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Trip Report 6 countries, 4 weeks, 2 kids, and 1 trip to the hospital-Part I

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This is going to be a LONG trip report, as we were gone a month, so I'm breaking it into 2 parts. Part I will cover our two weeks in the UK, with Part II covering our travels on the Continent (Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden). Not to give anything away in advance, but if you want to know who ended up in the hospital and under what circumstances, you'll have to wait for the 2nd installment... (a great yarn needs a little suspense!).

First off, I should say that we did this trip a little differently, as we built our itinerary around DH's work requirements. He had been invited to visit 3 universities--the U. of Southampton in the UK, a research institute in Enschede in the Netherlands (near the German border), and the U. of Lund in southern Sweden. We decided that this would be a great opportunity for us to take our kids on their first trip to Europe, so we planned a lot of our activities around them--DD is 7 and DS is 11. The 11-year-old also has severe food allergies, which complicates matters when we eat out, so we planned mostly to stay in apartments as much as possible, so we could cook our own meals. So for those of you who love to salivate over mouth-watering descriptions of fabulous restaurants, I'm sorry to say that this trip report will not focus much on food--unless you count my own cooking. :-)

So, enough preamble...

DAY 1: BOSTON TO HEATHROW
We left on June 26 (my birthday, coincidentally--this trip was definitely NOT about me) on an evening flight to Heathrow on Iceland Air. We were very pleased with our flight, even though we had to stop over and change planes in Reykjavik at an ungodly hour (about 2:30am our time). It was exciting to fly in over Iceland, which we could see quite well, as it was already light out. We had views of dark, rocky coastlines and mountains in the distance, and the immediate area around the airport seemed to be covered with a kind of heather. The flight was very smooth and very kid-friendly. Both kids received a postcard to color, with colored pencils (though the 11-year-old said he was too old to color, he liked the postcard), free headphones, and a special kids meal (basically a grilled cheese sandwich with a drink and snacks), and there were both TV and movie choices on the individual monitors that were appropriate for kids. We did have to go through an odd extra security screening before we could reboard, as they said that Iceland and the EU had different security standards than the US, so that took a bit of time, but we made our second flight with no problem.

The flight from Reykjavik to Heathrow is about 3 hrs., and we got in on time, just before noon. We were all tired, not having slept much on the plane--the kids were too excited about all the activities they had available. The only one who slept was DH (figures...), but that was a good thing, since I'd made him promise that he would deal with the driving.

Which brings us to.... the rental car. I do not know what could have gone wrong with Hertz or whether this is a regular problem at Heathrow, but we had one of the single worst experiences I've ever had picking up our car. We had reserved through AutoEurope, prepaid, and expected to simply hop on over there on the shuttle and get on our merry way. But when we got there, there was a HUGE line of angry people waiting and NO CARS! Some people told us they had already been waiting more than 2 hours!!! As no amount of complaining appeared to be of any use, we stood in line with the rest of the poor tired slobs and waited it out. Finally, after just about 2 hrs. exactly, we were told that we would be getting a car--miracle of miracles! Who knows where they were coming from or why it took them so long to produce them... (Or whether it was just some sort of sick joke to play on tired travellers.) The only silver lining is that, though we'd reserved a Ford Focus, we ended up with a VW Golf (automatic), which DH thought was a bit of an upgrade.

We had had a slight change since we first planned our itinerary--I'd originally thought we'd just do a short drive to Windsor, walk around a bit, and then call it an early night. And we'd booked a room at the Marriott there. But just before we left Boston, the owner of the apartment where we'd planned to stay in Winchester (about an hour's drive away) had generously offered us an extra night for free, due to a bit of a mix-up about paying her (she wanted us to pay her with a Sterling cheque, but we did not ask at our bank far enough in advance and couldn't get Sterling funds before we left, so we were going to have to pay her in cash when we arrived). So we'd decided to cancel the Marriott and go right to Winchester and settle in.

This turned out to be a great decision, because at this point, we were all tired, and the prospect of staying the one night and then having to move again the next morning seemed daunting. We had an easy drive to Winchester, as it was mostly highway the whole way, which gave DH time to get used to driving on the "wrong" side of the road. The only difficulty he had was that he tended to drift too far left in the lane, so I had to keep reminding him to move over--not too much of a problem on the highway, but this became more of an issue on the narrow streets of Winchester once we got off... a couple of times, I thought he'd knock off the left-hand mirror!

But we made it safely and found the apartment with no problem, as the directions we'd been given were very clear. The only problem was that when we arrived, no one was there! We had e-mailed the owner that we'd like to take her up on the offer of an extra night, but because of the snafu at Hertz, we'd had no time to buy a cheap cell-phone, as we'd planned, so hadn't called her to let her know we'd arrived... Hoping for the best, we decided to head off to buy some groceries and look for a phone, with the idea that our host might have come back by the time we returned.

We followed her directions to a large Sainsbury's, where we found a few basics (milk, cereal, coffee, and the like)--and even a Starbuck's, which I'm sorry to say I was mighty pleased to see (I'm a bit of a mocha addict). So refreshed and restocked, we headed back to the apartment... to find our host just stepping out of her car in the driveway, thank goodness! She told us she was actually just stopping home to get something but was planning to be out the rest of the evening!! She handed us the keys, wished us well, and drove off... So we let ourselves in.

I have to take a moment to describe the apartment, because it was one of the loveliest places I've ever stayed... The owner has a home on Sleeper's Hill in Winchester, which appears to be quite a ritzy neighborhood with beautiful views out over the town. The apartment is on the top floor of the owner's large brick house, with a private entrance, and is reached by several flights of stairs. But once you're up at the top, the space is really grand--we had 3 bedrooms (all bigger than our own at home!), 2 baths, an eat-in kitchen, and a family room with TV/DVD. And these wonderful windows with lots of light and lovely views... I was so thrilled--especially since I'd booked it and felt responsible! We also had use of the owner's garden and grill, which came in handy. So we felt like we'd really landed on our feet.

By this time, it was quite late, so we cooked a simple dinner and got the kids to bed--each in his/her own room. Quite the luxury, but with 2 weeks in the same space, we thought we'd appreciate the extra room--and we did!

Tomorrow... Winchester!

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    For some reason, I was not able to tag this with the UK, even though I got a message saying I could tag with up to 5 countries, so I'll try to resubmit this on the UK board as well. Sorry!

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    hi jspen,

    I just responded on your other thread, then saw this one. it's going to get a bit complivated if you try to run two threads at once, especially as there are no separate country boards, just tags for each one.

    May I suggest that you e-mail Katie and ask her to delete this thread, and jsut keep the other one going.

    you can always start another one when you get to the non-UK bit.

    hope you don't mind me chiming in like this,

    regards, ann

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    Thanks, annhig--I will do as you suggest. I was hoping to keep the whole thing tied to all the appropriate tags, but since the first part is really about the UK, I will see about deleting this thread until I get to the second half of our trip. Thanks!

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    That would be a great idea jspen, I just read your first posting and then ran into this and I was really confused. Please stick to one and it's a great report by the way and I want to be able to follow it to the end.

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    Jspen,

    Enjoying your report - the apartment in Winchester sounds wonderful! Do you mind posting the link for it?

    I can totally sympathize with your husband - I had the problem of "drifting" to the left hand side of the road on the highways...and I usually had no clue about it! Thank goodness I had people with me to help me along the way.

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    Apologies to all about the posting confusion--should be fixed now, as Fodor's has kindly added the UK tag.

    Anna1013, here's the link for the apartment: http://www.cottageguide.co.uk/milnthorpeattic/
    I will say that it was not cheap, but better than hotel prices would have been, and we really appreciated the space and privacy. Also, just FYI, the owners told us that they might be selling the property, so I can't say if the apartment will continue to be available. We enjoyed it so much, though, we'd love to go back...

    DAYS 2, IN WINCHESTER

    Our first morning in Winchester, we woke to the sounds of cooing wood pigeons and sparkling sunshine--very peaceful and relaxing! As I mentioned on this forum in our planning stages, we are not a family that feels the need to fill every minute with activity. So we'd decided not to rush about our first day, and instead spent some time around the apartment, settling in and exploring the garden, which was quite large, with a summer house at one end. The owners have a Chow dog called Fooey who lives in the garden that DD was dying to befriend, but he wanted nothing to do with her--he wasn't unfriendly, just uninterested. By late morning, after plenty of tea/coffee to clear our jet-lagged heads, we felt sufficiently human again and were ready to see what Winchester had to offer.

    The walk into town took about 15 minutes, along a path that paralleled St. Cross St.--we later found a slightly shorter route through a cemetery that cut off about 5 minutes. The path brought us out close to the High St., which has a busy pedestrian section filled with shops and restaurants. DH's goal was to find a cheap cell phone that we could use the rest of the trip, so he and our son set off to explore the many phone stores (at least 4 of them!), while DD and I did some window shopping of our own. Many of the stores were chains (H&M, Clarks shoes, Waterstones books, etc.), but there were a few we don't have at home that were interesting to check out. We also visited the tourist office for maps (although the apartment was already well-stocked with brochures) and a stop in the loo--some of the cleanest and nicest public restrooms I've ever seen. This was soon to become a theme on our trip (we have small children, after all!), and we were continually impressed--you'd never find such nice facilities in Boston (if you can find a public restroom at all).

    We found a cafe for lunch, where we grabbed a quick bite, and then wandered through the stalls at a large farmer's market that's held on Sundays. The market was winding down when we got there, but it was still interesting to see the variety of items offered, from baked goods and breads, to meats, fruits, vegetables, and plants.

    Afterwards, we walked over to Winchester Cathedral, whose spires we had seen in the distance. It's just a short walk from the High St. and sits in a lovely setting, surrounded by green space. The cathedral is really quite impressive, even for someone like me who can't tell her Gothic from her Baroque... We bought ices from a dapper man in a straw hat pushing a cart but decided to wait for another day to visit the cathedral itself, as the kids were tired, and we figured we had plenty of time during our two-week visit.

    Because of my son's allergy issues, we had planned to cook at the apartment that evening but found the Sainsbury's closed when we got there--Sunday hours! (We tend to forget these things with our 24-hour, always-open American culture...). We had passed a fish-and-chips shop on St. Cross Street on the way to the Sainsbury's, so decided to stop in for take-away on our way back. The shop, called "The Frying Fish," was very busy, which we figured was a good sign. We had to park down the road, as there were no parking spots in front, and there was a queue to get served. But the wait was worth it--and the staff was very helpful about checking ingredients for my son (no peanut oil!). We took the huge packages back to the apartment (wrapped not in newsprint, but plain old butcher paper) and dug in. Delicious! We had fortunately picked up some Newcastle Brown Ale the day before, and the apartment was already stocked with vinegar, so we had our own pub dinner--minus the pub!

    DAY 3, SALISBURY & STONEHENGE
    The next morning, we felt that we needed to get in gear and stop lollygagging around the apartment, despite the kids' fascination with BBC TV... So we hit the road in our Golf and drove to Salisbury, about 45 min. away. It was another absolutely gorgeous day, and the drive was no problem--though I still had to keep up my reminders to DH not to drift left! We negotiated the roundabouts in Salisbury without much trouble, as we're old-hands at rotaries here in the Boston area, and found parking within a couple of blocks of the cathedral. Easy peasy, as they say...

    The walk to the cathedral from our car took us through an ancient archway and down a pretty narrow street, until we reached the grounds of the cathedral. As at Winchester, Salisbury Cathedral sits in a lovely green space, and its enormous spire is truly impressive. We were fortunate to be visiting at a time when a chorus of schoolchildren were about to begin an informal concert, so we sat and listened for awhile and enjoyed hearing the huge space filled with their beautiful voices. The organist even played a few solo pieces as well, and the sound was truly impressive. We did not take a guided tour, as we thought the children wouldn't have the patience for it, but we enjoyed exploring the cathedral on our own. The kids particularly enjoyed a model of the cathedral that shows how it was built, including what life was like for the various kinds of workers, represented by tiny figures. Next to the model is an ancient clock (dating from the late 1300s) that is apparently the oldest working clock in the world! It doesn't look much like a clock in the traditional sense and has no face or dial, but instead works on a sort of counterweight system and was designed to ring the bells at set times.

    Afterwards, we walked over to the Chapter House to see Salisbury's copy of the Magna Carta--considered to be the best preserved of the 4 copies remaining. The display is well done, with a translation provided and explanations of its significance that even my 11-year-old could understand. He was quite impressed! He's at a great age for this kind of trip--not too cool to hang out with his parents but old enough to start to appreciate history. We all also got a kick out of finding a small grave marker with my husband's initials on it--dating from 1791! (Rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated...)

    We bought sandwiches in town and ate a picnic lunch on the grass near the cathedral, which was a lovely setting. We didn't spend much time in Salisbury itself, as we wanted to move on to Stonehenge. Getting out of Salisbury was slightly confusing, as our Google Maps directions differed from the posted signs directing tourists to Stonehenge--we ended up deciding to follow the road signs instead and found it with no trouble (well, one small u-turn!).

    I had been at Stonehenge years and years ago (25 to be exact--yikes!) and had remembered being terribly disappointed. I recall thinking then that the whole thing was too sterile and not as DRAMATIC as I'd hoped (I was 22 at the time...). This time, perhaps because of lowered expectations or because I was seeing it through my kids' eyes, I was able to appreciate it more. My son was absolutely thrilled and kept saying, with a huge grin on his face, "All my friends are just going about their regular lives back home, and I'm standing at Stonehenge!" So despite the crowded parking lot and the rows of tour buses and the crush at the gift shop, we all came away feeling that we'd had a great day. Even getting a bit lost on the way home couldn't put a damper on our spirits--we absent-mindedly followed signs for the M3, thinking that we could just keep driving until we found the exit for Winchester, only to find that we'd joined the M3 nearly 15 miles out of our way!

    Tomorrow, Windsor Castle...

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    Thanks for the positive comments--we really did have a lot of fun, and it's great to go back over all the wonderful things we did...

    On to Windsor!

    DAY 4, WINDSOR CASTLE

    Although DH was supposed to be working on this trip, his hosts at the U. of Southampton hadn't arranged any specific meetings until Wed. (we'd arrived on Sat.), so we decided to take advantage of the additional family time to head to Windsor, which we had originally planned to see the day after our arrival.

    We were finding that Winchester was an absolutely perfect base for our travels, as there was so much to see within easy reach--and not too far a commute to Southampton for DH (an easy bus ride, with a stop right at the bottom of our road). One of his graduate students who was from the area had suggested it over staying in Southampton proper, and we owe him a big thanks, as the location really made our trip.

    The drive to Windsor took a little over an hour by the time we got to the center, and parking took a bit longer. Maybe it was just us, but the signs directing drivers to the lots seemed very confusing, and we ended up going in circles, searching for the short-term lot (we kept ending up at the long-term garage, which seemed a bit far from things). We finally spotted a lot, which turned out to be just the ticket--right at the bottom of the hill leading up to the castle. DH, who never thinks anything can (or should) take more than an hour or two to see, put enough coins in the parking machine to last us 2 hrs., and then we set off up the hill.

    The approach to the castle was a surprise to me, as even with all our driving in circles, we'd never even spotted the darn thing until we were right under it. So it was quite striking to suddenly look up and see it towering over us. The street itself is nothing special, lined with shops selling t-shirts and ice cream (and a Starbuck's!), but we still enjoyed the atmosphere. DH was shocked, however, when it came to the entry fee (41 GBP for a family ticket), and I thought he was going to turn around and leave--I should have warned him, poor guy. I'd of course researched all these places and knew the costs, but I hadn't filled him in. (That wasn't a strategy--just my lack of forethought.) But of course, the kids wanted to see the castle, and we'd come all this way...

    It was well worth the visit, however. The entry fee included an audio tour, with separate commentary for the kids that made it more fun for them (though our son decided he was too big for the kids' version and switched his for an adult one after a few minutes). The tour information really helped set the tone and provided great details--though about halfway through the State Apartments, DH had had about enough. Although I was enjoying the tour myself, I could see his point, as there was a series of rooms with a ton of paintings that were described in a bit more detail than we were up for. But the rooms following, especially the Great Hall with the knights' shields displayed on the walls, and the displays of armor, especially Henry VIII's, was well worth sticking out the tour. DH, however, had suddenly realized that time was ticking, and that he hadn't put enough money in the parking machine, so he dashed off to put more money in and planned to meet us further along the tour. Unfortunately, he found once he'd left that the last entry for the afternoon had already passed... So we finished the tour without him and met him outside the gate at the end.

    We were fortunate to see a small changing-of-the-guard ceremony inside the castle walls just as we were leaving, which the kids enjoyed--it was like our own little private ceremony, as there were only a few people wandering out like ourselves. The kids really got a kick out of it!

    Because the next day would be the first day I'd be on my own with the kids while DH was at work, he decided that I should drive back to Winchester and get a feel for the car. So with a bit of trepidation, I hopped into the right-hand seat. Maybe because I'd been doing all the navigating and watching DH for a few days, I didn't actually find the driving that difficult, except for the narrow roads once we got off the M3 and headed back into Winchester--then DH had his own chance to tell ME to stop drifting left! Yikes...

    Next up, life on my own w/kids!

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    Hello jspen, I am so enjoying your family trip, your writing style is a joy. And traveling with your children, I have always thought children bring such an interest and happiness when on a vacation. I wish I could redo those years! You are braver then I am, I don't think I would have had the nerve to drive "on the wrong side of the road". At first I didn't get the drifting to far to the left but than the lightbulb went off, lol.

    The apartment you rented sounds wonderful, having space to spread out especially with children is always so helpful when anyone needs some quiet time to themselves. I look forward to reading about your next days while your husband is at work!

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    jspen:

    Were you ever given an explanation as to why there were no cars available upon arrival at LHR?

    I am glad that you easily found your apartment and things improved from there on. I am enjoying your report. Looking forward to more.

    Carry on please.

    Sandy

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    This is a very fun report. Glad to hear Stonehenge is back together again. I haven't been back since the Griswald family took it out. :D I really want to see Windsor Castle...next trip and it's been way too long since I've been in the UK.

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    Now why'd ya have to go and write this report...now I have to read yours and several others in addition to writing my own! You're sidetracking me!!

    I'm enjoying your report and can't wait to find out what happens next. :)

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    Thanks, everyone! Seetheworld, I've been reading your report, too, and enjoying it so much! Hilarious... (except for the part about your husband's hand getting stuck in the metro door--yikes!) Looks like I should get back to writing mine, though--enough distractions!

    DAYS 5 & 6--ON MY OWN WITH THE KIDS!

    So DH got up and left us early in the morning to catch his bus to S'hampton, and what did I do? Did I whip the kids into shape and march them off to tour the countryside?? Well... As I've said, we're not really a get-up-and-go kind of family, so I took advantage of the kids' preoccupation with British TV (for a short while, anyway) and lolled about in bed with a good book and a cup of tea, and sighed over the lovely views out my bedroom window. It always seems that in movies, when they show someone staring rapturously out a window at a gorgeous view, it's always in Italy somewhere, but when they show someone staring out a window in England, it's always raining, and the character is somber and depressed... Yes, I KNOW it normally rains a ton in England, but we were SO fortunate with the weather--it seemed every day dawned either brilliantly sunny, or it had rained a bit overnight and was starting to clear. So I happily enjoyed my views...

    Despite having a reasonably calm experience driving on the "wrong" side of the road the day before, I decided that it might be best to stay closer to home my first day on my own with the kids. So I finally roused the troops (and myself!) and walked into Winchester to see some of the sights, as we hadn't done much our first day.

    Our first stop was the Great Hall, which was originally part of Winchester Castle. The hall houses King Arthur's Round Table--or at least a table that was once believed to be the Round Table. Even if it's not the real thing, it still dates from the 1200s and is well worth seeing. It hangs high up on the wall of the ancient hall and has the names of all of Arthur's knights painted around the edges.

    This was also our first encounter with a children's "quiz." Just after entering the hall, a volunteer asked us if the children would be interested in doing an activity--a quiz or a coloring page. The activities cost a few pence, but the kids were excited, so we signed on--DS did the "Hidden Heroes" quiz, which involved searching the hall to answer questions about people associated with its history, and DD chose to color a stained-glass window picture. When they were done (which took a fair amount of time), they could choose a small prize from the gift shop--a postcard, pencil or "rubber" (eraser!). It was a great idea that kept them both really interested in exploring the hall, while I had my own chance to look things over--and even take a few quiet moments to enjoy the small medieval garden behind the building.

    Outside the Great Hall are the remains of some of the original castle walls, with a small staircase leading down to a dank dungeon-like cellar (blocked off, but you can peer through the bars to see the stairs continuing below). And right nearby is the Westgate Museum--a small museum inside one of the remaining medieval gateways to the city. The kids loved this place--they received a second quiz (free this time, but with just a sticker for a prize) that required them to find certain items among the exhibits, and there were costumes and armor to try on. At one time, the building was used as a prison, and the kids were fascinated by the ancient "graffiti" carved into the walls by some of the prisoners. You can also climb a steep staircase to the roof of the gateway, with great views out over the main part of town.

    We had another picnic lunch on the lawn by the cathedral and once again got ice cream from the dapper man with the cart, then headed over to see the ruins of Wolvesey Castle, which was originally the bishop's residence. We really enjoyed the walk over there, passing around the cathedral and through another ancient gateway (Kingsgate), by the very old Pilgrims School (a boys school associated with the cathedral), then down College St., where Jane Austen lived for 6 weeks before she died (the house is marked with a small blue plaque, but isn't open to the public). The kids especially got a kick out of watching some boys from the school playing cricket on a field (a "pitch," I suppose?) right near the entrance to the castle ruins.

    The ruins themselves were like a great huge playground, as far as the kids were concerned. They climbed over and around the tumbled-down walls, and peered through the ancient window frames and doorways. We would have stayed even longer if it hadn't been so darned HOT--unbelievable, really. We had to get out of the sun... So we wandered back along College St. (which runs past Winchester College) and stopped into a lovely bookstore, P&G Wells. Though it wasn't air-conditioned, and it was absolutely sweltering upstairs in the children's section, we still adored this independent bookstore, which has an enormous and really excellent selection of children's books. My son particularly was interested to see that many of the books he knows from the US had different covers (or even different titles) in the UK, and my daughter found that there were even MORE of the Daisy Meadows fairy books she loves available in the UK than we have at home.

    We then grabbed a cool drink in town and headed home to the apartment, feeling that we'd had a really successful day. DH came home tired and hot from his bus ride and walk up the hill and happily settled in with a beer. We had asked the owner of the apartment for some fans, which she had dropped off earlier, and they really came in handy, as it got quite warm up on the top floor! Who would have thought I'd be this hot in England??

    DAY 6--An Adventure!
    The next day, I felt ready to tackle the roads, so we headed off to a place I knew the kids would enjoy--the Hawk Conservancy in nearby Andover. The trip was almost all on the highway, so it wasn't too tricky and only took us about a half-hour to get there. It was once again, a gorgeous sunny day, and we were glad there were trees to shade the exhibit areas. At first, the place seemed oddly quiet, but we soon found out why: Everyone was at a "flying demonstration." The Hawk Conservancy has tons of birds--hawks, vultures, owls, and other large birds of prey--and several times a day they offer these flying displays. We'd missed the first one of the day, but there were several more scheduled. And once again, there was a kids' activity--they had to collect stamps of various birds from all around the exhibit areas. After seeing many of the birds and finding their stamps, we took a break and had lunch in a shady picnic area near the cafe, then rushed off to catch the "Valley of the Eagles" display.

    This flying demonstration was really amazing--though not for the faint of heart. At certain points, trained vultures come swooping right over the audience, and you have to duck to avoid being brushed by their wings!! Other birds dive to catch food from the air, and a peregrine falcon does a 200 mph nose-dive right over everyone's heads. As my son would say, it was "sick"! (ie, really great)

    After a quick break for popsicles, we queued for a chance to "fly" a Harris Hawk. This was for adults only, though it wasn't particularly dangerous. I had to put on a leather glove and hold a piece of meat in my fingers, and a good-sized hawk flew across a small field and landed on my arm! Very cool... Then we checked out the last show of the day, the Woodland Owls and Hawks. This was in a shady glen, thank goodness--we were sweltering again. Several hawks and owls demonstrated their flying skills among the trees, and at the end anyone who wanted to, including the kids, could hold a barn owl (with a glove on). As my son is a HUGE owl fan, and the barn owl is his absolute favorite bird, he was in heaven!

    We made it back to Winchester with no problems, though I was glad I'd inquired at the gift shop for directions back to the highway, as heading back in the other direction wasn't straightforward. But we made it safely and with a great sense of satisfaction--another successful day!

    Next, the Isle of Wight--or not??

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    What a great report! You are very good at writing vivid descriptions and make me want to go and tour all of these places. Your kids sound like great travelers, too. I'm looking forward to more.

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    Thanks, KTtravel--the kids were generally pretty good about all our explorations. Of course, they had their moments... :-)

    DAY 7--A CHANGE IN PLANS: LYME REGIS

    DH had planned to work on Fri., and I was going to be on my own again with the kids. But then he found out that most of the dept. would be taking the afternoon off, so he figured he might as well, too... So we put our heads together and tried to come up with a great destination that I wouldn't normally tackle by myself with the kids. We had really wanted to see the Isle of Wight, as we have family friends who grew up there. But when we looked into taking the ferry over with our car, found that there weren't any spaces available.

    Rather than doing the trip sans car--which we'd been told we'd need to see the areas our friends had recommended--we decided on another ambitious destination: Lyme Regis. In my planning for this trip, I had come across some information about fossil hunting on the beaches near Lyme. And because I'm also a Jane Austen fan (so sue me...), I had an interest in seeing the Cobb, where Louisa Musgrove so famously fell in "Persuasion."

    So we piled into our Golf and set off on a 2-hour jaunt toward the southern coast. The drive was pleasant, passing through the New Forest and lovely pastures with sheep. Closer to Lyme Regis, we passed through some lovely little towns with thatched-roof cottages close to the road (Chideock and Winterborne Abbas). Then comes the descent into Lyme Regis, with the ocean sparkling off in the distance...

    We found parking in a hillside lot and walked down into the center of town. Along the way, we found a lovely little path along a small river that led to an old mill, which has been fixed up with several nice shops and restaurants nearby. We ate a nice lunch at a bakery that made its own pizzas and focaccia, and then wandered over to the Lyme Regis Museum, which is just near the waterfront.

    Once again, the kids were offered a quiz--this one was tougher than the others, so DD had a hard time with it and needed some help. But it did hold my son's interest and helped to involve him more in the exhibits. The museum is packed with information about the history of the area, including the building of the famous Cobb. It also has wonderful exhibits on one of Lyme's most famous residents, Mary Anning, who as a girl discovered an icthyosaur skeleton on the shore and eventually became quite an expert on fossils. (She's apparently the original inspiration for the children's rhyme, "She sells seashells by the seashore"!)

    The children received a colorful, polished rock this time for their efforts in filling out the quiz, and then they wanted to explore the shoreline for their own fossils. I will admit that this part of the journey was a bit of a failure... It turned out that there were no organized fossil tours the day we went (I think due to poor tides--they were very high when we were there), and trying to find anything on the rocky shoreline by ourselves was like trying to find a needle in the proverbial haystack. We puttered around for awhile but came up empty-handed...

    We then walked back along the waterfront to the Cobb, a long curving finger of a breakwater that stretches along one side of the harbor. You can walk either along the top of the high wall (which I found a bit dizzying), or along the inside of it on a concrete walkway. We did pose for some pictures on the steep stone steps leading to the top--while I tried to keep the kids from pulling a Louisa Musgrove by jumping down them to the pavement!

    We enjoyed the walk along the beachfront, with its ice cream vendors and colorful beach huts lining the shore. On our way back, we came upon a jazz band playing near the museum, and we walked back up the hill to our car with the music playing in the background.

    So despite missing the Isle of Wight, we got our day at the seaside--and despite finding our own fossil souvenirs, we still had a day full of interesting finds.

    Next, Winchester Hat Fair and London!

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    Apologies for the few days' break in the report--it's very much on my mind, but I'm finding it harder to make time for it, now that we're back!

    Also, there was a typo in that last entry, right at the end... It should have said, "and despite NOT finding our fossil souvenirs..."!

    I know this report is long, so will try to move things along a bit... But this is the best part--we finally get to London (and even have a run-in with royalty)!

    DAY 8--WINCHESTER HAT FAIR
    We had now been in the UK a week, and were feeling well settled. That's one thing that's nice about staying in one place for an extended time--we felt quite at home in our cozy apartment, like regular Winchester-ites (Winchesterians??). During our stay, Winchester was holding it's annual "Hat Fair," which is named for the custom of tossing coins into a hat at performances by the festival's various street artists. We had opted to pass on the first day or two of the festival, since there was so much else to see in the area, but decided to make a day of it on Saturday.

    This was an event the kids really enjoyed! There were tons of street performers, and some of them were really very entertaining (one guy not only pulled a table cloth out from under a table full of tea things, but then PUT IT BACK!). This is the sort of event you wouldn't necessarily know to put on the itinerary but that turned out to provide a wonderful family day--we've been home 2 weeks, and the kids are STILL talking about the guy who put his whole body through a tennis racquet (you had to be there...). :-)

    DAYS 9--OFF to LONDON (FINALLY)!
    As some of you Fodorites may remember, we had originally thought about just taking day-trips from Winchester into London, about an hour away by train. But then shortly before we left, DH decided that we should plan for a two-day excursion and stay overnight in a hotel. Many thanks to those who offered suggestions on where to stay--we did finally decide on the Premier Inn County Hall, which was suggested by janisj. (Thank you, janis!)

    This turned out to be a GREAT location--right on the other side of the bridge from the Westminster Tube (next to the London Eye), and an easy walk from Waterloo Station, which is where the train from Winchester comes into London. Our room was fairly basic (and quite hot in July--no A/C), but you get what you pay for. It was very reasonable by London standards (about 110 GBP, including breakfast, for 4 people), and the location couldn't be beat. We arrived by about 10am Sun. morning and were able to store our bags at the hotel, then made our way over the bridge toward Westminster, with fabulous views of Big Ben and the houses of Parliament. What a great first view of London for the kids!

    With just two days in the City, we had a lot of ground to cover--especially as we'd planned to go on a LondonWalks Harry Potter tour at 3pm that first afternoon... We started by walking over to see Westminster Abbey, which unfortunately is closed to visitors on Sundays, so we were not able to go in (we knew this in advance but wanted to see it anyway). Then we strolled up Whitehall toward the Horse Guards, where the kids enjoyed seeing the sentries on horseback and having their pictures taken with one of the guards who was marching around near the parade grounds.

    Our intended destination was the British Museum, and we'd originally planned to take the Tube there, but as we were well on our way in that direction, we decided to keep going on foot (the consequences of which would be felt later...).

    We made another of our unplanned emergency stops to use the loo at Trafalgar Square, where we came upon more fabulous public bathrooms--with attendants, even! (You may laugh, but these things are important when you have small children...) The stop was serendipitous, as both the kids loved climbing on the lion statues and playing around the fountains in the square. As we left, the bells of St. Martin in the Fields were chiming as we walked up the narrow streets in the direction of the museum--I do wish we'd had time to stop in, but at that point, we wanted to keep moving, so we'd have ample time before our tout later that afternoon.

    I have to say that I have no memory of visiting the British Museum when I last went to London (25 years ago--maybe I've just become forgetful??). So I wasn't quite sure what to expect. It's huge, of course, so we managed by asking the kids to look over the map and each pick an area they most wanted to see. Being a big fan of mythology, my son was most interested in Greek and Roman history (particularly the "Elgin Marbles"), and DD voted to see the Egyptian mummies, so we concentrated on those areas first. The museum does have activity backpacks for kids, but we decided to skip them, since we were somewhat pressed for time. I had hoped to squeeze in a few more exhibits, but with a brief stop for lunch in the cafe, these two areas were all we could really manage. The mummies alone took us ages--despite being somewhat creepy (or maybe BECAUSE they were somewhat creepy), they were a big hit!

    DS and I then ran off to Temple Tube to meet our London Walks guide. DH and our 7-year-old decided that they weren't up for such a long tour and wanted to head back toward the hotel. This turned out to be a wise decision, as the tour was really geared to dedicated Harry Potter fans, which neither of them are, and took a full 2 hours, which would have been a bit much for DD (let alone DH, who as I've mentioned before has a relatively short attention span for these kinds of things).

    The walk was great fun, though the group was MUCH, MUCH bigger than I'd expected--there must have been at least 60 people! It was really unwieldy at first--later it seemed that some members of the group had dropped off, so the numbers got a bit more manageable. Fortunately, the guide, Alan, gave priority to the kids, so my son was always able to be right up front, so he could see and hear everything. The tour mainly concentrates on sites associated with the books, not the films (LondonWalks has another tour that focuses on film locations), and is based on a good deal of speculation about where JK Rowling might have gotten some of her ideas. Some of it seemed a bit of a stretch, but I did really enjoy Alan's idea for the inspriation for Diagon Alley--a narrow little street filled with antiquarian booksellers called Cecil Court. Very charming...

    With tired feet, we worked our way back toward our hotel around 5:30pm, ready for a rest. I now have to admit that I did a TRULY STUPID thing... Because it was so warm, and because I originally thought we'd be on the Tube more earlier in the day, I had worn a pair of strappy flat sandals, rather than my sturdy Clark's walking shoes, and so I ended up with BLISTERS, even before the London Walks tour had barely begun... So there I was hobbling around London with my feet covered in "Dora the Explorer" Band-Aids (the only kind I had in my purse), looking very chic (!), and feeling that all I wanted to do was get off my feet. Of course, when we got back to the hotel, the other two had already been resting up and were itching to get some dinner... My poor, aching feet! (not to mention my ego...)

    We had planned before we left the States to meet up with DH's cousin, who lives in London and whom he hadn't seen for almost 30 years. But at the last minute, a work commitment came up that caused him to cancel on us, so we were on our own for the evening. We took a stroll along the Embankment, which was very entertaining--the kids enjoyed the street performers again (especially a great Charlie Chaplin act), and the weather was beautiful. A perfect evening for sitting out on a terrace for dinner... EXCEPT that we checked restaurant after restaurant, and nearly ALL of them had notices on their menus that said they couldn't guarantee their food to be nut-free--and because of my son's allergies, we couldn't take a chance.

    So with rumbling stomachs, we headed back to the hotel, now starving--and in dire need of a drink! I normally wouldn't recommend the Premier Inn as a great place to eat in London, but I have to give them credit... When we explained the situation with our son, the waiter immediately called the kitchen and asked the chef to make him something that would be safe--they were SO accommodating. That made a HUGE difference in our evening. With the addition of a couple of beers, and a cricket match on the big-screen, everyone ended up (relatively) happy...

    DAY 10--THE TOWER... PLUS THE PRINCE!
    The next morning, we rushed off to get to the Tower of London, which opens at 10am on Mondays. We had one small glitch on the way, as the first train we got on at Westminster turned out not to be going all the way to Tower Hill, so we had to get off and wait for another train... We finally got there by about 10:30am and were able to use our 2-for-1 passes, which we got using our Nat'l. Rail tickets.

    We joined a tour and were enjoying the guide's amusing spiel, when suddenly he mentioned that there was a bit of a fuss going on that day because PRINCE WILLIAM happened to be visiting! We could see some camera crews off in the distance, setting up on a lawn, but we couldn't see anything else at that point. When we finished our tour, however, we were told that we might just catch the Prince coming out of a building (the Regiment of Fusiliers?) on the far side of the courtyard near the entrance to the Crown Jewels. A small crowd had gathered, which was growing larger by the minute. We did just catch a glimpse of him, coming out of the building and down the steps, but then it was very chaotic--what a madhouse! I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I climbed up onto a trash bin in order to get a good view--at the urging of my children, of course, who were very excited. :-)

    After the fuss calmed down, we went on in to see the Crown Jewels. (Having just had a glimpse of royalty, the visit seemed particularly timely!) The display is quite changed from when I last visited 25 years ago--a moving walkway now takes you down a long room, with the jewels displayed along the way in glass cases. This seemed an improvement in some ways, since it keeps people moving--my memories of my last visit involved more of a crush... After lunch at the cafe, we headed to the White Tower for a fabulous exhibit about Henry VIII, then finished up with a demonstration of a catapult-like device down in the "moat". That was quite entertaining, as the costumed guides asked members of the audience to come up and heave large water balloons at several targets in the distance. Alas, though the kids encouraged me (and I did have my hand up, really), I didn't end up getting selected...

    We then hopped back on the Tube with the intention of visiting Westminster Abbey before we had to catch our train back to Winchester. We arrived a few minutes after 3:30pm, remembering that the Abbey was open until 4pm--only to discover that we had just missed the last entry! Though disappointed, the extra window of time did give us a chance to do a little shopping for souvenirs and have a coffee before heading back to Waterloo to catch our train. Again, I have to give the English credit--despite it being rush hour, everyone was so helpful and polite on the train, even shifting seats so I could sit with the kids. All in all, it was a wonderful couple of days!

    Next, Jane Austen's house, Portsmouth Harbor, and London--Again!

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    What a stroke of luck to see the prince! I would have climbed IN a trash bin to see him. Maybe he was stopping by to grab a sceptre or mace or something for a party that night...Love your trip report. Just returned ourselves and the drifting to the left thing was pretty scary at first. Kept seeing the beginning of stone walls coming up and having to cover my eyes. Love what your son said at Stonehenge--what a great memory for all of you. We didn't make it there. Also, I agree- -at the Tower many years ago there was such a long line to get in and it didn't move much. This time, we joined the queue just at the entrance to the building, and we were out of that exhibit within 15 minutes but without feeling cheated or rushed. They were displayed in a much better and less claustrophobic way. Also, after you get off the people mover, you can double back for another view from a raised platform behind the people mover row.

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    Hi jspen,

    I was at the Tower the same day as you! My tour group had just arrived and finding out the Prince was coming out for the photograph session No one moved until trying to catch a glimpse. Two ladies on the tour were lucky enough to get a hand-(prince?) shake. For the 20-something it was heavenly!

    Cheers.

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    Hi, Scotlib--can't believe you were there that day as well! What a coincidence... My son REALLY wanted to sneak up through the crowd to get a hand-shake, but DH wouldn't let him, as he thought we'd lose him in the crush. I did manage to get him up on the trash bin, though, for a good look!

    Thanks to all for your comments--that was really a special addition to our trip! Will try to get to the next installment soon...

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    i am enjoying this very much....i've been to london dozens of times, but it always holds new sights and seeing it through other's eyes is fun...

    you might be interested that my first visit to stonehenge, maybe 35 years ago, you could walk right up to the stones and all around them, and touch them....the last time i was there you could only walk around on a rubber mat quite a ways from the center of the stones....i thought i will never come here again!! i hope it has improved..

    we bostonians are so lucky to have some many things similar to london right here in our back yards...

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    I had just finished Scottlib's tale of London travel when I began yours and when I got to the tower and seeing the prince, I thought my computer had flipped back to scottlib! what an interesting coincidence!

    I too had visited Stonehenge when you could go right among the stones (more than 40 years ago). It was pouring that day but exciting. When I took two of my nephews 19 years ago, Stonehenge was #1 on the list for one of them, so it was included. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and most of the tourists and about half the population of England were there, but it was still sort of special seen through a 12 and 10 year old's eyes. One of the boys mangaged to get a picture that made it seem as if we were the only ones there. The 10-year-old wrote an essay about it in fifth grade the following fall and it gave me shivers reading and reliving the day.

    I am sure that your kids will enjoy all their memories of this trip.

    Thanks for sharing!

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    Yes, it's really so funny to read someone else's account of the same place on the same day... Such a big city, and so much to see, but we happened to be in the same place at the same time! Scotlib, I enjoyed reading about your Prince-sighting as well!

    Alas, I missed Stonehenge in the days when you could walk right up to the stones, which is why my last visit so many years ago was disappointing. But as I learned on this trip, seeing things through my children's eyes really did give me a fresh perspective at times--though there were also times when it would have helped if THEY could see things through MY eyes!

    Which brings us to...

    DAY 11-JANE AUSTEN'S HOUSE MUSEUM, CHAWTON
    In every vacation, a little rain must fall, and this was our first truly rainy day. DH had gotten up early and gone off on the bus to Southampton for work, and the kids were a bit tired and out of sorts, so we lay low in the morning. This was one of those days when a bit more advance planning probably would have helped matters, but because several of the activities I had wanted to do with the children involved being outdoors, and it was not looking like a good outdoor day, I had to rethink things.

    I was excited by the idea of seeing Jane Austen's house, which is only a short drive from Winchester, in the little village of Chawton. My son, who saw the BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice" this past spring at school, expressed moderate interest in going, but DD proclaimed that she absolutely did NOT want to go and in fact really didn't want to go ANYWHERE, because it was raining, and she was TIRED. (Sometimes it's hard to be 7 and away from home...)

    I finally managed to get everyone out of the house by promising that after we visited Austen's house, I would take them to the InTech Science Centre, on the outskirts of Winchester. (Sometimes a little bribe does wonders... :-) ) By this time is was nearly noon, and I was in a rush to get going, so I just grabbed a few snacks for the kids and dashed out just as the rain really started to come down. The weather made driving a bit trickier, as I hadn't really figured out the windshield wipers yet, but I finally got the hang of it...

    Though the drive to Chawton is relatively short (about half an hour), we had to leave Winchester by a different route than usual, and I made a wrong turn almost immediately, which ironically took me past Jane Austen's Winchester residence (where she lived right before she died). Unfortunately, those streets are very narrow, and it was difficult having to turn around and back-track to where I'd missed the turn. The rest of the drive wasn't bad, but I was feeling cautious because of the rain and must have been a little poky, as a lot of drivers passed me on the roads...

    We finally made it to Chawton, but either because of the rain or because my mind was just muddled that day, I had trouble figuring out where to park--we finally parked in a sort of field where we'd seen a sign that said "Parking for Jane Austen Event." As it turned out, the signs were left-over from an event that had taken place two days before, when the Museum was celebrating the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's arrival in Chawton. So we ended up walking a few blocks in the rain along a roadway, only to discover when we got to the Museum that there was a regular lot right across the road.

    You enter the Museum through the gift shop--I had a discount coupon I'd gotten through the tourist office in Winchester, so we were able to get one free admission, which the kind ladies at the desk decided could be my one adult ticket, so we only paid for the two kids (I can't recall what the entrance fee was for them, but it was not too much). Outside the shop, there is a short video that explains a bit about the history of the house and Austen's time there. Then we started our exploring. The first stop is the bakehouse, which also contains a donkey cart that was used by the family, then you enter the house itself.

    The kids were again offered a quiz--this appears to be quite the tradition in British museums! (And one we really loved...) Once again, the questions were a bit tough for my little one, so I had to help her, but my son enjoyed it. At the end, they could choose an eraser or a ruler, both with a drawing of a quill and ink pot.

    Seeing Jane Austen's writing table, where she sat to revise her earlier manuscripts for "Sense and Sensibility" and "Pride and Prejudice" and where she wrote 3 other novels, was rather striking to see in person--it's really quite small, almost like a side table, not a proper desk like I'd imagined. Maybe because I write myself, and because I'm already a few years older than she was when she died, it was quite touching to think of her sitting there at this little table by the window, writing her manuscripts by hand. Of course, this was one of those moments that was hard for the kids to understand--despite my attempts to put it in perspective for them by pointing out the lack of a computer or any kind of "entertainment system" in the house! DD was rather bored, unfortunately, but she did find some of the costume displays and the bedrooms with their canopies somewhat interesting (though she was frustrated that you weren't allowed to SIT on anything). She did enjoy the separate Learning Ctr., where kids can play with a doll house and some interactive exhibits.

    As it turned out, the day we were there (July 7) was the actual anniversary of Jane Austen's arrival in Chawton, so despite the main weekend festivities being over, there was a small celebration going on in the house's kitchen area, where we were offered a slice of cake with a beautiful picture of the house on it. There was also a camera crew wandering about and interviewing people, some of whom were in costume--we never did find out what that was for.

    After a visit to the gift shop and a walk around the garden (it had finally stopped raining), we went to try to find something to eat, but there wasn't much in the village, so we left, thinking that we could get something at the InTech Science Ctr. By this time, however, it had gotten rather later than I'd planned--about 3pm! We arrived at the museum to find that it was closing shortly (at 4pm), so we decided to come back another day when we'd have more time. The kids were disappointed, and I felt that I'd let them down a bit, so we ended up heading back into Winchester to get a treat and do a little shopping--nothing like a little chocolate to perk up everyone's spirits (including mine)!

    We had planned that night to go to an outdoor performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Winchester Cathedral, but the weather gods were just not in our favor--though we'd had a brief break in the rain, it started to pour again once we got back to the apartment, and we ended up deciding to skip the show and stay in. Now it was MY turn to be disappointed... :-(

    DAY 12-INTECH SCIENCE CENTRE
    To make up for our somewhat botched outing the day before (at least as far as the kids were concerned), I decided to devote most of our day to taking the kids to the InTech Science Ctr., about a 15-minute drive away. This time the driving was considerably easier, since I already knew how to get there... I won't go into a huge amount of detail here, but if you're in the area and have kids, this place is definitely worth a visit. It seemed a bit unimpressive at first, as we've been to many much larger science museums, but at this one the exhibits are virtually ALL hands-on, which meant that the kids were engaged and busy the whole time we were there. They loved it... In the end, I couldn't believe that we spent 4 HOURS there (including lunch, which we ate in a nice picnic area outside). Again, we used a coupon from the tourist office booklet to get one free child admission.

    Next up, Portsmouth (overpriced) and London again (fabulous!)

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    Fascinating report. Seems a shame to correct a common delusion, but:

    " I KNOW it normally rains a ton in England, "

    It doesn't. Never has.

    London gets about as much rain per year as Jerusalem, for example. That's about a third less than Boston and just over half what New York gets.

    What happens in England is that it rains relatively frequently, but extraordinarily lightly and briefly. And what looks like the remnants of overnight rain is very often just dew.

    "when they show someone staring out a window in England, it's always raining,"

    Not if "they" are any good it's not. When it rains in Jane Austen, it's a significant event. It scarcely ever rains in Shakespeare or Dickens (though Dickens, writing towards the end of the Little Ice Age, describes a Britain where snow was far more commonplace than it's been for the past century)

    A quick rule of thumb about any modern work of "art" set in Britain. If it starts with a scene set in the rain, the work concerned is machine-generated gibberish, churned out by the yard by an untalented hack. Like those absurd, inaccurately cliche-ridden, Hugh Grant films made for Americans.

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    <<Fascinating report. Seems a shame to correct a common delusion, but:

    " I KNOW it normally rains a ton in England, "

    It doesn't. Never has.>>

    that's london of course. there is a significant difference between the eastern, dryer side of the UK and the west, like cornwall. where I live. where it rains a lot.

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    Coastal Devon and Cornwall - just about the wettest lowlying bits of England - average around 90-100 cm/year: 40-45 inches.

    Somewhere between the average in New York and the average in Boston. Oddly, no film-maker thinks he can get away with telling his audience it's always raining in either of those places.

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