Saturday, September 17, 2016

Our last day: A ruined hall, a grand palace, and airport hotels

Day 13: Minster Lovell, Blenheim, no Oxford, airport hotels

This was our last day to sightsee and we wanted to make it a good one.  We had one last great breakfast at the Lamb Inn, settled our bill (there was some confusion about meal charges so the nice manager gave us a 45GBP discount!), and headed out.

We really liked the Lamb Inn and would definitely stay there again.  However, there were some housekeeping issues that kept it from being the first class establishment the manager told us he aspired for it to be.  He seemed to appreciate our telling him about some issues we encountered (e.g., the daily housekeeping was really not up to par--they didn't clean the toilet in our room, or put away the comforter, things which even very inexpensive places did; and we were basically ignored in the main lobby when we ate there).  A couple of other guests who overheard us also nodded--they apparently had some of the same issues.  No "deal breakers," just things that can be corrected to take the place to the next level.

The Lamb Inn's main building 
Looking toward our room from the public garden
Our first stop was the nearby Minster Lovell.  It was lovingly described in our Rough Guide and I'd also found a great review by Eleanor ( online.  This turned out to be one of our favorite places and certainly the best sight we saw on our last day!

We parked down the lane and walked the gravel path back in time--so pretty!  St. Kelelm's church (1450!) was closed but made for gorgeous pictures.  We took our time wandering the Minster Lovell Hall ruins.  They were well signed, extremely interesting, beautifully situated, and a little eerie.  The Dovecote was closed.  We loved it!

St. Kelelm's Church

Before our trip, we had debated about going to Blenheim Palace: the reviews were mixed; we'd seen lots of palaces and chateaux in the last couple of trips; we probably wouldn't have time for it and Oxford.  At any rate, we decided to go but probably shouldn't have.

It was a dreary, chilly day--the worst weather, really, of our entire trip.  It was a long-ish drive; we got turned around a couple of times.  Finally we arrived and parked--the lot was already almost full.  We walked the long gravel path to the palace (I already missed green, living things at this point), paid our fee and went inside.  Blenheim is very, very big.  Not Chambord big, but certainly huge.  It didn't feel welcoming to me.  Maybe it was the weather and the crowds, after days of great weather and few people, and the ugly modern art displays, but I was not impressed.  We did the cheesy apartments tour first--told from the perspective of a housemaid.  Then back to the main entrance where we hoped to go on the apartments tour.

A lot of gravel everywhere

And lots of people
 The next tour was in 45 minutes so we made our way through the crowds to see the Churchill exhibit, which to me was the best part of the palace.  We've twice visited the War Rooms and Churchill Museum in London so this exhibition helped further contextualize his life.  It was very well done.

Afterwards, we walked through the State Rooms.  I have zero pictures of these rooms.  It wasn't because my iphone was dead--I just wasn't impressed.  But not because the rooms weren't beautiful--they were.  But they felt cold and lifeless, and the stupid modern art displays didn't help.  At least two rooms were filled with dirty laundry, argh.  The library at the end of the tour had multiple large panels with people's photos on them so you couldn't see the full room, argh.  The beautiful chapel had a large display of laundry falling from ceiling to floor at one end of the room, argh.  This artist really liked the dirty laundry theme, argh.

The library (modern art display cropped out)
The chapel
 We headed outside and were impressed by the formal gardens at the back of the palace.  The yellow car sunken in the pond didn't detract too much, thankfully.  We walked around the lawn, to another beautiful set of gardens which were closed for a private event, then back to the front to leave.

The yellow car in the pond didn't detract too much

This back garden was beautiful (and closed)

I'm sure many others enjoyed Blenheim on this day and might even have gone there for the modern art display.  I was not one of them.  It seriously detracted from my enjoyment of the palace.  I kind of resent these displays.  I may only have one opportunity to visit Blenheim, which had a pricey entrance fee, and I felt cheated by not being able to see the palace in its traditional display.  This was the second major sight ruined for me by "special exhibits" in England.  The other was Winchester Cathedral with the mostly hideous flower displays a couple of years ago. I don't think we've encountered these kind of detracting displays elsewhere.  Amboise Castle in France had gorgeous flowers and pottery on exhibit in the tradition of Francois I but they complemented the castle.  That was very unlike the displays at Blenheim and Winchester Cathedral.

It was still early but too late to go to Oxford (no time to do it any kind of justice) so we decided to visit St. Martin's Church in nearby Bladon for Churchill's actual grave.  It was kind of tricky to find and to park.  We paid our homage and wished there were more leaders like him.

We decided to have a late lunch in Woodstock--very crowded, very hard to find parking, and hard to find a place still serving food!  We ended up in a cute pub (can't remember the name) and enjoyed our lunch (risotto and a burger).

We then headed to London Heathrow; husband was looking forward to turning in the car: it had been a lot of driving on the other side of the road!  We dropped off our bags at our hotel, the London Heathrow Marriott, then returned the car without incident to Enterprise--a very pleasant rental experience altogether.  We caught the airport bus and walked down hotel row.

It was too early to retire and it was our last night in England, so we stopped at the Renaissance hotel. We chose it because it had a nice bar area, unlike our hotel.  We had drinks and a pizza and sat awhile revising our lovely vacation.  We really enjoy travelling in England.

A short walk later we were back at our the hotel for the night.

The next morning we enjoyed the complimentary breakfast, took uber to the airport, eased through security, and boarded our flight.  Just like that our vacation was truly over and we were back in the US.

1.  Check to see if there are any special exhibits at the sight you want to see because it might detract from your enjoyment.
2.  Enterprise was a very pleasant company to rent a car from at Heathrow.
3.  The London Heathrow Marriott is nice but doesn't have a good bar area.  We liked the Renaissance Hotel bar better.
4.  Uber from the airport hotel to terminal was 7GBP.  Much better than the Hoppa bus!
5.  Having to put chapstick, liquid makeup, all lotions in a little baggy for airport security is kind of annoying. At least you don't have to take off your shoes.

Thanks for reading!

Next:  Vienna and Prague for the Christmas Markets

Friday, September 16, 2016

More Cotswolds

Day 12: Chipping Campden, Broadway Tower, Snowshill Manor, Chastleton House's gardens.

Another good sleep and another good full English, and we were off for our last full day in the Cotswolds.  First stop was Chipping Campden which was relatively far away.

We arrived to unsettled weather with no real plan on how to visit this town.  It was bigger than the other towns we'd visited but, from the car as we searched for parking, very pretty.  We parked in a lot by the Church end of town and wandered up to the church.  Gorgeous!  But nature being what she is, we decided to tour the little museum nearby first, and use the facilities.  This was the Court Barn Museum which is about the Arts and Crafts Movement and C R Ashbee who was the leader of the Guild of Handicraft. The museum tells his story through displays on him and other locally important artists.  It was very worth the 5 GBP entrance fee.  The helpful receptionist gave us a walking tour brochure of Chipping Campden that included the Hart and Gold Silversmiths shop which has been in existence from the early 1900's and is the last remnant of the Guild of Handicraft. We saw some of their gorgeous pieces in the Court Barn museum.

We visited the lovely 15th century St. James' church, marveled at the Jacobean gateway (to nothing really now), and wandered over to the main street.

We both just fell in love with Chipping Campden.  It was still a bit overcast and drizzly but the stones were golden; the Market Hall (1627), evocative; the streets, quiet; and Hart and Gold Silversmiths, welcoming.  We wanted to buy something but nothing called us; most of their work is done by commission.

We walked most of the main street then decided on cream tea at the cute Badgers Hall.  I "go to tea" at a fancy hotel in New Orleans two/three times a year and the scones with clotted cream are my favorite.  Husband has never been to tea but, after partaking of the delicious scones and tea, understands why I love it.  The staff were very nice and the place is really cute.  It was a delightful break.

Outside again, the skies were clear, the sun was shinning, and Chipping Campden was even prettier.  We took our time wandering back to the car, taking lots of pictures along the way.  We said we'd like to stay in Chipping Campden on a future trip (and if we had the money, maybe for years).

Next up was Broadway Tower.  We drove up, parked along the road, walked over to it, took a few pictures, decided against climbing it, and left.  Our next stop was Charles Paget Wade Esq.'s collection at Snowshill Manor which was included in our National Trust pass. 

Snowshill Manor is reached by a long-ish walk (or quick golf cart ride) through lovely wild, untamed gardens.  The grounds are just beautiful.  The house itself is a lovely Cotswolds manor of the same golden stones we'd seen elsewhere.  But inside, wow!  Stuff, on top of stuff, on top of stuff.  Mr. Paget Wade was quite the hoarder (he'd easily qualify for the show!).  Much of his collection was fascinating.  It was very varied.  He just liked stuff, any kind of stuff.  Husband's favorite were the Samurai suits of armor.  He said these were more complete and numerous than he saw in Japan.  It was a really cool display.  We tried on the hat and mask and boy were they heavy.  The room guides were very nice and answered our questions.  I think one said there were 25,000 items on display.  Mr. Paget Wade was married.  He and his wife lived in the chapel and rectory across from the house.  Those too were chock full of stuff.

After looking at everything and taking all of the pictures we could, we wandered back to the parking lot.  Next up was Chastleton House (National Trust).  According to the Rough Guide guide, it was open until 5pm.  It was on my list because it has remained "virtually unchanged" for 400 years.  The guidebook didn't specify that the last admission was 1 hour before closing and we got there about 415.  No interior tour for us, sadly.  But we did spend some time wandering the lovely grounds.   Everything looked really pretty in the warm sunshine.

Back to Burford and the Lamb Inn for the night.  We packed up and then just hung out in comfortable lobby by the fire.  We chatted with some other guests for awhile then had dinner right there.  It was very good.  A lovely way to end our time in the Cotswolds.

1.  Chipping Campden.  Love!
2.  There's hoarding and then there's Snowshill Manor.  A very unique sight.
3.  Verify latest entry to the sight you're interested in.  Closing time and last entry can be quite far apart.

Next:  Our last day: Minster Lovell, Blenheim, no Oxford, airport hotels