Sunday, July 26, 2009

Queue up here, please.

It's nine-thirty and we're already calling it a night. I feel slightly lame, but I also feel full of beer and a goat cheese sandwich and pleasantly sleepy. And it is a Sunday night after all. Secretly, I hope we're back in the room by 9pm tomorrow night because there's a TV special on Lord Byron that I really want to see.

Today we took a bus tour to Bath, Salisbury Cathedral, and Stonehenge. We planned to leave our hotel this morning in plenty of time and David rushed me this morning so when we left I walked out without the umbrella and the water bottle I meant to take with us. I complained about forgetting them all the way to the station but David said we didn't have time to go back. Then after we entered the tube station and were waiting for the lift to the tube, David asked me if I had the tickets.

No, the tickets were in his carry on bag. He pretended he had no idea, I pretended I had told him at least a million times.

So we sprinted back to the hotel to get the tickets. And the umbrella. And the water bottle.

We still made it back to the tube quickly and as we are now Masters of the London Underground, we got to Victoria's Station and found the burger king with fifteen minutes to spare before we were supposed to meet our tour at 8:30am.

But then 8:30 came and went and we saw no one.

Because we were at the wrong effing place.

We were supposed to be at the bus station (Victoria Coach Station), not waiting at the tube station (Victoria Station) outside where there were buses pulling up. So after a conversation with (1) a man from Tulsa (2) a tour bus driver but not our tour bus driver and (3) three security guards, we ended up sprinting another two blocks (with my coffee spilling everywhere) to enter the very crowded Victoria Coach Station. I had to push my way in front of a bunch of Asian tourists to ask a lady where our tour was to queue up and she sent us to gate 4.

We made it on the bus and I collapsed in a mess of over-caffeinated nerves and almost-lost-a-bunch-of-money-by-not-making-this-tour anxiety. But it was fine. Our bus was roughly half American tourists and half Asian tourists. The tour guide told everything first in English and then again in what I think was Chinese only because it didn't sound like Japanese but really I have no idea what language it was. He told all the same jokes because half the bus laughed the first time and half the bus laughed the second time only I laughed both times because for some reason I thought the whole process was funny.

We hit Bath first but barely had time for anything. We did the tour of the Roman Baths which was lovely and interesting and then popped up the road to the Jane Austen center but didn't have time for the full Jane Austen tour, unfortunately. Next time we will spend a long weekend in Bath because I was totally enchanted by the Georgian architecture and the sort of walkability of the city. It was really super cute.

David considers bathing in the healing waters.

I got mad at David in a sandwich shop because he said a sandwich on the counter was mine but I didn't think it was but he insisted so I grabbed it and it wasn't mine and the girl it belonged to was all "Excuse me?" in her very polite British accent and I was totally embarrassed in my American accent and then I told David that when I don't know what is going on I will listen to him so if he doesn't know what is going on he needs to just shut the hell up. So that was our first (and hopefully only) spat of the trip and we made up by the time we'd walked from the cafe up to the Jane Austen center.

Hello, Jane Austen, I love you and I love Mr. Darcy too.

From Bath we went to the Salisbury Cathedral which was sort of lame actually (no offense to the Magna Carta). It is sort of mind-boggling, to an American raised to appreciate the separation of church and state, to think about how intertwined church and state are in the history of England. You can't have one without the other, so it is quite appropriate that the Magna Carta (one of the four remaining originals) was on display there in a little side room off the Cathedral. A very nice volunteer old lady with a wicked mustache was in charge of telling tourists not to take pictures in this one room. She told us that the stone carvings in the walls date back to the medieval ages but the tiles were replaced in the Victorian era copying the original pattern and I tried very hard not to stare at her mustache while she talked.

The cathedral itself was very nice but somber compared to the pre-reformation Catholic churches of Italy. There were sad little tombs inside for two little girls who died and the garden in the cloisters was green and refreshing and made me feel sorry for the monks who got ousted by Henry VIII.

Hello Salisbury Cathedral. I am sorry you are not as pretty as the Catholic Churches in Italy but you are still very nice even though I heard one British man in there complain about something and say "It's no wonder that no one attends the Church of England anymore!"

I had to laugh at the Magna Carta display because they had a sign up next to it explaining how it was written in 1215 and how it was the forerunner of the English Bill of Rights of 1688 and the United States' Declaration of Independence of [1776]. 1776 is cut out of white paper and pasted over what must have been an incorrect date printed on the sign. I found it hilarious as a sign that the Brits are so disdainful of America that they can't be bothered to remember the date on which we freaking declared independence from them! I would have taken a picture of the sign, but for the lady with the mustache, bless her heart.

From Salisbury we were off to Stonehenge where David realized for the umpteenth time that he should have listened to his wife. He wore shorts and a polo and and he didn't bring any sort of jacket or sweater on this trip at all even though I told him to several times. I promised him that next time I would double-check his suitcase or pack for him like my mom does for my dad instead of presuming that he is an adult who can read the Rick Steves packing list I printed for him.

But honestly I was in a cardigan and scarf and was still freezing -- it was sort of rainy and very very windy and we have begun to realize (with the help of our bartender tonight) that rainy and in the 60s is sort of typical for summer in London and the beautiful sunny day we flew into on Saturday more of a rarity. So now David thinks he needs to buy a jacket when he should have just listened to me and our friend Rick Steves and actually freaking packed one...

Stonehenge was awesome but the best part was when the audio guide read an excerpt from Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'ubervilles that describes Stonehenge and it was so great. I was amazed to learn that 1/3 of each stone is under ground and that it really is perfectly aligned to act as a calendar. It was quite amazing in spite of the crowds of people.

Hi, we're at Stonehenge and we are freezing. But who cares? We're at Stonehenge!

Our tour guide was nice and much friendlier after I asked questions and demonstrated interest in the sights, which is more than I can say for most of the people on the bus trip. It sort of blew my mind. I mean, you've paid good money for this resource, you might as well ask lots of questions of the bilingual tour guide who knows all about this stuff. The bus ride back from Stonehenge took a couple of hours during which I napped and then listened to a 10-year-old boy read out loud from a trivia book to his parents.

Facts I learned on the bus ride back to London:
It is illegal to go to bed in Massachussetts without taking a bath (thought Brandon might need to know).

Sharks find fish by hearing their heartbeats.

12% of Americans thinks Joan of Arc was Noah's wife.

10 year old boys have shrill voices that easily carry the length of a tour bus.

There have been mega-crowds everywhere which is something that we, living in a sprawling urban area and driving our own cars everywhere like the carbon-footprinting Americans we are, are not accustomed to. We were grateful to pop into a not-very-crowded pub tonight for a pint and some pub food. We went to a place near our hotel and chatted up the bartender who seemed slightly reserved at first but ended up giving us free samples of almost every brew they had on tap and then telling us all about his recent trip to the states to visit his friend in Jersey. They took a road trip down the coast from New York to Washington to South Carolina. They were going to go to Florida but ran out of time and decided it was too hot there anyway. I asked him if he sold a lot of Budweiser and we told him we were from St. Louis, headquarters of Anheuser-Busch. He said that they do sell quite a lot of it, especially in the summer, but we didn't see anyone order a bottle while we were there.

Tomorrow is another busy day that starts with a tour of Westminster Abbey and continues my efforts to work lots of British phrases into my regular speech. Brilliant!


  1. Unasked for advice:
    Whenever you leave the hotel, one of you should announce "I have the tickets." If neither of you says that, then one of you needs to say "do you have the tickets?"

  2. So what are your favorite English brews?
    Tia Favorita