Okay, so as I figured, in spite of my efforts to stay up until 10:00 last night, it’s now 5 a.m. and I’m already awake for the day. For me east-to-west jet lag is the killer and it will take me three days to get my body back to normal. Elegant is already awake too and I expect to hear Graceful moving around any time now. I’m planning to send the girls to school in three hours, but with notes to their teachers to call me if anyone starts to flag a bit in the afternoon.
So… our trip. I’ve already posted a few snippets about it, but I’m also going to give you a brief-ish recap now. I spent a lot of hours thinking about how to blog this in a way that would capture how much fun we had, but without turning it into one of those awful experiences like when Great-Uncle Norman once again makes the entire family look at his slides from his trip to China 30 years ago. Hopefully, I won’t lose too many of you before the end.
Saturday, April 5
I’ve already told you a bit about our lack of sleep on the first day, so let me instead show you where we started things off.
Our hotel was right next to the London Eye:
In case you’re not familiar with London geography, the London Eye is on the south side of the Thames, just across from the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. So, a great location and we took full advantage of being so close by doing a lot of walking. A lot, which is probably what saved my dimpled white arse from gaining too much weight from all the chocolate we sampled.
What is it about those red phone booths that makes tourists do stupid things?
We went to Buckingham Palace, but alas did not meet HRH Queen Elizabeth II. Such a shame, as Elegant has just about perfected her British accent and her royal wave.
We did, however, visit the royal mews and checked out a couple of her horses and some mighty fine royal vehicles:
You might recognize that from Charles and Diana’s fairy tale wedding.
When the girls saw it, they gasped, and Elegant asked, “Is that one of the seven Wonders of the World?”
I hope to goodness that neither one of them gets any grand ideas for their own weddings one day, because I’m pretty sure this carriage isn’t available for non-royal weddings.
Sunday, April 6
When I first mentioned on this blog several months ago that we were going to London in early April, several people told me how nice the weather in London is in April. THEY LIED. We woke up on Sunday morning to discover that it was SNOWING. I am not making this up. And, for the record, we damn near froze our bums off the first few days PLUS we saw some sort of rain (albeit sometimes just sprinkles) Every Single Day that we were in England. Except, of course, on the last day.
Because it was snowing on Sunday, we decided to stick with inside activities, such as Madame Tussaud’s. We took many silly photos, including this one:
Mrs. G., this one’s for you:
I tried to get close enough to get a photo of me lovin’ on your secret boyfriend, but the crowds of lustful women were just too thick.
We came out of Madame Tussaud’s and discovered that, not only had it stopped snowing, but that the SUN WAS SHINING. We worked through our confusion and continued exploring.
We went to the Tate Modern (south side of the Thames) and then walked across the Millennium Bridge towards St. Paul’s Cathedral:
For the Boden and Mini Boden fans who recognize the girls’ pants, I never made it to the store, which is out in the suburbs in an inconvenient location. I can tell you, however, that the British children I saw were rarely quite as colorful as mine. Also, the two times I did recognize Mini Boden clothes on wee British girls, they were in browns or blues, not pinks. Londoners in particular, and Brits to a lesser extent, are not as colorful as Americans. Every time we got on the Tube, we would be almost glowing with color, while everyone else wore black, grey, and earth tones. It was rare that we saw an overcoat that wasn’t black or dark gray, but we did at least see little splashes of color in odd shoes, sweaters, or scarves.
Monday, April 7
We spent much of the day at the Tower of London, where Elegant sighed with dismay that her jewels are nowhere nearly as fabulous as the Crown Jewels.
Would you look at that? It’s raining again.
Some very smart grandparents gave the girls their very own digital cameras last Christmas, and Pete and I enjoyed watching the girls record the vacation through their eyes:
I could have just taken a photo of the guards myself, but it was so much more fun to get the photo of Elegant photographing them.
After a messy dinner of ice cream that evening, Pete took Elegant back to the hotel to hose her down, while Graceful and I rode the London Eye. For some reason, Elegant really really really didn’t want to ride the London Eye and Pete wasn’t all that interested either, so it was just G and me.
I’m surprised that Graceful didn’t fill her camera’s memory card with just this one experience — she took dozens of photos. I took some too, but mostly I just enjoyed watching her and how delighted she was.
Tuesday, April 7
We packed up and left London. We had to go back to Heathrow to get our rental car, which turned into an adventure that took hours. No, I’m not exaggerating. First, there was the hour-long Tube ride to get to the airport. Then there was the trekking through the terminal to get to the designated meeting spot for the shuttle bus that would take us to the place where the rental cars are kept. Supposedly it was close, but it took a long time. Then there was the HOUR to actually go through Express Pick-Up. One employee. That’s how many people were staffing the desk. If any of you is planning to rent a car from Heathrow any time soon, check first to make sure the cars are actually near enough to pick up quickly. Don’t use Dollar or Thrifty, as they’re staffed by the same person and he seemed a bit incompetent. And it was nearly as bad when we returned the car a week later.
Once we got the car, however, our road trip began. We were off to Oxford, to visit friends who normally live down the street from us but have been on sabbatical this year.
Here are my girls with our friends’ youngest daughter walking in Oxford:
I think any building that has a carved figure picking its nose needs to be shared here:
Oh no, my children didn’t giggle and guffaw over that one.
We had an amazing afternoon exploring Oxford and then we drove to the Cotswolds to stay the night at a B&B on a farm.
Wednesday, April 9
We spent part of the day at Warwick Castle:
By this point, the girls were getting a bit “castled out” so we opted to have an easy day and to spend some time at the B&B just hanging out. Since it was on a small farm, there was much to explore. The B&B owners have two small children, including a five-year-old daughter who fell into deep and abiding love with Elegant and who was therefore waiting for us when we got returned in the afternoon.
Graceful spent much of the afternoon playing with Max the dog and Laura the lamb, but she did join the younger girls in the barn for some jumping fun:
Thursday, April 10
We checked out of the B&B and started heading northward.
We explored one cute little Cotswolds town:
Then we drove to Cadbury World.
Ahhh, chocolate Mecca. That’s really the only way I can describe it. Unlike Hershey Park, you can actually see chocolate being made AND the Cadbury people were very generous with the chocolate freebies. I think we might still have some left.
I couldn’t take any photos inside, so you just have to trust me when I tell you we had a terrific time.
Afterward, we got in the car and headed to the Guider’s house for our first ever meeting. It was supposed to take an hour to get there, so we allowed 90 minutes, just in case. TWO HOURS LATER, we arrived. We were an hour late and didn’t have a cell phone to call the Guider, for which I felt terrible, especially since she was worried too. After a little getting-to-know-you time, we left the house and went to the Brownie pack meeting, which the Guider has detailed here. I took photos, but promised not to put them on the blog, so just imagine my two girls meeting 19 new girls and everyone getting along wonderfully.
Pete spent his time at a nearby pub and then came back to get his women. We went back to the Guider’s house and spent an hour talking with her and Mr. Guider, while my girls played with Guider’s 9 y.o. daughter. During this time, Guider’s younger son was most definitely not asleep in his bed. Oops. Sorry about the noise! For photos and more details, see here.
We stayed at a nearby inn, which the Guider recommended and then got up the next morning to head back to the beautiful English countryside.
Friday, April 11
Our plan was to drive to Bath and explore this famous city, but we once again went astray with the directions. We’re not normally so idiotic — and in fact Pete and I are both quite excellent at navigating — so I can only chalk this one up to some vagaries in British road signage.
So instead of going to Bath first, we went to Cheddar Gorge to see where cheddar cheese originated. The town is a tourist trap, but we enjoyed learning more about how cheese is made and seeing the gorge where the cheese used to be cured in caves:
We spent more time exploring adorable British towns as we headed toward our B&B. How is it possible for an entire country to be so damn cute? Even towns off the beaten path were precious. And the countryside is just so green and easy on the eye.
We thought about going into Bath to explore a bit, but we once more took a wrong turn and ended up driving through Bath. On Friday. At rush hour. Sigh…
We eventually made it to our B&B and had a quiet evening.
Saturday, April 12
We explored Bath a bit, but honestly people, we were getting a bit tired of sightseeing. We ended up spending a couple of hours at Royal Victoria Park, which is next to the Royal Crescent, and is one of the finest parks we’ve ever seen.
The park had numerous play areas and virtually everything was better than anything we’d ever seen before. There was even a place with a zip wire, which we enjoyed fully:
After that, we opted for another quiet evening in our B&B.
Sunday, April 13
What should we do on our last full day in Merrie Olde England? So many possibilities, but we ultimately decided on one of the most famous places of all:
I know, I know, Stonehenge is touristy, but how can anyone pass up the opportunity to visit a 5,000 year old structure?
Oh and look, it was raining and cold again.
Our trip was everything we hoped it would be and possibly even better. We got to see friends old and new, which is always so nice. We made memories that we’ll be discussing for years and have enough photos among the three cameras (around 700, I think) to keep me busy for a while.
We’re already talking about our next trip, but it won’t be any time soon. Graceful is lobbying for France next, which Pete and I think is a fun idea for maybe 2010 or 2011. We’re toying with various options for 2009, including a National Parks tour in Utah. Or maybe we’ll drive up to Canada. Who knows?
What I do know is that it will take us some time to replenish our bank account. England is expensive on a good day and it’s hellaciously expensive for Americans right now. (Blame George W. Bush. I do.) By the end of our trip, my credit card was whimpering loudly every time I pulled it out to pay for something.
So now we’re home again. It was nice to sleep in my own bed last night and I’m absolutely looking forward to reintroducing myself to American plumbing today — particularly my shower. Pete stayed up late last night working on the mountains of dirty laundry while the girls and I slept. I will be invading Whole Foods today and forking over vast sums of money to restock our fridge. The girls have school and Pete and I have to remember what working for a living is like.
And, I have loads and loads of blog entries to read and catch up on what my bloggy friends have been doing in the past ten days. I missed you guys and am happy to be reconnected!