Diving right into the next steps of our London trip…
Mike and I woke up Sunday morning surprisingly early and got up to start the day. My legs were sore from the dancing the night before that I wasn’t used to doing. Mike and I ate our usual full English breakfast at the hotel, and I struggled with how to eat a “6-minute egg”. They’re basically hard-boiled eggs boiled for 6 minutes instead of the more usual 10 that Americans use. This basically results in the egg white being cooked solid but the egg yolk remaining runny. I wasn’t too sure how I felt about eating runny egg yolks, but I gave it a shot. It’s pretty hard to eat a yolk that runny though! Mike focused on the scrambled eggs and bacon and thus didn’t have the same egg struggles that I did trying to eat runny egg yolks with a fork!
While we ate we decided what to do. We had originally planned on going to Westminster Abbey but in addition to closing early on Saturday, they weren’t open for tours on Sunday since it’s still an operational church and has services on Sunday. We decided at the last minute that we’d try to see Stonehenge. We knew we didn’t want to drive since we’d already decided London traffic was crazier than we had bargained for, so I looked up tours of Stonehenge departing from England and found an afternoon tour departing from Victoria Station at 12:30pm that day. Perfect! That gave us some time to walk around London a little in the morning. We stopped by a grocery store and got some fresh fruit and additional toiletries including an “after-sun” cream. The nice weather in London and the amount of time we had spent outside the day before had led to a little sunburn.
Then we got some bottled water together and got ready to head to the tour bus stop. It was a mile and a half walk, but the weather was beautiful so we didn’t mind.
Victoria station was big! It’s a train station in addition to a bus and subway station, so there’s a lot going on! Fortunately we were able to locate the ticket office for the tours pretty quickly and we were seated on a giant, plush tour bus shortly after that. Our tour guide was a young Swedish guy with a very dry sense of humor, very few words, and a propensity for smoking cigarettes on his breaks. I liked him immediately.
He started off by saying he was no good as a London tour guide but that he would point out a few attractions as we passed them on our way out of London. The first thing he pointed out was Harrods, the famous British department store. Mike and I meant to go there during our time in London, particularly since Mike has an adorable aviator bear from Harrods (that I bought him of course… why would Mike buy himself a stuffed bear??). Anyway, driving past on the tour bus turned out to be as close as we got to Harrods, but that was fine. 🙂 We also drove by the Victoria and Albert Museum, which looked pretty cool, but again we didn’t make it there before we left London either. WAY too much to see! 🙂
Our tour guide also pointed out to us a red door in one of the apartment buildings we passed and let us know that used to be Alfred Hitchcock’s apartment. Crazy! We also passed a US embassy which, according to our tour guide, is the only US embassy not built on American soil. The American government tried to buy the land under it from its owner, a duke who is the richest man in England. However, the duke was only willing to sell it in exchange for the state of Florida. Apparently the American government wasn’t willing to trade. 🙂
Then we headed out of London and into English countryside on our way towards Stonehenge. I knew from internet research that it was about a little less than a three hour drive, so we settled back and got comfortable. Mike and I even slept a little which felt great, especially considering how late we’d gotten to sleep the night before! The English countryside was exactly as you might imagine, very peaceful and full of sheep and cows.
About two and a half hours later I was starting to see signs for Stonehenge and the traffic was getting significantly backed up. Mike and I both started looking out the windows of the tour bus and spotted it!
Our tour guide, displaying his dry sense of humor, spoke up as we passed Stonehenge. “Well, that was it! Now another three hours back to London.” No one laughed. Mostly I think because no one was 100% sure that he was joking. After a long pause, the tour guide spoke up again. “That was a joke, ladies and gentlemen. I’ll be driving us to the guest center where I’ll get you all on board a bus to take you closer to Stonehenge. You must all stay with me! No one wanders off! When I park the bus, I’ll give everyone a two-minute bathroom break and then I need you all back out front of the guest center so I can get you on a bus.” He sounded so Swedish and so serious that we took him at his word and as soon as he parked the bus, we all collectively made a run for the bathrooms. Quite frankly, he actually waited more like five minutes, so I don’t think he was entirely serious about actually leaving after two minutes. Once he had us all together again, he told us what time he was leaving to head back to London, and told us to all make sure we were back to the bus by then.
“If you miss the bus, no worries,” he informed us. “It’s only a brisk 10-mile walk to the nearest town where you could hire a taxi to take you the three hours back to London.” I laughed. I really liked the ultra-serious way he branded his humor. Two minutes later he had given us all Stonehenge brochures and put us on a little rickety bus headed out to Stonehenge.
Stonehenge itself was amazing.
It was very windy out at Stonehenge… maybe because of a lack of any trees or tall buildings to block the wind. We all had free audio guides which were very helpful! Areas around Stonehenge were marked with numbers and when you reached those points, you punched that number into your audio guide and it would say things like “On your left as you face Stonehenge you can see…”. Definitely helpful for navigating something that would otherwise just be a fairly impressive pile of rocks!
One of the interesting things we learned about Stonehenge right away is that it has an arrow on the ground away from the cluster of Stonehenge rocks that points past a giant stone called the ‘heel stone’ and shows the solstice alignment. Listening to the audio guide we learned that people from long ago likely dreaded the short, cold winter days and lack of food that were associated with winter and likely always looked for the return of longer days and warmer weather of summer. It was at least in part because of these practical reasons that the solstice was very important to them. It signaled the beginning of the end of winter (and, conversely, the beginning of the end of summer. So interesting to think about a time in which calendars weren’t widely used and the most reliable way of knowing about seasonal changes was through the direction of the sun’s rays hitting a rock!
Although nothing is really known about why Stonehenge was erected, it seems widely accepted that at least part of the reason for its existence was for religious ceremonies. It was also definitely used as a burial site since many cremated human remains have been found there. Interestingly, the Stonehenge stones are of a type only found in Wales, 150 miles away. How the prehistoric people got the stones all the way to Stonehenge given that they weigh around 50 tons each is something of a mystery (probably similar to the mystery of how ancient Egyptians made the pyramids, although the pyramids are certainly much bigger than Stonehenge!).
Also of interest is that historians estimate that Stonehenge was first constructed in around 3100BC. Of course there are various thoughts on that, because who around today can actually know for sure? Regardless, though, it is OLD. It was fascinating to look at the old stones and picture people thousands of years ago figuring out how to move and place the stones. And, why? Why the need to move such heavy stones so far? Stonehenge got its name because, archaeologically speaking, a henge is defined as an earthwork consisting of a circular banked enclosure with an internal ditch. Stonehenge’s bank is actually within its ditch, making it not a true ‘henge’, but the name stuck anyway.
So many people there were taking pictures of each other jumping up in the air in front of Stonehenge. The goal seemed to be to get a picture of yourself in midair. Is this a thing? Getting your picture taken in mid-jump in front of Stonehenge? I don’t know, but it definitely was the day we were there! Mike went for the more traditional picture with his feet planted squarely on the ground. 🙂
We were allowed to get pretty close to Stonehenge, but there was still a fence around the perimeter. The audio guide explained that with the enormous number of people who come to see Stonehenge annually, with that number of people walking among the stones it would cause soil erosion and would lead to the stones collapsing because of slight shifting in the soil. Interesting! Regardless, we got close enough.
It was such an interesting, introspective-type of trip! It is definitely one of those things that puts things in perspective for you. Centuries and even millennia pass, and people and their motivations from long, long ago are completely forgotten, even to the point where historians desperately eager to find out what their lives were like and what their motivations were, find it an almost impossible task. Individual lifespans are short, and millennia continue to pass by in the world. It definitely is a religious experience to visit a place like this and to get that feeling that you are so young compared to these stones and that the people who erected that structure are so long gone from this earth that they are not even a distant memory. It definitely makes you think about God, eternity, and what actually matters!
On a lighter note, who knew that Stonehenge was surrounded on all sides by SHEEP! There were sheep all around Stonehenge (fenced with a light fence to keep them away from the tourists and away from Stonehenge itself… but they were still very close by and there were SO MANY of them!)
By the time we were done viewing Stonehenge and listening to the audio guide, a full 90 minutes had passed. Amazing how quickly the time flew given that we were actually only looking at a bunch of rocks (well, and a couple hundred sheep).
We took the rickety bus back to the visitor center and decided we had just time to grab some quick food at the cafe before heading back to our tour bus. Mike had a sausage wrapped in some croissant thing, while I went with a gluten-free ginger muffin. We headed to the tour bus and our tour bus guide didn’t leave until he had head-counted and made sure everyone was there, somewhat disproving his earlier threat that he would leave people behind if they weren’t back to the bus in time. 😉
We dozed on the way back to London. The tour bus was so plush and comfortable, and we’d been out in the sun and the wind for a few hours. When the tour guide dropped us off, we hopped on a subway station (our Oyster cards were really getting good use since we typically took the subway at least a couple times each day!) and found ourselves back in Westminster just as it was getting dark. The city looked lovely (and surprisingly less crowded. Maybe because it was a Sunday evening, so there were only tourists there instead of all of the locals who work there?).
We weren’t quite ready to call it a night yet, despite our lack of sleep the night before. We looked across the Thames… and saw the London Eye. Aha! The London Eye was originally the world’s tallest ferris wheel when it was constructed in 1999, but as is the case with most height records, it is now “only” the tallest ferris wheel in Europe.
The London Eye ferris wheel is much larger up close than it looks from further away, and what I expected to be little baskets we rode in turned out to be very high-tech-looking capsules.
The London Eye runs continuously and it takes about half an hour to complete a single cycle. So basically how the system works is that there are two platforms, one for visitors getting on, and one for visitors getting off. You buy your ticket and then are directed to wait behind a roped off area. At the platform a little further up, attendants open the capsule doors and everyone in the capsule hurries out. Then the capsule gets to your platform and other attendants wave a group of waiting people on, latch the door… and you’re going up! And the whole thing happens as the ferris wheel moves! Fortunately because it’s so big, it’s noticeably moving but it’s not moving ultra fast, which makes all of this doable. For handicapped people or people who need extra time, they stop the ferris wheel for a minute to make sure everyone gets on comfortably. Mike and I waited and when our turn came we hustled into the capsule.
The view was amazing!
There were even iPads in the capsule that pointed out various buildings and landmarks you could see from the capsule! The white dome towards the top of the previous picture is St. Paul’s Cathedral (near the Tower of London). We didn’t actually make it there, but we did see it, courtesy of the London Eye. 🙂
After our capsule completed its rotation, we got to the exit platform, the door opened and everyone hustled out. So much fun! Such a wonderful view! We were very fortunate that the skies were clear so that we could literally see everything! Night time was a great time to go up as well since we were able to see all the lights of the city.
Back at the hotel, we hung out in the hotel lounge for awhile, had dinner there, and just relaxed. We were tired, but in a relaxed, contemplative way, not in an exhausted must-go-to-sleep-right-now kind of way.
An early night was called for, and we complied.
In other non-England news, the weather in Seattle has been SO WARM this week! It was up to 85 degrees on Thursday. As nice as that was, it’s actually a little too nice when you’re doing much walking outside in the sun. You heat up pretty quickly! Now it’s back to the low 60’s, though, so it seems as though our brush with summer weather was brief, and we’ll have to wait until later in the year for more consistently warm weather! I hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend! 🙂