Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Honey, I'm home!"

I drug my sorry jet-lagged self back into my own bed last night after a wonderful few weeks abroad.  I think of that old classic song "They can't take that away from me"  when  pondering why I love to see the world. I drive a 15 year old car.  Dress from consignment shops and don't give a hoot for precious jewelry but can I tell you the memories I have from visiting foreign places?
I've learned a trick or two about putting together a successful trip. 
1.  Choose your travel partners carefully.  Flexibility, kindness to strangers, a sense of adventure, and independence are big on my list.  Not everyone likes to do the same things so why should anyone be hindered from fulfilling their wish list by another partner's wishes?  Divide and concur I say.
One of my values for travelling is collecting new friends so having a travel mate who is outgoing and friendly is a must for me.  The new relationships formed while away from home make me feel connected and secure.
Different sleep times or energy levels?  No problem - we can all meet up for lunch.
2. www.Tripadvisor.com is a must for me. I research (one of my favorite parts to a trip) and review the travelers reviews like a sleuth.  Also I Google questions I have about desirable neighborhoods versus neighborhoods that could be akin to Bonfire of the Vanities.
3.  www.hotwire.com is a great way to get a deal on a great hotel.  You can search by hotel ratings ( I never stay at anything under four stars) neighborhood, customer reviews (I never stay at anything under 88% excellent ratings (taking into account the grump factor that some people are critical of everything).  I've stayed at The W Hotel in New York,   a fabulous hotel in Barcelona with a roof top pool all to ourselves and many more all at way less than the published price.
4.  Tip the little people.  Each day I leave a $5.00 bill on our bed with a personal note to the maid.  We've received hugs, loads of toiletries, and even a vase of flowers from her garden in gratitude for this simple gesture.  Want to help the working poor?  No one cleans rooms for the satisfaction of the job.  Skip the middle man (Salvation Army etc.) tip the maid daily.
5.  Hand the flight attendants a small box of good chocolates when you get on the plane.  They are so programmed for complaints that this will surprise them with delight.  I've been offered so many complimentary drinks I lost count.  Too bad I don't drink and fly because, I fear that if we hit bad turbulence I would make my way to the cockpit and ever so gingerly knock on the door and holler "Let's get this baby up higher -- you hear?!"  Next scene -- me on the evening news.
Give your magazines to the flight attendants after you are through.  They love them for the layovers.
6. If you don't already belong to a hotel chain's reward program sign up when you check in at the front desk.  Your perks will begin at once (free wi-fi, bottled water and such).  Often they will upgrade your room on the spot because I believe that the front desk person has incentives from the chain if they sign you up.
I'm sure I've forgotten some more tips but you get the idea.
Make yourself stand out in a good way.  Make friends while you are making memories.
Now, It's 1:00 am where I just came from so "Good Night sweetheart, Good night."

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Punting on the River Isis

A trip to Oxford means punting.  It reminds me of the gondolas of Venice but much less formal and less expensive.
A punt is flat bottomed boat propelled by pushing a long pole against the river bottom. Punting requires a bit of skill and practice. However the absence of either does not stop many young students from trying this quintessential Oxford river activity. We hired a driver.  Punting from Magdalen Bridge took us past St Hilda's college, Botanic Garden, Christ Church Meadow and finally to River Isis (River Thames in Oxford). It is quiet due to the one-man power speed but it can get a little crowded around the departure and return area.  The amateurs partake in some bumper boating.  
Won't you come along and drift with us?

This is some serious fun.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Saying Good-Bye

We are moving today from our flat in Oxford to London in preparation of our flights home tomorrow.  We're gonna miss our temporary home in Oxford.
How will we miss it?  Let me count the ways....

We'll miss the different ways the Brits say things.  These are saying "Tires and Mufflers".
We'll miss the street musicians.
Our pretty, patterned toilet paper that is even scented.  Oh, yeah we'll miss Marks and Spencer too.
Lewis Carroll references all over the town.
Students celebrating their last final exam.

Lovely ethnic restaurants like "Shanghai 30"
Canal boats parked outside our patio.
Competitive flower beds along the paths.
The charm of local pubs.  Oh, and the grub too.
Last night our wonderful landlords invited us to join them for dinner at one of their favorite spots.
"We may be in a rush" we explained "We'll be throwing our underwear at our suitcases in preparation of leaving on Saturday."They said "Just come as you are.  It will be fun."
So this is how we greeted them at their doorway.
We'll miss the zany vacation mode.  (I had to do quite a bit of persuading to get my CPA girlfriend to indulge me in this effort.  Diane -- not so much)
For coming along with us.  It has been one for the record books.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Mansions and Motown From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

As our days wind down to the end of our trip we are crossing off the last of our "to do " list.  This Included a trip to Blenheim Castle the home of Winston Churchill.  
We grabbed a private hire taxi and got a tour of the country side as he got turned around and an eight mile trip turned into an hour's drive.  Nothing is wasted when we're in travel mode.  Wish we had this adventurous spirit in our daily lives.
Blenheim is in the village of Woodstock.  Charming and full of quaint Inns and antique shops.  PJ  I am happy to report that I did not purchase a single antique that will show up on our door step.Breathe - breathe.
This is one grand castle.  I guess I hadn't realized that Churchill had grown up so privileged.  It is impressive that he developed such high character out of very grand lifestyle.  Forget the war -- it is a miracle he survived not being lost forever in the halls of this castle when he was a little boy!
Over the imposing entry door is a painting of a brown eye and a blue eye.  They represent to eyes of the original owners.  The first duke of Marlborough and his wife.  The house was a gift worth $250,000.00 pounds after his successful war campaigns for England.  Needless to say the country was very beholdin'.
The gardens are Italian and the day was a pristine spring day.
We had lunch outside by the fountains...
Then rode the little train out to the "Pleasure Gardens".
We love the way the Brits say things on signage.  Frankly it has been years since I "Alighted".  If it said "Do not hurl"  -- I might have taken it more personally.
There is a butterfly house where we could practically touch the fellows used to company.

This lake was dug and filled to give the estate presence.  It's working for me.  It's amazing what you can do with a few (quite a few) million dollars.
We rode the bus back to Oxford and threw on our party clothes. Then we went to see -- are you ready for this?  The Drifters!  They were performing at the New Oxford Theater.  I have discovered that the young Brits love the old Motown music.  We heard it played in several hip pubs in London.  
We walked in the front door and I had a revelation -- Everyone in the audience looked like me.  
I commented about this to the darling young ticket taker and he replied "Oh, no there are some YOUNG people here too."  That was supposed to make me feel better?
Great night -- wonderful music.  All of the old original guys are either dead or eating applesauce in the home but the new guys are great.
Today is "start getting a plan for jamming all of our stuff back in our suitcases" day.  Tomorrow we train back into London for our last night before flying home.  What a gift this trip has been!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Living in Downton Abby

 Today we were welcomed to Highclere Castle (Downton Abby) by none other than Lady Carnarvon herself!  Thanks to a hot tip from Kath and Ed in London we were able to secure the elusive passes and take a tour of the castle and grounds in a small group of 50 people.  It was more than we could have ever imagined.
We arrived on a glorious morning and this was the sight as we walked up the drive to the front door.
We felt pretty special after being let in through this gate
They did not allow photos in the house and I'm glad.  It kept us in the moment and from looking at the interior through a camera lens.
Come stroll around the grounds with me?


Here is some of the scoop we learned from The Countess - 
Filming for season IV will begin in July.
There is a mock up studio in London.
Maggie Smith doesn't "do" rainy dashes.  She is escorted from her dressing room outside the castle to the castle  in a car.
They are filming a Christmas Special.
Not certain yet if there will be a season V or a movie.
The Countess who penned a NY Times bestseller titled "Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abby" is writing a second book that will follow Almina's life until her death.
Spoiler alert -- She went bankrupt because she just wasn't a money person and spent lavishly as the judge in her bankruptcy court said -- being a fairy Godmother making other's wishes come true.
Her son gave her the money to bail her out but she had a lavish party instead.  Maybe I'm just the princess of fun?
The desk that Napoleon used when he was banished to Spain in his final years is in their reading room.  The desk and chair are short and wide because evidently he was too.
So much to discuss.
I guess they really put marking tape on those carpet?
When the castle was in dire need of repair after a recent Count died, his son was shown many valuable artifacts from King Tut's tomb hidden in  secret shelves that fit into the moldings around the interior doors.  
So long for now.  Tomorrow Blenheim - Churchill's palace in Woodstock.  Guess I better get my peace symbol tee shirt out.  Oh, yeah -- not that Woodstock.