February 3, 2008

We got up early on Sunday morning to get ready for a long day tour we had planned. We walked a few blocks to Victoria Bus Depot and caught our bus for the day. Our tour guide was an interesting old Irishman who cracked jokes every few minutes. He was very entertaining and knowledgeable about the places we were to visit that day. He only had one request and that was to be in your seat on the bus on time. Not walking around, not making your way to your seat, but sitting in your seat at the exact time. He was such a nice old fellow that I think everyone on the bus was worried about being late and having him scold us for it.

The first stop of the day was Windsor Castle, one of the Royal Family’s residences and the oldest permanently inhabited castle in all of Europe. Much of the castle was closed to visitors but the places that were open were quite extraordinary. The State Apartments, as they are called, were on display with works of art from all over Europe, including originals from Rembrandt, Van Eyk and Vermeer. Apparently there was a devastating fire in the castle about 15 years ago but much of the damage had been repaired and it was not noticeable at all. We spent about 2 hours in Windsor and, after a quick bite to eat, hurried back to the bus to get to our seats on time.

View my pictures from Windsor Castle

The next stop was the one I had been looking forward to since we found out we were going to be in London. Stonehenge. I’ve always been fascinated by Stonehenge and also Avebury ever since I first read about them many years ago. The tour guide mentioned something interesting about Stonehenge that I thought was funny. He said that every theory you’ve ever heard about Stonehenge, from alien landing site to ley lines and energy centers to sun/moon worship, is just as valid as any other theory since there is still no definitive answer of why it exists. The only things that are absolutely certain are that it dates back about 5000 years and that it must have been an important site to the people who took so much time and effort to build it. I like that answer. It must have been important to those who made it.

The Stonehenge site sits out in the middle of a wide open area. Besides the small airport and a couple of hotels a few miles away, there’s not much around. As you drive up the hill and see the stones for the first time it’s not very impressive but as you get out and walk around, the impression quickly changes and it is quite something to behold in person. Because of its location, Stonehenge gets a lot of wind, there’s nothing around to shield it. Unfortunately, on the day we went the temperature was very low and with the wind chill, it was miserable out on the path around the stones. I can’t remember the last time I was that cold. I only made one pass around the path and I was done. I couldn’t feel my hands, they were so cold I couldn’t make a fist or use my camera. Luckily I stopped in the gift shop to pick up some souvenirs and I bought a pair of fleece gloves. I decided to make one more pass now that I had some gloves to warm my hands and what a difference it made! I stayed out for another 30 mins or so and snapped quite a few pictures of the stones and the surrounding burial mounds. It was an amazing experience and I’m so glad I was able to get a chance to see this huge monument for myself. Visiting Stonehenge is one of those things on my list of things I’ve always wanted to do but have never done. Once again I thought of all the people who had been through this area and seen these huge stones in the last few thousand years and I felt quite small and unimportant. After a few more pictures, we scrambled back to the bus and made it with just seconds to spare.

View my pictures from Stonehenge

It was getting close to lunch time by now and the tour had made arrangements to stop for lunch at a local pub in a small town I think was called West Tisbury. It was a typical looking pub I would have expected to see in any small town in England. Since we had a small meal in Windsor a few hours earlier, we decided not to eat and instead sat in the pub to watch the Newcastle/Middlesboro game and have a pint. There I was, watching a Premier League football match in England while sitting in a pub and having a pint. I guess that means another thing to cross off the list!

We talked to the young bartender for a few minutes and found out he comes to California every year to visit friends and relatives. It’s funny what a small world it really is, even when you’re 5000 miles from where you started! After a couple of pints and a Michael Owen goal for Newcastle, we were off to the last destination of the day.

The tour guide talked quite a bit about our next stop on the tour, Bath. The Roman baths in the town of Bath have been around for over 1500 years and once again it was humbling to see the handiwork of craftsmen who worked on these sites thousands of years ago. The waters in the baths are reportedly quite therapeutic but it was off limits, for the most part, to the visitors. We were able to take plenty of pictures in the fading daylight. The town of Bath has one of the last bridges in the UK which has occupied buildings on it. We walked around the River Avon and got some pictures of some of the sites around town including the rugby pitch and a small maze. Bath is also home to a couple of my favorite bands, Citizen Fish & Subhumans. It would have really made this trip to have seen them play in their hometown but it looks like I’ll have to save that for next time!

The real gem in Bath has to be Bath Abbey. This is a beautiful church with some of the most interesting architecture I had seen so far. The light was fading and I was unable to really get a close-up view of the carved angels climbing up stone ladders on the outside walls. It really was a remarkable place. Since it was Sunday and regular services were performed, we were unable to get inside to take a look. I would highly recommend a trip to Bath to see this building and the Roman baths, it is quite a sight.

View my pictures from Bath

It was a 2 ½ hour trip back to London and I think we were all able to catch a little nap on the way. It was dark by now so there was not much to look at anyway. When we made it back to our hotel, we were pretty exhausted from the last couple of days and we rested for a while before trying to find someplace to watch the Super Bowl. We called around to a few places and even checked with a few pubs in the area around our hotel but we couldn’t find any place to watch the game. We finally decided we would just watch the game in our hotel but the guy working in the lobby told us the hotel didn’t get the right channel to watch the Super Bowl. We were finally prepared to miss the game so we did the next best thing, we had a few pizzas delivered. It took a while to find somewhere that would deliver but 45 mins later we had our pizzas, delivered by scooter no less.

While we were finishing off the dinner we ordered, we got a call from the front desk of the hotel. The game was being broadcast on BBC2 and we get that channel in our room. We finally found a place to watch the game and settled in for the kickoff, at nearly midnight! By the end of the first half, we were all dead tired and started to doze off. I woke up right at the end of the game, just in time to see the Giants win and find out that I won our work football pool with the final score!