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The UK: Days 7, 8 and 9

Posted Jun 16 2012 7:07pm

Hello friends! Sorry for the minor delay in update posts – we spent our time in Wales at a beautiful B&B, which means that we had some pretty spotty Wi-fi. But I was alright with that, because we also had spectacular views!

But let’s back up a bit. Thursday morning, our car picked us up from the Marriott in London at 7:15am (yikes) to transfer us to Heathrow – where we picked up our rental car (double yikes.) We also picked up my dear friend from high school, Taylor, who has been studying in Nottingham, England for the past year! She joined us on our weekend adventure.

After trying successfully to cram all of our luggage into the trunk, we headed off…on the wrong side of the road! It was quite the adventure. Dad was driving, Tay was up front navigating, and Mom and I were assisting from the backseat by reading signs and maps, looking for cars, reminding Dad to stay in the left lane, helping to decipher roundabouts, etc. It was an all-hands-on-deck experience to say the least!

Once we finally made it out of Heathrow (minor detours ensued - that is one large airport!!), we were off to Windsor, home of the Queen’s favorite residence. We even managed to arrive right in time for the Changing of the Guard!

Not nearly as spectacular as the Buckingham Palace show, but still cool. The town of Windsor was really cute and picturesque! We wandered about for a bit, and stopped in a few shops, and then popped in a pub for a quick lunch. Then it was off to the palace!

This was by far the largest palace that we toured – and the most secure. We had to go through metal detectors to get in! We picked up our audio guides, and headed into the grounds. The Union Jack flag was flying, so we know that the Queen was actually in residence! So cool.

The palace itself was spectacular. We saw a huge banquet hall that was being set up for the Order of the Garter ceremony next week, with a table that can seat 160 people. We also saw tons of royal artwork, rooms decorated in Renaissance and Baroque styles, and lots of spectacular views! I can see why this is the Queen’s favorite home, between the beautiful palace and the cute town.

We were originally planning to drive to Stonehenge, but we spent so much time in Windsor that we ended up heading straight to our B&B, the Llansantffraed Court. After we attempted to find our car. Dad swore he knew where it was - it was just really, really far away!

 Along the way, we crossed the border into Wales! When we arrived, it was like a scene straight from a movie – rolling countryside, old manor house, roaring fire in the bar when we came down for dinner – I loved it.

After unpacking a bit, we had a drink in the bar and then headed in for a three-course dinner. While I was sad to leave the hustle and bustle of London behind, this trip was definitely well worth it! Now I feel that we have seen both sides of British life.

Yesterday morning, we woke up to the sun shining! After a quick breakfast at our hotel, and a brief photoshoot of the grounds...

we headed off to see some castles. Wales is apparently called the land of castles, and we wanted to capitalize on that while the sun was out!

I took over as navigator - intensely studying one of our many maps!
We quickly learned that although it may be sunny, the weather changes rapidly. It went from sunny to rainy and back again about ten times during the course of the day! Our first castle stop was Raglan Castle, near our hotel. We navigated the few miles successfully, and headed out to explore the ruins!

They were magnificent, overlooking rolling Welsh countryside and standing imposingly up on a hill. I can definitely see why everyone wanted to live in castles back then – I’d love to live in one now! We explored for a bit, climbed in several nooks and crannies, hiked to the top of some towers, and then decided it was off to our next adventure.

Back to the car, back to a nerve-wracking drive – and I wasn’t even driving, just navigating! But after several miles along the Wye River, we arrived in the town of Tintern, home to a place that the poet William Wordsworth made famous – Tintern Abbey.

An Abbey is where monks lived, complete with a beautiful cathedral. Although this one is mainly ruins now, it is easy to see how it was magnificent in its day! We explored for a bit, then sought shelter in the nearby pub for lunch as the rain started coming down again.

From there, it was off to our last stop of the day – Chepstow Castle. This castle was set up on a cliff, overlooking the Wye River. It was the biggest ruin we had seen yet! Although it was huge and neat to see, I began to hit my castle threshold of the day – there are only so many ruins you can look at before they all start to run together.

 We actually got this photo opportunity after a wrong turn - happy accident!

After a few pictures, we headed back to the car to make the most harrowing journey yet. In hindsight, we should have gone straight home: we knew where we were going, and after a brief hopped curb and parking in/under a tree, we were golden…until we tried to visit the nearby town. We just wanted to see what was close to our B&B! Unfortunately, it was a pretty big – and confusing – town. The car was not amused.

Luckily, we eventually found our way back out and headed straight home. From there, we only ventured out again to have a quick bite to eat at a pub down the road. No more adventures off into neighboring metropolises!

This morning, we woke up and checked out of our B&B - a wedding was happening there, so we had to clear out!

We asked our hotel attendants what we should see in the area before leaving Wales, and they gave us about twenty different (confusing) suggestions. We stuck with the simplest plan, to take a drive through the nearby national park and then to see another castle in a nearby cute town.

Big step, planning a morning around a driving tour! Although we've given Dad a lot of grief over his driving, he has actually done a good job. We've only had one hopped curb, a few near misses with cars and retaining walls (tough to judge your distance on the other side of your car!) and a couple of drifts over into the right lane. But nothing fatal. We're all starting to get the hang of it!

 One of the extremely confusing signs
We had to stop a few times to take in the scenery...and to see the sheep. Not all of them were behind fences like this one!

Around lunchtime, we headed into the town of Crickhowell. After wandering the streets and popping in a few shops (my Welsh souvenir is a plaid wool blanket - very British!), we stopped in for a bite to eat. Dad finally got his Welsh rarebit, kind of like an open-faced grilled cheese! It was pretty tasty.

From there, we headed over to visit one last castle before leaving Wales - Tretower Court, which has been renovated on the interior to resemble what the manor home might actually have looked like hundreds of years ago. Taylor and I were having Madrigals flashbacks!

After a few minutes in the castle in the pouring rain, we were ready to be done with castles. They are beautiful and neat, but all start to run together after a bit! So we headed back across the bridge into England, towards Bristol - our final stop.

Making our way into Bristol was a bit hairy, but we did it with nary a wrong turn - I'd call that a serious accomplishment! Back to another Marriott with a concierge floor. Success. After a brief rest, we headed down for some (free) drinks and appetizers. Then we strolled around Bristol for a little bit, went in some shops, and saw John Wesley's chapel!

We closed out our night with a trip to see Rock of Ages at the movie theater. Loved all of the rock songs! We even smuggled in food for a light dinner. I felt right at home.

Tomorrow morning, we're exploring Bristol for awhile, then heading back into London. Sadly, it is almost time for Mom and Dad to head home and for Taylor and me to head back to Nottingham. Time for the next adventure to begin!
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