Thursday, November 5, 2015

Day 84: Henges and Cathedrals

The kids check out the telephone booth while we wait.
Venice says it smells like a urinal.
OMG, it stinks to have to get up so early (just after 6am). We drag ourselves out of bed and nibble on some of the food we brought home from the airport last night. Then, we walk to the British Museum (about an 8 minute walk) to meet the van that will take us on our day-long tour today.

There is a long line at the entrance of the museum and we're not sure why. We booked our tour with a company that doesn't go on big coach-buses. This touring company does smaller groups for tours, so we think this line can't be for our tour. But the museum doesn't open until 9 or 10 am (the café opens at 9am and the museum at 10am) and it's 7:20am, why such a long line? Chris investigates across the street and our van is there. Phew. We are in a small group.

Sleeping in the van.
So far, we are all Americans on the tour. After a few other pick-ups, it's 14 Americans and 2 Australians. One guy says his work takes him between New York and SF, but he lives in Africa and is now here, in the UK to have his 4th baby. He sounds very self-important when he says HE just had HIS 4th baby. I'm thinking his wife is really the hero here. And, by the way, what's happening here? Your wife is home with three kids and a newborn while you are on this tour? Not winning points with me, my friend. Side note, when our tour guide talks about the French and their lack of deodorant (yes, he often says inappropriate things that you might laugh at anyway), I smell someone in the van who might take offence. At first, I thought it was the Texans, but I'm thinking it's this self-important dude.

Anyway, our tour guide likes to talk a lot and adds his own opinion (not so veiled) and jokes. I have to imagine, someone with this kind of personality must be called to a job like this. In the end, however, we learn a lot of history from him, about London, neighbourhoods, Saxons, Celts, Normans, and more (like the fact that he really wants Will and Kate to be King and Queen, skipping over Charles and Camilla OR that the cyclists who ride around town are called mammals... or MAMLs - middle aged men in lycra... ok, I laughed at that one).

He also claims that once we get out of London and onto the straight roads, people will sleep and he keeps a lot more quiet... he wasn't wrong. Next thing I know, I'm waking up from my own cat nap to see everyone else in the van is conked out. It could be because we all got up early, but I'm also convinced it is strategic on our guide's part. He ran the air (which he claims is either off or on, no in between) while we were driving through the city traffic, keeping us alert. But once we were on the freeway, he cut the air and it became very warm in the van... inducing us to sleep? You be the judge.

We finally make it to our first destination, Old Sarum, around 10am. It's drizzly, but not too bad. We get out and walk around a bit looking at the old ruins and footprints of the old castle and cathedral. I think Xander's favourite part was the Royal Potty... it was a HUGE area.... he wondered how long it would take to fill it... I don't think answer that was on the information plaque.

After looking around for a while, we all filed back into the van. Next on the list is Salisbury Cathedral, which is only 1.5 miles from here. According to our guide, England uses miles (instead of kilometers) because it was the old Roman method as well as it pissed off France. I've been wondering why they didn't use km, and now, if I choose to believe, I know!

I have heard that both Chris and Venice loved Old Sarum. I did too, but I think the surprise for me is how much I loved the Salisbury Cathedral. I'm not usually a big fan of churches and their opulence or history. I often feel uncomfortable in churches. But from the instance I walked into this cathedral, I was enamoured and in awe.

The light inside is beautiful. There are so many places to sit and pray, or hear a sermon, or have a private moment. Each corner seemed to have its own feel, all the while, complimenting the essence of the cathedral overall. I can only imagine what the choir must sound like in here, but I imagine it to be otherworldly.

The World's Oldest Working Clock (left), The Choir (middle), One of the organs (right)

After we had our fill of looking around the cathedral (really, I didn't get enough time in there, but we were hungry and needed to get food at the cafeteria before leaving), we headed to find lunch.

My biggest regret about this stop is that we did not get to see one of the original copies of the Magna Carta (there are four original copies). We didn't see it in the cathedral. We knew it was there, but didn't see it. On our way back to the bus (and in a hurry) after hitting the restrooms, we see a sign with an arrow pointing to a room down at the end of an open hall (not in the cathedral). There is a bit of a line, so we can't even run to catch a glimpse. It was too late at this point. So... we missed out. Bummer.

But, I took tons and tons and tons of photos inside the cathedral. So, I will revel in these as they remind me of my experience inside.

I returned to the van a pretty happy camper. I think if the tour ended here, I would have been very happy. As it is, we are not done, we are headed to Stonehenge.

It has begun to sprinkle again. So, when we arrive at the visitor centre at Stonehenge, we receive audio guides inside plastic made to keep them dry. After getting our tickets and making a pit stop, we head to a bus that will take us "To The Stones" which is 2 miles away from the visitor centre (an attempt to control the masses who make it here every year to see The Stones).

Visitor Center, Bus (top)
Ticket area, Visitor Center (bottom)

Once we're off the bus, we walk towards the stones, which we can now see in the distance. It's a bit surreal to see them in person. Some of us had built up ideas in our heads of how big they would be. How tall or how wide the diameter.

We all knew we couldn't get up close to them. I have to say, photographically speaking, I'm glad about this rule. If we were all allowed to walk among the stones, I'd have several people in my photos. As it is roped off, I was able to get some photos without a ton of strangers in them.

I will admit that I didn't listen to the audio tour all the way through. I think I listened to 2, 7, and 8 (out of total of 8). A lot of the information either we knew in advance, or our guide had informed us on the drive here. But, I know there is information I missed out on knowing. Maybe it's because of the rain and not wanting a cold hand holding the audio guide or maybe it's because it's a mystery of a place and it's more mysterious if I just experience for myself or laziness. In any case, this is why I needed Xander to remind me what the Aubrey Holes are/were (thought to be graves), thank goodness someone listened to the tour!

After taking in the stones, we head back to the visitor centre to check out their gift store. Here is where I make my second mistake of the day (the first being missing the Magna Carta). I really wanted a strategy game they had for sale in the shape of Stonehenge. It had little rocks that you place to create a henge... I don't know anymore, as I didn't want to carry it around while we shopped and in the end, when we were in a hurry to get through the line, I forgot to pick it back up. Dang it. I've joked that I will try to find it on Amazon, but Xander said it wouldn't be authentic (even though according to our guide, it's all made in China anyway).

So, sad to be without my game, but ladened with other items, we head back to the van. It is now time for our last stop on our tour, Averbury henge. I can't tell you too much about this henge, because I fell asleep on the way there (it was a 45 min drive from Stonehenge). I do know we parked in the middle of the henge. I know we were able to walk around and touch as much as we wanted. But other than that, I really don't know much. Dang cat nap... it's off to Wikipedia for me.

What we all know, however, is that we are really in storm now. It's no longer and off-again, on-again drizzle. It's a full downpour with wind. Before even crossing the radius to the stones, Xander's pants are soaked through. Our shoes are sopping. Some coats are failing. I am super grateful I had to buy a new coat. It's nice and cozy and I'm pretty happy in it. My jeans are another story (denim is awful when it's wet).

Venice found a hole (left), Venice's photo of me (right)

Chris took Xander out of the wet field almost immediately. Venice and I stuck it out for a few more minutes before throwing in the towel. We all met up at the local pub (which I'm guessing is benefiting greatly from this storm!) Kids aren't allowed in the bar area, so we pick seats in another room. Good thing we were sent this way, we were able to sit at the coolest bar table ever, a glass table over an 86 ft well! Pretty cool.

This is same room where the Texans chose to sit, so we got a chance to chat and get to know them. We found out that they take a week's vacation this time every year (leaving their kids with grandma). This year, it's London. Sounds awesome!

Before long, it's time for our long drive home. It should only take 2 hours, but our driver has put some fear into us saying the last time it rained, it took him 4 hours to get back. And if anyone thinks you'd rather rent your own car and drive (that's cool), I have to say, for me, it was nice to be driven around. I took my third nap on the drive home! Worth the trade off of having to be on "someone else's schedule".

Side note: We did get to see a few (maybe 3-4) fireworks off in the distance as we got closer to the city. It reminded me that today is the 5th of November (Guy Fawkes Night) which reminds me of "V is for Vendetta", which taught me part of an English Folk Verse:

"Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!"

We did just re-watch this movie, but I think we could watch it again... but I'm off topic...

This is also the time in our tour when we discover we will not be dropped off where we were picked up (remember, an 8 min walk from our hotel). No, we will be dropped off somewhere near a Tube station. What?

Side note: We have yet to make it to an ATM machine. So we have no local currency. No English pounds. Only Euros and credit cards. So, not only are we going to have trouble tipping our tour guide (we ended up giving him U.S. dollars... tacky?) but we are going to have to figure out the Tube and hopefully their machines take credit cards. 

Anyway, I'm now nervous. It was not in my plan for us to find our way home in the dark. I didn't think we'd take the Tube today... I am not mentally prepared. But, we have no choice. Thank goodness the Texans are nice and give us some directions and a few riding tips.

We get off the tour van at the South Kensington Station. We enter (and the Texans were right, everything is well marked) the station. And there is a queue to buy tickets (I read that there is a queue almost everywhere you go in London). Anyway, it takes a few tries, but Chris figures it out and buys us 4 tickets (more on the Oyster card later) and we head to the platform.

As we get to our platform, it becomes obvious that there are a lot of people. Unlike the platforms in Berlin, that are two sided (same train lines on either side, just going in opposite directions), the platforms here are single directional and only allows for space for maybe 3 people deep before getting to the "danger line" close to the tracks. It's a bit claustrophobic feeling. I'm worried someone is going to accidentally get pushed onto the tracks.

We look to the board to see when our train will arrive. There are two of them coming, just minutes apart. Good thing, too, the first one arrived and it was packed to the gills. People were sardines as the doors opened. Someone on the platform asked if anyone was getting off, no one said anything. After a few attempts to close the doors, the train left, with no one getting off or on. So, we waited for the next train. This one was crowded too, but not overly full. We go for it, but I have to say, there is a small part of me worried that the kids, whom we're pushing on in front of us, will get on and we won't). Must be aggressive.

Phew, we all get on. Now we are the sardines and when we get to the next station, no one gets off, so no one gets on. After that stop, a few did get off and by the time we reach our destination, we're all breathing a little easier with a little more space. Even at the busiest times, the Bahns were never this crowded. Sure, we squished a lot, but not like this. Oh, boy.

A few of us were a bit stressed out by that experience. Time for food, perhaps dinner will make us feel better. Good thing there is a good looking burger joint right across from our Tube stop. We eat at Byron's (a VERY popular name for anything... restaurant, bank, hotel, street, etc.)

And will full tummies, we are ready to head back to our hotel for some real sleep, but not before noticing a Krispy Kreme store... we're plotting to come back to that!

For now, sweet dreams.

1 comment:

  1. Stonehenge! Just the name conjures mystery, the past, astronomy, mystery, questions, more mystery. Love it. Glad you went and got it soaked into you!