25 June 2009

Touring Windsor Castle, Roman Baths and The Stonehenge

The tour package that I bought through online had brought me to the Windsor Castle, Roman Baths and the Stonehenge. I never liked the idea of doing a tour package for the fact that I’d have to adhere to the time restriction and tight schedule. Since I wanted to visit as many places as possible in one single day, I HAD to take this one. Or so I thought.

Departing from Victoria Station in the Central London, the tour coach took us to pass by a number of the metropolitan’s most famous landmarks. I had my very first glimpse of Harrods...

...and the famous F3K (Famous 3 Kings) pub..

The tour guide cracked a joke about the F3K where the statue of Elvis Presley was placed in front of the other two kings’ statues at its entrance. Well the other two kings happened to be two ‘real kings’ of England. May be that was why Elvis was called King Elvis - the king who was more important than kings of England.

First up was the Windsor Castle. It had seemed to be located just on the outskirt of London. The weather had been worrying me ever since I boarded the coach. And true enough, it was beginning to drizzle when we marched into the castle compound. I cursed myself over and over again for not having an umbrella with me.

The Windsor Castle, despite being larger in size but lack on architectural superiority compared to the Versailles de Palais in France, it has remained one of the most important inhabited castles in England. In fact, it is one of the Queen’s favorite weekend’s getaways and there are times when she spends up to a month at the castle.

It is located just a few kilometers from the coveted Eton College. Part of the castle has been transformed into a museum and was open for public –with some entrance fees to apply of course. If I had been enjoying taking photos of just every corner of Versailles de Palais, I could take NONE inside the Windsor Castle. I was quite amused at how some of the visitors had dared to take photos behind the backs of the officers.

Well, Windsor Castle was just like those castles depicted in movies and books for the kids. Some of the rooms have been used to exhibit a listless number of paintings and a wide display of England’s arms and armors from the early-modern era. 

I happened to see among the exhibited artworks some original sketches by Leonardo Da Vinci. Those sketches were just simple sketches of human anatomy and all. Except for the fact that they were sketched by Leonardo Da Vinci, there seemed to be nothing special about them. An ordinary street painter could simply do better sketches. What happened later had had me regret for spending too much time trying to value and appreciate them.

My most outstanding encounter in my whole visit inside the Windsor Castle had been my close ‘acquaintance’ with King Henry VIII. I had known about him long before I knew Queen Elizabeth II was the current ruler of England. 

I knew of King Hendry VIII for the fact that he created the Church of England and hence had initiated the existence of so many new churches that we see today. Known as the Protestant Reformation era, he had led the separation from the Roman Catholics when the Pope wouldn’t grant him his permission to marry another woman (down-right against Catholicism). 

What I didn’t know was the fact that he actually got married 6 times throughout his life! Hmmmm. There was a room especially dedicated to his life story and portraits of himself. I got to know much more about King Henry VIII whose philandering life and ruthlessness is depicted in the famous theatrical movie – Dressed to Kill. He used to stay in the Windsor Castle.

Ok.. This photo wasn't taken at the Windsor Castle. I took it at the Tower of London 4 days later. But the man in the picture is King Hendry VIII.

Out of the castle, I walked down to the adjacent St. George’s Chapel. It had to me looked more like a cathedral than a chapel. Dozens of bodies of England’s prominent figures had been buried in the chapel. Duchess of Kent’s, after whom the Sandakan general hospital was named, was one of them. The chapel looked more like a burial house to me because it was full of tombs.

The rain was dissipating when we returned to the tour bus. We apparently had spent too much time at that stupid Da Vinci’s sketches that we missed our bus a minute! 

Luckily, there were three coaches doing the same tour, and the one that we had boarded and missed was the first to leave. We just hopped into the second one. Lucky for us it wasn’t full and even luckier for us that we were allowed in. Somehow it tickled us to a laughter to have had missed a tour coach for some stupid sketches. Hehehe.

After meandering through a long stretch of beautiful countryside, we arrived at the City of Bath at about lunchtime. 

The City of Bath is located among surrounding hills at the bottom of a valley called River Avon. Apart from it beautiful and picturesque surroundings, it is also well-known for its splendid town-planning and outstanding Georgian architecture.

However, the City of Bath is probably mostly known for its Roman Baths – a temple and baths built up by the Romans during its occupation of England for about 600 hundred years. Ok la, the history of Bath is just as mind-blogging and complicated as any other city in England.

Oddly though, I remember the tour guide describing how in 836 BC the spring was discovered by the British King Bladud who then built the baths after the spring had cured him and his herds of pigs of leprosy through wallowing in the warm mud. Wow.

Being THE ONLY spring in all over England, the Romans had made full use of it during its occupation. Homosexuality was rampant back then and the room had become an all-man business. I felt so gay for just being there. I wonder where the proverb 'Do it as the Romans do' did come from.

So, after spending some time trying to imagine how the baths must have been like during the Roman era, I walked out into the streets and took a little tour around the city.
There were definitely more things to see outside the baths. Surrounded by hills with beautiful surroundings and Georgian buildings, the City of Bath is simply breath-taking.

I walked off to the Pulteney Bridge, a bridge that crosses the Avon River, designed by a Robert Adam, and is one of the only four bridges in the world with shops across the full span on both sides. It just amused me at how this fact about shops across bridges is overly exaggerated but then that is what English is best known for – over-exaggerating things.

I wouldn’t say Pulteney Bridge isn’t that beautiful though. In fact, it IS beautiful that you can easily make a good postcard out of it.

I really wished I could stay longer in Bath. It was a city worth spending at least a couple of days touring around. I was even more disappointed the tour bus didn’t take us to the Royal Crescent.

Silently I whispered to myself, “I’ll come back again someday…”

Another ride through the countryside, this time across the wide-expanse of crop fields, before we reached what would be our final destination – The Stonehenge.

OK. I knew it from so the numerous forums and articles that I read through that The Stonehenge is located somewhere in the English county of Wiltshire, in the middle of nowhere. So, I wasn’t surprised at all when I found out that it was TRUE. 

The Stonehenge really is in the middle of nowhere. It is surrounded by sprawling crop fields in all directions and the only structural things around were the little cafĂ©’ and souvenir shop – and the row of toilets of course.

Despite being one of the most famous sites in the world, visitors to the Stonehenge come up with a variety of reactions. Some of them would regard it as nothing more than just pieces of rock – which was quite true to me. Some people would regard the Stonehenge as both mystical and mysterious.

In fact, the Stonehenge has been standing comfortably well in the tourism spotlight solely for one thing – how on earth did they lift that huge pieces of rock up to that high? Just bear in mind, it was 3000 BC so forget about your ridiculous theory of them using one of those hydraulic mobile cranes. 

I would rather accept the theory of them using some kind of magic or muttering a holy mantra to grant them a superpower. You know, like in the movies...

Sad but true, I was attracted more to the surroundings than to the stones. The green and yellow spread of crop fields was a view not to be forgotten for many years to come. There were herds of sheep tugging at the wild grass on the fields, all adding up to the already perfectly beautiful countryside view.

We were there for less than an hour before we returned onto a non-stop ride back to London. By the time we reached Victoria Station, it was late evening. It was damn cold and I was shivering like a drug addict desperately longing for a dopey shot. 

Still we took a stroll away up to the House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey and the surrounding area. We stopped exploring only after I felt my legs were beginning to feel numb and aching. That was when we decided to call it a day and returned to our boarding place in Guildford.

That was how my Stonehenge Tour had turned out to be. Costing me a whooping £ 124 (approximately RM 670!) for 2 persons, I was almost sure it had all worth it until I got a message from my friend Nelda asking “Did you go to the Stonehenge and Roman Baths? I’m thinking of driving you over to those places tomorrow because they are not really far from my place..”

Aiyo, if only I knew... 

I spent the next few hours helplessly thinking of what I could have bought with RM670…

Oh gawd…


Anonymous said...

I just came across your blog as I was surfing for pictures on the net. I wanted to say thankyou for sharing your trip to England I've really enjoyed your photos and hearing your opinons too. I'm actually English and live abroad and it's brought back lots of happy memories for me!!

Jipp said...

No problem. Thanks for making your time reading my blog. I really appreciate it. I had a good time travelling to England. It really is a beautiful country with a very long history.


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