Day 2 of our 2020 Great Smoky Mountains Vacation

On our first day in the Smokies we took the scenic, but very busy drive up the Newfound Gap Road. That left us a little exhausted, so we thought we’d start the next day by taking a hike around the neighborhood by our cabin. We spotted a few wild turkeys (there are lots in Tennessee!) Fortunately, we did not have a run-in with the neighborhood bear which we spotted from our car later in the day.

Wild turkeys!
Beautiful reflection
Thankfully, we were in our car when we saw this big bear!

Day 2 also included driving, this time on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. It’s a lot shorter than the Newfound Gap Road, only 5.5 miles, but it does take time, as it’s one way and narrow. I have to admit I wasn’t sure what the heck a “motor nature trail” would be, but after a few minutes I really did feel like I was on a trail rather than a road. It was absolutely gorgeous!

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Two popular trailheads along this road include Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls. Rainbow Falls is 5.4 miles round trip and has about 1500 feet elevation gain. By this time it was late morning and was starting to feel warm (it did get up to 80 that day). I normally would not have any issue with that length hike but I hadn’t brought shorts on this trip and from what I read this trail is now a bit more exposed since it does go through some of the burn scar from the 2016 fire. So we opted for the much easier Grotto Falls. It’s only 3 miles roundtrip. With both of these trailheads the parking lots are quite small so roadside parking is the norm. So expect another .25 mile to half a mile walk to get back to the trailhead, especially at Grotto Falls.

The Grotto Falls trail was quite easy for us (we’ve got high elevation Colorado lungs). It was fairly busy, too. But we did find a quiet rock and ate our lunch there, before proceeding back.

Grotto Falls

Before we exited off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, we made a quick stop at Ely’s Mill. The site of a former mill, it now has a few cabins and a wedding venue, as well as a gift shop. Since restrooms there are supposed to be for customers only, we gladly did a little shopping. Lots of cute hand-made items. We picked up a few wonderful smelling locally made soaps.

Photo credit Ely’s Mill FB Page

We spent the rest of the afternoon in Gatlinburg, primarily shopping and then enjoying a beer at Gatlinburg Brewing Company. There are no shortage of shops to pick up souvenirs, as well as places to nosh on yummy smelling food. It took a lot of will power to walk past them but my husband did succumb to some whisky sampling at Ole Smoky Whisky. His favorite was a Mint Chocolate Chip Whisky! Who knew? I enjoyed Byrd’s Cookie Company and came away with more cookies than I needed.

Gatlinburg has a ton of activities – two aerial trams, Ripley’s Museum and aquarium, arcades, mountain coaster ride, a Space Needle – the list goes on. None of these really appeal to us and in this time of COVID, we wanted to be cautious and stay away from crowds. But from what we saw, there were lots of families there, even midweek during the fall.

Despite the busyness, we did enjoy the nice warm fall weather and walking around town. For the most part, people were good about wearing masks indoors and maintaining some degree of social distancing. Now it was time to retreat back to our peaceful cabin and get ready for our final day at the park.

Our first “real” vacation of 2020 – Great Smoky Mountains

Yes, we did a number of road trips this year, but nothing on a plane. We had cancelled our trip to Spain (we were going in October) and our trip to Arizona back in March also had to be axed. However, with some United credits to burn, we decided to go to Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP) last in early October.

Our flight from Denver to Knoxville was nearly full. I think a few seats in First Class were open. We were on an Embraer 175 – a smaller jet that seats 96 people and has 2-2 seating. Instead of boarding groups, they boarded back to front and deplaned front to back. More efficient if you ask me. Masks were required, of course, but we were packed in. The return flight home was the same. I’ve been home 5 days and so far I appear to be healthy. I actually double masked – 2 surgical masks. On the way there no one talked, but on the return I was a little bit worried. I had one chatty Cathy behind me, but fortunately she quieted down after takeoff. (People, in closed spaces like this, even with a mask, keep idle conversation to a minimum!!)

Flying to Knoxville

After picking up our rental car we took a scenic route to get to our wonderful AirBNB cabin in the woods between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. We were surprised how hilly it was! And green! I was in heaven. I grew up in the very green Pacific Northwest and have lived in rather treeless cities for the last 28 years. So I felt totally in my realm. The weather was also perfect. It was in the mid 70s, cool at night (mid 40s), no rain, and no bugs! Hurricane Delta did bring rain to the area after we left but fortunately did not affect us.

traveling toward the Smokies
Our cabin in the woods
Nestled in the woods. Lots of wonderful birds. And a hot tub on the deck, too!

Know before you go . . . TRAFFIC!!

All national parks have traffic. I’ve been to pretty much all the national parks except one (Glacier) in the western US. But I would have to give the award for the worst traffic to the Smokies. It starts before you get there, in Pigeon Forge and even worse in Gatlinburg. Both these towns are tourist attractions in themselves, which only adds to the problem. In addition, GSMNP has the most tourists of any national park in the US (12.5 million in 2019). One good thing about the park is that it doesn’t have an entrance fee (thank goodness! The line to get in would horrible). But I also wonder if the Pandemic coupled with the beautiful weather we had made it even worse.

So be prepared. It took us an hour the first day just to get Subway in Gatlinburg (traffic on the main drag, finding parking, and waiting in line). So that night we stopped off at the grocery store in Pigeon Forge and stocked up on lunch stuff. There are bypasses through downtown, so utilize Google maps and it will shave off some time.

Day One:

Out plan today was pretty simple: travel up US 441 (Newfound Gap Road) to Clingmans Dome and Newfound Gap, and continue down into Cherokee, North Carolina so I could get a geocache in that state. The total mileage through the park is only about 35 miles, but this is a super scenic highway so take your time. There are several trailheads, but unless you get there early, expect to park alongside the road a quarter to half a mile back.

In our case, we drove through the Newfound Gap parking lot where everyone wants to get a picture by the North Carolina/Tennessee state line and found it to be packed. So we proceeded up to Clingmans Dome. The last mile traffic slowed to a crawl. We finally saw a roadside spot on the opposite side of the road and with some quick maneuvers grabbed it. It was only about half a mile up to the main parking lot and then a short hike up to the Dome. We then hopped onto the far less crowded Appalachian Trail which follows the ridgeline here, and took a leisurely quiet detour. We found a quiet spot with magnificent views and ate our lunch before making our way back to the car.

Clingmans Dome
Appalachian Trail

We continued on to North Carolina. Cherokee is a small town and far different from the craziness of Gatlinburg. Its biggest attraction is the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. We didn’t spend any time there as it was getting late in the day (and I heard a bottle of wine calling my name back at the cabin). When we passed the Newfound Gap on the return around 4 pm, the parking lot had tons of space and we were able to get our picture of the stateline and see the Rockefeller Memorial where President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the park in 1940.

Oconoluftee River, North Carolina

I’ll continue my story about the rest of our stay in my next post. Stay tuned! I’ll tell you about wild turkeys and black bears!

Iceland – Fall 2017 – Nights 1 & 2 on the Southern Coastline

If you had asked me ten years ago if I wanted to go to Iceland I probably would have said no. But it started to pop up on my travel radar about five years ago after I saw an Icelandair jet at a nearby gate at DIA. It was at the same time that I starting seeing a lot of blog posts about it and knew I had to go. Fortunately, the stars aligned in 2017 and we were able to spend five days there on our way back from England, taking advantage of Icelandair’s “stopover fare” program that they were promoting at the time.

Our five days there were spent on the southern coast of Iceland, as well as doing the Golden Circle just east of Reykjavik. Now, it is possible to drive around the entire country/island. The total mileage is 828 miles on the main road. My friend and her husband did it during the summer, but we were there in late September and the weather was already starting to turn cold. Would I ever consider doing the whole loop? Possibly, but probably not. That said, we do want to come again. Next visit we would come in the mid-summer and visit Snaefellsnes Peninsula north of Reykjavik. And we’d also take a boat tour to go see puffins. They were gone by the time we got there. But the good thing about coming in fall is it is possible to see the Northern Lights (we did! But more on that in a later post).

Night 1 – Blue Lagoon

Our big splurge in Iceland was our one-night stay at the Silica Hotel by the Blue Lagoon. Its starting rate is $399 a night. That does include a premium admission to the Blue Lagoon, as well as use of the hotel’s private lagoon, and breakfast. If you’re on a budget consider the Northern Lights Inn. Or if you’ve got money to burn, go for the Retreat Hotel. It’s over a $1000 a night. Yikes. We actually ate dinner at Max’s Restaurant at the Northern Lights Inn. While we were glad we stayed at the Silica, its restaurant seemed a bit too fancy (and expensive) for our tastes.

The view from our room at the Silica Hotel

First of all, what is the Blue Lagoon? The lagoon is man-made with the water coming the nearby geothermal  plant where superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. The beautiful milky blue color comes from the high silica content.

The Blue Lagoon — Photo credit: Ivan Sabljak (Wikipedia Commons)

The landscape around the resort and surrounding peninsula is breathtaking with its moss-covered lava field. It’s easy to see why the land is this way. After we had checked into our room, we went for a walk and got soaked. The fine rain was coming down sideways aided by the wind. Fortunately, we had a heated towel rack and quick drying clothes.

Unbelievable landscape!

After dinner, we went and relaxed in their private lagoon. Honestly, this was as nice as the Blue Lagoon. Smaller, yes, but more peaceful, especially at nighttime. Sure you don’t get the mud mask and drinks like you do in the Blue Lagoon, but that pool is quite busy. With the hotel’s private one, we almost had the entire place to ourselves. We did visit the Blue Lagoon the following morning after we checked out, but just getting in can be a bit stressful. Bus loads of tourists come from Reykjavik and some people will even come over during a layover between flights. Even though we did it in the morning, the women’s changing room was quite crazy. You’re expected to shower before going in and for some reason the women take a lot longer than men. Plus I had trouble with my locker. So it took me nearly half an hour to get ready and my husband was ready in 10 minutes. . In total we were probably in the lagoon for 45 minutes. Sure the waters are mesmerizing, but I preferred the private lagoon at the hotel.

After having lunch in the café at the Silica Hotel (fast food is a rarity outside Reykjavik) we got in our car and headed up the Reykjanes peninsula, with my plan being to head toward Selfoss. It’s one of dozens of waterfalls in Iceland (foss is waterfall in Icelandic) and not too far from our next hotel in Hella. However, as often happens when my husband is behind the wheel, we changed plans and decided to go check out Kleifarvatn Lake, a little over half an hour away. Its rugged beauty was breathtaking and I’m glad we made the short detour to see it. We also managed to find a geocache here, so that made it worthwhile.

Kleifarvatn Lake

I had hoped we would continue on to Selfoss at this point, but once again my husband wanted to make a detour and check out the ruins of Selatangar. It is recommended that you have a car with high clearance (4WD) which we did, but upon getting there, I sort of found it disappointing. My advice is to skip it. By now it was getting late in the afternoon, so we decided to head to Hella. Although we did not get to Selfoss, I did get to see many other waterfalls. So fortunately I couldn’t be too upset with my husband.

Selatangar

Our hotel for our second night in Iceland was Stracta Hotel. Like the other hotels we stayed in outside Reykjavik, it had the simplistic Scandinavian style (think Ikea!). It was comfortable and clean, but the town of Hella is not too exciting. We went out looking for dining, and found most of the restaurants were closed on Sunday. We came across one diner-style restaurant, but opted out after we saw that all they served was horse-meat burgers (by the way, horse-meat is very common in Iceland but I just can’t eat it). We ended up eating at the hotel. You’ll probably do this at most locations outside Reykjavik. We did manage to find one bar with fantastic pizza, but I’ll save that for a future post.

Paris in the fall (2017)

Back in late September of 2017 we took a 3 week trip to Europe. The first week or so was spent primarily out in the English countryside. We then hopped on a train in Cambridge that took us to King’s Cross in London, then walked over to the International train station, St. Pancras, and boarded the Eurostar to Paris. Taking trains in Europe is definitely easy and economical. While you do have passport control and security, it is much quicker than the airport (you only need to arrive about 45 minutes before departure) and you can bring on liquids (yes, even a bottle of bubbly).

Transportation in the city

We took a taxi from the train station to our hotel in the 1st arrondissement of Paris (near the Louvre and across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower. We paid about $50 for that taxi ride and he didn’t even take us all the way to the hotel. An outdoor concert was taking place nearby and he said the streets were closed off. We didn’t see evidence of street closures as we trudged our way through the rain to our hotel. So on the way back we used Uber. Much better. I think we paid about $30. We were just becoming comfortable with Uber. Do check before you travel to see if Uber operates in the country you’re going to. Uber has had some issues in London but last I heard they were once again cleared to operate. Hopefully, they are still operating in Paris.

Other than that we walked everywhere. We did not go to the Palace of Versailles. The easiest way to get there is the Metro. Next time!

Lodging

I wanted to stay closer to the Eiffel Tower in the 7th arrondissement. But my husband wanted to be closer to the river. Overall, I think either is a good choice. I think perhaps over near the Eiffel Tower there might be more dining options. But I cannot complain about our accommodations and staff at the Hotel Brighton. Even though it overlooks the busy Rue de Rivoli, it was quiet with large rooms. The location is very close to the Louvre and right across the street from the Tuileries Garden.

One thing we discovered is over on this side of town you should definitely ask the front desk to make dinner reservations for you. It is very hard to get a seat at good restaurants unless you do so. We did this the first two nights, but on our third night we did not do so and that was a big mistake. We ended up eating bad Chinese as no place had a seat.

Rue de Rivoli from our hotel room
Fall Colors in Jardin des Tuileries and the Eiffel Tower. (view from our hotel room)

Sightseeing

With 2 1/2 days planned for Paris, we had a relatively short list of places we wanted to see: The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, the Arc de Triomphe, and Notre-Dame. Why we did not include Palace of Versailles I’m not sure. Perhaps because we were just looking for walkable destinations. Looking back that was a mistake. I think I would have rather stayed an extra day in Paris and one less day in London.

Here’s a short recap of our visit:

Day 1: The Louvre

My dad lived in Paris in the early 1950s and had such great stories about it, including how you really needed a pair of roller skates to see the massive Louvre. He wasn’t kidding. Of course, you can’t but it sure would help. After all, it’s over 650,000 square feet, making it the world’s largest museum. Its most famous work by far is the Mona Lisa.

Right now of course Americans can’t travel to Europe so it’s pointless for me to talk about the entrance procedures. Those will most likely be more stringent than ever. But I will say do utilize advance ticket options and self-guided audio tours. We wandered haphazardly around the museum and spent way too much time there, retracing our steps and trying to figure out where to go next. My husband loves museums and even he admitted that we perhaps didn’t tackle the Louvre very well. We didn’t have any problem finding the Mona Lisa (lots of signs) but after that we really didn’t have a plan. We ended up spending most of our day there, as well eating our lunch in a cafe within the museum. Certainly our lack of planning was evident. In retrospect, we could have spent only an hour or two there and seen something else in the afternoon. However, we did get rain that afternoon so perhaps that’s the way it was meant to be!

Day 2: Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe

It bears repeating. Paris is a very walkable city but it can be very hot during the summer, so try to go in fall or spring. We were there early fall and although we did get rain on the first day, the second day was magnificent. The walk to the Eiffel Tower along the Seine River was so scenic. They do have river boat tours but we did not do one. Perhaps in the hot summer, but on this beautiful day it was very enjoyable just to walk. Like any big city there’s lots of traffic, but it’s not as crazy as Rome or New York City, and directionally challenged North Americans don’t have to worry about cars coming from the wrong direction like in England.

The Pont Alexandre III Bridge

We did not need to make a reservation to go up the Eiffel Tower (I’ve heard that others have had to but perhaps we just got lucky. Here again, post pandemic entrance procedures are bound to change). By the time we arrived the clouds had moved on and we were treated to a spectacular view. I had never quite understood the fascination with the Eiffel Tower until I was there. It is truly worth while seeing in person.

After a leisurely al fresco lunch we headed back across the river to the Arc de Triomphe. It’s a little over a half hour walk, about 1.5 miles away from the Eiffel Tower. The weather was lovely so we hit the jackpot. Then, of course, you’ll want to walk the stairs to the top – a mere 284 steps. Or you can cheat and take an elevator to the mid level and it’s only 64 steps. Like the Eiffel Tower, seeing this monument, commissioned by Napoleon, is even more impressive in person. We then walked down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Sure, we popped in a few stores, but we mostly just enjoyed the uniquely French atmosphere.

Arc de Triomphe

Day 3 Notre-Dame

Our plan to see Notre-Dame was to walk there, take pictures, and then head back to the hotel before heading to the train station for our early afternoon train back to London. It was a pleasant half hour walk from our hotel. As expected, there were already long lines to go in. Having seen so many churches in England we didn’t really feel like we were missing out. Of course, had we known that a terrible fire would cause extensive damage to the structure a little over 18 months later, I think we have made the effort to go inside. But alas, who knew? Who expects this to happen to these magnificent structures? However, I count myself lucky that I was able to see it from the outside. Such a beautiful church. I hope they’re able to restore it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my trip down memory lane. Some day we’ll all be able to travel again, as long as we continue to follow recommendations and take proper precautions.

Moving day and getting ready for camping

Today my youngest son (22 years old) is moving back home. But don’t think badly of him. He graduated Cum Laude in Computer Science from University of Colorado in May and has been continuing to work on a research project with a prof there. Most leases in Boulder run from August to the end of July, so he was enjoying a few months of down time before moving back home. I’m looking forward to it. Not sure if he is. But he is a very goal oriented person and plans to apply to grad school so he can move out next summer. In the meantime, we have a pet sitter!

That’s a good thing, as we’re taking off tomorrow for a 3-day camping trip. All very coincidentally,  we will happen to meet up with my brother who is hiking the Colorado Trail. He’s 2 weeks in. I’ll be bring him more JetBoil Fuel which is in short supply this summer as the CT has increased traffic this year.

He requested his favorite hot dogs with sauerkraut, potato salad, and baked beans. While I won’t be making my mom’s recipe, I’m sure he’ll be happy. with Bush’s Baked Beans. I also found pre-mixed Bloody Mary’s for the next morning. He’s taking a zero day (no hiking) but perhaps we’ll go to Leadville which has quite a few geocaches. It’s the highest town in North America and just half an hour away.

In the meantime, I pray for everyone to make to make good choices. Wear a mask, don’t go to crowded events, and don’t be a whiny baby. Yes, many of us would rather be on a plane traveling to our vacation destination, but one summer of sacrifice is not asking a lot. My friend’s daughter is starting college next month. As much as I ‘d love to meet up with my friend for lunch, I’ve decided that’s not going to happen. It’s not worth the risk. We all need to make sacrifices to contain Covid-19.

I am getting my EasyJet refund!

Back in June I got notification from Norwegian Airlines that my round trip flight to London from Denver in the fall had been canceled. While they were encouraging people to apply for credits for future travel, I opted for a refund (it was buried in the e-mail at the bottom). They refunded me within a week.

Once I got notification about my flight cancellation with Norwegian, I immediately started working on getting a refund on an EasyJet flight I had booked for Barcelona to London. This proved to be a difficult task but after a lot of searching I found they had a Covid-19 Help Hub. Like Norwegian, they were pushing vouchers and discouraging refunds. But with some digging I found a refund request form. I filled it out and waited. After two weeks I had no response, so I filled out another one. Still no response. I knew calling EasyJet would be a difficult task. I had done that once in the past and it meant getting up super early as it wasn’t a 24-7 operation. So I decided to contact my credit card company. They told me they would give a conditional credit, but it was not guaranteed since it was a non-refundable flight. I pointed out that there was no way I could use this ticket (yes, this route is still being flown) and given the circumstances I felt it was a legitimate request due to pandemic.

Two days ago I finally got an e-mail from EasyJet saying they were processing my refund. I don’t know if this was because of my refund request or because of the action taken by my credit card company.

I have heard that other airlines such as British Airways are using shady tactics just like EasyJet to make it difficult to obtain a refund for American citizens, instead offering vouchers. Don’t give up! Since I first applied for my refund with EasyJet I noticed that they have changed the form and no longer have it up in the help hub. However, you might try this contact form.  Explain to them that as a US citizen you can no longer fly to Europe and request a refund. I believe they took the refund request form down because they probably got hit with a ton of requests and want to discourage people from asking for them. Don’t let that deter you.

On the trail again

Last Thursday, July 16, my oldest brother started hiking the 485 mile Colorado Trail. It’s part of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), but not many people hike the entire CDT in one shot. It’s considered the most difficult of the 3 thru hikes in the US, which also include the Pacific Crest (PCT) and the Appalachian Trail (AT).

My brother did the PCT when he was 19 and 40 years later he did the AT. He had planned to hike the PCT again this year but then Covid-19 hit. (Hikers need to resupply and clean up at small towns along the route, and with the virus, many were closed down to hikers) So he decided on the CT instead. Colorado towns are open now so he’s keeping his fingers crossed than our numbers stay down and we don’t have any more closures. It should take him about 6 weeks. Younger hikers can easily hike it 4 weeks, but my brother is now north of 60.

He flew into Denver on Wednesday and we took him to the Waterton Canyon trailhead southwest of Denver on Thursday morning. He’s starting slow – 10ish miles a day – until he gets used to the altitude. We’ll see him in 2 weeks when we go camping at Twin Lakes. I had planned that camping trip back in January before I knew he was hiking. When he told me he was doing the CT, I remembered that the trail passed right by our campground. So we’ll bring him a resupply box and treat him to a beer and burger in Twin Lakes Village.

I’m following his progress on Garmin GPS upload. In Colorado cell service is pretty poor in the mountains so this is an essential tool for hikers. So far he appears to be on schedule.

Here are some pics from the sendoff:

Trip to Spain officially cancelled

I knew it was coming. First there was the news that the EU was not allowing travelers from the US. Then I got an e-mail from Norwegian Airlines. Our roundtrip flight to London-Gatwick in the fall was cancelled. While England is not a part of the EU, I figured that Norwegian would cancel the flight anyhow. The UK has announced that visitors must do a 14-day quarantine and not many people are going to want to do that.

Fortunately, the e-mail had a link to request a refund. I immediately filled it out and they have already sent a reply stating my refund has been processed and will be posted to my credit card. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ll check every day. I’m keeping all my correspondence in case it doesn’t come through. Norwegian has had a lot of financial difficulties and I’m more than a little worried. We took them last year to Europe and while the price was good, the service was not the best. I swore I wouldn’t fly on them again, yet I get sucked in to another good deal before Covid-19 struck.

Now I just have to wait and see what happens with my EasyJet flight. It might not be cancelled (London – Barcelona) but I did manage to find a refund request form specifically for passengers affected by Covid-19. I hadn’t yet booked our return flight from Madrid.

English Countryside Vacation 2017

Back in the fall of 2017 my husband and I did a 3-week trip to England, Paris, and Iceland. This is the summary of the first part of the trip through the English countryside.

Day 1-2

After landing at Heathrow and weaving our way through customs and immigration, we somehow managed to find the coach to Bath. After about a 2-hour ride, we finally arrived in Bath only to find the streets flooded with rugby fans (apparently their club is pretty good.) We hailed a taxi to take us the short distance to our Bed & Breakfast, Bath Paradise House, a lovely 17-century mansion with an expansive view. From them on we walked as it really was quite convenient. We spent 2 nights here to get over our jet lag and to tour some of the unique Roman architecture of this city, including the Roman Baths.

Roman Baths
view from Bath Paradise House garden

Day 3

We picked up a rental car at Europcar in Bath. Yes, it was our first time driving in England. We had made reservations months in advance, so we did get an automatic. Driving on the left side of the road was not that difficult. However, driving on the narrow shoulder-less roads next to many stone walls was a bit nerve-wracking. But somehow we managed!

Anyhow, we made our way to Glastonbury. Many tourists skip this town and go to Salisbury because it’s closer to Stonehenge. However, it’s worth the detour. We first stopped at Glastonbury Tor, a terraced hill with a tall roofless tower, with far-reaching views. Like the Glastonbury Abbey, it dates back to the 7th century. We then made our way to the Abbey in town, before heading toward Salisbury. As you can see Glastonbury and Salisbury architecture is very different, as the Salisbury Cathedral (the tallest spire in England) was built in the 13th century.

Glastonbury Tor
Glastonbury Abbey
Salisbury Cathedral

Our lodging for the night was Cricket Field House. It was on the outskirts of town and less than 15 minutes away from Stonehenge. It was a little less convenient to downtown Salisbury (for dinner) but we managed to find parking easily that night. Our plan was to make an early getaway in the morning and it turned out well in that respect.

Day 4

We arrived to Stonehenge early before the line was long and hoards of tourists were there. It was a little underwhelming but I’m still glad I went. My brother recommended Avebury, which is nearby, and we did enjoy our time there a bit more. The rock formations are not as large but the village is cute and we enjoyed exploring while we did a little bit of geocaching.

Stonehenge
Avebury

After a long day, we made our way to Oxford. Trying to decide where to stay here proved to be difficult. Oxford proper can be very congested and sometimes you have to park and walk to your hotel as parking is not allowed in the central tourist area. Not feeling comfortable doing that, we opted to stay a bit outside of town at the Westwood Hotel. We didn’t particularly like this place and deemed it a bad choice. There is not good dining nearby so we had to eat at the overpriced hotel dining room. Our room was rather shabby and lacked the charm of the Bed & Breakfasts we had stayed in.

Day 5

Fortunately, Oxford made up for our poor choice of hotel. We did a ton of walking and exploring Oxford University. We did first tour Oxford Castle and Prison and found that to be a waste of time and money. My advice is just head toward High Street and start walking and checking out the wonderful architecture here.

Oxford University

Our next destination on our whirlwind tour was the Cotswolds. Now, if you love quaint English towns, this is the place to go and you could easily spend a week here. We only spent one night but we did enjoy it. We stayed at the Charingworth Manor, which is more like an inn than a B&B. However, the accommodations were comfortable and the dining room was better the Westwood. We didn’t feel like driving into Chipping Campden on a dark windy road, so we were happy to have a good meal there.

Charingworth Manor, with the typical honey-colored stone of the Cotswolds. Our rental car is the blue Kia station wagon in the middle.

Day 6

Time to explore the Cotswolds! With only a day we barely scratched the surface but we did get to seee a lovely English garden at Hidcote. It is known for its linked “rooms” of hedges, rare trees, shrubs and herbaceous borders. Highly recommended!

Hidcote Gardens

Next stop was Broadway Tower. It affords lovely views of the Cotswolds (when it’s not raining!). It was built in the late 1700s in the Saxon style. A nice restaurant is on the grounds, so it made a good lunch stop. We spent the rest of the afternoon perusing High Street in Broadway. Then we headed toward our next stop, the Welcombe Hotel, in Stratford-upon-Avon. Honestly, I don’t remember too much about this place. Much like Oxford, I wanted a place away from the main tourist area of Stratford and this fit the bill. It’s more like a country club. But it served our needs.

Enjoying the views from Broadway Tower before the rains roll in

Day 7

If you’re big into Shakespeare, then Stratford-upon-Avon is the place for you. We aren’t but we did enjoy doing a walk next to the Avon and doing a little shopping downtown. We honestly didn’t have much time to spend here anyhow. We were scheduled to meet up with my cousin in his home in Hitchin, before heading to Cambridge.

Stratford-upon-Avon – yes, it has that Shakespearean look!

Day 8 & 9

We stayed 2 nights at the Cambridge Hotel on the River Cam. This used to be a Hilton property and I was able to book a free night. This was actually a great choice. Cambridge is definitely busy, so easy access and a car park was important. That said, even with navigation, we made a few wrong turns but eventually found our way there.

The next day we stepped outside our comfort zone and did a touristy activity tour – a “punting” ride along the River Cam. Punts are flat-bottomed boats that are propelled much like a gondola. Unfortunately, it was raining, but it was still quite enjoyable and the tour guides do give you a lot of historical information on the town and University. Of course, I still recommend walking the town a bit. It does have quite a different feel from Oxford.

Punting along the River Cam
Bridge of Sighs, St. John’s College, Cambridge University

Day 10

We said good-bye to our rental car, hopped on the train to London, and transferred to another train to Paris. I’ll be posting more about travels in the future! My European travels are temporarily on hold but I hope you enjoy my trip down memory lane.