The UK with Karin: Day 8

It was our final full day in the UK, and we wanted to make the most of it. Instead of heading straight back to London, we took a long way and swung south to Bath in Somerset. The architecture in this city is unlike anywhere else I’ve seen in England.

River Avon
Pulteney Bridge

The Roman Baths date back to 60 AD (the Romans hung around for a few hundred years), and the Bath Abbey was built in the 7th Century.

I was instantly smitten with Bath. Every corner turned onto another charming, narrow street.

Bath Abbey

At first, it looked like our stroll around the Roman Baths was going to take hours. Without a doubt, it’s the most touristy attraction in town. Fortunately, they have the process down to some sort of algorithm that keeps the bodies moving forward.

Jane Austen on the ten-pound note: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”

The Roman Baths and Bath Abbey are right next to each other – convenient!

Normally, I’m not into guided tours and listening to recordings. I *never* pick up a headset in museums. However, at the Roman Baths, they just hand you one and tell you how to work it. Turns out, it was hugely interesting to walk up to a part of the exhibit and be told why it’s important!

I’m so glad Chuck this photo! We aren’t big selfie-takers, but I’m thankful he took this one 🙂

After touring the Baths, we went back into the city to explore a little longer and grab a quick bite to eat.

It’s a big deal for Chuck to give money to a street performer, so you know this guy was good at his craft!

We ended up circling back to where we began, with a beautiful view of Pulteney Bridge and the River Avon.

We’d booked a hotel room at Heathrow that night so we could get to the airport easily Sunday mid-morning, but we still had plenty of time to spare before it got dark. A quick Google search showed us that we could stop in Lacock in Wiltshire, one of England’s oldest villages. This meant more driving through the countryside!

Lacock Abbey dates back to 900 AD and served as a filming spot for several scenes in the Harry Potter film franchise. Also, more recently, Lacock was a filming spot for Downton Abbey. It was a charming village, only a few streets wide and long. I didn’t take my camera around town since it was a little misty, but we enjoyed the stroll and treated ourselves to coffee, tea, and cake afterward.

This street was a main filming location for Downton Abbey.

I’ll live here, please.

It was finally time to admit the trip was over, so we checked into our hotel, Chuck returned the rental car, and we finished the night with dinner at the Hilton and two bottles of wine. Before the night was over, I made a list on my phone of everything we did over the last eight days – I didn’t want to forget anything!

In the last year, I’ve visited England three times. I never thought that’s something I’d ever be able to say. Believe it or not, I’d go back again tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. It is strange to feel at home in a foreign country, but that’s exactly how I feel.

What a gift.

If you want to watch the slideshow video I made of our trip, click here.

The UK with Karin: Day 7

Like I said in the previous post, our AirBNB in Nant-y-Derry was a DELIGHT, even though it didn’t have WiFi. Instead of scrolling on our phones in the evening, we watched whatever British game show was on the TV. It was perfect.

How adorable is the house key?

This is the view from the living room.
And this is the view from the front patio.

Like so many AirBNBs in the countryside, this building is a converted barn, and it’s updated and stunning inside.

Our original plan was to drive to Pembrokeshire (along the western coastline), but the weather was so wet and dreary that we didn’t want to trek too far. Instead, we drove south and stopped in Caerphilly, which was halfway between our place on the southern Brecon Beacons National Park and Cardiff, the largest city in Wales.

Still can’t read a thing in Welsh!

Caerphilly Castle was originally constructed in the 13th Century as part of the Anglo-Norman movement into Wales. It’s the second-largest castle after Windsor, but no one has lived here for many centuries. In its greatest time, Caerphilly Castle was a magnificent fortress with an impressive moat.

Taking pictures was tricky on account of the rain, but I muscled through.

We got back on the road and headed for the coast, this time landing on Dunraven Bay. It would’ve been lovely to see the coast during better weather, but nothing was going to keep us from the seaside. A beach is restorative no matter the climate.

Karin took some time alone – just her and the water.

It’s on this coastline in Southern Wales where we took my favorite photo of us of all time. We are the cutest.

For the second time, Chuck gave Karin a quick UK-driving lesson on the backroads. She did a stellar job!

Before heading back to our AirBNB, we made a quick stop in Cardiff just to poke around. We visited a few tourist shops and got a good view of Cardiff Castle before it closed. We were losing steam, and we were soaking wet, so going back home to our cozy converted barn sounded like a good idea.

We had one day left, so in the morning, we headed to Bath.

The UK with Karin: Day 6

I was still high as a kite the morning after meeting Philippa Gregory at Sudeley Castle, deliriously happy as we walked around Stratford-Upon-Avon the morning of Day 6. I was also happy to have Chuck with us, my favorite traveling buddy of all time.

Stratford-Upon-Avon is William Shakespeare’s hometown, so it’s a literary mecca for millions of people.

I’m not a huge fan of Shakespeare’s work as a rule, but I respect it. It’s important to know what his contribution has been to language and literature.

The Tudor-style architecture is one of my favorites, so walking around Stratford on such a beautiful morning was a feast for the eyes.

We walked along the River Avon for a bit and enjoyed feeding the swans. We couldn’t believe how many of them there were!

I’ll never pass up an opportunity to feed waterfowl. I’m a sucker!

Ducks are my fave!

We packed up our things and hit the road for Hay-on-Wye, England’s “book town” and gateway to Wales. How absolutely perfect for Karin and me to visit Hay-on-Wye together!

Hay-on-Wye is a charmer! Every time we turned a corner there was something adorable to see.

Bookshops EVERYWHERE.

MURDER AND MAYHEM – I should’ve picked up a few books for my English classes. 🙂

We ate a delicious warm lunch at The Granary, which was probably one of my favorite meals from the whole trip.

Then we went to Richard Booth’s Bookshop – three floors of new and secondhand books.

Before we left the bookshop, Karin and I gave it a go with Welsh. Oh well! It’s too hard! Even the kids’ books were intimidating. We had a good laugh trying to sound out the words.

Our AirBNB in Nant-y-Derry (Wales) was utterly delightful. We didn’t get there until dark, but I was sure to get photos the next morning.

Before settling in for the night, we grabbed dinner at The Foxhunter Inn, the local pub. We raised a glass to our wonderful trip thus far.

The UK with Karin: Day 5

Our fifth day in England was the most special. Not only was it the day that our driver showed up to take us to Wales, but it was also the day that Karin and I were going to meet Philippa Gregory.

On Friday, Sept. 6, I saw an Instastory post from Sudeley Castle that gave my heart a jump. I screenshotted it and sent it to Karin immediately, texting, “RED ALERT.”

We learned that Philippa Gregory would be speaking at a small, intimate event at the castle on the very night we’d be driving westward. Our route needed to shift slightly, and we’d need to rearrange our AirBNB reservation, but this was doable. We could go. We could absolutely positively meet Philippa Gregory on our inaugural trip to England.

It’s important to know that Karin’s and my friendship is partly rooted in Philippa Gregory’s works of historical fiction. She and I swapped these books back and forth for years, both enjoying Gregory’s depictions of the Plantagenet and Tudor eras. To meet this specific writer together AND in England was a gift I couldn’t have planned if I’d tried.

But first, we needed to connect with our driver. He showed up at the hotel on Wednesday morning in need of a shower and spot of breakfast.

Before leaving Kingston, we stopped by a local artist’s house (who I follow on Instagram) because I wanted to buy a print that I’ve been eyeballing since May. Lisa Tolley is based in Thames Ditton, which is across the river and on the opposite side of Hampton Court from Kingston. It was a delight to meet her, to tell her how much I love her illustrations, and to purchase the piece I’ve been wanting for months.

Off we went to the Cotswolds, specifically to Winchcombe, to explore the area and make our way to Sudeley Castle. Our tickets for the event included a tour of the grounds and remains, though photos were limited because Sudeley is still a private home.

Sudeley Castle was Kateryn Parr’s final home and resting place, where she retreated after Henry VIII died and she was free from her duties as his sixth queen. She married her long-time love but only lived a few more years after they finally got together.

What I love so dearly about Kateryn Parr is that she was the first woman in England to publish her own writing in her own name.

Like so many others, the castle fell to ruin as England’s landscape changed. Though some structures date back to the 12th century and much of it was built in the 15th century, the property wasn’t restored until the 19th century.

I’m sure Chuck never thought he’d have to walk so many castle grounds in his lifetime. He’s a trooper!
London has nothing on the English countryside.
Kateryn Parr is buried in the chapel at Sudeley, the only royal to be buried on the property of a private home.

Of course, the gardens were stunning.

We finished our tour of the castle and gardens and headed to town to find a place to eat. It was a weird time, something like 4 p.m., so we had a bit of trouble finding a pub that served food before 6 p.m. This is typical, particularly in small towns.

We had not eaten since our full breakfast that morning in Kingston, and we weren’t sure what food options we’d have after the Philippa Gregory event since we’d have to head to Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Thankfully, The White Hart Inn served midday soup and sandwiches, and that was better than nothing, so we popped in for “a bite and a pint.”

THEN – in the midst of perusing the menu, IN WALKS PHILIPPA GREGORY.

No lie. She and her assistant walked in casually, no doubt in search of a 4 p.m. meal. I smacked Chuck’s arm (because he was sitting next to me) and said under my breath, “Karin, she’s here. Philippa Gregory just walked in. She’s here. She’s here.”

THEN – she and her assistant joined us at the row of tables next to the windows, with only one empty table between us. How were we not supposed to stare at her? How were we supposed to just SIT THERE like Philippa Gregory wasn’t sitting in our same breathing space?

I froze, so it was Karin who began, “Hi, Ms. Gregory.” We exchanged very short pleasantries, something about how excited we were to hear her speak that evening. I can’t even remember. I was so uncool. It’s no wonder that minutes later THEY MOVED TABLES.

These quotes hang above the bar at The White Hart Inn and Restaurant.

Now, logically, we know they moved tables so they could have a private conversation about whatever was going on in their private and professional worlds. They didn’t need a table of American fans hanging on their every word. Truthfully, I was relieved that they moved tables because I needed my body to RELAX and stop seizing.

Chuck was the sly one who snapped a photo of them while paying for our food at the bar.

Little did we know that wouldn’t be our last personal encounter with Philippa Gregory.

Starstruck, we went back to the castle and left Chuck in the car. (He was less interested in attending the event and more interested in taking a catnap to manage his jetlag.) We arrived in time to get a good place in line and score seats in the third row of the small room. I don’t know how many people attended, but it was somewhere in the 50-75 range.

Philippa Gregory spoke on “the women hidden from history” and how this has been a guiding force in her research and writing. She was just as inspirational as I hoped she’d be. I even felt brave enough to raise my hand and ask a question. After getting our books signed, that could’ve been the end of the evening and I would’ve been fine.

But it wasn’t the end.

As we sipped our wine and stalked Philippa Gregory from across the room, I kept trying to manage the urge to approach her again. I simply couldn’t do it. What would I say? What would she even want to say to me? Why am I so awkward in the moments when I really need not be?

Karin, my seize-the-moment friend, wasted no time waltzing across the room to ask the assistant if we could grab a photo with Ms. Gregory. With a smile on her face, she said we could.

You cannot tell by this photo but I am imploding. The wine must have helped.

Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, with Philippa Gregory at Sudeley Castle

It didn’t end there. We talked. We really talked. She started it by saying, “We meet again!” clearly remembering us from the pub a few hours prior. I told her I was a writer – a journalist with a dream of writing fiction – and she said, “I used to be a journalist too.” I swooned.

Bravely, I asked for her advice – what are the steps I should be taking? What should I be doing with my time? How exactly do I make a dream come true?

She said: Hone your craft. Don’t read bad books and don’t write bad books that you know will get published because they’ll still be bad books. Read good books that elevate your writing. Keep working hard. Write consistently. There’s no magic or secret. Don’t quit. KEEP GOING.

Then she said, “What’s your name? So I can keep an eye out for you?”

Shaking utterly and screaming on the inside, I said, “Jennie. It’s Jennie,” followed by silence.

To which Karin added, “…Treadway-Miller.”

I started to cry. Embarrassed, I worked hard to choke back the tears. My inner dialogue screamed GOOD GRIEF, WOMAN, GET AHOLD OF THYSELF. I barely had the presence of mind to speak.

The assistant told me to create a social media presence solely dedicated to the work, which I promptly did that night. As I felt the conversation coming to a close, I thanked them for their time. They could have denied us a photo and certainly not opened up a conversation, but they were generous and kind and that made the whole experience completely perfect.

I mean, seriously. Perfect.

We floated to the car, giggling and asking ourselves if the day really happened. On the way to Stratford-Upon-Avon, I typed everything she said to me in the Notes app on my phone, not that I even needed to. I remember it all. I couldn’t possibly forget a night like that.

The UK with Karin: Day 4

To Windsor!

We hopped the train again, this time westbound to the tiny town of Windsor. Last year we visited Windsor Castle a few days before Princess Eugenie’s wedding, so St. George’s Chapel was off limits for tourists.

BUT NOT THIS YEAR.

Flower boxes are my fave!

After watching the changing of the guard, Karin and I bolted for the chapel. I didn’t want to miss it a second time.

St. George’s Chapel

Of course, no photography was allowed inside, but here’s a link to the official site and some stunning photography. Karin and I were so pleased to see the resting places of monarchs and the space where so many royals have gotten married.

Taking photos inside the castle isn’t allowed either, but I snapped a ton of photos last year and posted them here. Windsor is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world. Much like our luck at Buckingham, the Queen was not in residence when we were there. Maybe one day our schedules will align.

With time and weather on our side, we hopped the train back to Kingston and bolted for Hampton Court via a cab. This would be Karin’s only opportunity (on this trip) to see Henry VIII’s favorite place to hang. (Ha!) We got to Hampton Court with an hour to spare.

Since I’d just been there in May, I was reserved with my photos.

The Great Hall

The sun started to set as we finished our quickie tour of Hampton Court. I couldn’t believe the perfect weather. In the weeks leading up to our trip I’d fretted about possible rain – and there was rain coming, trust me – but for all of our trekking and training, we’d not experienced a drop! Overwhelmed with gratitude, we walked back to Kingston instead of taking a cab. I wanted to soak in as much Kingston as I could.

River Thames

We ended the day with wine and Sticky Toffee Pudding at the hotel. We’d managed four days in and around London on foot, on trains, and in cabs. Thankfully, our cross-country driver would be arriving the next morning to take us to Wales.

The UK with Karin: Day 3

When Karin said she wanted to see Hever Castle, I didn’t mind one bit. Interestingly, it was on our third day of the trip last October when I went to Hever for the first time. Even though the castle itself was a repeat, Chuck and I didn’t explore the gardens. There was still something new to see there.

Karin used the train rides to catch up on her British news 🙂

Still gorgeous!

If you’re into gardening, you’ve come to the right place.

This was an area of the property I didn’t explore last time. At the end of this corridor of foliage is a large pond that connects to the River Eden.

Honestly, I didn’t even know The Loggia existed, so it was a brand new discovery.

We did tour the inside of the castle, but having already taken so many photos of the home last year, I used incredible restraint and only snapped a few with my phone.

Had you told me then that I’d be back at Hever one year later, I wouldn’t have believed you.

The UK with Karin: Day 2

We both enjoyed every second of sleep we got that first night. It is definitely the trade-off for flying overnight. You know the first day is a tough one. Pictures help you remember what you saw and what you did, but it’s really a crapshoot.

Day two was another hard trek, but honestly, I can’t imagine traveling any other way unless I’ve checked into an all-inclusive resort with nowhere else to go. I do NOT waste time.

After a full English breakfast, we took a quick peek at the Coronation Stone in Kingston, which is said to have been the very place where seven Anglo-Saxon kings have been crowned. (Having just taught Beowulf to my high school students, I was all warm and fuzzy about Anglo-Saxons and super happy to see the stone.)

We took a quick walk around the riverside so Karin could see more of Kingston in the daylight. I love this borough so dearly – I actually look at rental properties here in my spare time. It’s a dream, I know. But still.

Bridge to Richmond-Upon-Thames and Hampton Court
River Thames

Eventually, we took the train back to London, this time starting near Buckingham Palace so we could see if the Queen was home. (She wasn’t!) We stopped in the gift shop for a few keepsakes, which is where I took the cutest photo of Karin ever.

We took a long walk through Hyde Park to see the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain and Kensington Palace (all new stuff for me!). The walk was beautiful – perfect temperature and plenty of autumn leaves.

The Queen Elizabeth Gate to Hyde Park
The Serpentine in Hyde Park

Our discovery of Diana memorials continued when we walked into Kensington Palace. Of course, we were hoping that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would be home, but alas, they weren’t.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana lived at Kensington Palace together when they were married, and Diana continued to live there after they divorced. I was so pleased to see she is still memorialized there.

Time to update these photos for Prince Louis and Archie!
This magnificent wallpaper lines the walls near the restrooms on the bottom floor at Kensington.

The bulk of Kensington Palace features the life of Queen Victoria and her sweetheart (and cousin) Prince Albert, two monarchs I know little about other than the obvious bits and facts. I was thrilled by what I learned about this small, feisty queen. I’m eager to get my hands on a book about her.

We learned that Victoria has limited freedom as a young princess, and her relationship with her mother suffered for it.

Victoria was a “spirited” child. 🙂
I love this. Victoria was so small, and it really bothered her! Now we know why she preferred the tiny crown.
Queen Victoria was born in this room.

Hello, crowns!

After our tour of Kensington Palace, we took tea/coffee and cake on the patio to relish the moment.

A quick stop to the restrooms gave me a glimpse of this adorable sign. Love the crowns!

We took our time strolling back through Hyde Park toward Buckingham Palace and the center of Westminster. Karin still wanted to see a few key spots, such as 10 Downing Street, Big Ben (which is still under construction), and Westminster Abbey.

Prince Albert Memorial
This is the statue of Dame Millicent Fawcett, a suffragist leader. I read that this is the first statue of a woman in Parliament Square (also the first statue designed by a woman), and it commemorates the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in the UK.
Flower boxes are my fave!

We had no idea we’d arrived at Westminster Abbey at the perfect time. We knew the abbey was closed to visitors on Sunday, but there was a line forming outside the west door. A quick inquiry told us that anyone was allowed to attend the Sunday evening prayer service (with strict instructions that it is indeed a prayer service and not an opportunity to tour the church). We jumped at the opportunity to join others in prayer at Westminster. We just couldn’t believe it.

As per the rules, I took no photos inside but instead took the opportunity to be still in prayer, gratitude, and thanksgiving.

Since it was dark, we took a cab to Waterloo and grabbed the next train back to Kingston.

The UK with Karin: Day 1

When Karin and I met in 2001, we became fast friends. This is actually the same origin story for all of my best friends. Upon meeting, I recognize them almost immediately as one of my people. It’s an instinct and a gift.

Karin and I worked together at a chiropractic clinic. We were both in a young season of figuring out our career paths, and this job provided a paycheck and time to think. It also afforded us time together every day to build and mold our friendship. Karin and I were together on 9/11, while Chuck and I walked through infertility, and when she and her then-boyfriend got engaged and married. We were in our mid-20s when life felt open-ended and full of possibilities.

Our jobs at the clinic ended as she went back to social work and I moved into communications, but we stayed best friends, and not just because our firstborns are five hours apart. Some of our biggest commonalities was a love of reading, all things Tudor, and the shared dream of exploring England together. It was an incredible fantasy considering all of the things that happened in our 30s: more kids, moving across the country, new jobs with no vacation time, divorce. You can’t just run off to England when you have Kindergartners and a new mortgage.

Fast-forward to now. Our lives are considerably different than they were ten years ago – emotionally, psychologically, financially. Suddenly, there is time to focus on ourselves without all the mom guilt. There’s a little more money in the bank, and we’ve learned a few things about how to travel smartly. When I went to England for the first time last year, almost every day provided a moment for me to tell Chuck, “Karin would love this.”

Speaking of, you should know that it was Chuck’s idea – this trip with Karin. He called me one evening in the summer while away on a work trip. We weren’t that far removed from our whirlwind vacation with the boys to France, Italy, and Monaco when he said, “What if we took Karin to England over fall break?”

The idea sounded far too lofty to grab and pull down. How could we even afford that? We were just overseas. Of course, I knew what he meant – we’d watch the fares and pounce when they dropped. We’d use all those hotel points he accrues so quickly. We’d split the AirBNB costs and car rental. We’d figure it out just like before. 

When I pitched the idea to Karin, I don’t think she even hesitated in saying yes. I can’t even remember how the conversation went other than jumping right to dates that worked for both of us. Truth be told, I wasn’t entirely sure we could pull it off. Chuck was always confident, but I, the budget-keeper and family worrier, wasn’t. 

Everything wove together near seamlessly, and by October 4, Karin and I were boarding a flight for Heathrow.

The overnight flight meant we’d arrive the morning of Saturday, October 5, with fingers crossed that we could check into our hotel in Kingston and hit the ground running.

This was Karin’s first look at England.

The stars aligned and that’s exactly what we did. We wasted no time taking the train to London and walking straight for The Tower. (I didn’t take new photos there other than my photos of Karin, so y’all can enjoy what I took last year.) Though it wasn’t new to me, it was entirely new to Karin. I was so happy to see her wide eyes taking in all the things I knew she’d love.

What was new to me that Saturday was St. Paul’s Cathedral, an incredible place of worship that I was not prepared to see. The place was stunning.

Even the tilework was beautiful.

After touring St. Paul’s, we crossed the Millennium Bridge for a glimpse at The Globe, then grabbed our first dinner in London. Of course it was fish and chips! And cider!

Like zombies, we took the train back to Kingston-Upon-Thames, crawled into our hotel room, and crashed, deliriously happy.

My Week Alone

Earlier in the spring, my sister asked me if Jeremy wanted to join Owen on his summer youth trip, and I immediately said yes. I asked no questions, so the camp could’ve been in another country for all I knew. Alas, it was only at Wheaton College, which is less than an hour from where they live.

One thing led to another and suddenly the boys were going to Chicago for a week in July, and then I learned that Chuck had a work trip that same week, and that’s when the most delightful realization washed over me: I would have a full five days entirely to myself.

For this introverted homeschooling mom, I hit the jackpot.

To sweeten the deal, Chuck and I would have a couple of days together on either end of that week. It was perfect.

Unlike last year when the boys flew alone for the first time, I wasn’t nervous in the slightest. Off they went, and less than two hours later, Jeremy and Jackson were safely with my sister.

My week consisted of speaking only when I wanted to, working on freelance assignments, and catching up on podcasts. I ended up doing a lot of work from bed, which is something I haven’t stopped doing because I’m desperately trying to hang onto that slow summer feeling.

I ended up finishing a year’s worth of quizzes and assignments for my middle school English class at our co-op, and I’m well on my way to finishing the high school class. I’m “helping my future self,” as Chuck likes to say.

I did see a couple of friends, but I also kept my schedule as light as possible. I wanted to retreat, to lay low, to keep quiet. Those were restorative days for me, and had I been too busy, it would’ve had the opposite effect.

The one activity I planned for myself was a Sip & Stitch at an event center owned by another Knoxville Moms Blog writer. I’ve been teaching myself how to cross-stitch, but you can only learn so much from videos. So, exactly one time, I did my hair and makeup and went out in the world during my week alone. I’m so happy with my creation.

Meanwhile, Jackson enjoyed a week of being spoiled with bookstores and Starbucks.

It doesn’t take much to make this boy happy. I know Jackson enjoyed an alternative “big brother” experience with Jacob, one in which there’s no fighting or silly competition.

Jeremy and Owen had a great time at camp. These two have been “best cousins” from birth since they are only six months apart. They’ve grown into two very different personalities, as you can see from this photo, but they always love being together.

When it was time to get our boys back, we all met in Mason, Ohio, at the Great Wolf Lodge, which we had not been to in ages. The first time we went to a Great Wolf Lodge was in 2009 when we lived in Amarillo and drove to meet my sister and her family at the GWL in Kansas City. Here’s a photo from that weekend:

And here we are from two weeks ago:

The water slides are just as fun at 15 as they are at 5. Jackson doesn’t remember going to the GWL in Kansas City, so it was like the first time for him. He LOVED it.

In fact, he missed out on this photo because he didn’t want to leave the wave pool:

We had 24 hours of swimming, laying by the pool, and enjoying each other’s company. Since we won’t see them again until Christmas, it was important to have a little bit of time together instead of just flying the boys home (which would’ve been quicker and cheaper).

Love them so much!

Carillon Beach with Karin

I know, I know – we just went on vacation. BUT, Karin and I like to skip out of town on occasion (like, every couple of years) since we don’t live in the same city, and visiting each other’s houses means we can’t take a break from motherhood. Obviously going to the beach is our only option. I’m sure you understand.

We took a chance on Hotwire and fully prepared to stay at a local dump somewhere on the Emerald Coast. As long as the doors locked and there were no obvious bug infestations, we were going to be fine.

We were PLEASANTLY surprised to discover the Carillon Beach Resort Inn. Good job, Hotwire!

Tucked away in a gated community, the resort is a slew of condos in a desirable neighborhood of million-dollar homes. There are seven private beach access points, four swimming pools, and a lake in the middle of it all. This was the view from our patio:

On site is a little breakfast/lunch cafe and a separate restaurant for dinner, along with a spa, general store, and a couple of other businesses. We could not figure out why the place wasn’t swarming with tourists. The beaches weren’t even close to being crowded.

We finally asked around and discovered that people simply don’t know the place exists. Perhaps people think the gate means it’s private and inaccessible.

There were plenty of covered beach chairs for rent and wide open spaces for a clear view of the gulf. We took a walk towards the neighboring public beach and noticed a significant difference between how populated it was versus our area. I definitely preferred Carillon Beach!

The houses were outstanding. This one is a dream:

Swimming at night is my favorite.

We bought groceries for snacking and eating at the condo, but we did manage one meal out of our swimsuits. We enjoyed a delicious guilt-free, indulgent dinner at Amici 30a Italian.

Two and a half days is not nearly long enough, but I’ll take what I can get.

2019 European Vacation: Day Eight in London

As promised, we made sure the boys set their feet in London before flying back to the States. A quick Easy Jet flight from Milan made that happen.

Honestly, I got teary seeing the land from overhead. I love England. I love it. I love being there, I hate leaving it. I’ve had a crush on Britain for decades and now I’ve been twice within a year. I’m already planning a third trip.

For our final day of sight-seeing, we grabbed dinner at a pub in Shepherd’s Bush (where I had the most amazing BBQ Jackfruit quesadillas!) and then hopped on the tube for Piccadilly Circus so the boys could have that “Times Square” London experience (i.e., all tourists, no locals). That’s where the LEGO store was, after all.

It was there that I saw the most exciting LEGO set ever: Stranger Things!

I didn’t take a lot of photos during our afternoon and evening in London because I’d already taken 700 throughout the trip, and frankly, I just wanted to walk the streets and enjoy myself. We got out of Piccadilly Circus as quickly as we could (because people!) and strolled through St. James Park and Westminster. Both boys wanted to see Buckingham Palace.

Union Jack Heaven!

The Royal Standard was flying above the palace, which meant the Queen was home! (When Chuck and I visited in October, the Union Jack was flying above the palace, which meant the Queen was not in residence.)

When our evening in London ended, I started pouting almost immediately. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to keep going – head to Wales or Cornwall, maybe drive to Yorkshire and the Lake District. There’s so much more I want to see.

For now, this trip will have to tide me over, and it definitely will. We all agree that Monaco was our favorite day on the trip, and the day after in Antibes and Cannes is a close second. Italy wasn’t what we expected, and I can’t say that I’m in a hurry to go back.

France, on the other hand, has me more curious than ever. I’ve been to Paris and now Côte d’Azur, but there’s a whole lot of countryside in between. ??

2019 European Vacation: Days Six and Seven in Milan, Italy

The weather was a bit gray when we left Levanto, an indication that the remainder of our Italian experience would likely be overcast or rainy. I was so grateful the rain held off so that we could enjoy Cinque Terre.

Before leaving our AirBNB, I snapped a photo of the neighbor’s dog who barked whenever he heard people. Just look at that face:

The drive to Milan was uneventful, particularly as we got closer to the city. (The Italian gas stations remain our favorite gas stations of all time.) The first part of the drive was breathtaking because it took us through the National Park of the Tuscan-Emilian and Parma, home to Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano. I wish we could’ve pulled off the highway a few times to take pictures, but everyone just wanted to get to Milan. It was lovely to gaze out the window and see the countryside roll by.

Our AirBNB in Milan was phenomenal. It’s run by Superhosts, so no detail is left undone. We opted for a loft with three sleeping spaces and upon arrival realized it was quite close to a supermarket and metro station. It even came with a secure parking space (i.e., not on the street).

Jackson loved the loft room!

We cut to the chase and hopped the metro for the city center, and right away we were overwhelmed. Milan was packed. As someone who doesn’t handle crowds very well, I was immediately put off. We did our best and maneuvered around the Piazza del Duomo, which was currently set up for a large concert. (That explained the massive crowd.)

The Dome Cathedral was lovely though. We decided to tour the inside of the church the following day when we knew it would be raining.

Ironically, all of the high-fashion, ultra-expensive shops are situated around the cathedral, which also contributed to the mess of people. Everyone was shopping, particularly inside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which had everything from Louis Vuitton to Prada.

(Not my photo. There were too many people inside to take good pictures.)

Of course the only store we visited was the Mondadori Bookstore, which was three floors!

After wandering around the city center, we heard live music booming from the piazza. Chuck said, “I think that’s Sting,” to which I answered, “That’s someone who sounds like Sting. That’s not Sting.”

It was Sting.

So THAT’S WHY there were eight million people in four square blocks in Milan! We couldn’t believe it. A quick Google search told us that Sting was in town with RadioItalia to promote the local orchestra (or something to that effect). What luck!

Eventually, we went inside La Rinascente, a ten-story shopping center full of – you guessed it – the highest possible name brand stores you can imagine. On the top floor are a couple of restaurants with open-air seating, so after checking the menus, we found a few things we recognized and decided to eat outside with a great view of the Duomo.

The top floor also had an incredible dessert selection.

We were tired and still a little star-struck from seeing Sting, so we grabbed some sweets to-go and headed back to the loft.

Also, this is the best macaron I’ve ever had: vanilla and apricot. ?

By morning, the rain had definitely arrived, so I decided to leave my camera in the loft and only use my cell phone. I wish the following photos were of better quality, but oh well!

We slept in a little, made breakfast, and took the metro back to city center to buy tickets for the Duomo.

Of course, then I really wished I had my camera. The Duomo is magnificent.

The stained glass was exceptional!

After exploring the Duomo, we found a proper football shop where Jeremy bought an AC Milan jersey and had his name printed on the back. Immediately after that, we went to the three-story Ferrari store, where Chuck drove a simulated car.

It was a nice way to round out our Formula 1 experience in Europe!

The rain eased a bit, so we walked to the one place I wanted to visit in Milan: the Starbucks Reserve. There are only five places in the world where Starbucks roasts its coffee beans, and Milan is one of them. In addition to being a roastery (and supplier to European stores), the Reserve offers select drinks and treats that aren’t offered elsewhere.

When I told Jeremy we were walking to a Starbucks, he was unimpressed. Yet, when we walked in, he understood.

This is a Starbucks?” ?

Chuck and I ordered specialty coffees while the boys enjoyed gelato made right in front of them with liquid nitrogen.

We also talked to the one of the roasters who explained the process to us. He was from England, so there was no language barrier!

After our midday treats, we walked away from the city center to see what else Milan had to offer. Finally, I found a part of Milan I enjoyed and there were so few people! It was great!

Green spaces!

We made one last stop, this time in a men’s shop called Gutteridge. There, I saw my two favorite flags.

It was in Gutteridge where we knew our time in Milan was over. We were all exhausted. We made a quick walk back through the galleria, which still had a mess of people in it.

We stopped by the grocery store on the way back to the loft for dinner things and spent the rest of the evening lounging. In the morning, we were headed to London.??

2019 European Vacation: Day Five in Levanto and Cinque Terre, Italy

It was hard to leave France, if I’m honest. We had just found our stride with the neighborhood and language, and we felt like we could stay for days longer with no problem. It was only the pull and appeal of Cinque Terre that made it okay to pack up and drive east.

Before we go any further, you need to know that Italian gas stations are phenomenal.

In addition to their clean and tidy bathrooms, Italian gas stations are part specialty shop, part delicatessen. Some of the boys’ favorite foods they ate in Italy were enjoyed in a gas station. Go figure.

Our AirBNB was in Levanto, a cozy seaside town on a hill in the province of La Spezia. On the drive to Levanto, tucked away in the mountainside, we saw little communities of stacked, colorful buildings.

They were little hints of what was to come later that afternoon in Riomaggiore and Manarola, the two (out of five) villages we visited that make up Cinque Terre.

In keeping with the steep terrain, our apartment in Levanto was situated on a hill and gave us an incredible view of the water.

We settled in quickly and headed to the train station. Originally, I thought walking through all five towns of Cinque Terre was doable over two days, and I still think that’s a plausible plan. However, we were already tired from the previous four days that we decided to stick with the two towns we wanted to see the most and forgo the other three. In the end it was a smart move because Riomaggiore and Manarola were swarming with tourists, and we’d heard from family members who just visited the area that the other towns were even more touristy.

Still, I wanted to see these towns with my own eyes, especially since I’d already seen them in pictures AND in a puzzle.

When we spent Christmas in Wisconsin in 2017, my family and I spend a week putting together a puzzle of the Italian coastline that Chuck and I bought from Target. We chose this puzzle for Jacob, who loves all things Italy, and it looked beautiful when it was completed.

Truth be told, I wasn’t altogether convinced this was a real place.

In December 2017, Cinque Terre, specifically Manarola, didn’t mean anything to me, but as we researched this trip and put Cinque Terre on our itinerary, I realized we’d be walking right into that puzzle.

We went to Riomaggiore first and realized that everything we heard about Cinque Terre was true – small streets, stairs everywhere, a maze of walkways. The weather was perfect, so everything sparkled.

It wasn’t long after arriving that both boys wished they’d brought their swim trunks.

We kept walking up since we had the stamina to do so!

We made a pitstop for rosé, as one does in Italy.

And then my boys posed for a photo by choice, not coercion:

Love, love, love!

If I lived in Riomaggiore:

Welcome to my plants.
The Wine House, Riomaggiore

The back wall of The Wine House in Riomaggiore was an actual wall of rock. It was the literal mountainside!

We hopped the train to Manarola because that’s where I wanted to be at sunset for the best lighting, where the low sun would cast a soft glow on the building fronts.

Italian cat!

I pulled up a picture of the puzzle on my phone so we could identify WHERE in the puzzle we were standing.

We grabbed dinner near the water and rested our legs. Then it was time to walk to the other side for that evening photo with the perfect lighting. Jeremy and I headed to one side, Chuck and Jackson to the other.

This was our view:

Manarola, Cinque Terre

That’s Chuck and Jackson in the green and blue shirts.

Once the sun was tucked behind the mountainside we headed for the train station and rode back to Levanto.

Good night from Manarola

In the morning, we headed back to Milan. Little did we know that we’d run into Sting that evening.

2019 European Vacation: Day Four in Antibes and Cannes during the Film Festival

We scheduled a morning to sleep in and take our time, which was necessary for happy moods and getting some laundry done. Once everyone was sufficiently awake, we packed up our Eddie Bauer packable daypacks, which I love, and headed for Billionaire’s Bay.

I knew Jeremy would enjoy every minute of the morning. He has loved the water since birth and could spend inordinate amounts of time just observing what’s down below. The water was cooler than he would’ve liked, but man oh man was it crystal clear.

We kept following the trail, which was virtually empty, save a couple of hikers here and there.

Jackson was the first brave soul to enter the chilly Mediterranean Sea.

You only live once! Jump in!

This is one of my favorite photos from the entire trip – Jeremy and Jackson jumping into the Mediterranean Sea together. Be still my heart.

I can’t get over how beautiful this place is. It was only a 20-minute drive from our apartment and it was free to the public.

We headed back to the apartment to clean up for Cannes, which was only one train stop west from Antibes. (The train fare was $3.20 per person.) We had zero expectations for Cannes because we had no clue how the film festival would transform the city and make it either less convenient or more convenient for travelers. So, we hopped the train and kept an open mind.

There was a lot of this in Cannes:

At least half of everyone walking around were in tuxes and nice dresses. Some had lanyards around their necks, which signified they could enter the festival, but others carried signs saying they needed a ticket or two. We supposed the film festival was invite-only.

The coolest thing by far was Jeremy’s pick-up game of chess. We came upon a chessboard surrounded by Frenchmen so we stopped to watch them play.

We encouraged Jeremy to play the next free game and were SO PROUD that he wasn’t too shy to jump in. He didn’t win, but he kept his opponent playing for a while and earned the respect of older onlookers.

Scattered throughout the square adjacent to the Palais des Festivals were imprints of movie stars’ hands, foreign and domestic. We stumbled upon a few American actors and actresses:

One thing we opted out of was staying to watch the Cinéma de la Plage (Movie on the Beach), which is free to the public during the Cannes Film Festival. Each night is a different film, and we crossed our fingers hoping it would be an English-speaking film (American or otherwise) the night we were there. Alas, it was a foreign film so we decided not to grab four seats and stay.

The previous night, however, they showed Boyz in the Hood. ?

We also decided not to linger in an attempt to see Sylvester Stallone, who would be walking the red carpet later that night. We did see Adrien Brody on the boardwalk though!

Dinner in Cannes was one of our best experiences on the entire trip. We chose a little restaurant on a side street where we could sit under an umbrella and people-watch. Our waiter was terrific and took care to help the boys with their French.

In this photo the waiter is teaching Jackson how to say “without lettuce and tomato” in French.
My husband drank rosé in France and I couldn’t have been happier.?

The boys wanted ice cream for dessert (we promised them we’d eat tons of ice cream on this trip!), but Chuck and I wanted Nutella crêpes. Holy moly. Get in my belly.

The night in Cannes concluded our time in France, and frankly, I was sad to leave. Everything about our French experience was wonderful. But, it was time to go back to Italy, so we packed up our things the next morning and headed to Levanto and Cinque Terre.

2019 European Vacation: Day Three in Monaco for the Formula 1 Grand Prix Practice

If you’d have told me as recently as January that I would want to go to Monaco for a Formula 1 race, I wouldn’t have believed you. Thanks for everything, Drive to Survive.

When we learned that the Monaco Grand Prix was slated for the exact dates we would be in the area, I immediately researched how to buy tickets. There was much to learn! Where do we sit? What if it rains? What can we afford? Do we know anyone with a yacht?

Spoiler: We did not know anyone with a yacht.

For our first Grand Prix experience, we opted to go to a practice day instead of the actual race. Part of it was a financial decision (adult tickets were $90 each, kids 15 and younger were free!), but part of it was because we would be in Italy come race day, and we didn’t want to undo plans and rearrange everything.

But first, breakfast. Chuck was our resident boulangerie shopper. He went to the bakery each morning to order quatre croissants.

The train ride to Monaco lasted all of 45 minutes and cost around €8 roundtrip per person. We had already fallen for Antibes, but we were about to crush hard on Monaco.

Our initial and lasting impression of Monaco is that it’s the most beautiful city/country in the world. It’s completely perfect, other than the fact that the majority of the world cannot afford to live there.

The streets are spotless. As in, no garbage remnants, no cigarette butts, no tiny pebbles along the curbs. Everything shines and sparkles.

I imagine we looked like lost children wandering the streets of Monte-Carlo, trying to figure out where we entered for Tribune T, taking in all the glorious sights of team gear and apparel for sale, wondering where all the alleyways and side streets led… Eventually, we found the Fan Zone, where Chuck and the boys raced for Aston Martin Red Bull.

The first practice was at 11 a.m., and we wanted to be seated and ready since our seats were across from the pit lane. That meant we could see everyone (drivers!) walking to their cars.

Serendipitously, our seats were directly in front of the only American-owned team, Haas. We were giddy!

Directly beneath the “44” for Lewis Hamilton in the red jumpsuit is Ferrari driver Charles LeClerc, a young Monégasque who’s rising in the ranks of Formula 1. This was to be a meaningful race for him but unfortunately the stars weren’t aligned in his favor. It was still cool to see him from our seats!
This is McLaren driver Carlos Sainz Jr. in the orange cap.
Haas driver Kevin Magnussen was quick from the steps to his car! I got better photos of his teammate Romain Grosjean, who lingered in the pit to chat and smile.
This is the photo I’m most proud of! Directly below Max Verstappen’s head, you’ll see a handshake of goodwill between Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner (husband of Ginger Spice) and former Red Bull driver now Renault driver Daniel Riccardo. If you watched Drive to Survive, you’ll appreciate this handshake.

The giant screen in front of the pit lane gave us a view of the entire practice, thankfully! When you’re in the stands, all you see is what’s directly in front of you, and since the cars move so quickly, you can’t blink!

I have a soft spot in my heart for Team Williams, who have been in the bottom for the last few years. Team Principal Claire Williams is the only female principal in all of Formula 1, and it was her father who started the company in the 70s. He’s wheelchair bound now but still attends races and events. I’m rooting for Williams. I hope they re-emerge as the champions they used to be.
Charles LeClerc, No. 16

People were camped out in balconies, tree lines, and slopes, wherever they could find a free spot to watch the practice.

I’m sure there are celebrities in there somewhere, unless they are all on yachts. It makes sense that the Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix fall during the same few weeks.

After the first practice, we walked around more of Monte-Carlo. Since the city/country is less than one square mile, we can say we literally walked around an entire country in an afternoon.

I dare you to find one piece of litter in Monaco.

I’m going to need a wall of plants, please.

A walk around Monaco means you’re constantly walking up or down a hill. The country is on the side of a mountain, so everything layered and stacked.

In between buildings you can almost always catch of glimpse of the circuit.
In between the two Formula 1 practices was a Formula 2 qualifying race.

On account of the Grand Prix, the casino was closed. It’s a shame since Chuck wanted to gamble a minute and I wanted to enjoy the view from Café de Paris. I guess we’ll just have to go back!

McLarens and Ferraris were everywhere.

There were also tons of landmarks and signage honoring Princess Grace.

All the stairs in Monaco prepped us for Cinque Terre.
Caught a view of the pool, pit lane, and our tribune!

Seriously, is this real?

Guess which balcony is my favorite?

One stressful thing happened while we were in Monaco: We couldn’t get cash out of an ATM, which made me think there was something wrong with our cards. It was also impossible to use the data on my cell phone, so calling our bank wasn’t working. (Monaco has its own WiFi, which visitors have to pay for. I didn’t know this!) Thank goodness we found a Starbucks. I used their WiFi to contact the bank, which assured me all was well on our end. It must have been that the ATM was out of money or there was something faulty with the machine. While I decompressed in Starbucks, worrying that we’d have to make whatever euros we had on hand last the day, Chuck found another ATM that worked. All was well.

We went back to our seats for the second practice at 3 p.m.

If you’re able to zoom in, you can see our reflections in the mirrored wall. We’re on the fifth row from the bottom, and you can see me holding the camera in front of my face.
That’s Haas driver Romain Grosjean in the center of the photo!

When the practice was over, we took one last stroll around Monaco, this time climbing the hill to the castle. The views were outstanding.

Literally spotless.

Monaco’s flower game was on point!

None of us were prepared to be blown away by Monaco, but we were all in love by the end of the day. Jeremy announced he’s moving to Monaco when he grows up, so I’ll be sure to let everyone know where he lands so you can visit him.

Back in Antibes, we grabbed pizza for dinner – ordering en français, s’il vous plaît – and went back to the apartment to put up our feet. We were sleeping in the next morning for sure.

2019 European Vacation: Day Two in Antibes, Côte d’Azur (the French Riviera)

It was a genius move to sleep in the hotel connected to Gatwick Airport because our Easy Jet flight from London to Milan was incredibly early. Props to all of you who wake up at 4:30 a.m. by choice on a regular basis!

We got a beautiful view of the Alps from the airplane:

Flying to Milan was a financial decision, an inexpensive way to get us to Continental Europe. At $67 per ticket, it was a no-brainer. We landed by 9 a.m., grabbed our diesel Fiat rental, and headed for the Mediterranean.

We were all exhausted, but only the boys grabbed a catnap.

To be honest, our initial impression of Italy was nothing special, as we weren’t anticipating miles of rice fields outside of Milan. It wasn’t until we left the Lombardy region and entered Liguria that the terrain started to look pretty, like everything you see in photographs.

Knowing we had three days in Italy at the end of the trip, we didn’t make any stops and headed straight for Antibes, a small city between Nice and Cannes on the Côte d’Azur.

Our two-bedroom AirBNB apartment was perfectly situated with a view of the Mediterranean and only a short walk to a small grocery store and the train station.

The weather was perfect, so we unloaded our things and headed for the coastline and Old Town.

The water was as blue as I hoped it would be, but little did I know that in two days we’d explore another spot in Antibes that’s even more gorgeous.

I don’t know if there were more boats in town than usual on account of the Monaco Grand Prix, but I never tired of looking out into the Mediterranean Sea and watching massive yachts float by.

The Old Town of Antibes is everything you think a small French town would look like. This is why you have to get out of the big cities and explore where regular people live. Paris doesn’t fully represent France, just as London doesn’t fully represent England, just as New York City doesn’t fully represent the United States. I will always advocate for staying in small towns!

Vive la France!

We eventually found a spot for dinner and the boys ordered their meals entirely in French! I was so proud.

We attempted everything in French first, even if it was simply asking the waiter if he spoke English (“Parlez-vous anglais?”). Knowing simple questions, including please and thank you, will get you very far in a foreign country. By making an honest attempt, it shows you respect the people and country hosting you. We were always greeted and treated graciously by everyone we encountered in France.

After dinner, we explored the narrow streets of Old Town and found a beautiful square to get the boys gelato and us another glass of rosé. (Chuck discovered he enjoys wine in France!)

We had a big day planned for Monaco, so we watched the sunset from our balcony, enjoyed another glass of rosé, and pinched ourselves to make sure everything was real.

2019 European Vacation: Day One in Kingston-Upon-Thames and Brighton

Last year, when Chuck and I flew to the UK, we opted for an overnight flight so we wouldn’t lose a day of sight-seeing. A quick nap upon arrival gave us enough energy to power through the jet lag.

This time, however, remembering how rough it was on the boys when we flew to Iceland, we decided to surrender a day of sight-seeing for a day of travel. We flew out of Chicago at 9 a.m. and landed in London close to 11 p.m. By the time we were settled in Kingston-Upon-Thames and had eaten our room-service pizza, it was time for bed. Despite the incredibly long day, I think it was easier for the boys to acclimate.

I love Kingston-Upon-Thames and couldn’t wait to return, particularly since we had plans to visit Hampton Court. It’s southwest of London, perfectly situated on the river as the name suggests, and entirely walkable.

Before heading to Hampton Court, we stopped by All Saints Church, where the earliest kings of England were crowned. They still have the coronation stone inside.

The 30-minute walk to Hampton Court took us through the town and over the Thames, and it made me love the city all over again.

I’m tempted to draft a long history of Hampton Court’s significance, but I won’t torture those of you only came here for the photos. In short, Hampton Court was Henry VIII’s favorite place to be. It was transformed from a stately home to a true palace under the eye of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who failed to secure Henry’s first divorce from Catherine of Aragon and therefore secured his fateful death.

It was also where the Protestant King James I (of England) and VI (of Scotland), who reigned after Elizabeth I died, held a conference to discuss the translation of the Holy Bible into English for the faithful to read. (Spoiler alert – he had the first English translation named after him.)

The great kitchens of King Henry’s reign produced meat pies and delicacies literally fit for a king. The Tudor Royal Court was known for its exotic, fantastical dining.
The king’s wine cellar

Hampton Court is essentially two palaces in one – the rose-brick Tudor palace from the 1500s and the baroque palace of William III from the 1700s.

This staircase leads to William III’s apartments. It marks a noticeable shift is style and architecture.

At various points throughout our tour, I kept thinking certain places looked familiar as if I’d seen them before. Sure enough, a quick Google search reminded me that certain scenes of The Favourite were filmed here, as Queen Anne was the last Stuart monarch and spent a lot of time at Hampton Court.

I couldn’t wait to get my eyes on The Great Hall, which is practically a shrine to Henry VIII. My photos of the stained glass don’t do them justice.

If you’re able to zoom in on the stained glass, you’ll see all the wives’ names and their subsequent mottos.

Aw, poor Jane. She is buried with King Henry at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor. Henry considered her his true wife. She was wife No. 3 and the only one who bore him a living son, Edward VI.

My favorite, however, is Anne Boleyn. Her motto was “The Most Happy.” My sweet husband was such a champ to endure my Queen Anne fandom last October when we visited Hever Castle, her childhood home. It ended up being one of our favorite things on that trip.

It was Anne who gave us Elizabeth I.

One area where photos weren’t allowed was the Chapel Royal. (Below is a photo from the official website.) It was in this chapel where Henry’s son and future king, Edward, was baptized. It’s important to note that it was Henry who commissioned the vaulted ceilings in the 1530s and the blue starry sky was painted by Sir James Thornhill for Queen Anne Boleyn. She didn’t enjoy the ceiling for very long since she was executed in 1536.

Here’s a better view of the starry ceiling:

That’s Chuck walking out of the right side of Hampton Court into the gardens (note the baroque style from William III’s contributions).

The grounds were phenomenal and largely attributed to King William III and Queen Mary II.

The great surprise of Hampton Court came to Jackson, who loves ALL THINGS related to Guinness World Records. At the far end of the gardens is the largest grapevine in the world and there’s even a plaque there to prove it.

He wept a little, unprepared to see a Guinness World Record in person with his own eyes. He wanted to take his own photo of the certification.

We walked back to the center of Kingston to catch a quick look at David Mach’s 1989 sculpture “Out of Order” and grab some Cornish pasties. Thus began the carb-loading portion of our vacation.

With plenty of time left in the day, we took a quick drive to the seaside to visit Brighton, a Myrtle-Beach sort of vacation spot. It gave us an opportunity to show the boys the English Channel.

It was on this pier that we got ice cream cones. However, only three of us finished our cones since a seagull swept down and stole mine right out of my hand. I thought they were only interested in french fries. Alas, no! Beware the seagulls!

If you’ve been to my home, specifically my home office, you know I love bunting. England has bunting in spades and Brighton is no exception. Everything looks happier with bunting! Hang ALL THE BUNTING!

After our walking tour of Brighton (you can see more on Instgram, including our dinner at a local pub saved on the UK Instastories), we drove to a hotel connected to Gatwick Airport. The next morning, we were flying to Milan.

So we went to Europe.

At some point during winter, Chuck and I started talking about where to take the boys on a summer vacation. We like to travel as soon as we’re done with school, which ends at the onset of Mother’s Day (a lovely gift I give myself). Also, traveling before Memorial Day weekend tends to save a little money and definitely cuts down on the crowds.

Our original thought was to take the boys to California since they’ve never been. Rent a car, drive the coast, venture into L.A. so Jackson can marvel at the Hollywood sign… It sounded like a good idea.

But then we started seeing unbelievable fares out of Chicago, which is where we planned to fly out of since we were going there for Jacob’s graduation. When a fare to London showed up at $398, we decided to jump on it. We’d fly roundtrip from Chicago to London and see what could happen in between.

Leaving Chicago

By mid-March, we’d made loose plans. We knew we didn’t want to stay in the UK since Chuck and I just did that in October, and we knew Easy Jet could take us almost anywhere in Europe for cheap. When a fare to Milan popped up for $67, we decided Italy was as good a country as any.

Milan, Italy

Then we started researching where we could drive to from Milan. The Mediterranean Sea was a four-hour drive from Milan. We thought, let’s go there! Why not! Let’s go to France! Is Spain too far away? Where else could we go?

Antibes, France

At the same time, Chuck and I had discovered “Drive to Survive”, a Netflix docu-series on Formula 1. On a whim, we googled races. Most of them happen in Europe, so maybe there was a race when we were already scheduled to be there.

Sure enough, the Monaco Grand Prix was scheduled for the exact week we planned to be in the French Riviera. We researched logistics and bought tickets for the first two practices. Unreal.

We had seats directly across from pit lane.

Our trip started to take shape by the end of March, but it was on the road to Nashville for the Mumford & Sons concert when Chuck and I wondered when the Cannes Film Festival was – because wouldn’t that be funny if the Cannes Film Festival was during the same time as our vacation to southern France!

Sure enough, it was.

After France, we went back to Italy and explored two towns that make up Cinque Terre’s five towns. Stunning, stunning.

We finished the trip with an afternoon in London and caught a flight back to Chicago the next day. We wore ourselves out, but every second was worth it. Yes, we are already talking about where to go next.

Outside Buckingham Palace. Yes, the Queen was in residence. No, she didn’t wave to us from the balcony.

I took an obscene amount of photos (of course I did!), so it will take a week or longer to sort through them and upload posts that fully describe the trip. Since this blog serves as a scrapbook for our family, I will include all the highlights. I did the same thing with our Iceland trip in 2017 and our UK trip in 2018, and I still enjoy going back to read those posts.

Stay tuned!

The UK Trip: Day 10 in Amsterdam

For a dozen reasons, we didn’t want to leave Scotland. How can one look forward to a trip for more than a decade, finally experience it, and leave without crying? 

I cried at the airport. Full on. Cried. 

We drove 1,468 miles in England and Scotland, which doesn’t account for the miles we walked, nor taking the train back and forth to London. Needless to say, we felt accomplished and took advantage of every opporunity.

View of Scotland as we flew away: 

When we were booking our flights for this trip, it was inevitable that we’d have a layover in Amsterdam. Though I’d been to the Netherlands as a kid, Chuck had yet to put his feet on mainland European soil.

So, why not finagle a later flight, get one more stamp in the passport, and tour the city?  

We booked a hotel room next to the train station so everything would be walkable. This was our view: 

With only a couple of hours until sunset, we unloaded our luggage and took to the streets immediately.

Amsterdam was exactly as I remembered it – all bikes and canals. 

Sunset was coming, and we were perfectly positioned for a postcard moment:

These photos were taken with my phone since I didn’t want to haul the camera all night. Not bad for cell phone photos! 

Dinner was pizza on a patio: 

Killed it: 

Cheers to a memorable trip and to being each other’s favorite traveling buddy. 

The UK Trip: Day 9 in Inverness and Banff

By Day 9, we were acutely aware of how quickly time was passing us by. It was an impossibility to see everything on our respective lists, but we would sure as heck try.

Our Airbnb in Kirkhill was a sweet little one-bedroom house on the owners’ property in the country and perfectly situated to jump down to Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle before heading east.  

PEAK COLORS, PEOPLE.

Bits of Urquhart Castle date back to the 500s, but its heyday was in the 13th and 14th Centuries when it was a military stronghold. It was a garrison for the Jacobites and their supporters in the 1600s, but the place ultimately fell into ruin in 1715 and thereafter.

From every corner is a beautiful view of Loch Ness.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this photo was taken in East Tennessee: 

It was too cold to dip our toes into Loch Ness, but we got as close as we could.

Off we went to Inverness, which could easily pass for the Scottish version of Knoxville or Chattanooga. Give me Inverness over Edinburgh any day of the week. 

The River Ness was moving faster than I’d seen a river flow, particularly being that wide and shallow. We even asked the waitress at lunch about how fast it was flowing and she said it’s run faster before. If you jumped in, you’d be in the North Sea in minutes. 

We went to The Mustard Seed for Sunday lunch, which offered a solid meal and a stunning view of the river. Though our dinner at the Thomas Becket pub in Canterbury was our favorite, this lunch was a close second. 

You can’t tell by the photo, but Chuck was so happy with his meal that he wore a steady grin on his face the whole time. Even buttering this piece of bread was enjoyable. We really loved carbs on this trip. 

We hit the road for one last swing along the coastline to find a graveyard where a few of Chuck’s ancestors could potentially be buried. We drove through Cullen first.

Banff was home to the graveyard where we looked for Camerons. (Doesn’t everyone traipse through graveyards on their wedding anniversary trip?) 

We actually found two Camerons, but we weren’t sure if they’re related or not. We took photos to bring home to our family historian, Aunt Linda.  

After our graveyard stroll, we stopped in the town of Banff to eat ice cream and then promptly walk off the calories.

Because there were considerable calories. 

By now the sun was starting to set on our last night in Scotland. The sadness started to creep in, at least on my part. I knew leaving the next day was going to be hard. 

We stopped along the roadside for sunset photos because – again – it looked so much like East Tennessee.

Last post: Goodbye UK, Hello Amsterdam

The UK Trip: Day 8 in the Scottish Highlands

Having spent one full day in Edinburgh and one full day in London, I for sure knew I was a country mouse. We both were excited to get back to the countryside, and our plan for the day was to locate specific places where Chuck’s ancestors used to live. Eventually we’d end up in Inverness.

We checked out of the apartment and headed north. The route was curvy and we anticipated occasional re-routing. If there looked to be an interesting pull-off along the way, we’d stop – like this spot, which is Cargill’s Leap on the River Ericht:

We also stopped at the sweetest little library: 

The first stop on our ancestral tour was in Kirkmichael, a tiny village with one school, a little church, a village shop, a fire station, and a couple of inns.

We took a quick stroll through the kirkyard in search of names, but after no success, we went to the pub – of course – to enjoy a pint and talk to the barkeep about village life.

And play darts!

We lingered in the pub for a good hour, curious about life in Kirkmichael and surrounding villages. How did places like these stay afloat? What had the town looked like when Chuck’s ancestors lived there in the 1770s, right before they moved to Townsend? There are fewer than 200 people who live in Kirkmichael currently, and even the barkeep came into work from a neighboring town. 

We finished our drinks, bid farewell, and headed north again. Autumn color was brighter in Scotland than it was in England, even with the foggy rain. And the sheep! They were the most delightful roadside attractions. I had a hard time controlling myself with the camera. Sometimes they were close enough to pet, and y’all know I really wanted to pet them. 

Though most of Scotland reminded me of East Tennesse, certain parts of the countryside in Cairngorms National Park reminded me fondly of Iceland.

Just look at this face: 

Since it had been raining in Scotland for several days, waterfalls and rivers were full and high. 

This photo in particular looks like Iceland:  

Back on the road we went again, farther north to the Glenlivet Distillery. 

No pictures were allowed in the actual distillery, which is a shame because the set-up is impressive. Everyone enjoyed a tasting, and I honestly tried my best. I am not a whisky girl, but I’m also not a quitter. A little water in the whisky helped it go down with less burn. 

Our Airbnb was west of Inverness in a town called Kirkhill. It was the biggest space we’d secured yet, and after looking through the visitor’s diary we learned there’d been guests to stay for months on end. (A quick video of the place can be seen on my Instastories.) 

We arrived at dusk and, since we had no groceries and nothing within walking distance, we hopped back in the car and drove to the next closest town, Beauly. There, we grabbed dinner at the Lovet Arms and popped into a tiny co-op for a few staples. 

Photo of me after dinner: 

Either I’d had too much cider, or I was delirious from travel fatigue, but this package of Wee Skinny Ma Linkys had me in stitches and unable to walk fully upright in the grocery store.

I Googled it and learned that Skinny Malinky Longlegs is a Scottish children’s song. I will never be the same. 

Up next: Inverness and the eastern coastline drive to Banff