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Friday, May 19, 2000

Today was our last full day in London. For the time we spent in the Bayswater Inn, it was adequate. At least the showers had great pressure. After breakfast, we had the desk clerk call a cab. We waited in the lobby until the driver came in for us. After loading our luggage we departed for the National Car Rental office near Marble Arch.

I am glad we took a cab. I didn't feel like trying to take our entire luggage on the tube. The other alternative was for me to go get the car and come back to the hotel - as if I would ever find it again.

When we arrived at National there were only four people in line in front of me. It still took them over an hour for us to get our car. We were charged 15 for a "Prime Location" fee - sure! I also decided to pay 7 a day for insurance - just for the peace of mind, and finally, 45 for the final tank of gas. This way you can return the car empty - and we did.

After getting directions on how to get out of town, I promptly missed the turn. With a quick glance at the map, we went down a block or two and came back up Baker Street - as in Sherlock Holmes - as in, "Hey, wasn't that the Sherlock Holmes Museum we just passed?"

We found ourselves headed towards Oxford although we didn't intend to stop. It was after 1 p.m. by the time we got out of London so our first stop was to be at Blenheim Palace just outside the small town of Woodstock.

We drove past the entrance to Blenheim and went into town for lunch. We found a small pub that had a decent menu. Always adventurous, I ordered Bangers and Mash. Alan and Pat both ordered sandwiches. I got a huge plate of mash potatoes with 3 large sausages - yummm! They got two pieces of bread and a slice of meat. I enjoyed my lunch.

Afterwards we drove back to Blenheim. Blenheim Palace is on an estate of 2,500 acres that are covered with sheep. I am not sure of the ticket price because our Heritage Pass gave us free entrance. The house is best known today for being the birthplace of Winston Churchill. From the backrooms of the house you can see the church tower in the town of Bladon where Churchill is buried.

We took the house tour through the rooms that are opened to the public. One wing of the house is still the private residence of the Duke of Marlborough. However, for an additional charge you are allowed to view some of those rooms as well. The basic tour takes you through a wide variety of rooms filled with the things typical of these huge historical homes.

Outside the house are several formal gardens that are worth visiting. There are also many walking paths on the grounds. We stopped in the gift shop where I purchased two large bottles of Blenheim Water (one sparkling and one still). Our next stop was the Butterfly House. This is a greenhouse filled with beautiful plants and flowers as well as many different types of butterflies. There is also a large hedge maze but we decided not to get lost again.

Exiting Blenheim, we took a right on the small road that goes into Bladon. To find Churchill's grave, look for the Church on the hill (oddly enough). Find a place to park in the small one lane alley and you will quickly find the Churchill grave. It is directly beyond the front doors of St. Martin's Church surrounded by a foot-high iron fence.

I was struck by the simplicity of the grave. Here lies the man who saved England from Hitler with only a simple slab of white marble. I also watched as three elderly ladies approached the grave with flowers. These women had lived through WWII and were here to honor the man who had saved their nation.

To the upper right of Churchill's grave is the grave of Consuela Vanderbilt. She was married to the Duke of Marlborough in an arranged marriage in the early part of the twentieth century. From all accounts, it was a very unhappy marriage. The reason for the marriage was to bring a royal name into the Vanderbilt family and to bring the Vanderbilt money to the Duke of Marlborough. She eventually divorced the Duke and left the country. However, while she was married she had a child that later died. She requested that she be buried next to her child - thus the reason she is buried in England.

We left Bladon and headed for Stow-on-the-Wold. We had reservations for the Old Farmhouse Inn in Lower Swell. Lower Swell is definitely lower than Stow. There is a very steep 1-mile road going down from Stow to Swell.

We easily found our B&B. It is in a very old farmhouse (thus the name - I believe 16th century). Lower Swell is a beautiful quite village built of stone. We actually had two rooms reserved, a twin and a single. We could have done with just one room as the Single was actually a double and it had a rollaway. Our rooms were in the attic so the ceilings were slanted. This also meant we had to climb two flights of stairs to the rooms. We had a private bath that was located down one flight of stairs. Both rooms were beautiful with hand-sewn quilts over the beds.

Our hostess supplied us with fresh milk to make tea and Alan made tea for each of us. We decided to rest for an hour before driving up to Stow for supper. Looking through the materials in the room, I saw that there was an Indian Restaurant in town so we decided to go there.

The Prince of India is a small restaurant with very good food and reasonable prices. I like Indian food but do not know many of the dishes (still very new to me). Pat and Alan had never had Indian food before.

Before the food was brought out, the server brought out a metal stand on which to place the dishes. Alan reached to push the stand towards the middle of the table. None of us realized that it was extremely hot (hot enough that the dishes with food placed on it started to bubble). Fortunately he only burned the ends of two fingers and had not tried to pick up the stand.

We enjoyed a very relaxing meal, and I would recommend the Prince to those visiting Stow. We had arrived early with only a few people in the restaurant. When we left, the place was full. Not knowing the town we got in the car to drive to the City Center. We should have left the car parked as I later found ourselves right back at the Prince.

The center of Stow is a large parking lot surrounded by lovely stone buildings. The town was mostly empty at this hour. Yes, we did see the stocks on the green. And No, we didn't lock anyone in them. All of the stores were closed so there wasn't much to do but walk around. We stopped and looked at a few menus outside Pubs. One pub had an extensive menu and very reasonable prices. We decided we would eat there for supper Saturday night.

I needed to exchange some money so we went looking for an ATM. As we were walking down a sidewalk, a rather large brutish looking fellow was coming towards us. He had his shirt pulled up over his stomach and was rubbing his belly. He very cheerfully called out how full he was. He seemed to be friendly enough so I asked if he knew where an ATM was located. "Not a prob! Just around the corner," was his reply. Later, my mother said he would have been the last person she asked.

We found the ATM and I withdrew some cash. This transaction cost me no fees and I got the great exchange rate of 1.49. Our next stop was a small convenience store. We looked around for a while enjoying the different products that were for sale. The "beer" added colas were interesting although I never tried one. I did purchase some bottled water and some snack cakes. Alan purchased a computer magazine (with two CDs of software attached). By the end of the trip he had bought about 4 magazines and had a whole software library.

With nothing else to do and all ready to rest, we headed back to the B&B. I read for a while planning our itinerary for the next day. This was the first night we were in our room before 11 p.m.! I was actually very tired and was asleep before 10 o'clock. Late in the night I awoke and spent some time at the window enjoying the perfect silence of this small village.

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