Touring in a hurry

This was my first bus tour experience. And it kind of goes with my personality, I think, to go for the challenging one. Eleven hours, three sites, 400 km, one day. At least I wasn’t the one driving.

I found the coach station and boarded the bus (with my illegal hot drink that they let us have for the morning part). We got a bit of a tour on our way out of London, and then we were on the road to Windsor Castle.

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The Union Jack was up, meaning the Queen was not there.

I didn’t realize Eton College was so close to Windsor Castle! The boys went to school very close to home (both Prince William and Harry went to Eton).

There was airport style security and we weren’t allowed to take photos inside. We also had only a short amount of time, so I got to skim through the State Apartments, Queen Mary’s dollhouse (with real silverware – not for playing, but because she enjoyed collecting miniatures), and the Drawings Room which had many portraits of the Queen throughout her life. She was a beautiful young queen. The ones displayed today included Lord Snowdon, Andy Warhol, Yousef Karsh, and Annie Leibovitz (they cycle them in and out – it’s a small room). The State Apartments were just jaw dropping. All those things you think about royalty and luxury and stuff? True. Absolutely.

When we exited the State Apartments (I was lucky, they let me keep my backpack on – technically I was supposed to check it), we had to walk the moat path, and we got to see one of the bearskin hat guards patrolling (with a very modern, scary gun).

But as I passed onto the moat path, I stopped to pull my map of Windsor Castle out of my pack to figure out where I was going. One if the castle wardens came over, an older gentleman a bit shorter than I, with a twinkle in his eye. He says to me, “Saw your old bag…” (I sewed a Canadian flag onto my backpack before I left.). With that, he started to pull his tie out of the collar of his vest to reveal… a Royal Canadian Mounted Police tie pin! I said, “Well, hello there!” He said, “I used to be a Mountie, but I shrank so they tossed me out!” I laughed and we chatted a bit. I didn’t get a chance to ask him how he did get the pin, as I only had half an hour left (which he thought was a sin because you could easily spend a whole day there – to which I heartily agreed.) I was so glad that he took the time to make the connection with the little wandering Canadian, though. I don’t think I’ve encountered another Canadian on my travels, actually. As it was, I had enough time for a couple more photos outside and then to run back through the marketplace, grabbing food.

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Wisteria climbing the castle wall, or blue rain as my Swedish seat mate called it.

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Heading out to find my bus – one last look back.

Then we heading for Bath. We had access to the Roman Baths and our tour guide, Edina, gave us all sorts of history about it. For example, how happy the Romans were to find hot springs in England since they came here from hot Italy. She was assertive to get us into the Baths in good time, but the buskers in the squares were amazing. Classical guitar, jazz singing (with trumpet solos)…

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Bath Abbey, built by Bishop Oliver King, symbolized by the olive tree with a crown around the trunk and a bishop’s hat over top on the corner columns (which you can’t see in this one, but do note the angels climbing up and down on ladders on either side).

It was really interesting to see how the baths evolved, and to see how they’ve reconstructed. Also to know little tidbits about the town – how it got its revival when Queen Anne came in search of the healing waters (so that maybe one of her children would make it to adulthood). Jane Austen lived there for five years and she hated it – she thought it was too snobby. Nicholas Cage had a townhouse there in a circular block of three buildings designed and built by a Freemason, so there are lots of hidden meanings in the architecture. And on our way out of town, we got to see Jane Seymour’s old estate – apparently she would throw wild parties and drunk people would be stumbling all over Bath – so much so that the local paper called her “the neighbour from Hell”. Eeep!

I finished up in the baths by drinking some of the healing waters. It tasted like warm, mineral filled water, honestly. Then, instead of heading into the abbey, I just wandered around admiring the Georgian architecture and the honey-coloured stone.

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The square where we were picked up. I made some ladies giggle as I turned a corner and made a noise of glee at the awesome streetscape before me.

We left at 16:00 on the *nose* and took the scenic route to Stonehenge. We got to see an old Iron Age ring fort (which was apparently a favourite spot for UFO sighting back in the day), burial barrows and the “tank crossing” signs along the highway to Stonehenge because a lot of that land is owned by the British military. Prince Harry trains out there. We didn’t see any tanks. Though we did see an Army helicopter fly by.

But then we passed by where they are building the new Stonehenge visitors centre, where they are going to have buses or trains to run visitors to and from the site. Now I know why they were recently hiring for the position of General Manager of Stonehenge!

And then, we arrived. Our tour guide was even more assertive to get us in to the site before a group of 77 people.

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Stonehenge. And the sun.

The stones were much larger than I expected. We were given the context of the large stones being 40 to 50 tonnes and requiring 300 men to haul each one on a sledge. Sometimes 500 men if they had to go up a hill… It’s hard to compare the volume/mass thing – Edina said for comparison, our bus weighed about 15 tonnes. They aren’t the size of a bus because they are dense, but still. And amazing to see the ball joints on top where the lintels would be held on. Engineering! Ravens were flying around and I got some good shots of one perched on top of one of the standing stones.

So I’m back in London, my last night here. Tomorrow, I’ll get up and do a really good yoga session to loosen up before the flight, have some breakfast, make sure everything is packed securely and I’ll start making my way to Heathrow. I don’t mind hanging around the airport – it is a big and interesting one. And then I’ll be home. :)

I can’t believe it’s done!

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Shadows and light, stones and earth.

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