August 25th, 2011 Archive

United Kingdom (Part One)

August 25th, 2011 by Liz in Lifestyle, Sharing Success

I have to admit that I hate travelling. I hate sitting around for hours, the barely edible airplane food…not to mention the pain of having to get over jetlag afterwards!

Okay, so if I hate travelling that much, why do I still do it? That’s because all the things that I hate about travelling disappear once we actually reach our destination. Earlier this year, I endured all that torment with Ric and the boys, and landed in the United Kingdom.

The weather was absolutely beautiful and sunny (seriously) – it was enough to make all my travel blues disappear the moment we landed at the airport! Everyone kept saying we must have brought the weather with us from the US, and I think we did.

The weekend after we got there, when it was nice and sunny in UK, it was snowing sideways back home in Charlottesville!

Our first stop in the UK was London, of course. Almost everyone who flies to the UK goes through London, but unlike most travellers who explore London once they get there, we barely had time to explore the city. We stayed there for three days, but spent most of that time getting over jetlag (I did mention that I hate having to get over jetlag, right? ), getting our phones and finding internet access, and trying to find an ATM that would accept our American credit cards.

In the short time that we spent in London, we did get to visit some interesting places though. As we were leaving the train station on our way towards the Tower of London, we saw a building that is commonly referred to as the Gherkin or Cucumber building because of its odd shape (Chandler thought looked like a torpedo, though ). This building was actually designed to be environmentally friendly, and has won several architectural awards thanks to its innovations in ventilation and lighting.

We also visited London Bridge (yes, that same bridge that you’ve heard of thanks to that infamous nursery rhyme), where we had a really good view of the Tower Bridge and the mighty river Thames. We also got to have afternoon tea near the Tower of London, and Ric enjoyed doing a couple of conference calls “From the Tower”.

We had to leave London at 6am the following day to get to the cottage in the Cotswolds that served as our base that month. There was a big horse race in a nearby town (Cheltenham Spa), and the deluge of spectators made it difficult to book a cab – we actually had to hire a van so the four of us, seven bags, and four computer cases could all fit! Since our entire trip was scheduled to last for 6 months, we essentially had to pack our entire lives into our luggage!

Despite our cab troubles, our accommodations in the Cotswolds made it well worth the effort. It was a quaint little cottage built in the original stables of the Lower Mill Estate, and is the first nature preserve in the UK that people are actually allowed to live in too . The entire place had this natural yet otherworldly beauty that we couldn’t have found in a modern hotel. There was a lovely orchard in the back, hundreds of birds, and beautifully preserved lakes and right behind the house ran the mouth of the Thames. It was really kind of cool having just been in London and seeing the majestic river as it raced to the English Channel, then seeing its humble beginnings in our back garden.

What made our stay there even better were our next door neighbors. They had just come home from a trip to Argentina, but had to stay in the cottage next to ours while repairs were being made to their house – they’d come home to find the water tanks in their attic had burst while they were away, pretty much destroying half of their 300-year-old-home! Karen and Ian had a gorgeous dog and three little boys who became fast friends with Chandler and Stefan.

From our cottage in the Cotswolds, it was easy enough for us to travel to the nearby historic Roman town of Cirencester by cab. We always hired cabs from the same company, so we got to know our drivers pretty well and they even gave us a silly nickname: “The Millionaire Americans from Lower Mill”. At one point we had the whole place in a tizzy because they sent the cab to the wrong place (there are 2 Tesco Stores there), and they had half of their crew out looking for us! When Ernie finally found us he radioed in saying, “I’ve got ‘em lads – we can call off the search!”

The drivers we met there were awesome and had some truly interesting stories to share…

Our first driver, Steve, runs half marathons in his spare time and takes care of his nephew on weekends. Ernie (the one who found us when we were “lost”), told us of his many trips to the States (I’d SWEAR he’s been to more places there than I have!) and always gave us the best restaurant recommendations. Ernie actually drove us on his last day before retirement and gave us the low-down on at least a half-dozen pleasure trips he had booked for the coming year, from Las Vegas to Spain! That’s one heck of a way to celebrate retirement, don’t you think?

When it came to interesting stories, though, no one could beat the driver whose father was a screenwriter for the original Star Wars movie. And as if that wasn’t a great story in itself, his grandfather was an American Fighter Pilot at the Battle of Briton while his grandmother was a code breaker during WWII – she was engaged to his best friend over there but broke off her engagement after our driver’s grandfather had left. Future Grandmother and Grandfather met up again on the street in Alexandria Egypt and were married that week! I kept thinking this story sounded like a REALLY good script in and of itself!!

Aside from visiting Cirencester, we made plans to take the train to York. Unfortunately, the whole family having some bad luck with rails. Our first train was cancelled, the second was delayed, and then my aunt and her brother’s train got cancelled…it was an absolute mess – but we all managed to get there safe and sound!

Most of places that we visited in York looked like they were pulled out of a history book – oh wait, they pretty much were…. But you can probably imagine our surprise when we saw a 200 year old bridge and defensive tower turned into a modern day café (that’s the picture right there!). In the States we would have that area closed off so that nobody could even breathe on it !

The amazing walls of old York were the perfect setting for Stefan to play at being a heroic defender of the castle. He had a blast playing archer on the walls, pretending to shoot passers-by with imaginary arrows.

We met up with my aunt, her brother and sister, and her brother-in-law while we were there and had a great time going on a ghost tour through the city. York is said to be the most haunted city in Europe, and with over half a million people buried within the city walls I can understand why! Despite the creepy ghost stories, I think that York is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen, and Ric completely agrees. That’s definitely something special coming from him because as a general rule, he hates cities!

So far, this post accounts for half of our tour of England, and I can’t wait to tell you about the rest of the trip! You’ll get to read all about our trip to Glastonbury, Bath, the famous Stonehenge, and about a wonderful little artifact that we call the Heart of Tintagel.

To be continued!