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.

Vacation Planning in the Pandemic

I was very fortunate to travel to Italy last September.  In a nutshell: my husband and I flew into Milan, took a quick side trip to Lake Como, then continued down to Florence for a few days, hopped on another train to Naples, transferred to the Circumvesuviana train to Pompei and Sorrento, and ended our trip in a wonderful 400 year-old apartment (updated of course, but still with original wooden ceiling beams) in Rome. So many wonderful experiences. We couldn’t wait to get back to Europe, with the planned destination being Spain (with a sidetrip to Morocco).

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Outside our apartment in Rome

Then Covid-19 happened.

Even my spring birthday getaway to Arizona got cancelled. Fortunately, however, I had made campground reservations for this summer. Campgrounds book up quickly for the weekends and typically you need to do it 6 months in advance. Fortunately, we’re allowed to go camping here in Colorado and judging by the line at REI the other week, a lot of people are opting for this.

We’ll be camping near Twin Lakes just south of Leadville. The campground is at 9,500 feet – I think that’s the highest elevation I’ve ever camped at. Leadville itself is the highest incorporated city in North America (10,152 feet).

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Lakeview Campground, near Twin Lakes and Leadville

As it so happens, my oldest brother will be passing through on the Colorado Trail (part of the Continental Divide Trail) that same weekend. It’ll be nice to meet up with him.

His hike also presented us with another opportunity to do another Colorado staycation. The CT terminates in Durango, about 6 hours from Denver. Since I volunteered to pick him up, naturally I decided to  turn it into a mini getaway. We’ll sightsee  on some of the scenic mountain highways and visit the former mining town of Silverton. We’ll also stay a night in Pagosa Springs. Their hot springs resort has been on my bucket list for years.

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The Springs Resort at Pagosa Springs – check this one off the bucket list!Silverton-Valley-COSilverton, Colorado

Once September comes (when we had planned to go to Spain) it would take nothing short of a miracle to make it to Europe. We still have our tickets as Norwegian Airlines has not officially cancelled our flight to London Gatwick. But we’re expecting that to happen. So in the meantime we’re talking about some things we can do here in the US. One is to rent an RV and do a road trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a 2-day drive. I’m not sure if I could stand my husband’s driving. But it might be fun as we could bring our pug. He’s almost 12, getting up there in years, and he’s never been on a road trip. We’ll see.

In the meantime I hope you all manage to do something fun and still STAY SAFE!