I probably can’t quite convey how anxious I was for our transatlantic flights. I’m a control freak (who wants desperately to be a go-with-the-flow girl.) I had very little control over the circumstances of our flights. I had no idea what to expect from the boys. Would they sleep at all? Would they throw constant tantrums? Would they get sick? I also had no idea if we would have to hold them on our laps the entire 10-hour flight. We didn’t pay for separate seats for them, so they were considered “lap infants.” Because of that, I had to expect they would be on our laps, but I was praying my heart out that there would be empty seats next to us!
We got very lucky and had help from a very kind Delta agent. She rearranged all sorts of things so that we were all on one row, allowing us to bring our car seats on board (normally twin parents with lap infants can’t sit together due to oxygen mask regulations). Bless her!
Our direct flight to LHR left at 5pm, and since our boys’ bedtime is generally 6:45, I was extra hopeful that they’d sleep a good portion of the flight. That did not happen. They slept 3 hours. I slept half an hour. It was a rough flight (though we happened to be on the same plane and seated a row in front of my Welsh friend Luc and his family—what are the odds?!). Entertaining the boys while also attempting to keep them quiet was a huge task requiring all three adults (my amazing mom came with us!).
I’ll leave the details on the flights for a dedicated post on that topic once we’re home from our next transatlantic trip in June, but suffice it to say, our landing at Heathrow was an enormous relief. Unfortunately, that was just the beginning of a long, very ornery day (on my part as well as the boys’). With the boys having 3 hours of sleep rather than their customary 10.5, and all three adults having zero sleep under our belts, we were in for a rough go. Renting our car took ages, which meant an hour of chasing the boys (ecstatic to be able to walk) around the lobby, so when we finally pulled out of the parking lot, the boys were already asleep (they are rotten car sleepers normally). Brandon was our driver for the entire trip, and he was such a good sport! Keeping awake for the almost-two hour drive was no small task, all while driving on the other side of the (small) roads! We stopped in Stow on the Wold at Tesco for groceries (anyone who knows me knows that this was a happy moment for me—I looove grocery shopping abroad).
Our cottage rental was in the small north Cotswold village of Willersey, just a mile from Broadway and at the top west edge of the Cotswolds AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). I was instantly charmed by the village as we passed the local pub and the little pond opposite, covered in green moss and just a dozen yards from our rental cottage.
That charmed feeling did not last. First, we were unsure where to park our car, despite instructions from the landlord. Our minds just weren’t in British gear yet, so it took awhile to accept the fact that the small grassy area between a tree and some bushes was meant for the car—two cars, actually, according to the email from the landlord. We parked and spent 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get inside the cottage. Once inside, the very cold air felt less than welcoming. The pictures online had also somewhat overstated the quality of the cottage. The complete lack of phone service was unexpected. And the non-working WiFi was a major hiccup. I had been so careful to select accommodation with WiFi, and Brandon absolutely had to have internet access for work.
We tried to figure out how to get the heat going, to no avail. No luck on the WiFi or on phone service, either. Meanwhile, all the boys wanted to do was to climb on the steep, turning staircase which I had been under the impression we would be able to block off (not so). The only way to restrict access to the stairs was by confining the boys to one of the very small and not child-proof rooms.
Cold, sleep deprived, still recovering from the Herculean effort required by a long flight with twin toddlers, and unable to contact the landlord, I started crying and apologizing to Brandon. “I’m sorry I made us come here.” Haha. Low point! He hugged me and reassured me that we’d get it sorted out. And sure enough, I walked up the street a ways where I got phone service and finally reached the landlord who instructed us on how to find and work the old English boiler. We also reset the router and got the WiFi working. We took a drive while the house heated up so the boys could nap again (you just can’t stay depressed while driving around the English countryside!). We popped over to drive the grounds of Charingworth Manor where my mom and dad had stayed with my grandparents many years ago! We ate. We slept.
I woke up feeling a hundred times better, and the boys did pretty well that night, considering the 7 hour time difference. My memory is a bit hazy of that night, but I believe they woke up once for awhile—perhaps due to the heat turning off. Looking out our window when I woke up to the beautiful morning sun shining on the warm, Cotswold stone cottages across the street was just what I needed.
We had breakfast, got ready, and spent some time at the park down the street. The boys, obviously, loved that!
Our first stop was Bibury, one of the better-known Cotswold towns. You may know it from the movie Stardust, but the most popular attraction is Arlington Row—a row of picturesque cottages with a stream and field in front. We parked the car a few minutes’ walk from Arlington Row and first explored the grounds of the church. Growing up in the western US with well-manicured, “new” cemeteries, I’ve had a love for the ivy-strewn, mossy, eroded, crooked headstones of European cemeteries since the first one I visited over a decade ago. I love that every village church is also the resting place for its parishioners. We explored the grounds and the inside of the church, letting the boys walk around the outside while we all ate our sandwiches under a nearby tree.
Afterward we walked in the direction of Arlington Row, passing by the most beautiful (private) estate that we all wanted to explore so badly! Arlington Row was really charming—but I honestly wouldn’t go out of my way again to see Bibury. I think there are a number of other equally-charming villages I’d rather see!
After Bibury, we made our way to the Cotswold Wildlife Park. We definitely found that our days went best when we had a solid plan for a place the boys could run around and expend energy. The wildlife park was enjoyable for all of us, and it was a really nice day weather-wise, so a definite win. The park is unlike any other place I’ve been. It was started in 1970 by the owner of the estate–Broadwell Park–who essentially made his home into a zoo open to the public.
When we first arrived, we were all very well-entertained by the Colobus monkeys. If you know me, you know I’m a huuuuge monkey person, and this time, the monkeys really put on a show for us, tumbling around and even getting into a little bout of fisticuffs 🙂
Afterward, we headed for the playground which was a big hit! Lots of slides, a very cool zipline swing, and a little rope-enclosed path for the boys to walk around in.
We explored as much of the park as we could, though the boys didn’t love being in the stroller for very long. I think the next three highlights were seeing the field of daffodils (complete with Broadwell Park in the background), watching the rhinos graze in front of the house, and then getting right up close and personal to the giraffes!
We headed home from the park after getting some yummy ice cream from the concessions stand and, since the boys didn’t fall asleep til just before we arrived in Willersey, we detoured to drive past the first destination of our next day’s itinerary–Elmley Castle, a family history site for my mom’s side. Brandon made us gnocci for dinner, we got the boys down, and then we all slept. We were all tuckered out (and yet the boys decided to wake from 1:30-3:30am) But what a first couple days!