Tag Archive | Salisbury

Last stop…

…London! Were you waiting for it? I told you to wait for it, so we now know your inability to follow directions if you didn’t. *Sarcasm Sign*

But it began with a day in London just us girls. Kevin and Dad went to Stonehenge, Old Sarum, and Bath so we had the whole day to ourselves. Mom and I checked into The Rubens at the Palace, a hotel full of memories for us as it was the same hotel we stayed at when we came three years ago. They kindly pretended to remember us, but we know that they don’t (except our favorite doorman Nathan who actually DID remember us!). It’s cute though. The first thing we did was take a tube to Piccadilly Circus to snag two of the last seats to that night’s performance of Les Miserables. They were in the Upper Dress Circle, aka the nosebleed seats, but they were tickets and that is all that mattered. I’m willing to suffer through a lot for the theatre.

Our first real activity of the day was going to the Victoria & Albert Museum in the Burrough of Kensington. I loved the museum, and it’s something I had wanted to do in London for a while and just hadn’t gotten the chance. It was full of decorative arts exhibits, so things like clothes, furniture, jewelry, plate ware, and my personal favorite, snuff boxes.

A snuff box, makes more sense why I like them now doesn't it?

Basically a ton of sparkly things which everyone knows I am attracted to like a fish. We lingered over the items from the Tudor era obviously, and while the ball dresses exhibit wasn’t open yet, there was a wonderful exhibit on theatre production that put us in the mood for Les Mis.

We spent a long time in the V&A and then went to the famous department store, Harrods, which nearly ruined my beautiful day. It was gaudy and crowded, hot and smelly, and not just because of the perfume counters. Everything was a disgusting shrine to excess and overindulgence. We barely walked in before we got lost and asked an employee for a map just to find an escape from the place. It was one of the lower points of the entire trip and I have no idea why anyone would want to step foot in there. And then once we ahd escaped, we couldn’t find a nearby place for tea so we went back to our own beautiful and calm–as well as tea providing–hotel for scones and Early Grey. Definitely an improvement, bringing me back to the happiness of spending time with Mom, going to the V&A, and basking in the beautiful sunlight.

Tea Time

We went back to Piccadilly around 6 pm to grab dinner before the play. Because we were on the border of SoHo, most everywhere was clubs or cocktail bars and we ate at Le Pain Quotedienne. Our waiter was awesome. He was funny, liked Harry Potter and Disney, and even watches Downton Abbey. Unfortunately we didn’t get his name and will never see him again because he really was a sweetie. But Les Mis was calling and the theatre waits for no diner.

Les Mis was even better than I could have hoped for. The singing, the staging, the singing (yes, it deserves multiple mentions). I can see why everyone becomes addicted. I pretty much sobbed the entire last third of the musical, which was problematic as I had forgotten tissues. I was stunned, speechless, and streaming tears for a while after curtain.

At Les Mis

But all good things must come to an end; all too soon we were joined at The Rubens by the menfolk and nighttime gave way to morning of our first day in London as the four of us.

Kevin really wasn’t feeling well on this new morning so he elected to forgo going to Windsor Castle with us in exchange for an extra four hours of sleep. It was Dad’s first experience with the Tube, so we were lucky that it wasn’t as crowded as it generally is so Dad wouldn’t get separated from us. We got a much later start than Mom and I are used to or wanted to, so by the time we made it to Windsor we ended up waiting in quite a long line than we would’ve if we had arrived earlier.

Windsor Castle, the Queen was in residence

And St. George’s Chapel was closed for Sunday services so no Hency VIII grave for us (thankfully Mom and I saw it last time). All we ended up being able to do was Queen Mary’s Dollhouse, the State Apartments, and the outside areas. We did all of that three years ago on our Tudor Tour, but that time we had arrived so late in the day that we had had to rush everything. This time we were able to take our time, but with the chapel closed there wasn’t much else to do. We listened to the entire audio guide of the apartments and grounds, ate lunch, and walked back to the rail station. Dad loved the castle and went on and on about how cool it was. Our first train back was cancelled so we waited around for another 20 minutes for the next one. Once at Waterloo Station, there was a lot of security ushering us out of the station; apparently there was a fire report at one of the cafes.

We ate here last time we were at Windsor

Our initial plan was to do another cream tea and then catch a Hop-on-Hop-Off tour so Dad and Kevin could see more of London without needing to walk around for four days. As the train was later than we had anticipated, in fact the whole day was later than we had anticipated, Mom and I chose to graciously give up our precious tea in favor of catching one of the last tours. It turned out that the last live guide bus was leaving from Green Park at 5 and we were at one of last stops (Victoria) so we could get on the last tour IF we made it to Green Park in 20 minutes. We ended up making it with literally a minute to spare. Then while everyone went upstairs, I had to deal with a broken credit card machine preventing me from paying for the tickets. When it was finally worked out I went upstairs and snagged a spot at the very front of the bus, prime picture taking location. The rest of the family was in the back of the bus, abandoning me to be surrounded by Mafia men (no joke).

Rare photo of Dad and me at the Windsor Governor's House

Back at the hotel, Kevin and I sent Mom and Dad off to have dinner together while Kevin was stood up by a friend who was also visiting in London and I slept. Then Dad swapped places with me and slept while the three of us went downstairs for dinner and pudding 🙂 A lot of funny moments came out of that pudding.

For our last full day together (sadness) we went to the Tower of London, one of my favorite places to visit. I’ve been there twice already, so the immediate reaction would be an eye roll because there is a theoretically finite amount of things to do and see at the Tower. I mean I can basically spew off most of the same information about the history of the Tower that someone would get from the audio guide, so it isn’t like I can learn a whole lot more by continuing to visit.

Tower of London

But Dad had yet to go there and there was a huge draw for Mom and me as well. Thinking that it opened at 9:30, we took the tube, arriving at 9:15. Turns out that the Tower wasn’t open until 10 am. I was huddling on a bench in the sun because it hadn’t warmed up enough yet and Kevin and I practiced our British accents on each other to the embarrassment of our parents. I think we are getting pretty good at them to be honest. The gates opened at 10, but the first guided tour wasn’t until 10:30 (which once again further threw off our time game plan) so we beat the crowds to the jewel house and awed at the sparkliness of the Crown Jewels. Again, bored boys, starry eyed girls. That took all of 15 minutes and we made our way back to the entrance of the fortress to meet up with the tour guide.

The tour, as it was the first of the day, was incredibly crowded, probably consisting of 75 people. Thankfully the tour guide could project, because his jokes were hilarious and his history engaging (learned some new things! See? Totally worth revisiting). But as great as our guide was, he paled in comparison to the whole purpose of taking the tour: access to the chapel. Specifically, entrance to the site of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howards’ graves (always a Tudor reason behind my thoughts). Yes, I actually got to see the graves of those two tragic women, and was completely overwhelmed, as I often become when faced with the reality of history. Completely satisfied with my time at the Tower, I waited on a warm bench (are you sensing a theme yet?) while the rest of the family breezed through some of the other Tower exhibits, and then we all left and headed for the Tate Modern.

Here is where Kevin received his reward for being an awesome brother on this trip: we all went to a modern art gallery with him despite Mom and me hating modern art and Dad’s back not really able to handle standing around galleries. But the guy earned it, so we all kindly sucked it up and allowed him as much time as he wanted to explore the exhibits. Which honestly only took about an hour as the gallery is really only one floor, so we soon moved on to the National Gallery, a place I was much more interested in. The National Gallery has over 150 hours of audio commentary, meaning that renting one for the second time was worth it. I made sure not to listen to the same paintings as before, choosing instead an entirely different genre of works, and I also made sure that I wasn’t wandering on an empty stomach! Greatly increased my enjoyment and focusing ability. This time I was the last one done, but there was a cafe downstairs so everyone had agreed to just meet there and no one got lost. Then we walked back to the hotel, where Mom and I were greeted by the wonderful Nathan holding out an envelope for us containing our incredible seats for Billy Elliot.

Obviously Mom and I have no qualms about seeing productions more than once, note our 6 time experience with Wicked, but we had attempted to get last minute tickets to the eternally sold out War Horse. Unfortunately, those did not pan out so we consoled ourselves with the brilliant Billy. Definitely one of the best productions in London, and highly recommended by, well, me. Also, tidbit for those in LA, it’s coming to the Pantages! So buy a ticket, you won’t be sorry, I promise.

Unfortunately this left us with only one more morning to share before they had to leave me in the UK for their lives back in California. We chose to spend this melancholy morning in a melancholy place, a church. Specifically Westminster Abbey, fittingly surrounding ourselves with illustrious but dead people. I took my time even more than usual here, because last time Mom and I were both able to find the resting places of some important but relatively obscure Tudor people (Anne of Cleves and Anne Bolyen’s niece Katherine Knoylls), so I was hoping that I would stumbled across more of these people if I was just patient and didn’t zip through the Abbey like Dad did. I was rewarded as well, finding Anne Boleyn’s nephew and Elizabeth I’s counselor Henry Carey. Even cooler, I bumped into a friend from UCLA! Completely random, unintentional, and kind of surreal. We started at each other for a solid minute of confusion before realizing neither of us was hallucinating and yes, we were both real people standing in Westminster Abbey. Her friend just got accepted to Oxford so she came over to visit on her spring break. But how amazing that we both were in Westminster at the same time and able actually could catch up for a bit? So bizarre how small of a world it can be!


Following the conclusion of Westminster, we took a massively scenic route up towards Trafalgar’s Square before heading back to the hotel for our farewells. As all taxis seem to be in the UK, my family’s ride to the airport was 15 minutes early, so the goodbyes were a little more sudden than I was expecting. I am so grateful that they came to visit and that I had the chance to spend two weeks with my dad and brother and three with my mom.

Now for a week of school work and dance and rest before I set off on another trip to Paris with my friends!

The English Mona Lisa

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.

Attempting to keep our eyes open long enough to get a picture

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.

Do over! Second trip up the hill, but still super windy

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.

The new Font at Salisbury Cathedral

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.