Off to Bath

BATH, ENGLAND

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few weeks ago my friend put together a surprise getaway for us. We got in the car and headed to Bath for the weekend. I’d been before years before, but it was good to go back and take a walk around again.

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Weather was a bit chilly but that didn’t stop the crowds. This is a popular city. There’s good shopping and some good sites to see like the small cathedral (free).

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We didn’t go and see the actual Roman Baths which I suppose is the main reason why people used to come to the city years ago . We just didn’t want to fork out the cash (about £13). But as we love Jane Austen we took the tour which I highly recommend. It’s not actually located in a home she lived in, but on the same street where she used to live. It sort of felt special to walk around Bath and think of the spaces that were her inspiration. I think the one thing that I took away from the tour was that perhaps her motivation for writing was not just out of sheer love of writing or the need to tell her stories. She seemed to have a financial motivation. Her family was not well off and during her last months at Bath the family was so hard up that they were living in the same area as the city’s prostitutes, where before they were near genteel society. It’s hard to imagine Jane near prostitutes…

Bath Collage

After the tour we did pop by Sally Lunn’s a restaurant that sells buns which according to the website is ‘part bun, part bread, and part cake’ and has been a part of Bath for so long that even Jane used to enjoy them too. We got there early enough to miss the queue. I ordered mine with cinnamon sugar and it was tasty and sweet.

The rest of the time was spent walking around Bath, shopping and eating. You only really need one day to see Bath. It’s fairly close to London and easily accessible by car or train.

All this talk of Bath reminds me of some of my Jane Austen films/shows…Pride & Prejudice (the one with Colin), Sense and Sensibility (with Emma Thomson) and another film that I highly recommend is The Jane Austen Book Club. Really sweet and funny. Perfect for a night in.

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Henley boat trips

HENLEY, ENGLAND – If you head to Henly, I highly recommend a boat ride along the Thames River.

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It leaves from the centre of town and takes you down the river for what is a very pleasant ride, weather permitting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a clear day, the views are stunning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd you can also spot a few interesting homes along the banks. Wonder who lives there?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATickets are reasonable. And the boat leaves every hour or so.

Bottom line: A fun and relaxed way to pass the afternoon with a friend or loved one.

Downton Abbey, part 2

HIGHCLERE CASTLE, ENGLAND – Here’s an interesting fact about Highclere Castle, the location for Downton Abbey. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber tried to buy it in 2010 to house his extensive art collection! Really.

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Oh, and Stanley Kubrick used the library to film an orgy scene in the film ‘Eyes wide shut’. Go figure. Lady Carnarvon swears she’s never seen the film…

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I guess it’s not all prim and proper English manners at Downton…

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One thing I didn’t mention in my first post, was that I wasn’t able to take photographs of the inside because there were so many signs saying ‘no photography’ and many little grey-haired volunteers walking around the place making sure no one did that I didn’t want to risk it. Sometimes seniors are intimidating.

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But, part of the entrance fee covers entry to the gardens that surround the estate and I highly recommend walking around Highclere Castle’s grounds. Spotting this beautiful butterfly was one of the highlights of the experience.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd walking through this field of wild flowers was restful.

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There are lots of little gardens and alcoves to explore.

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And many flowers in bloom.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And plenty of fields to get lost in.

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Hope you get to explore Downton Abbey soon.

Downton Abbey, part 1

HIGHCLERE CASTLE, ENGLAND – When it comes to escapism, you can’t do much better than a period drama about the English. It’s probably why Downton Abbey is a worldwide success.

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I finally got the opportunity this summer to go and visit Downton Abbey or Highclere Castle as it’s properly known. If you’re a fan of the show, you should go. If you hate the show, you should go too.

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We arrived just after 10 am and waited in line for tickets (£15/adult). It moved quickly. But once we got inside Highclere the ground floor was busy. As you can imagine, Highclere is more popular than ever thanks to the show attracting people from around the world including big names like Kate Middleton. We saw many tour buses parked outside and as even as we left more were still arriving. So if you go, be prepared for crowds. Otherwise, perhaps try and get there early, as soon as the doors open (9:30am).

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The upkeep of Highclere is $1.5 million per year. I’m not certain how that compares to other English stately homes, but it does seem a lot and it’s no wonder that the owners, Geordie Herbert, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon and Queen Elizabeth II’s godson, and his wife, Fiona Aitken, Lady Carnavon  (apparently they met in 1996 at a dinner party and bonded over mournful WWI poetry) have opened their doors to the public and the cast and crew of Downton Abbey (they get around $4500 per day for filming rights).

Unlike other English stately homes, there were many rooms that were open to the public for viewing. I enjoyed perusing the rooms as it immediately made you reflect on the show and the characters you’ve come to enjoy. Much of the furniture is the same. The red sofas are there and seem smaller in real life as do most of the rooms, particularly the sitting room. My friend explained that they probably use a wide angle lens in the show to create a sense of space. I have to say that Highclere is not as big on the outside either as it appears in the show!

Many of the rooms allow you to peek in only, like the one were Pamouk dies. So you aren’t able to get a full glimpse of it all, but it still satisfies your curiosity. On reflection, I wish I had spent more time upstairs looking at the tapestries, photography and wall art. You do feel a bit hurried when so many people are behind you trying to get through. I did take a moment and leaned over the balcony to view the double volume reception below. It really is quite grand. And then I finished it off with a slow walk down the stairs just like Edith and Mary would do! Sadly, there was no ‘downstairs’ on display. I would have liked to have seen the kitchen or servants quarters but the third floor was not open to the public.

Bottom line: I loved Highclere Castle. It brought Downton Abbey to life. Can’t wait for the next season – even if its going to be just a bit camp.

I thought I’d throw in some memorable quotes from the show.

The Dowager Countess: “What’s a weekend?”

Thomas: “Are we to treat him as the heir?”

O’Brien: “Are we heck as like! A doctor’s son from Manchester? He’ll be lucky if he gets a civil word out of me.”

The Dowager Countess: “I’m a woman Mary. I can be as contrary as I choose.”

Sir Richard Carlisle: “I want you to marry me?”

Lady Mary Crawley: “Why?”

Sir Richard Carlisle: “Because I think very highly of you.”

Lady Mary Crawley:Very highly. Goodness.”

Lady Rosamind: “There’s nothing like an English summer.”

Lady Mary Crawley: “Except an English winter.”

Lady Mary Crawley: “Sybil is entitled to her own opinions.”

Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham: “No. She isn’t until she is married, then her husband will tell her what her opinions are.”

Mrs Isobel Crawley: “What shall we call each other?”

The Dowager Countess: “Well we could always start with Mrs Crawley and Lady Grantham.”

p.s. Who’s your favourite character? The Dowager Countess does have some great lines!