Londonagain

Being obsessed with a place is a strange thing.  I can’t tell you why I love England and London so much.  I’m either thinking about visiting, planning a visit, enjoying a visit or recovering from a visit.  I’ve just wrapped up my ninth trip to England.  Before you get the wrong idea,  I’m not wealthy and I don’t have any great tips on getting great deals.  I go so often because I work hard at saving up the airfare and I have wonderful friends and cousins that allow me to stay with them.   I’ve gone to many areas but have made sure to visit London each time.  It’s a chaotic, vibrant, ever changing city and I like that.

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I’m always impressed with the folks that drive there.  It’s rarely easy.  I watched as my friends wove in and out of side streets, trying to shave a few minutes off of any journey.  I learned to drive in America where we have wide streets and freeways.  We think nothing of driving fifty or sixty miles to try a new taco place.  It’s mind boggling to hear that a person has to plan, map out and schedule a visit to a relative that lives only twenty miles away.  Instantly in my mind its a twenty minute drive, London reality is a two hour drive.  You can begin to see the obstacles here and why the brilliant people of England have some of the best public transport in the world.

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This particular visit was pure relaxation,  we didn’t do the tourist stuff this time.  My husband and I visited with our friends at Fox Hill B&B.  We talked a lot, ate more,  watched movies, read, napped, enjoyed cocktail hour and all of the things that get pushed aside in the day to day business of  life.

We took the train one day up to Huntingdon, near Cambridge to visit cousins.  We checked out their jewelry store, Underwood the Jewelers, in the nearby village of Ramsey.  Check it out if you’re in the area.  We had a nice chat while enjoying a pub lunch.   It’s always fun to take the train through the countryside, so beautiful and completely different to London.

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We walked  up to the village of Norwood several times.  We enjoyed the cake at Dalhousie.  I tried a Victoria Sponge, made famous (in America) by the movie “Calendar Girls”.  The Blackbird Bakery there is also very good.  We had a scrumptious hamburger at Crystal Palace Market, with some of the best french fries we’ve ever had.  My husband loves cupcakes so much that after going to Ms.Cupcake last September, he was moved to embroider a few sweatshirts for the ladies that work there.

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My husband, Neil, and the sassy ladies of Ms. Cupcake-Brixton

We also went with our friends to a little area across from Hampton Court called Molesey for breakfast at Henry’s, excellent food and service.  I enjoyed the fresh croissants and coffee especially.    molesey       I love poking around in little antique shops and finding treasures that are so different from what you would find in America.  Neil is always up to a challenge, so I pointed out a particularly nice metal garden bench and asked if he would be able to make us a similar one.   He has been wanting to improve his welding skills, so I may get a nice bench after all.   I wouldn’t necessarily spend the money to buy it and then pay the expensive shipping from the UK.  Found this funny little brass piece in Molesey. It reminds me of the faces you see on the walls at Oxford College.  It may have been a belt buckle, but I have plans to use it on a custom bird house.

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Molesey Jester

The styles and indeed the customs are very different from place to place and that’s precisely why I like traveling.  It’s disappointing, at least to me, to see things like a McDonald’s in England.  I realize that companies want to expand to every corner of the globe.  When you can get the same things wherever you go, why do you need to travel.  I try very hard not to eat at chain restaurants as it is,  mediocre is the word that comes to mind. Try something local, even if in your home town.  You may be missing something unique.

I don’t have the mistaken notion of many who have only traveled to England via TV and movies.  I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard comments about some of my photos that give me the idea that most Americans expect London/England to be quaint and simple, like the days of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens.   There is history and wonderful old architecture with all of the quirky little details all through the ages there. Victorian, Gothic, Roman and Medieval times blend with twenty first century sky scrapers.  Ever changing.  It’s modern and intelligent, and very much up to date.  I read that even Westminster Abbey is adding a tower.  A living, breathing part of modern England as well as a view to the past.                                      west minster tower

With every visit, I take away impressions, knowledge and a little more familiarity with my ancestor’s homeland.  This time I realize that I can love a place that I’m not actually from.  I can feel close to it for my love of it’s history and culture, knowing that if circumstances had been different, I would be a citizen instead of a visitor.   What continues to make it so important and dear to my heart though are the people I’ve gotten to know and the stories I uncover.   I am, as always, happy to be home.  And, as always, thinking about my next visit over which will be very different to this last one, but no less wonderful!  Happy travels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just London-part 2

Going to London for me is not just hitting the tourist attractions.  I am fascinated by this city! I’ve been attracted to England for as long as I can remember, it probably started with the knowledge that most of my family, on both sides, immigrated from there.  To me it is the homeland, even though the last generation to live there was my father’s great grand parents.  They came over to America in 1852, still I feel a kinship to this beautiful, history filled place.  Having said that, my family wasn’t originally from London.  The branch that I most closely relate to, reason being that I have been able to find more on them in my genealogy research, hailed from Sussex.

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If you know me at all, you know that I am not that fond of big cities.  Indeed,  I grew up in a small suburb of San Diego and rarely ventured downtown.  Although I lived there for the first thirty eight years of my life, I still get lost whenever I visit if I leave the neighborhood that I grew up in, or the one I raised my children in.  But London, it’s magic to me.   On my first visit there with my mother in-law, Jean, she said to me that she didn’t really need to go out and see the sites.  It was just being there, breathing in the air that she wanted.  I didn’t understand that on my first trip, but it’s so clear to me now.  glitter-heart-shaped-london-union-jack-fridge-magnet

One of the things we did on this visit and all previous visits, was walk around the village of Upper Norwood, into the cheese shop or the bakery.  Up to the pub for dinner.  It’s all part of the experience and something that I enjoy for the shear fact that the shops look so foreign to where I live, and I like that.  It’s learning another culture, seeing how these people live everyday compared to where we come from.  It’s talking to the shop owners and asking lots of questions, trying the local fare, the farmer’s markets, the fresh made goods.  I will take these experiences any day over stuff.

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Upper Norwood

One of the things that you do there is walk, a lot.  It’s nice because I tend to want to try all of the delicacies, so I eat more than I would usually.  Yet I end up losing weight because of all of the walking we do.

There is a show that I found on streaming called “Britain’s Best Bakeries”, and on that show I was introduced to the wonder of Ms.Cupcake.  Located in Brixton, it’s a vegan bakery.  They have the most luscious cupcakes and cookies, and when I say that,  I’m not talking about what they look like.  They taste amazing and the four of us made a point to search out this small bakery on a little side street in Brixton.  We spent a whopping £40 on cupcakes, had a nice chat with the folks that work there and were given some delicious gluten free cookies. Well worth the money for the experience and the cupcakes were unique and dare I say, heavenly!

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The lovely ladies of Ms. Cupcake

If you remember from previous blogs, I had always wanted to visit the Garden Museum and on our last visit, my husband and I got to go.  Shortly after our visit, it was closed to remodel and add to it.  So I was very excited to be able to go and see the new and improved exhibits.  Last time it was £3, the price is now up to £10,  and I have to admit that I was a little disappointed!  On our first visit, it was small but interesting.  The cafe was in an old part of the stone church, beautiful and quaint, leading out to a lovely garden with plants having identifying tags on them.  The historic churchyard had beautiful old markers and grave stones.  The only thing left was Captain Bligh’s tomb.  All gone in exchange for a big fancy and modern coffee shop, reminding you more of Starbucks than anything else.  Having said that, the food and service were fine.  But, when you visit a museum of gardening, you kind of expect some sort of garden.  They removed this for a lot of cement and glass doors.  The only thing recognizable was the famous tomb.  The display upstairs of garden tools and lovely art was much the same with a few additions.   I enjoyed the garden shed with videos of conversations with gardeners.  Looks like another addition in a corner downstairs, very artistically presented, though it may not have been finished.   Other than that, there was a huge open cavernous space of nothing.  One couldn’t help but wonder why the obvious addition of something like a Gertrude Jekyll or Vita Sackville-West display are not in the works.  Even large panels with photographs of these famous designs would be welcome.  All and all, I probably won’t return again unless it’s included on the London pass.  Having said all of that,  I found this lovely sign with one of my family names that I’ve been researching. That was a nice surprise!

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On one of the days that I was laid up and everyone else went to the British Museum, I got to experience Cost Co, London style.  It was interesting in that it was all familiar, the layout, etc.  But the items were a bit different.  For instance, there was an entire aisle of prawns!  Raw, breaded, curried, etc.  I was very impressed with the variety of shrimp you could buy.

My friends went to a street near the British Museum where it is blocked off from cars.  It’s called Museum Street and they found a great store with vintage style clothes called “Thomas Farthing”.   You can see why from the photo below that I insisted we go back the next day when I felt better.  The displays were gorgeous and the the quality was apparent in every item that was out for sale.  Across the street was an authentic (the staff barely spoke English)  Italian restaurant where we had some of the best pizza I have ever tasted!

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On the way back to catch our bus I snapped this photo of a vintage clock.  I’m only sorry that we weren’t there on the hour to see this glorious clock chime.  It’s attached to the side of building where there is an entrance to a courtyard of shops.  I plan to explore this area more on our next visit.

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Of course it wouldn’t be a proper visit without a family dinner to catch up with all of the assorted Haigh’s.  Sue did herself proud with such a succulent meal, good wine and conversation with friends that long ago became my extended family.  I think about them often, appreciate their generosity over the years, care about them each and every one and look forward to every contact with them.

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Just London-Part 1

London

September 2017 brought my eighth trip over to England, this time with my husband and our close friends.  We went specifically to visit with the Haigh’s of Fox Hill B&B and introduce Bruce, who’s hadn’t been to London before.

Neil, Linda (me), Suzanne and Bruce

Time always seems to go so fast, on top of which I got a cold and had to sit out a couple of days.  The rest of the group carried on while I was well taken care of by Sue, who served me soup and “Aunt Nora’s tea”.  tea  An English custom, weak tea with no milk or sugar, specifically for when one is under the weather.  It was warm and comforting and much appreciated while I was recuperating!

london pass  We visited some places that I had been and a few that I hadn’t had the chance to see before.  I’ve been to London in September, but this time it seemed more crowded than ever.  Buying the London Pass helped,  you can bypass the lines in many places.  If you get the pass be sure to pay the extra and include an Oyster card, it’s a great value and you get around much quicker.  With the pass you get a one day, hop on and off bus pass, a perfect way to get an overview of the city, especially if you haven’t been before.   We decided to take the six day pass, even though we were in London for ten days.  You have to think about it in advance, the first time you use it starts the clock for however many days you purchased.  The first day you get there is typically shot.  By the time you arrive,  go through customs, wait for luggage, travel to your hotel, etc., there isn’t a lot of time left in the day to go exploring.  Better to shower, relax and have a revitalizing meal, fish and chips perhaps.  Don’t forget the traditional mushy peas!

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The pass is good for over 80 of the top attractions and has the Fast Track entry to some of the most popular sites. Of course I can’t list them all here, but the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court  and Westminster Abbey to name a few.  Check it out at https://www.londonpass.com/.  The cost at this writing is approximately £184.00, but check the site often because they are always having sales.  You can usually save 20%, which brings the price down to £163.15, including the travel pass which is an Oyster card worth £40 of travel.  We used most of it, going all over the city.  I had about £12 left because of my cold, but the others used up pretty much all of it with out having to pay any more for day travel passes!  I’m not meaning to advertise for London Pass, but you do save some serious money by getting this and not buying each entry separate.

One of the places I hadn’t had the chance to go before were the Churchill War Rooms.  This is a fascinating museum!  If you love history,  and are interested in WW2, you will love this.   Just the story of them turning out the lights and locking it up when the war ended, not to be opened up again until the 1980s, was enough to peak my interest.   It’s laid out in a nice flow.  You can peek into the underground rooms where these men and women worked day and night, throughout the war, then move on to amazing photo timelines, film clips that you’ve never seen before and Churchill’s personal items.  Plan to spend at least two or three hours here.

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I also wanted to share some of my favorite, iconic sites such as St. Pauls Cathedral, Hampton Court and Westminster Abbey.  All are worth seeing, all were very crowded.   I think the next time,  I will take a few minutes to check out the least busy times.  Each of these wonderful historic locations are worth visiting.  I like to do some preliminary research, just to get the basic history before I go.

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Above the entrance gate to Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court:  Building was started in 1515 by Cardinal Wolsey, one of Henry VIII’s favorites.  When he fell out of favor with the King, Wolsey gave it to him as a gift, hoping to save himself from Henry’s wrath.  The architecture is Gothic inspired Tudor, built of brick in amazing design and decoration, massive, with beautiful grounds.  It’s easy to imagine the King and Anne Boleyn walking the Privy Garden.  The ceiling alone in the chapel is worth making the trip, but seriously, this is a stunning palace and only one of the two remaining that belonged to Henry the VIII.  The tour here is interesting in that you will learn the everyday life of running this palace for hoards of people.  Hampton Court has it’s own train station and is just a short walk away.  There is much to see inside and out, with a couple of good cafes and some interest for children as well.  Check the calendar because often there are special events and re-enactments that you can watch or participate in.

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One of the King’s Beasts, standing on the bridge, overlooking the moat

St. Paul’s Cathedral:  There has been a church on this site since AD 604!  The present cathedral, dated from the late 17th century, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren.  Its construction was part of rebuilding the City after the Great Fire.  It is one of those buildings in England that you can only marvel at.  As with most of the attractions in London, you receive an audio guide, giving you history and interesting tidbits.  My favorite story about St. Paul’s is how the fire brigade posted itself near the roof, ready to put out sparks from the blitz.  The selfless dedication to save one of London’s landmarks is inspiring.  St. Paul’s was hit by a bomb in WW2.  It survived because the bomb exploded in midair and thankfully missed anything crucial.

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St.Paul’s Cathedral from the Millennial Bridge

Westminster Abbey:  I had been lucky enough to visit Westminster Abbey when the Haigh’s took my cousin Marcie and me to a Christmas choir concert here.  It is ancient and beautiful with so much history, and pageantry.  Construction of the present church began in 1245, on the orders of Henry the VIII.  It is still a working church and indeed our friends children attended pre-school here, which to this American, seems very strange.  You imagine kings and queens of old, and yet, most of modern day pageantry takes place at this site.  The Queen’s own wedding , the famous wedding of Charles and Diana,  and William and Kate.  All but one coronation since 1066 has taken place in the Abbey.  Only Henry III in 1216 was left out, because the French Prince, Louis had taken temporary control of London.  The tombs and headstones of the Abbey read like a who’s who of British history.   With the audio guides you get selected stories of the politics, rivalry, bravery and love lives of some of these famous English men and women.

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One of the gorgeous stone carvings near the entrance when you visit Westminster Abbey

While I was laid up, the rest of the group hit a couple of not to miss places that I have been to more than once.  They spent some hours at the British Museum and the Tower of London.  Both are worth visiting and both are included on the London Pass.  Although the British Museum is technically one of the many free museums in London, there is a fee for some of the exhibits.

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Some of the other places we hit I’ve written about previously.  The Imperial War Museum,  walking around Buckingham Palace and Green Park, the City of Westminster, the bus tour, lunches at pubs, etc.  Always so much to do in London!

Check out my next post, coming soon:  Just London-Part 2.  I will share the best cupcake place I’ve ever been,  off the beaten path shopping, family dinners, more food and fun.

Happy travels!      london poster

 

 

 

Heading Southwest

If you love England, and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t, you are always thinking of the next visit.  It’s a difficult task because, if it were just me, I’d go back and forth across the country until I was able to see every area including Scotland and Wales.

My next visit will probably be a foursome with my husband and our good friends, driving Southwest to Devon and Cornwall and looping around to visit Bath. My bestie’s family is from Christchurch and though we have been to England together, once in 2005, we didn’t get to visit there.  I think it’s so important to go where your family originated if you can.  Go to the church and the churchyard, look for those names that you’ve heard your whole life in family stories or read so often in your research.

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My first trip over in 2001, we headed south through Cornwall to Land’s End and up the West Coast to Wales, I absolutely loved it there.  I want my husband and friends to see some of it and for Suzanne to be in the places where her family came from.  I hope she has the overwhelming feeling of home that I had the first time I went to Sussex and walked in the footsteps of my father’s family.  I hope you get to Cornwall and revel in it’s Celtic history and beauty.

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The history of Cornwall is fascinating and extensive.   There are lots of books and information online.  There have been people there since 4000 BC, so there is not enough space here to delve into that subject.  I think I am most impressed with the fact that the Cornish people have held onto their culture and are now considered a distinct Ethnic group by the UK government.

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We’ll go to London first, our friend Bruce hasn’t had the opportunity to go there yet and there is so much to see.  Of course you can’t do London in one trip, unless you have unlimited time and money.  Hopefully this will be the beginning of several visits over for them.  I will write about what we saw and did after the fact since, as of now, in the early days of planning I’m not sure which attractions we’ll get to see.

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While in London each of us will plan a day out, as well as take a day on one of the jump on and off London bus tours.   Afterwards, we’ll head south by train to Christchurch and spend at least most of a day there, we’ll go to the church, explore the town and have lunch.  A few years ago my cousin Claire gave me a book, “Footpaths of Britain”.  There is a lovely walk in Christchurch along the harbor to Hengistbury Head, it’s about an hour with nice views of the Isle of Wight, a nature reserve and the beach at Sandspit.

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Whether or not we find this town interesting enough to stay the night remains to be seen, but after our visit, we’ll hit the road and head towards the West Coast, stopping along the way at anything that looks interesting to any of us.  I love this kind of a trip and I did it in 2001 and again in 2005. You drive along and take in the countryside, looking at maps and signposts until you see something that looks so delightful you just have to stop.  In the afternoon when you start thinking about dinner and bed, you stop in a town and visit the tourist information office.  These places have books and maps for sale, leaflets to give away and loads of advice on things to see or do.  After a conversation with the helpful staff, you just let them know how much further you’d like to travel that day or if there is a particular place you want to stop.  They have catalogs of B&Bs and hotels with photos, so you have a general idea of what to expect. They ask you what you’d like to spend on lodging, and will actually call ahead for you to let them know you’re coming, give you directions and send you on your way with a plan.

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Sometimes that kind of visit won’t work because of time constraints, event dates, etc., you wouldn’t want it to be so loose.  Then booking ahead online is the way to go.  With sites like Tripadvisor, Travelocity, and Air B&B you can easily make it all work.

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I’ve had people tell me how brave I am to go on an adventure without concrete plans like this one.  I guess it’s a kind of adventure, but really, you are in a civilized country that speaks the same language.  The people I’ve met along the way are always welcoming and helpful, so it’s not the kind of adrenaline filled travel in the darkest forests of the Amazon.  It’s fairly tame and you just might discover something off the beaten path that will make it amazing!

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The Hidden Gardens of Heligan

I recently added a channel app to my streaming that has lots of British TV shows.  One of them is “Britain’s Best Bakery” and I’ve decided that we have to stop and taste the fabulous offerings of some of the Cornish bakeries that were showcased.

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That’s pretty much the plan for this next excursion.  It’s fairly easy planning I think, pick the date, buy the plane ticket, keep saving to pay for it all.  Then just pack and go!  We already know we would be staying at Fox Hill B&B because it’s my favorite place in London, the rest is up to fate and whimsy.

 

 

 

 

A Series of Themed Trips Around England

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From the first visit I made to England for a family reunion with cousins I didn’t actually know, I have been looking for interesting things to see and do.   Truthfully, when I’ve gone for the sheer purpose of visiting family and friends it’s been wonderful.

However, my cousin and I had kicked around a few “theme” ideas over the years, ie:  the rock and roll of our youth, movies, books and authors, hiking, castles, etc., and also the different areas around the country including Scotland and Wales  So, with that idea in mind I set off in search of themes or specific areas to visit.  The first installment is north to south on the west side of England and into Wales.  These are very loose suggestions because people have their own interests and preferences which are easily researched on Google.  I mean only to highlight some of the history, famous things to see and do and maybe a few quirky things as well.  I’ll put in web addresses and current prices when I can,  please understand that these can change at any time.

York to Cornwall

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The Shambles

I had an email from a friend of mine wanting suggestions for a visit from York in the north of England, to Wales and Cornwall.  I appreciate the vote of confidence so have decided to start my series with that, this one’s for you Pla’. 

We’ll start in York, a beautiful city in it’s own right.  For less than $20 US dollars you can take the city bus tour, there is live commentary from April to October.  If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’m a big fan of a live tour guide.  The history and stories are more meaningful when you have a real, animated person telling them.  Also, with the audio you take the risk of not being at the place they are talking about because of traffic and other human delays.  This kind of bus tour is a good place to start in any new city you visit.  You get the lay of the land, a good overview of the city and find lots of things you might want to see but wouldn’t know of otherwise.

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There are plenty of walking tours, including history and ghost tours.  Don’t miss “The Shambles”, York’s oldest street with fifteenth century buildings.  Lots of shops, restaurants and history to see here.  I would definitely get the York pass when going.  It’s around $55 US dollars, but you get entry into thirty of the top attractions.  Visit the York Maze for some fun, there’s ice cream and you can picnic there.  York Minster is included on the pass, it’s history and craftsmanship are worth a look.  I can’t list them all, but a few that sound interesting are the York Dungeon, Chocolate Story, many manor houses and museums, a brewery, air museum, Roman bath and many others. Something for everyone, go to http://www.yorkpass.com.

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From York head to Liverpool by train or drive on the M62, it takes about two and half hours.  I like driving because you can see the countryside at your own pace and stop at anything that looks interesting to you.  If you haven’t taken the chance of driving here, I can tell you from experience that you get used to it quickly.  It’s easier with two, one to drive and the other to gently remind you to stay in the left lane and also look at maps and signs. Start in a more rural area and work your way up to cities.  I’ve driven in London and though it’s quite stressful if you aren’t used to it, I am here to tell the tale, so it wasn’t too bad!

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Albert Dock

Pla’ and I are both huge Beatles fans (see post of June 6, 2014) and going to Liverpool has been a dream of mine since the 1960s when I saw them on the Ed Sullivan show and listened to them on the radio, my transistor held against my ear.  A good start is “The Beatles Story” in the Albert Dock, a visitor center dedicated to that group.  You should allow several hours because there’s so much to see.  Albert Dock is also where you start the “Magical Mystery Tour”, a bus tour of Beatles landmarks like Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane.  The National Trust also runs a special tour of John and Paul’s childhood homes.  You actually go inside and see where they grew up!  There are so many different tours and things to see, clubs where they played, restaurants, streets and museums.  Worth a visit if you have appreciated their music over the years.

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There is a lot to see here even if you aren’t a Beatles fan.  Liverpool is officially the “World Capital of Pop”, so consequently lots of music, theater and nightlife.  There is the Merseyside Maritime Museum, beaches, lots of sports venues and a modern cathedral.  You can still catch a “Ferry Cross the Mersey”, from Liverpool across to Birkenhead, about a 40 minute trip each way.  There are also tour options if you’re interested in the history of the canal and ferries, go to http://www.merseyferries.co.uk.

Leaving Liverpool for Wales, you will be looking at an over three hour drive on the A483.  You might want to plan it out so that you’re stopping for lunch around noon or leave right after lunch in Liverpool so you arrive before dark.  I stopped in Wales for a nice pub lunch at the wrong time and they were closed to anything but a cup of tea.  I’m not sure if this is the same everywhere in that area, but take along some snacks just in case.  I loved Wales, it’s beautiful and easier to drive for an American, better placed signs than I found in the countryside of England where often, by the time I read and understood where I wanted to turn, I was past the street I needed to turn on.  Thankful for roundabouts!

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You don’t have to go deep into Wales to appreciate this tiny country.  Visiting from America, few of us have the time to see everything we want to see in one trip.  So to get a taste of it, you can see some of it on the way down and stop in Brecon for a night or two. Right on the edge of Brecon Beacons National Park, the country features incredible beauty.  There are National Trails for walking, wildlife,  caves to explore, cultural heritage, dark sky venues for stargazing, and market towns. If you’re a reader there is a town of books,  Hay on Wye, where you can spend many hours perusing as many books as you like. Watching TV there is also fun, lots of the stations are in Welsh but there are also English stations if you just want to stay in and relax a bit.

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Hay-on-Wye

One of the places that I love right over the Welsh border is Gloucestershire.  So much history and many wonderful sites to visit, beautiful gardens and good restaurants.  Some highlights are the Gloucester Cathedral, Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens in Burford.  Burford is a gorgeous place to visit, quaint, friendly, great cream teas and shops to stop in.  Hidcote (Chipping Camden) and Highgrove (Tetbury) Gardens are both outstanding ways to spend a couple of hours outside, looking at natures beauty, even if it is man made nature. So well put together and a nice way to unwind if you’ve visited busy towns or cities with it’s traffic.

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The Cotswolds

The Cotswolds is an area in south central England which encompasses from just south of Stratford-upon-Avon to just south of Bath.  I love the names of the towns and villages here so much and always wonder what they originally meant.  Some of my favorites are Chipping Sodbury,  Lower Slaughter, Wotten Under Edge, Stow-on-the-Wold, Wantage, Northleach and Painswick.  I will look out for a book about the village names on my next visit.  The villages here are so iconic, just what we Americans think an English village should look like.  The yellow stone of the buildings, covered in wisteria provide lots of photo ops.  Many nice shops and cafes here to enjoy.  There are too many to list, but if you’re a movie buff like me there are tons of places to see here that were used in movies and TV.  Check out www.cotswolds.info/places/ for interesting things to do here and look under “film and tv locations” to pick some of your favorites.  Glouster Cathedral=Hogwarts,  I’m just saying!

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Glouster Cathedral

Going south to Cornwall via the M5 and A30, it’s close to a four hour drive so you want to start early.  There are so many places to see this way,  you can pick and choose according to your interests. I think I would just enjoy the ride through the moors and choose a nice place to lunch, making a few stops for photos or things that look interesting in the moment.

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The Cornwall Moors

You could go all the way to Land’s End if your interested, great photo ops here.  If you’ve ever read the novels of Daphne De Mornay, you will love exploring Cornwall.  In fact, if you have time before or during your trip, pick up a copy of “Rebecca” or “Jamaica Inn”, wonderful stories that help put the place in context. Be sure to stop in the Lizard while in Cornwall for some of the best Cornish Pasties anywhere!  There are lots of villages and towns between here and Highclere Castle on to London.

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Heading north on A30 and A303 to Highclere Castle for us “Downtown Abbey” fans is a must. Stopping along the way at Stonehenge is something everyone should see, it’s really mind boggling to listen to what history they actually do know and imagine how long humans have been visiting this place.  Also, not a little shocking to see the cars speeding by so close to where the stones are standing.  It’s about a three hour drive depending on where you left Cornwall.  It can be windy out here in the open, you might want to tie your hair back or bring a wind breaker as it can also be a bit cool.

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Stonehenge

 From Stonehenge to Highclere Castle, located outside of Newbury, on the A303 and A34 is about a forty minute drive.   Plan to spend a half day visiting the castle and walking around the beautiful grounds where this amazing series was filmed.  You should buy tickets in advance as soon as you know you’re going, if not, you take a chance at being turned away when you arrive.  Enjoy the guided tour of the house, tea in the garden and walking around the grounds.    The tour including the castle, Egyptian exhibition and grounds is currently £22.  There are a couple of offers for having tea here.  You can spurge and have tea in the coach house.  Tickets are priced at £25 per person, over age 18 only.  You must buy these tickets in advance as well.  There are many other tea rooms on the grounds, open from 10:00am to 5:00pm during open times, serving coffee and tea made in the Castle kitchens.  The tea rooms are also open for hot, light lunches from noon until 2pm .  You can get tea and scones as well.

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Looking down at Highclere Castle

From Highclere to London on the M4 (which has tolls) or the M3 (which takes about twelve extra minutes,  is about an hour and a half drive.   I’m not going to list all of the wonderful things a person can see and do in London.  I just like being there, having tea and people watching.  Of course there are many historical and amazing things to see and do and easily researched by your individual interests, but London needs an entire blog on it’s own.  Enjoy and take in all you can, there is no place like London!

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View of the Thames and the Shard in London

Missing England

It’s been eleven months since our last visit to England, which is amazing when I think about it.  The time has flown and yet it seems like we were just there.  This last week I couldn’t help thinking about all of the things that I still want to see and experience.

I know I should see some other part of the world.  The thing is, traveling can be stressful but going to England is not, at least not for me.  It’s easy and relaxing.

I feel comfortable there, I understand the language, the transportation, the money.  I love the people, the gardens and countryside, the food and the history.

And it doesn’t matter if it’s a small village, a busy city or the heart of London.  There is always so much to see and learn and experience.  There isn’t a week that goes by that I’m not thinking of what it would take to go back.  The age old problem of time and money.  I have gone back to work part time and can no longer think about going on a whim.  Not that I’ve ever done that, but I could have!

I still haven’t been further north than Cambridge, there is a lot more country to explore.  I love Wales and would like to spend more time there as well.  Then there’s Scotland, where my father’s family, Melrose, is from. The very reason my obsession with the UK started.

So, you see, we have to go again.  On top of the above justifications to make another trek over, my husband has mentioned going back every week since we came home last September!  Hopefully 2016 will be my lucky trip #7.  I better start saving, I have a daughter getting married in the spring as well.  I tried to talk her into a destination wedding.  “It would be the perfect place, if it were you getting married”, was her response.  My 40th anniversary is coming up, maybe Neil would consider renewing our vows in London:)

Drag Racing-Part 2

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 I did a little research about Santa Pod Raceway and discovered that it’s the most famous drag racing track outside of America!  Drag racing has it’s origins in America in the 1920s, it took off in the UK during the 1960s when many of the old airstrips were converted to drag strips.  Permission was obtained in 1966 to turn Podington Airfield in Bedfordshire into a drag racing complex.  It was very interesting to me to find that it was named “Santa Pod” after the Santa Ana drag strip in Southern California since Neil and I are both originally from Southern California.  Santa Ana was the first official drag strip in America and was in operation from 1950 to 1959.  It too got it’s start as an airstrip.

Today Santa Pod Raceway hosts events all year long including the FIA European Drag Racing Championships and the ‘Run What You Brung’ (RWYB) where anyone with a valid driving licence can drive their own vehicle and test it against others.  One thing I’ve learned over the years, hanging out with Neil and his friends who race, is that drag racing is so much more than which car gets to the finish line first. There is skill and a lot of technical knowledge and science that goes into a run.  Some of things that racers need to check are air temperature, humidity and a barometer to give a corrected altitude.  Weather can change it.  Also, tire pressure, wind direction and wind speed.  All of these can affect how fast the car goes so that a driver is not only racing the car next to him, but racing his own preparation, skill and knowledge.

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Neil decided to go up to Santa Pod because over the years he’s heard of the racing there and wanted to see the venue for himself.  He was duly impressed with the operation and show that they put on.

I asked him what difference stood out to an American racer who has knowledge and experience of so many years of racing here.  He said to be honest it was the size of the rigs.  We all have heard in movies and life that here in America size matters.  Everything has to be big.  I mean look at the size of the food portions alone!  When he says “rigs”, he’s talking about the car trailers, motor homes and trucks.  The average length of these rigs here in America is a whopping 65 feet!

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The biggest surprise was how many US cars were there.  A lot of cars were imported from the US.  It would be interesting to know if there are many car builders there.  Drag Racing has different classes and categories such as Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Stock to name a few.  Neil most recently raced in the Super Comp class.  He was surprised that in the UK the cars have a whole team of up to 10 people.  In America, Neil usually would do everything himself or with just one other crew member. He was also surprised that in the Super Pro category electronics were not allowed as they are here.  Delay boxes, timers and throttle stops are used in that class regularly in America.

All in all, Santa Pod is a must see for Gear Heads and Drag Race enthusiasts.  We are going to plan our next visit around a large event there.  Neil would love to be there and compare it to a large NHRA event that he’s so familiar with here.  It’s wonderful to be able to go abroad and see and compare, gain some other knowledge and meet people that share your passion!

English History and Other TV Shows

I have been very excited lately with the choice of interesting TV shows and documentaries they are showing on American television.   One of my all time favorites, like a lot of people, is Masterpiece Theater.  The latest historical offering is Wolf Hall.  It’s very well done.  I’m not sure how accurate it is, but I do find it entertaining, interesting and a new take on a subject that’s been done a lot in the past.  From Thomas Cromwell’s perspective.  I couldn’t help feeling for him in the beginning: a poor man who has raised himself up to such a high place in the English court of the King.  The blue bloods of the time were furious that he rose to such power due to his talent and intelligence.

I didn’t grow up learning English history like I did American history, though all of it is questionable.  I think it was and is human nature to not stick to the facts as far as history goes.  “You can’t handle the truth”!  I’m pretty sure, just because it’s the way things are, that he was as good and as bad as all of us are.  Watch the series on PBS, it’s compelling and if nothing else a good story, great English iconic buildings and costumes.

Another great show that I’ve been watching is on Netflix called A Time to Remember.  It’s a compilation of old Pathe film that was shot starting at the turn of the last century and captures amazing film of life in Britain and around the world.  From early airplanes, war, theater and every thing in between.  Really captivating and nice to see this original film preserved and shown. 

If you haven’t watched the comedy Moone Boy, you are missing a hysterical show.  It’s actually an Irish show and it chronicles the daily life of a preteen boy with an imaginary friend played brilliantly by Chris O’Dowd.  Just watch it, you’ll love it.

Is it just me or are the British obsessed with murder?  There are so many murder mystery and crime dramas out that it makes your head spin. I found over 220 just in doing research for this article!  I love it!!

A few fun ones are Midsomer Murders, Inspector Lewis, New Tricks, Sherlock, Rosemary and Thyme and of course Miss Marple.  A few of the more serious and interesting are Broadchurch, Whitechapel, Happy Valley, Foyle’s War and The Bletchly Circle.  That isn’t counting all of the really top notch spy shows:  MI5, Page Eight and Spy which is a comedy.