Monday, October 14, 2013

September 17, Tuesday in London

Sept 17, 2013
We woke to grey clouds, the kind you describe as heavy and about to burst, and it was windy. It never got to the gale force winds that were being predicted, but it did blow hard. We were picked up at 7am around the corner for our tour "England in a Day" by an older red double decker bus with the open platform in the back that reminded me of a Harry Potter movie. I kept hoping…… Well, if you’re a fan, you’ll know what I mean. 
We were again dropped off at Victoria Station to start the process of being separated into the different tour groups, but with our experience from yesterday we felt like old hands at this and it wasn’t so confusing.
We got on a full size bus again, and we were packed. In fact they must have eliminated one row of seats because our knees were against the seats in front of us and very uncomfortable. Which was ridiculous, due to the length of time we’d have to be on it.
Our tour guide was David, who was both comical & engaging, and said he was a school teacher for deprived boys. He was very proud of his boys and told many stories of them during our long drive. I first thought he was Australian but found out later he was South African. I really need to work on identifying accents. Over the hour’s drive to the Cotswolds, (which translated is cot = sheep, wold = hill, sheep hill), he gave us so much information about the area but his method of teaching was boisterous & entertaining. It was like watching a Shakespearean play. I could see he would really keep up the interests of his students. Little by little during the day we learned more about him, and sometimes I wondered if he was pulling our leg. He was highly educated and his parents were both well-to-do doctors in S. Africa. When he told us he was one of the few white people that spoke a South African language, and was a translator for Nelson Mandela when he visited Queen Elizabeth, I started to wonder.  At some point, I was even thinking he might be a nut case.
Our drive took us through the Cotswolds and even though we were told it was very beautiful, it was raining quite a bit and our windows were too blurry to see it. Since we weren’t stopping there, I really didn’t get any decent photos. Just prior to arriving in Stratford our guide began quoting from Shakespeare and telling us the best stories to read about life, love, and sex. He advised the young men it would teach them all they needed to know about sex. I think that’s how he got his students to read them. 
Our stop took us past the Royal Shakespeare Company, a very modern looking red brick building, and into a town square where we got out for a foot tour of the town square. 

It was still raining and we first went to the childhood home of Shakespeare and his parents.
 It was small and unfortunately with our group of 40 people we filled the rooms and there was barely room to take any photos inside. By the third room we figured out by trickling through each room we were able to see a bit more. But it was rather silly and a waste of our time. We then went to a champagne and scone reception, where they had lovely half scones as big as a saucer covered thickly with clotted cream for us. While we ate and drank, one of the theatre students acted out parts of Shakespeare’s plays, and was very well done. 
We were then given 20 minutes that we could either grab something to nibble on or look around. Since I’d spotted an antique store across the street, I chose to go there. It turned out larger than it looked on the outside but I managed to find a cute little 4x4” oil painting of a English scene, with the history of the painter attached, and a lady’s straw boater before hubby came in looking for me and gave me 5 minutes to make my purchase. 

The rain got heavier as we continued on to Bath. I managed to take a few photos on the way there of some old houses before we arrived in the town square. 

We didn't go to the Crescent where they filmed some Jane Austen movies, or do the Promenade during the Jane Austen Festival as I’d hoped. During the time we were there the Festival was going on the entire week. I knew some of my friends were here for the Festival too. But with the rain coming down there wasn’t a lovely costumed lady in sight anywhere. 
We were all guided into a church to use the facilities, and then back out to another room to see the Roman Baths. 
 It was down below us and looked very rugged. You could see steam rising from the hot springs. This was only from the inside of the room looking through the windows but as I looked around the room at the tables and people having tea, I thought to myself, “was this the famous Pump Room where the Jane Austen Tea was held? And where the fountain was that you could taste the mineral water from the spring?” I didn’t see a fountain anywhere, and never saw a sign. Days later I did finally get it confirmed that it was indeed the Pump Room. So close.
Afterwards we were given 45 minutes to shop around and have lunch. I had asked about Bath Buns and was told to go to Sally Lunn’s Tearoom on the other side of the building. 
When we got there, there was about 8 people lined up out the door, and who knows how many waiting inside. But I found out there was a gift shop inside where you could purchase the buns. We went down a narrow ancient tightly curved stone staircase into the basement where the tiny gift shop was. I asked for the buns and the lady said they were L3 each but if you bought 3 you got one free, which made them cheaper. I didn’t know what we’d do with 4 but hubby said we could give one to our guide, and one to another couple on the tour we’d been hanging out with. But when the clerk brought them out they were huge! As big as a saucer and as high as a hamburger bun! 
Where in the world would we even have time to eat that? I asked the clerk if these were the Bath Buns, and she said they were the original buns in Bath, and all others were copies. When the building was purchased, the recipe was found hidden away. But she did show me a photo in the tea book I was buying that showed both the Sally Lunns and the Bath Buns, and told me where I could find them around the corner.
As I was looking around the shop further I noticed two stone walls that were exposed into a lower pit displaying the excavation of the earlier shop where the buns were originally baked and sold. It was labeled with the different layers of stone and materials, like an archeological dig. 

We walked around the corner and down some stairs into a lower courtyard to find the café where the Bath Buns were sold, and decided to have lunch there. We ordered our lunch there & also ordered a hot bun for both of us.

It was blessedly much smaller than the Sally Lunn and sprinkled with currants and sugar crystals. You spread the wonderfully rich butter on them. It was heavenly! It was a nice lunch but sadly we had to return to the bus and continue on. 
We drove over the Avon river where there were canal boats all along it's shores. In the background you could see the old Roman bridge that was built there. 

Now we were on the long haul to Stonehenge.  The wind had started to pick up and the sky could only be described as glowering. But amazingly the rain had stopped when we finally got there. Just before we got to the visitor’s center, our guide pointed out many large burial mounds scattered all over the small hillsides. 
We had barely arrived 10 minutes before the closing time of 7pm and it was still light. We had worried about getting there in time and even being able to stay long but our guide, David, said don’t worry, he had special dispensation to enter museums due to his notoriety. Ok, we’ll see. Sure enough he came back moments later with our tickets and said we have all the time we want. Pretty much everyone else had been leaving but there was still a couple groups out there. 
We walked up a path surrounded by grass and suddenly there it was: an image I’d seen numerous times on TV and photos. It was real. It was huge. It was amazing and powerful. We stood there in awe, maybe about 15 yards from it, with a rope barrier on the edge of the grass.

David stepped over the rope and stood in front of us and began telling us the story of these standing stones. But my brain was overwhelmed with the awesomeness of it that I don't remember much but I did buy the book on it from the National Trust in the gift shop. 
It was hard paying attention to him as my gaze kept going to the stones and I had to remind myself to take photos. Suddenly all of us became excited and started taking photos for each other standing in front of the stones.

We continued walking around them and stopping, each time the view of them changing. They were huge, and had so much character. The stones were mottled with black and algae. David said the stone was extremely hard and heavy, and it required a lot of work to carve them, and to even move them into their positions. We wondered how in the world the ones on top of the stones ever made it up there. The wind continued to increase in strength and on top of the unprotected hill a couple times it blew me off balance. I think we were there about half an hour and then it was time to leave. As we walked through the gift shop we saw a poster they had for sale that was taken on the day the moon was the closest it had ever been to the Earth and was over Stonehenge. It was a wonderful photo, and we had to buy that. We still can’t believe that we were at a place we’d never dreamed of ever seeing. While we were walking back on the path to the parking lot, I saw a small angular stone on the ground that was larger than the others, and wondered if it could have been a piece of one of the stones. It made its way home with me.

Our day ended at 10pm by the time we got back to the hotel. And finally I was going to be able to sleep in. But I don’t get breakfast until I’m showered and dressed to go downstairs. Bleh. 

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