WETMINSTER, STONE HENGE AND BATH
Wow. Today was an exciting, fun-filled, looooong day. I think that this e-mail will be a £2 e-mail (meaning taking an hour of Internet time rather than the half-hour it usually takes). The morning started at the early hour of 6:40 since we had to be in the lobby by 7:25 waiting for the bus (thankfully it came to pick us up instead of us having to get to Victoria Station). Since we had to leave so early, we made the regrettable decision to eat breakfast in the hotel’s banquet room. £10 got us cereal, toast, and the worst coffee either of us had ever tasted. There was a section for hot food but none of it looked in the least bit edible. Great start to the day. Will volunteered to get us OJ from the Shell station located right in front of where the tour bus had parked (since it couldn’t fit on our street — remind me to go on about the abundance of large buses on the streets on London and how utterly absurd this looks when we get home). This excursion almost resulted in the bus leaving him. The day just kept looking up.
Then we looked out of the bus and realized that we had the PERFECT day to tour the English countryside. It was sunny but cool, clear blue skies, with a brisk breeze to remind us we were, in fact, in England. We then ventured to Westminster where the Queen and royal family were still in residence after the wedding of one of the Queen’s grandsons yesterday. A few people on our bus even saw the Queen! The tour guide, who had been going to Westminster for 15 years on this tour, was quite jealous as he hadn’t seen the Queen on a Westminster trip before. Westminster is, in a word, amazing. There is no other word. It is the oldest palace in Western Europe still in use! It’s grand, elaborate, and quite unlike Versailles but majestic in its own way. The inside is incredible; especially considering it’s still in use. The only place inside we had access to was the state apartments that are used for visiting dignitaries. This part is very like Versailles in that it is a museum. My favorite room was the china room that had amazing sets of china on display from monarchs past. I think it’s safe to say that Will’s favorite room was the weapon room that had designs constructed from literally hundreds of swords and pistols on the walls. We couldn’t get pictures of these as photography is prohibited inside. Sadly we could also not get in to St. George’s Cathedral because it is also used for Sunday services.
The town surrounding Westminster is incredibly quaint. Will and I stopped and got decent coffee at a chain called Eat and sat and marveled at all that was around us. We were excited that we got to see some of the Palace Guards and got some good pictures of them (even I couldn’t stoop to doing the “tourist” thing and posing with one).
Then it was off to Stonehenge. On the way to Stonehenge, we had one last brush with royalty as we drove past the Ascot horse racing track. Did you know Ascot was also a town? I didn’t. Stonehenge was breathtaking. Will, sadly, was unable to enjoy it fully as I accidentally disappeared on him and gave him a panic attack. I didn’t mean to do this but I had to run off the bus to use the ladies’ room and then got lost looking for the entrance, ended up across the street on the wrong side of the fence, and spent another 5 minutes trying to figure out how to actually get into the site. I had told Will to go on without me, but he missed this part and spent 10 minutes waiting for me and then ran around the rocks twice looking for me.
I don’t know how I missed him as he was wearing his orange and burgundy sweater with a lime green t-shirt underneath, but it happened. But he did get a t-shirt and shot glass as well as a picture of himself in front of the rocks. It’s amazing how large they actually are! I’ve heard people say that Stonehenge is a disappointing experience because they expected it to be bigger but I completely disagree. Those stones are huge! And thinking about how people, without the use of the wheel, got them there is enough to make you go crazy. Our tour guide also shared a mind-blowing fact. We are closer in history to the Romans who discovered Stonehenge than they were to the people who built it. Crazy!
We were only allowed to spend 45 minutes at Stonehenge in order to stay on schedule (later we felt lucky about this when we met someone on another Premiere Tours bus who only got to spend 30 minutes there). We were both sorely disappointed by this. Back on the bus we went and headed off to Lacock for lunch.
Lacock was cool. If we thought Westminster was quaint, Westminster had nothing on Lacock. Lacock has been used for filming the Harry Potter movies, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and an Anthony Hopkins thriller to be released later this year. And those aren’t even scratching the surface of the full body of work in which this town has been used! We had lunch at a pub called the George Inn which was founded in 1361. It is not the oldest pub in England but it is the one with the oldest liquor license. The food was great and you couldn’t ask for a more picturesque or historic setting. We didn’t eat in the oldest part of the pub. The part where we ate was originally a the carpenter’s shop where the first camera to take a picture using a negative (you’ll have to ask Will about the terminology for this as I’m uncertain of the exact term) was constructed.
We also got to wander around the town for a few minutes while the pub prepared for us (because preparing for a group of 30 is no small feat). At lunch, we met a really interesting guy named Mark who is also staying at our hotel. He’s from California and is travelling around Europe for 2 weeks by himself. He’s already been to Italy and is headed to Amsterdam next week. After lunch in Lacock, we headed to our final destination. Bath.
I know I’m going to sound like a broken record here but Bath is amazing. I really need to find a thesaurus before I write these but it’s true: Bath is amazing. We started at Northanger Abbey and had an hour to tour the town before we could go into the actual Roman baths. Will and I wandered and found yet another bathroom (we drank a lot of water) and took some great pictures of the abbey and found ourselves back in the square. We ended up talking to another guy by the name of Matt from the other Premiere Tours bus. Turns out he and Will have almost the exact same taste in books and comics and he and his friend Judy are headed to Scotland on Tuesday as well! I gave him my e-mail address (nothing with which he could steal my identity) and we may meet up with them in Edinburgh. Anyways, back to the sights.
By the time we finished talking to Matt and Judy it was time to enter the baths. We were met by a Centaurian. Yes. They pay people to dress up and pretend to be Roman soldiers complete with referring to our group as the “tribe of Premium.” I, luckily, remembered that I have video capability on my camera so I can show you how awesome this reinactor was. The baths were constructed as a temple to the Roman goddess Minerva and there are some amazing carvings in the museum dedicated to the baths. Luckily, photography was allowed in here so I can show as much as I can to you.
Again, we were cut short due to time constraints so neither Will nor I got through the whole audio tour. I would guess we didn’t even make it through half before we were called out to the Great Bath for another show by the Centaurian. It was worth it because I don’t know if they do that for groups of 3 or 4 but it would have been nice to see the baths at our own pace. We also got the skinny on how Romans actually took baths. It sounds painful. They first go through 3 rooms (the hot room, the warm room, and the cold room) to open and close their pores to squeeze all the nastiness out. Then they sit in a sauna as a slave scrapes all that has been secreted off of them before exiting to the Great Bath to swim and have fun. Apparently, according to our guide, the scrapings of particularly wealthy, famous, or powerful Romans was sold and people bought it believing they would absorb some of that person’s “power” if they applied that to their body. Really glad people don’t believe that anymore.
At 5:45 on the dot we were back on the bus headed to London. I caught a nice little nap and finished my book on the ride back. Will and I decided to forgo a real dinner tonight as we are both not at all hungry because lunch was huuuuge. Tomorrow we are doing all of the museums and downtown London so we are both really excited about that. It will probably be another early day so we can get it all in!
Love from us both,