Last you heard from us, our car was getting fixed at the mechanic and we were waiting, waiting. We didn’t actually get it back until Wednesday afternoon, yes, a full week + one day after bringing it in! We were quite surprised at how long it took, and itching to get out of the house, but we are happy to report that the car is back safely with us and we are crossing our fingers that nothing else breaks this year (you might be surprised to hear that we don’t have another small fortune to spend on car repairs 😝).
We didn’t spend all our time languishing at home. On Tuesday I had booked Kilian in for his six month vaccinations, so he and I headed off on the bus into Alton for this fun event. You’ll be glad to hear that he took them very courageously, and much better than expected (in his previous needles he was a bit of a wuss and cried a lot 😉). While we are talking about Kilian, I have to mention that our tiny baby is now six months old. I know it’s cliche to say it, but I actually do not know where the time has gone. I feel like I can look back over my shoulder and see that little baby laying on my chest for the first time and remember the first moment I saw his tiny little face and heard his tiny little cry. I can easily recall the joy and exhilaration I felt when he entered the world so unexpectedly quickly. He has done a lot since that day, including this week, learning to sit up and getting two new teeth. We are very excited to see what the next six months brings (hopefully more sleep?) and we have so much joy in the littlest member of our family.
After successfully immunising the kiddo (as we are in a different country, I had expected this goal to be a little harder, but we managed to completely match the Australian schedule, so that worked out well), Pete and Elena met us in Alton and we had a little browse at the shops (we are loving all the charity shops here – you can easily go to four or five in one street), popped into the museum, had lunch at a cafe and then headed home on the bus – which is a fun toddler activity in itself. This was such a simple day, but since we hadn’t gone further afield than, well, the local fields in a week, it felt SO good to get out. We were all in a good mood after our excursion.
On Wednesday we headed into Basingstoke to pick up our car (later in the day) and do some more fun things, which featured the library – an activity Elena is loving at the moment and something which we are all too happy to encourage – Pete even ingeniously got a membership so they could borrow books; huge burritoes for lunch, and a visit to the Willis Museum for some local history. Then we went and got our car! Hooray for Freedom!
On Thursday we celebrated our newfound mobility by heading to New Forest, a beautiful region full of woodland and quaint little towns. It was a lovely place to visit and we wish we could have stayed longer, it seemed like a great place for a little holiday. A unique feature of New Forest is the ponies grazing free all over, an ancient practice where commoners (or those who inhabit the area) are allowed to turn their horses and cattle out into the forest for grazing. It was really cool to see these ponies everywhere as we drove around, roaming the heaths, woods and even in the towns.
We went for a bit of a walk in the woods, called the Boldenwood trail, and a good place to see the herds of deers (apparently, although we didn’t see a single one). Then we headed on to Beaulieu, home of the famous motor museum and Top Gear, although we bypassed these top attractions in favour of Beaulieu Abbey and Palace House. The Abbey was founded in 1203, so it was very ancient and it was really interesting to get a glimpse into how the Cistercian Monks lived, so long ago. The Abbey was destroyed by Henry VIII only 300 or so years later, to reduce the power of the Church after he split with them, and also to sell the materials for some quick cash for his expensive wars.
Next door to the Abbey is Palace House. Originally part of the Abbey, it was bought buy the 1st Earl of Southampton following the dissolution of the monasteries, and is still owned by his descendants. It is decorated in a Victorian style and up until his recent death, was still lived in by the previous Earl (the current Earl lives in a more sedate mansion in the village). We loved the house, especially the personalised placards providing details about the furniture and paintings and what they mean to the family. The grounds were also very beautiful, especially with so many spring flowers just starting to peep their heads out. Another highlight of the visit was the monorail which provided an excellent view of the whole estate.
We had Winchester on our must do list for a while, and we finally got the chance to go on Friday. While Thursday was a bit of a nature day, Friday was definitely a history day. Winchester is an ancient city, built by the Romans in about 70AD, and was later the capital of England. So naturally, there was plenty to take in. We couldn’t see everything, but this is what we managed to cram in:
Winchester Cathedral – huge, impressive and maybe just a little bit the same as all the other cathedrals we have been in. I think my enthusiasm for cathedrals is starting to wane. Pete didn’t even come in this one, so it was just me and Elena. It did have Jane Austen’s bones and grave marker though, so that was pretty interesting.
Winchester City Mill – Pete really enjoyed this one. It is the oldest working water mill in England, dating back to 1086. We got to see the wheat being milled into flour, and we even bought a packet of the wholewheat flour to take home with us and make some bread or something…. It was pretty fun and there was plenty to do – Elena particularly enjoyed grinding her own flour using a huge millstone (more like, I ground the flour and she played in it).
Hospital of St Cross – this was a bit of a hidden gem. It was about a 20 minute walk from the main part of the city, but it was so worth it. Rather than a medical institution, this is an medieval almshouse, originally purposed to house frail men in deep poverty as well as feeding the poor, and is still functioning to that purpose today – 25 elderly men live there at a time, and have official obligations such as going to church weekly, praying every day in the chapel, and wearing red or black robes. This place was really beautiful and quiet, and we especially enjoyed the gardens and partaking in the ancient tradition of the Wayfarers Dole, a small cup of ale and piece of bread for any passing traveller that asks.
The Great Hall – the only remains of Winchester Castle, the Great Hall is famous for holding King Arthur’s Round Table (not the real one, but one that Henry VIII had painted to represent the round table and coincidently painted his own face onto King Arthur).
We had a hilarious evening with Elena after Winchester. So, Elena stopped napping (sadly) just after she turned two. We found that if she had a sleep, she would struggle to get to sleep at night. Now that she is older, if she falls asleep for even ten minutes in the car, that means about an hour of sleep struggles later. So when we were walking around Winchester, Pete was carrying her in a carrier on his back, and she fell asleep. We always struggle with this, because we feel really mean waking her up, even though we know that it will be better for her, and us later if we do. This time we reasoned that we had had a big day and we’d let her sleep for a little bit. So she had about a 30 minute nap (on Pete’s back, head lolling back – it was pretty cute). That night, I sat by her bed for an hour. No sleep. I moved her to our bed. No sleep. I did the normal threats – if you hop out of bed, your toys are in time out, your books are in time out, no Paw Patrol tomorrow, etc. No sleep. Pete and I were sitting downstairs just hearing her thump around up there. We thought, she’ll tire herself out eventually. Just before ten, we headed up to bed. There was Elena, lights on, jumping and somersaulting all over the place. And there, on the bed next to her, was a blister pack of contraceptive pills, with the little foil backings scattered all over the bed and floor… and no pills to be seen. We interrogated Elena, and she informed us they were lost, where were they? Hiding? Eventually we came to the conclusion that they must be hiding in her tummy. Elena agreed. Did they taste nice? Oh yes mummy. A bit salty and chunchy mummy (??). At this point I was mildly alarmed – she must have had about 15 of the things. So the next half hour was spent on the phone to emergency/poison control working out if she was going to be okay. It was a pretty funny conversation – is she unconscious? Nope, she’s doing roly polys. Is she pale or withdrawn? Definitely not. The whole time Elena was flipping about and jumping on the bed, saying “watch that trick” (her latest catchphrase) and just being horribly hyper at 10:30 at night. She eventually fell asleep at about 11 pinned down under my arm so she couldn’t move. Needless to say, she was pretty tired the next day and we are more resolved than ever to never let her sleep during the day!
Phew! After so much history, how could we fit any more in? Don’t worry, we finished off our stay in Alton with one more key attraction on Saturday- Jane Austen’s house in Chawton. Again, it was just me and Elena, as Pete decided sacrificially that he would sit this one out. I really enjoyed this one, the museum had a great array of the Austen’s old possessions and it was pretty cool imagining how one of my favourite authors lived. The house also had quite a few activities to keep Elena entertained – she got to make a little lavender bag to bring home, and write with a real feather quill.
We had a lovely time staying in Alton, but are happy to be moving on now – four weeks is a long time in one place when there is so much more to see! We are currently in Cornwall by the sea, but we’ll tell you more about that later. Until next time!