To spare my back and my shins I booked a guided, coach-driven tour to Winchester, Stonehenge and Bath. I was a bit apprehensive that I would be the youngest person by about 40 years on the trip, but in fact there was a blend of all ages and nationalities.

With only two days to see as much of England as I could this turned out to be a good choice. The drive through the countryside was gorgeous. Fields of yellow canola flowers and orange poppies added splashes of color to the primarily green and golden crops. Sheep and cows dotted the landscape and the sun illuminated London as we headed off for Winchester.

Winchester is an old fortification town, which has been converted to a walking mall for tourists from what I could tell. There is one main cathedral, which is notable for a few reason, not the least of which is because Jayne Austin is buried there. But more prominent than the stone buildings and brick streets are the McDonalds and Burger Kings conveniently places to the coach drop offs to satiate the American appetite. I am sure if you stay there you can see a very different side of this town, but in 45 minutes and within a three-block radius of our travel coach, I was unable to really find the historical charm.

That said, I did stumble upon the waterway, which seems to run under and through the town everywhere and when there is a quiet moment, you can hear rushing water coming from beneath your feet which was really nice.

Cathedral and 1833 building in Winchester

Stonehenge was the apex for me. I realize it can be anticlimactic for some. I mean really at the end of the day, it is just s a bunch of rocks in a field. But what a pile of rocks it is! I loved it and took a hundred pictures at least. Dozens of birds were perched on the stones and in unison they would all launch into flight and perform an intricate ballet in the air for just a moment and then return to their perches as if this was something they did every hour on the hour.

Even though I was surrounded by hundreds of people, the viewing circle allows for everyone to get a photo with no one in the background if you are willing to squat for it. There is an audio-guided tour, which provides a nice amount of information and allows you to wander at your own pace.

From there we headed towards Bath and the landscaped changed from gently sloping hills to steeper slopes and valleys as we approached the Avon River. Bath is a stunning Georgian city, which is very different from other towns we passed through because all the buildings are made of Sandstone rather than slate, or brick or other more common materials. In Bath all of the buildings are yellow if they have been restored or black if centuries of soot have yet to be removed from their facades. Bath’s homes are long row houses of ten, twenty or more units. And in the center of town are the restored ruins of Roman baths built more than 2,000 years ago that are now a museum. While I am a big fan of museums and found this one to be quite interesting… I couldn’t help but think that reopening the baths to the public for soaking would be my preference.
Drinking fountain

Since I couldn’t soak in the healing waters I opted to drink them from the fountain used for such purposes. The water is warm and if you plug your nose it’s not bad at all. Not plugging your nose makes it far less palatable since it smells of sulfur. According to our tour guide the water has restorative/fountain of youth-type qualities. I don’t think I look any younger today but I did sleep through the night for the first time since arriving in Europe.
Bath, England

I got back into London around 7pm. I have become quite a pro at the trains now and made my way back to Putney without incident. I must say that my time here has been amazing. I will plan a return trip to London for sure and next time I’ll be sure to have more than two days to explore.

Bath row houses

My heartfelt thanks to my wonderful hosts Dave, Amy, Zack and James Marquardt (and their adorable dog Auggie) and to all the folks in London who helped me find my way including Stephen who I just met on the train and who assured that I would not miss the Gatwick airport stop, which is where I am now waiting in the queue for my RyanAir flight to Dublin.

A note on low-cost carriers:
Within Europe cheap flights are easy to come by and specials fares abound. My flight to Dublin ran me 3.90 pounds or about $8. My train ride to the airport costs more than the flight. But there are strings attached. Generally these carriers service smaller, harder to get to airports, hence my train ride costing more than the flight. Also, there are many add-on costs. Water onboard is 3 pounds or about $6, peanuts $4, think about that next time you are badmouthing United for only serving that tiny snack pack.

The biggest additional charges will be for your luggage. You are allowed one carry-on, not a purse and a carry-on, ONE carry on. Anything else you must check and a checked bag costs 12 pounds ($24). Also, you should check in online if at all possible. Keep in mind this will not spare you the mile-long line at the airport because you will still have to wait to check your bag, but if you check in and pay for your baggage online it will save you the 4 pound ($8) check-in fee. When it was all done and I had paid $4 for a warm 6oz sprite… my 3.9 pound ticket really ended up costing me about 30 pounds when I added everything up, about $60 dollars. Still a bargain to be sure, but what you save in money you often pay for in hassle.

It pays to do the math. If you can find a deal on Lufthansa or another larger carrier for a higher ticket fee it may be cheaper in the long-run since they don’t add on all the fees.


Edith said…
Rachel, you have to plan a stop in Turkey if you can. It was our favorite country and we got to do a bath or two.

Looks like you're having a great time!

Sending hugs your way from Santa Fe

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