Eurotrip 2011: The West Country.1

I'm finally getting through some of the Eurotrip photos. It's quite the undertaking; it seems like each photo holds a specific memory, and it's hard to pick and choose which ones to share and write about. I'm pretty sure this will take me weeks or months to complete. In the meantime, for those of you who have complained about too many photos for a quick post download, this series is going to be your nightmare. Prepare for an onslaught of images!

Our first stop was in England, which gave us the chance to fly on British Airways for the first time. BA flies from Heathrow to Grand Cayman (with a brief stop in the Bahamas) and back several times each week, so it was easy to catch the red-eye from Cayman on a Wednesday night. As an American, I'm used to the treatment we receive on U.S. airlines - few comforts, meager food (if any), no free beverages, and personal entertainment sets only if you're lucky. All the "extras" seemed to come standard on BA, and I was thrilled to see a packet on my seat that included a large blanket, pillow, eye shades, head phones, a toothbrush, and toothpaste. It's like they had me all figured out! They followed this gesture by serving me a salmon-pasta dinner - yummy comfort food. Soon I was in dream-land (or as close to it as you can get on a jetliner.)

Fortunately, NS got his rest too, because he was our driver immediately upon arrival. Sure, Grand Cayman has roundabouts and we drive on the left here, but our island driving experiences did little to prepare us for the English roadways. The primary hurdle was handling a standard car with the gearbox on the left (N was too frugal to reserve a more expensive automatic.) So off we went on the M4 (major westward motorway), just praying we wouldn't stall at each intersection. Well, that's what I was praying. N was too focused on the speeding cameras along the highway to worry about issues with the clutch. Typical. 

Can you see the look of concentration through the windshield?
Our second hurdle was navigating without a GPS. Normally, we would have prepared ourselves with appropriate maps, but since we had brought our GPS from home (complete with European maps courtesy of my pal AJD), we figured we could almost drive blind. However, what we didn't plan on was that English vehicles are equipped with lighter chargers that are sized differently than ours in the States, and since our aging GPS doesn't seem to hold a charge without being plugged in, we certainly couldn't depend on that electronic female voice to tell us to "make a U-turn, if possible." It was back to the old-school paper maps from the rental agency for us.

Our first stop was Windsor, just outside of London. I'd visited this charming town and impressive castle on my last trip, but since that was eleven years ago, I looked forward to a re-visit. After a bit of circling the outskirts of the town trying to get our bearings and remember how to not pop the clutch at every red light, we were off and exploring for the first time.

I think I'm a sucker for this Caribbean blue building.
You'll notice in the photo below that N appears to be a bit preoccupied as he explored the castle entrance. That's because he had picked up a pre-paid £12 SIM card from 3G to pop into his iPhone. With plenty of minutes and data to use for our week in England, we figured this would be the easiest way to stay in touch with our British hosts as well as solve our GPS woes. N proceeded to check in to every single site we visited on his Facebook account. Hopefully no one found that annoying.

We of course took the standard tour of the castle, using the audio-guides to learn a bit about each room, entrance, and staircase. Similarly to last time I visited, my favorite exhibit was the Queen Mary's Dolls' House. So big that it takes up an entire room, the elaborate doll house is beautifully decorated and includes every sort of household furnishing and appliance. Sadly, no photos are allowed in the castle, so you'll have to personally visit (or use Google Images.)

The castle also included lush gardens, which I only experienced by peering over a wall in one of the courtyards.

This place seems fit for royalty to be strolling about. Are those palm trees I spot?!

We had ambitious plans of also checking out Stonehenge before finally crashing in Melksham with friends, but our energy was running out as quickly as the sunlight, so we got back on the M4 and headed off into the sunset.

A bit about English roads: I really love their roundabouts. They all have huge green signs leading into them to explain where in the world you might be headed if you take any one of the exits. As long as the prolific trees don't cover the signs (and you don't stall out at a red light in the middle of one of the complicated ones), navigating is fairly straightforward. Roundabouts also mean no shortage of U-turn opportunities. Not that we needed any.

Before crashing C&B's place, we wanted to pick up a few groceries. In addition to lending us her GPS maps, well-traveled AJD advised us to visit grocery stores in each country, allowing us to see how the locals shopped and ate. This soon became one of our favorite activities. Our first grocery run found us at an ASDA, a store owned by Wal-Mart. Seemed safe enough to us, and upon entering, we appeared to be in an almost American-styled store. Great! Nothing too confusing for Day #1. After choosing some bananas and mixed fruit, we found ourselves in the yogurt aisle to round out our breakfast selections. One of the English food brands we've learned to love here in Cayman is Waitrose. While the UKers on island have been openly accused of having Waitrose addictions, I think I'm also an undercover Waitroseaholic. They draw me in with neat, simple packaging and keep me hooked with delicious products inside. As a result, N and I both scoured the ASDA shelves, looking for Waitrose yogurt among the many varieties offered. Puzzled when we didn't find any, we asked a girl stocking shelves where we might locate it.

"Where are your Waitrose products?"
"Yeah, the brand..."
"Yes, I know, but we don't have that here."

Funny, we thought. A British brand not carried in Britain. Had we been lied to for the past year?

Nope. We later found out that Waitrose isn't merely a brand, but a store, and not just a store, but a very nice grocery store. So while ASDA carries the affordable brands (including their own) in true Wal-Mart fashion, Waitrose is for those without a tight grocery budget. Oops! I couldn't have guessed that, since it seems like all the food in Cayman is pricey. Waitrose prices are par for the course on the island. By contrast, I was amazed at how affordable our English groceries were! I think we paid £2 or £3 for a carton of OJ (my morning necessity), versus CI$7 here in Cayman.

Since we're on the topic of groceries, I'll also mention our latest sweet addiction: Dark chocolate-covered Digestives [cookies (or "biscuits") that are a bit like short bread]. Good thing we spent a lot of time walking. Oh boy.

After a lovely evening with our long-time friends C&B, we were ready for lights-out. Their three kids had already been tucked away (although I saw a couple sets of curious eyes peeking over the banister once or twice); more on those delightful faces later.  We welcomed our bedtime; it felt amazing to be enjoying "good sleeping weather", where you actually need a duvet on your bed. In Cayman, we've been reduced to sheets-only.

No castles on Day #2, but our visit to the Great Chalfield Manor almost felt like it. Just look at this massive estate, now set on a National Trust site:

Although we didn't see the inside, friends gave us a private tour of the garden. Our main guide was a cute little thing in pink wellies, who knew most of the plants and flowers by name.

Pointing out the "shower" - one of her only misnomers.
Her brother was more of the silent, smiley type (until we intruded upon his lunch hour.)

Puddles are less of a problem and more of an adventure when you're appropriately dressed. Actually, I believe that about most things in life.

This peaceful estate near Melksham is absolutely idyllic; I highly recommend a visit if you're in the West Country.

I couldn't paint a prettier picture.
View of the apple storage from across the pond.

Thanks for the exceptional tour, M!

After Chalfield, we were onto other picturesque locations. I love quaint villages at least as much as I love big cities (probably more), so I cherished every moment of our short visit to Lacock, another National Trust hot spot. While Lacock - a very old town founded in the early 13th century - may be best known for its Abbey (and many other well-preserved buildings), its recent claims to fame include being used for onsite filming for large films like BBC's Pride and Prejudice and certain of the Harry Potter films. I just love Lacock for its quiet streets, stone houses, and uneven rooftops. Let the rest of the world be modern.

Average visitor demographic

I think Lacock just makes one feel English. We followed our instincts and sat down for a proper tea. TripAdvisor told us that the tea room at King John's Hunting Lodge served a terrific tea spread, so we wasted no time and chose a table in the garden.

Before long, we had tea (Earl Grey for me and Luxury Hot Chocolate for N) in hand, along with fruity scones, jams, and clotted cream (which I seriously wanted to eat by the spoonful.) I could have stretched this little break out for a good hour, but the nearby bee population tried to consume their weight in jam, so we had to hustle just a tad.

Apparently the bees were just a foretaste of the boundless energy that was to greet us at our next stop: The home of J&S, long-time friends and pastors of Good News Church in Melksham, as well as grandparents to C&B's three kids, whom we had not officially met yet. In reverse age order:

K, a cuddly little thing, on her dad's lap.
C, angel-faced kid, who plays a small guitar in his pew at church.

M, enough energy to fill a room, kept me giggling the entire visit.

I really like engaging kids, and these three did not disappoint. Plus, N and I were practically mesmerized by their adorable British accents. I had a hard time saying "No" to any one of them. That's probably how I got talked into this: Young M&C must share my love of photography, because they were soon handling my usually-well-protected DSLR like pros. The last shot above was taken by C, probably while I supported the zoom lens with one hand. Anything to keep kids occupied!

And anyway, I think British children know how to ask for things in a super cute way. Like one morning, N was sitting at the breakfast table with little K, who noticed he was eating berries.

"Are those blackberries?" she asked (pronouncing it "blackburries", in her British accent).
"Yes they are."
"I like blackberries."

Guess who was sharing his blackberries the very next second.

More kid photos later in the next post, as well as our visit to Bath.

This might take longer than I originally thought. Prepare thyself.


  1. Such beautiful pictures! Everything looks lovely. I love the Harry Potter town!

  2. Jenn, you're a great blogger :)

  3. Oh Jenn! This is {almost} as good as bring there!! Love the photos, love the commentary :) So glad it was wonderful.