Sunday, February 24, 2013

Spring (Half Term) Break!

Best. Half term break. EVER.

I've spent the week since my last update at Christa's. Her roommate and landlady were out of town so we had the place to ourselves - a rare occurance and one we fully exploited, thank you very much.

What have I done this week you ask? Oh, well, let me see...Thursday we saw the movie Beautiful Creatures which was pretty great. I mean, heck, it had magic, teen romance, and Jeremy Irons - what's not to love about that? And the rest of the week was pretty much spent lounging about her flat watching TV and chatting and...Oh, I went to Primark on Thursday too - got five T-shirts, a blazer, dress pants for a scary low price which was nice. Hm, what else...what else...

Well. There was this one thing...

Tuesday I slept over at Christa's. Why, you ask? Because the next day we took a trip. Where did we go on this trip? 

We got up early Wednesday morning and made our way to the Westminster Park Plaza hotel lobby (who have a very friendly staff even for non-guests, FYI) where a van picked us up and brought to Victoria station where a coach bus and our tour guide were waiting. Tour guide was okay - very well informed, at least, although a bit on the dull side.

The bus set off at about nine and almost two hours later we arrived at...

Windsor Castle! This is where Queen Elizabeth II lives on weekends (no, really - this is her weekend palace and, no, I didn't bump in to anyone I recognized as royal, alas). It has this amazing dollhouse that's an exact replica of the palace itself that was a gift to the Queen Mother, right down to the miniaturized furniture and the functional lawn mowers and lights.

Of course, it's kept in a darkened room where flash photography is prohibited...but someone less scrupulous than I (don't laugh; I didn't say I'm scrupulous - just that there are others out in the world with even less scruples than I - it's a valid point) didn't adhere to the rules and so I snagged this off the internet.

We were supposed to have 45 minutes to browse the grounds of Windsor, which was awesome because I wanted to St. George's Chapel. This is where they have a whole slew of royals buried, including - all together in quire (which also holds the flags of Knights of the Garter) - Henry VIII, his third wife, Jane Seymour (the only one of the six to give him a son), Charles I (who was beheaded by Parliament and buried his head sewn back on) and the infant child of Queen Anne.

We left the chapel with plenty of time to get back to the bus...except it turns out Windsor Castle has ONE exit and once they begin their changing of the guard ceremony, the exit is locked and you're actually held captive while the guard changes. Christa and I were petrified we'd miss our bus and be stranded but we ultimately managed to make it back just in time. Bright side, we got a much better view of this changing of the guard than we did of the one at Buckingham Palace.

Back on the bus, we rode for almost two and half hours - receiving bunches of tidbits about things like thatching and farming and whatever else we happened to see out the window. When we finally got to our destination, we only had about thirty minutes to walk around the site and back out again. It was AMAZING - I totally geeked out, like a kid in a candy store.

Yup, that's right - I went to freaking STONEHENGE! See those stones? They were placed like that sometime between 3000 BC and 2000 BC - a time before cranes and bulldozers and other handy machinery - possibly for religious purposes, but it's not entirely for certain. Thanks to some morons in the '70s who had to go and ruin it for everyone by trying to graffiti the stones, you can't get close to the stones themselves without security present to supervise - which they only do in the early morning and late at night. It was like meeting Elvis or proving a legend; BEYOND epic!

This? This is the Heel Stone. At summer solstice (meaning around June 21), if you stand within the stone circle of Stonehenge and look north-east through the entrance, you would see the sun rise above the heel stone. According to a folk tale from about the seventeenth century or later,
The Devil bought the stones from a woman in Ireland, wrapped them up, and brought them to Salisbury plain. One of the stones fell into the Avon, the rest were carried to the plain. The Devil then cried out, "No-one will ever find out how these stones came here!" A friar replied, "That’s what you think!," whereupon the Devil threw one of the stones at him and struck him on the heel. The stone stuck in the ground and is still there.
And then it was back on the bus once more to head over to Bath. What's in Bath, you ask? Why, baths are in Bath of course - it's all in the name.

There was a hot spring. Romans came. Need more be said? They built it, devoted it to a goddess of healing, spread stories of its mystical properties and people swarmed there in droves...until the Romans bailed, the Saxons took over and the baths were built over. Naturally, couple centuries later they were rediscovered and excavated and now are a pretty popular tourist attraction, with its own museum annexed on. You can't even touch that water behind me in the pictures - it FULL of bacteria and other nasties - but they do have a filtered fountain you can drink from, because, as I said, healing properties. Romans, what can I say? (FYI: water is warm and tastes rather sulfuric and metallic.)

Afterward, we rode back to Victoria station and then caught trains back to Forest Hill (where Christa lives) and hunted down a Chinese restaurant around the corner from her where we grabbed some take-out.

As I said: best half-term break EVER!

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