College Student and I are SO not prepackaged bus tour people! I knew this all along…and the only reason we booked the tour we took today was because, as we’ve already established, I’m not willing to drive to Stonehenge! (Besides the traffic, the figuring out how to get there, the getting used to driving on the opposite side of the car AND the opposite side of the road from what I’m used to…I don’t know how to read the signs in Britain!) So…we booked the tour. And it was about as bad as we expected it to be. These things are truly aimed at the lowest common denominator tourist! (Though our tour guide made us both smile right at the start of the tour…he had his things on the one front seat…another couple took the other front seat and College Student and I took the seat behind them. Well, the tour was so full (they had 4 buses!) that the tour guide ended up giving up those front seats. And when the couple in front of us heard that, they said, “can we have those seats?” The tour guide looked at them and said deadpan, “but you’ve already got THOSE seats.” (Maybe it was funnier if you were actually there?))
We started out the tour at Windsor Castle. This morning was the first time we had to deal with rain on our trip…but it was fine. We don’t melt. And I suppose one positive thing I can say about this tour was it actually got us to Windsor Castle. We hadn’t planned on going there…but College Student and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I’ve seen castles before (in Germany and Austria), but College Student hadn’t. Windsor Castle is the Royal Family’s weekend home…and this is the weekend…but the Queen was not there today. We know this because the Royal flag wasn’t flying.
Before I left home I asked my brother (and assorted other people) if he had a message for the Queen should I happen to run into her. My brother gave me the best answer. He wanted me to ask her if she’d knight him. Well, since I haven’t seen her yet, I haven’t been able to ask her that, but I DID see the room in which the knighting ceremony takes place!
I was especially interested in the library at Windsor Castle. I was fascinated by the various letters and photographs and the Da Vinci artwork (originals!) that were in there! The problem with this tour was they just didn’t allow us enough time! They don’t come in and give us a guided tour…which is fine…but our ticket covers the price of the audio headsets so we can do the self-guided audio tour. But they don’t allow us enough time to listen to the whole tour, which was really frustrating.
College Student and I noted there was a train station in Windsor, though (in fact, we had to walk through it to get to our bus)…we should’ve taken the train there on our own.
We definitely should’ve taken the train to Bath on our own, too! We both fell in love with Bath…and would’ve appreciated more than an hour and a half there! Again, no time to do the full audio tour at the Roman Baths museum (so certainly no hope of seeing/doing anything else in town). The tour guide actually said, “you won’t have time to do the full audio tour, but you wouldn’t want to listen to all that anyway.” Uh…YEAH…we would! In fact, College Student would’ve liked to not only listen to every word on that audio tour, but after 4 years of Latin study, miscellaneous awards/scholarships for his Latin translations, he would have liked time to translate all the Latin he saw in there! But alas, there was no time. We rushed through…did a little bit of translating…got our photos…bought the book (just like at Windsor Castle) and grumbled about how we should’ve taken the train there so we could’ve spent the whole day.
I have never seen a city that looks like Bath before…it’s got very unique architecture. And if we weren’t already feeling bad enough, there was an arts festival going on this weekend. If only we could’ve spent the whole weekend there. (Plus the bus was parked next to a music store…I probably could’ve found some more Medieval mandolin music in there, if I’d had time to go in.)
But…College Student and I have told ourselves several times all day that we wouldn’t have had time to do all these things on our own. To spend a day at Bath, we would’ve given up a day in London (though I think College Student would gladly have done that). To spend more time at Windsor Castle, we would’ve given up even more time in London. We have to make choices. And we did at least get to see a little of these things.
Finally we moved on to Stonehenge…the whole point of taking the prepackaged bus tour in the first place (Stonehenge is located in the middle of a field…you can’t exactly take a train there!) The tour guide gave us a whopping 45 minutes there! He said, “there’s really not much to do there. Once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it.” And then he proceeded to inform us the gift shop could get crowded, so if planned to visit it to make sure we allowed time for standing in line. College Student did manage to finish the audio tour (just barely), but I didn’t…I was too busy taking pictures. College Student likes to roll his eyes when I want to take his picture in front of something (since he’s the only one here for me to take a picture of!), but there was absolutely no eye rolling at Stonehenge. And he gives me a hard time about how many pictures I’m taking on this trip…but do you know what he said to me when we got back on the bus? He wished I’d taken about FIVE TIMES AS MANY pictures as I took at Stonehenge! (Um…I just counted how many pictures I took there…47! I took them from all sides.) In his defense, he’s got a computer project he wants to do that requires a bunch of pictures of Stonehenge (I didn’t know this until AFTER we got back on the bus.)
This is going to sound weird, but I actually thought the monuments would be taller! And darker (the stones were lighter in color than I expected). It was still a pretty amazing site, though. And I’ll tell you, Mr. Tour Guide, there’s PLENTY more to do there than just look at it and leave. There were people sitting on the grass drawing…lots of people with tripods taking photographs…lots of people just sitting there marveling at it. College Student would’ve liked to have spent the afternoon there with his computer. I think I could’ve managed that, too. Plus on the other side of the parking area there are some mounds…and walking paths. We could’ve hiked! I would’ve loved to have done that! But at least we got there…and I didn’t have to drive to get there.
Speaking of driving…gas in the countryside here is £1.15-1.17 per liter (which translates to more than $8 a gallon at home!)…in London it’s around £1.24 (which translates to more than $9 a gallon!). How do you feel about the price of gas in the States now?
One more beef with this tour company…we were trying to decide between two different companies (they had basically the same tours), but we went with these folks because they claimed to pick up and drop off at our hotel (we even watched the concierge confirm this with the company) whereas the other company would’ve required us to get back from Victoria Station. Well, once we were actually on the bus, the tour guide informed us that we would NOT be taken back to our hotels (and he informed us that this was in the “small print” on their brochure)…it just wasn’t feasible with so many people on the bus who were staying at so many hotels…which is perfectly reasonable, but DON’T SAY you’re going to take people back to their hotels if you’re not! For us it wasn’t a big deal because we have 7-day transportation cards and can get anywhere we want on them, but what if we didn’t have those? And we also wanted to grab some dinner (the hotel is too expensive…and there aren’t other places right around here for dinner, so we need to take a train to one of the other stations anyway). They DID make four stops in western London, before Victoria Station, though…in fact, someone on the bus had gotten sick about half an hour earlier, so as long as we weren’t being taken back to the hotel anyway, College Student and I were pretty anxious to get off the bus as soon as we could. Which worked out well because we found a really good pizza place for dinner! (The “beef” on my pizza was strips of beef, not hamburger…and it had a really good crust! (Yes, I really am all about the food!)) This place actually added a tip to our bill, though…(and no, it wasn’t a very expensive restaurant) so now I’m really confused about tipping. Do you do it or not? The hotel says no…some of the waiters I’ve tipped have seemed surprised…yet apparently others expect it.
We had to laugh when we were in the Gloucester Underground station, though. There aren’t escalators in there…just “lifts” to take us down to the trains. And the two lifts had just closed before we got to them…so we decided to take the stairs. Another set of SPIRAL stairs which College Student claims is FOUR times as wide as the spiral staircase we climbed up/down at St. Paul’s Cathedral (no way…I’d say it’s only twice as wide)…we got to the bottom of the staircase and found two signs posted right by the bottom step. One said EMERGENCY STAIRS. And the other said THIS STAIRWAY HAS 87 STEPS. DO NOT USE EXCEPT IN AN EMERGENCY. There was no such sign at the top of the stairs! So we both burst out laughing (because what’s 87 stairs when you just climbed 431 the day before?)…then College Student told me to take a picture of the sign.
It was cloudy out (we only had rain at Windsor Castle, though…it was just cloudy at Bath…and the sun was out at Stonehenge) and a little later than most nights we’ve returned to our hotel, so it was actually getting dark when we got back to our regular station. Which was nice because we got to see the Houses of Parliament all lit up, which we hadn’t seen before. I must have 47 pictures of the Houses of Parliament, too, but I didn’t have any nighttime shots, so I got out the camera once again. Westminster Abbey was lit up, too.
This is such a beautiful city! We really like it here. But our visit is more than half over now. And we’re going to have to start making some choices about what we absolutely must see and what we can skip…(er, COLLEGE STUDENT will have to make those choices…this is HIS trip, after all) Until tomorrow…