Well, we made it back from England, safe and sound. Actually, we made it back sleepy, cranky, sweaty and breathless from running to catch a plane, but all in all, full of good memories. I am learning more and more about how our family likes to vacation, which will help me plan trips better in the future. What I’ve learned is that we like a trip with some downtime, peppered with interesting things to do, and moments of making our own fun. It’s the people and places that make it special.
We arrived in England on Thanksgiving. It was weird to leave a country so invested in the food and holiday of Thanksgiving and arrive to a place that didn’t acknowledge it at all. Because we flew overnight, I found the rest of the week I stumbled through a sort of time warp, not knowing what day it was. Our flights were uneventful. The rental car situation, however, was not. I had purposefully rented the same type of car I drive in the US. I knew it was big enough for us and our luggage, without being too big to park or tackle UK roads. The area we were staying in was full of small, tight British roads, with a mix of one lane country roads and tiny villages. I had figured tackling the above in a car I was familiar in was a good plan, especially as I was driving on the right side of the car, left side of the road. When I arrived at Hertz, however, I was promptly told they didn’t have the car I’d reserved, nor anything similar. “You do,” I ignorantly replied “I’ve reserved one.” Not so much. My only options were a tiny car too small for our basic needs of people and bags, or a Mercedes. Sounds like a no brainer, right? Except the Mercedes was a 9 passenger van, It was HUUUUUGE. I was left with no choice. I needed a car we could fit in. The passenger van was the only option.
Y’all, when I tell you this thing was big by American standards, you can only imagine how big it was by English standards. It was a bit of a gas hog, so a half a tank of diesel cost me over 50 pounds. It was difficult to park in the tiny lots designed for tiny cars. The struggle was real. Honestly, I was glad we had it fully insured, because I was nervous through most of the trip. We got lost a couple of times, and the GPS took us down one lane country roads through sheep fields, with a stone wall on each side and no space to pull over. I’m not a religious person, but even I caught myself saying little prayers that no car would come from the other direction, because one of us would have to reverse, and I couldn’t see out the back window well of this monster. My husband grew tired of me giving myself props for navigating that beast as well as I did. I was proud of myself. 50mph hairpin turns down tiny country roads? Nailed it. Returning the car was a hot mess, however. I pulled in and the attendant from Hertz pointed to a tiny parking spot. No way could I have gotten the beast in there without risking the cars on either side. I told him that wouldn’t work. He pointed to another equally tiny spot with cars parked crookedly either side. He got angry and said he’d park it. He literally missed the car next to him by an inch, but gave himself almost no room to exit the car. He squeezed out, and told me to get in. I did, figuring he was processing the return. He then shouted at me “will you please leave?!” Needless to say, Hertz won’t be a company I’ll be using in the future. I messaged them, got no response.
During the trip, we stayed with my aunt and uncle, two of my favorite people. They have a house in the countryside, and are antique dealers. We spent our first day hanging at the house with them, having an easy day. The following day, we hit the pub with them and my cousin for her birthday and had lunch. It was delightful and laid back. Saturday was spent preparing for my cousin’s birthday bash. My daughter had begged for us to wear matching dresses, and I didn’t disappoint. We had similar dresses, matching cardigans, and matching shoes. The smile on her face made all the hard work and money spent getting her the right dress all worthwhile. One of the best parts of the night was having such a large group of family all in one place. Normally there are folks I don’t get to see due to distance or time constraints, but we had a large group of us. Many beers later, we were all singing Queen to finish out the night. Perfection.
I got to visit my grandfather while I was there. He looked good. Thinner, older, since my last visit. Since that time, my grandmother had passed, he had been ill, taken a few falls, so all in all I thought he looked well. An added bonus was that my dad flew over to meet up with us (he goes to look after my grandfather every other month) so 4 generations all sat in the living room catching up. As members of my family have slowly died off, it doesn’t escape me how special that moment was to have all of us together. My grandfather handed me a beautiful pearl necklace belonging to my grandmother, and asked my dad to take me to her grave, which he did.
Another amazing aspect of the trip was our visit to Chatsworth. If you’ve never heard of it, please take a peek here: https://www.chatsworth.org
because it’s simply an amazing place with a lot of history. Each Christmas, they decorate the house in a theme. This year’s theme was Once Upon a Time, focusing on fairy tales or children’s stories. Everything was stunning. After walking through the house in awe, we stepped outside where there was a beautiful Christmas market. All the vendors had little wooden huts to sell their wares from. You felt almost back in time. I fell in love with a few things but knew I couldn’t tote them back in my suitcase, so I had to step away. It kept raining while we strolled the market, until finally we got so wet we decided to call it a day. In true “our luck” fashion, as soon as we pulled out to leave, the sky turned blue again. Regardless, we had such a great time, and it was a perfect start to our day.
We also walked the Tissington Trail and meandered around Tissington Village. This is a tiny place that will take you back in time and make you wonder what year it is. The church has big arches and beautiful stained glass windows that bring the light in. Some info on Tissington (click on take a photo tour) is here: http://www.picturesofengland.com/England/Derbyshire/Tissington
One of my favorite moments of the trip was our visit to Bakewell. The village of Bakewell is pretty and was quite busy. As we parked at the Agricultural center (perfect place to mark the monster van) we strolled over the bridge crossing the little river to head into town. The bridge was covered with “love locks”, which is where people take padlocks, write their initials or loved ones names on, and attach them to the bridge. I’ve seen this done in Pittsburgh on my travels, and have always wanted to do one. Silly, I suppose, but I love sentimental things like that. As we strolled the village, I saw a sign in a shope window advertising they have and engrave love locks, so we went in and purchased one. The thing was HUGE. We had our family name, and hometown with USA engraved on it, and set off to find the perfect spot. If you’re ever in Bakewell, as you cross to head into the town, on the right side, 3 sections from the end of the bridge, you’ll see a huge lock…that’s ours.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend as much time with my cousins as I would have liked. Their work schedules didn’t allow them much free time or they had stuff going on. It’s hard, because I miss them so much, but I get the life gets busy. One cousin, thought she was working long hours and had a ton of stuff going on, was a rockstar in her efforts to make our trip special. She got us the tickets to Chatsworth and also made my daughter’s vacation bucket list complete. She has two horses, and my daughter has been asking about those horses for well over a year. My cousin took us up to the stable one night and let my little one pet, brush and feed the horses, as well as give them carrots and apples. Whereas I was a bit nervous around such giant, majestic animals so much bigger than I, my daughter had no fear, introducing herself to all the horses in the stables, giving them a carrot, and gentle stroking their noses. She was a natural, clearly something that runs in my family but skipped me. The last full day of our trip, after we’d walked around Tissington, we planned to go to a pub at the end of the trail where we had parked. The stables were within walking distance, so my cousin had us meet her there. Her big horse was saddled and ready to ride. She put my daughter up on the horse and walked her to the pub where my dad met us for dinner. My daughter beamed from ear to ear, absolutely thrilled to pieces. My cousin walked, leading the horse, while my daughter sat on the horse, so proud and happy I almost cried a little with joy myself. I knew a little girl’s vacation dreams had come true when she responded “I really think we should move to England….or at least, can we come back for my birthday?” Sorry kiddo, it’s a little out of my budget to just jet back and forth, but yes, we’ll be back.
I stopped at my mother’s grave to say hello and goodbye. I always do. I also popped by my grandparents grave to do the same. I mentioned I would love a sign. On the way to the airport to come home, I noticed the car in front of us had a bee sticker on it that resembled my tattoo. Bees are a symbol I relate to my grandmother. In fact, one of the things I learned during my trip was that my younger cousin also had a bee tattoo for her. I felt like I got my sign.
I didn’t realize how tired I was until I got on the plane. I was so incredibly tired I went into the plane lavatory and had a quick cry, like a toddler does when they are overtired and cry about nothing. I composed myself, went back to my seat, and watched a movie to stay awake so I could make sure my daughter ate. If she doesn’t eat, and she’s tired, she gets beastly. Afterwards, I was so tired I couldn’t even recall the movie I watched when my husband asked me. I was in a fog. I got home, fell asleep at 7 PM and slept for 15 hours straight. I hadn’t slept well much in England due to the sinus infection, so my sleep bank needed refilling in a big way. I woke up feeling like a new person.
All in all, a fantastic trip. I can’t wait to go back.