A month ago I had the privilege to visit England during its coldest spring in the last 100 years. Severely underdressed, I hopped on a bus one day for an eleven hour journey from London to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath. It’s a fairly common day excursion for the curious traveller and if tour busses don’t sound like a special slice of Hell to you, I highly recommend it.
If Buckingham Palace is where the Queen does paperwork and makes important phone calls, Windsor Castle is where she checks Facebook for six hours and plays with corgis on the weekend. It’s essentially a home away from home, though one she’s said she prefers. The castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, as I learned during a failed round of Trivia at my hometown bar.
If you’re not trapped on a tour bus, getting to Windsor is easy via train. Just head to the Windsor & Eton Riverside station.
If you have a companion who is particularly petrified by dolls or a severe case of microphobia, be sure to lure them into Queen Mary’s Doll House which boasts somewhere between a hundred and a bajillion tiny little itty bitty things. Feast your eyes on tiny vacuums, chairs, houses, and soulless eyes. Alas, pictures are not allowed indoors so please imagine a scenario in which someone hit your life with a shrink ray.
There are also gorgeous portraits and furniture and weapons on display in the State Rooms, one of the largest being the room dedicated to England’s victory at Waterloo against Napoleon. American tourists will immediately notice a painting of a man who has a striking resemblance to George Washington and, eyebrows knit together in confusion, will ask the closest guide Who the hell is he? Is that–? and the guide will hand over a shock blanket and tea and calmly inform that no, no it’s actually someone else.
Also around 11AM you can catch the changing of the guard by St. George’s Chapel. The chapel is the burial place of 10 monarchs, one of whom you literally have to step on if you want to make it through the whole thing. (He kind of deserved it, I’m thinking was their reasoning.) St. George’s is deceiving from the outside. It actually goes on and on, so allow yourself more than two minutes to explore it.
For some unknown reason, ever since I was in elementary school, I really wanted to see Stonehenge. I also thought it was in Ireland when I was seven, but I digress. I have no idea why I was so bent on seeing it, out of all the places in the world. It is, literally, a collection of rocks. While their positioning is, for someone who is an avid Jenga player, impressive, again–rocks.
I’m not sure what my seven-year-old self expected.
In a few years there will be a new Stonehenge visitor’s center farther away from the monument. (They’re looking for a new manager, by the way, if you’ve got your CV handy.) Until then, your bus parks on the other side of the highway and you run through an underpass to come up on the other side. You make your way around Stonehenge–a fifteen minute walk or five minutes if it’s raining and you’re wearing the stupidest shoes imaginable–and then you return to the underpass, cross it off your bucket list, maybe check in on Foursquare and call it a day.
The truth behind Stonehenge has been lost to time, but I’ve seen some convincing arguments for a worldly connection.
Also, apparently a guy walked into an auction and bought Stonehenge in 1915 to give to his ‘none too pleased’ wife. Makes coming home with a new power tool or Mercedes look a little better. Or worse, actually.
When the ancient Romans entered England, they were, understandably, depressed. They had traded sunny Mediterranean weather for, well, pretty much the opposite. Somehow–either by accident or because one of the locals showed them–the Romans stumbled upon England’s only natural hot spring, and the first Sandals Resort was essentially born.
For 50p (~$1) you can sample the mineral-laden water thought to have cured many of their aches, pains, and near-fatal wounds. It sort of tastes like tap water from a Chinese restaurant in Philly. But for 50p it is probably the cheapest beverage you will encounter in England, so bottoms up.
Bath Abbey is a gorgeous piece of architecture, particularly due to its interior fan vaulting, something I’m told is fairly unique to England.
There is a fee to enter the abby. In fact there is a fee to enter most historical churches in England yet, conversely, museums are free to the public.
An hour or two in Bath isn’t nearly enough. Had I taken the bus tour again, I would have skipped the return ride to London and spent the night. Trains between Bath and London take just 90 minutes.