After a fantastic two weeks in Dallas and Utah, we hopped on a flight with only our 4 youngest kids and headed to London. All of us, except Megan, had been to the city before. It was fun to return to see new sights and some old ones. We spent a few days in the city, visited some friends in London and Kings Langley, and then began a week long-journey along the coast of Southern England - which we loved from start to finish.
9. 6-person single room Airbnb in a slightly uncomfortable house
10. Some dreary cold and rainy days in May
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1. Old English and Norman Castles – We visited numerous castles along the southern coast, some which were destroyed with only the walls standing (Pevensey Castle, Corfe Castle), and others which were still fully enclosed with exhibits and decorations (Dover Castle). Most were built after William the Conqueror took the kingship in 1066 and wanted to defend his throne. It was fun climbing over walls, and ascending the steps of corner towers, and imagining life in these places. We learned that castles were rarely furnished full-time. Kings and Lords would travel with 30-100 wagons full of everything to outfit the castle while they stayed. Then when their time came to spend some time in another one of their castles, everything would be packed up into the wagons and the castle would be left totally empty. Beds, Tapestries, tables, chairs, and cooking utensils would all be carried to the next castle to make the king comfortable.
2. Learning about English History – The sheer number of historic sites in England is astonishing. Everywhere you looked there was a castle, or old fortress, or Abbey or cathedral, or ruin. We purchased an English Heritage museum pass which gave us admission to all the sites that they managed - and it was hundreds of places. There were at least two other historic societies which managed fully separate lists of sites and natural wonders. I was so impressed with simply how much there was to do and see in England. And every site we visited put another location or person or happening on the English timeline that we began to build in our heads - From the martyrdom site of the first English Saint, Alban, to the burial site of Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey, to Pevensey Castle where William of Normandy came ashore with his armies, to the Battle of Hastings site where William the Conqueror took the crown from Edward’s grandson Harold, to the Martyrdom site of Thomas Beckett in Canterbury cathedral, to the Dover Castle built under William, but embellished under one of the later King Henry’s, because so many nobles were coming across the channel on a pilgrimage to visit Canterbury Cathedral. It was very cool how it all tied together, in one way or another, and began to barely make sense in my head. This is homeschooling on the road (for all ages) at its finest and funnest!
3. London Shows on West End – Back in November, we had purchased a single ticket for Anna for her May birthday to go see Hamilton. We had hoped to get more tickets, but one was all that was available. She had her 16th birthday dream fulfilled, and she LOVED the show. The rest of us went to see Matilda, which was well done, but I wasn’t crazy about the story of Matilda to begin with, so the musical version didn’t really improve upon it. I just can’t stand to watch adults be mean to kids. We also went to see “The Play that went Wrong” which was a total riot, and well worth the ticket price. We all love the theatre, and long to go more.
4. English scenery along the southern coast (Dover cliffs, Beachy Head and Seven Sisters, Durdle Door and Jurassic Coast) – The English scenery was stunning! The white chalk cliffs of Dover and Beach Head are unique and beautiful and rugged. The rolling countryside hills were also beautiful, with grazing cows and horses and sheep and country fences following the rise and fall of the land. I enjoyed the English scenery in a way that I didn’t expect.
5. Windsor Castle preparing for the Harry and Meghan Wedding – We backtracked a little bit to see the Windsor Castle, which wasn’t originally on our itinerary. But the re-route was fully worth it. The castle, which is still the weekend residence of the Queen, has the state rooms open to the public. Additionally, the St. George Chapel was open to touring, which chapel would be the setting for the marriage of Prince Henry and Meghan Markle that weekend. We got a taste of the busy preparations - polishing the brass candlesticks, and washing and dusting inside, and of course all the crowd control preparations outside the castle. I wouldn’t have cared a bit about the wedding, but standing in the cathedral nave, with all the decorated seats of the Knights Regent, and imagining the marriage ceremony certainly put me in the mood. We ended up watching the entire wedding ceremony on TV that weekend, which was a total treat.
6. Stonehenge Celtic Site – Too many times I’ve read that visiting the Stonehenge site was a let-down. I found it not to be the case. I really enjoyed visiting the site, out in the middle of cultivated fields, and I was astonished to learn about all the other ancient sites in the area, with stones and wooden posts and mounds. Stonehenge gets all the publicity as it is the least destroyed, but the area is simply full of similar sites, much less visited, but no less historic. It cracked me up to see the “SaveStonhenge.org” hippies sitting outside the site, fearlessly championing for reduced visitor fees.
7. HMS Victory at Portsmouth Naval Museum – the Magnificent 1800’s wooden ship that won the Battle of Trafalgar was quite a vessel to visit, with a fascinating audio tour and interesting and realistic exhibits inside. The whole family marveled at the history and the restored areas of the ship. The tour explained various areas of the ship but also took you to the action of the battle, describing the people, places, and things on-board during the critical Naval battle with the French Navy during the Napolean invasion. The real-life museum did not disappoint.
8. Roman ruins at Bath – the ruins of the Ancient Roman Baths were pretty impressive. It is interesting to note the various periods of history in the British Isles, with ancient Celtic ruins of Stonehenge (2000 BC), and Roman ruins of cities and bathhouses (0 AD), and kings centralizing rule for the first time (1000AD). The site of the ancient hot spring has been known and capitalized on for literally millennia, and the bath ruins of 100BC-250AD were impressive to see.
9.Single room Airbnb in a slightly uncomfortable house – While in Eastbourne, we reserved a place at an Airbnb in the town. Tyler had been the travel agent on this one, and it turned out to be a single room upstairs in a lived-in house. The proprietor was an older widow who had probably lived in the house for the last 40 years, with knick-knacks and books and decorations and kitsch enough to fill a few different houses. She had two enormous dogs that she yelled at, and a single bathroom for the three different "family" bedrooms she rented upstairs. With it cold and rainy all evening, we felt quite trapped inside our one designated bedroom of the house. It was our least favorite place to stay.
10. Cold and Dreary and Rainy Days in May - While we felt lucky to have plenty of days that were sunny and bright, we had our fair share of dreary downtown days, gray and drizzly. We still got out and about, and it reminded us about what living in northern Europe is really like.
Plan? What plan?
Our first Gap Year was a fabulous "2017-2018 School Year" of travel: from the Netherlands to Jordan to Texas to Hawaii to Mexico to Central America to London and back to the Netherlands. Our "2018 Summer Vacation" took us all around Western Europe, back to the USA on a transatlantic cruise, a road trip through New York and into Canada, and ending up in Utah. We have now kicked off the "2018-2019 School year" with a trip to Asia. Follow along with us on our visits to new places, as well as revisiting some of our favorite places from our time living there. It's going to be great!!