14th November
written by Hope

We were totally charmed by Ireland, but for very different reasons than we expected. We thought we would be taken by the Irish landscape—Jeremy loves himself some rolling hills dotted with sheep—but it turns out we were even more taken by the feel of the place. We loved the strong musical culture. We loved the extreme differences between the severe weather and the warm pubs. We loved the people. And most of all, we loved those delicious, frosty pints. All of it conspires to create the most comfortable, cozy atmosphere that keeps you crossing your fingers for lousy weather so you can spend your days in the warm embrace of Ireland’s fantastic pub culture (luckily, the weather delivers, most of the time). :)

not a bad place to graze
Not a bad place to graze.

Days spent here: 7 (August 2-9, 2009)

Highlights: We had a good time in all three places that we visited in Ireland, but the most charming moments to us involved a warm pub, jamming musicians, and a delicious pint of Guinness.

musicians jamming in the pub, dublin
D. All of the above.

Places we would like to visit next time: County Cork

Average daily expenditures (for two people): US$205/day

Prices: No doubt about it, Ireland is expensive. Pub meals are spendier than simple meals in Japan. JAPAN! Accommodation prices are pretty much on par with the rest of Europe (expect to pay between €45-60 for a double ensuite at the budget end of the spectrum), but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. And, of course, a pint of Guinness will put you back about €5—that’s US$7.50 for a pint!

Guidebooks we used: None

Weather: It was cold and rainy in Galway, but pretty pleasant in Dublin. Of course, severe weather makes the pubs seem that much more cozy (after all, you probably wouldn’t want to hang out in a dark pub all day if it was sunny and glorious out), so rain really isn’t that much of a bummer!

rock and sea, the burren
The Burren: a cold, rainy, rocky landscape.

Food: Meat and potatoes baby! It’s all about the carvery lunches: you get your choice of meat (usually a roast of beef, lamb, or ham), potatoes, and veggies, all smothered in gravy. It’s like Thanksgiving everyday!

the bull & castle, dublin
This guy has had one too many carvery lunches.

Accommodation: As you would expect, Ireland’s accommodation is on par with the rest of Europe in terms of comfort and cleanliness. Just watch out for the late night partiers in Dublin. Outside of Dublin, homestays and B&B’s are good value—but this type of accommodation is easier to find if you have a car.

Transit: We were very happy with the bus system across the country (having tried both GoBus and CityLink on the Dublin to Galway circuit)—just be sure to book ahead for the cheapest rate. Our one experience with Dublin’s public transport train (DART) was excellent. Once you get out of Dublin, however, you’ll probably want to rent a car to explore some of the Irish countryside. Too bad rental cars are so unreasonably expensive in Ireland!

Internet: We had wi-fi at Dunaras Village in Galway and at the Christchurch Apartments in Dublin (but not at the Jackson Court Hotel), so we had no problems staying connected.  

Culture: The Irish are laid back, funny, and easy to talk to. You know what? I think the photo below says it all:

for fox sake! galway
Say it again, sister.

In short: You really don’t need to try to “see” too much—all the best parts of Ireland are right there in the pub.

11th November
written by Hope

I finally started drifting off about 1:30AM, after another night gathered around delicious Guinness pints with our friends Chi-Chi, Conall, and Mariam. A bunch of random musicians had gathered in the pub to spontaneously play some tunes for the benefit of the pub’s patrons, and their music still played in the back of my mind as I thought of all the things we had seen in this enjoyable yet cozy city:

Beautiful Christ Church Cathedral (one short block away from the apartment where we stayed)…

christchurch cathedral at night, dublin

Christ Church Cathedral at night. Creepy!

…the fun but information-light Guinness Brewery tour…

THE st. james gate, guinness brewery

The actual St. James Brewery Gate!

barrels at the guinness brewery

Barrels at the Guinness Brewery. (This was the most interesting part of the Guinness tour—we spent an inordinate amount of time watching historic videos of barrel-makers using primitive tools to cut strips of wood into perfectly sealed, air-tight barrels. Amazing!)

a tender moment over a pint, guinness brewery

A tender moment, reflected off the mirrored tables of the Guinness brewery’s Sky Bar—your reward for making it through the brewery tour. :)

…a walk around the grounds of Trinity College, where Conall’s brother Brian so generously acted as our tour guide and we got to see The Book of Kells

our 90210 moment on the trinity college grounds

Our 90210 moment at Trinity College. From left to right: Brian, his daughter, Jeremy, Mariam, Conall, and Chi-Chi.

…and our interesting visit of Kilmainham Gaol (that’s how they spell “jail” in Ireland, England, Australia, and New Zealand!), where we learned a ton about Irish history…

kilmainham gaol

art installation, kilmainham gaol

A local artist’s installation in one of the prisons’ cells. This piece features a giant tumbleweed that fills up the entire cell—emphasizing the stifling nature of captivity, as tumbleweeds are meant to exist in wide-open spaces.

Dublin is a place that is hard to capture in photos. It’s a place that is more felt (by roaming the streets and soaking up the ambience) than toured, more heard (in the music coming out of the pubs) than seen.

spooky night scene, dublin

Wandering Dublin’s streets at night, looking for a warm pub and some good music.

On that note…just as we entered into deep sleep—


Wha? GOOD LORD WHAT IS THAT NOISE?!? That can’t be—is that a FIRE ALARM? At 2:30AM? Jesus, someone turn that off!

Turns out some drunkards in our building pulled the fire alarm. OK, where were we? Oh yes, Dublin is also a place best experienced with friends. There are groups of people wandering the streets all night…in fact, the whole city feels like your friend sometimes—the Irish are the world’s best banterers and everyone seems to have a line or two to start a conversation.

out for drinks with conall, mariam, and chi-chi

Commemorating our final pint in Dublin with Conall, Mariam, and Chi-Chi.

Speaking of which—


At 4AM, we get another wakeup call, this time from the raucous party going on upstairs. I am wiling to bet that they are the same drunken idiots who pulled the fire alarm. Where are my earplugs?


OMG, what time is it? 9AM? Why are the bells of Christ Church going off so early? And when is it going to stop? (The answer: whenever you get your hungover butt into that church).

Sigh, just another Saturday night in Dublin… :)

How we got from Galway to Dublin: We took the GoBus from the western end of the country to Ireland’s eastern capital…for only €10 (approx. US$12.50)! The bus was comfortable, but the real reason why it was so cool—the bus had wi-fi! So fancy! You need to book your trip ahead of time on the internet in order to get this fare…and if you book early enough, you may even make the trip for €5.

Where we slept in Dublin: Since there were 5 of us, we decided to split a 2BR apartment in Christchurch Hall (booked via stayDublin.com), well-located a block away from Christchurch Cathedral. The apartment was clean, well-stocked, and had more room per person than your average Dublin hotel room. At €38 per person, it was a bit spendier than most hostels in Dublin, but it works out well for groups. Just watch out for the bells on Sunday AM and the drunk partiers before that!

Before our friends arrived in Dublin, J and I spent one night in the Jackson Court Hotel. We chose this place for its cheap price (only €50 for a double ensuite, with Irish breakfast included), and we probably should have been curious why the price was so low. Turns out this hotel is also the site of Copper Face Jacks Night Club. The hilarious Wikitravel entry describes it in the following way: “…Known in the fine Dublin phrase as a Meat Market this night out is crammed with people desperate to score and getting more and more willing as they consume more booze.” Read the full entry here (under the “Clubs” subhead). The hotel actually gives you earplugs when you check in. Luckily, our room was located on the top floor, so we weren’t too disturbed by the revelry, but light sleepers beware.

2nd November
written by Hope

We arrived in Dublin a day before we were to meet our friends Conall, Mariam, and Chi-Chi, so J and I decided to get out of town and head up to the Howth peninsula (about 9 miles north of Dublin) for its famous cliff walk. It seems we got a cosmic payback after all those severe weather days in Galway, because the sun was out and the sky was the most glorious shade of blue during our day in Howth.

view from howth harbor
Howth harbor. Can you believe that sky?!?

In addition to our luck with the weather, it seems our timing was perfect to see this little town on Ireland’s east coast—the peninsula was exploding with wildflowers in shades of sunny yellow and deep magenta.

island off the coast of howth with wildflowers in the foreground
Wildflowers, and an island off the coast of Howth.

It took us about 4 hours to walk the entire loop, and we pretty much hiked the entire thing straight since there wasn’t an obvious place to rest on the trail. Needless to say, we were pretty tired by the end of it, but the walk was definitely worth it—what a stunningly beautiful landscape!

yin and yang, howth
Yin and yang, Howth.

ireland's eye, howth
Ireland’s Eye, an island off the coast of Howth. You can take a boat from Howth to the island and explore its ruins.

Towards the southern end of the Howth cliff walk, you can see sailors and other wind-sport enthusiasts out for the day in Dublin bay.

boats in dublin bay, as seen from howth
Just in time—clouds rolling into Dublin Bay at the end of our hike.

We were very glad we got out to this corner of Ireland, as Howth let us see a different side of this country than Athlone, Galway, and Dublin. And it always feels good when you earn your pint, doesn’t it?

How we got from Dublin to Howth: We took Dublin’s efficient and affordable DART train up to Howth. We love it when a city’s public transport works well!

1st November
written by Hope

As a visually-oriented person, most memories of the places we’ve traveled come back to me in snapshots: that incredible field of wildflowers near Milford Sound in New Zealand, beautiful children trying to sell us trinkets at the Temples of Angkor in Cambodia, the infinite abyss of ocean off Shirahama in Japan. Despite my visual leanings, my memories of Galway are of the aural variety: looking back through our snapshots of this charming town on the west coast of Ireland, I can hear the music playing to each of our photos.

Ireland has a very strong musical culture, and Galway is often referred to as the epicenter of that culture. Everywhere you go in Galway, there is music. You can hear it in one of the many beautiful pubs, where there are live musicians playing every night…

gorgeous pub, galway

…or walking down the block, where street musicians entertain the masses for a Euro or two:

the spirit of music, galway

There’s also the not-so-obvious music playing in the background of our Galway photos. The cry of seagulls as the cold, black ocean crashes into the magnificent Cliffs of Moher:

cliffs of insanity (moher)
The Cliffs of Moher (aka The Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride—yes, really!). To get an idea of the scale of these cliffs, look at the top left corner of the photo—there are people standing on that crag!

the deep black sea, cliffs of insanity (moher)
Seagulls flying over the cold, black sea.

The sound of happy cows grazing in the Burren:

moo, mutha!
Moo, mutha-effer!

The echo of our footsteps through the gorgeous Gothic Church in Connemara:

interior of the gothic church, connemara

And of course, quite possibly the happiest music in all of Galway—a delicious pint of Guinness being poured in harmony with the slurping of oysters:

two great tastes, galway
The nectar of the gods.

How we got from Athlone to Galway: Hitched a ride with Conall and his girlfriend Mariam!

Where we slept in Galway: We stayed at Dunaras Village, which is basically student housing converted into short-term stay apartments in the summer. The place was very comfortable and spacious, and at €45 per night for an apartment with full living room and kitchen, it was quite affordable by European standards. The only problem was, since it was located outside of the town center, we had to take the bus into Galway, which was at times difficult to negotiate since the bus doesn’t run that frequently. In short: Dunaras Village would have been absolutely perfect if we had a car.

28th October
written by Hope

“So, um, I’m sure you guys aren’t interested, but the day you arrive in Ireland, we’re having a christening party for the boat I just bought. My whole family is going to be there and we’re just going to hang out on the boat and play some music and stuff. No big deal.”

captain conall, athlone
Captain Conall on his new boat, the Cill Iomai (pronounced “kill-AI-mee”), which is named after his mother’s hometown (isn’t that sweet?).

So says our friend Conall, an Irish guy we know from SF who recently moved to London. Um, are you KIDDING? A boat christening party? With a big musical Irish family? Do you really think we would miss an opportunity to crack a bottle of champagne over a boat?!? (The answer is: of course not.)

Conall’s boat was in Athlone, pretty much the midpoint between Dublin (where we flew in) and Galway (where we were headed). So instead of going direct to Galway, we stopped off for a few hours in the middle of the country to meet his big, happy Irish family and spray some champagne over his new boat (Conall wasn’t having any cracking of bottles over his new baby).

christening the cill iomai, athlone

In addition to his parents, Conall’s uncle, two brothers, and two sisters, plus all of their respective spouses and kids were in attendance. Conall’s sister Maeve and his uncle graciously provided live entertainment, playing traditional Irish tunes on the fiddle.

conall's musical family, athlone

There was food and dancing and champagne, followed by a pint or two of Guiness at a nearby pub. Afterwards, Maeve and two of the kids went for a dip in the lake, despite the fact that the rest of us were bundled up in scarves and jackets. The kids wore wetsuits, but Maeve went in in her jammies. Brave Maeve!

a quick, cold dunk, athlone

It was super fun to meet this lively and close-knit bunch. During our travels in Ireland, we would find that this kind of warmth and intimacy was not at all unusual—the Irish are some of the friendliest and most social people we’ve met. Despite the cold weather that day in Athlone, our hearts were warmed through and through.

How we got from London to Athlone: We flew Aer Lingus from London Heathrow to Dublin. Even though our tickets were “only” £15 each roundtrip, after taxes and fees the roundtrip flight totaled £95 (approx. US$150) each. Not the worst deal out there, but discount flight buyer beware! That £5 flight you’re booking may actually end up costing you closer to £100.

From Dublin, we took the CityLink bus headed to Galway directly from the airport to Athlone for €15 (approx US$20) each. Note that if you book this bus ahead on the internet, it can cost as little as €5 from Dublin to Galway!

25th October
written by Hope

25th October
written by Hope

Color me humbled. Here I was thinking the UK wasn’t exotic enough for two around-the-world travelers who just spent 6 months in Asia. But the beauty of cosmopolitan London, the romanticism of the English countryside, and the history and general awesomeness of North Wales did a lot to change my mind. Just goes to show, you can find whatever it is you’re looking for in any country, as long as you remember to keep your mind open and your curiosity healthy.

scenes from london
We don’t know what this building in the background is (we even asked some Londoners and they didn’t know either), but it’s pretty isn’t it? Taken in Hyde Park, London.

Days spent here: 16 (July 16-August 1, 2009)

Highlights: hanging out with friends in beautiful London, storming castles in North Wales.

Places we would like to visit next time: Scotland, especially Edinburgh

Average daily expenditures (for two people): US$95/day in London (note that we did not pay for housing because we stayed with a friend); US$200 the rest of the time we were in the UK (including our rental car)

Guidebooks we used: Eyewitness London and Rick Steves’ Great Britain. Honestly, we probably wouldn’t have chosen these books for ourselves, but our generous host in London (Chi-Chi) had them sitting on her bookshelf so we were able to borrow them for free. Up until now, we have primarily used Lonely Planet guidebooks, and I guess we’ve grown accustomed to the LP’s format, because we found all the photos and illustrations in Eyewitness London distracting. Just give us the quick and dirty info we need, Eyewitness! Rick Steves’ book was much more useful, but it is obviously slanted towards older travelers. In one case, he recommended making a hotel reservation via phone, fax, or letter. Letter?!? Who writes letters?!?

Prices: No bones about it, the UK (and especially London) is expensive. Even with the sterling pound down in the currency markets, it still reigns over the crappy dollar. In particular, dining out will really hurt your pocketbook, with a pub meal in London running at minimum £10 (US$15). In London, you can keep costs down by (1) going to museums (which are free) and avoiding outrageously expensive tourist sights like the London Tower, and (2) making friends with someone who has a spare couch.

main entrance hall at the natural history museum, london
The excellent (and gorgeous!) Natural History Museum in London.

Accommodation can also hurt the budget. We spent between £55-60 (approx. US$90-100) for double rooms with bathroom ensuite.

Surprisingly, renting a car in the UK is quite cheap. Our week driving around England and Wales set us back a reasonable US$34 per day.

Weather: We were in the UK during summer, which we found quite pleasant! Of course, bear in mind that we came from China, where the heat and humidity pretty much defeated us, so we found the cooler temps in the UK quite refreshing. We had some rain but also some gloriously clear weather, and the days were nice and long (we imagine that winter in the UK might be a bit depressing, with darkness starting at 4PM and all).

Food: Nobody seems to believe us, but we swear it’s true: British food is good now! It is still the case that walking into any old sandwich shop is not going to get you the best grub, but there are really excellent restaurants out there now (at all price ranges) that serve food on par with any other cosmopolitan city. In fact, we had some of the best salmon we’ve ever tasted at Chi-Chi’s local pub in Chiswick (The Roebuck) for only £5 (about US7.50)!

And of course, despite the UK’s bad culinary reputation, the English breakfast has always reigned supreme:

a proper english breakfast, london
The glorious English breakfast: ham, sausage, fried eggs, fried mushroom, fried tomatoes, and beans.

Accommodation: We can’t comment on accommodation in London, since we stayed with a friend, but it seems that B&Bs are the best value in the English and Welsh countryside. We stayed in a youth hostel in Wales and had to pay extra for breakfast and towels, which would have been included in the price if we stayed at a B&B.

our b&b in maugersbury, cotswolds
Little Broom, our cute B&B in Maugersbury, near Stow-in-the-Wold, the Cotswolds.

Transit: In London, we got around on the Tube, and we generally found it to be excellent, with good coverage and easy transfers. Our one complaint: there seems to be no ventilation in the cars other than tiny windows at the beginning and end of each car. I know London’s weather is typically pretty dreary, but we found the Tube stifling on days when the mercury barely busted 70 degrees!

j waiting for the tube, london
Waiting for the Tube.

For the rest of our week exploring England and Wales, we rented a car, which, at only US$34 per day, was quite reasonable considering how much everything else costs in the UK.

Internet: Like most developed countries, wi-fi is either locked or expensive, and sometimes both.

Culture: We only visited England and Wales, but there are pretty big cultural differences between the two home nations. In general, people in London tend to be like people in most big cities: rushed and at times dismissive (though Londoners have the added joy of being aggressive drunks). We also noticed that Londoners tend to think of everyone north of London as backcountry hicks. In general, we found the people in the English countryside and Wales nicer and friendlier than the people in London…but I don’t mean to give Londoners a bad name. Our friend-of-a-friend Jonah and his girlfriend were really, really cool and they took us out to all these excellent off-the-beaten-path bars and clubs the night we went out with them. So while the average Londoner on the street might not strike you as overly friendly, they are excellent hosts and their distance might just be a function of the big city.

the ladies with the big hats, london
The ladies with the big hats going to a function at Buckingham Palace.

In short: Incredible architecture, historic sites, beautiful countryside, AND good food (yes, really)! We had a wonderful time in the UK!

19th October
written by Hope

We all have a little kid inside of us, don’t we? Hey, I’ll admit it: my inner child still loves playing dress-up and eating the heads off of gummy bears. Well, Jeremy showed me exactly what his inner child always dreamed of when, on a whim, we decided to head up to Northern Wales for a few days. The promise of castles and old city walls around a town called Conwy had Jeremy’s inner child squealing with delight. Even better: we would be sleeping in bunk beds at our youth hostel (and I let him have the top bunk). Castles, swords, city walls, AND bunk beds? I am pretty sure that 10 year old inside of Jeremy just had his mind blown.

my knight, conwy (wales)
My knight in shining denim.

Conwy is a lovely little town located on the coast of North Wales. We rolled into town in the late afternoon, with enough time to walk the old city walls, which enclose this little fishing village by the sea.

view of conwy from atop the old city walls
The view from atop Conwy’s old city walls.

view of conwy from atop the old city walls

The following day, we prepared to invade not one but two castles. The first, in a little town called Caernarfon, is (like Conwy) another picturesque little town by the sea famous for its lovely views from atop its lovely castle.

caernarfon castle
Beautiful Caernarfon Castle.

Entering the castle, I noticed that most visitors had kids with them. I felt a bit silly when we got up to the ticket gate and asked for “two adults.” That is, until I saw the look of glee in Jeremy’s eyes. The joy in his inner child’s heart was just priceless. I even felt like a proud parent as he ran around shooting fake arrows through the castle’s many “murder holes” (yes, that’s what they’re called).

murder hole, conwy castle
View through one of Caernarfon Castle’s murder holes.

Though not as large, Conwy’s castle is equally impressive. Tucked into a corner of the square created by the city walls, the castle allows beautiful views of the town and the sea.

conwy castle
Conwy castle, with views of the surrounding city and countryside.

We learned quite a bit about the United Kingdom from our visits to Conwy and Caernarfon. In fact, these castles were built not to protect the Welsh from invaders, but to project English King Edward I’s power into Wales. Charles was crowned Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle (as all that are next in line for the throne), a kind of reassertion of the UK’s dominance over Wales. See, like Northern Ireland, Wales wants it’s independence. And it makes sense why they would—the Welsh have their own traditions, their own food, and of course, their own language. Speaking of which, Welsh is crazy! One look at the written word and you know that Welsh has absolutely no relationship to Latin. The Welsh language looks like it was created when someone accidentally rested their elbow on the keyboard. Ddwylodd. That’s probably a word in Welsh.

All joking aside, even though they do not express their desire for independence in a violent manner, this is a pretty serious issue for many Welsh people. Quite frankly, before our visit, I knew very little about Wales. Perhaps this was ignorant of me, but my impression of the UK was most closely associated with England: you know, Big Ben, powdered wigs, and bucolic countryside scenes like those we saw in the Cotswolds. I knew that Scotland and Northern Ireland were quite different culturally from England, but I didn’t have a sense of Wales. I certainly didn’t realize how distinctly different the four “home nations” of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) would be. I am humbled and continually amazed by the number of things we learn from our travels. Without this experience, there are so many details and intimacies I never would have known about this world!

royal symbol, caernarfon castle
The Prince of Wales’ Feathers, a royal badge which is controversially used by the royal family to symbolize Wales.

Not only is Wales it’s own animal culturally, but physically the landscape is quite different too. Of course, it is much wetter in Wales than in England (though luck was on our side in Wales—we had rain only one morning during breakfast and it was glorious sun the rest of the time we were there!), but the North Wales area is also home to the tallest mountain in both England and Wales: Mount Snowdon. Whereas we saw gentle, rolling hills in the Cotswolds and Oxford, Northern Wales has some pretty dramatic mountain scenery.

the welsh countryside near snowdonia
The Welsh countryside near Snowdonia National Park.

But Northern Wales isn’t just about big mountains and castles. As part of our entrance ticket to Conwy castle, we also saw an old Elizabethan house called Plas Mawr, which had fascinating displays detailing life in the Middle Ages. They had info on everything from the sewer system to strange medical procedures to toilets to diet. It was incredibly interesting, and the house wasn’t too bad looking, either!

gorgeous ceiling in plas mawr (old elizabethan house), conwy
I was totally obsessed with the decorative plaster work covering the walls and ceiling in Plas Mawr.

What a wonderful time we had in Conwy and Caernarfon! Old city walls, castles, verdant mountain scenery, and old Elizabethan houses…turns out North Wales had more than a few things to appeal to my inner child as well. :)

How we got from the Cotswolds to Conwy: Conway is a 5 hour drive northwest of the Cotswolds, and this had many people in our B&B on edge. “Oh, Conwy’s very far, you’d better get a move on!” “Be careful, you can always pull off to the side of the road if you’re tired!” We were like, “Um, we’re from California…we do 5 hour drives in our sleep!”

Where we slept in Conwy: We stayed at the Conwy YHA, which was located up the hill outside of the city walls. Even though it was kind of hike out of town to get back to the hostel, the views were stupendous! The hostel itself was clean and comfortable, thought our room was very tiny, and they charged extra for towels. I think staying at a B&B in town might have been better value…though you certainly won’t get the same vistas.

16th October
written by Hope

[ring ring]

Cotswolds B&B Keeper: Six-five-zero-seven-seven-three? [Author's note: I spoke to at least three B&B owners in the Cotswolds who answered the phone like this—by reciting their phone number. Weird!]
Hope: Hello? Is this Warwick House Bed and Breakfast?
CB&BK: Indeed it is.
H: I was calling to see if you had any double rooms available for tomorrow night and if so, how much it costs.
CB&BK: Why yes we do. It’s £60 for a double room, including breakfast. Would you like me to reserve the room for you?
H: Let me call you back in a bit, I’m just asking around right now.
CB&BK: Right you are.
H: Thank you!
CB&BK: Cheerio!

“Right you are”? “Cheerio”? Really?!? People really talk like this?!? AWESOME!!!

The United Kingdom continues to surprise. First it was London, which I mistakenly thought of as too vanilla. Thousands of Middle Easterners, Europeans, and Africans living in the city proved me wrong on that assumption. This time it’s the Cotswolds, a region about 2 hours northwest of London in the countryside, showing me just how English England can get. Now I understand where they those halcyon scenes of the English countryside you see in the movies come from. Rolling hills? Check. Little old ladies pushing carts to the market? Check. Stone cottages with thatched roofs? Check and double check. It’s all right here, in the Cotswolds.

thatched roof with a nice haircut, cotswolds
House with a thatched roof in the Cotswolds. This one in particular has a nice “haircut.”

silversmith, cotswolds
A traditional silversmith hard at work. Doesn’t this photo look like it came come straight from some PBS show or something?

a field from my dreams, cotswolds
A walk in the countryside.

The Cotswolds is a collection of little villages with awesome names like “Bourton-on-the-Water” and “Stow-on-the-Wold,” scattered between acres of lush green hills and rolling terrain. Most of the buildings in this area are built with “Cotswolds stone,” which is the most gorgeous golden yellow color:

downtown chipping campden, cotswolds
Downtown Chipping Campden.

By far the cutest village is Bibury, with adorable slate-roof houses set upon a babbling river. Unfortunately, it was raining pretty hard while we were there, so we didn’t really get to explore.

rainy day in bibury, the cotswolds
A rainy day in Bibury.

Our first night in the area, we stayed in Moreton-in-Marsh so that we could check out their local market the following morning (Tuesday). The market itself wasn’t too interesting (mostly a bunch of factory seconds and random electronics), but it was definitely a culture shock for us…after six months in Asia, we were agape at the sea of silver hair! I was totally charmed by all the little old men in their cute English outfits. Even the ironmonger (yes, there was an ironmonger) was wearing tie and sweater vest underneath his work apron.

lunchtime in the grass, cotswolds

After lunch in one of the local pubs, we headed out for a day in the countryside. We visited Hidcote Gardens, a vast network of “outdoor rooms,” where you can see the English garden in all its overgrown glory.

hidcote gardens, the cotswolds
Hidcote Gardens, with the manor in the background.

the fields outside hidcote gardens
Just as breathtaking: the wheat fields right outside Hidcote Gardens.

But the highlight of our visit was Snowshill Lavendar Farm. It’s a pretty stunning sight to go from golden hills of wheat to acres and acres of vivid purple farmland. And the fragrance was incredible! You can pay a small entrance fee (£3?) to enter the farms and pick your own lavender, or you can just enjoy the lovely sight and aroma from the highway (like we did!).

snowshill lavendar farm, the cotswolds
Snowshill Lavender: if only pictures could capture smell, too…

If you ever feel like walking straight into movies like Pride and Prejudice or Remains of the Day, now you know know exactly where to go. :)

Note: You may notice a few changes in the way I post about our travel experiences. Since so much of traveling is about the actual traveling part (and others may find this useful), I’ll be including a “How We Got from Point A to Point B” section at the end of each post. I’ll also be including info on where we stayed in each destination. Like a good (online) citizen, I’ve been updating Wikitravel, Tripadvisor, and Hostelbookers with reviews of the hotels and hostels where we’ve laid our heads, and I thought it might be a good idea to include those words here too. Hope it helps in your future travels!

How we got from Oxford to the Cotswolds: We drove our rental car along the A44 from Oxford to Moreton-in-Marsh, our first destination in the Cotswolds. It was a relatively straightforward drive (only about 1 hour), but we felt very fortunate to have Chi-Chi’s satellite navigation device with us—all those one-way streets and roundabouts in the England can throw you for a loop!

Where we slept in the Cotswolds: The first night, we stayed at Warwick House B&B (£60 for a double ensuite, including breakfast) in Moreton-in-Marsh. The owner, Charlie, is really sweet and totally crazy in that way that all B&B owners seem to be. We had the largest room in the house, with an attached ensuite bathroom (with a bathtub!). The room was great but the beds were a bit too soft for us.

The second night, we stayed at Little Broom (£55 for a double room ensuite, including breakfast) in Maugersbury, near Stow-in-the-Wold. It was a beautiful little cottage out in the countryside with incredible grounds and yet another crazy B&B owner. Our room was smaller (and pinker) than our room at the Warwick. Great breakfast!

12th October
written by Hope

After 10 days in London, we rented a car to explore the English and Welsh countryside. First stop: Oxford, where our friends Nas and Jen (who we know through Grace and Susan), agreed to host us for the evening, which was very generous, considering they have a (very cute) 9-month-old (Nya) to run around after!

I’m sure I can’t do Oxford justice, since we were there a mere 24 hours, but I’m pretty certain no one will argue that it is a beautiful place. Nas, Jen, and Nya walked us into town along the River Thames, and the countryside around their home was just stunning!

row, row, row your boat, oxford
Rowing on the River Thames.

does it get more idyllic than this?, oxford
You might find this picture next to the word “idyllic” in the dictionary.

duck duck goose, oxford
Ducks and geese vying for food in front of the Lockkeeper’s Cottage.

Once you get into town, the views are just as mesmerizing. If the gorgeous architecture doesn’t win you over, then the cobblestone streets surely will.

the radcliffe camera, oxford
The Radcliffe Camera, probably the most photographed building in Oxford.

the evidence of time, oxford

Speaking of gorgeous architecture, we thought the Natural History Museum in London was beautiful, but the equivalent in Oxford blows London out of the water! Sadly, the photos will not do the stunning Gothic structure justice.

the incredible natural history museum, oxford

Many people (including Jeremy and I) are surprised to hear that Oxford does not have a unified college campus, but rather, is made up of a number of independent colleges, each with its own identity and unique campus. By far the most popular is Christ Church College, since it houses The Dining Hall Where they Filmed Harry Potter. There were a lot of kids and teenagers touring Christ Church, each one probably imagining that they were flying around these hallowed halls on their own personal broomsticks.

banquet hall in christ church college, oxford

To which I say: dining hall, schmining hall. Check out the ceiling!!! [SWOON.]

the ceiling of christ church college, oxford
The ceiling in Christ Church College.

If you’re ever in Oxford, we highly recommend you check out the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. The views of Oxford from the top are stunning! They recently upped the entry fee from £1 to £3, but it’s still worth it.

fabulous views from university church of st. mary the virgin, oxford

gargoyles, oxford

Our stopover in Oxford, although brief, was very enjoyable. Not only did we get to see England in all its glory (punting on the River Thames, historic university halls, people playing cricket, calves nursing in the grassy fields, old timey guys riding wooden bicycles in coattails…does it get more “English than that?!?), but Nas, who is a master photographer, filled our little brains up with all the f-stop and aperture info we could handle! We even had time for a late-night photo-shoot in his studio (check out the rest of his work here).

nas, jen, nya, jeremy, and hope in oxford
Nas, Jen, Nya, Jeremy, and Hope.

Thanks to Nas, Jen, and Nya for showing us such a beautiful part of the world!