Generally, Dan and I are very against being those touristy people that are always snapping pictures, looking at maps in the middle of the sidewalk, and being in those tour groups that clog up the museums by standing front of the coolest things for hours. So, it was with a lot of trepidation that we booked an all-day tour to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath. But we booked it, for the day after Dan’s birthday. We woke up absurdly early and met up in the center of London for the tour bus, and then we were off!
Our tour guide, Pedro (who, by the way, looked remarkably like Johnny Depp), pointed out some cool things on our way, like the pub the Three Famous Kings (Charles, Henry VIII, and Elvis Presley). Charles and Henry VIII were both buried at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor and Elvis was included in these “kings” because his family is from Wales. So, there’s that.
Anyway, our first stop was Windsor Castle, the official resident of Queen Elizabeth II. Also, fun fact, this castle holds the record for being the royal family’s resident for the longest (over 900 years!).
We only had an hour there, but we got to see the State Apartments, which were insane. There was tons of artwork there, plus the bullet that killed Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar, and the sword that Napoleon surrendered when he lost. We didn’t have time to see the Doll’s House, but we did walk through St. George’s Chapel, where Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, King Charles (he was beheaded, which naturally meant he couldn’t be buried at Westminster Abbey), Queen Mary, Napoleon, and a whole bunch of others are buried.
After a quick lunch at McDonald’s (I know, super American of us), we were on our way to Stonehenge! This was definitely my favorite part of the tour, probably because we actually got an audio guide there.
So, Stonehenge was built some time around 2500 BC by people in the neolithic period, who were likely nomadic, moving around with their sheep and cattle, but often returning to the same places. It’s unique to other stone circles around the world because of the horizontal stones, called lintels, that are placed on the tops of the vertical stones. No other stone circles have those. So, that’s cool.
The outside stones, called sarsens, are made of sandstone and were brought from about 35 kilometers away. The stones on the inside, called bluestones, are from Wales and, according to some theories, were thought to have healing powers.
That’s another thing. Because there aren’t any written records from that people, no one really knows why Stonehenge was built, and what purpose it was used for. There are a couple of theories, however. One theory is that it was the “place of the ancients”, because stone was used to signify the dead, while wood was used to signify the living. Also, probably because the remains of tons of people have been discovered in the ground around Stonehenge. Another theory is that Stonehenge was a place of healing, because people were constantly returning to Stonehenge, and because the bluestones were carried from so far away.
After Stonehenge, we made our way to the City of Bath, which is gorgeous. There was a point on the bus when we were driving up a hill, and there was an amazing view of the whole city, with all the Roman, and Georgian, and Victorian architecture. This city is just really cool. We also drove past a replica of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Jane Austen’s house in Bath, and a carnival going on in the center of town.
The big stop in Bath, however, was the Roman Baths, famous in many novels as a resort-type getaway. (This is why Jane Austen’s family had a house here.) We only spent a little time here, but it was interesting to hear and read about the whole process when people would come here. There was the changing room, the warm room (to acclimatize yourself to the heat), the hot room, then the sacred springs and the well-known bath that basically looks like this big green swimming pool. Dan, because of what he studies, thought it was interesting that it was seen as both a center for leisure and as well as a place where one could worship.
Anyway, after the museum, we walked around Bath a little bit, I almost bought a dress but then didn’t because I didn’t have enough time to consider it and who wants to be stressed into buying a dress? Not me. So we walked back to the coach park (fun fact: buses are called coaches here) and made our way back to London.
All in all, a good experience, especially since our tour wasn’t like the tour from our worst nightmares. It was actually really low-key. The tour guide would tell us fun facts on the bus in between stops, and he would lead us to the museums, since our tour included admission, but then we had free reign. We could go and look at whatever we wanted to look at, and as a bonus, we didn’t have to be the annoying tourists. A win-win for everyone.