The Train’s Final Stop: Monsal Head


The Monsal Head Hotel overlooks the Monsal Dale and the Monsal Dale Viaduct. In England, the valleys between the many hills are refered to as dales. Our hotel was perfectly placed at the very top of the hill with a view of the picturesque dale below. I couldn’t imagine a better place to end our UK roadtrip. Continue reading “The Train’s Final Stop: Monsal Head”

When Old Luxury Hotels Fall Apart


Our new friends Martin and Andy had strongly recommended that we finish out our roadtrip with a visit to the Monsal Head Hotel. They had both been there numerous times and told us in glorious detail about the amazing view, lovely walks, and wonderful accommodations. We were sold. Unfortunately, there was an international horserace going on that weekend (we were in Derbyshire, after all) and everywhere was booked solid. We could book two nights, but not the long relaxing three-nights stay we were hoping for. We went online and found the best-looking hotel nearby to fill the gap — The Palace Hotel in Buxton. Continue reading “When Old Luxury Hotels Fall Apart”

Nottingham: Home of Robin Hood and Our New Favorite Pub


The drive to Nottingham from Blenheim Palace was at least an hour longer than it should have been. Traffic was terrible. There was construction and back-to-back cars on the motorway. Not the most romantic part of the road trip. Brandon’s back was getting sore from sitting in our tiny rental car and his left ankle was getting stiff from pressing down the clutch.

When we finally pulled into Nottingham our first impression was not good. This place was pretty grungy. No offense to my Portland friends, but this place was like the Portland of England. Dirtier than we expected but also much bigger. This was actually a good-sized city, not a village like the places we had been staying previously.

Our hotel wasn’t all that romantic either. It was a very basic but modern chain called Roomzzzz. Seriously? Of all the ideas that must have up during that corporate meeting and “Roomzzz” was the winner?

But the whole place would quickly grow on us.  Continue reading “Nottingham: Home of Robin Hood and Our New Favorite Pub”

Touring Blenheim Palace: Birthplace of Winston Churchill


Our next stop is technically the town of Nottingham, but the pit stop we made along the way was so grandiose that I feel it deserving of its own post. Blenheim Palace, a “country house” just outside the village of Woodstock is one of England’s largest homes and the only home in the country to be given the title of “Palace” without a connection to the crown or the church. It is also the birthplace of Winston Churchill and where he spent quite a bit of time as a child.  Continue reading “Touring Blenheim Palace: Birthplace of Winston Churchill”

UK Road Trip Part IV: Look Mom, I got into Oxford!


Oxford University and the historic town of Oxford were only about 40 minutes down the road from Buckland Manor. Like most university towns, parking was a bit of an issue. We eventually found a spot on “The Broad” — what locals call the main street through town. The location was perfectly central but the meter would only let us pay for one hour at a time, meaning that Brandon was constantly running back to pump coins into the meter. To make it even more complicated, the meters had not been updated to take the new 1 pound coins so we were running all over campus trying to exchange 1 pound coins for 50 pence pieces. This was only a problem because everyone else was doing the same thing and many places were out of change!

I mostly wanted to visit Oxford for the history. According to the university website, Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world. “There is no clear date of foundation, but teaching existed at Oxford in some form in 1096 and developed rapidly from 1167, when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris.” It’s hard to even fathom the impact this one university has had on the intellectual development of the world. So many brilliant minds have studied here, including one of my favorite authors, J.R.R. Tolkien. However, I must admit that my visit was also somewhat Harry Potter related (are you even surprised?). Many buildings in the University served as either inspiration for parts of Hogwarts or as actual filming locations.  Continue reading “UK Road Trip Part IV: Look Mom, I got into Oxford!”

UK Road Trip Part II: Seven Sisters and the Roman Baths


Following the directions we got from Mr. Martin at Jeake’s House, we drove south from Rye, towards the coast and then along the shoreline through some charming coastal towns. They all appeared ready for summer with beach toys and umbrellas on display, despite the fact that it was already mid-May and we were still wearing scarves and jackets.

Based on Mr. Martin’s suggestion we stopped at Beachy Head to see the Seven Sisters, a series of sheer white limestone cliffs with a drop so sudden it made me dizzy. He called this the suicide capital of England. He told us the pay phone here is free but only dials the National Suicide Hotline. He chuckled with a dark sense of humor as he told us this.


From the carpark you can’t really tell that you are walking towards a sheer cliff. To me, it just looked like a hill. I assumed the cliffs were on the other side. I started walking up the “hill” at a rather fast pace (I was excited) and Brandon kept telling me to slow down. Apparently I was about to walk right over the edge! Continue reading “UK Road Trip Part II: Seven Sisters and the Roman Baths”

The Road Trip Begins: Rye, England


While we thoroughly enjoyed our time in London, we were also looking forward to getting out of the city. And today is the first day of our 12 day road trip around the UK! We have lots of exciting stops planned, as well as time to simply see where the road takes us.

Step one was to find our way back to the airport and rent a car. We decided to rent from the airport based on the advice of a guy named David who works at the Burberry perfume counter at Harrods. While sampling perfumes we got to chatting and learned that he was planning his own road trip adventure in the states! He and his fiancé are renting a Hummer conversion camper and spending three weeks out west for their honeymoon. So basically, we had lots to chat about!

The reason to rent from the airport is that Heathrow Airport is outside of the city making it a lot easier to navigate your way out-of-town. He said that starting from inside the city would be confusing. I’m glad we took his advice, navigating our way out of the airport was confusing enough!

For future reference, we should have booked our rental car online in advance. This would have saved us a couple hundred bucks. Ouch! But you live and learn. We waited to rent the car because we weren’t sure where we should choose as the pick-up point due to our lack of knowledge of the area.

We ended up renting a compact hatchback Vauxhall. It was a manual right-side drive, which meant Brandon had to get used to shifting on the left. At least the pedals weren’t switched too! It took some time to learn the car. The gear box was much smaller than on our manual Jeep. Brandon kept accidentally taking off in third instead of first. But once he worked out this tiny issue, he did great.

Funny thing about renting a car in the UK — they seem very unconcerned with damage to the car. They kept saying, “If something gets damaged, let us know, but don’t worry, you already paid for it!”. Full-coverage insurance was the only option. It’s as if they know foreign drivers on narrow streets (on the wrong side of the road) are bound to hit something so they just factor it into the cost of the rental. We nearly curbed the left tire before we even left the airport!

The highways (or motorways in England) look much like the highways in the states. The narrow roads we were warned about don’t really show up until you get into the countryside. We saw lots of caravans (RVs), making us think about doing a European RV trip some day. I think our RV is far to big for Europe though.

It was about 90 miles to our first destination — The medieval citadel of Rye on the southeastern coast. We knew we wanted to visit Rye as soon as we saw the first images of it on Google. The city is remarkably preserved as it looked in the 1400s. Some buildings date from the 1100s. Plus, the town is small enough that you can easily walk everywhere, exploring the cobbled streets and quaint shops by foot.

img_0003 Continue reading “The Road Trip Begins: Rye, England”

Harry Potter & The Girl Who Never Got Her Letter


This is it! The reason we’re in London. Nearly two years ago I bought tickets to Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, the final story in the Harry Potter saga. Tickets to the play were selling like hot cakes and I thought, why not? I’ve wasted money on much dumber ideas than this. The tickets were non-refundable, non-transferable, and basically un-sellable due to Rowling’s decision to require the original purchaser’s ID at the will-call window. She knows her fans are loyal and didn’t want them paying exorbitant prices for tickets that had been bought up by third-party sellers looking to make a profit. If I couldn’t make it, I would be out a couple hundred bucks (and very disappointed). But here I am!

I suppose the life lesson is this: Just buy the tickets — to Thailand, Burning Man, or whatever you’re into. You can figure the details out later. And if it doesn’t work out, at least you tried. You can always make more money, but living out your dreams is priceless. Plus, having tickets in hand, a date set, and money already invested creates a great motivation to save money for your trip!

But before we get to the play, we’re doing something else that is only available here in Harry Potter’s birthplace — The Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour! Continue reading “Harry Potter & The Girl Who Never Got Her Letter”

Across the Pond: London, England


We’re finally here! The first trip across the Atlantic for both of us.

I have wanted to visit England ever since I was little. To me, England has always been a magical and mysterious place that I could only visit through my favorite books — and not just Harry Potter. In fact, many of my favorite authors, from childhood on, have been British and either wrote books set here or inspired by what they saw around them.

As a kid I devoured all of Roald Dahl’s children’s books (Matilda was my favorite). In college I took classes devoted to British literature and wrote my thesis on a little known period of British history. I won’t bore you with the full-synopsis but it involved that one time the Brits tried (sort of) legalizing prostitution as a way to curb the spread of syphilis. Fascinating stuff.

During law school I finally discovered Tolkien. One year for Christmas, Brandon bought me a beautifully bound copy of The Lord of the Rings, complete with additional appendices for reference. Pure magic. And of course, I’ve now reread and rewatched the Harry Potter series more times than I care to admit.

There is just something about this country that I seem to find intriguing. Maybe it’s the dry humor. (I did watch a lot of British comedies on PBS as a kid). Maybe it’s the idyllic countryside and the cobble stone roads. Maybe I just really like creamed tea and lemon curd. Or maybe I’m a huge nerd and want to find out what really happened to my Hogwarts acceptance letter.

For those of you that aren’t Harry Potter fans (muggles . . . ), please forgive the jokes and bear with me. The impetus for this trip may have been seeing the Harry Potter play in person, but that is just a small fraction of the things we have planned. In fact, I’m only planning to write one Harry Potter focused post. I solemnly swear. But if you’re also a fan and itching to hear all about the play — stay tuned! — that post is coming up right after this one.


Continue reading “Across the Pond: London, England”