Monday, April 22, 2019

England | Visiting the Cotswolds | Best Walks + Towns + Places to Eat

  

Next up on our England vacation was the Cotswolds.  We left Bath after a picnic breakfast at the little park on the banks of the River Avon on Saturday morning.  This was our first experience driving a car on the left side of the street, and by "our" I really mean Jimmy.  Getting out of Bath was interesting.  I kept holding my breath.  If you've never made a right hand turn from the left side of the road, sitting on the right side of the car, well, take my word for it, it's like a bad thrill ride, you want to close your eyes but you can't.  We kept saying to each other, I can't believe they just let you rent a car without teaching you what the signs mean or making you do a practice run.  The one good thing is you are forced to learn very quickly and truly, after a day or so of driving, you have the hang of it.  Jimmy is a very calm person and he enjoys driving so best find yourself one just like him as a travel companion because this is a part of the trip where you need a car.
Bath is less than 30 minutes from Castle Comb, which is one of the first Cotswold towns you come to when approaching from the south.  It would have been such an easy drive to get there, but we opted to drive about 50 minutes in the other direction to see Stonehenge. This was the one part of my routing that didn't make a lot of sense but I did it because Stonehenge was one of the things Charlie was most excited to see.  It is such an iconic English landmark and something everyone should see once if you are in the area. It was a gorgeous day so we opted to hike to the stones rather than pay to take the bus.  You park at the visitor center and there is a public footpath that leads you through a meadow up to the rocks.  I believe we were told it's about 1 km each way, but it was definitely farther than that.  I would say about a 20 minute walk there and back.  It's an easy walk though and on a beautiful day I would choose it over the bus without question.  Plus it saves you money!  You don't get quite as close to the rocks as the paying people, but you get close enough. You are no longer allowed to approach or touch the rocks no matter which group you are in.  It's a National Trust site, which means a cafe back at the visitor center and all the National Trust site cafes are excellent.  We stopped to pick up some sandwiches and snacks before heading back on the road. 

    
We drove the Castle Combe, another 50 minutes or so, and it was the PERFECT welcome to the Cotswolds.  We got there late afternoon, just as the light transformed all the honey stone buildings into what looked like a movie set.  It was all so incredibly beautiful it made my heart hurt.  I knew the next few days would be the highlight of our trip.  I vacationed in the Cotswolds with my whole extended family when I was just a bit younger than Charlie. I still have such happy memories of that trip, but only little hazy bits and pieces.  Apparently, my heart had not forgotten though. 


I didn't want to leave, but the pubs were booked for dinner.  A little traveling tip we learned quite quickly, you need to either make reservations for dinner or call ahead for all the pubs.  I can only imagine in the summer - advanced planning would be key.  Usually calling the same day was plenty notice for this time of year, dropping in and hoping for a table never worked.  We drove another 30 miles or so to Hampnett, the town where we stayed.  It was dark when we arrived so it took a little creativity and the assistance of a friendly neighbor to help us locate our little cottage.  Hampnett is a little hamlet of about 10 homes and a church, less than a mile from Northleach.  I wanted a place that truly felt like we were locals and to experience what life would be like in the country.  We were surrounded by a little brook, several public footpaths and meadows full of sheep.   We had dinner that evening at a pub in nearby Northleach called the Wheatsheaf Inn (click here to see photos) some of the best food we had on our trip, Jimmy and I returned a couple days later for a date night.


The next few days were spent exploring the towns around the Cotswolds.  We had picture perfect, cloudless days, with magical sunsets and mild temperatures.  It was a gift that I never expected and likely will never be able to repeat.  The fact we spent 2 weeks in England and never saw one drop of rain during the rainiest month of the year was a miracle in itself! The Cotswolds were my favorite stop in England.  It's everything that I love, the picturesque countryside, quaint old towns, idyllic cottages, and wonderful places to eat.  Our days fell into a steady rhythm of early morning hikes starting from our cottage, a late brunch, followed by an afternoon hike, a little town hopping, tea and late pub dinners.  For me, 3 days wasn't long enough, but for most, I think 3 days is the ideal amount of time to experience this part of the country in an unhurried way when combining it as part of a longer UK trip.  Our kids loved it, but were ready for more adventure when our time was through.  My favorite part of the Cotswolds are the public footpaths that connect the whole countryside.  There are many different routes, marked by signs on fences, but be warned, they aren't that easy to navigate (you will get lost) but they are worth it!  A few tips below...


WALKING THE COTSWOLDS:
The Cotswold Way (link here) has a number of circular routes and online maps and directions you can print out. 

I stopped in a bookstore in Stow on the Wold and picked up a great book: Walks for All Ages, 20 Circular Walks in the Cotswolds (here is a link) - most walks are 3-4 miles and not all are suitable for strollers.  It will specify if walks are paved or not.

Stow on the Wold is a great starting point for a number of hikes. There is another book called "Stow Walks" that I also bought but isn't available online, that details country walks around Stow.


MY FAVORITE COTSWOLD TOWNS:
Bibury (eat at The Swan Hotel Bibury or next door in Barnsley at the Village Pub) - there aren't shops in Bibury, just a pretty town to walk around and see the famous Arlington Row, a row of former weavers cottages dating back to the 14th century and one of the most photographed sites in the Cotswolds.  There is a large trout farm with a playground and place to eat outside.



Upper and Lower Slaughter: Park in Upper and walk a mile on the footpaths to Lower Slaughter for tea, we ate outside in the beautiful garden at the Slaughter's Country Inn.  

Chipping Campden - The most beautiful market street.  I loved Stuart House Antiques (a china and blue and white lover's heaven) and we had breakfast at the Bantam Tea Room.  Wonderful little shops and a gorgeous church.  





BEST SHOPPING TOWNS: 
Cirencester, Chipping Campden, Stow-on-the-Wold, Burford

BEST PLACES WE ATE:
Wheatsheaf Inn in Northleach (order the chicken as an entree, order the cheese soufflé as a starter)
Daylesford Farm (set aside time to experience this place.  It's an organic farm, market, restaurant, flower shop and spa) beautifully done and such an inspiring destination.  
Tea Rooms - All of them were so good!  The best scones and clotted cream of our trip were found in the Cotswolds. Also the best cheese, milk and ice cream too!


TOWNS TO SKIP:
If you are trying to prioritize where to spend your time, then I would skip Broadway and Bourton on the Water.  If you only saw these, then you would love them, but seeing them alongside the others, they weren't our favorite.  A walk to Broadway Tower is worth it though for the pretty views, especially if it's on one of the hikes you choose. We didn't get a chance to do that but we saw the tower when driving by and I wished we had time for it. 


If you asked Jimmy what the highlight of this trip was, he surely would put driving in the Cotswolds near the top of the list.  Driving in the country is about as amazing a driving experience as you could get.  It's breathtaking and for miles at a time we wouldn't see a single other car.  He had a permanent smile on his face.

The cottage we rented in Hampnett was my favorite rental of the trip.  You can see all the interior pictures here.  It's perfect for a couple or a small family of 3 or 4. 

Next we head north to York!




Thursday, April 18, 2019

Our Home | Where to Buy and How to Care For Seagrass, Jute and Sisal Look Alike Rugs



One of the most frequent questions I get about our home is where did we buy our seagrass rugs.  They are not fancy but they have held up incredibly well with kids, dirt, muddy paws, food, etc. I love natural fiber rugs!  For the texture they add, for the layered and cozy country home vibe they bring and their cost and practicality too. I've always been happy to share the source, but the problem is the website is so difficult to navigate. My girlfriend, Carrie (Hi Care!), and I were just talking about the frustration of shopping for rugs on Overstock because you can find one you like but not in the right size.  I have no idea why each is listed separately instead of with a drop down size feature.  We have the seagrass with grey banding in an 8 x 10 (which is linked below, along with other popular sizes), which I prefer to beige banding b/c it is more forgiving with dirt and stains.  We have the same rug in our dining room and living room.


We had a Jute and Wool rug in the playroom for years, which is softer under the feet, but Quincy had so many accidents on it when he was little and had a parasite infection.  No one even wanted to attempt to clean it up. I will link that one below too.  In general, I think Jute /Wool is comfier and Seagrass is harder wearing and easier to clean.  That's just based on our experience.    In our family room we used to have an Ikea jute rug, that came unraveled so we pitched it and bought a sisal look alike rug that is actually an indoor/ outdoor rug and virtually indestructible.  It has a subtle stripe and is a dream for children and pets. 

To answer some of your most common questions...
1.  How do you clean your seagrass rugs?
I have two products I could not live without.  One is a spray, called Folex.  It is linked below.  It is awesome for completely removing stains on the twill banding.  I've used it on upholstery too.  It's basically magic spray.  Even removed red Sharpie off of our our white slipcovers.

The other is a dry carpet cleaner, perfect for seagrass as well as wool or synthetic rugs.  It looks like a powder but it's really a bunch of mini sponges that you sprinkled over the stain and let sit to pull the stain and odor out, then you vacuum the powder up.  It is an amazing product.  Quincy also had terrible diarrhea all over our antique rug in the living room.  We thought it was beyond repair, but three applications of the Host powder and it removed every last stain and looked better than ever.  (He went on to chew the same rug exactly one week later, and sadly that is damage that the carpet cleaner cannot fix. Haha. Real life with pets and children is messy. )


2. Are they comfortable?
It's not plush carpet, but when you live with them all over your home (we have wall to wall seagrass in my office upstairs) you just kind of get used to the way they feel.  We are adding a seagrass runner to our staircase at some point this year and no one really knows any difference.  When Charlie was a baby I had a wool rug layered over the jute in our family room.  Honestly though, we only have hardwood floors throughout most of our home and those aren't comfy for babies learning to crawl either.  Maybe that's why Charlie was an early walker? ;)

3. Do they shed?
Yes, underneath the carpet. Seagrass less so than Jute. If you are very allergic, then it would not be a great choice.  I vacuum regularly and have never been bothered by this. I also use rug pads.

4. Do they get clean when you vacuum? 
Ok, I LOVE my vacuum cleaner.  It's been with me for 20 years! TWENTY.  My mom has had hers even longer, 30, 40?  I would put it right up there with my top 3 household purchases, maybe number 1.  Nothing else comes close in the floor cleaning department.  And no one is paying me to say this.  Miele vacuums are exceptional when it comes to bare floors and flat rugs.  We have the C3 Cat and Dog Vacuum but I also linked another less expensive model.  Yes, it's still an investment, but I wouldn't go with the cheaper $300 version, which I didn't even link.  It is missing some of the features that make mine so indispensable.  If you have pets and you have floors and rugs, you need one. Sorry, not glamour stuff here. And, yes, my rugs feel very clean when I vacuum.


5. Do they have a funny smell?
Not really.  Certainly not after they've been in your home for a few weeks.  I have read that with some reviews, but I have never experienced it.  They are a grass and do have an earthy smell at first, but not a chemical one.


6. Sisal vs Seagrass
I prefer seagrass. We had sisal in our first home and it stained very quickly. I have seen other sisal weaves that look exactly like seagrass and some vendors use the terms interchangeably so you sort of need to know what you are looking at.  This is the sisal we had and didn't love.

7. What kind of banding should I get?  
When working with clients my preference is to go the custom route and do a self serged edge instead of the twill. If going with twill, I like the neutral grey in the ones I've listed below.  Very forgiving.  I would avoid beige or ivory. 

I believe that covers the big topics.  I hope these links are helpful!  We have been super happy for many years with the items I'm sharing in this post!

**UPDATE - thanks to a reader for finding this rug on Amazon too, which is easier to shop than overstock.  Amazon link is included below. I have the natural/grey banding option.**


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

England | Two Days in Bath


So many of you have reached out saying you've been inspired to recreate our trip to England which makes me so happy!  I hope these posts will help you navigate what you would like to do.  See here for a rough outline of our 2 week itinerary.  This post will be followed by three others, each detailing a little more of our stops. We arrived in London at 6:30 in the morning.  None of us slept on the 6 hour flight from NYC.   We actually arrived 50 minutes early - when does that ever happen?! We had decided to start our journey in Bath rather than London for a few reasons.  One is that if we started and ended in London we would be breaking up that city, finding two separate accommodations, also London is crazy busy and not the ideal landing spot for weary, jet lagged travelers.  We took a two hour bus from Heathrow to Bath. It was not necessary to buy tickets in advance. The other option would be to take the train.  You would need to take a train from Heathrow to Paddington Station and then transfer onto a train to Bath.  You will also spend more than double to take the train.  The bus ride was pretty easy, so long as you aren't prone to car or motion sickness, which our youngest traveler was and it made for a long bus ride.





Bath is a beautiful city about 90 miles outside of London in Somerset.  England is divided into counties, Somerset being a county.  It was confusing when I first started researching England because sometimes people would only refer to the county and not the city, or I would think it was a city, only to discover it was a county.  I did a lot of map googling to get my bearings and understand the lay of the land.  The city has ties back to 60 AD and Roman history when the Romans built a temple and spa around the warm springs that come up from the ground. The baths were used for about 300 years and were thought to have magical healing powers.    Bath's heyday was really during the 1700s and early 1800s when it was built up with the beautiful Georgian style limestone ("Bath Stone") buildings that predominate the architecture of the city.  It was the place to be seen for high society and the well to do. I read somewhere that the reason the sidewalks are so wide was to accommodate the elaborate Victorian dresses. There are cobblestone streets, plenty of tea rooms, cozy pubs, charming shops, as well as chain retailers we see in the US.  There are live musicians and trolly's selling warm nuts.  It is very much a walkable city bordered by the River Avon with the stunning Bath Abbey (originally built in the 7th century) at the center.  Truly a town that invites you to wander and explore on foot and feels classically English in the very best ways.  The perfect spot to start an England vacation.  Many people that go to England visit London and combine it with a couple days in the Cotswolds, I would strongly urge tagging on a day trip to Bath too.  It was different than any other place we visited.  You don't need a car to explore Bath, which is a big bonus. 

We rented a classic Georgian style townhouse through Airbnb.  Link to our place here.  It was an ideal location, plenty spacious, with wonderful hosts. The rooms were clean and bathrooms up-to-date with a large kitchen, even though I didn't prepare anything other than tea.  You are also very close to a grocery store which we stopped in to pick drinks and snacks.  The home is owned by a young couple that uses it for holidays.












We had perfect exploring weather, not too chilly and no rain.  We had a wonderful full English breakfast the first morning at Blue Quails Deli, that I highly recommend. (tons of good breakfast and brunch spots in Bath though!) We spent a couple days wandering and discovering every little corner of the city.  We especially loved the old bookstore and the little tucked away alleys and tea rooms.  We had afternoon tea at the Ivy which came highly recommended from many people.  It is a chain however, and very "posh" inside.  The food is excellent but I prefer the atmosphere of a smaller tea room with pretty floral china and a smattering of mismatched antique tables and chairs.   A visit to the Roman Baths is a must and we discovered getting there 30 minutes before they stop selling tickets was ideal.  They stopped selling tickets at 5:00 but remain open till 6:00.  We had the place almost entirely to ourselves (mind you, this is off season! I can't speak for summer).  We navigated everything through google walking maps on our phone.

We all loved Bath and would happily return. Two days is plenty time to see everything and get a good feel for the city.  On our third morning, we stopped at the Bridge Coffee Shop for cappuccinos and Cornish Pasties before picking up our rental car and heading to Stonehenge...