aboutWe are Akila and Patrick. Our minds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
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england: the low-down
a wrap up

What we did: A little less than 3 months split up as follows: 2 days in New Forest, 2 weeks in the Cotswolds (including day trips to Bath, Stratford upon Avon, and Stonehenge), 2 weeks in Cornwall, 2 weeks in the Peak District, 4 weeks in London, and 1 week in Kent (where we didn't do any sightseeing)

Would we do it the same way?  We ended up spending so much time in England because of Schengen Zone restrictions and because we needed to go back to the United States for a wedding in early January.  If we had to do it over again, we wouldn't have spend December in London because it was awfully dreary and gloomy, though it was a lot of fun to see all the Christmas decorations.  However, we felt like the time we spent in each location gave us a very good idea of England overall.

Best food:  Clotted cream and its related teas (afternoon and high).  Yes, I'm obsessed with this stuff.

Most disappointing food:  Indian curries.  We were disappointed by the curry houses in London because we had heard such good things but, for the most part, the food was either overly salty or too creamy.  The best curry house we stopped at was actually a random little one in the New Forest area.

Views of the Peak District

Peak District with snow Peak District with snow

Views of the Peak District

Our favorite part of England:  The stunning countryside and teensy little villages.  We had no idea that England would be such a beautiful place of rolling green hills, pastures, mountains, and golden hued houses.  The gardens --- especially The Lost Gardens of Heligan, the Eden Project, Westonbirt Arboretum, and the Painswick Rococo Gardens --- amazed us. 

The worst part of England:  Without a doubt, the dreary weather.  We were in England in August and November to January and I can tell you that it isn't significantly sunnier in the summer time.  We laughed when we saw the British lounging at the beach in bikinis while we bundled up in our fleeces, even in August.  This winter has conclusively established that we will never be able to live in Seattle, Toronto, or London, because Patrick's already quite tired of my gray weather grumpiness.

The second worst part of England:  The roads.  I don't know how one of the wealthiest nations in the world manages to have such dreadful roads.  We automatically began doubling the time our GPS told us it would take to get to a destination because we were either: (1) dealing with single lane roads in which every car drove slowly behind the other in one long line; (2) stuck in horrendous traffic on the Ms (the highways which are not nearly large enough or numerous enough to deal with the demand); or (3) stuck in another gosh darn roundabout.  In our five months driving in western Europe, we both agree that England is the worst country to drive in.

Indispensable item/gear:  A car.  Like Ireland, it's not really possible to get around the English countryside unless you have a car.  Note, however, that driving (as mentioned above) stinks so expect to be frustrated constantly.  If you want to see any of the London outskirts, it's much easier to travel around by car rather than trying to figure out the buses.

Entrance to V&A Museum

Chihuly glass at V&A

Entrance to the V&A Museum

The best deal: The London museums.  The British Museum, V&A, Tate Gallery, Tate Modern, National Gallery, and many others are completely free!  They are the perfect place to spend a gloomy day.

The worst rip off:  Not really a ripoff but . . . everything in England is expensive.  Very expensive.  In fact, though I've heard many travelers say that Japan is the most expensive country they've visited, we disagree.  We find England to be far more expensive mainly because NOTHING is cheap.  Restaurants, gas, pubs, groceries, and even produce at the market are all at least double the price of what we would pay in the United States.  We were talking to a photographer and he had just purchased a camera for 900 pounds that we know for a fact runs around $700 in the U.S.  When you convert the prices over, gas starts at around $10 per gallon in the UK, meaning that if you're driving to France, wait to fill up on the Continent. 

At V&A Museum Hyde Park

Best new experience:  Seeing fireworks at New Year's Eve at a major venue.  We've never gone to Times Square or the Sydney Opera House or any of the other big international hotspots for New Year's Eve so it was a lot of fun to experience the crowds, craziness, and fireworks at the London Eye this year.

Worst new experience: Getting grilled about our salaries, accommodations, careers, and future plans in order to enter England (this actually happened to us twice though I only wrote about it once.)

The must see attraction:  Stonehenge.  It's amazing.  I would strongly recommend going with Pat on the Stonehenge Special Access tour to really understand the site and to step inside the circle.

Most overhyped attraction:  Changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace.  It amounted to a very long wait in the cold and not much time seeing the guards (but we did get some good pictures out of it).

London skyline

London from the Tate Modern

Favorite city:  London.  I know that many people don't like London but we really enjoyed the diversity of cuisine, museums, abundant greenspace, and cool shopping areas.

Favorite village: Broadway in the Cotswolds.  All of the Cotswolds villages are so cute but Broadway was especially beautiful.

Least favorite town/city: Stratford upon Avon.  Very overhyped and not much to see.

Best surprise:  How dog-friendly the country is.  Dogs are accepted and expected to be part of every day life.  It's rare to find a pub without a dog under the table, most walks allow dogs to be off-leash under voice control, and we even took them to see lions and zebras at the Cotswold Wildlife Park.  (That being said, interestingly, pet stores in England are not as well-stocked as what we get in the U.S.)

Biggest disappointment: Lack of high-speed Internet.  In the countryside, we had difficulty finding houses with high speed Internet, so we bought a MiFi but the MiFi rarely got 3G service.  England's internet isn't as good as many of the other countries on the Continent (especially Spain which is extremely plugged in.)

Peak District Village

View at night of a Peak District Village

Language lesson: jumpers = sweaters; pants = underwear; trousers = pants; biscuits = cookies or crackers; scones = similar to Southern style biscuits; tea = a drink that can solve all problems, including keeping you cool on a warm day and warming you up on a cool day, that must be served with biscuits, scones, or cake

The big test, would we go back: We know that we have to go back to England for a short while because our ship leaves from Southampton but we probably won't spend much time because we feel like we've already seen so much of the country (though there's always more to see and I have decided that we're going to spend one day visiting the Harry Potter studio set next September).

And, next on the travel plans:  Immediately after we left England in August, we headed to Spain, so I'll be writing about our three weeks in that country next and then on to our fabulous two months in Italy.

02/10/2012 03:47
Hmm, you say you've seen so much of England and yet completely ignored the North. Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle are great cities and differ vastly from the South. You have the Yorkshire Dales and of course the amazing Lake District.

Roads are quieter, general people "friendlier" and prices cheaper. There is talk of a North South divide for a reason and it's not just from a financial point of view.

Of course, when you come to the North, you're close to Scotland which in many ways is better again!

Oh, and Hogwarts is Alnwick Castle, just north of Newcastle :)
02/12/2012 11:23
Stefan, This is the great part of having a blog. I love finding out about places that are a bit more uncharted. We've heard great things about the Lake District though I haven't even heard about the Yorkshire Dales. I'm going to put both of these spots on my "to do" travel list, along with Scotland. Thanks!
Akila's recent blog post: england: the low-down
02/10/2012 06:45
So sad we didn't give ourselves enough time for Stonehenge last time we were there. I'm dying to go back for a visit! Great photos and recap as always!
02/15/2012 11:39
Thanks so much Kieu! Stonehenge is an amazing place. :)
Akila's recent blog post: changing perceptions in madrid
02/10/2012 08:03
Aww, I love driving in the UK! I can only assume that driving in Scotland (where I do all of mine) is "worse" than it's southern neighbor, too. You're right though, can't trust Google Maps or GPS one bit.

I feel your pain about the cost of everything. Trips to Scotland are SO expensive. I don't think you really answered your "would we go back" question. :)

Great round up!
02/15/2012 10:36
English drivers are too "square" for our American blood :-) Thanks for the compliments.
Patrick's recent blog post: changing perceptions in madrid
02/10/2012 12:06
The one time I was in London it was in December, and yes it was dreary and depressing...I'd like to go back, but I know I'd need way more time than what I can take to see everything I'd like. Great pics and recap!
D.J. - The World of Deej's recent blog post: The President Made Me Late For Lunch
02/15/2012 11:39
Thanks D.J. It is SO depressing in the wintertime in London but still a very fun place (especially with all the Christmas lights)!
Akila's recent blog post: changing perceptions in madrid
02/10/2012 20:19
I agree with Stefan that you need to get back and see the North! It never ceases to amaze me how much there is to do and see on such a small island.

I also was surprised you said Stonehenge was a favorite - I agree with the majority who think it's a big let-down. Maybe having your guide makes all the difference?
Emily in Chile's recent blog post: Tracking down best part of summer
02/15/2012 10:38
Having a guide and getting exclusive access after hours is an absolute must. Otherwise, you just show up and stand behind some chains to look at standing rocks in the distance.
Patrick's recent blog post: changing perceptions in madrid
02/10/2012 22:19
People don't like London? Really? I LOVE it. I think it's because I'm a New Yorker though and there is somewhat of a similar vibe. I saw the moview "The Trip" late last year, and I loved it. It's such Brit humor, fantastic food porn and a great introduction to the English countryside, which is pretty breathtaking. I would totally want to retrace their steps in the movie especially the portion in the Yorkshire Dales. One day.

By the way, I really liked this rundown. :) I'm looking forward to Spain. That's going to be some fabulous food!
02/15/2012 11:45
I've heard a LOT of Americans say that they hate London because it's so dreary and not particularly pretty. I agree with you - I think there's so much great food and fun things to do. I've got to put that movie on my "to watch" list!
Akila's recent blog post: changing perceptions in madrid
02/11/2012 05:28
Chetan Sankar
When I told Shiva that I enjoyed my trip to London with you, his immediate question was, "Dad, did you not say that you did not enjoy U.K. when you were there for a week in the 90s." I had to agree with him, it all depends on whom you are with and what you do. Thanks for making our stay memorable.

Love
Dad
02/15/2012 11:46
Thanks Dad for joining us in London! We had a great time with you there. :)
Akila's recent blog post: changing perceptions in madrid
02/11/2012 09:03
I love it when you do these posts! I really need to give England another chance.
Andi Perullo de Ledesma's recent blog post: Chicago: Day 3 & 4
02/15/2012 11:48
Thanks Andi! It's a great country to visit.
Akila's recent blog post: changing perceptions in madrid
02/11/2012 15:49
Vidya
Hi Akila,

I have been following your travels for sometime now. Thought I will add my experience with UK customs. In December, I was traveling with my mother from Paris to London on eurostar. I was going to London for 3 days before catching a flight to India. They wanted to know my profession,the company I worked for, how long I worked there, what I was planning to do in London, where I was staying, if I was going back to the US after London (I said I was going to India), what was I planning to do in India, then she finally asked me if I was going to the US directly from India (Yeah, I do live there and carry a US passport). I almost wanted to tell her that I wouldn't live in London if she gave me a million dollars. It was dull and dreary alright.

The customs at Heathrow was nothing like this. Perhaps something to do with the channel crossing?
02/15/2012 10:41
Not only did we get the 3rd degree, but they ask the same questions over and over again! I guess since the visa is free, we can let the mild inconvenience of questioning go.
Patrick's recent blog post: changing perceptions in madrid
02/12/2012 12:57
Is it just me? Can you explain the Schengen Zone restrictions. I tried to google it and just became confused!
Jill's recent blog post: Back from Bahrain.
02/15/2012 12:12
No, it's not just you! It's hugely confusing and we've spent LOTS of time trying to figure out exactly what it means.

Basically, the Schengen Agreement allows all citizens of countries within its borders to freely move about --- meaning that if you're living in France, you can go to Italy, Switzerland, and any of the other 23 countries who have signed into the Schengen Agreement, without any passport controls or restrictions. For those of us with United States passports, we only get to stay in the Schengen Zone (that is, all the countries who have signed to the Schengen Agreement) for 90 days out of any given 180 day period. The easy way to think about this is that you can stay in the Schengen Zone for 90 days and then out 90 days, back in for 90 days and out again for 90 days. It's all a bit complicated so definitely let me know if you have questions and I'll try to help explain it better!
Akila's recent blog post: changing perceptions in madrid
02/14/2012 17:52
Congrats. This is a great post. Anyone wanting to visit England should it. I was disappointed to hear the curries were not that great in London. They used to be (a long time ago!)
jan's recent blog post: BREAKFAST IN TUSCANY
02/15/2012 10:05
England is a great country to visit, from the country-side to London. We were really hoping that the curries would stand up to the bunny chow that we had in South Africa. Perhaps we just didn't find the right restaurants.
Patrick's recent blog post: changing perceptions in madrid
02/22/2012 21:04
I totally get the 'dreary weather' comment- quite frankly, this is why we had to leave England after 4 years.. it just made us grumpier and grumpier. (Luckily we had enough sunny days in the 4 years there that we had amazing experiences and explored the entire country)

I am wondering if the exchange rate from GBP to USD has to do with the observation that England is so expensive? Because when we lived there (and earned GBP) we always felt that England was so much cheaper than the U.S. (even traveling there on vacation with GBPs in our pockets!) We usually got huge bowls of fruit & veg for 1 Pound on the markets, something we never find in the States. And we also find eating out is much cheaper - pizzas for example are usually under 10 Pounds whereas we paid 20 Dollars for a pizza in the States. Gas of course is a completely different story but even that was cheaper than in Germany (where I am from) - of course not comparable to US prices though :D

Anyway, your round-up made me miss England and I can't wait to go back to visit for a while.. of course during the summer, not in the gray months ;-)
03/12/2012 06:50
Dani, Hmmm . . . that's a really interesting thought on expensiveness. I wonder if it's because we didn't know where to find the cheap places to eat in London or the cheap places to shop. We never found salads or fruit for 1 pound --- I wish we had! And, I don't think I've ever paid $20 for a pizza but I wonder if that's because we know about the cheap places to eat in the U.S. It might be a matter of local knowledge, maybe.
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04/16/2012 08:36
If you come back to England go to the Balti Triangle in Birmingham where you'll taste the curry you were looking for.
04/16/2012 10:07
Natalie - Thanks so much for the recommendation! I'll put it on the list of places to eat when we return.
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