Three Days in The Cotswolds Isn’t Enough

When people would ask us about our travel plans for the summer, we were often met with quizzical expressions when we mentioned that we were flying into Manchester Airport as opposed to Heathrow Airport outside of London. But then when we described our plans to rent a car and drive down to the Cotswolds for a few days before heading over to London, our plan made a bit more sense to most. And in full disclosure, saving over $200 a ticket certainly played a role into our decision to not fly into London.

We arrived in Manchester around 8:30am. By the time we cleared immigration and received our rental car, it was late morning. We were able to check into our inn in the Cotswolds at 2pm that day and we were quite exhausted from our red-eye flight so we forewent any exploring around Manchester and chose to get right on the road. In hindsight, I wish we would have heeded the advice of my friend and squeezed in a visit to The John Rylands Library at University of Manchester but such is the perils of traveling – there is never enough time to see everything.

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After a few hours and a few stops at various motorway service areas (a huge shoutout to Clay for driving on the other side of the car on the the other side of the road on three hours of sleep), we arrived at the little English village we’d be staying at for our three nights in The Cotswolds.

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Bourton-on-the-Water is consistently voted one of the prettiest villages in England and filled with charming little inns, restaurants, and shops. The River Windrush winds through the village and during the warmer months, you can find children wading in the water. Beautiful bridges are sprinkled throughout the town and you can always find an outdoor table to sit at as you enjoy the view while sipping a drink.

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Our lodging choice couldn’t have been more perfect – we stayed in a family suite at The Broadlands Guest House. The innkeeper, Marco, was brilliant and really helped make our stay wonderful. He came outside and greeted us upon our arrival and excitedly informed us that Clay was the first Clay he had ever met in person. Quite the honor for my husband.

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We relaxed for a little while in our room but didn’t allow ourselves to fall asleep. By late afternoon, we walked down to a pub for an early dinner and we were in bed by 7:30pm. And by 1:30am, we were all wide awake watching British TV in the same bed and eating the shortbread I randomly picked up at a service station earlier that day. It was one of those silly little family vacation moments that I don’t think any of us will soon forget.

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We were served breakfast (cooked by Marco!) each morning of our stay and we were able to walk everywhere we wanted to go in Bourton-on-the-Water from The Broadlands Guest House. We throughly enjoyed exploring the quintessential countryside village – we really lucked out with our choice and it served as a great jumping off point for taking little day trips.

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We knew that we wanted to see a castle during our time in The Cotswolds and we weren’t let down by Berkeley Castle outside of Gloucestershire. It was only about a 45 minute drive from Bourton-on-the-Water and was the perfect way to spend our first full day in the English countryside.

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We spent hours touring Berkeley Castle and wandering the grounds. We were able to look down into a dungeon, walk around the underground tap room, and see the prison cell where Edward II was held and eventually murdered.

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The little guy even became a man for all seasons.

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We ate a late lunch on the property in a yurt and by the time we left the castle at 3:00pm, we were ready to head back to Bourton-on-the-Water and relax with a leisurely dinner and stroll through town.

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The next day, we tackled Stonehenge. We ate breakfast at our inn and then drove two hours south to the prehistoric monument in Wiltshire. The drive wasn’t fun – it required a lot of concentration on Clay’s part (tons of super windy streets wide enough for only one car) and since I was on GPS and hedge-duty, we were unable to entertain the kids with our dazzling personalities and jokes. We drove through some spectacularly quaint villages but we didn’t really get to enjoy the scenery because it felt like we were sternly telling our little adventure-mates to be quiet and stop fighting the entire drive down. When we arrived, we chose to walk about a mile to the infamous sight, rather than take the shuttle, in effort to burn some of their energy. It was just one of the many mistakes made during our trip to Stonehenge. As evident by the picture above, the kids weren’t terribly impressed and we could hear them muttering “We spent two hours in the car to see rocks?

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We were determined to maximize our time and get our money’s worth – we spent about three hours exploring the English Heritage site. If it were just Clay and I, we would have hiked all over the ancient landscape and wandered about the ancient burial mounds. But because we were traveling with kids, we adjusted our goals. The kids endured our time there and enjoyed touring the ancient dwelling replicas on display near the museum – we even caught them smiling a handful of times.

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And we got our token family shot so as far as anyone knows, we had a fabulous time at Stonehenge. Clay and I often diffuse situations with humor so when we realized that our trip to the infamous stone circle was a bit of a bust, we used it as an opportunity to make the kids laugh and salvage what we could of the day. And as a silver-lining, we now have a excellent bargaining chip when it comes to getting the kids to turn their behavior around – we threaten to take them back to Stonehenge if they don’t shape up. It totally works!

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Upon our return to Bourton-on-the-Water, we ate fish and chips at a pub, had post-dinner drinks along the river as the kids splashed in the water, and walked the quiet streets back to the inn. And we marveled at how everything was a little bit smaller, quite a bit older, and slower-paced than we’re used to back home.

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The next morning, we returned our room key to Marco and gave him a big hug. He made our stay in The Cotswolds just that much better and we couldn’t have asked for a better host. After breakfast, we walked around Bourton-on-the-Water for the last time and stopped in a bakery for a post-breakfast snack and Americano before heading to London.

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Then we hopped into our rental car one last time and turned onto a little village road. Next stop – London!

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As a closing note – I am so glad that we incorporated the English countryside into our vacation before heading to London and Paris. If you should find yourself wanting to visit England, don’t bypass The Cotswolds. And you can’t go wrong with a stay in Bourton-on-the-Water at The Broadlands Guest House. Just be sure to tell Marco that Clay and Karen sent you his way.

Four Days in Munich – Prost!

Munich (München in German) is literally “Home of the Monks”. Founded in 1158 and known as the capital of Bavaria since 1506, Munich’s history is filled with stories of counter-reformation, renaissance arts, the plague, and war. Despite the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, Munich eventually became known as Hauptstadt der Bewegung (Capitol of the Movement) when Hitler and the Nazi Party took control of Germany in 1933. Dachau, the first concentration camp, is located only 10 miles outside of the city. For these reasons and more, it’s a shame to only associate Munich with Oktoberfest and beer.

That’s not to say that we didn’t enjoy ourselves when it came to drinking our calories in Munich. I was right at home because it doesn’t get much better than hefeweizen in my world. Clay is an IPA man himself, so while he thoroughly enjoyed drinking his way around Bavaria, he was missing hops greatly by the time our trip was ending. And you have to love Germany – Clay and I drank cheaper than our kids during our four days in Munich, which should be known as Land of the 5€ Cokes.

We arrived in Munich around 11am on a Sunday and thankfully didn’t have too long of a wait for immigration – waiting to get my passport stamped after sleeping on a plane for 9+ hours is easily my least favorite aspect of traveling. We grabbed our luggage and attempted to figure out how to purchase passes for the Munich U-Bahn and S-Bahn. We used a kiosk and crossed our fingers that we bought the correct tickets. On our way to find the U-Bahn entrance, we passed an information desk and decided to double-check our instincts – which ended up being wrong. The incredibly nice lady gave us a refund, explained the various zones, and told us that a daily family pass is our best (and cheapest!) option for using Munich public transportation.

We were able to get to our hotel, Sheraton Munich Westpark, without any trouble and we very much appreciated it being directly above the
München Heimeranplatz train station. We were in a family suite that was spacious and found paying the extra $10/night for access to the Sheraton Club on the top floor was will worth the money. With the Club, we had 24/7 access to bottled water, bottled soda, bottled beer, and coffee/espresso/cappuccino, as well food during certain times of the day. I highly recommend the hotel, which is part of Marriott Bonvoy collection, if you find yourself in Munich with kids – it is just a few train stops away from the city center and within walking distance of some fantastic independent neighborhood restaurants that don’t charge city center prices.

Our first meal in Munich was at the infamous Hofbräuhaus am Platzl. Yes, it was a touristy thing to do but hey – we were tourists. Clay and I did learn that we were a bit overzealous with our drinking a liter of beer on only a few hours sleep.

We spent the rest of the evening strolling through the streets of Munich and just experiencing the sights and sounds of the city. By the end of World War II, Munich was a shell of it’s former self due to the heavy bombings it endured. As a result, the city was painstakingly rebuilt using photographs that the Nazi’s meticulously captured when they realized that the Allied Forces were closing in.

We spent the next day exploring to our hearts content. I found the dichotomy between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ throughout the city particularly somber and beautiful.

We were able to witness the famed Rathaus-Glockenspiel in Marienplatz, which is in the heart of Munich. Every day at 11am and 12pm (year-round) and 5pm (summer only), it chimes and re-enacts two stories from the 16th century. Marienplatz is the central square of Munich and has been it’s main square since 1158. Pictured is New Town Hall, which was completed in 1909 and a brilliant example of neo-gothic architecture.

We visited Viktualienmarkt at least once a day for drinks and food. Viktualienmarkt is a popular outdoor market next to Marienplatz that is filled with over 140 stalls offering food, drinks, flowers, produce, etc…

The Englischer Garten is a large public park in Munich that is one of the largest in the world (it’s even bigger than Central Park). We waded in the water, saw a few nude sunbathers, and marveled at the seemingly endless green space in the middle of the city.

The beer garden that surrounds Chinese Tower in Englischer Garten seats over 7000 people so of course, we had to eat (and drink) there.

The stream that runs through Englischer Garten is artificial so as a result of the water pumping mechanism there is a standing wave at one end. On any given day, you can see people attempting to serve on the wave for as long as they can. We watched quite a few people with serious surfing skills – in Munich nonetheless!

Like many people traveling to new places, we love to visit churches that have withstood history and tell a story of their own. I couldn’t stop staring at the ceiling of Heilig-Geist-Kirche (Holy Ghost Church).

Another one I loved was Michaelskirche (St. Michael’s Church), which is the largest Renaissance church north of the Alps. “Mad” King Ludwig II also happens to be entombed in the crypt.

Our time in Munich was broken up into two chunks – two days at the beginning of our trip and two days at the end. We stayed at the same hotel and really enjoyed bookending our vacation in Home of the Monks. Munich is Germany’s third largest city and home to almost 1.5 million people. But it many ways, it’s the perfect blend of city and country – there are so many public parks that you never feel too far away from nature. And we were hard-pressed to find a window that didn’t have fresh flowers or plants growing in a windowsill.

And how can you not love the sight of Monks strolling the streets?

We loved just walking around the city and seeing where each day took us. One evening, we climbed almost 300 rickety steps to the top of the Church of St. Peter for a fantastic view of Munich (totally worth the few Euros).

We all agreed that our favorite food in Munich were the meals that had a strong Hungarian influence. The goulash we had at Hofbrauhaus was one of the best dishes we ate the entire trip.

We did make it a point to visit Olympiapark, home to the 1972 Summer Olympics and the site of the Munich Massacre. We visited the memorial – erected near where 11 Israeli Olympic team members were held hostage and killed by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. A West Germany police officer was also killed in the attack. Olympiapark continues to serve as a venue for cultural, social, and religious events. It also has a playground that the kids absolutely adored (Germany has fantastic playgrounds in general).

We also popped into BMW Welt, where we were able to get up close and personal with various Bayerische Motoren Werke products. Entrance is free and you are encouraged to ask questions and fall in love with the cars. We opted not to pay to go to the museum because we got our fix from the free and massive showroom.

Did you know that there is a Michael Jackson memorial in Munich? Neither did we until we accidentally stumbled upon it one morning.

Feldherrnhalle, a 19th-century Italianate monument to the Bavarian Army and the site of Hitler’s 1923 Beer Hall Putsch.

We found Munich incredibly easy to navigate and an absolute joy to explore. If you ever have any questions about visiting Munich with kids, please do not hesitate to ask!

Our New England Adventure – Newport, Cape Cod, and Ogunguit

During the summer of 2014, we took a weeklong tour of the New England coast. We returned to northern Virginia with bellies full of fresh seafood and as much of a tan as the Massachusetts and Maine sun allowed.

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We’re apparently machinists because we chose to drive through New York City and Connecticut on a Friday afternoon. In June. It quickly became obvious that we weren’t the only ones heading to the shore that weekend. I’m sure the big city hotshots in Maseratis (we spotted five!) were rolling their eyes at our Subaru with a car top carrier but that’s how we roll – we’re so pedestrian that it hurts. After about 10 hours, we finally arrived in Rhode Island.

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The next day, we drove over the largest suspension bridge in New England to Newport and spent the morning exploring one of the oldest cities in the United States. Newport also has a strong Navy presence so as is the case with most Navy towns we visit, we cursed the majority of Army locations throughout the world (Fort Polk anyone?).

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We ate on the water, enjoying a lunch consisting of fresh steamers, grilled shrimp, and a hot lobster roll.

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After lunch we walked around the harbor some more before getting back on the road. We left fans of the smallest state and hope to return someday. After leaving the Ocean State, we rolled up the coast along Route 6, marveling at the quaint architecture found in New England, specifically the Shingle Style, Colonial Revival, and of course the Cape Cod. Before long, we were in Massachusetts.

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I’ll admit that before this trip, my knowledge of Massachusetts was pretty much limited to American Revolution history, The Departed, and Mitt Romney but not surprisingly, we fell in love with Cape Cod.

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One of the first things that struck us was just how large Cape Cod is – for some reason, I pictured it to be much smaller. We learned that Cape Cod originally only referred to the very tip of the peninsula, but over time the name become synonymous with area known today. After crossing the Cape Cod Canal, we drove along Route 28 until we reached our resort in South Yarmouth – a Red Jacket Resort.

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 We checked into our room and promptly changed for the beach.

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 Where this little girl proceeded to take her first steps.

Go Violet, go!

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The little guy spent his time on the beach building sand castles and digging holes.

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We absolutely loved staying on the beach. There is nothing I like more on vacation than being able to walk to the water. While the resort wasn’t anything fancy, it had a private beach, an outdoor pool with a splash pad area for kids, an indoor pool, and plenty of chairs, umbrellas, and toys free for use.

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We did leave the resort to eat at local restaurants and explore the area but we spent the majority of our time at the beach.

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We were only in Cape Cod for two days so seeing the Cape Cod National Seashore was our top choice for an afternoon outing. We never made it to Provincetown or the tip of the cape but I know we will travel to Cape Cod again at some point. We were able to visit Marconi Beach free of charge due to our National Parks Pass courtesy of the military, which was a pleasant surprise. Marconi Beach is known for its sand cliff (also called a scarp) that fills you with a sense of solitude because there is not a building to be seen on the horizon.

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We had a wonderful time in Cape Cod (even if Weston’s face tells another story) and had trouble wiping the drool off our chins when seeing some of the available real estate. Having a vacation home in New England does sound quite nice, doesn’t it? But Maine was calling our name.

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As we crossed the Piscataqua River Bridge, we were welcomed to Vacationland. A quick drive up Route 1 and we reached our destination – Ogunquit, Maine, which means “Beautiful Place by the Sea”.

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 Quite deserving of the name, right?

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We checked into our hotel and immediately walked to the beach. Clay grew up vacationing in Ogunquit every summer and has many childhood memories tied to the seaside town. Continually voted one of the best US beaches, Ogunquit has three and half miles of white sand beaches along with rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean. We sat on the beach with our toes in the sand, watching the tide come in before heading back to hotel for dinner. After putting two tired kids to bed, Clay and I sat out on the balcony watching the waves while savoring a cocktail or two.

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Weston and Violet had us up early the next morning so we set out to walk the Marginal Way soon after sunrise. A little over of a mile walkway from downtown Ogunquit to Perkins Cove, the Marginal Way came to be when Josiah Chase Jr. donated his land back in 1925. Described as rocky, rugged, and wild, the path itself is paved but there are plenty of rock-lined coves to explore along the way.

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Obligatory family photo.

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One of the many coves on the Marginal Way we enjoyed climbing up and around.

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Gorgeous Perkins Cove.IMG_6120

Once in Perkins Cove, we found a lobster boat departing with the hour and quickly reserved seats. We ate breakfast at a cute little coffee shop on the water while waiting to come aboard and before we knew it, we were off on our very first family lobster adventure.

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 Being out on the water in Maine was about as amazing as you’d imagine it to be.

 

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After our time on the water, we ate lunch at The Lobster Shack and the meal was easily in the top three of our entire vacation and they won our award for Best Clam Chowder (it is obviously a highly coveted award – ha!). The restaurant is unpretentious, casual, and the epitome of Perkins Cove. Go there. Now.

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 Photographic evidence.

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 We spent most of our afternoons in Ogunquit at the beach.

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One morning we drove south to York and checked out Nubble Light, the Cape Neddick Lighthouse.

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Thankfully there was only one afternoon/evening of rain. We didn’t mind too much because it gave us the perfect excuse to drive around and explore. We ended up in Portland, walked around the harbors, and ate lunch at Duck Fat, which will now make every fry I ever eat again pale in comparison.

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Clay was also super excited to introduce us to Congdon’s Doughnuts. I am happy to report that they live up to the hype and are every bit as delicious as Clay’s family herald them to be – simply marvelous. I had the maple cream and I am still dreaming about the delicious morsel of perfection.

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Coastal Maine is magical. I will forever hold the memories of this vacation close to my heart. I can’t wait to go back and explore further north on the Maine coast. And I don’t just want to return during warm weather because as Paul Theroux writes, “Maine is a joy in the summer. But the soul of Maine is more apparent in the winter.” I’d love to find out for myself.

48 Hours in London and Not One Royal Guard Sighting

A couple of weeks ago, I shared on Facebook about how we met a fellow military family PCSing to London in the Centurion Lounge at the Philadelphia airport. We had just arrived from Charles De Gaulle and they were en route to Heathrow. In the handful of minutes that our time overlapped, we discussed topics such as the Army, various duty stations, and the joys of traveling with kids. Clay and I talked about our brief time in London and just as they were gathering their belongings to catch their flight, we remembered the Oyster cards still in our wallets. We handed them over – happy the little money left would be used sooner rather than later and hopeful that we made one step of the stressful PCS-process just a little bit easier for them. I’m not going to lie – I was a little sad to pass my card along because it meant that I wouldn’t have a need for it in the near future.

I fell hard for London. And I know there will be a time in my life where I’ll permanently have an Oyster card in my wallet because I’ll be in the city enough to justify doing so. But until then, I’ll think back on our quick trip to London and marvel at the city that managed to beautifully combine old and new.

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When planning our trip, we decided to return our rental car in the heart of London, rather than Heathrow Airport, because we wanted to save ourselves time and hassle. The drive into London wasn’t horrible and the traffic wasn’t anything we haven’t experienced in downtown DC during rush hour. Next time, we won’t hesitate to utilize Heathrow as a jumping off point because we know understand just how easy it is to navigate around London and its suburbs. But at least now we can say that we’ve driven in downtown London and even paid the congestion charge of £11.50 for the privilege of doing so.

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Where we dropped off our rental car was about 2 miles from our hotel in Hyde Park. The kids really wanted to ride in a Hackney carriage (the quinessential London taxi) so we hopped in one and marveled at the city through the iconic rear windows on the way to our hotel.

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So let’s talk about our hotel. First – we couldn’t have asked for a better location. We were a short walk from Paddington Station, Hyde Park was around the corner, and there were plenty of restaurants and shops right outside the door. However – of the three places places we stayed this trip (Bourton-on-the-Water, London, and Paris), this was by far the worst accommodations on the trip. The room was small (understandable…it’s London!) but it was also not terribly clean nor was the furniture in good condition. It wasn’t bad enough for us to go through the hassle of changing hotels but we will not stay there again when we go back to London.

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After checking into the world’s tiniest family suite, we walked down to The Victoria for drinks and a late lunch (pictured are fried pickles). We ate in the library and thumbed through the London guide books available for reading and planned the reminder of our day. After lunch, we hopped on the Tube and down to Westminster.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around and enjoying the energy of London.

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River Thames and London Eye

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Much to Weston’s dismay, Big Ben is under restoration until 2021. We were disappointed but we all agreed that this just means we will have to book another family trip to London in 2021.

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Victoria Tower, Palace of Westminster

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We walked from Parliament Square to Buckingham Palace through St. James Park and stopped to let the kids play on a playground.

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We grabbed drinks and cookies (biscuits?) from one of the many concession stands throughout the park and then wandered around Buckingham Palace.

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By 7pm, we were ready for dinner so we hopped on a double-decker bus (on the same card system as the Tube) back to our hotel. We spent the next few hours wandering around the streets near our hotel and grabbing a bite to eat. All of the pubs were packed full of patrons watching the France/Belgium World Cup Semi-Final so we settled on an unremarkable restaurant that was just okay. By the time we returned to our room at 10pm, we were ready for bed because we knew we had a full scheduled the following day.

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The next morning, we went straight to Buckingham Palace to watch the infamous changing of the guards. Armed with Americanos and Pellegrinos from a food stand in St. James Park, we waited. And waited. And waited.

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Sadly, the iconic Red Coat regiment was on block leave (ironic – right?) so the changing of the guards didn’t pack the typical pizazz (sorry Royal Air Force). That being said, it was still quite the spectacle and a nice way to spend the morning.

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Afterwards, we hoped on the Tube and went to Regent Street for what the kids now refer to as the highlight of London – Hamleys Toy Store. Back when we took the kids on their inaugural trip to New York City, the flagship FAO Schwarz Toy Store on Fifth Avenue had closed its doors the year prior, which crushed me – there is just something so special about going to a giant toy store in a big city as a child. One of my favorite memories of my first time in New York City as a kid was experiencing FAO Schwarz – completely in awe of the seemingly endless floors of toys.

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Hamleys is the oldest and largest toy shop in the world. It was founded in 1760 and moved to its current location on Regent Street in 1881. We spent almost two hours exploring the shop and even managed to pick up a few small things to take home with us. We grabbed a bite to eat at a fantastic pub and then took the Tube down to Tooley Street.

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We walked along the River Thames, saw City Hall, grabbed coffee at Hay’s Galleria, saw HMS Belfast, and gazed at The Shard and The Gherkin.

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We continued along the river Thames toward the Tower Bridge.

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We walked across the Tower Bridge and then wandered around the outskirts of the Tower of London. Because we had done Berkeley Castle during our time in the Cotswolds, we chose not to go to the Tower of London this trip because our time was limited – next time!

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By the time that we made it back to the Hyde Park neighborhood, the World Cup semi-final between England and Croatia had begun so every single pub and restaurant looked like this one next door to our hotel.

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Because the television set was broken in our room (sigh) and the odds weren’t in our favor to actually grab a seat in a pub with two children in tow, we opted to walk around Hyde Park during the bulk of the match.

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Hyde Park is the largest of the four Royal Parks, established by Henry VIII in 1536.

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We walked by Kensington Palace – I had no idea that so many members of the royal family lived there. A quick Google search also verified that with enough money, commoners like us can live there too!

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We walked all around the grounds that surround the Palace. We fed swans, we had birds chase us, we visited the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, and we even found a little playground for the kids to enjoy (the Diana Memorial Playground had already closed by the time we came across it).

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We walked back toward our hotel and came across this fantastic little Italian bistro. We were hungry and wanting to watch the last of the match so we popped in…we are so glad that we did. We all agree that it was our best meal in London. The proprietors were warm and friendly, the food and wine was absolutely delicious, and we were able to watch Croatia win over England. It was almost 11pm by the time we got back to our hotel.

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The following morning, we packed up our bags, made our way to St. Pancras station, and boarded the Eurostar. Next stop – Paris!