Isn’t travel interesting?
No matter how long you’re away for – the structure is always the same. Whether it’s a week, a year or – like us now: 7 weeks.
You start with being crazily busy, like our first week away this trip where we went to Italy for a wedding and ended up travelling to Switzerland too.
Then the middle bit of your time away comes and you settle, relax and slow down some.
Finally, as with this trip, you realise your holiday’s coming to an end, so you go like mad trying to fit everything in before you leave. That’s what the last two weeks have been like for us.
Last week we were in St Albans and London, and this week we’re in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Essex, Suffolk, and Hertfordshire.
And knowing we won’t be in England to celebrate Christmas with family and friends, we’re also having an early Christmas here too!
We hope you enjoy this Weekly Edition.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx
We’ve really enjoyed spending more time with my mum and dad this trip. It’s always been hard to live so far away from them and their weirdness. Our time in the UK now has been great – just being able to go out for lunch with them somewhere, spend time with them, observe their strange behaviours!
We’re in a beautiful little historic village in Suffolk today called Lavenham. Watch this space for more on Lavenham and its history. But for now, there are more important things to explore here… cheese scones!
I still don’t know how Mum and Dad found this place, but Munnings Tea Rooms on Lavenham’s main street does the best cheese scones you’ll ever eat. They’re extraordinary.
Even more extraordinary is the ploughmans they do here. It’s vast, delicious and comes with a scone too! Everything here is made in-house, from the scones to the quiche, and the meat and pies are sourced from the butcher’s a few doors down.
They also have their own blend of tea here. I’m not much of a tea drinker, but I’ll get through a pot on my own easily at Munnings!
After this massive lunch the five of us (me, Christina, Mum, Dad and my sister Jayne) waddle off for a walk through town and around the surrounding countryside. It’s so pretty here.
The butcher’s down the road from Munnings – Lavenham Butchers – comes with a sense of humour too. Love the idea of having a tiered pork pie wedding cake! We had a cheese wedding cake, but pie is an excellent idea.
From one hearty food scene to another, we’re in the town of Buckingham with my sister to check out BINN Smokehouse, which has recently opened. It’s an interesting name for a restaurant, isn’t it?
The food here is excellent though, and the different specials they have on each day are worth checking out. We’re here on a Tuesday, which is ‘smoked tray day’. We’ve gone for a 16-hour smoked brisket tray and an 8-hour smoked baby back rib tray. Plus some amazing sides like the halloumi chips and buffalo cauliflower fritters.
These guys also have a hot-wing special where, if you eat 20 chicken wings in 15 minutes, you go on the hall of fame and eat for free. The trouble is the sauce is so spicy, the challenge is impossible. So they tell me. I’m too full to try it this time… but there’s a reason to come back right there!
This morning, my sister Jayne has brought us to the beautiful town of Woodstock. Don’t confuse this Woodstock with the one in the States. They’re about as opposite historically as you can get. This one in Oxfordshire is home to beautiful architecture, like this house, and also the historic Blenheim Palace, where Sir Winston Churchill was born.
But first this.
My sister has discovered this amazing eatery in Woodstock called Hampers. It’s both a deli and cafe, so the food they sell here you can also order for breakfast and lunch.
As you can imagine, the menu is full of tempting delicacies, but my sister and I can’t go past the scotch eggs, which come in an impressive and imaginative array of options. Christina has gone for another British classic – the brie, bacon and cranberry baguette.
But it’s really the salads they offer that make this a meal to die for. Along with your order, you can choose 2 of the salads from the list. Our favourites are the zingy beetroot and carrot quinoa salad and the buckwheat, sumak, squash and pomegranate salad.
I could spend a lot of time and money in the deli part of Hampers. Dangerous stuff. Even their veggie patch is cute!
On the outskirts of Woodstock is the stunning Blenheim Palace. This is the historic home of the Churchills since the 17th Century when it was built. The grounds are vast and beautiful, and inside the palace is just as opulent.
For the price of entry, you get an audio tour of the palace. It leads you from room to room, telling you the history of the family and its home, and pointing out significant works of art and items of furniture.
The wealth and history to this place boggles the mind.
One of the rooms you visit is the library, which shows an impressive collection of books. This is one of our favourite rooms in the palace. The corridor gives you a tiny perspective of how big this building is. Absolutely magnificent.
Perhaps the only thing that can dwarf the palace is the land surrounding it. The palace grounds are beautifully tended and – to say the least – enormous. There’s even a self-drive electric car tour you can do that takes you around the grounds and out into the town.
We really wanted to do this but we ran out of time. It’s a 4-hour tour!
Christina, my sister and I content ourselves with a stroll around the lake and through the gardens. There’s so much here to take in.
We’re blessed with the perfect day for exploring Blenheim Palace too. Early autumn is almost as lovely as springtime in England.
As we walk around Blenheim Palace’s grounds, we’re constantly surprised by the level of detail involved with the place. This beautiful fountain doesn’t even feature on the map of the grounds.
And things this tree, which is somehow still alive in spite of being quite hollow, adds an extra layer of beauty to the perfectly tended grounds of Blenheim. Our visit here has been so memorable and not just because I’m a bit of a Churchill fan. Once again, we feel so lucky to be able to spend this time with my sister Jayne. Though it does make the thought of leaving even harder.
This morning, Jayne has brought us to yet another quaint little town neither Christina nor I have visited before. We’re in the Hertfordshire town of Berkhamsted. My sister says there’s a beautiful walk near here through National Trust land called Ashridge Estate, but I think her real reason was to come here!
We spend so much time dining and then looking around the shop, there’s not much time for the walk Jayne has in mind. I tihnk my suspicions were correct.
Today I’m spoiling myself with a day with my dad. We’re at one of his favourite fishing spots (sorry, I can’t tell you where it is) seeing what we can catch. In truth it’s less about the fishing and more about spending quality time together.
I think Dad and I have had a pretty good day together.
I caught the most and the biggest.
Determined to get as much time with my mum and dad as possible, I’ve lured them out with the promise of food. This motivation must be a family trait!
We’ve come to the town of Bury St Edmunds, which isn’t that far from where I grew up, but a town none of us have really been to before. It’s funny how that happens, isn’t it?
Dad has found a good place to eat – the Edmundo Lounge in the centre of town – and his research has proven solid. My halloumi burger is delicious and I think he’s pretty happy with his cheeseburger too. Mum’s pulled jackfruit burger is also delicious and surprisingly like pulled pork.
It’s a chilly day, and Mum’s left her jacket at home. So on our ramble through the odd little streets of Bury, we pop into several shops to try on a new one for her. It’s quite good fun (even Dad enjoys it I think) but by the time we find a coat she likes, the parking ticket on the car has run out so it’s time to leave!
Today is another special day for me. I get to spend it with Mum doing anything we want. After a bit of shopping, we randomly end up at Frinton-on-Sea on the Essex coast. It’s a family favourite and a beach we used to take our Dalmatian for walks on a lot when I was a kid.
As Mum and I stroll along the beach, we spot a couple of horses going for a paddle. It’s so good to see them enjoying the beach!
I don’t know who’s enjoying today more!
You can’t go to the beach in England and not have fish and chips, can you. It’s a must.
We’re glad to see the old chippy we used to go to back in the day is still here. And in fact it’s probably even better than it used to be. Now called Youngs Other Plaice (very clever!), the chips are better than I remember and the cod roe is tender and delicious too.
What is cod roe? Well, it’s a bit strange – and something I’ve never seen anywhere but in a British chippy. It’s pressed cod caviar that’s battered and deep fried. As a child, I didn’t like eating fish – mostly because of the bones. Roe has no bones but it’s quite fishy, which is strange, because I never liked very fishy food either! I think it must’ve been the batter!
These days, it’s one of the most nostalgic foods I can think of and takes me right back to my childhood with a smile and a full belly.
Because we’re clearly not eating enough this trip, we’ve gone out for dinner with our awesome friends Clare and Dave to an old favourite.
We have to go to the Noodle Bar in Colchester at least once every time we’re back in England. It’s tradition. The food here is excellent (check out that chilly fried squid and char kway teow) and the vibe is always enjoyable too.
After dinner, Clare and Dave take us to a little wine bar round the corner they’ve been to before. Smiths Wine Bar is a cute little venue – somewhere between a speakeasy and a small pub. It’s pretty quiet when we first arrive, but things really liven up later.
But it’s the jukebox that really steals the show. It’s got everything from golden oldies to ’90s electro… it’s even got Duelling Banjos from the movie Deliverance. Which we play of course!
Because we won’t be in England for Christmas this year (well, it’s unlikely but you never know), Clare and Dave have decided to do Christmas early! It’s actually a lovely thought, especially with my parents already talking about the festive season and lamenting our absence.
But this stroke of genius means we all get to celebrate Christmas together – plus it’s not bitterly cold or boiling hot depending on the hemisphere!
Even better, it gives Christina the perfect excuse to make her masterpiece: the olive tree cheese dip! She mixes cream cheese with chopped sun-dried tomatoes, marinated artichokes and capsicum, and salami (optional). She also sometimes adds a bit of French soup mix as well.
Then she sculpts the cheese into a cone and chills it, then pushes olives, and rosemary and basil sprigs into the surface – it makes a delicious dip and a striking centrepiece too.
But this is really what we’ve been waiting for. Dave’s gifted with kitchen skills, and he’s made pretty much all of this. He’s also a Yorkshireman, so we’re excited about those Yorkshire puds!
In fact, the idea for having an early Christmas came about when Dave asked if we’d had a Sunday roast yet. When he found out we hadn’t, a Sunday roast quickly became a full-blown Christmas miracle!
Merry Christmas – everyone! Thank you so much, Clare and Dave. It’s a Christmas we’ll never forget.
Look at these beautiful little bottles. Perfect for Christmas, aren’t they?
Last year, my sister Jayne took us to another cute little town called Winslow. There we found a local gin distillery called Foxdenton Estate. This year, she’s bought us a selection of their flavoured gins, and most of them go perfectly with sparking wine.
It just so happens we’ve got a bottle of local sparkling from our trip to Italy. Christmas digestivo: sorted!
It wouldn’t be (and isn’t) a trip to England without a curry. It’s hard to believe that it’s taken us almost 6 weeks of being here to finally get one in.
Thankfully it’s a good one. Mum and Dad have treated us to dinner at their favourite place called Little India, which I think we’ve talked about before.
This time, instead of ordering a single main dish, Mum’s ordered about 20 vegetarian side dishes for us to share. Plus mains for Christina, my dad and me! There’s so much food here the staff have to wheel it out on trolleys and they have to take the flowers and candles off the table.
It’s an epic meal – though we somehow manage to eat it all. I think it’s time to make some lifestyle choices.
Somehow this trip, Christina and Clare have become avid puzzlers. It’s an interesting use of travel time, isn’t it? But as long as their happy. The only problem is Flo, Dave’s excitable Springer Spaniel, doesn’t appreciate all the attention that’s going on these little bits of cardboard.
More than once, we’ve found her harbouring a puzzle piece. There’s no knowing how many she’s actually eaten.
While Clare and Christina put pictures back together, Dave and I enjoy my new-found guilty pleasure. It’s a show where budding blacksmiths make knives and swords in a competition setting called Forged in Fire. Or Wanky Wanky Sword Smiths as Clare likes to mock. It’s a terrible show full of very strange people. But I love it. Thanks, Dave, for the new obsession!
What an epic Weekly Edition! If you’ve made it this far, well done! We’ve had a lot of fun living and then writing this one – I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx