Author Archives: Debbie Ross

England – Day 7, Downton Village and exploring Oxford

Today we visited the village of Downton – the real life village of Bampton, about 20 miles west of Oxford. This charming town stands in for Downton and the exteriors of the church, the pub, the library, and various houses were used for scenes outside of the Downton Cottage Hospital, the Post Office, and Isobel Crawley’s house. Springtime is lovely here with the many types of shrubs and vines brimming with colourful flowers.  We took a stroll through the village, into the church and chatted with the locals about life in Bampton during the filming of Downton. One lady was thrilled to share her experience of being an extra on the set of the Lady Mary’s wedding.








This afternoon we wandered beneath the ‘dreaming spires’ of Oxford, one of the world’s most famous university cities. The group divided into three so we could find places to accommodate us for a quick lunch. Our group ate at Chequers Pub. I had a delicious Mac and Cheese with an Oxford Ale. We toured the elegant Christchurch college buildings and grand quads which date back to the 1100’s. The great hall was the inspiration behind Hogwarts great hall in Harry Potter.  It’s one of the nicest cafeteria style dining |’ve ever seen.  The church is spectacular. This great hall also inspired Lewis Carrol as he wrote Alice in Wonderland. He created characters from those he found in the stained glass windows and a small doorway became related to the rabbit hole. the buildings and grounds of the college are absolutely stunning!


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Dinner was at The Eagle and Child pub.  Great food!  Delicious split pea and watercress soup and a choice of either fish and chips or tasty chicken and chips.

Overnight: Galaxie Hotel, Oxford

England – Day 6, Wilton House and exploring Salisbury

This morning tour guide Sue took some of us on a stroll through Salisbury to visit St Paul’s Church.  One of the treasures here is the painting of doom uncovered when they removed the plaster from the walls.  There’s also the coat of arms of Queen Elizabeth the first.

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Our exploration of Country Homes continued with a visit of Wilton House, home of the Earls of Pembroke for over 400 years and one of England’s finest stately homes. We took a stroll around the house with its 17th century interiors and world famous art collection, plus over 22 acres of parkland and gardens.  The river runs through the property and a stunning stone bridge takes you over to a green pasture on the other side. Films shot here include The Madness of King George and Pride and Prejudice and they just finished filming season 2 of The Crown where the the home was the stand in for Buckingham Palace.


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P1160371 P1160370There was a special exhibit in the previous horse arena. An amazing collection of Lord Pembroke’s cars.  Mercedes, Ferrari, Datsun to name a few.

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This afternoon we enjoyed some leisurely time exploring Salisbury. Some of us went back to the New Inn for fish and chips. Delicious!

This evening’s dinner was at the Cosy Club. We started with  a selection of delicious tapas. For the main course we had a generous selection to choose from, burgers, risotto, buttermilk chicken, salmon. Both the food and service were excellent.

Overnight: White Hart Mercure Hotel, Salisbury

England – Day 5, Salisbury Cathedral and Mompesson House

This morning we left London and traveled to Salisbury via Stonehenge, Britain’s most iconic archaeological site dating back to 2500 BC, the stone age. Many people have examined the stones and the surrounding area. There are ancient burial mounds, evidence of central living area and the stones which are like a big calendar.  The small blue stones are in the centre and the larger carved stones come from a distance away. They assume they used logs to roll  them to the area where they now stand. The compelling ring of monolithic stones is a mystical place and a reminder of Britain’s ancient history.

P1160264 P1160265 P1160266 P1160282 P1160259 P1160260P1160288The scenery of the countryside is stunning, Rolling hills of bright yellow canola, green winter wheat and farms with sheep, cattle and pigs.  The sky is bright blue today with light fluffy white clouds. The weather certainly has been on our side.

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Salisbury, a walking tour to the Cathedral showcases the architectural timeline from medieval walls to half-timbered Tudor townhouses to Georgian mansions. We visited the stunning Cathedral, one of the finest in Britain. There’s an ancient clock that works on a pulley system, there’s no face or hands.  It simply rings the church bells when it’s time for prayer. The Cathedral dates back to the early 1200’s. Salisbury is a charming town with fabulous architecture and beautiful gardens that are blooming with tulips, flowers, scented bushes.



We visited the beautiful 18th century Queen Anne style Mompesson House, the location for the 1995 film Sense and Sensibility. There is a large collection of 18th century furniture that has been donated to the gallery.  Unfortunately we weren’t permitted to take photos inside. We ended the day with a nice stroll about town then a pint of beer at the local pub.P1160324 P1160325 P1160326P1160329 P1160331 P1160332

This evening we enjoyed dinner at The New Inn, a short stroll from our hotel. The dining room was at the back of the restaurant overlooking the gardens. The service was great and the food excellent.


London dinner Salisbury

Overnight: White Hart Mercure Hotel, Salisbury

England – Day 4, Downton Abbey and Needham House visits

This is the day I’ve been waiting for!  We found out what it’s like behind the scenes of “The Real Downton Abbey”. Home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon since 1679, the private estate opens its doors on a very few occasions offering fans the opportunity to explore the rooms seen on the show; the grand salon where the Dowager Countess held forth, the 5000-book library where the Earl of Grantham conducts business, and the splendid dining room.

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Upon arrival we are treated to a display of a working sheep farm as the dogs herded a flock of sheep from one field to another. It’s obvious it was a good year at Highclere with many spring lambs.

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We toured the outside of the expansive grounds, with acres of rolling hills dotted with sheep.  The house is magnificent outside and in. Unfortunately we were not aloud to take photos in the house but it was certainly worth the visit.  The antiques are impressive and there are many photos of the Carnarvon family as well as photos of the Downtown Abbey crew at work. After touring the house we went to the cellar to view the artifacts that Lord Canarvon collected when he discovered King Tuts tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. We drove through the countryside to Needham House, home of William Morris, owner and creator of Morris Minor Car company. His home was fairly simple and full of a collection of antiques from all over the world.  One of the items on display are the cloaks that the Morris’ wore at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in the 1953. The gardens are magnificent and at this time of the year the blue bells and wisteria are in full bloom

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We drove back along the narrow country roads, past the Themes river to the main highway back to London.  It’s the May 1st long weekend so the traffic was a bit slow.

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Tonight’s dinner was at Village East Restaurant, a short walk from our hotel. The food and service were excellent.  Another great day on our Great Houses tour.

Overnight: Bermondsey Square Hotel, London

England – Day 3, Buckingham Palace, Changing of the Guards and Hampton Court

This morning our day began with  a walking tour in the Westminster area, We took a stroll past Westminster Abbey  and the adjacent square to view the statue  Sir Winston Churchill. Stopped for a photo opp at the iconic London Phone booth then continued along the avenue into St James Park to view the Queens Royal Horse Guards. The spring flowers are in full bloom, wisteria vines, tulips and various blossoms

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Continuing our walk through the spectacular St James Park we arrived at the barracks of the Queens Royal Horse Guards and on to the barracks to view the spectacular changing of the guards..The crowds were intense due to the fact that is was May 1st holiday weekend . Our guide Sue was on top of it and took us to the barracks area to observe the band and the changing of the guards. We were able to get right up to the gate area to view the ritual, versus being in front of the palace where it was at least 10 deep in a  crowd of thousands.  We followed the guards from the barracks area over to the palace area and moved hillside to have a birds eye view of Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately the Queen was not in residence today.

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Our exploration continued with a visit of England’s largest and grandest Tudor palace. Built in 1514 and extended by Christopher Wren in the 17th century, Hampton Court Palace is a beautiful blend of Tudor, Georgian and baroque architecture with 24 hectares of riverside gardens, including a 300-year-old maze. Home to many kings and queens such as King Henry the Eighth and King William and Queen Mary. The opulence of the rooms, gardens and entertaining areas was a site to see. Especially the large kitchens where they prepared the meals to feed the many guests that stayed at the palace.  King Henry’s main entertaining hall was a large quite large and the tapestries and art work some of the best in the world. The collection of priceless artifacts and art work are some of the best in the world.

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We ended the day with a fabulous Italian meal at Antico, located across the street from our hotel.  The meal was excellent. I had an aspargus salad to start then a delicious slow roasted beef pasta for the main course. Others enjoyed a salmon starter and perfectly grilled ribeye steak. Dessert was delectable!

Overnight: Bermondsey Square Hotel

England – Day 2, Kensington Palace, Diana: Her Story exhibit, Tower of London and St Pauls Cathedral

After a sumptuous English breakfast we began our day with a tour of Kensington Palace, home of the Royals. Then a special visit of  “Diana: Her Fashion Story” exhibit at the Palace. What a treat!  A quick photo stop at an iconic London telephone booth and the Prince Albert Memorial located on the edge of Hyde Park.

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This afternoon we visited the Tower of London.  The buildings date back centuries but the most impressive part of the tour was the crown jewels.  The bejeweled crowns, swords, ornate cape and much more are only used during the coronation of a king or queen.  The last time they were used was for the crowning of Queen Elizabeth. Unfortunately there are no photos of the jewels as cameras were not permitted.  The Kings chambers were on display as well as the royal Ravens.  It is said that when the ravens are gone the dynasty will fall. There was a spectacular river view, and tower bridge from the top of the castle wall.

P1150959 P1150958 P1150957 P1150961 P1150960 P1150966 P1150969 P1150968 P1150978 P1150977 P1150974 P1150973 P1150975This evening we visited St. Paul’s Cathedral, one of London’s most majestic buildings where Lady Diana and Prince Charles were wed. We enjoyed the Evensong service. The choir was a treat to the ears and the sounds of the organ filled the great hall.
It’s spring time in the city , the tulips are in full bloom.  We took a short stroll from St Pauls to Haz Turkish Restaurant for dinner. The food was fabulous. Starters withe falafel, samosa, tabbouleh, calamari with hummus and tzitziki dips. Then a choice of main course: lamb shank, salmon steak or chicken shish.  Delicious! A feast fit for a queen.
After dinner we took a leisurely stroll back along the river to the hotel. It was wonderful to view the city by night.

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Overnight: Bermondsey Square Hotel, London

England – Day 1 Arrival London, panoramic tour

Upon our arrival at London Heathrow airport we were met by our guide Sue and transferred to the Bermondsey Square Hotel. Our home for the next 4 nights. The hotel is quite modern and the rooms a bright and comfy.   After freshening up and a quick lunch we headed out for a panoramic tour to see the main sites of London.
This evening we enjoyed a welcome dinner at the hotel.  The private room was inviting and the food and service were excellent.

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 London day 1 dinner room

Overnight: Bermondsey Square Hotel, London

Australia bound!

Today we’re heading to the land down under.  Australia!  Our first stop is Sydney where we’ll spend 5 days exploring all the city has to offer and the surrounding area.. We’ll tour the famous opera house, take a stroll through the Rocks area, visit Bondi Beach and enjoy a dinner cruise to view the city lights from the water. We’ll venture outside of the city to explore the Blue Mountains via railway, skyway, cableway and walkway.  It’s going to be an amazing adventure. Check the Travel Blog often and follow our journey as we explore Australia and New Zealand.

Opera house

Spain in May, Day 9 Seville

We traveled to Seville by coach this morning. This historical city is one of the largest in Spain  with 700,000 people and was once a very important port on a river leading to the Atlantic Ocean.  Our morning started with a visit of the Plaza de Spagna in the pouring rain. I’m sure this Plaza would have been more enjoyable if the sun was shining. It was a very quick stop then back on the bus for our transfer to the historical city.

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Thankfully the rain let up shortly after our arrival in the historic city. Our guide introduced Seville’s flamboyant, charismatic personality in a walking tour taking in Seville’s striking Cathedral.

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The cathedral is one of the largest in the world, second only to St Peters in Rome.  The main chapel took 45 years to create, this masterpiece is covered with tons of gold.


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P1120830The Cathedral houses the impressive tomb of Christopher Columbus. Columbus died in Vaidolid and later his body was moved to Seville, then to Dominican Republic and in 1795 they moved his remains back to Spain.  The tomb was finished in 1902.  There;s also a carpet covered tomb which is the son of Columbus.

P1120832 P1120834 P1120835P1120842Those who dared hiked up to the top of the belfry of the Giralda Tower to enjoy the stunning view of the city. It was only 13,719 steps. But who was counting.

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We worked up an appetite hiking up the tower. Our lunch stop was at the Catedral Restaurant. Perfect timing for our lunch break, the rain started again so we took our time and enjoyed a leisurely lunch of Tapas and wine. Afterwards the sun was shining so we took advantage of the nice weather and explored the tiny squares of the Santa Cruz quarter and the surrounding area.

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The drive back to Cordoba is a scenic one, rolling hills, colourful fields and we saw a beautiful rainbow.  Hopefully this is a sign that the weather is going to improve.

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Dinner this evening was at Taberna Las Espumita Restaurant.


Spain in May, Day 8 Exploring Cordoba on our own

Today we had a free day to explore Cordoba. The medieval neighbourhood is a warren of narrow streets surrounding the Mezquita. The streets of the old Jewish Quarter stretch out from here leading to quiet plazas decorated with splendid floral arrangements.
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This is our lucky day, the local residents are opening their doors for the Tour of the Patios. From the outside of the homes you would never imagine the oasis you find inside. Lovely sitting areas with colourful flower pots and many of the walls have decorative hanging pots filled with flowers.  Beautiful!

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There are lovely little bodegas and traditional handicraft shops selling leather goods, silverwork and pottery. The ladies had fun shopping for treasures.
Cordoba 1It’s another rainy day but luckily while we were touring the patios and exploring the shops the rain held off.  We found a lovely restaurant for our lunch stop and just in time, it started to rain.  We relaxed and enjoyed our lunch as we waited for the rain to stop.

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This was a lovely day. I think everyone had a good time exploring the interesting shops, colourful patios, art galleries, beautiful doorways and it’s magical view by night. Certainly a city to be included on a trip to Spain.

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