My husband, Ray Sarakaitis, and I love to travel. Over the years we have had several ways of exploring Europe. Today, due to age restraints, our usual mode of travel is with the OSU Alumnae, where all our needs are met.
On this adventure, we first stayed with friends, Sue and Mark, who lived in a town called Bury St. Edmunds. We met them when we did a unilateral home exchange. They stayed in our home while we traveled to Italy. Since then we have stayed friends.
To really know an area, staying with local people is the best. We walked the streets of the town, and Sue and I went shopping. Mark and Sue graciously drove us around the area to see the local villages. The architecture of these villages was of the classic cottage often associated with English villages. It was interesting to note that no matter how small the village, each had a large, ornate church.
England is not known for its tasty food, but Sue made us a delicious shepherd’s pie. Sure changed my mind about English food.
Mark and Sue drove us back to London where we stayed at the Kensington Hotel. Now was our opportunity to explore London on our own for three days. Some things we had already seen on prior trips, so we headed to London Tower. On one wall is the famous “traitors gate” where prisoners were brought quietly in by a boat on the River Thames.
In one part, the kings and queens had residences there, and on the other side was where criminals were housed and were frequently tortured. What a dichotomy! I often wonder if the royalty could hear the screams of the tortured prisoners.
Since we were in Kensington, we decided to explore Kensington Palace nearby. King William the III and Queen Mary II bought this palace to use as a peaceful getaway from Whitehall castle. Life was much simpler here. Each monarch had separate living quarters. Queen Mary had a gallery, bedroom and a dining room. The staircase leading to her quarters was simple compared to King William’s.
Now, the King’s quarters and staircase leading to them was much more grand and a display not to be missed. The grand staircase walls were painted, recreating a vivid picture depicting an 18th century court and its lively life. And of course, due to his stature, the King’s state apartments were also grander than Queen Mary’s.
Besides the usual bedroom, we enjoyed learning about the different rooms for receiving visitors of different classes. All the walls in these rooms were covered with bright colored, exquisite paintings. Of special interest is a collection of royal dresses, including modern styles and very old fashions with huge bustles. I wonder how they were able to walk though doors without going sideways.
On to Oxford and best of all, Downton Abbey. Since we came early to tour on our own, we were responsible for finding the tour group at the London Heathrow airport. Meeting up was easier than we thought. Now we could relax.
We were bused to the Lygon Arms Hotel on High Street in the town of Broadway. This very old Tudor hotel is steeped in history since it was built in the 1300s.
Our first tour the next day was to the North Cotswold area giving us a magnificent view of the sloping, green English hills and buildings made of Cotswold stones, which are well known for their honey colored appearance. Our first stop was in the town Stow of the Wold in Gloucester County. Due to its easy location to the other markets, it was originally a bustling market town. I shopped and shopped.
Included in the South Cotswolds area was the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, another market town established by King Richard in 1196. One of the main attractions was the birth place of Shakespeare and the home of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Another attraction was the home and garden of Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway. It was an opportunity to explore a genuine English cottage. It was unusual in that the doorways were much smaller than we were accustomed. I had to dip each time I passed from room to room. Anne’s gardens were extensive and are now maintained by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Having explored the Costwolds of the North, we turned south the next day to tour the Southern Costwolds. To be truthful, this wasn’t any different than the Northern Cotswolds.
The next morning we all piled our luggage in the bus to proceed to the next hotel, the MacDonald Randolph Hotel in Oxford. On the way we stopped for lunch at the marvelous Blenheim Palace, former home of Winston Churchill. In 1704 Bleinheim Palace was given to the 1st Duke of Marlborough by Queen Anne as a thank you for his conquest in the Battle of Blenheim. The magnificent English Baroque architecture is difficult to describe. The landscape is a huge park studded with old oak trees, a bridge and manmade lake.
On Nov. 30, 1874, Winston Churchill was born here and spent his early years living in this grandeur. He is honored here by having an extensive exhibition displaying pictures and statues reflecting on his life.
Dinner that night was being able to talk with locals. This was just after the Brexit vote, and it was interesting to hear the opposing views.
The next morning the schedule included a visit to the Ashmolean Museum. I chose to rest instead.
We were now settled in the Macdonald Randolph Hotel in the middle of Oxford. Now when I think of a university, I imagine a green quad in the middle of large buildings. Oxford is not this design. The university buildings are scattered though out the city of Oxford. You could not determine if a building was part of the university or an office building without reading a sign.
Now for the highlight of the entire trip was touring Highclere Castle, known to us as Downton Abbey. This was the main reason we came on the trip. We parked a distance from the entrance and it was fun to view this huge castle just as we saw in the TV series “Downton Abbey.”
The tour inside revealed the treasures of this Victorian era. As you enter, you see a stunning Gothic design entrance hall with marble columns and a vaulted ceiling. So impressive. We also saw the music room, drawing room, the saloon, and dining room all magnificently decorated.
We had our farewell dinner in the Balliol College of Oxford. It was difficult to say goodbye to everyone. It was difficult to depart, since this was such a fun and informative vacation.
Wonder what the next OSU trip will be?