When we moved into our house, we were proud to describe it as an old farmhouse. It was originally built in the 1850s. Though much of the interior character has been stripped away over the years, we still have the low ceilings, porches, and big red barns outside. When I described our house to a friend in England, she laughed and told me that when she referred to old buildings, she meant ones from the 1600s. So a few weeks ago, when we traveled to the U.K., I expected to see some really old buildings. What I didn’t expect was the abundance, the grandeur and the sheer size of these stunning buildings! So, I’m going to digress a little from my usual style and shopping tips, to show you some old beauty and share some suggestions about traveling with kids. First stop: Oxford, Oxfordshire, home to the oldest English speaking university.
Travel Tip 1: Know Your Mission
Planning our vacation was quite challenging as our family’s interests are as diverse as they come. I wanted to take photographs and shop for anything that I would not find back home. My husband wanted to see the English countryside. Our kids wanted to see medieval buildings, buy souvenirs and eat pizza.
A day trip to Oxford provided a little of all those things. Given our interests, we decided to forgo the walking tours and museum trips that everyone recommended. Instead, we wandered haphazardly but quickly through the city. We stumbled upon these beautiful gardens…
… and took our time admiring the stained glass windows, spires, and cobblestone exteriors.
Travel Tip 2: Carry Snacks And Eat At Off-Peak Hours
We had planned to eat at Jamie’s Italian (owned by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver) but there was an hour-long wait for a table for five. Looking around at the crowds of tourists and packed restaurants, there weren’t a lot of other options. Thankfully, I had traded my fashionable mini-clutch for my practical Travelon bag. I had packed enough protein bars to tide us over. At the end of our trip, when the restaurants were empty, we ate at a Pizza Express. Uninspiring, right? Not, when it’s in a gorgeous 12th-century building. (Apparently, Shakespeare held a performance of Hamlet in the courtyard there). Sometimes the backup plan turns out to be a pretty cool choice!
Travel Tip 3: Souvenirs Can Be Anything You Want
Our kids had gift-money burning holes in their pockets, so we ventured into a few souvenir shops. I reminded everyone that all these treasures might soon be junk in our closets. However, it had been a long time since we had gone on vacation anywhere exciting enough to warrant souvenirs, so we willingly overpaid for Oxford University hoodies and postcards!
As we wandered through the streets, my husband pointed out a little leather shop where I found this little handbag. I know it had nothing to do with Oxford, except that it is something that I will use every day and will remind me of one glorious day of relaxing, exploring and gawking! (Not bad for less than £23!)
Travel Tip 4: One Fantasy Can Be Worth A Million Facts
We inquired about a guided tour of the Bodleian Library, the oldest and second largest library in Europe. But, given that it was late in the day, and we knew we had a long walk ahead of us, we opted to take a quick look at the much smaller Bodleian Library Divinity School. We took our own time to admire the gorgeous architecture and marvel at its 700-year history.
But there was one completely different kind of thrill in being there. This building was used as the infirmary for the Harry Potter movies, and since the kids and I are huge fans, we were quite pleased to be “on set”.
The Best Thing About Travel
As much as I enjoy learning about new places, and taking photographs, travel has a different purpose for me. Leaving home always gives me a new perspective on life, my choices and my goals. Walking around Oxford’s 800-year-old buildings suddenly make me feel very small and young! Given how much time and energy we all spend on losing weight and looking young, isn’t it nice to be reminded that it’s all about perspective?
P.S. In the grand scheme of things, this gorgeous town hall is a new build, constructed in 1893.