Got my keyboard working again, so I wanted to get a post up about yesterday’s trip out to Stonehenge, Lacock, and Bath.
Okay. First of all, 3:45 AM is very early to get up, especially on vacation. That said, I made it over to the hotel pick-up point well ahead of 5:00 AM – the pick-up time – so that’s good.
Overall, the trip was fantastic. Our driver and guide seemed to be good friends who worked well together, keeping us informed and entertained and on time. Despite the tyranny of the schedule, they were very flexible and accommodating when they could be, and just generally really good guys.
We made it out to Stonehenge around 8:00 AM – well past the sunrise, but we still had the circle to ourselves1 for an hour, and it was awesome.
After our hour in the circle, it was back to the coach and on to Lacock for breakfast. We had it in a pub called The George, which was established in 1361, and it was a very welcome meal by that time. I spent the meal chatting with a couple of very nice ladies from the US about The Book of Mormon, which they, too, had seen just a couple of nights before.
Then, we went for bit of a stroll around the village on the way back to the coach.
Back on the coach and on to Bath.
Bath was an important city during the Roman era of Britain. There were hot springs bubbling out of the ground, which the Romans took as a divine gift. They named it Aquae Sulis, and2 blended the idea of the local goddess, Sulis, with their own Minerva. They constructed a temple to Sulis Minerva here, and it became a centre for healing and pilgrimage.
The Victorians saw the long-vanished Roman baths rediscovered and rebuilt, turning the city of Bath into a world-famous spa city, where the rich would travel to take the waters.
And then3, it was time to head back. We were back in London around 5:00 PM, and I headed back to the hotel for some dinner and an early bed.
That was my last night in London. I need to go back at some point, because there is so much I didn’t get to: Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Temple Church, SoHo, Chruchill’s War Bunkers, so many other museums and libraries…
I don’t regret my choices of what I did go and see, though. I had a fantastic time. Well, maybe I would have picked a different day to go to Avebury, one that wasn’t quite so cold and windy and wet. But still.
One last closing note on London: I am in awe of the London Underground. I was a little bit intimidated by it at first, but it is so well organized and labeled that it made getting around very simple. And fast. Really, if you’re going to London, get yourself an Oyster Card and take the tube. So fast and easy.
But now, I’m in Oxford, and need to go hunt up some food. Tonight, I have a Ghost Walk, which I am looking forward to. The sky’s bright and clear right now, so I’m hoping it doesn’t turn as wet as the Ripper Walk did.
Not that rain’s gonna stop me.
That is, me, Frank the guide, Malcolm the driver, 29 other tourists, and two security guards to make sure we didn’t touch the stones. [↩]
Today was my first trip outside of London on this vacation. I took the train to Swindon and the bus to Avebury. There’s a stone circle there, the largest in western Europe, and you get to walk right in amongst the stones. Of course, it started raining while I was out there, and really picked up when I started walking the ridge trail.
That, along with the fact that the trail was closed at a couple of places for erosion control, and I didn’t get to see as much of it as I might have liked. But it was still very cool. The site’s almost 5000 years old, and being among the stones – able to go up and touch them – was awesome.
I got a few pictures.
By then, I was soaked. I got the bus back to Swindon, and the train back to London. Now, I’m going to bed, because I’m getting up at 3:45 tomorrow morning for my tour out to Stonehenge.
I started writing this last night, and began falling asleep as the pictures were loading. I couldn’t be bothered to go back and change all the references to “today.” You’ll have to live with it.
Quick update tonight. It’s late and I’m tired((Starting to be a recurring theme, huh?)).
My plan for today was to walk along the riverwalk on the south bank of the Thames, find the giant dead parrot sculpture, see Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare’s Globe, then make my way to Piccadilly Circus and the Prince of Wales Theatre to see The Book of Mormon. As has become traditional, I started at Tower Hill, and took a stroll across the Tower Bridge to the south bank.
Okay. The parrot story. One of the reasons I was walking this way to get to Shakespeare’s Globe was that I had read this story a couple of months ago. I thought it would be very cool to get a picture of the giant parrot, perhaps even a picture of me with the giant parrot. Unfortunately, I hadn’t looked closely at the date of the article.
Then I made it to Shakespeare’s Globe1, and saw Romeo and Juliet.
Now, I’ve said before that Romeo and Juliet isn’t one of my favourite plays. That said, this production was amazing. They did some remarkable things with the staging, the music, and the switching of roles2. Benvolio was not, as is often the case, a crap actor – the actor playing him was also Friar Lawrence, and showed how Benvolio can be an amazing character.
While all the actors were fantastic, I have to single out the woman who played Juliet. It was pretty much the first performance I have seen where Juliet had a perfect mix of spoiled and naive, and really felt like an overly-romantic thirteen-year-old. Just wonderful.
After that, it was time to start heading to Piccadilly Circus, so I decided to walk across the Jubilee footbridge.
From across the footbridge, it was a quick tube ride to Piccadilly Circus. I picked up my tickets, and had my first sit-down dinner in the UK. I went to a place called Scotch Steak House. The food was okay, and the decor was not bad, and the prices were pretty high, but the service was out of this world. My waiter seemed to be everywhere, doing everything, always happy and friendly and helpful.
The Book of Mormon was amazing. It was a much deeper show, talking about truth and belief and right and wrong, and also about colonialism and inclusion. Because it’s by the South Park folks, it also had a lot of toilet humour, which worked, as it always seems to in their hands. If you know something about the LDS church, the humour is extra biting, because you realize that some of the insane stuff said on stage is not made up. Even if you don’t know, though, it’s a funny, funny show. I was laughing so hard I was crying at a couple of points.
On my way back to the tube station, I snapped this picture.
Then it was home and bed. And now, I’m heading off to Paddington station to catch a train to Swindon and a bus to Avebury to see the stone circle there.
Again. I may or may not have bought more DVDs of their performances. If I did, I probably had a good reason to do so. [↩]
By which I mean one actor playing multiple roles. [↩]
I got a bit of a slow start this morning, being very tired from the combination of jetlag and an obscene number of stairs yesterday. When I finally hauled myself out of bed, took some time getting dressed and ready for the day, then took the tube back to the Tower of London.
Why there? Mainly because it’s only one tube stop from my closest tube station1, and the sightseeing bus stops there, and that’s where I got off the tour yesterday. So, I got to ride the rest of the tour and, incidentally, find out where the theatre is for seeing The Book of Mormon tomorrow night.
I got off the bus around Picadilly Circus, with the intention of catching the red tour from the sightseeing company2. I managed to do that, though it took getting lost and finally making my way back to Trafalgar Square. When I got on the red tour, I found that it was the same as the yellow tour, but without a live guide – all commentary was on a recording, and I, not realizing that, neglected to get a set of headphones to listen to it.
By the time I figured this out, we were almost back to the Tower of London, so I figured I’d get off there and figure out what to do next. Turns out I was just in time for the 61-gun salute that the Yeoman Warders were firing in honour of the new princess. I stayed for that but, as a late arrival, I only managed to glimpse the guns themselves as I maneuvered around the edge of the crowd. Easy to hear, though. And to smell – huge clouds of smoke drifted over to us every time the guns fired.
That took about twenty minutes, in all, and I still hadn’t figured out what to do. So, I wandered down to the pier, and saw that there was a river bus service that would take me right to Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. I’m heading there tomorrow for Romeo and Juliet, but I thought it would be nice to take a tour today, and wander around the area.
The tour was awesome, led by an actual cockney named Mick. And he took us into the (mostly) empty Globe to show us the place.
The theatre is constructed in Elizabethan fashion – uncured oak, with lath and plaster between the beams, and a thatched roof. Since the great fire in London, thatched roofs are illegal, but the Globe has special dispensation. Also, a whole lot of sprinklers on the roof.
After a quick stop at the gift shop3, I set out to wander through the area and see what there was to see.
From Monument Station, it was just two underground stops to my home stop of Aldgate East. I had a bit of dinner and a bit of a rest, and uploaded the day’s pictures. While they were uploading, I went for my evening’s planned excursion: a Jack the Ripper walk.
It started getting overcast, and was beginning to sprinkle a bit of rain as the walk started, so I only got a few pictures. Although, to be fair, most of the actual sites we visited were radically changed from history, so there wasn’t much to photograph. That said, our guide, Phil, did an amazing job of painting the picture for us, and did a magnificent balancing act between humourous fun and dignified respect. I did get a few pics, though.
By this time, the rain was coming down pretty hard, so I put the camera away. We finished the tour, and I came home to post this. Pictures loaded very slowly, so I’m running late again.
Moved to my new hotel today. It was raining this morning, and I was still kind of tired, so I decided that, instead of walking the 40 minutes or so back to the tube station1, I’d pay for a cab. This was an important lesson: the money I saved by staying farther away than I had intended was eaten by the cost of the cab. I should have just picked a closer, if more expensive, hotel.
I was, of course, way too early to check in. In fact, I arrived in the middle of what seemed to be half of Germany checking out and storing their bags. But they cleared, and I got my bag stored until later, and then I headed off to the tube station in my rain jacket and very fancy hat to get my sightseeing ticket validated.
That happened to be at Trafalgar Square.
After looking around a bit, I found the place I needed and got my ticket validated. Then, I got on the tour. We saw a whole bunch of cool stuff but, as usual, it’s very hard to get a good picture from the top of a moving tour bus. I did get one that I liked.
I got off the bus at the Tower of London, which is one of the main things I wanted to see on this trip. I spent about four hours there, looking at stuff, and I didn’t even get in to see the Crown Jewels – the lineup for that tower was very, very2 long. The Tower is fascinating; it is actually a tiny little village inside the walls. There are about thirty-five Yeoman Warders3 who live in the Tower with their wives and children, plus the Royal Fusiliers who are garrisoned at the headquarters here. In total, there are about 130 people who live on the site.
If you go to the Tower, make sure that you take one of the Yeoman Warder guided tours. That’ll show you what you want to spend more time on, and give you a bunch of cool history.
There were some other interesting exhibits around, too:
Now, despite the bloody reputation of the Tower of London, only six people were ever executed within the Tower grounds. The other 2000 or so were merely imprisoned there, and were marched out an up Tower Hill for their executions.
Aside from being a royal residence, and a fortress, and a prison, and the royal mint, the Tower was also, for a time, a royal zoo. They had loads of fun stuff, like lions and elephants and a room full of monkeys running around loose that you could go play with4. There are sculptures of a lot of the animals, seemingly made of chicken wire, around the place.
The only living animals still kept at the tower5 are the Tower ravens. Legend says that if the ravens leave the tower, England will fall. The ravens even have a Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster who looks after them.
I walked the walls of the Tower, as well, and got some very nice views of London.
Then, seeing as it was almost five, I went and checked into my hotel for real, and spent a couple of hours getting my photo software working and uploading my pictures, before heading back to the Tower of London for the Ceremony of the Keys.
They don’t allow photographs or recordings for the ceremony, and I can understand why. It’s the oldest military tradition of it’s kind in the world, having been conducted every day for about seven hundred years. It was delayed only once, during WWII, when bombs were dropped on the Tower during the ceremony. After the Warders had helped their injured comrades and put out the fire, they continued with the ceremony, and the next day, sent a letter of apology to the king. The king said he understood, and that the Warders were not to blame because it was enemy action, but that he expected the ceremony to never be late again.
It was kind of moving to be present for the tradition, and everyone was nicely quiet and respectful as the situation warranted. At the end, we were told that all the names of attendees at the ceremony had their names recorded in a big, red book, so that they became part of the history of the ceremony. And that’s just cool.
Then, back home to do up this post, and now, because it’s after midnight, to bed.
Lots to see and do tomorrow.
Assuming I could find my way more easily than I had the night before. [↩]
So, the plane last night didn’t take off until almost two hours late. We made up some time in flight, though, and landed only about an hour late. I had managed to sleep through most of the trip – about five and a half hours. Because I was able to sleep, but not for as long as I wanted, I’m tired today, but not exhausted.
I took full advantage the British Air arrivals lounge1 for their showers and free breakfast. I also got a sim card and set up my phone on the 3 network, and bought an Oyster Card for using the Underground.
I’m really glad I took the tube to my hotel. It was long, and somewhat confusing, and tiring hauling my stuff around, but it really brought home the fact that I’m in a different city, in a different country, in a way that I think the faster trains or a cab wouldn’t have. It also showed me that, intimidating though the tube looks to a barbarian like me, it’s really not that difficult to navigate.
I made it to Liverpool Street, my first destination, because there’s a Lush shop there. I picked up my special soap and cream, and then found a pharmacy, where I bought some toiletries, ibuprofen, and travel sickness pills2. I also got my first chance to stick my head into the actual outside in London. I snapped a couple of pictures, but the photo software on this computer isn’t working right. I’m still going to post them, but once I get things straightened out, I’ll probably come back and update them.
**Edit** I got my picture editor working on my computer, so I have updated the pictures.
Then, it was back on the tube, out to Barking. From the Barking station, I walked to my hotel, navigating via Apple Maps on my phone3. I wound up in the parking lot of a huge Tesco superstore, and decided to give up but, after buying and drinking a very lovely bottle of Fanta4, I was refreshed and found where I had gone wrong reading the map.
So, I made it to my hotel around 5:00, and right at the desk they had a deal for pizza and coke, which I ordered and ate. Now, I’m going to rest up for tomorrow, watch a movie or something, and try to stay awake until 10:00 or so, so that I don’t wake up too early.
I made it!
Okay. I knew Heathrow was very, very big, but they have a high-speed transit train to move people from the arrival gates to the actual Arrivals area within the same terminal. That’s big. [↩]
I found in Ireland that some of the tours – especially the rural ones – made me a little nauseous. Not gonna give in to that. [↩]
This is why I get the new sim card first thing. [↩]
For North American readers: Fanta in Europe is awesome. No, really. For European readers: Fanta in North America is made of fail and sadness. No, really. [↩]
Things have been kind of quiet here as I’ve slowly been booking stuff for my trip. Now that I’ve got a significant portion of it fleshed out, I’ve updated the itinerary page, and am writing this post so the few people who follow the blog1 can see where things stand.
Now, on the trip, London and Edinburgh were pretty much no-brainers. I wanted to start with London2, and finish up with Edinburgh, winding my way north over the three weeks of my trip. I had originally intended to take in some stuff in Cornwall, but the research I did showed me that it would be pretty time-consuming and expensive, taking me well out of the way, and leaving me less time for a lot of other things.
Side note: the UK is significantly more expensive than Ireland. Like, 50-100% more expensive, at least for accommodations. I thought things would get cheaper outside of London, but that did not turn out to be the case. I’m paying for as much of the accommodations and tours as I can before the trip, so that I don’t need to worry about that part of the trip ON the trip. It’ll give me time to pay off the expense before the actual trip.
Anyway, the days between London and Edinburgh. I kind of wanted to see Oxford – it’s full of neat history3, amazing architecture, and is centrally located so that I can take a couple of day trips to interesting places like Bletchley Park and Stratford-upon-Avon. Maybe even Blenheim Palace.
A little more research convinced me that the next stage of the journey should be York. Again, a lot of very cool history and architecture4. I don’t have a lot of solid ideas of what I want to see there, yet – I need to do some more research. But I’m convinced that a few days there will be well-spent.
Now, the next stop is a little more problematic. I really want to see Fingal’s Cave, which is off the west coast of Scotland. It’s off the beaten path, and it’ll take me pretty much a whole day to get from York to Oban5. Then, the actual boat tour may not land on Staffa6 if the weather is not co-operative. So, I may be taking two days to go out of my way to see something that I may not, in fact, get to see. Sounds a little like my abortive attempt to see the Skelligs, doesn’t it?
But I really want to try and see Fingal’s Cave, and I’ve got a couple of days to spend. I figure it’s worth a try.
And from Oban, it looks like another full day of travel to bring me to Edinburgh. And from Edinburgh7, I take the train down to spend my last night in a hotel near Heathrow before flying home the next day.
I’ve booked a few tours, etc. already. Here’s what’s officially on the books:
I’m staying in Whitechapel while in London, so of course I need to take a Jack the Ripper tour. I’ve found one that looks pretty good and booked it.
I also booked a tour that takes me to Stonehenge, Bath, and Lacock. It’s a bit of a pricey tour, because it gets me8 a private viewing of Stonehenge at sunrise. Inside the inner ring of stones. I’m sure Bath and Lacock are cool and all, but INSIDE STONEHENGE!
I found that one of my favourite performers, Derren Brown, has a new show that will be playing in Edinburgh while I’m there. The morning the tickets went on sale, I went online and snagged on in the front centre of the stalls. I’m very excited about this!
There are a number of other things I want to see and do, but haven’t finalized yet9:
Avebury. There’s a massive stone circle and a long tomb there. It looks easy enough to get there from London on the train and bus. I should be able to pair it with the next item for a full day trip.
Salisbury. Lots of cool history here, including Salisbury Cathedral with it’s Magna Carta.
Shakespeare’s Globe. If they’ve got a Shakespearean production on, I pretty much need to get a ticket.
Bletchley Park. WWII codebreaking museum! Looks to be an easy day trip out from Oxford. And very, very cool to see.
Stratford-upon-Avon. This is all about the Shakespeare, of course. Another easy day trip from Oxford. Maybe I can even combine it with Bletchley Park into one full day.
Rosslyn Chapel. Okay. I’m gonna go all conspiracy hipster. I thought Rosslyn Chapel was weird and interesting long before Dan Brown got his mucky fingerprints all over it and Da Vinci Coded it up. So, I’m gonna take the bus out from Edinburgh to see it. Maybe I can even find a tour that will take in the chapel and some other interesting sites in Scotland.
The Highlands. I think it’ll be fun to take a bus tour for the day through the Scottish Highlands. Why wouldn’t I? If it stops at Loch Ness, bonus!
So. Many. CASTLES! They’re everywhere! And I wanna see them all.
Ghost tours. No, I’m not credulous enough to think I’m going to see a ghost10, but you get such cool stories and hidden history on the tours!
There’s probably other stuff. I’ve got more than six months to keep planning and researching. It’ll flesh out.
Trip Advisor has been sending me a lot of e-mail lately, telling me how cheap it is to go to Ireland again. Or to lots of other places. These e-mail temptations always seem to show up while I’m trying to concentrate on work, and not on how much I’d like to be traveling. So, to take some of the sting out of them, I decided it was time to start planning the next trip.
I’m thinking spring/summer of 2015 for this one. That gives me about a year and a half to figure out what I want to do. After some thinking, agonizing, and discussing, I’ve decided that I’m not returning to Ireland this trip1, but to move slightly east and see England and Scotland2.
So, with that decision made, I did what I always do when starting a new project: I hit the bookstore for research material. I was sad to see that For Dummies books seems to have stopped making travel books – those were always a good starting point for research. I’ve tracked down and ordered the latest editions of their books for London, England, and Scotland, and grabbed a few Lonely Planet guides to get me going.
So, that’s the plan. I know that there are a few places that I really want to see:
I’ll have to figure out what’s practical, and how best to do it.
Here we go again!
Though, as I type this, there’s a slideshow of my Ireland pictures showing on my TV, and I begin to second-guess that decision. I love Ireland so much! [↩]
And maybe Wales. I dunno. We’ll see as the planning progresses. [↩]
The flight from Toronto to London was kind of surreal. I sort-of dozed through the flight, but I didn’t really seem to sleep. Uncomfortable seat, the obligatory crying baby1, and the fact that every half-hour or so the plane would run into some turbulence or the flight attendants would ask if I wanted anything or something. I must have got a little sleep, because I jerked awake when the cabin lights went on about an hour and a half before we landed so that we could be served our light continental breakfast2. Still, I made it.
Heathrow is huge.
Heathrow is bigger than the town I grew up in, both in area covered and population.
I had been bemoaning the fact that I was going to be stuck at Heathrow for six hours before my fight to Dublin. Ask my friends; they’ll tell you how much I’ve been complaining. I was so certain that six hours would be enough for me to find my gate once I got there.
The place is a maze, but a well-run maze. Staff all along my migration route were quick to point me in the right direction in a friendly, helpful manner4. They made sure I got on the right bus to take me to the right terminal, and then through the right customs line, and then to the mall where I spent the rest of the time waiting for them to announce which gate I had to meet the plane at. I wound up spending about three hours in that mall area – much less than I had guessed.
Still, it was plenty of time for me to finish the book I was reading – The Magicians, by Lev Grossman5 – which was very good. I started my next book – Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey, by Chuck Wendig – on Kindle on my iPhone. His psychotic profanity and good writing advice have helped to keep me awake.
Eventually, they announced my gate, and I found it, and got on the plane, and then spent the fifty minutes or so it took for the flight trying not to nod off.
And so I am arrived in Dublin, tired and smelly, wearing the same clothes I put on twenty-seven hours previous. Shower time, then go find some food, then I will write a quick post about my first impressions of Dublin.
I’ve got a couple of pictures I want to add to this post and the previous one, but something’s not quite working with that, and I’m hungry. So, I’ll work on that later.
I’ve added the picture below, mainly for Michael. I had flashbacks, dude! I wanted to go in, straighten shelves, and count paperbacks!
While it is regrettable that there was a baby crying, I can’t get too upset about it. I mean, it’s far worse for the parents, who have to deal with it. [↩]
I didn’t eat the muffin they offered, despite the fact that the dinner had actually been pretty good. My stomach knew that this was not breakfast time, and that the offer of a muffin must therefor be a filthy lie. [↩]
Okay, maybe not scares me, but it is pretty damned intimidating. [↩]