Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath
Last week I had a tough time finding the time to actually write a decent blog, so now I'm playing catch up! Here is an update of the weekend of Feb. 20th.
After quite a few failed attempts to get a trip to Wales together, Clay, Chelsea, Molly and I decided we wanted to go on a day tour. We chose to visit Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath--all places Chelsea had already been, so she decided not to go. Molly wanted to save money so she stayed at Harlaxton as well. I spent most of Friday in the library working on papers (ick) and that evening Clay and I caught the 5:10 shuttle into Grantham. We hit up Morrison's (a kind of Kroger) and made ourselves a little dinner out of chicken, bread and juice for less than 4 pounds. We ate at the train station and caught our train to King's Cross with no problems. Somehow we ended up on the "Quiet Coach" of the train, meaning virtually no talking was allowed, so we just listened to my iPod all the way there.
Once we arrived, I of course reveled in the fact that Harry Potter himself left for school at King's Cross, London and began to search immediately for Platform 9 and three-quarters. The whole station was under construction so they had temporarily moved the wall. I asked a lady who worked there about it by starting with, "I have the most touristy question ever..." She didn't even bother to ask what I wanted and just dove straight into the directions. Finally we located the shopping cart that goes halfway into the wall, along with a sign and took the necessary pictures. That was something I definitely wanted to see while here!
Clay and I decided before the trip that we were going to walk everywhere to save money on transportation. We got our first dose of walking that night when we traipsed over four miles across London to get to our hostel, West Two Hostel. It was a long walk but enjoyable nonetheless. The best part of the walk was when I found myself in a situation that I'm not unfamiliar with, and that is tripping over/running into things. We were walking down the street with no troubles when out of nowhere I tripped over who knows what, and I went soaring through the air as though a 300 pound linebacker had pushed me as hard as he could. My camera flew out of my pocket and I was so jostled, but I immediately started laughing at how extreme I must have looked. It was hilarious. Finally we made it to our hostel where we made some tea and took it easy. We talked with our roommates (a girl from France studying in Brighton, and her brother) who were very nice and hit the hay early. We had all our clothes and necessities laid out and ready for the next morning because we had to wake up quite early.
My alarm went off at 5:50 and I was not too pleased about this, but I was excited about the day ahead so I managed to get out of bed. We showered and got ready and packed our things up to head out. We walked about three miles to Victoria Station, but we got to walk through Hyde Park (where Round Pond and the Serpentine are located), and it was very pretty early in the morning with fog and dew still around. We bought pastries at a cafe along the way, then made our way to Victoria Bus Station. While eating my croissant, I noticed a little machine that offered 20 business cards for 2 pounds. For some reason I thought it would be awesome to make business cards, so we made little cards with lions on them that say: "Harlaxton Hooligans: Leaving a trail of destruction across Europe; Harlax10." Perfect!
Our bus arrived at 8:30 and we loaded up, listening to the antics of our hilariously awesome tour guide. She had a very soothing voice and had all the best stories--not to mention an awesome English accent! We headed out of London toward Windsor, which was a relatively short drive. The castle was beautiful! It was built on a hill (as most defensive castles were) and the landscaping around the place was gorgeous. We got to check out a bridge built by Elizabeth I and then we headed inside. One of the neatest things we saw was Victoria's Dollhouse, which was just a miniature replica of a royal house including furniture and decorations, down to forks and knives and paintings on the wall. It was so neat! The next exhibit we checked out had REAL sketches drawn by the hand of Leonardo da Vinci...it was so freaking cool to see the actual marks he made with his pencil! And luckily for me, there was a lot of information about Henry VIII portraits and preliminary sketches of royalty by Hans Holbein.
We used the tour headsets and walked around the place, seeing all the different chambers for the king and queen. We got to see original artwork which was super neat. I love that kind of stuff so I was happy as could be. After touring the castle inside, I checked my phone and it was about 11:10. We had to be back on our coach by 11:45 and I still wanted to see Henry VIII's grave, so I told Clay we ought to go ahead and leave so we would have time to grab lunch. So we hurried to the chapel where there were 23,498,723 (at least) Spanish students going through the place so it was difficult to walk through at any decent pace. We were trying to peek into all the rooms and see where he was buried and by then I was getting a little worried about time. After dodging through all the students, we finally came upon a black marble slab in the floor stating that Henry's remains (along with Jane Seymour, his favorite wife, King Charles I, and an infant child of Queen Anne) were deposited underneath. Very anticlimactic. It was something I wanted to see nonetheless, so I took my picture and we skedaddled.
Once we were back outside, we had trouble finding the proper exit because that Changing of the Guards was going on, blocking half the exits. We tried to leave one way before a lady redirected us to the right exit. At this point, I knew there was no way we had time to get lunch. We made it back onto the street and I, using my dangerously accurate sense of direction (not), tried to get us back to the coach park. By this time, we were running. Flat out running through the streets of Windsor, a town we knew nothing about, searching for a coach that was going to leave us in a matter of minutes, which would have been a pretty huge damper on the day. I didn't recognize anything around us anymore, so we ran to the train station and got ill-advised directions from a man at a bagel shop, tried to ask the turban man working the ticket station for directions, but to no avail--so we took off again. I was freaking out, absolutely sure we had missed our coach. We sprinted up to the window of a cab and frantically asked where the coach park was. After a few seconds of delay, the cab driver told us to hop in the back and he would take us there. I felt like we were in that steaming hot cab for an hour. We hung our heads out the window and I was literally on the verge of tears because I thought everything had gone wrong. We sat in traffic for at least 35 years until we turned the corner into the coach park and I held my breath, waiting to see our Evan Evan tour bus--which, praise God, was still sitting there. Our tour guide laughed out loud when we pulled up and remarked that no one had ever gotten that lost before. But, whew! Five pounds for the cab was totally worth it. So while everyone else on the bus enjoyed their deli sandwiches, Clay and I were sweating and starving all the way to Stonehenge.
The ride to Stonehenge took about an hour and it was so odd because one minute we were driving through English countryside, and the next I looked out my window and I was looking at Stonehenge. We just pulled up right next to it! It was so strange to see such a famous image right before my eyes. The area around the stones was roped in so we couldn't get close enough to touch, but it wasn't a far distance away. We got some awesome pictures and walked all the way around the structure. It was kind of difficult to take it in while we were there. When I look at the pictures, I feel so amazed that I was standing so close to it and looking at it. I'm so glad I got to see it! Clay and I were so hungry so we got some toasted tuna sandwiches and enjoyed those which were delicious.
We hopped back on our coach and drove a little over an hour to the city of Bath, which was a really neat area. It wasn't big and crowded and it had a nice, welcoming feel to it. We went through the Roman Baths Museum, which has the best preserved ancient baths and temple complex in norther Europe. It was a sight to see! It's really just what it sounds like--a huge square pool of water where the Romans bathed when they lived in England. The structure around it is a temple, and the parts that were preserved were so neat to see. We made our way through the museum, learning about the Goddess Minvera who was basically the bomb.com to the Romans, and all the rituals they performed. We hung out around the actual bath area (and even touched the water! shh) and took a few pictures.
Our attentions were then stolen by a Ben & Jerry's across the way from the museum, so I got a delicious double chocolate chip scoop in a waffle cone...heavenly. We saw a man setting up a show for tips in the street, so we hung around to watch his talents of juggling torches that were on fire, riding unicycles with children on his shoulders, and riding the tallest unicycle I've ever seen (Clay was his assistant in this task!) while juggling flaming torches. It was intense and the guy was so funny! We returned to our coach in plenty of time and got to see the beautiful countryside of Bath (which inspired Jane Austen's novels when she lived there!) and enjoyed the scenery on our ride back to London.
We returned about three hours later and made our shortest walk of the trip to our hostel near Victoria Bus Station, and checked in to find that we were put in the "Weeklys" room, where people stay for longer periods of time. It was kind of weird because they had way more stuff than we did and we were only staying for a night. So we decided to get out of there and have a good meal, which we kind of found at an Italian restaurant a bit of a walk away. It was pretty good and filling. We turned in early after the day of traveling and woke up super early to get ready and head out again. We grabbed a breakfast of toast and cereal in the kitchen and left at about 8:30.
We had a walk that was more than four miles this time, but we got to see parts of London we'd never been to before which was neat. We saw Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the Banquet House for the second time this semester. This is where another epic fail of my life occurred, right outside the Banquet House, the same place where Charles I met his fate. I was excitedly looking for the Banquet House because it was dark when we saw it in London the first time. Once I found the sign proclaiming it to be said building, I twirled around, whipping out my camera--and then I got hit by a car. Or so I thought. This man who had clearly eaten a plane engine for breakfast was FLYING down the street, absolutely sprinting, and apparently when I turned around he didn't have enough time to stop and he ran smack into me. I screamed like a crazy person because I honestly had no idea what would have hit me that hard. The man was in such a rush he said hurriedly apologized and kept running. But of course after I realized I was safe, I thought it was hilarious. I think that describes my life pretty well.
We returned to King's Cross once more and took the train back to Grantham (during which time I made a Jewish boyfriend) where we found that our friend Eileen was going back to Harlaxton from the train station too. We had planned to walk back to the school, but it was snowing in Grantham and we decided splitting the cab three ways wouldn't be too bad. So we returned safely and did all the things we set out to do!
I'll have my Amsterdam blog up as soon as possible! :)