A beautiful, wonderful day trip to the lovely sights of Stonehenge and Bath
22.02.2014 - 22.02.2014
Saturday was a wonderful, and remarkable, turnaround from the drudgery of the previous few days. I woke up at 6 am to the sounds of birds chirping outside my window and the sight of clear, sunny skies. After quickly getting ready, grabbing breakfast, and printing out my ticket at the FSU, I met Ayman, Wesley, Justin, Dennis, Paul and Saeed outside Bedford Place and, with them, made my way towards Kings Cross Station.
A few weeks ago, Wesley discovered that a London-based tour company runs a day trip from London to both Stonehenge and Bath for a mere 54 pounds. Including travel and entry into Stonehenge and the Roman Baths, the ticket is far less than a similar trip would cost if it planned independently. Taking advantage of the deal, we booked the trip for the first available weekend. Having eagerly anticipated going to Bath since before heading to the UK, I was beyond excited for the day to begin!
After a 2 hour bus ride out of London and into the English countryside, we finally arrived at Stonehenge at 11 am. The first glimpses of the world-famous henge were made as the bus entered the World Heritage Site. Upon pulling in, everyone eagerly disembarked and made her way towards the main entrance. Upon getting to the entrance, we all picked up an obnoxiously orange audio guide before boarding the trams that would take us closer to Stonehenge.
A more beautiful February day could not have been had. Set in a backdrop of shining sun, cumulonimbus clouds (see, I did learn something in high school science!) scattered like popcorn across the sky, and green grass from the month's abundant rain, Stonehenge could not have been more beautifully and prominently set. The group of Econ students spent the better part of 1.5 hours walking around the famed structure, taking in its enormity and historical significance. In addition to academic learning, courtesy of the audio guides, copious amounts of pictures, from the serious group photo to the silly selfie to the requisite jumping shot, were taken.
Initially, I hadn't been too interested in seeing Stonehenge. Stuck in the trap of ignorance, I had assumed that Stonehenge was simply a structure of ancient rock that is cool to look at. However, within just 5 minutes of standing in its presence, I began to understand the draw of the henge's mysterious origins, impressive construction, and phenomenal longevity. It really is special to stand on sacred grounds that reach back thousands of years and learn about the traits of humanity that link us to the ancestors that built the extraordinary structure.
After a thorough exploration of Stonehenge, we piled back on the bus and made our way towards Bath. The bus ride was just over 1.5 hours long, and, as far as travel can be enjoyable, this bus ride was! Taking us through the stunning, yet heavily flooded, English countryside, we caught glimpses of classic country images, from wool churches to rolling green fields to cute stone cottages.
Bath is located in the southwest corner of the UK that has experienced some of the most severe flooding this year. Fortunately for us, the rain had let up during the last week and the roads and the city were clear from any visible flooding and resulting damage. The bus dropped us off in just outside the square that houses both the Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths. Having free entrance into the baths of Bath, we headed there first.
The natural mineral waters that have helped to make Bath such a famous tourist destination were first discovered during the times of the Roman occupation. The Romans, famed for their phenomenal public infrastructure and baths, constructed a publicly accessible complex that housed several bath houses, temples to both Sulis (a Celtic water goddess) and Minerva, and exercise grounds; the modern equivalent to such facility would be a YMCA (but would, more likely, have been named Young Men's Jupiter Association).
All (bad) joking aside, the Roman baths were fascinating and fun to visit! After picking up yet another audio guide (this time a toned down-black and purple, thank goodness!), I made my way through the baths with Ayman, Wesley and Paul. Stopping at the many sites, from British imitations of Roman statues to relics from the ancient temples to the ancient roman pipes that carried the mineral water to the actual baths, we all marveled at the ingenious engineering and stunning artistry. Scattered throughout the museum were various period actors. Our favorite was a mock-mason who, very convincingly, tried to sell us a few stones and his services! After taking a picture with us, he solemnly bid adieu, saying "Ego vobis valedico" - pretty convincing for the 21st century!
By the time we finished the baths, the entire group, except for me, was virtually starving. I, being the good girl scout that I am, had packed a lunch and several snacks that helped to sustain me through the busy day. However, with the clock approaching 2:30, everyone else was in desperate need of food. Stopping by a few restaurants, we were dismayed to learn that nearly all of them were out of food! Apparently the stunning February weather had brought the tourists and locals out in hordes, leaving the shops and stalls unprepared for such high demand (for all econ geeks, this was a perfect example of disequilibrium in supply and demand!). Becoming desperate, we found sanctuary in Waitrose, a massive UK grocery chain. Purchasing nearly all the pre-made sandwiches in the store, the guys, ravenous, happily dug into the fare. Not exactly the kind of food we had planned on eating in Bath, but, well, food is food, right?
After sufficiently refueling and recharging, I took control of the rest of our time in Bath. With only 1 hour left in the city, I was eager to make it to as many Jane Austen sights as possible. Jane Austen is the precise reason that I was so excited to visit and explore Bath. Featured in nearly all of her novels (most heavily in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, which are among my favorite of her books), Bath holds particular significance for any Jane Austen fan. After the Romans left the United Kingdom, the baths came under disrepair and actually disappeared underneath the village. Local memory of the mineral waters faded and it wasn't until the Georgian era that an archeological excavation rediscovered both the waters and the Roman complex. Popular enthusiasm regarding this discovery was massive, and the British took huge fancy to Bath and its "healing waters". Thus, Bath became the vacation spot for the highest levels of British society, featuring the best of entertainment, bathing and social gatherings. Jane Austen's wrote during the Georgian era, and her writings reflect the social significance of Bath. Further, Austen spent several years in Bath, first with her family and then later as she became ill and took to the healing waters of Bath. Though Bath was socially significant, Austen's general dislike for the town is reflected in her last novel, Persuasion. Due to its phenomenal connection to Austen, Bath is home to many homages to the famous authoress.
Lacking sufficient time to explore the many museums and social halls that are either dedicated to Austen or feature heavily in her writing, I opted to drag the boys around the city and glimpse, from the outside, as many of the famous sites as possible. Thus, in less than an hour, we saw: the Jane Austen Centre, the Fashion Museum, the Bath Abbey, the Circus, Bennett Street (not technically related to Austen, but you should be able to spot the connection!) and, my favorite, the Royal Crescent. There were so many wonderful sites and so many opportunities to indulge in Georgian-era fantasies. Making my time in Bath even better was the guys' willingness to go along with my many whims and fantasies. I've said it several times before, and I will say it again- I am lucky to have such great friends!
We left Bath at 4:45, at which time we settled in for the 2.5 hour bus ride back to London. Within 10 minutes, nearly everyone on the bus was passed out, fast asleep. After looking through my pictures and taking in the last few sunlit scenes of English countryside, I too settled in for some well-deserved rest.
We arrived in London at 8 pm, at which point I made for the flat and skyped my mother to wish her a very happy birthday. Though this sentiment is a full 2 weeks late, Happy Birthday Mom!! I love you, and wish I could have been home to celebrate with you and the family. After talking with Mom and Dad, I met up with Ayman, Nimra and Wesley to make our way to the Loop. Upon arriving and being told the cover fee for the bar was 10 pounds each, we promptly turned around and returned to the apartment, picking up ramen on our way. Once we (finally!) arrived back home, I prepared the ramen for the group while Wesley set up Frozen on a laptop. We then all settled in together to watch one of the best Disney movies ever made.