One of the first things I did when we decided on dates for Europe, was start messaging all my friends and family who live there. Staying with people you know in other countries and cities has countless benefits: you get to catch up with someone you likely haven’t seen in a long time, you are shown a different side of the area, you can get away from just the touristy spots, you can often drive around (without having to weigh the pros and cons of a rental car), you get a glimpse as to how people in that area live and, in my opinion, it improves the overall experience. Oh, and free accommodation doesn’t hurt the budget…
As stated in the last post, I had relatives we visited in Iceland and we had a fantastic time – visiting relatives from the other side of my family, in England, was no exception. My second cousin, Brandi, moved to Worcester, England after marrying her husband, Andy Jones, who is from there. Since the last time I visited them – just over two years ago – they’ve had three kids: Amelie (2 years), Violet (11 weeks) and Clementine (11 weeks)! Even with three young kids, a new dog and a new house they welcomed us into their home for four nights and even toured around with us most days.
Bristol International Balloon Fiesta
The weekend we were in town happened to coincide with the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta – one of the largest hot air balloon festivals in the world with over 100 balloons launching each morning and evening throughout the weekend. The seven of us piled into the car for the drive from Worcester to Bristol where we listened to radio podcasts (Mystery Hour with James O’Brien). Something we had never done before but we thoroughly enjoyed it and have to admit we have downloaded quite a few more for upcoming train and bus rides.
The festival had a central area where the balloons staged, a small fair with rides and plenty of food and beer carts set up. The falafels we had were delicious (and would prove to be a staple food item during our time in England for whatever reason). The beer on the other hand was very light and watered down. It turned out liquor in the UK is regulated and taxed differently therefore, resulted in lower alcohol contents. The cider on tap was a proper cider though and not like the super sweet and sugar filled ones back home.
Saturday we opted to take the train to Oxford. We looked into going en route to London but it actually turned out to be more expensive then booking the trips separately (and we didn’t have to worry about luggage). Oxford is, of course, one of the few British towns besides London that everyone has heard of. Famous for its world-class university and all those who went there, we decided to do a free walking tour to learn some of the cities interesting history. We were shocked when we arrived and the city was so incredibly packed with tourists it was difficult to even walk down the street. When we started our walking tour about 40 people joined our group and we attempted to walk together crossing paths with other tour groups similar (or larger) in size. Needless to say, it didn’t work that easily and about half way through the tour we slipped off and went about on our own. It was a shame we didn’t get to hear about the rest of the town (we learned quite a bit in the first half) but the amount of tourists in the town made it hard to enjoy.
Probably one of the more interesting topics our tour guide discussed was J.R.R. Tolkien’s time at Oxford which served as the base for most of his ideas that became the novels (and movies) we know today as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. To make a very long story short, he never intended to write the novels we know today – he came up with the Elvin world and language and created a completely fictional world outside of our own. He could fluently read and write in the language he created, which was intended to be both intellectually perfect and visually appealing; but he was alone in that which he recognized defeated the purpose of a language. He was embarrassed of what he had created and never intended on writing novels. His friends eventually convinced him to publish what he had written into a series of novels and subsequently completely changed the way our entire generation view elves – although Tolkien was never privy to how influential and widespread his writing became. Pre-Tolkien, elves were strange short green creatures with large pointy ears that helped Santa Clause; whereas post-Tolkien, elves are thought of as mystical and beautiful, tall and graceful, the perfection humans can never attain.
*You might notice the tag line on our blog is a Tolkien quote: “Not all those who wander are lost”
Sunday afternoon we loaded the family in the car (with all three car seats) and drove to Bourton-on-the-Water/Costwold. We spent the afternoon wandering the quaint British town and had lunch – fish and chips, of course – at one of the local restaurants. Another lovely town and again completely overrun with tourists. I mean, we expected Europe in July/August to be busy but we didn’t expect it would be this busy. After an afternoon enjoying the town we headed back to Worcester for the evening.
Andy and Brandi took a couple hours during our last evening to tour us around the town of Worcester (yes, this is where Worcester sauce comes from and where Lea & Perrins still has their factory). One of the main highlights is the beautiful church in the town’s centre which is free to enter. Beyond that we walked through the town itself by countless heritage buildings (which were all leaning in every direction) and by the river which floods every year.
We learned that every swan in the UK is property of the Queen and it is therefore forbidden to harm or capture them. I suppose it isn’t forbidden to throw bread in the water to attract them – which is precisely what a group of tourists along the boardwalk were doing.
Probably the best re-purposed idea I have seen in quite some time:
For more photos check out our Flickr account which has all our photos organized by city: