Day 7: London & Newbury

Ugh. Woke up with the start of a cold! Good thing I packed plenty of DayQuil and Advil to get me through the next few days!

Today was the day that James had to drive on the “wrong” side of the road. Why? Because we were going to Highclere castle! For those of you who aren’t in the know, Highclere is the place that Downton Abbey is filmed. It’s an epic building for an epic television show. The castle is only opened 60 – 70 days a year for the public to walk through as it is still the home of Earl and Countess Carnarvon as well as a television set. It’s nearly impossible to get tickets and a stroke of luck if you are in London when the castle is actually opened. In February, I stalked the Highclere castle website waiting for the summer dates and tickets to be released. We were in the luck, the castle would be open for a few weeks through September 17.

James and I started our journey at Enterprise in Hammersmith (when a quick Google search the night before revealed that the original destination we intended to pick our car up at was in fact much further north than we had anticipated and that there were actually two places with the exact same address in this city. Not cool city builders, not cool). Yes, it is just as weird to climb into the front seat as a passenger on the driver’s side as it is to climb in the passenger seat as a driver.

Calm, cool and collected.

My savvy navigation skills (and a little help from Google Maps) brought us to the highway that we took for nearly 50 miles (this trip was the equivalent of going from Boston to the Cape). Unlike other trips we’ve taken through and out of London, this drive was beautiful. In fact, you could have told us that we were driving on Route 2 towards Vermont back at home and we would have believed you – minus the fact that everything is backwards in this car.

We arrived at Highclere around noon, enough time to walk the castle grounds and grab a hot lunch in their tearoom before we could explore the building itself and also attend the Egyptian exhibit (more on that later). The castle is just as grand as they make it out to be on Downton, and it was exciting that we were finally here.

Approaching the castle from the parking lot.

Enjoying a pot of tea and some overcooked chicken.

When Cory, James and I went to the Breakers mansion in Newburyport, we had to take a picture jumping in front of it. Cory wasn’t here to join me this time, so I took an honorary picture alone. I was the only person doing this. Note that there were hundreds of people there. Good to be weird.

I of course made James do this too.

Walking through the grounds and a not so secret garden.

There were these amazing bush arches throughout the gardens.

View of the castle from the secret garden.

Had to get a water bottle shot in ;-)

Our first and probably only picture together during our honeymoon.

At this point we had to put all cell phones and cameras away. No photography is allowed in the castle which makes sense. It is someone’s home AND if you allowed photography, it would take freaking forever to make it through this. We made our way in a very long line through just a fraction of the rooms. Guides were in most to provide a bit of history, gush about being around with the Downton cast (and sometimes George Clooney) and to provide us with insight on which rooms were used in Downton and which were not.

The Carnarvon family also has a lot of interesting history. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon helped discover King Tut’s tomb and was a huge enthusiast of excavating in Egypt. His wife turned Downton into a hospital during World War I (sound familiar?). The only thing I wish there was more of was signage, so that I might be able to learn a bit more than what was in the tiny map they provided and what the guides had to say. Of course, I could have purchased the Highclere castle guide book for 10 pounds.

We exited the castle and headed to the Egyptian exhibit. As I mentioned above the 5th Earl of Carnarvon was responsible for finding King Tut’s tomb. He and his colleague, Howard Carter, discovered the nearly intact tomb in 1922. This exhibit is geared towards children, so there were plenty of signs here!

And then, as quick as we were here, it was time to go. But not without taking this beauty.

On our way out, we drove along a quiet dirt road. I spotted some sheep and decided to try and take a picture. Next thing we know, there’s another car headed straight for us… because we are in their lane. Because that felt so natural, that when distracted by a flock of grazing sheep, we DROVE IN THE WRONG LANE. Don’t worry, no one as hurt and we were able to move before the confused car up ahead had a chance to veer out of the way.

We returned to the city – after a quick pitstop to refill the rental car gas – and headed back to the flat once the car was back in Hammersmith. Rather than do anything interesting, we watched reruns of How I Met Your Mother and Futurama until our dinner reservations at The River Cafe.

The River Cafe was about a mile from our flat and sits on the Thames river. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever been to (decor wise) and filled with bright crazy colors, lots of white and looks like modern 80s (if that makes any sense…). The food was good, but still not competing with Sjavargrillid. Thought the view was not half bad.

When I told the waiter I had a gluten intolerance, it took six cooks to figure out what I could and couldn’t eat on the menu. In the end, they were willing to make just about anything with the exception of pasta, for me.

For an appetizer I ordered a buffalo mozzarella salad. Usually these salads are layers of tomato, basil and mozzarella. Instead, I received a bean, tomato and olive salad with grilled pumpkin and a one pound ball of mozzarella. I’m not kidding. It was ridiculous. James got a crab salad with polenta and tomatoes. He used some of my massive ball of mozzarella to eat his tomatoes. Because I had plenty to share.

For dinner I ordered a whole Dover sole and James had ravioli with ricotta and mushrooms. Our dessert consisted of some awesome gelato.

We returned to watch some British television and waited until our upstairs neighbor was done walking around – something that they like to do between 9 – 10 pm and 7 – 8 am.

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