Sunday, May 30, 2010

Charming Cotswolds

My wife, Inna, wrote the following impressions of our trip to Cotswolds in England:
May 30, 2010
I’m writing this in Staddlestones B&B in Chipping Campden, Cotswolds. I can hardly put my thoughts, impressions and feelings into words as I write this as I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this place so much.  The Cotswolds is a quintessential English country side with beautiful rolling hills, splendid vistas and enchanting villages looking like they have just jumped from the post-card. Chipping Campden where we are staying is a quaint little town that is not too overrun by tourists and is a joy to explore. 
Staddlestones B&B is a pleasant 10 minutes walk from the center of the town. It is a beautiful house built from the Cotswold’s stone with a Thatched roof and Ivy - covered walls.

We arrived to Staddlestones after a 2-hour drive from Cambridge, which was a little stressful as this is our second day driving in England on the “wrong” side of the road. Roads are very different here with many roundabouts every few miles and it is hard to figure out which exit to take and which way to go! Thank God for the GPS. Without it we would be completely lost! But we finally made it and the drive was definitely worth it to experience the beauty of the Cotswolds.

The road to Cotswolds from Cambridge is really picturesque with many idyllic vistas to look at everywhere. Green rolling hills, fields of yellow flowers, fluffy white clouds in the blue sky, horses, cows and sheep munching on the grass. I had a chance to absorb all the beauty of the surroundings while my husband had to focus on driving the car. 
We got a Mercedes Estate, which is fun to drive but Boris is still not used to the dimensions of the car and driving on the right side. He tends to veer a little to the left, which is a bit scary but I’m sure in a few days he will improve. We found our B&B without any serious problems and luckily the owners were there to greet us even though the check-in time is between 4 and 6pm and we arrived at 11pm.

We were greeted by Stephen and Pauline and their dog Phoebe (ask tomorrow what breed Phoebe is). Sasha was delighted to meet Phoebe and play with her as we were shown to our beautiful “Garden Room”. It has a detached entrance and is located at the end of the picturesque garden on the second floor with an adorable little balcony. There are a little table and two chairs on the balcony and it overlooks a vast expanse of the fields and some kind of fairy tale looking tower in Chipping Campden (do not know what it is yet). Our room is actually consists of 2 rooms – the first room has a huge sofa bed which is fully prepared for Sasha with beautiful linens and pillows (he actually called it a king’s bed because of fancy decorations on the pillows). There is a flat screen TV with built-in DVD player. 

There is a big collection of movies to choose from in one of the drawers of the chest and there is plenty of space for Sasha’s clothes. There is a wide selection of biscuits, teas, coffees, creamers, electric kettle, teapot, sparkling glasses and cups for three people. There are little candies in the dish and beautiful red flowers (gvozdiki) in the vase. There is a comfortable chair to sit on. Room feels very cozy and cheerful. The first room is connected to the second by the hallway with two closets - plenty of space to hang our jackets and coats. On the other side is a sparkling clean modern bathroom with a nice shower, fluffy white towels and plenty of fancy soaps, shampoos, lotions and creams. Everything that I could possibly think of is there.

The second room has a beautiful king size bed with luxury linens, two night tables with lamps, modern desk, chest and two mirrors. The window overlooks the Chipping Campden and I can see other beautiful cottages from it. All furniture is made of light-colored wood like maple. It is nicely decorated with beautiful red drapes, matching bed cover, floor vase with a pretty Ikebana and a bright picture with various veggies and fruits on the wall. Small touches like a basket containing instant shoe shine pad, lint roller, sewing kit, nail file are everywhere. Fresh flowers, candy, bottled water in the room, soft, fluffy bathrobes for him and her (black and white)   – the list goes on and on. Attention to details in this wonderful B&B is incredible! I realize that I’m describing it in too much details but I’ve never stayed in the B&B before, although I did stay in some pretty nice hotels like Fairmont, Hilton, Pan Pacific this place is truly special in my opinion. Big thumbs up for the owners! 
We spoke with Stephen (the owner) and he told us that he built the house from scratch himself 5 years ago. He is a builder and owns a construction company. So, even though the house looks like the rest of Cotswolds it is very new. I love warm yellow color of the Cotswolds stone and thatched roofs of the houses, adorable gardens and the light breezes. We are so lucky to be in Cotswolds on such a nice sunny spring day. Sasha and Phoebe the dog really took liking to each other. Phoebe follows Sasha around, she loves to catch little rocks that he throws and chews them before spitting and asking for more! Sasha loves playing with Phoebe. 
We walked to Chipping Campden and had lunch at the King’s hotel – chicken Cesar salad for Boris, Eggs Benedict for me and cheesy tube pasta with magic green beans for Sasha. He loved green beans and ate them all! We had English breakfast tea and apple tart with vanilla ice cream for desert. After lunch we got into our car and decided to explore Hidcote Manore Gardenswhich are located nearby. 
The roads are really narrow here and still hard to navigate for Boris but we got there in 15 minutes and bought a family ticket for 23 pounds. We had 2 hours to explore the gardens and thought that gives us plenty of time. Not quite so! The gardens are simply amazing and I would love to linger and stay there all day long. They are designed as multiple outdoor spaces, almost like outdoor rooms – each has its own name and theme: Old garden, Red Borders, Kitchen Garden, Beech alley, Rose walk, etc. We took incredible number of photos – will see how they will come out. 
Noel Arms Hotel (dinner) 
May 31, 2010
Our second day in Cotswolds was just as amazing as the first one

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Kew Gardens, England

Today, we decided to visit Kew Gardens (also known as the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew).

We took the London Underground's District-Richmond branch (exit Kew Garden Station is 1200 feet away from the Victoria Gate entrance to Kew Gardens).

There was a nice Children's Playground, where Alex played a bit.

Afterwards, we explored the actual gardens.

We decided to explore some of the Greenhouses where cacti were planted.

We saw a great number of beautiful butterflies.

A butterfly landed on me.

At one end of Kew Gardens in a large, multistory Pagoda.

The Pagoda was completed in 1762. The ten-story octagonal structure is 163 ft high (nearly 50 m). 
The Pagoda tapers, with successive floors from the first to the topmost being 1 ft less (30 cm) in diameter and height than the preceding one. The original building was very colorful; the roofs being covered with varnished iron plates, with a dragon on each corner. There were 80 dragons in all each carved from wood and gilded with real gold.
There have been several restorations, mainly to the roofs, but the original colors and the dragons have not been replaced though the question of replica dragons was discussed in 1979.

We had a wonderful time at Kew Gardens and hope to come back again!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

London, England

Today begins our first leg of our 3-week European trip, with multiple stops in England and France. We have been planning this trip a long time and developed a detailed and a bit complex and overly ambitious itinerary.

In England, we planned to visit the following cities:
  • London (with side trips to Kew Gardens, Leeds Castle, Windsor Castle)
  • Cambridge 
  • Cotswolds (Chipping Campden, Bourton-on-the-Water)
  • Bath (with stops in Stourhead Gardens)
  • Portsmouth
From Portsmouth, we would take a ferry to Honfleur, France where we would continue our journey with stops in the following cities:
  • Honfleur
  • Giverny
  • Mont-Sainte-Michel
  • Chenonceau
  • Chambord
  • Lyons
  • Cannes
  • Nice
Since we visited Paris the previous year, we decided to bypass it altogether. From Nice, we would fly back to London and take the transatlantic flight back to San Francisco.

On Saturday, May 22, 2010, we departed from San Francisco aboard Virgin Airlines VS020 direct flight to London's Heathrow Airport, landing in London at 11:05am local time the next day. The flight was long and tedious but we managed it without complications.

May 23, 2010

After getting out bags and passing through customs, we took a taxi to our hotel - Premier Inn - located in downtown London on Belvedere Road.

We checked in our small room, dropped off our bags, and decided to walk around. This location is perfect - right in the heart of London - with the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey nearby.

Right next to us, was the London Eye (Giant Ferris Wheel). We decided to get some lunch first at the nearby Italian Restaurant - Cucina - and then ride the London Eye.

Alex had a delicious pizza and Inna had some pizza and fries. The food was served quickly and was of reasonable quality.

After finishing lunch, we headed for the London Eye. The line to get tickets was not too long and we were quickly whisked away to the top.

According to Wikipedia:
The London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel situated on the banks of the River Thames in LondonEngland. The entire structure is 135 metres (443 ft) tall and the wheel has a diameter of 120 metres (394 ft).
It is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe, and the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, visited by over 3.5 million people annually.[5] When erected in 1999 it was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world, until surpassed first by the 160 m (520 ft) Star of Nanchang in 2006 and then the 165 m (541 ft) Singapore Flyer in 2008. Supported by an A-frame on one side only, unlike the taller Nanchang and Singapore wheels, the Eye is described by its operators as "the world's tallest cantilevered observation wheel".[6] It offered the highest public viewing point in the city[citation needed] until it was superseded by the 245-metre (804 ft)[7] observation deck on the 72nd floor of The Shard, which opened to the public on 1 February 2013.[8]

The view of London from the top of London Eye is spectacular and we enjoyed seeing London on a warm, spring day.

After the ride, we decided to cool off by eating some ice cream (as it was unusually hot) in the park by the London Eye.

Nearby, we had a nice view of the nearby London Aquarium, but we did not go in.

The London Eye looks quite big close-up.

As it was warm out, we decided to take the river cruise along the River Thames. We saw a great many beautiful, famous London landmarks, including St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Globe Theater, Golden Hinde Replica, HMS Belfast, Tower of London, and many others. The following photos and Wikipedia articles illustrate these landmarks:

St Paul's Cathedral, London, is a Church of England cathedral and seat of the Bishop of London. Its dedication to Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604.[2] St Paul's sits at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London, and is the mother church of the Diocese of London. The present church dating from the late 17th century was built to an English Baroque design of Sir Christopher Wren, as part of a major rebuilding program which took place in the city after the Great Fire of London, and was completed within his lifetime.[3]
The cathedral is one of the most famous and most recognisable sights of London, with its dome, framed by the spires of Wren's City churches, dominating the skyline for 300 years.[4] At 365 feet (111 m) high, it was the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1962, and its dome is also among the highest in the world. In terms of area, St Paul's is the second largest church building in the United Kingdom after Liverpool Cathedral.

The Globe Theatre was a theatre in London associated with William Shakespeare. It was built in 1599 by Shakespeare's playing company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, and was destroyed by fire on 29 June 1613.[4] A second Globe Theatre was built on the same site by June 1614 and closed in 1642.[5]A modern reconstruction of the Globe, named "Shakespeare's Globe", opened in 1997 approximately 750 feet (230 m) from the site of the original theatre.[6] 

The Golden Hind or Hinde was an English galleon best known for its circumnavigation of the globe between 1577 and 1580, captained by Sir Francis Drake. She was originally known as the Pelican, but was renamed by Drake mid-voyage in 1578, as he prepared to enter the Strait of Magellan, calling it the Golden Hind to compliment his patron, Sir Christopher Hatton, whose armorial crest was a golden 'hind' (a female deer). Hatton was one of the principal sponsors of Drake's world voyage.

HMS Belfast is a museum ship, originally a Royal Navy light cruiser, permanently moored in London on the River Thames and operated by the Imperial War Museum.
Construction of Belfast, the first Royal Navy ship to be named after the capital city of Northern Ireland and one of ten Town-class cruisers, began in December 1936. She was launched on St Patrick's Day, 17 March 1938. Commissioned in early August 1939 shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War,Belfast was initially part of the British naval blockade against Germany. In November 1939 Belfast struck a German mine and spent more than two years undergoing extensive repairs. Returning to action in November 1942 with improved firepower, radar equipment and armour, Belfast was the largest and arguably most powerful cruiser in the Royal Navy at the time. Belfast saw action escorting Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union during 1943, and in December 1943 played an important role in the Battle of North Cape, assisting in the destruction of the German warship Scharnhorst. In June 1944 Belfast took part in Operation Overlord supporting the Normandy landings. In June 1945 Belfast was redeployed to the Far East to join the British Pacific Fleet, arriving shortly before the end of the Second World War. Belfast saw further combat action in 1950–52 during the Korean War and underwent an extensive modernisation between 1956 and 1959. A number of further overseas commissions followed before Belfast entered reserve in 1963.

Tower Bridge (built 1886–1894) is a combined bascule and suspension bridge in London, over the River Thames. It is close to the Tower of London, from which it takes its name. Contrary to popular belief, the song "London Bridge is Falling Down" has nothing to do with Tower Bridge. They are completely different bridges.[1] It has become an iconic symbol of London.
The bridge consists of two towers tied together at the upper level by means of two horizontal walkways, designed to withstand the horizontal forces exerted by the suspended sections of the bridge on the landward sides of the towers. The vertical component of the forces in the suspended sections and the vertical reactions of the two walkways are carried by the two robust towers. The bascule pivots and operating machinery are housed in the base of each tower. The bridge's present colour scheme dates from 1977, when it was painted red, white and blue for the Queen Elizabeth II's silver jubilee. Originally it was painted a mid greenish-blue colour.[2] 

Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England, United Kingdom. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the square mile of the City of London by the open space known as Tower Hill. It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite. The castle was used as a prison since at least 1100, although that was not its primary purpose. A grand palace early in its history, it served as a royal residence. As a whole, the Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. There were several phases of expansion, mainly under Kings Richard the LionheartHenry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries. The general layout established by the late 13th century remains despite later activity on the site.
The Tower of London has played a prominent role in English history. It was besieged several times and controlling it has been important to controlling the country. The Tower has served variously as an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of theCrown Jewels of the United Kingdom. From the early 14th century until the reign of Charles II, a procession would be led from the Tower to Westminster Abbey on the coronation of a monarch. In the absence of the monarch, the Constable of the Tower is in charge of the castle. This was a powerful and trusted position in the medieval period. In the late 15th century the castle was the prison of the Princes in the Tower. Under the Tudors, the Tower became used less as a royal residence, and despite attempts to refortify and repair the castle its defences lagged behind developments to deal with artillery.

The boat tour turned around and we were back near the London Eye. Big Ben and the House of Parliament can been seen nearby and I took a few photos:

Big Ben is the nickname for the great bell of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London,[1] and often extended to refer to the clock and the clock tower,[2] officially named the Elizabeth Tower, as well. Elizabeth Tower holds the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world and is the third-tallest free-standing clock tower.[3] It celebrated its 150th anniversary on 31 May 2009,[4] during which celebratory events took place.[5][6] The tower was completed in 1858 and has become one of the most prominent symbols of both London and England, often in the establishing shot of films set in the city.

May 24, 2010

In the morning, we decided to explore Kensington Gardens, one of London's 8 royal parks. We enjoyed a wonderful stroll through the park and enjoyed the many fountains, ponds, and gardens.

At the far end of Kensington Gardens in the Albert Memorial.

Nearby, across the street, is the Royal Albert Hall, where many music concerts take place.

There were a bunch of rollerbladers doing tricks and jumps.

We turned back and headed back into Kensington Gardens.

After Kensington Gardens, Inna decided to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum while Alex and I explored London's Science Museum.

Inna really loved the Victoria and Albert Museum and would have liked to have spent more time there. I only got a few glimpses of various statues and liked most of what I saw.

London's Science Museum was fantastic as well. I didn't realize how vast it is and how many useful objects (trains, airplanes, cars, clocks, computers) it contains.

May 27, 2010

After visiting the Science Museum, Inna and I met up in the Victoria and Albert Museum and decided to check out Harrod's Department Store. Harrod's is an upscale department store, similar to Neiman Marcus in the US.

While there, we had lunch in one of the many shops there and I forgot my camera there. After Harrod's we stopped by at a nearby restaurant, when I realized that it was missing. I went back to Harrod's and was thankfully able to recover it. It was still there at the bench where I sat! I did not want to lose the camera or all of the wonderful photos.

We had our dinner at Da Scalzo Bakery, near Harrod's,

After dinner, we returned to our hotel and walked around night time London. Big Ben was well lit and all of London looks wonderful at night.

May 28, 2010

In the morning, we decided to visit Westminster Abbey. We went inside the Abbey, but were not allowed to take pictures. It is really beautiful inside and all the most prominent scientists and kings are buried here. I believe that the remains of Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and many others are here.
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of WestminsterLondon, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English, later British and later still (and currently) monarchs of the Commonwealth realms. The abbey is a Royal Peculiar and briefly held the status of a cathedral from 1540 to 1550.

After exploring and learning more about Westminster Abbey, we decided to head to Hampstead Heath Park, located in the Northwest part of London.
Hampstead Heath is a large, ancient London park, covering 320 hectares. This grassy public space sits astride a sandy ridge, one of the highest points in London, running from Hampstead to Highgate, which rests on a band of London Clay. 
By the time we got to Hampstead Heath, it was already lunch time, so we decided to try a nearby restaurant. We had wonderful sandwiches and the best scones we have ever had, with out afternoon English breakfast tea.

Hampstead Heath had some nice children's playgrounds and Alex decided to try out all the interesting obstacles (that he had not seen in the U.S.)

We explored the large park a bit more.

Alex decided to try climbing a few trees.

As we exited Hampstead Heath Park, we found ourselves in a charming neighborhood with beautiful houses.

As it was a bit early for dinner, we explored the various shops in Hampstead Heath. Inna made dinner reservations in Villa Bianca at 7:00pm, so we went to eat there. Villa Bianca had wonderful food and the setting was very nice. Most Londoners eat much later than 7:00 pm, as we were the first people in the door.

As this was our last day in London (we would be heading to Cambridge the next day), we stayed out late, exploring night time London.