I’m horribly jetlagged, we had a wonderful trip to England, and I wish I could say I was excited to be home.
Usually by the end of a trip I’m thinking, “Okay, this has been fun, but it’s time to go home.” I really wasn’t thinking that this time. We spent the last week in an Air BNB on the West side of the Isle of Wight, and it was amazing, and beautiful, and very restful, and there really was no need to come home as far as I’m concerned. 🙂
But here we are, and it was a wonderful time away, and I’m very glad we went.
I thought today I’d just catch you up on a few things I’m thinking and what we did, and share a few pictures. So nothing very profound in today’s post, but I do have some really good tips for traveling!
First, what we did in England
We were gone for 17 days, with our daughter Katie and her husband David joining us for the first 8.
Connor and Rebecca would have come normally, but currently Rebecca looks like this:
Traveling across the Atlantic was likely not a good idea for her at the moment.
The four of us spent a busy three days seeing absolutely everything in London, before heading to Oxford for 5 days to stay with friends, where we explored Oxford itself for two days and then did some day trips (including Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey was filmed, and where the articles of Confederation for Canada’s founding were drawn up). Then we headed south to Portsmouth, visiting Stonehenge along the way.
Katie and David explored the D-Day museum, Keith and I did Jane Austen’s house and Winchester.
And we found some houses where my ancestors lived, too!
After the kids left Keith and I did some work on my family tree in the area. Then it was off to the Isle of Wight for five days, which was gorgeous!
And, of course, Keith was birding along the way.
One of my highlights was visiting C.S. Lewis’ grave, at a church just a 5 minute walk from where our friends lived (it was actually the church where they got married!).
It’s just very quaint, and quiet, and old, and the graveyard is so peaceful.
A few serendipitous moments
Sometimes things happen that you just can’t plan, and they work out wonderfully. We’ve learned on trips just to go with it, because often things surprise you. One such was Highclere Castle. Katie checked the website before we left Canada and there were tons of tickets available, so we didn’t book early, because we weren’t sure what day we would want to go. Then, the day before we were to go, we went to buy tickets online (it’s a little cheaper online) only to see that the day was sold out. It was the only possible day we could go, and it was the one big thing Katie had wanted to do in England. The website said, though, that they often had walk in tickets available if you showed up right at the beginning of the day. So we headed out super early and we were there at 9, when it opened. And virtually nobody else was.
And that meant that we were able to get these amazing pictures.
Had we had tickets, we would have arrived to crowds. Half an hour after these pics were taken, the place was swarming. So that was super cool.
Then, on our drive back to Heathrow on our last day, we were quite early and decided we’d kill time by finding a place to have a picnic (Keith and I still had some picnic food leftover). So as we were driving along, I saw a sign for Butser’s Ancient Farm, and told Keith to pull off. “Farm” sounded like green space, and we figured we could eat in the picnic tables outside the place without having to pay an entrance fee.
But then we got there and realized what it was. It was an experimental archaeological farm, meaning that they had set up Stone Age houses and farms, Iron Age houses and farms, a Roman villa, and Saxon houses, the way that archaeologists think they were built based on the ruins, just to see if their theories are correct and to see what life would have been like.
Everything was built only with technology they would have had at the time. They’re learning a lot, too, like how tall the buildings would have been and the slope of the roof and how the Iron Age farmers would have stored grain. It was one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been to. And you can touch everything, because nothing’s actually old, and it helps them for stuff to get “lived in” anyway so they can see how it all works.
So that was a great way to end the trip!
When stuff goes wrong, you have to go with it, too
Not only do you have to go with it when stuff goes right; sometimes stuff goes wrong. And it’s best to just have a good attitude about it (which I don’t do that well).
Keith and I decided that on our last day in the Isle of Wight we’d do a big 7 mile hike out to “the needles”, a rock formation at the very western tip. It’s a hike along the coast, and it’s supposed to be breathtaking. But it’s also very uphill. So we set out, and once we were up on the cliff, where it’s super windy, the rain starts. It hadn’t really been forecasted, but it just poured. Keith was in rain pants, but I wasn’t, and my jeans got soaked through right away. I did have a really good raincoat, but it was quite miserable. We were over halfway at that point, and we couldn’t figure out if we should turn around and go back or if we should keep going. I was grumpy, which Keith took to mean that I was mad at him (though I wasn’t; I was just really jealous of his rain pants). And I was worried about flying home the next day with wet clothes in our luggage. So it was just kinda awful. But we trudged ahead, because I figured that I couldn’t really get any wetter, so what was the point in going back? By the time we got to the Needles, the sun opened up, and it was so gorgeous.
We had a nice picnic, explored a bit, and wandered back. And it was so windy that it was like you were walking through a blow-dryer, and by the time we got back everything was actually dry–even my shoes! I’ll remember that hike now with laughter, but I wish at the time I hadn’t been so grumpy.
A few observations about Britain
The Brits are amazing drivers, especially on the Isle of Wight. For North Americans, the width of the roads is a big shock. We’re used to lanes being almost twice a car width. There, you’re lucky if a road can fit two cars across. If a lane can, it has white lines down the middle. But that simply means that the road can fit the average car, and no more. And you usually have stone walls or big hedgerows on the side of the road, with no shoulder. Often the roads are narrower, and so if you meet another car, you have to back up and pull into a little divet in the road.
Keith bravely did this, even though he was driving on the wrong side of the road, and by the end he was having a lot of fun. But here is a typical road. Narrow lanes. No shoulder. Hedgerows. Speed limit? Same as the 401 (or the TransCanada highway, or our big four lane highways). It really is crazy.
Pubs are great to eat in. Everybody eats in pubs, and they’re tons of fun! We ate in some awesome 700 year old pubs, and even the pub where C.S. Lewis and Tolkien used to eat. To North Americans it’s odd, and I know many Americans and Canadians head to Britain and try to find the “restaurants”. Much better to just go to a pub. And then, when you’re there, order the stuff that Britain cooks well, like fish & chips or steak & ale pies. The Brits aren’t known for their cuisine, so it’s better to stick to stuff they actually are good at.
And their public transportation is AWESOME. The ferries to the Isle of Wight make the B.C. Ferries in British Columbia look like dumps. The train service is incredible. Everything is clean and convenient. It’s quite easy to get around, actually!
Air BnBs are awesome
I’m not sure if I will ever stay in a hotel again, unless it’s an airport hotel, especially if there are more than 2 of us in the party. Air BnBs are often a little cheaper than a hotel if it’s just 2 of you, and a TON cheaper once you need more than one bedroom. But you also get the ability to cook a meal, you get a living space other than a bedroom, and often you get a way to wash your clothes, so you don’t have to pack as much. We were looking at our next trip in the Isle of Arran in Scotland next year, when Rebecca & Connor & baby & my mom will also be joining us, and you can find an Air BnB that sleeps 7 for less than $200 a night. That’s amazing. We stayed in 4 beautiful Air BnBs, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
The big plus, though, wasn’t actually the cost as much as it was the ability to cook. When we were with Katie and David we ate out all the time because we were on the move so much (plus our wonderful hosts in Oxford fed us at night!). Once they left and we had a few days in Portsmouth, Keith and I went grocery shopping. We got food for picnics, and started eating out only once a day. In the Isle of Wight, we even cooked a few dinners and didn’t eat out at all on several days. When we got home, we both only gained 2 pounds, which is pretty good for a vacation! And I also felt a LOT better once we started eating fresh vegetables again. That’s just something that’s very hard to do in a hotel.
I come from a long line of peasants
One of the things we were doing on the trip was tracing my family tree. You can do that using parish records of births, marriages, and deaths, and other historical documents like wills. As we delved in, a few different times it looked like I was related to someone important, but the closer we looked, we’d find a peasant family with the same names that was more likely the right one. So I’ve done a TON of my lines, all the way back to the 1600s, and there are only about 2 people out of maybe 800 that were really noteworthy.
It’s all kind of funny, because as we were looking at my sons-in-law’s trees, they have barons and martyrs and premiers and all kinds of people, and we have basically no one. So we were just laughing about the great peasant stock that I am, and how it was my ancestors that toiled on behalf of others, and lived honest, if hard, lives. We did have fun with some great documents at the archives we visited, though!
So that was our trip, I’m glad to be back, and I have promised Keith I will try not to be grumpy. Plus I have thanked him profusely for his amazing driving. And now I have to get over jetlag so I can write a bunch of posts, and we’re planning a good podcast for Thursday, and I’m ready to jump in again!
What about you? Ever stayed at an Air BnB? Ever find that it’s the things you weren’t planning that worked out the best? Let’s talk in the comments!