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

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