I’m not usually one to take the tours that make you stand out as the ultimate tourist, because half the fun of traveling is to fit into the local lifestyle, right? This weekend, I gave into the tourist desires and took off on a day trip to Windsor Castle, the city of Bath and Stonehenge. At 7:30 AM, I met up with four other study abroad students from the US and we started our walk over to Charing Cross where we would catch the tour. After some troubles with getting our ticket, we were scurrying across the Hungerford Bridge and praying we would be able to snag a coffee somewhere along the line, because it was just too dang early for the speed we were going.
With a hot coffee in hand, our tour started towards Windsor Castle and the famous private school, Eton. It was a thirty minute ride and our overwhelmingly enthusiastic tour guide, Graham, filled the time with fun facts about the area. Did you know that 93% of the current Parliament attended Eton? And the reason the Union Jack flies at all times on the castles is due to the day Princess Diana died? It used to be that the royal flag was only flown when the Queen was in residence, so there was no flag to fly at half mast when the public heard the news. Now the Union Jack flies constantly, in case there is ever another tragedy.
We didn’t buy admission to the actual castle, so Hannah, Rebecca, Elena, Westley & I found ourselves in a pub at 11 AM with mimosas as the rain came down. Around noon, we had to make our way back to the bus through the torrential downpour for the next leg of the tour. Due to the storm, Graham decided to change our route so that we would see Stonehenge with clear skies – off to the city of Bath we went! It was a two hour journey west and the most beautiful scenery of the English countryside passed by. As we came into the Cotswolds region, I was astounded by the views – I don’t think it gets much better than the countryside. I can imagine moving to this area with a small house outside of the city and a running a little bakery in the town – whoops, sorry for the daydream.
In Bath, we first went to the Roman Baths which were built upon a old hot spring that had healing qualities (it cured an Irish prince of leprosy but I was trying to avoid thinking about that… because EW). The main pool was green from the minerals, but it was so interesting seeing the steam rolling along the top. A quick walk through was enough for us, so we went exploring into the city streets. Bath is a very small town, but it has a great combination of modern stores and the quaint countryside shops you would expect. The Bath Abbey was hauntingly beautiful. The moment I walked in, I was awestruck by the vaulted ceiling with a canopy design. Churches hold so much history – there were headstones along the walls that told of the many people buried around the Abbey dating all the way back to the 1600s.
As we approached the Salisbury Plain, we saw the Westbury White Horse – during the Dark Ages, ancient people dug into the soil to create a picture of a horse and due to the chalky ground, it is visible from miles away (google it and you’ll be amazed). It is now maintained by the English Heritage Council. Finally, we made it to the Stonehenge visitors center, where we boarded another bus that would take us up the actual historical landmark.
Walking up to 5000 years of history is not something I do on the daily basis, obviously, so as we approached Stonehenge I tried to think of all the things these rocks had seen. It is not exactly clear why the actual Stonehenge was built, however with the new technology they have found that the rocks came from up to 130 miles away around 4000 years ago. The Roman philosopher Tacitus was the first to document this strange landmark as a temple to the sun. Modern historians now believe it was constructed as a temple to the moon during the time when the United Kingdom was connected to Scandinavia by glaciers.
After an 11 hour day, I was back in my tiny dorm exhausted from a day of traveling and was beginning to feel the cold that I’ve been sleeping off this week. This day trip was so worth the embarrassment of being a true tourist because of how much we accomplished in the short time we were out. In the words of our tour guide, it was a “lovely jubbly diddly die tip top pop” day!