V. and I book a weekend away for our anniversary every year. Nothing too crazy, usually just a nice hotel not far from London, where we can spend some time away from our laptops, seeing the sights and enjoying fancy food we normally don’t get to try, boiled eggs and toast being the only culinary delights I pretend to be an expert at.
And though we try to leave the country for more exotic destinations for our longer summer and winter holidays, it’s always these short, always rainy anniversary weekend trips we seem to look forward to the most.
A couple of years back we went to Bournemouth, and stayed at a fancy hotel by the beach where we were pretty much the only guests, it being February and absolutely freezing. All over the resort, Chinese New Year decorations were still hanging from treetops and lamp posts, swaying above the deserted streets. We walked the beaches, took silly photos of each other on the pier, gawked in disbelief at the packs of surfers hitting the winter waves, and stuffed ourselves on three course seafood extravaganzas. Then last year, V. went behind my back and booked the honeymoon suite at Brighton’s Pelirocco, a tiny hotel famous for its (sexy) themed rooms. Ours had a round bed, mirrors on the ceiling, a jacuzzi, a !!! Stripping ! Pole ! In ! The ! Middle ! Of ! The ! Bedroom !!!, and really nice staff who’d surely witnessed lots of super duper interesting things throughout the years. Fun and games.
This year, clearly older and less adventurous than in our mirrors on the ceiling days, we settled for a more moderately exciting anniversary location, and picked the Donnington Hotel & Spa in Newbury. The plan was to walk around the countryside, maybe visit some of the National Trust houses in the area, and eat like savages.
On our way there on Friday, we stopped by Basildon Park & House, a National Trust property we’d read about online. It was sunny for once, though still freezing cold by my Romanian standards, so we walked around the parkland, me screeching with excitement every time we came across a patch of snowdrops or a suspiciously friendly pheasant. The Basildon Mansion is a beautifully restored 18th century home open to the public, so we strolled through the rooms for a while, admiring the intricate arhitecture and the furniture and art collection. The Downton Abbey 2013 Christmas Special was filmed here, and there’s a behind the scene exhibition including filming trivia, set photos, and some of the actresses’ dresses. I know very little about the series, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the tour, taking hundreds of badly lighted photos in the process. The main Downton Abbey filming location, Highclere Castle, is not far from here and it looks stunning in online photos, but it only opens for visitors in April, so we didn’t go.
On our way out of Basildon, I stopped by their gardener’s shed, where they had a 1£ second hand paperback sale. As expected, I couldn’t help myself and got a copy of A. S. Byatt’s Possession, so V. spent the rest of our drive to the hotel mumbling about how my forever increasing and highly unstable by now book mountain will surely be the end of us. Death by paperback avalanche!
The Donnington is a lovely hotel surrounded by green fields on the outskirts of Newbury. It’s got a golf course and an apparently constantly overbooked spa-gym-pool health center. We’d taken advantage of a Groupon offer and booked an executive room with dinner on the first night and a bottle of wine on departure. The room was pretty much the size of our London flat, which is always a nice surprise, and was facing an endless grassy field. I was cold, of course, and as much as we both tried we couldn’t shut one of the windows, so V. went to reception to mention it. Minutes later, a not particularly muscular looking gentleman came and shut the window for us in half a second, much to V.’s surprise and my very vocal amusement.
We strolled around the hotel grounds for a while before dinner. It was slowly getting dark, a bunch of wild rabbits were running around the golf course and everything was so peaceful it felt like it wasn’t really happening to us. After dinner, an exquisite three-courses-and-the-best-wine-I’ve-ever-had affair, we hit the gym just before closing. I wasn’t in a particularly gym friendly mood, but I guess V. felt like he needed to redeem himself after the I’m-so-masculine-I-can’t-shut-a-window episode, so he spent close to an hour attempting to intimidate me into lifting some dubious looking weights. Why I have to suffer whenever his masculinity is threatened by a middle aged skinny man I’ll never know.
On Saturday we headed for The Vyne, another mansion belonging to the National Trust. The weather was splendid and the place was packed with rubber welly wearing visitors strolling around the gardens and into the forest, picnicking and feeding the swans. We walked and walked, then visited the mansion, another beautifully preserved Victorian home with no Downton Abbey references this time. We spent a fair amount of time in their second hand bookshop, where I got Istanbul ( Orhan Pamuk ) and Saturday ( Ian McEwan ), and V., surprise surprise!!!, got 6 ( SIX!!! ) books. I am delighted to admit, humanity, that my book madness seems to have rubbed onto my until not long ago very reluctant book reading/collecting partner. I consider my mission on this planet complete and am expecting my super duper reward any day now. And to celebrate this miraculous development, the moment we got back to London on Sunday I donated a tiny shelf exclusively to his growing collection: a total of 9 ( Nine, can you believe it? That’s almost like, well, ten! ) books including a muscle encyclopedia, a Driving for Idiots guide, and other super duper manly stuff.
We spent the rest of the day in Newbury, walking around the market, taking photos and shopping (I bought a pair of shoes, oh happy day!, while V. got enough chocolate to last us at least a couple of years from now). We had dinner in a lovely pub by the river, the waters so high after the recent floods they almost reached the window sill, and ended the evening with The Lego Movie at the local cinema. It was V.’s movie choice and I wasn’t too crazy about the idea, but he’d been so well behaved getting all those books for himself earlier, not to mention that I was still high on shoe shopping euphoria, that I couldn’t say no. On retrospect, I probably should have given it more thought, as now he’s driving me crazy singing the everything is awesome song all day long, and every time I tell him to shut it he changes the lines to everything is awesome EXCEPT YOU! We’ll see how awesome everything is when I mistakenly put half a dozen of my red socks into the washer with his precious whites. Just saying.
We got back to London on Sunday afternoon, just in time for the weather to turn grey again (just for the day, thank God, today is splendidly sunny again), and celebrated our return by ordering more pizza than I care to remember (we’ve got enough leftovers to feed a small family for the rest of the week) and watching a couple of South Park episodes. I’m back to work now and to what looks like spring. We’ve got badminton and tech conferences in the coming evenings but my zombie laptop has been fixed for the millionth time and will be arriving today, so hopefully I’ll be able to post here a bit more often.
Until then, wishing you lots of sun and super duper awesome things!