Now that Day 2 of London had passed (see? I told you would might miss some posts. Go back to the one before this if you are thinking “Huh? They went to London twice?”), Kevin and I were leaving my cozy little room behind and with it my comfort zone in England. Not that I am uncomfortable anywhere in this wonderful country, I mostly mean that I won’t be sleeping in my own room while listening to Kevin complain about sleeping on a air mattress that he should have just been grateful I bought him at all. Sibling blog bickering over as of……..now. As the morning centered around the differentiation between a little drizzle and a breeze versus rain and heavy winds, Kevin won and convinced me to take buses to the Oxford Rail Station instead of walking. The winds eventually became more severe, so yes, I admitted that he made the smarter decision. I would have pushed the walking more, but to be fair he was rolling his suitcase with him and that thing was heavy. We needn’t have rushed to take any buses though because, like previously mentioned, it was windy in the morning. And a tree had fallen up the tracks somewhere between Oxford and Machester Piccadilly so trains were being delayed, cancelled, and rerouted. We had to laugh at least a little bit; I mean a single tree was going to mess up northbound trains for an entire day. Of course, as we soon learned on our own travels southward, it wasn’t just that one tree. It was a lot of trees. Enough trees to make every train across the country delayed, cancelled, or rerouted, including ours. From Oxford to Reading, stuck at Reading; Reading to Basingstoke, delayed at Basingstoke; finally Basingstoke to Salisbury, had to wait around 40 minutes for our bus to Stonehenge.
I have no idea how this managed to work out, but overall we only ended up 30 minutes behind the schedule I had so carefully mapped out (or as Kevin would say, micromanaged) really meaning that we weren’t behind schedule at all since the Stonehenge buses only leave once an hour. I was actually extremely concerned though. The wind had picked up again and the sky had decided that it was no more Mr. Nice Guy from yesterday and that we deserved to have literal buckets dumped over our heads. Then my umbrella, my poor fragile umbrella, couldn’t handle the gales and flipped inside out, a sharp quick and hopefully painless death for the metal contraption. Now I need to get a new umbrella that isn’t from Costco. With such violent weather, I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised to hear that Stonehenge closed for visitors and that we had made the three hour trip to Salisbury for nothing. Luckily only the old village of Old Sarum was deemed too dangerous in this storm and our journey up to the great stone circle left promptly at 11:00.
I can see how, on a clear day, this tour company has such a good reputation that it was allowed to agin the monopoly on Stonehenge tour transportation. The prerecorded guide was entertaining and factual, not cut with a single strain of cheesy music. But today was not a clear day. To quote the narrator in Winnie-the-Pooh, today was a blustery day and no one on our bus was able to wipe the condensation from the inside of the windows fast enough or frequently enough or well enough to give anyone a clear view outside to see what we were hearing about. I was sitting in the aisle seat and so did none of the wiping work, so I hereby commend Kevin and the Australian girl sitting behind us for their valiant efforts. I certainly wouldn’t have put that much effort into it. But did you know that Salisbury and its surrounding plain are actually major military aircraft test and training sites? Or that humans have lived in Salisbury for over 3500 years? Sometimes the random history facts are just too interesting not to pass along. I was actually thrilled to hear that Salisbury has a military background. I was paranoid this whole trip that I would be bouncing along, overwhelmingly and dorkily giddy at seeing all these minute history references and that KEvin would be sullen and bored. Anytime war came up, one of his areas of expertise, I breathed a sigh of relief that there was something he would find interesting too. (Honestly, I shouldn’t have worried, he had a good time everywhere.)
Predictably the weather only worsened at the actual Stonehenge site, to the point where we couldn’t see ten meters in front of us and our hoods were soaked through with rain the instant we walked out from the underpass’s temporary shelter, audio guides clutched to our ears by fingers too wet and frozen to push the buttons for the next marker.
All this misery, all this sacrifice (we were volunteering ourselves for an entire day of being soaked regardless of wether the sun came out), all this buildup to a massive stone circle, AND……..it was no where near as big as it looks in the pictures. Now I am not saying that the stone circle isn’t a marvelous feat of strength and planning and science to build back in the Neolithic era, but I am saying that the feeling I had when standing next to the rock formation was the same feeling I had when I first laid eyes on the Mona Lisa at the Louvre: uhhhh okay. I thought it would be bigger. Again, I am not diminishing the massive amounts of muscle and patience that went into erecting Stonehenge, but especially in rain and wind so terribly that we couldn’t keep our eyes open for a picture, I felt a bit let down. I was seeing very very big rocks when I was expecting to see gigantic monoliths. With the Mona Lisa, I had prepared myself for the same feeling I had every time I gazed at a Degas, and had ended up deflating with a “That’s it?”. So I dutifully sucked up the weather and took some obligatory photos and listened to the audio commentary as I trudged back through the sleet to the warm gift shop to await the bus back in 40 minutes.
That gift shop must love weather like today’s. With no other source for heat and shelter from raindrops, everyone with a ticket to the rocks ended up crowding in this small gift shop and when people have too much time to kill, they spend too much money on pointless souvenirs. Including us, I am happy to say. We supported the British Heritage Society with the purchasing of some novelty chocolates in exchange for a sample of a ginger wine that warmed us right up. I’d have bought a bottle to take back with me, but I knew that I would have no room in my book bag (and oh how right I was, but that’s not this post). Twenty minutes eked by, leaving us with another 15 until the bus came, when the rain finally stopped, and the sun peeked out. In his second very intelligent decision of the day, Kevin convinced me to leave the warmly overcrowded store and brave the hill once more under the condition that if the rain started again, I was running back to safety. But it seems that the weather needed a break from its temper tantrum and we were able to redo our pictures, making it totally worth it but bloody cold. Even the bus ride back to Salisbury was better with condensation-less windows and great views of Old Sarum.
Back in the town proper (ever since my friend Ryan said that expression, Kevin and I have been using it constantly), we wandered a bit–or meandered one might say to continue the catchphrase of the trip–towards Salisbury cathedral. I was expecting it to look just like all churched do, but this one had a special kind of modernity mixed with the ancient. The spire is the tallest of any church in England and the third tallest in the world. Oddly enough it was their new baptismal font (c. 2008 or 2009) that most stood out for me in the cathedral (at least until I found the graves of Lady Jane Grey’s sister, Catherine Grey and her husband Edward Seymour, the nephew of Henry VIII’s 3rd Queen Jane Seymour). The cathedral also housed a better preserved copy of the Magna Carta, bringing my total Magna Carta’s seen to date up to three. Only one to go in Lincolnshire and I’ve seen them all.
We left the cathedral to more rain and more cold, driving me towards crankiness and insisting on a hot meal before I would meander through a town that I knew would look just like Stratford and Warwick and any other small town with a High Street (yeah yeah I was irritable at this point, I don’t like being cold). Once we’d eaten hot food and I’d sucked it up and bought new gloves, a hat that turned out not to really do anything, and new knit sleeves, I was a lot nicer and more inclined to indulge Kevin’s walking around identical towns bug. We went into the Mr. Simms to pick up more novelty candies for family back home (email me how you liked it guys!) and searched the town for a jam shop or something, but were disappointed on that front. It never started raining again so my smile stayed on all the way back up to the train station–following my directions and not getting lost I may add towards Kevin–to catch another delayed train in London Victoria and then our final delayed train to Maidstone where we were spending our last two nights of the trip. Kevin was most excited about this part; I think it had to do with getting a bed instead of an air mattress.
Anyways, we checked in at our hotel and chose to eat dinner at the hotel bar where we paid way to much money for DiGiornio pizza and a sliced red pepper and a cocktail with only half a shot of alcohol. We decided against eating there again the next night. Train hopping takes a lot out of you and it was sleep tight by 10pm, resting up for our last full day.