Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Our Trip to the Cotswolds

We spent last weekend in the Cotswolds, a particularly quaint part of England about 2 1/2 hours away from our house.

Here is Esmé outside our hotel, The Greenway Inn and Spa. It may have been slightly fancier than we were expecting. When we came bustling in with all our bags and carseats, stuffed animals and loud crying kids, I think the buttoned-down concierge was wondering whether we were really in the right place. Our room had a huge four-poster bed, antique furniture, and fragile vases perched around various precarious spots--all of which Esmé immediately started jumping on.

We arrived at dinnertime, so we put the girls in their beds and ventured down to the restaurant. In our jeans and rumpled sweaters, we asked the concierge if we could eat in the restaurant and he obliged, insisting there was no dress code even though everyone else was in suits and fancy dresses. We sat as still as possible so as not to reveal any more of our shoddy-ness than was necessary. When he brought out the caviar and goat cheese appetizers, we took them with a "yeah, we eat like this all the time, no big deal" air about us. Then he brought out soup with Parmesan foam and it got more difficult to keep up appearances. Dinner was good, though. And long (five courses), and we were just glad to get back to our room where no one was judging us for our common dress and manners.

The hotel was beautiful, though! And the staff was very nice despite our loud screaming, yelling, running, crying, jumping kids.

On our first day, we drove through the countryside to see some Cotswold villages, renown for their quaint storybook cottages and quintessential Englishness.

The landscape was lovely with rolling hills and fall colors.

At each village, we would get everyone out, put up the strollers, put on coats and hats, and make a procession through the shops and homes. The places were so cute, but all that in and out was exhausting for all of us. By the time we got back to the hotel, we were tired! While Esmé napped, we tried to find a baby-friendly place in the hotel to lounge with Penny. Then while Penny slept, I took Esmé outside and we explored, knowing there was not one inch of that hotel that was Esmé-friendly unless they wanted a lot of broken stuff.

Exploring the hotel grounds with a stick
Gorgeous trees on the hotel grounds

It was Friday night and we drove to the nearest city for dinner. There was traffic, the meal was chaotic, and I was frustrated that the girls were not behaving. That night Esmé (who was sleeping on the couch) woke up with a nightmare and demanded to sleep in our bed. She quickly took over my section of bed and left me to take her place on the tiny couch. It was a long night. I was just about ready to pack us all up right then and drive home!
The couch, and my bed for one night.
Thankfully, on Saturday the sun came out and we were all refreshed and ready for another day of exploring. We decided to go to the Cotswold Wild Animal Park, basically a zoo on the grounds of a manor house. Despite being colder than I ever remember feeling for a long time, we had so much fun. It was not crowded, we got to see lots of animals, the girls were happy and having fun, and there was food at the end.


We got to pet sheep and goats!

We had some afternoon naps and spent the evening at a jungle-gym bouncy place in the city, which Esmé loved. Then we found some Mexican food, which Roo and I loved. The key to traveling with kids, I think, is rather than making the kids conform to the trip, make the trip conform to the kids. When we made sure to do things Esmé could enjoy rather than just what we thought was interesting, it was much more enjoyable for all of us. So when we came barging back into our fancy hotel with balloons and babies and lots of noise, we were tired but happy, having had a fun, successful day.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Petworth House

I love so much of what this country is, but I feel hungry to experience what it was. In the great houses and castles, I try to find the past, to feel it there, as if looking long enough will make it surface. I listen for the servants' voices echoing off the flagstones in what would have been their quarters; I look at the grand staircases and wonder if anyone ever took them two at a time to get somewhere in a hurry, and who was it, and why; I look for the tracks of their carriages in the gravel; I walk the grounds and wait to feel transported back in time, wait for the past to reveal itself to me.

Yet there are no voices echoing except those of the tourists and employees; the only people on the staircases are distracted school children. Any carriage tracks are long since erased in the gravel. I stood on the Petworth House lawn and looked up at the windows with a vague hope that I might catch a glimpse of a former inhabitant, still lurking on earth. But the ghosts aren't there.

There is no feeling of being watched, no raised hairs on the back of my neck. And, strangely, I find this unsettling. These manors and castles feel uninhabited, abandoned, empty. Despite the painstaking restoration, preservation, re-creation, they present a facade of the past but cannot produce the past itself.

Of course that is the case, but I keep hoping--for what, exactly, I don't know. For Mr. Darcy to come striding around the corner? Not likely. I suppose I'm hoping to feel some kind of connection or realization or understanding of what life really was like. I'll keep hoping, hoping and pursuing. And it is this dogged pursuit of the past that is making me fall more and more in love with this country. Because I'm sure at some point I'll find it.

Petworth House
Playing in Petworth House

Adorable Penny!

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Newest Member of the Family

My faithful 15-year-old electronic piano that had journeyed with us so many miles, did not adapt well to British voltage. In fact, it got killed by it. When we tried to plug it in and turn it on, it made a dying whine and never turned on again. I was so sad. However, as fate would have it, we live just around the corner from a piano shop that sells lovely used pianos. One day we went in to browse--that also happened to be my lucky day, because I ended up with this:

Dark wood, perfectly weighted keys, made in England, and lovely as can be.

In the evenings, after we've cleaned up dinner and gotten everyone in their jammies, Roo mandates that all children have to leave me alone so I can play the piano for at least ten minutes. My skills are rusty and my fingers fumble, but I couldn't be more pleased.

Some other recent advances:

Esme has discovered the joy of cuddling. She even asks to cuddle with Penny. Penny takes a bit of convincing to participate. (Because usually she ends up being pushed away by the head.)

Esme has also discovered pockets. She digs through the coin jar for "money" to put in her pockets. She likes money in her pockets. She's a lot like her father in that way. She also prefers to keep her fruit snacks in there.

Penny has learned to sit up on her own, eat rice cereal, and master the ways of the Force. (You can't see it in this picture, but she's actually raising a space ship out of a swamp right here.)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Switzerland: Day 3 and 4

 Day 3 in Switzerland was sunny and gorgeous. Roo, Reed, and I took the cable car up the mountain, then hiked back down. It was spectacular and really steep. We all had very sore legs and knees by the end, but it was worth it!


After making it back down the mountain, everyone went to get lunch while I took a nap.  Meanwhile, Esmé found a trampoline and had a good time jumping away.

That night we had a good dinner and watched a movie out on our balcony. 

The next day was drizzly and cold, but perfect for an indoor swim. Once we had our fill of swimming, we packed up our suitcases and bid farewell to Murren. It was back on the train, down the cable car, in the van to the airport (with a brief stop at the Bern Temple), onto the plane, on the bus to long-term parking, then 30 minutes in the car to home. Yes, it was a long trip home--especially when Esmé had a full-on screaming tantrum on the way to the airport and we had to pull over to change Penny's poopy diaper. 

But, I bet you guess whether I thought it was worth it or not...

I took this picture from my bed while I was resting. Kind of hard to sleep when you don't want to stop looking at your view.