Monday, June 30, 2014

S and J Take Oxford

I realize that I haven't finished updating you about our trip. Last week kind of got away from me, but this week I plan to finish my updates, of which there are two more.

If you want to read about the London part of our trip, click here and here.


Here's something I noticed about London on this trip. Back in the '80s, the first time I visited London, I found it charming because the city, in fact, the whole country, seemed about 20 years behind America. I liked that I could still find Mom and Pop stores and that people still slowed down enough to pop into a tea shop for a good cup of tea in the middle of the afternoon.

What I noticed this time is that London has caught up. No longer does the city seem a little slower-paced than the cities here. The people are just as fast-walking as New Yorkers. Look out or they'll mow you down! The stores look just like American stores. In fact, we walked past a Five Guys in London (and, no, we did not eat there).

I'll say they've caught up!

(Side note: Everything in London looked especially spruced up. It was so clean and so easy to get around this time. I wondered if this was a result of the Olympics. Anyone have an opinion on this?)

So, after the fast pace, noise, and congestion of the Big City, Julia and I were glad to make our way to Oxford to start the second half of our trip.

Oxford is one of my favorite cities in England for several reasons. The history. The University. The architecture. The bookstores. The back alleyways. I could go on and on. Oxford is lovely, and if you've never been to Oxford, you really should give it a couple of days on your next trip.

We left London early on a Sunday morning, caught our train to Oxford, and made our way to our B&B--the Cotswold Lodge Hotel.

Let me just say that everything about our stay there was perfect. When we arrived, the woman at the desk was so sweet to us. Our room (an upgrade!) wasn't quite ready since we were early, but she stored our bags while we took off to explore. Once in our room, we were wowed! It was huge--even the bathroom!--and very comfortable.

Plus, it was just down the street from the house I had stayed in when I studied in Oxford in college.

Boy, did that place bring back memories!

Our first order of business was to take a walking tour of Oxford, which was fun, especially getting to see inside some of the colleges.

After the walking tour, we walked some more--over to Christ Church to see the famous dining hall after which the Hogwarts dining hall was modeled.

And we both fell in love with this in Oxford:

I totally want one for tooling around our town.

Our second day in Oxford was so much fun. We started out early at the rental car place, and soon we were off to explore the Cotswolds.

We started in Minster Lovell, a beautiful little village I had seen once before and wanted Julia to see. There is a ruin of an ancient manor home here that I think would make the perfect setting for a magazine spread. This place is magical.

We drove around a bit after exploring Minster Lovell, and made it to Whitney in time for lunch with Sarah of Modern Country Style. Yes, there was a blog meet-up in the Cotswolds! I've already shared a bit about that here, but let's just say that Sarah is such a dear and I already miss her. Visiting her was like visiting a long-time friend. I could have stayed for hours.

But we had more countryside to see, so we sadly said goodbye to Sarah and went on our way.

Much of our afternoon was spent driving, just seeing the beautiful Cotswolds countryside.

We did, however, make a stop in Bampton to see a couple of Downton Abbey shooting locations. This is the church where Mary and Matthew got married and where Edith got left at the altar.

We also found a village that Julia had researched called Bibury. What an absolutely charming place!

Along the way we saw more Cotswolds limestone buildings than we could count, each one prettier than the next.

And now, for those of you who have bothered to read this far, I have a humiliating funny story to tell you.

It was the end of our day, and I had gotten quite used to driving on the left hand side of the road. In fact, I had gotten just a bit cocky, because as I was driving into our very last village (the one I had wanted to see), I said to Julia, "You know, I think I'm getting the hang of this driving on the left thing. I'm getting pretty good at it. You always think you're going to hit something and then you don't!"

Famous last words.

Not 30 seconds after I said that, BANG!

"What was that?!" I screamed.

I glanced over to my left and saw that the passenger side mirror had flipped in toward the car and was completely shattered. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw that I had hit the mirror of a parked car, and a piece of said mirror was lying on the ground.

After a few tense moments, during which a choice word or two that my daughter had never heard me utter before in her life may or may not have flown from my lips, I turned the car around in the middle of the street to see what I had done. Yep, I had hit the mirror of a parked car because I didn't give myself enough room to go around it.

All I could think was, "What am I going to do? How do these things work in foreign countries?" If I were at home, and the driver wasn't around, I could just leave a note on the car with my phone number, and we'd figure it out later. But A) I wasn't from there and B) I didn't have a phone number I could leave and C) I didn't know what the heck to do.

In the end, Julia and I found a place to park, walked back to the car to inspect the damage, found out that the plastic piece that had fallen from the mirror actually snapped back in place, fixed it, and left the village immediately.

We didn't even get to walk around because we were too flustered by what had happened.

I guess I'll have to visit the Cotswolds again sometime.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Pep Talk To Myself

Two weeks ago today, Julia and I sat with a dear old/new friend in her lovely dining room with the huge, silver framed mirror, twirling delicious pasta around our forks like pros. The British sun, so evasive at times, even decided to make an appearance, casting shadows across the garden outside.

Meeting Sarah for the first time felt like a sacred privilege, and being in her home was like entering a sanctuary. A reprieve from the constant assault of travel.

As we chatted, getting to know one another in person for the first time, even though we had known each other virtually for about two years, Sarah asked my daughter a most pointed question:

“Aside from your parents, what has been the biggest influence on your faith?”

I sat, hushed, barely wanting to move as I quickly anticipated what she would say. I honestly had no idea.

She fiddled around the edges for a while, “Well, we have a great church, and I enjoy going to the youth group.” But that wasn’t really it.

“I have some really good friends.” But that wasn’t it either.

“I’d have to say, though, that the camp I go to has had the biggest influence on me over the years. I’ve been going since I was ten, and I’d say that my faith has grown the most through camp.”

It wasn’t the answer I thought it would be, but it was the most perfect answer possible.

Of course it was camp.


This morning I said goodbye to Julia and sent her off to camp for seven weeks. Seven weeks! Think about that for a minute.

What were you doing seven weeks ago?

I was finishing up a semester of teaching and getting ready for Kate’s graduation. Since then I have been to California and back, to England and back, and to the wedding of one of my dearest friend’s daughter.

Seven weeks is a long time.

In the next seven weeks I will, hopefully, get a lot of writing done, organize our basement, and spend a little time next to a lake.

I will also, most likely, watch as our oldest daughter moves out of our home for good.

I feel like I’m in a constant state of letting go.


Dear mama who might be reading this and wondering if it ever gets any easier: It doesn’t.

It’s never easy to let go, but it’s good. 

And it’s right. 

And it’s necessary.

Just a little pep talk to myself.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

S and J Take London: Part 2

You may recall from yesterday that Julia and I were last seen running and eating our way through London. Boy, that sure didn't happen when I first visited in 1984! My first "meal" was a cheese sandwich on white bread. And things didn't get much better after that. The London food scene has come a loooong way, baby!


Friday included a trip to the Tower of London where our Yeoman Warder was none other than Dickie Dover--the same guide B and I (along with my sister, Jenn, and brother-in-law, Tom) had when we visited in 2005! At the end of our tour I mentioned this to him, and he told me that next year he will be retiring from his post after 40 years. Amazing!

I just love the Tower and all of its stories and history. They've added a marker so you can see the spot where Anne Boleyn lost her head. And Mary Queen of Scots. And Kathryn Howard. And . . .

One of the main things that Julia and I wanted to do on our trip was a bicycle tour, and we had scheduled that for Friday afternoon because the weather looked like it was going to be nice. We were not disappointed--the weather could not have been better and the bike tour amazing. A little scary at times, but after a while we got the hang of it--London drivers aren't the most patient with cyclists--and really enjoyed our tour. If you're ever in London, definitely try the Fat Tire Bike Tour. Totally fun.

Saturday started out rainy, so we decided to go grab some breakfast at one of our favorite little spots: The Muffin Man. I had taken my other girls there, and they insisted that I take Julia. Nothing special, just a very sweet tea room where we had some lovely scrambled eggs on an English muffin.

After breakfast, it was starting to rain a little harder, so, rather than head to Portobello Road as planned, we decided to visit a couple of museums in the morning while we waited for the rain to clear. Good call.

We visited the Victoria and Albert--my favorite--and the British Museum because Julia had read about the cool stuff there including the Rosetta Stone and this guy:

By late morning the rain had cleared, so we made our way to Portobello Road and the wonderful market there. Sure, it's crowded. Sure, it's touristy. Sure, it's overpriced. But it's fun!

And, besides, one of my favorite movies is based there.

By now, of course, our feet were killing us, so we took the bus to Kensington Palace where we had tea at The Orangery. Perfect!

After tea, we walked back to our hotel to pack up and get ready for the next leg of our journey: Oxford and the Cotswolds.

Come on back tomorrow for the next part of our amazing adventure!


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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

S and J Take London: Part 1

[Warning: I'm a foodie, and there just might be a theme to this post. And some pictures of food. Do not read on an empty stomach.]

Two weeks ago, my daughter, Julia, and I set out on an amazing adventure--a similar-yet-different trip to the one her sisters and I took when each of them turned 16. Sadly, I'm out of teenagers now, so this special mother/daughter trip time of my life is now coming to a close.

*sniff sniff*

So, we left Chicago for London where we made South Kensington our home for a few days. I had never stayed in that neighborhood before, but I liked it. Our hotel was close to the tube, restaurants, and museums.

And one of the coolest French patisseries I've ever seen: Aux Merveilleux. They specialize in two things and two things only: brioche and merangue. And they do those two things very well.

We might have stopped there more than once.

We arrived on a Wednesday morning, got settled into our room, and took off to get money, coffee, and wifi access. We were getting pretty tired from our overnight flight, but we were determined to simply keep going on Wednesday--the best way to fight off jet lag. First stop: Harrods, which was pretty much down the street and which we found once we got on the right bus. We "ooohed" and "aaahhed" our way through the most expensive department store in the world, but only ended up buying a cupcake.

The rest of the day was a lesson in frustration. We had hopped on a red tour bus, hoping to get a good overview of the city while simply staying awake, but traffic was absolutely not cooperating. Apparently, the Queen had left the palace to open Parliament earlier that day, and this played havoc on traffic. At one point we spent about 45 minutes in essentially one spot. And they wouldn't let us get off the bus!

If you know me, you can just imagine the scenario.

We finally got moving, so Julia and I decided to stay on the bus until we got to Covent Garden where we would enjoy our first meal. British comfort food. Ahhhh.

After a delicious meal of steak and ale pie and our first (of this trip!) sticky toffee pudding, we headed back to our room to sleep soundly.

The next day was amazing. Let me just say right off the bat that those of you who enjoy lying on the beach for hours on end would probably hate traveling with me, but my feeling is that if I'm somewhere incredible I want to see as much as I can see and do as much as I can do while I'm there.

I can sleep when I get home.

And soak my feet.

So Thursday was a flurry of activity. We started at St. Paul's Cathedral.

We walked to Shakespeare's Globe Theater to take a little tour.

After the Globe, it was time for lunch at my happy place in London: Borough Market.

Borough Market is a foodie paradise filled with fresh produce . . .

. . . cheese . . .

. . .  and the tastiest grilled cheese sandwich you will ever eat.

We needed to walk off our delicious lunch, so we decided to stroll along the South Bank toward the London Eye. Very fun! This was a new perspective of the city for me, one I really enjoyed.

We thought we would try to take a flight on the London Eye, but when we got there, the line was crazy. Like two or three hours crazy. There was no way we were going to waste that kind of time, so we left the Eye and hopped back on the red tour bus to finish our tour of London. Besides, our feet needed a break.

We got off the bus near Westminster Abbey, one of my favorite places in London. Thankfully Julia thought it was pretty great too, so we spent a bit of time wandering around there. In fact, we closed the place down!

Our feet were getting tired, but that didn't stop us from hiking it up to Leicester Square to the TKTS booth to get tickets for a show. We ended up getting tickets to see "Matilda," which we absolutely enjoyed. Very much.

After the show, however, our feet would not carry us any further. We were beat, so we caught a cab to take us back to our hotel. And here's where our interesting day got even more interesting.

As we were driving, I was pointing out various sights to Julia. We turned down The Mall, heading toward Buckingham Palace, chit chatting with our driver about all the traffic we had encountered the day before due to the Queen's little visit to Parliament. Suddenly, we noticed that there was no traffic coming toward us on the opposite side of the road. And then we noticed two policemen on motorbikes, leading some sort of motorcade (not, by the way, the first motorcade we had seen that day--those Royals were out and about!). I nudged Julia and said, "Look, someone's coming. Wouldn't it be funny if it was the Queen?!"

Um. Yeah. It was the Queen.

We couldn't miss her because she was wearing a bright, chartreuse dress with, of course, matching hat. And sitting beside her, in full military regalia, was her husband, Prince Phillip. Right there! Not twenty feet from us on the other side of the road. (I learned later that they were on their way to a ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day launchings.)

Even the cab driver was a little gobsmacked.

[Side note: This was not my first Queen sighting. I also happened upon her in 2005 during a parade to celebrate VE Day. She and Prince Phillip were riding in a carriage, and Charles and Camilla were riding in a carriage right behind them. Double sighting!]

OK, I realize this is getting long, so tomorrow I'll give you a slightly briefer overview of the next two days.


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All other photos are mine.

Monday, June 16, 2014

I'm Back!

Hello there! It's been a while, but I'm back and have lots to tell you.

Where have I been? See if you can guess.

A land of pomp and ceremony.

A land of afternoon traditions.

A land of beautiful cathedrals . . .

. . . and historic theaters.

A land where old meets new . . .

. . . but where the old usually wins out.

A land of amazing vistas . . .

. . . and real, live castles.

A land that I love . . . almost as much as my own.

I'll share more of my trip with you throughout this week, perhaps with some travel tips that can help you plan your own trip to the United Kingdom. It's such a great place to visit!


P.S. Here's what you're looking at:

1. Guard outside the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.
2. Scones with clotted cream and jam at The Orangery, Kensington Palace.
3. St. Paul's Cathedral, London.
4. The Globe Theatre, London.
5. The London Eye and Big Ben.
6. Minster Lovell in the Cotswolds.
7. The Cotswolds.
8. The Palace of Holyrood House, Edinburgh.