Friday, October 28, 2016

England: Bath & Stonehenge

Chris and I traveled to England this year to celebrate our ten year anniversary. TEN YEARS! We always try to take a trip with just the two of us in between each baby that comes, and celebrating our anniversary with it sounded like a great idea.

 Kind of excited at the airport!
Bathroom selfie with my stylish money belt, ha ha.

We took the direct flight from Salt Lake to London Heathrow and it was glorious! The plane also had tons of empty seats so we each stretched out on a side row to ourselves and watched movies until we landed.

We had some great views of the city of London from the airplane before we landed.
 Here you can see the River Thames and the London Eye, etc.
Regent's Park and Hyde Park.
While waiting in line to pass through customs, we creeped on Donny Osmond, who had been on our plane.

Then we rented a car and drove two hours straight to Bath. Chris was a rockstar, driving a stickshift with the wrong hand on the wrong side of the road. He had done it before on his mission in New Zealand, but still! It was a little stressful, and we both had to be on high alert as we drove.

When we got to Bath, it took us forever to get to our hotel because of the River Avon that cuts through the city. The bridge we needed to cross to get to our hotel was closed for construction, so we had to find our way around it. The traffic in the city center is maddening! And of course that's right where our hotel was, because I'm all about location. Finally we found our hotel, checked in, got our car into some long term parking, and booked it over to the Roman Baths with like an hour and a half before closing. Phew! And I'm so glad we made it, because they were uh-mazing.
The baths were built in Roman times on a natural hot spring that occurs there (one of the few in Europe). The waters were believed to bring healing and fertility to all who visited them. They've found artifacts, jewelry, and coins in the sediment under the water that lead them to believe travelers came from all over the world to soak in these waters.

Chris got so sick of me pulling out my selfie stick on this trip, ha ha. But he isn't sick of it yet in this picture! Just wait.

Inside the museum were pieces of curses and prayers that had been written on sheets of metal and tossed into the waters like a wishing well in ancient times. Some of them were to punish people who had wronged them, some of them were asking the Gods for things. I thought it was fascinating.
The underbelly of the baths was also fascinating. The way they channeled the water and steam and created suspended slab floors for sauna rooms was very sophisticated.

Here's Chris listening to his audioguide. It had tons of good information. I wish we'd had more hours to spend there.
Don't we look so relaxed and kid-free, even after 40 hours with no sleep?

On our way out they let us take a cup and taste the water. It had a strong metal (iron?) taste. Hopefully it brings us health & fertility. Ha!
The Bath Abbey. It was closed for choir practice when we walked by, but it was lovely.
I love how packed the city was. They squeezed in little buildings wherever they could.
My Rick Steves' guide told me that 90% of the buildings in the city of Bath are on the historic registry, so it's almost impossible to build anything new in the city, you have to remodel according to code, which is very expensive. All the buildings are built from the same light, creamy limestone, and it's lovely.
That glass building down the way is the Thermae Bath Spa. Here you can actually soak in waters heated by the natural underground spring. But it cost like $50 bucks for two hours, and Chris and I decided that we'd rather see the city since we only had one night to spend there.
I fell in love with this huge tree in the middle of one of the town blocks.
We found a good fish & chips joint and of course had to make it our first meal in England. The exchange rate was so good to us while we were there, everything cost about the same it does here or less. It was fantastic!

A wall built on roman foundations that remains in the middle of the city in downtown bath.
It started to rain as it got dark while we were exploring the city, but we had planned for rain so we busted out the raincoats and carried on. And as it turns out, we got super lucky and this was the only day we got rained on!
We walked by the Jane Austen Center. She lived in Bath for part of her life and they have a little museum dedicated to her here. Unfortunately it was closed, but I had to get a pic.
We also walked up to the Royal Crescent and Circus and the Assembly Rooms, but it was dark so we didn't take any pictures. But we really enjoyed the lovely architecture. It almost reminded me a little bit of Paris, with all the uniform buildings of the same height and architecture. It was lovely.
Finally we headed back to our hotel. We stayed at the Henry Guest House in Bath. It had a great location right near the Abbey and the Roman Baths. Our room and bathroom were tiny, and our bed was only a double, but we were so tired after traveling that we slept like logs and didn't even notice.


The next morning we ate an English breakfast at our hotel -- our first one! Eggs, sausages, bacon and beans. Then we checked out, put our bags in the trunk and walked down the road to take a look at the first Rugby Pitch in England which is located in Bath.

We also crossed the River Avon, which was lovely, and winds all the way up the country to Shakespeare's birthplace which we visited later.
Then we hopped in our car and took a detour past one of the earliest LDS chapels in Bath. It was in a residential area with the tiniest, skinniest one-way streets. To get there we drove on the skinniest street of the entire trip, it stressed me out, ha ha!
Then it was off to Stonehenge. It took us about an hour to get there, driving through the rolling countryside, and it was beautiful.

Stonehenge really is out in the middle of nowhere! There are no big cities nearby, it's just rolling green fields and then, BAM. This is what the museum part looks like.

Inside the museum they give you lots of good information and overviews of the history, the different types of stones, the formation, etc. They don't know exactly what stonehenge was used for, but they do know it was a solar calendar and could predict summer and winter solstices. They also have evidence of travelers coming here to visit from all across other continents, as well as huge burial mounds nearby.

This is an up-close view of one of the bluestones, and how big they are. Enormous!
Then we hopped on a shuttle bus that drives you down the road to the actual Stonehenge site. Chris was amused by the hair of the guy in front of us. Eccentric.

This was our first view of Stonehenge. The clouds couldn't have been more beautiful that day. I had an audio guide on my phone so we plugged in our  headphones and walked the path all the way around it. The end of the pathway gets you up much closer to the stones.
Obligatory Stonehenge selfie.
I've heard a lot of people say they were surprised at how small Stonehenge is. Maybe because of that, I was expecting something quite small, and I ended up surprised at how large it was, ha ha. The stones are quite massive, and it baffles my mind at how many of them are still standing after all this time! Scientists believe Stonehenge was built between 3000 and 2000 BC. Can you imagine!?
Scientists still don't know exactly how the stones were hoisted up into place without modern tools, or exactly how the stones were moved here from a quarry more than 20 miles away. Fascinating.

Here's our closest shot of the stones. They don't let you walk in between them any more because it was causing erosion of the soil and vandalism of the stones was occurring. But I felt like this was close enough for me.
If you turn around while you're looking at Stonehenge, you can look down the valley and see huge burial mounds in the distance. There are several hundred burial mounds surrounding Stonehenge. Bizarre!
We hit the Stonehenge gift shop on our way out, which was ENORMOUS. I could have spent all day in there. I wish I'd had more luggage space! But we did buy a visitors guide book that was really cool.

After we visited Stonehenge, we drove about an hour north to Avebury, which is another stone circle like Stonehenge, but with a larger diameter, and you're allowed to walk right up to the stones! It's actually the large stone circle in all of Europe. A village was actually built right through part of the circle. When they started digging the foundation for a building, they realized they were digging into the burial mound that completely surrounds this whole stone circle, so they stopped and made a museum from the artifacts they found.

This is the walkway leading up to the Avebury museum. So beautiful.
There is a huge manor next to the museum that you can tour part of the year. Very Pride & Prejudice, no?
There was also a beautiful, working church next to the manor. I fell in love with the cemetery in front of it.

Inside the church was a prayer tree. If you have a heavy heart, you could write it on a paper heart, hang it on the tree, and the church patrons would pray for you. So beautiful.
 We had to walk through a gate into a pasture, essentially, with sheep walking all around, to get to the Avebury stone circle. Isn't it beautiful? In this picture you can see the circle and then off to the right where it slopes up is the burial mound that runs all the way around the perimeter.
The individual stones were much smaller than that of stonehenge, and there were no remaining lintels, but more of the outer perimeter of stones remains at Avebury. The perimeter of the stone circle was quite large, probably close to a mile around, and we were able to walk the whole thing. (The diameter is over 1000 feet.) Most of it was on private pastured land, but the signs on the gate indicated we were welcome to enter as long as we remembered to close the gate and not let the animals out, ha!
At one point there were other visitors walking around with us, and one of them climbed up on top of this big rock below. I think it's wonderful that this attraction is free and open to the public, but good grief, could we please preserve it for future generations to see? I wanted to yell at him to get down, ha ha.

A few of the really large stones in the center, with me in there for scale. These ones were pretty big!
After we visited the stones, we ate lunch in the museum cafe. Holy crap. So good. It was like homemade soups and homemade rolls. This cheesy onion twist was easily one of the top five best things I ate on this trip. Yum!

Then we hopped in the car and headed toward The Cotswolds...

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