Day 26: Oxford Botanic Gardens

.Saturday of our second free travel weekend we decided to stay closer to home and take it easy. The previous two days were very hard on us, so we wanted a day with a little more relaxed pace. We headed out at about 10:15 to walk around the block to a place that serves brunch on weekends.

Gee’s Restaurant on Banbury Rd was close by and came highly recommended to us.

Inside, it looked like a converted green house.

The food was really good!

After brunch, we hopped on a bus and headed downtown. We got off at city centre and walked down to High Street.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I snagged a picture of this strangely-named store, “Fat Face.”

Then we walked down High Street until we go to the University of Oxford Botanic Garden on the River Cherwell. The Gardens were very beautiful and it was lovely to stroll through the gardens while everything was in bloom. It was also Alice’s Day (i.e. Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland), so there were lots of tents set up with fun things for kids to do. Lewis Carroll lived in Oxford, so it’s a fun celebration with a lot of local flavor.

The entrance is incredible.

Inside the gardens, they were amazing.

Some students were playing cricket in the field behind the botanic garden.

The kids also enjoyed the flowers.

And Erin took pictures of tons of flowers. I got a picture of her taking a picture. I thought it was very pretty.

Erin thought the lily pads in the pool were gorgeous.

James and Zeke enjoyed looking at the river and the ducks swimming by. Zeke enjoyed throwing rocks into it.

As we left the botanic garden, Micah fell asleep. We walked back up high street towards city centre and diverted into the covered market.

Inside the covered market, we got Ben’s Cookies, something everyone recommended to us. They were really good!

Back outside, Alice’s Day was in full swing. All the shops had Alice in Wonderland themed displays.

We did a bit more shopping at the official oxford clothing store, followed by some grocery shopping, and then hopped on the bus home.

We got back home around 4:00. The weather was in the high 60’s and sunny all day. It had been a really nice day.

We ate dinner together and then went to bed.

Day 25: Back to Bath (Jane Austen Museum)

On the Friday of the second free travel weekend, we continued our adventures around Oxford by taking a train to Bath. We had already been to Bath at the beginning of June, but we did not have enough time to go through the Jane Austen museum. So we headed back.

We walked to the bus station and took a bus to the Oxford rail station.

Once we arrived, it was about 3 minutes until our first train!

We took a train to Didcot where we would have to get out and change trains to Bath. The kids were in a good mood and we almost had the entire traincar to ourselves. Traveling at 10:30 AM has its benefits.

Once we got to Didcot, we waited about 45 minutes for the train to Bath.

Micah enjoyed goofing off around the platform (while still being safe).

Once we got on the next train, we sat at the front of the traincar in the disabled section because that’s where the stroller could fit. We ended up talking to a nice American family from Florida during our 45 minute train ride from Didcot to Bath.

Once we arrived in Bath, it was 12:00 and we were all hungry. Right outside the train station was a BBQ place, so we decided to go with it.

On the wall behind us, they advertised for a “dream vacation” drawing. We all thought it was pretty funny:

Right after we finished eating, we went into a local pharmacy to get some baby wipes because accidentally left them at the flat. While we were doing that, Micah fell asleep.

We hopped on a bus and headed off to the Jane Austen museum.

Unfortunately, our GPS took us to the house where Jane Austen lived (where there’s only a plaque and nothing else to see). This put us on the other side of town. So we decided to make the best of it and walk to the museum (only about 0.5 miles).

Despite our delays, we made it!

We had a guided tour and learned about the Austen family. There was lots of read and some original Jane Austen artifacts there. The kids did okay until the end when they were tired, cranky, and hungry.

The girls dressed up with a wax figure of Mr. Darcy.

So we left the museum and walked back to the train station where we waited about 30 minutes for the next train to Didcot.

Once we got on the train, the kids were wild and made a lot of noise. It was a challenge keeping them occupied and quiet. Eventually we all joined in Zeke’s game of pretending to cook pasta and that seemed to keep them busy enough.

After arriving at Didcot, we waited about 25 minutes for the train to Oxford. It arrived a bit early and we were able to get on and find some good seats facing each other. Micah wanted to continue feeding daddy some pasta. Daddy was very tired.

When we got back to Oxford, we were all tired, so we went to a local pizza place. It’s a chain (saw one in London), but it was very good. A quick check on Wikipedia says there are over 400 of these restaurants in the UK.

Inside, we looked at the menu and tried to figure out which kind of pizza we wanted. It definitely wasn’t an American style pizza place – all the pizzas were Italian in style.

The pizzas we ordered were very good!

After we finished dinner, we headed to the nearby bus station to take the bus back home. The first bus wouldn’t honor our week-long bus passes because we bought them from a different bus company – a fact which no one bothered to tell us. So we had to wait 9 minutes for the next bus. Oh well.

Day 24: Blenheim Palace

Today began the first full day of our free travel weekend #2 (Thurs – Sun). We decided to hang out in Oxford this time and do day trips to see things nearby. Our first trip was to Blenheim Palace, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Marlborough and the birthplace of Winston Churchill.

We took it slow in the morning and got out about 10:30. We walked to the bus stop nearest to our flat and waited for our bus.

    

At the bus stop, the kids had a snack.

    

We rode the bus for about 25 minutes and arrived at Blenheim Palace. It was a really easy and short trip. Here’s the front gates.

Then we hiked up the road about 0.3 miles to the palace entrance. It was a nice walk.

By the time we got there, it was about 11:15. We took the kids to the bathroom and by the time everyone was done it was 11:30 and time for lunch. So we ate at the cafe.

   

Zeke finished before Micah and Aunt Shelley took him out to walk around the courtyard. While there, he found the ice cream truck (of course) and the person inside was nice enough to let him inside too.

Here’s a video Aunt Shelley took…

Around 12:15 we headed into the palace itself. Here’s the view that first greeted us:

And here’s the panorama:

And just another nice shot of the palace.

And another view of the front, closer up. Erin, Shelley, Zeke, and Micah are in the bottom left:

Inside, it was quite stunning. The walls and ceilings were covered in paintings.

I snapped this photo of a quote by Sir Winston Churchill because I thought it entirely appropriate to my life:

There were many more rooms, all of which were impressive. Along the way, we passed through a large tour group that was just standing in the way, blocking the path to keep moving. They obviously were not paying attention that someone other than their group might want to move through. As I tried to squeeze through, a woman backed up into me. I said, “Sorry!” And she muttered under her breath, “Americans!” How rude.

The library was obviously impressive as well.

The library was so very pretty, with lots of natural light and the paintings of previous dukes and duchesses on the walls. You can see Erin and Shelley in this picture (the people nearest to me).

The chapel was also similarly breathtaking.

Dedicated to the first duke and his wife and their two sons, both of whom passed away young.

By the time we got out, Micah was fast asleep on Erin.

Aunt Shelley had promised Zeke that he could have ice cream if he was good, so when we finished he got some.

      

Then we headed off to the Pleasure Gardens where there is a playground. To get there, you can walk or take the little train. Zeke was happy to take the train. Below he had just finished saying, “I’m the conductor!”

Zeke decided he was also the train driver and was pretending to push buttons to drive the train. Micah got scared when the train blew its whistle.

At the Pleasure Gardens, there was a duck pond, which Micah loved. She loves ducks.

The kids got to play on the playground for a while.

We hung out there for a while. James pushed Micah on the swing for a little while, then took a break.

    

Then we decided to walk the hedge maze. It was fun!

After we finished the hedge maze, we went potty and took the little train back to the palace. Zeke was excited to be back on the train, but you can tell how tired he was by this point (around 3:15 PM).

It was time to leave so we hiked back to the bus station. Along the way, I did an interview with Zeke.

We took the bus back to Summertown (just north of Park Town where our flat is located). There we found a Chinese restaurant and got dinner. It was pretty good!

From there we took the bus back to Park Town.

We came home, put the kids in their pajamas, and put them to bed early. They both fell asleep after only a few minutes of Erin holding each one. They were tired. We are all tired.