More of Bath, England!

If you go to England, Bath has to be high on your list. It's an easy train from London (1.5 hours) so you can do a day trip like I wrote about here - the baths, The Pump Room, the Royal Crescent, Prior Park, Sally Lunn's, and more. I fell in love with this lovely, Georgian city and wanted to stay over.

This time, I had my parents in tow and we booked one night at The Abbey Hotel and I'd definitely stay again. There are fancier/more luxurious places in Bath, but this hotel has the BEST location literally around the corner from Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths, and an 8-minute walk from the train station. For a one-night stay, I want to be in the center of it all.

It's actually part of the Best Western umbrella but is independently owned (Best Western in Europe in general is much nicer than its U.S. counterparts). The people are so nice and the rooms are comfortable and big.

Lovely BathThe Royal CrescentI had long heard about a pub called The King's Arms in Monkton Farleigh, five miles outside of Bath, and decided that would be our dinner spot because we had a rental car. It's now called The Muddy Duck (big controversy with locals when they refurbished & renamed it) and definitely worth the drive or taxi out of town.

It checks off everything you want an English pub to be - funny, warm bartenders, local familes bringing their dogs for dinner, a crackling fire, good eats. In the summer months, there are tons of tables outside to lounge around on.

Parents at The Muddy DuckI'd add a few more recommendations from my last post - Stop by The Raven or Saracens Head for a drink after dinner, visit The Fine Cheese Co. for some tastes and treats, and just wander around the giant Waitrose in the center of town (I love foreign grocery stores!). I also went back to Highgrove, a shop that sells wares from Prince Charles' estate, and picked up a copy of his book, The Elements of Organic Gardening.

Highgrove Shop in BathHave you been to Bath? What did you love?

The Long Walk at Windsor Great Park (Plus Dashing Eton Boys!)

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Yesterday, while cycling through Windsor and Eton (including Dorney Lake, where the Eton boys row), I came upon one of the most evocative, beautiful foggy views in all of England - The Long Walk at Windsor Great Park, a 2.62 mile long path from Snow Hill to the gates of the castle.

Windsor and Eton is such an easy day trip from London, and a very cute town - exactly what you think an English town will look like. The castle looms over it all, as Queen Elizabeth II's favorite weekend escape.They are the House of Windsor, after all.

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Windsor CastleWindsor CastleAnd if you want to stay overnight somewhere? I LOVE Coworth Park, which I visited a couple years ago, just 15 minutes from Windsor.

Windsor Great Park is an absolutely stunning place to cycle or walk. I am cycling on an itinerary created by The Carter Company, a truly awesome family-owned English company, and they have completely amazed me with their insider-y cycling routes.

Plus, because I used to seriously have a crush on Prince William when he had hair (THAT YM cover here...), it was thrilling to see Eton College and some of those dashing boys wearing the famous tails. They looked SO YOUNG and too cute.

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Eton boys in their tailsEton College EntranceThe town of Windsor

Day Trip: Normandy

D-Day BeachesI always pictured the day I'd visit Normandy and the D-Day Beaches. It would be grey, overcast, windy - my hair would be whipping all around and it would be a totally somber feeling throughout the day.

It was the exact opposite when I went. It was beautiful, sunny, bright, and a little too warm. You always think September weather in Europe will be cooler than it actually is (so I didn't need my new J. Crew jacket that I bought especially for this day!). I rocked my giant sunglasses and gulped cold water bottles.

Normandy coastlineI wrote about how we eloped to Paris in my National Geographic column, which included the choice to do Normandy. We went with Context Travel (love! love! LOVE them!) and took a two-hour train ride to Caen to meet our amazing guide, Alexander Wilson, in Normandy. His dad landed there in June, 1944 so the personal connection was incredible to hear about. This was the tour we chose.

View of Omaha Beach

Our guide, Alexander WilsonWhile the weather wasn't grey and cold, seeing Omaha Beach for the first time was as overwhelming as I thought it would be, especially seeing all the names and hometowns on the gravestones. Surprisingly, there were a lot of Walters - must have been a very popular name back then. I pictured who these men were - the Walters from New York and Chicago, John from Virginia, William from Pennsylvania. Picture the most beautiful beaches in the world - Omaha Beach is right up there! It used to be place for holidays and leisure. 

It was nothing like I had imagined it to be. Five beaches (Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword) were stormed and they occupy a 50-mile stretch. I thought it was one small beach. Seeing the geography of Omaha Beach made everything make sense from confusing history books & movies...how steep they had to climb and how hard it was. Walk 15 minutes down from the cemetary to the beach. Walk along the beach and look up. It is heartbreaking.

That's why travel is better than any class, book, or teacher. I understand in a minute what is really difficult to comprehend.

American cemetary American cemetary

Soldier on Omaha BeachAnd finally - who the heck greenlit this monument's design? Can we say massive phallic symbol? It's located at Pointe du Hoc, where one of the most important D-Day battles occurred with U.S. men scaling the cliffs. James Earl Rudder has always been a name I've known - as 16th president of my university, Texas A&M, he was also a war hero and leader during this battle. This truly odd-shaped monument is dedicated to him so we loved seeing it!

I'll explore much more of Normandy the next time around - what did I miss?

The Orient-Express to Sandringham

SandringhamEvery once in a while, there are days when I travel that I'd like to wake up and repeat the whole thing again because it was just so magical. In England, it was the day I boarded the Orient-Express British Pullman train to Sandringham, the Queen's country estate in Norfolk and where they spend Christmas every year. They open presents on Christmas Eve, walk to church on the estate on Christmas morning (and crowds line up to see them), and spend a lot of time mucking about their gorgeous grounds and gardens. It was a big deal when Kate married William and she went to Sandringham for the first time (last year, they decided to spend Christmas at the Middletons which was a surprise to royal watchers).

My favorite viewIf I did this day again, I'd have it be a wee bit cooler. It was during London's heat wave, and the train isn't air conditioned. But still, it was an extraordinary day. You board the train in London and it takes about two hours to actually get out of London because the train is so long and they have to switch tracks. But I didn't care - I was enjoying my orange juice, scrambled eggs, and smoked salmon with lovely company. Soon you're whizzing up to Norfolk.

Checking in at London VictoriaGetting ready to boardI could sit here awhileBrunch on the trainI'm still glad things can take my breath away and the first view of Sandringham did. It was so recognizable from all the pictures I'd seen but yet better than I could have pictured it. The house is so homey with flat-screen TV's are hidden in old-style furniture and a huge fireplace in the main Saloon. The heat outside didn't help but I still could picture a blustery, snowy day with all the royals dressed for the holiday. The women have to be ready - Kate had to change five times on Christmas day alone.

First glimpse through the treesI went through the house three times - the first time it was too crowded. And each time I went, I got new info from all the guides stationed in each room. There's a decent museum near the house, and a great gift shop and garden shop.

When I realized I had half an hour to spare, and I had wandered around the lakes, I found a huge, shaded tree, put my phone away and gazed at the house (munching on pretzels I might add). Thirty minutes well spent in the English countryside, without any distractions. Bliss!

My treeSandringham LakesWalking to the churchChurch of St. Mary MagdaleneOrient-Express is running this day trip three times in 2014 - book it this year or add it to your list of must-do's in England. It's iconic and a wonderful day trip from London. Check out my other favorite royal day trips here on my National Geographic blog.

Cheese course on the train back to London

The Silversmith You Must Visit in Argentina

My new ringThe name to know is DRAGHI. And bring American dollars! Located about 1.5 hours outside the city center of Buenos Aires in a charming town called San Antonio de Areco, Draghi preserves the traditions of Argentine silverwork. The town itself reminded me of a smaller, South American Santa Fe for its town square and all the art galleries & shops. The building is part museum where you're able to browse a priceless collection of items from the 19th century including knives, belts, and jewelry. You can also watch the artisans at work. The shop was my favorite part and a group of us browsed rugs, blankets, necklaces, and rings.

I spotted the ring I wanted and discovered it would be $120 on my credit card, but $50 if I paid American cash. Why? American dollars have a high black market value and are highly coveted by Argentines so BRING more dollars than you think you'll need. This article explains it well - apparently President Cristina (whom every single person I talked to HATED) has put some insane limits on foreign exchange, and the peso is the world's worst performing currency. I don't completely understand, but know I got my ring for a great deal!

After visiting the silversmith, continue on to La Bamba de Areco, one of my new favorite places in the world, an impeccably designed and beautiful estancia, or ranch. It's where I met this sweet dog!

This dog wandered around the shopBeautiful Courtyard at Draghi