Essays about life in Italy, traveling in Italy, and more
Spring 2000 - England and Italy
One Month in England
Thursday, April 27
The flight over went well. We had first class seats (which gives you tons of room and non-stop movies and food) and were able to sleep for a few hours. We got into Gatwick at 8am and a driver was waiting for us. He drove us from the airport to the cottage. It was a two hour drive (not much traffic as we were going against rush hour and it is a holiday week). The driver was great and told us lots of stuff about the area and about current news (doesn't like Tony Blair). He even gave us a quick tour of a few Cotswold villages on the drive in. He dropped us off at our car hire place, just two miles from the farm, and the owner of the farm, Richard Savage, met us there. We got a nice little Toyota Corolla and Steve got in and managed to drive the two miles using a standard transmission (we always have automatic at home), shifting with his left hand, driving on the opposite side of the road from what he is used to, and driving on a lane that is two way but is so narrow that you can barely get down it.
By now the lack of sleep was hitting us and we collapsed. I barely made it out in the late afternoon to walk into Painswick and buy some food (Steve didn't). The weather was beautiful, which was a relief because it has been raining here for weeks and some places are reaching flood conditions (reminds me of our 1997 trip to flooding Lake Como).
The first 24 hours of a trip are the worst. The next 24 hours are the worst too. All of a sudden you are just somewhere else and you cannot remember why you wanted to come here, why you wanted to leave your comfortable home. You can't figure out how you are going to manage the shopping, the cooking, the driving. Then you catch up on your sleep and slowly adjust to the time change (7 hours later than Santa Fe time) and everything looks much better.
Friday, April 28
Thursday was our arrival day. Friday we made it into Stroud and Painswick, our closest towns. It rained all day; not hard rain, just that English drizzle. Saturday we drove into Cheltenham (not pronounced anything like it is spelled - sounds like "Cheltnam") to buy a telephone plug adapter because the one we brought didn't work. Cheltenham is a big, bustling town. We walked with all the Saturday shoppers along the Promenade and the High Street. Easily found a natural foods store and an electronics store.
People are very friendly here! If we are on a street corner looking at our map, someone will stop and show us where we are and point out the direction we need to go. You can stop people and ask them anything. Like "if the sign says the parking lot closes at 6pm, do you think you just don't have to pay after that or do they barricade the lot?" (Answer, you just don't have to pay past then.)
Sunday, April 30
Sunday was our first real day (note: the first three days of a trip to Europe don't count - that is why I book three weeks plus three days for this trip). Unfortunately we were kept awake for part of the night by really loud music and the sounds of party-ing somewhere in the valley. On our hike we found a bunch of "young people" with tents and huge speakers in the field above our farm. The music was going all day, but stopped after we saw a police car heading in their direction.
We did a wonderful walk today: over the hill to another village, Slad (the setting for the novel "Cider with Rosie"), around the village (beautiful), down to the river, along the river, up the other side of the valley, then through farm fields across the valley to the other ridge, down into Painswick, lunch in the tea room, exploring the churchyard, then back up the hill to the cottage. About four hours. The weather was perfect. No rain; hardly any clouds in the sky. It is a bank holiday weekend, so there were lots of other people out walking.
As we had hoped, this cottage is perfect for hiking. It is a 20 minute walk into Painswick (mostly straight downhill and then uphill). There are several footpaths within a mile of the cottage. And the cottage is on a perfect country lane; paved but with very few cars, so you can go for nice walks on the road.
Monday, May 1
Today is a holiday (a bank holiday they call it). It has been raining here for months and this is the first nice spring weather they have had, so everyone was out in the countryside. We drove to a big arboretum (like the one in Seattle, but bigger) and went walking. Because the weather has been so bad, things are just blooming now, much later than usual. We drove past Highgrove, Prince Charles' estate. Of course, you couldn't see much from the road.
Had a fabulous cream tea in Tetbury (the town next to Charles' estate - didn't see him). Big pots of tea, scones with jam and clotted cream, the perfect cake (light and rich at the same time).
Tuesday, May 2
Another warm and sunny day. Drove down unbelievably narrow country roads to find the Chadworth Roman Villa; the remains of a villa from when the Romans ran this area in from about the 100s - 400s. It was incredible. They not only had a sort of plumbing, but they heated the rooms with radiant heat! The stone floor was built on stone pedestals and hot water ran below the rooms. There were some great mosaics still on the floors.
Went for a hike in the valley, stopping for lunch in a local pub. Everyone says the food is better in England (than when we were here 11 years ago) and it was true at this pub. Not just the usual pub sandwiches or ploughman's lunch. I had baked goat cheese with roasted vegetables and Steve had broiled trout.
Wednesday, May 3
Overcast, cold!!! Oh no!! Headed out on what looked to be a 30 minute drive, but it took an hour. You just never can tell when driving here. Went to Kelmscott Manor, William Morris' last country house. His daughter lived here too and then donated it to the University of Oxford. They have preserved it with lots of his things. I love William Morris' designs and have done several pieces of needlepoint based on his designs (I'm working on one here), so this was a big treat for me.
We will have been here a week tomorrow: the time is rushing by. We thought we would go into London every week, but the train takes a good two hours each way (including driving to the station). Maybe we will go next week, but I could see us deciding not to bother. There is so much to do around here. We hope to go into Bath soon and this may be a big enough city for us. We will see.
A WEEK LATER: Wednesday, May 10
I found that even keeping this little online journal stopped me from keeping my own personal, very detailed journal (which we use to plan other trips), so I stopped the online daily entries.
We are having a wonderful time and the trip is more than half over.
We drove to Glastonbury last Sunday. This is the center of the King Arthur legend. He is supposed to be buried there, Glastonbury is supposed to have been Avalon. It was a strange place. Sort of run down, lots of little tacky "new age" shops, lots of tacky restaurants, lots of people, lots of young "hippies" (boy am I getting old). The remains of the Abbey from the 12thC (12th century) were great. A complete cookhouse from the 14thC was preserved, the rest of the Abbey was mostly partial walls. We took a bus up to the top of the nearby Glastonbury Tor (Tor means hill and it is an ancient worship place) and then walked back to town. It was fun to go to Glastonbury, because we never got there before on our big trip, but it wasn't as nice as many of the small villages around us here.
We have done many very nice hikes. We decided that the hikes close by are the best. We are in a very nice valley and the hikes we have done right in this valley have been the best. You drive to a little village, park, put on your hiking boots, and set out with hiking guidebook in hand. The walks are from 2 to 4 hours and are through woodlands, farmers fields, villages, along rivers: the usual English countryside stuff. The hikes can get very muddy: we were literally ankle deep in mud many times.
We drove to Bath the other day; another place we never got to on our big trip. It was packed with tourists, but was well worth seeing. As usual the tourists were all clustered around the one or two major "must sees". All you have to do is walk for five minutes to get away from the crowds. As the man in the store in another town said to us today, "Bath is full of your countrymen." With our dollar doing so well and the euro doing so poorly, it is mostly American tourists here. Also English tourists - the English seem to like to travel around their own country. All the other people staying at our tourist rental have been English.
The Roman Baths in Bath were beautiful. And the rows of houses from the late 18thC were beautiful.
The weather has been very good since that one cold day last Wednesday. It got very hot on the weekend - that's why we drove to Glastonbury instead of hiking. But now it has settled back into mild and not really sunny; perfect for hiking. Our valley fills with mist in the morning. Sometimes it doesn't burn off all day. It can be misty and overcast, but still nice and warm. We really haven't had any rain.
We have done a few drives up into the northern Cotswolds, to the more popular area. We hiked around Upper and Lower Slaughter. We hiked from Broadway to the Broadway tower. The towns are beautiful and the hiking was nice. When we hike in our part of the Cotswolds though, the southern Cotswolds, we hardly ever run into other hikers. All the visitors go to the northern Cotswold towns.
Note: At all costs, avoid Bourton-on-the-Water! Huge parking lots full of coaches, a pretty village full of visitors, but too pretty really! All the other Cotswold towns are well worth visiting.
I am planning my purchases. There is a wood worker in our village, Painswick, who is on the list of craftsmen associated with the current day Arts and Crafts Movement. He makes beautiful lamps from that part of the tree where the branch starts. Also cutting boards and these cute little stools that I think would fit into the overhead bin on the plane. There is supposed to be a very good cutlery maker up in Chipping Camden. I would love to bring home a set of stainless steel cutlery. Did I mention that I brought an empty suitcase with me? I talked myself out of buying wool - we really can get it all in the US and I haven't found a better wool store anywhere than Weaving Works in Seattle. But, I did buy some British made knitting needles. The company has been around for 100 years and just got bought out by a big German knitting needle company (takeovers in the knitting needle industry!!), but we found a store today where the owner bought up boxes of the remaining British needles (very well made) and was selling them at a discount even.
That's it for now. Tomorrow maybe a hike, maybe drive to Avebury (a town enclosed by a 3000-4000 year old stone circle - we were there 11 years ago and loved it), or maybe a drive to Hay-on-Wye (a town full of used book stores where they hold a major literary festival the week after we leave).
Update: During the third week of the vacation we started receiving emails from everyone at home telling us about the fires near Los Alamos. We even saw it on the news on the BBC. The fires destroyed a lot of homes in the town of Los Alamos. They were also burning in the canyons where radioactive materials were dumped back in the fifties. Although there have been no reports of toxicity or radioactivity in Santa Fe, and there was really only one day when the smoke from the fires went into Santa Fe, we decided that we were lucky to have missed it all and might as well extend our trip for another month just to be sure. This was supposed to be our simple trip - only a few weeks and only in one place!
The first thing we did was book the cottage we were in for another week because we knew it would take several days to get organized and we didn't want to miss out on the rest of our English vacation. This web page came in useful! I looked up my notes about vacation rental agencies and hotels and even used my links to find things. I emailed a few agencies and decided to book two weeks in one house with TuscanHouse, an agency I have not used before (it was great!) and the other two weeks with Invitation to Tuscany, an agency I used before but whose rentals I didn't like (and still don't like after this trip).
It was easier than I thought it would be to get these last minute bookings.
A WEEK LATER: Thursday, May 18
We've been in to London twice. And today we drove to Avebury. We did a few more hikes. Then we spent several days on the computer and phone making plans for extending the trip. The second trip to London was just to change our plane tickets (not as easy to do with international tickets as it is to do with tickets in the US!).
We drove to another perfect Cotswold town - Bibury. William Morris loved this town. Did an amazing hike up over fields and back along a river. The river was flooding and it was raining and we got a bit lost, but we found our way again after tramping through many fields full of wet sheep and long wet grass. We were soaked through. But had a late lunch at a really nice tea room in Bibury.
The tea rooms are the place to eat. They usually have sandwiches, jacket potatoes (baked potatoes with fillings) and hot lunches available until 5pm. Great for us after hikes. The food is pretty good. There are always vegetarian selections. Yesterday I had vegetarian sausages, potatoes and vegetables in a tea room in Marlborough. In Bibery I had a jacket potato and Steve had fresh trout. The meals are not very expensive. The most expensive lunch out we had at a pub. The pubs seem to be doing the more elaborate meals, while the tea rooms have the simpler and cheaper meals.
We have only had dinner out once on this trip - at a chip shop in nearby Cirencester. Steve had fish and I had these cheese and onion things that they deep fry like fish. And chips of course. They even had a sign up saying that they deep fry in vegetable or nut oil. We frequently have lunch out.
Last Friday we took the train into London. It is a 1 1/2 hour train ride and then you have to get on to the underground to get to where you are heading in London. A much harder journey than we expected. It is confusing getting the trains back from Paddington Station. You have to stand watching a big display screen to see when your train is announced and what platform it is on. Then everyone makes a mad dash to the train. I think it would have been better to stay in London for a few days. Also, it is very expensive to take the train from Stroud; about $50 each round trip (and that is a discount ticket where you cannot travel at rush hour).
We went to the Victoria and Albert Museum. We went up to the information booth and asked where we could find the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries. We have seen them before a couple of times and love them. They are the best tapestries that I have ever seen (from the 15th or 16th C). The woman at the desk told us the room with the tapestries was closed, but if we came back in half an hour they would give us a private tour. Apparently, no one else is that interested in these tapestries (fools!) and they keep the room locked with the lights off to save the tapestries. It was incredible! She took us up to the room and it was just us looking at four huge tapestries for as long as we wanted. After that we went to Covent Garden (shopping) and then to Harrods (shopping). Harrods was very crowded and the food halls were fabulous, but I was looking for Italian things and all they have are English things. Which is just as well, because as we talked during the day we were deciding to not go home and to go on to Italy (where they have lots of Italian food). So no need to carry home Italian olive oil from Harrods.
We did more hiking over the weekend, tramping through the farmer's fields in the valley that we look out onto from the cottage. Up to our ankles in mud on some hikes. I decided that it is better to stick to the hikes described in detail in the hiking books. For our weekend hikes, I just took out the detailed hiking map and picked out interesting looking trails. The trouble is that there are so many footpaths that it is hard to follow them using only a map. And you don't know which ones are going to be clearly marked. The books give you detailed descriptions to help you find the path. Note for the future: avoid trails beside rivers. You would not believe the mud! At least we had warm and sunny weather all weekend.
We spent Monday making plans for extending our trip. We had to get Dee (our housesitter) to send us a box with shorts and t-shirts. At first we were going to spend a month in Italy and then a month in Switzerland, but then we realized it was just too much to get organized and we decided to just go to Italy.
Tuesday we had to go into London and spend two hours at the Delta office changing our ticket. I thought I had bought a flexible ticket because it wasn't that cheap of a ticket, but it turned out that it was only good for one month and couldn't be changed. But, they figured out what to do and we had to pay more, but now we could fly to Italy and then home. After spending the morning doing that, we had lunch (a horrible vegetarian chinese restaurant) and then went to Liberty's on Regent Street. I have never been there before. It was heaven! A whole floor of needlepoint and knitting. I have never seen a better collection of needlepoint kits - every designer and every kit they make. The knitting section wasn't as good; it was small. They had another floor with rugs and tapestries. We bought a small William Morris tapestry to take home.
Wednesday was again on the phone arranging the trip. Nearly everthing is booked. We couldn't fly to Rome on Saturday, because it is a holiday weekend and all flights are full, so we have to leave on Thursday. This leaves us two nights before our first vacation rental. I think we will just drive a bit north of Rome and stay somewhere there. Or maybe east of Rome to Tivoli.
Today we drove to Avebury to see the huge stone circle. We loved it when we saw in 11 years ago. Loved it this time too. The stone circle surrounds the whole village.
Steve has wrenched his back (he blames the two hours following me around Liberty, I blame him skipping up the hills while I huff and puff my way up on all our hikes, but really it was probably sitting on the train for 1 1/2 hours and then sitting at the Delta office for 2 hours). So now he is in constant pain and can barely walk! And here we are on a walking vacation. He did this once before in 1996, just before we had to drive from Vancouver to Santa Fe and I had to do all the driving. Well, I can't do any of the driving here! I still think we are driving on the wrong side of the road all the time. We gave him a few easy days while I was booking the Italy things and we haven't done any hikes and he seems to be improving.
Forget my big plans for massive shopping - now that we are going on to Italy, we have to travel light. Steve got a new nightshirt and dressing gown at Harrods and I got a new dressing gown at Liberty's, I got some more William Morris fabric and we got a tapestry of a William Morris design (Woodpeckers in the tree). That is it.
The weather has been pretty good for the trip up until today. Today it poured rain and was very cold, then the sun would come out and it was hot. We spent the day putting on and taking off our vests and coats. This is the most rain we have had the whole trip.
This will probably be the last update for awhile. We don't have a phone for the first two weeks in Italy, so we won't be on email or on the web. We are both really excited about going to Italy!
A WEEK LATER: Friday, May 26
Our trip to Italy is booked and, at the last minute, we got a morning flight on Saturday from London to Rome, so we could stay the whole week in our Painswick cottage and then go straight to our first cottage in Italy. Steve's back is better and we wanted to get in some last walks.
The weather deteriorated this week - several days of rain. It has been raining all day today as we have been packing.
Spent Sunday in Chipping Campden, a very nice Cotswold town. Had Sunday lunch and wandered around the town. Drove to Blockley where we stayed for a few days ten years ago. Back on that trip we spent a total of a week in the Cotswolds - but nothing is familiar! We did not remember one single thing! Well we did recognize the cottage we rented in Blockley, but nothing else. It is as if we have never been here. Beginner's mind or have we just been too many places?
Drove up to Ross-on-Wye, a nice but boring town, then drove a bit down the Wye River to Symonds Yat and did a beautiful walk along the river. This was Steve's first walk after his back injury, so we took it easy. Just 1 1/2 miles down the river, across a walkers only suspension bridge, then walked back on the other side. To cross the river at the end of the walk, we had to stand on the bank and get the attention of the people who run the pub on the other side. Then a guy comes out and gets in a boat that he takes across the river by hand - he has a rope looped over a wire that stretches across the river and he pulls it across on that. 60 pence per person.
The river is wide and gentle. The weather was warm and sunny and the woods along the river were beautiful. This was one of those days when a feeling of complete calmness settles over you. It is like a cover of perfect happiness; a physical feeling. This has happened to me several times on this trip. Unfortunately it is not a feeling that I live with on a daily basis. Maybe it is the cream teas!
Driving home through the Forest of Dean, we saw the strangest thing. The road through this area is a narrow, busy road and all along it sheep roam free. They sleep at the edge of the road, they eat along the roadside, they wander out into the road. I couldn't believe it. Cars zooming by and sheep walking towards them. How can this work?
One day we set out for our walk, but changed our mind when we got there because it was pouring rain. We decided to drive into Bath again, just for lunch and some shopping. We had a great time. Once you get away from the major tourist area (the Roman Baths which we saw last time and are well-worth seeing) the town is very nice.
A bit of gossip. My cousin, Andy Kane, is a TV celebrity here! He is on a BBC1 show called "Changing Rooms" where a group of designers and builders do makeovers to people's houses. He is the carpenter - sort of like Norm Abrams on "This Old House" (and we all love Norm). They call him "Handy Andy". They have the show on BBC America (in the US) and I have even seen it, not realizing that it was him. Of course, we only met him once, over ten years ago and we didn't even get into London to visit his mother and father (my aunt and uncle) on this trip. With Steve's back going out, we just couldn't do the drive or the train again.
Well that is it from England. We have had the most wonderful trip! We are already talking about coming back. It is much easier to travel here than Italy and just as nice (in different ways).
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