A Guide to the Cotswolds

There's a distinct genre of grime produced by an international flight. The ghosts of recirculated air, a sleepless night, and microwaved curry dinners always seems to haunt me for days after any length of time on an airplane. After hundreds of flights, I think I've found the cure for the air travel grunge: three days in the Cotswolds. 

A few weeks back I landed at Heathrow and hopped in a car bound for Gloucestshire. I felt a tinge of sacrilege in deferring an immediate visit to beloved London upon arriving in the UK, but I was quickly convinced that the Cotswolds was the place to go. Some friends and I rented a crooked stone cottage in the honey-colored village of Winchcombe, around which I kept expecting to find a Weasley or two. After a cup of tea, we wandered through velvet green fields of wildflowers and grazing sheep, past the local castle, and through the storybook town center. Nothing makes you feel cleaner than cool grass and late summer breezes in the dusky English countryside. 

As the jet leg settled in, I sat on the downy white bed and watched a gentle rain put the village to sleep. I was overcome with an irrepressible, incandescent happiness to be back in my misty, merry England.

We spent the next morning at Hidcote Manor, a National Trust site with one of the Cotswold's most beautiful gardens. We wound through the grounds for hours and basked in the English quintessence of tangled flowers and thatched roofs. Every acre held a distinct little universe – hollows of ferns, fields of billowing wheat, huge hydrangea beds, and stone paths lined with pale roses – all wonderfully alive and just a bit wild. I don't spend enough time in the company of flowers and an afternoon at Hidcote reminded me of what great friends they can be. (If you'll be in the UK for more than a week, look into getting a National Trust membership. You'll get to see a ton of magical sites for one low fee.)

We soon found ourselves in Broadway and, using some type of built-in sweets radar, immediately located Hamilton's Chocolates. After some tea and Victoria sponge, we ambled the winding lanes of the tiny town. 

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Driving through the Cotswolds felt like hopping from oil painting to oil painting. Every twist in the narrow roads brought a new panorama of rolling hills or wildflower fields, grazing sheep or villages built of glowy amber stone. We marveled at every perfect scene en route to the bustling market town of Chipping Campden, where we went full-British with a Sunday roast at the King's Hotel

In the UK businesses close shop fairly early, especially on Sundays. We hurried around Chipping Campden in an attempt to leave no bookstore or antique shop unexplored before the "Closed" signs appeared. The Covent Garden Academy of Flowers and Cherry Press stood out among the cuteness.

As the daylight dimmed and the rainclouds rolled in, we rushed to find one lasat Cotswolds experience for the day. The National Trust index led us to Crickley Hill where we stumbled upon a breathtaking view of the countryside. I've always thought England looked like a perfect patchwork quilt when viewed from above. Crickley Hill let us see the full spread of emerald and jade patches, stitched together by crooked stone walls and dirt roads. We drank in the soul-nourishing scene until the rain finally won and we escaped to the cozy fireplace of our Winchcombe cottage, where a Princess Diana Netflix special and leftover Chinese takeout awaited.

Our final day swept us away in a whirlwind tour of what seemed like every village in the Cotswolds. Our first stop was Burtron-on-the-Water. We walked along the canal and through the residential streets, where we stumbled upon my drug of choice: a locally-made ceramics shop! We then popped over to both Upper and Lower Slaughter and as we walked the public footpaths, we contemplated how such beautiful villages could have such gruesome names. Hilly Burford also made the itinerary and introduced me to my first ever bookstore-hat-shop-combination-platter, The Mad Hatter. I bought a copy of Sense and Sensibility, which I lost within ten minutes.

My very favorite stop of the trip was the Daylesford Farm Shop. Farm shops are universally delightful, but the Daylesford Farm Shop was particularly perfect – bright, airy, and crisp. The shop was filled with delicious local foods, gorgeously understated home goods, and fresh flowers. The store also had a workshop space for beekeeping and flower arranging courses. If I disappear for a while, you know where to find me.

Stow-on-the-Wold is perhaps the Cotswolds' most well known market town, so it seemed like the best place to end our brief but sweet stay. A piece of Pimms cake at the Old Stocks Inn and a lunch of figs and burrata at England's oldest pub (in that order) rounded out our wonderful weekend away.

We made it halfway back to London and decided an hour in Oxford might help ease us back into city life. Now that I've found the cure for international flights, I need to find a cure for leaving the Cotswolds.

A Guide to Cornwall

Have you ever carried a backpack so long that you forgot how heavy it was until you took it off? That's what my trip to Cornwall felt like – taking off a really heavy backpack. Six hours of driving in Bank Holiday traffic took us across the little British Isle from Surrey to the coziest stone cottage in Mousehole, Cornwall – a place where proverbial backpacks come off. We turned in for the night and as I sank into the cottage's big white bed, I felt so deeply happy. A kind of happy conceived by early autumn air and sea breeze and oceanside villages and cottages with clawfoot bathtubs. I felt like a cloud – floaty and buoyant and pleased as punch to have the ocean nearby. My theory: one need not be in an ocean to float; one need only be near an ocean.

The adventure began in quaint, cobblestoned Truro where we intended to stop only to pop into an American friend's new deli. The town's friendly people and happy flags and endless alleys of shops quickly beguiled us and we threw out our afternoon plans for a few more hours in Truro. We ducked into chic boutiques, vintage stores, and more than a few coffee shops before grabbing an asparagus risotto at Swell. Truro was friendly and pleasantly bustling and spangled in rainbow banners.

We scooted down to St. Ives in time to sit on a hill and watch the sun sink behind the animated little toy town below us. After making our way down to the harbor (peering into every closed shop and gallery along the way), we popped into Fudge Kyst for a slab of Cornish fudge. We ambled down on the water's edge and tried to name the rowboats that bobbed in the harbor. A wedding party burst from a nearby chapel and we were #blessed enough to witness a barricade of bridesmaids blocking the bride as she changed from her white dress into a flannel shirt and shorts. Then, of course, the bride made her way (barefoot) to the nearest pub with her groom in tow. A little clique of pub-goers gathered in the street for an impromptu Cornish folk sing-along, which provided the soundtrack for the greatest plate of fish and chips on this planet.

St. Michael's Mount is a curious place – sometimes accessible only by foot, sometimes only by boat. We checked the tide schedules and made an low-tide, early morning trek across the drained seafloor to the little green island. St. Michael's Mount is home to a castle and it's accompanying village, where we spent hours exploring the gardens and ancient buildings. We climbed a stony turret and soaked in the expanse of the Atlantic, the sea and sky only marginally different in their shades of steely grey.

We wound our little red car around Cornwall's craggy coast and arrived at the stunning Kynance Cove, which I may consider the most unmissable sight in Cornwall. The narrow rock path from the parking lot twists down a hillside, then drops into a sage green cove, dotted with perfect climbing rocks. We claimed a spot on an especially nice rock and spent the afternoon reading and napping. The rising tide eventually forced our exit, like dinner guests who overstayed their welcome. On our way back to Mousehole we swung by the Minack Theatre, an outdoor theatre with a sweeping view of the turquoise ocean. There was nothing playing at the theatre that particular evening, so we took advantage of the free parking and climbed down to beautiful, chilly Porthcurno Beach.

Apparently dinner reservations get snatched up quickly in Mousehole's three restaurants (we had our hearts set on the Michelin-recommended 2 Fore Street but were laughed out the door), so our spectacular trip closed somewhat unceremoniously in a nondescript pub next to the harbor. The burgers were just okay, but I was happy nonetheless. Cornwall was a feast in itself.

Other noteworthy Cornwall spots:

Land's End | Eden Project | Penzance | Tintagel Castle

A Guide to Rome

I emphatically recommend traveling with British people. To travel with a Brit is to become a Brit – if only for a long weekend– and doing so provides a thrilling respite from being the American tourist. You suddenly have license to roll your eyes at the loud Yankee accents on the metro. It's the best.

 As last August faded to a broiling end, I joined two of my very own Brits (this one and this one) to beautiful, sunbaked Rome. We rolled into the city near midnight, got inexcusably lost in the three-block walk from train station to Airbnb, and mimed our way through the house rules with our Italian-only nona of a hostess. The apartment was a black-and-white-tiled, artfully ramshackle museum of flea market paintings, philosophy books, and green house plants. A home-baked lemon cake waited for us on the dining table.

Emily and Naomi navigated the city with a paper map, which I probably found too quaint and novel. Our wanderings through the city's hyper-saturated palette affirmed one of my life's philosophical pillars: people love beauty. The concrete walls of Rome could be an untouched grey, but the vibrant Italian quintessence paints the facades in glowy apricot, mossy green, cerulean, and lemon. Beauty is instinctive.

The sharply slanting summer sun sliced the city's colors into shards. Walking the streets was a study in contrasts – this vivd orange building abuts that pale blue wall, glaringly sunlit streets twist into dark alleys, shiny new cars trundle down cobblestone roads. Rome's very personality plays a foil to itself. This historical juggernaut of conquest and institution seems to sing and laugh, refusing to take herself too seriously. She's nonchalant and unwound. She invites you to romp among the relics.

We wound through said relics to the dazzling Trevi Fountain, flooded with other tourists but totally stunning nonetheless. The sun was so hot and the fountain water was so blue that I almost took a dive in the spirit of one Miss Lizzie McGuire. We ambled over to the Pantheon in the Piazza della Rotonda – a vivacious square full of music and color. Standing in the milky cylinder of sunlight streaming through the Pantheon's oculus was worth the entire trip to Rome. I could have gone back to London then in perfect happiness.

Winding through the alleys of Rome provides little sense of orientation or direction, but the twisting path eventually spit us out in Piazza Navona. The piazza felt a bit like a film set – musicians played for change, artists painted at easels, and people strolled with gelato in hand. We ate pizza off blue checked tablecloths at Caffe Barocco, and I couldn't figure out if it was touristy or good, or both. Frigidarium, a highly recommended gelateria, was definitely good. We did very thorough research in the form of about four scoops each.

Even accounting for all the world famous pasta and pizza and gelato, I was most thrilled by Rome's drinking water. Brass spigots jutted from walls and fountains with sweet-tasting water just waiting to be drunk from my cupped hands. Exhilarating.

The next day earned us the distinct lifetime achievement of walking from one country to another. The sovereign Vatican City is surrounded by an enormous stone wall and you enter with a horde of other sweating tourists, but the experience is pretty singular nonetheless. The tour takes visitors through the Vatican Museum, which houses the Pope's personal art and antiquities collections. The beautiful Hall of Maps was my personal highlight and the Sistine Chapel was, of course, awe inspiring. It looked so different than I imagined. The famous "Creation of Adam" fresco is just a tiny section in a constellation of Michelangelo's equally mind-boggling paintings. 

We skidded into St. Peter's Basilica just before it closed at sundown. The church was one of those places too beautiful to process. At some point the brain meets its beauty quotient and a building becomes an exquisite blur of vaulted ceilings and gilded domes and mosaics. The sunbeams cascaded onto the marble floors and I felt both sad and happy that this place existed – a monument to God's worthiness of worship mostly empty of the actual worship. 

Tired and hot and happy, we walked (what seemed like) thirty miles to what would be one of the loveliest meals of my life. After the fifteen requisite detours to photograph ourselves in front of interesting walls, we reached La Matriciana, which was recommended by my brother after celebrating his 30th birthday there a few years prior. A happy waiter in a white dinner jacket seated us at a table right on the street, where the cooling evening air and purple sunset sky and soft chatter of passersby filled my heart to overflowing. Three hours. We sat at that table for three hours because none of us wanted that perfect evening to end. We laughed and twirled pasta around our forks and declared the tiramisu to be the world's best.

When life gets difficult, I remember that somewhere in Rome a person is eating a plate of black truffle fettuccine at La Matriciana, and I feel hope once more. I keep those white table cloth, flickering candlelight, olive oil scented hours in a special compartment in my heart.

The next morning took us to the Colosseum, a spot so famous that you can't quite believe you are actually looking at it in real life. In our imaginations we filled the amphitheater with Roman spectators felt the energy that must've charged the air as gladiators rushed into the arena. I thought about the Hunger Games a lot that day and felt very confused by humanity's appalling track record of entertainment consumption. I also thought about how I never miss an episode of the Bachelorette, which made me judge the Romans less harshly.

After more pizza and more gelato, we poked around the Roman Forum and its surrounding ruins. In my travel experience, you hit a point in which another ruin (despite its significance to modern democracy or philosophy) can no longer compete with the prospect of a caffeinated beverage. We hit that point at the Forum and quickly located Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè, which sources (i.e. Naomi) call Barack Obama's favorite cafe in Rome (i.e. he went there one time). Three shakeratos (and a pistachio gelato) later, we ventured to the Spanish Steps. The sunlight was hitting the Piazza di Spagni at the perfect angle and a man was blowing bubbles and a clique of teenage girls was giggling and all was right in Roma. 

Rome is a highly walkable city; we only used the Metro once on the final morning of our trip. We had grand plans of checking out the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, so we traveled all the way to Villa Borghese only to discover the museum was closed on Mondays. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a walk in a shady green park and a beautiful hilltop view of the Piazza del Popolo. We muscled through one last bowl of gnocchi at Antica Osteria Brunetti, then met up with some honorary Romans at the heavenly and highly Instagrammable Giolitti. The catch-up with my beloved friends was as sweet as the grapefruit gelato.

 A late night flight back to London brought our magical Roman holiday to a close, but many days I revisit warm Roma in my mind. If any city's got to be the Eternal City, I'm sure glad it's Rome.