Monday, July 4, 2011
Day Four – England/Paris Trip – The Magic Begins
Tuesday, May 17th
Mr. Kim’s comments in italics.
While I got the last minute things done at Craig’s flat, Mr. Kim went out to get breakfast. This is what he brought back:
There it is – the quintessential English breakfast. Sunnyside up eggs, toast, bacon, sausage and baked BEANS! Be still my heart. I’ve been eating beans on toast for breakfast since Momma and I met Ted (my English stepdad), but I am an avowed food and England-obsessed ninny and I cannot describe how thrilled I was to be eating a full English in ENGLAND. The only things that it was missing were mushrooms and the fried tomato (no loss for me). As much as I love all things English, I have to confess that that does not include English sausage. I do not want fillers in my sausage and every English sausage (even the good stuff) that I’ve ever had seems to be full of bread/wheat/rusk, etc. When we were in Bermuda 20-some years ago, the cheeky waiters at our hotel turned it into a daily joke, bringing my breakfast on a silver platter and assuring me repeatedly that the sausage hadn’t been near my plate. So these sausages were exactly what I expected. And isn’t it a LOVELY way to make them? Mr. Kim was not enamored of the beans. Stop mincing words, I thought they were bloody awful. He thought they were dull and tasteless (he is used to pork and beans and would not listen to my explanations of how English beans differed from American ones – he did not partake of beans for the rest of the trip). But he was happy to get some more of that amazing bacon. It was a lovely start to our first day touring England and we left for the train station full and happy.
We took the train to Heathrow to pick up our car. Here is Mr. Kim sitting in our rental car:
Doesn’t he look competent and confident?
Hi, Mr. Kim!!
A word here about two forms of technology that I believe have improved travel immeasurably and that I will never again travel without – digital cameras and GPS. When I think of all of the canisters of film that we would have had to bring and to buy (since we would have had NO idea how many pictures we ended up taking) and all the BAD shots that we would have paid to develop and then throw away, I could kiss my camera. I am similarly in love with our GPS system. Between the GPS and me (Mr. Kim was the designated driver and I was the designated navigator) we got everywhere we wanted to go. More importantly, we got BACK to everywhere we wanted to be. Once we discovered the basic infallibility of the GPS, we would often deliberately get lost and after driving for miles through fields, on narrow lanes, passing only sheep. When we were ready to ‘find’ ourselves, we’d turn on the GPS and say “Home, Jeeves” and in seconds he would have us on our way. We didn’t care much for the snooty English lady in the GPS and her sneering “recalculating” (a word we heard rather often), so we switched to an English gentleman, who we promptly christened ‘Jeeves’. Daddy calls his ‘Betty’ after his mother and our first was named ‘Pauline’ after my other grandmother, ‘Bomo’ – considering that the GPS lady always thinks herself right and gets miffed if you don’t follow her advice, it is a particularly apt sobriquet. Jeeves was a success from the outset – smart, calm, supportive, suave. And since we are madly addicted to “Jeeves & Wooster” and can’t wait for Netflix to send us the next DVD, it seemed the only proper name.
Getting on the M25 (big, major road – like our interstates), you fairly quickly get out of the more crowded areas and begin to see countryside. The title of this post is ‘The Magic Begins’ and, for me, that is exactly how it felt. As much as I loved London and its history and sophistication, it was the countryside that touched me. It is the memories of our time in the Cotswolds and the little seaside towns and villages that catches in my throat and brings little prickers to my eyes. Looking at our pictures (which I do to some extent almost every day), the pictures of these places find me smiling foolishly. I feel inexpressibly grateful for being able to finally SEE them, to have spent time wandering the impossibly lovely lanes, to have seen the flowers and cottages. To have lived that dream.
Our first destination was Oxford. We found a place to park, decoded our first parking meter (not as straightforward as it sounds), watched a crocodile of cute little preschoolers go by all togged up for ‘graduation’, and found the meeting place for our tour. Confident we could make our way back here on time, it was on to lunch. I’d chosen the Turf Tavern, a 13th century ale house hidden away down narrow streets and crooked alleys:
Mike had an excellent cheeseburger made with Shropshire bleu cheese and I had a divine beef and ale pie with the puffiest, highest crown of puff pastry I’ve ever seen and lashings of thick, savory gravy. This was an excellent meal and EXACTLY the kind of food and place that I’d hoped to find.
We did a two hour tour of Oxford – centered on the colleges, of course. Our tour guide was wonderful, talking about the ancient founders and characters as if she were gossiping about old pals. She made the Oxford system very understandable and showed us places that we would not have otherwise been able to see. The most beautiful college that we saw was Corpus Christi. Founded in 1517, it’s one of the oldest of the thirty-odd colleges in Oxford.
Keble College is gorgeous, too, if you like big piles of Victorian brick:
Which I, being an architectural philistine and adoring anything positively twee, do! English not being our first language, we understood our guide to say that Keble’s dining hall was the actual location in which they shot all of the Harry Potter dining hall shots. We dutifully snapped pics, as it certainly looked the part to us:
Turns out that something got lost in translation – the scenes were shot at nearby Christ Church College. Since I have no pictures of that one, I like our version of the facts better.Everywhere we looked in Oxford there was something lovely or ancient or just charming and so photo-worthy:
Who wouldn’t want to go through here?
I added some shots for the ‘garden gallery’:
I so love ancient things, that this nondescript wall impressed me even more than the colleges in Oxford. It is part of the original wall that was used to define and defend Oxford when it WAS a town placed at the point where the OXen FORDed the river. I am sure it has been rebuilt many times over the years, but this was “The Spot.” If your eyes are glazing over at this point, just wait until we start talking about the Cotswolds.
Oxford was a place that we just didn’t have enough time in (the theme of our trip, alas – I’ll be saying this a LOT!). We didn’t spend any time by the rivers and I’d hoped to see the canal and do a lot more wandering. But we did see a lot and didn’t want to arrive at the cottage after dark.
The drive from Oxford into the Cotswolds, where we were staying was just simply enchanting. This was the point in our trip that Mr. Kim started saying, “how does anyone ever talk themselves into leaving this place”. As we got closer to Cirencester (‘the capital of the Cotswolds” – a fairly good sized town), I kept thinking, “THIS is England, THIS is England”. The first real village that we passed through was Bibury. There cannot be a more perfect introduction to a Cotswold village:
We swung around Cirencester on the main road – with 5, count ‘em FIVE roundabouts (as Rachel would say, moire non regarding THOSE carousels of hell) and then tootled on through gasp-aloud gorgeous countryside until we found ourselves that the bottom of a steep, narrow High Street. Both Jeeves and our hostess’ directions indicated that we had to actually get to the top of it somehow. Daunting, to say the least. There is a video here that I took of the drive, if you’d like to see it.
‘Onrushpam’ at eGullet has my undying gratitude. When I posted my first, tentative ‘help’ at eGullet, she responded by suggesting that I consider renting through Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO.com) if we were staying anywhere for a few nights. We’d already decided to spend three nights in the Cotswolds. Because the area is so small in size but so dense in things we wanted to see, we thought that we’d spend all three in the same place – driving around each day. Through VRBO.com we found Anna Simson and her gorgeous home Green Court in Chalford. The cottage that we stayed in for 3 nights was the annex to their house. It is a 400 year old Grade II listed building (similar to National Historic Register), updated – but with all of the charm left intact. Here’s Mr. Kim at the entrance:
Some inside views:
You KNOW I loved this.
The inside was charming and comfortable and we could happily have lived there. But the real draw was the garden and view:
This is the view out of one of the bedroom windows.
We were too tired to try to ferret out somewhere to eat, so we just went to the nearest place that we could find on a map. It was called The Ragged Cot and was just beautiful:
Originally a 17th century coach house, it is now a gorgeous upscale inn and restaurant with gardens and lovely outdoor seating, a snug and a sign proclaims that it welcomes dogs and wellies. The people were friendly and welcoming. So why were we so underwhelmed? I’m not sure that it wasn’t my own fault. The food was upscale and I just don’t think that that was what I really wanted for my first meal in the Cotswolds. We should have probably just gone to the pub down the High Street from Green Court.
The first couple of days, we thought that the High Street was all there was to Chalford. The write-up in one brochure or another indicated that the High Street used to have numerous businesses and several pubs on it. I just assumed this was a dying town with not much beyond the few remaining home owners. Silly us. We discovered that there is a whole other section of it (with MUCH more manageable streets to navigate) and had we just explored a little, I’m sure that we could have found a place more suitable to our mood. But we were tired – and I had that ‘tourist’ feeling that I get sometimes: shy and new and out of place. Mr. Kim was lucky that I didn’t just open the Nabs and make a pot of tea. Mmmmm, tea. Anna had stocked the pantry with several teas, all of which I sampled over the few days we were there. What a real treat at the end of the day.
As we left the Ragged Cot we both felt the cold building in – the temperature really drops in this part of the country at night. The distant sounds of animals in fields or barns or woods just added to the feeling the deepening mist was building in us – this part of the world does not belong to mere humans at night. Especially since darkness does not truly fall here until well after 10 PM. So as not to offend the fairies and sprites who were ready for is to retire so they could take over their shift, we made our way ‘home’, tucked ourselves under our warm and plouffy duvet and dropped off to sleep in our 400 year old Cotswold cottage.