The plan for today was to get up and go to the train station for a tour that goes out to Stonehenge and Salisbury, leaving at 9:15 and returning at 6:45, then grabbing a bite to eat and heading to the Globe Theater to watch a play. I got to see Stonehenge, at least.
The whole "go to sleep at 4am, wake up at 8am" thing isn't working right now with all the activity I'm doing. It might work at home when all I had to do was go to work, but I wasn't on the go all day. So when my alarm went off at 8, I turned it off and went back to sleep. I woke up again at 9:05, and there was no way I was going to get out of bed, get dressed, get my stuff ready to go, walk the 7 minutes to the train station, buy a day pass, walk through the walkways to get to the train, and get to Waterloo in just 10 minutes. So it took me about an hour to figure out what to do with the day, should I mix and match stuff from other days and try to get a whole tour in some other day, or just suck up the lost morning and take an afternoon Stonehenge-only tour that might get me back in time to get to the Globe? Finally decided on a compromise, I'd go get lunch, then take the 12:10pm tour bus, and when I got back I'd meet my Twitter friend Kate for dinner instead of going to the Globe. Well it turned out that the web site I looked at for the Stonehenge tour had the wrong time, they told me to show up at 12:10 when it was really 1:30. So I got to hang out at the Victoria Coach Station for an hour, which is probably like any other bus depot station in a big city.
Stonehenge is a ways out - it's about a 2-hour drive each way (more or less, depending on traffic getting out of London) and then we get one hour with a guided audio tour out at the site. Yes, it's a 4-hour round-trip drive for a 1-hour tour. But for me it was worth it. I think it was Lia who told me that if you've wanted to go somewhere or do something since you were younger, and you have the chance to do it, you have to do it even at the expense of something else. Stonehenge was on my bucket list since I was really big into Arthurian Legend back in high school, even before I knew what a bucket list was, and I was disappointed not to have done it when I visited England back in 1984.
But I wasn't driving, and once we got out of the city it was a chance to doze off. The driver pointed out a number of sights on the roadside as we were driving out, from "here's where they filmed Mary Poppins" to explanation of how the new congestion fee works.
Some random things I jotted down on the trip there and back:
- There are so many London landmarks that are referenced in songs that I'm now seeing. "From Soho down to Brighton...." "At the Houses of Parliament, everyone's talking about the President....", "Your mother, she's an heiress, Owns a block in Saint John's Wood...", stuff from Monty Python skits ("I'm so worried about the baggage retrieval system they've got at Heathrow...", rugby teams, election night, etc.)
- Cameras are EVERYWHERE. We complain about red-light cameras, here if the radar catches you speeding the camera takes a picture of your license and you get a ticket that you cannot appeal. If you go into the city's designated Congestion Area, you have to pay 10 pounds by midnight because your license plate was photographed (and if you don't, fines go up daily). CCTV cameras everywhere in the Tube, on the trains, on just about every street corner.
- Gas is 1.36 pounds per liter. Do the conversion and it comes out to $8.14 per gallon. And we complain when it's over $3 in the US. Can you imagine if it got that expensive at home?
- Nearly every woman I see wearing a skirt or shorts is wearing some sort of stockings, leggings, or tights. At home, even when it's the same temperature (in the mid 60s F), the women tend to still go bare-legged.
- If this was a "normal" trip of just a couple of weeks, I'd be buying official guide books at many of the places I've been to. But since I don't want to lug around 100 pounds of books or continuously ship them home, I haven't bought them (and they'd just sit on my coffee table anyway). I'm looking to pick up a few hat pins for my planned "where I've been" map though, in particular one for the London Underground symbol and one for the Olympics 2012 symbol. I'll be getting some t-shirts along the way too, but not one in every city as that would mean about 20 more shirts.
Got back to Victoria Station and had a pint of Magner's Original Irish Cider while waiting to tag up with Kate about dinner. Found some free wifi in Victoria Pub so that's where I hung out. Kate lives in Walthamstow which is up north. Had a nice dinner (veal steak) and banoffee pie for dessert (some sort of banana + boiled condensed milk that turns into toffee) with her and a friend at one of her favorite places there, followed by a pint of Crouch Vale Brewers Gold at her local pub The Nag's Head. Kate visited the US for several months last year and I got to tour her around at JSC, so she got to return the favor this time by showing me her home turf. It just started a strong drizzle as I was leaving. Made it back to the apartment at about 12:45am. Chatted with Louise about my day - as the hostess while the owner is away, she's fascinated by what tourists do in her country; it's a common thing I've heard when talking about my travels, many of them tell me that I've done more in several days than they've done in years in their own country. Finally realized that uploading pictures hogs up the internet bandwidth and makes everything really slow, which is why I was up til 4am again. Tomorrow night, write first and then do the uploading while I'm asleep.
Here's the set of pictures on Flickr for Sept 20, 2011.
(Originally posted 9/23/11 at 1:45am, London)