to use it a lot. Like 'wow this pint if brilliant', or 'did you see that brilliant goal?'.  It is a synonym for great.

The next day we found the little church & one of the towns used in the Father Brown show.  It was only a few miles away and a good place to explore a little.

Really there was nothing else there so we hoped back in the car on the left hand side of the road and took off for Cambridge.

Our travels took a little longer, or maybe we slept a little late, or maybe I got us a little lost searching for THE gluten-free fish and chips shop in England, but we eventually ended up at Cambridge at an old manner.  I was so excited.

You see photos of these types of places and think that they are going to be posh… but sometimes they are just big old houses in need of a coat of paint and a good scrubbing. Plus we didn't actually get to stay in the main house.  We were in the stables.  Not picture worthy. We probably are more stable-type folk anyway.  It was still cool though and the least expensive place we stayed.  It is also rich in history and after chatting a bit with the owner he printed a 20 page history of the place for me study up on. I am a sucker for stuff like that.

Cambridge itself is a little weird - old meets new and all that.  Take this photo for instance.  Super cool boats on the river.

Zoom out, and you get the whole picture...

A little different with that modern (ugly) building in the background. It is probably some important thing like a hospital, but it really ruins the whole old-English scene for us dumb tourists.

I wasn't a huge fan of anything there but the architecture and the Gluten-free fish and chips which were worth the drive there all by themselves.

 Maybe I wasn't a huge fan of the town because I realized how ill-informed I was about the place. I really didn't know what I was looking at other.  They were just really cool buildings that I am sure have amazingly rich histories, but we couldn't explore them anyhow because they are actual dorms and classrooms or whatever.  Again I don't know what they are.  But they were pretty.

There were some awesome old streets for sure!  The one on the left we decided must have been used in the filming of Harry Potter. They have pedestrian only zones in the University ares so we got to walk a ton that day as well. I think I was probably just at that point in my jet lag where I really needed a good night sleep so I was in a bit of a funk which always influences our impressions of places. 

Back to London we went, happy to have a car because the workers on the London underground (and some to the train lines too) were striking.  It was crazy! The trip back to Cambridge took twice the time but I was glad we had a way to travel.  The car return was just a few blocks from our B&B in the city so getting car back was the only struggle.  Once we hit London, we could have walked faster than the traffic was moving, but that would hardly have gotten the car returned.

We split off from our traveling buddies and spend the rest of the day just exploring London by foot.  Although we had been to London three times before, we had spend very little time in the city on previous trips.  Once coming to school, once leaving from school, and once on a layover.  I really wanted to get a good lay of the city so we just took off on foot.  No tubes to ride anyway.  We walked better than 13 miles that afternoon-night.

We chatted with the guard at 21 Downing Street, saw the Rosetta Stone, St Paul's Cathedral,  Westminster Cathedral, and we even happened upon a cider-fest near The Tower, stumbled upon the Sherlock Homes Pub and Museum, and ended up kicking back in a pub a few blocks from the B&B listening to The Eagles and just relaxing with my favorite person in the whole world.


The next day the guys split off and went to do soccer/Football stuff and we ladies took in a high-tea.
 I got nuzzled by a royal horse.  He loved me and really wanted me to take him home.

Can you image what the girls would have said if I brought them a royal horse? He was seriously giving me snuggles!  And then we had our champagne - I mean Tea.

Yes, I found an amazing Gluten-free High Tea walking distance from everywhere and, wait for it, it was in the hotel was the former headquarters for British secret service.  For a spy novel geek that is amazingly cool.  I kept expecting M to show up and offer me a job.  It was amazing!  We opted for the champagne tea which may have included 4 glasses of champagne, which spread out over 3 hours really isn't that much… right?  Yes, we had tea too. I was so stuffed I just had to take that last scone home for my little GF lady.  She was so excited to have it.  It wasn't as good 48 hours later and was def. missing the clotted cream, but it was still super yummy.  England really has mastered some of the Gluten Free basics.  I was even able to have eggs benedict on real GF English muffins for breakfast.  YUM!

Then we met up with the guys for our final night.  A great comic play called 39-Steps with our friends followed by more pub testing.

Really this was an amazing trip - no an amazing vacation.  It took a good day or two to really relax and we had just gotten used to the time difference when we had to pack up can come back, but wow.  Amazing.  It has me putting my change aside in the hopes that someday again I can steel my husband away for a whirlwind of a week somewhere thrilling like this.

Did I miss the kids.  Of course.  Did I wish they were with me? Nope.  That sounds harsh I know.  The first day we were walking through the Tower of London.  This HAS to be the coolest place for kids in London. It was the place on beheadings, has a dungeon, has tamed birds, it is a active barracks and used to be the place the royal family took refuge when under siege.  As we are exploring, I see an American mom with 3 kids.  She is handing out jelly beans to the kids and they are complaining about what color they got and who got more.  She is trying to keep the peace while they whine.  And I thought - Good grief poor mom.  She brings these little ones all the way over here, and this is so cool and they just dont have the perspective to appreciate it.  They just don't.

So no kids for us this trip. The kids missed us but did great while we were gone. Maybe next time if we hit the lotto..but probably not! I returned deeper in love with my husband and with a greater appreciation of my kids. I was able to relax and explore and be adventuresome and have fun! I made new friends and deepened my friendships with my existing ones.  It was amazing.

Thanks for stopping by!!

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