After spending three nights in Scotland, Traci and I spent two nights in London before flying back to Philadelphia. The purpose of our stay in London was to embark on a full-day bus tour of the English countryside which included stops at Stonehenge, Salisbury, and Bath.
We took the 2:30 p.m. flight from Edinburgh, Scotland to London, England and then took the Heathrow Express train to our hotel in downtown London. The hotel we had booked for this leg of the trip was the Thistle Lancaster Gate Hotel. I had chosen it because of good online reviews, its price, and fitness center. Unlike our hotel in Scotland, the Thistle actually had a small fitness center with two treadmills. However, we were so busy while we were in London that Traci never got a chance to use it.
Our room at the Thistle Lancaster Gate Hotel was by far the largest we've stayed in in London and yet, probably the least expensive. It had a queen-sized bed and modern amenities such as a high-speed internet connection (fee for service), an interactive television system, and heated towel racks. The only drawback to this room was that the bathroom door closes automatically causing the steam from the shower to get trapped inside unless you prop the door open. No big deal though.
another view of our room
The hotel is located a block north of Hyde Park. Judging by the numerous hotels in the area, this is definitely a tourist section of town. There are a couple of small grocery stores around the corner from the hotel which made getting a light snack convenient. The hotel has two restaurants but they are expensive - $17 hamburger meal. Ouch!
A few blocks over from the Thistle Lancaster Gate is Queensway Street. If you thought America is the only melting pot of the world, one stroll down Queensway Street will change your mind. The concierge recommended this street for choosing a restaurant for dinner. We saw so many ethnicities and heard so many different languages as we walked down this crowded street. There were restaurants featuring food from all over the world. Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Lebanese, Moroccan, Italian, Greek, American, and British were just a few of the cuisines represented in this two block stretch. There are more places to eat on the surrounding streets as well. We browsed the posted menus and eventually chose a restaurant called Shish, which is located just off of Queensway Street.
Shish is a restaurant that offers food from along the ancient silk trading routes of the Far East, Middle East, and Mediterranean. I had the Mediterranean lamb and cous cous while Traci had chicken kebabs over cous cous. I had an interesting fruit drink made of orange blossom and rose water. I don't even know how to describe it other than light citrus with a strong rose taste/smell. It was good. We finished off our meal with delicious ice cream and sweet baklava sticks.
Ever since my first trip to England, I had wanted to take a trip to the countryside to see Stonehenge. I am not adventurous enough to rent a car and have to learn to drive on the opposite side of the road, so I searched for a tour instead. My online search led me to Gray Line Sightseeing Tours (They referred to themselves as Golden Tours when we got to London). They offer excursions all over England from their London base. They even offer day trips to other major cities such as Edinburgh, Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. We had booked Tour 8 - Bath, Stonehenge, & Salisbury online two weeks before our trip. The Gray Line tour bus picked us up at our hotel at 7:50 a.m. (10 minutes earlier than the confirmation ticket indicated) and collected passengers from other hotels before dropping us off at the Gray Line base at Victoria Station. Once there, we lined up next to the post that indicated our tour number and then presented our confirmation printout as we boarded our tour bus.
We embarked on our 9 hour tour at 9 a.m. sharp. On the bus, we met our tour guide, Sue, a bright-eyed, sophisticated lady who spoke with a very proper English accent. She wasted no time in pointing out landmarks as we began our 80 mile journey from London to Stonehenge. This lady was full of information and didn't mind sharing her opinions on everything from history to modern day celebrity tabloids. She was an excellent tour guide.
Sometime between 3000 and 1600 BC, the early inhabitants of Britain were constructing the stone structures at Stonehenge. I remember feeling the excitement bubbling up inside me as we approached the 5000 year old structure. It was the same type of I can't believe I'm here feeling I've gotten when I'd had the fortune of visiting famous landmarks such as the Statue Of Liberty and the Grand Canyon. It is mind-blowing to know early man carved these gigantic stones and brought them from as far as 200 miles away without any of the modern equipment to which we now have access. Some of these transported rocks weigh as much as 50 tons. Historians are not sure why the structure was built. They have theorized everything from a sophisticated calendar to a religious center to an amphitheater.
There is a path that loops around the structure and a chain that runs the perimeter to keep visitors at a distance. We spent about an hour at Stonehenge. Admission and the audio tour was included in the price of our excursion. Traci and I had already learned our lesson in Scotland about the amount of time an audio tour can take up if you listen to every posted information tag, so we used our handset sparingly and took a few pictures. It felt great to finally check Stonehenge off of my list of places I'd like to see.
Stonehenge audio tour
We arrived in the city of Salisbury in the early afternoon. Salisbury looks like a scene out of a Charles Dickens story with its quaint buildings and small streets. We had lunch in an English pub that offered a choice of poached salmon, pasta with tomato sauce, or bangers and mash (sausage and mash potatoes). Sue had called in our orders during our bus ride to Salisbury so we were served as soon as we sat down at the table. I had the salmon and Traci had the pasta. Both meals were delicious and cost 7 pounds (approx. $12) a piece.
The major attraction is Salisbury is its Gothic cathedral constructed in the 1200's. We were given an hour to walk through the cathedral and admire some of the historic relics and detailed artistry of the interior. The most treasured artifact inside Salisbury Cathedral is the original copy of the Magna Carta of 1215 which attempted to eliminate the abusive monarchies by outlining the laws and promises between the king and his subjects.
As we left the city of Salisbury, we rode through some gorgeous farmland with green meadows, ponds, quilt-like landscape, grazing sheep and cattle, and cottages. We even saw a few thatch-roofed houses. However, everyone on the bus gasped as we came around a hill and saw a beautiful medieval town built into the valley and side of a mountain. It was the town of Bath. These are the type of moments that create special vacation memories in my mind that fuels my urge to see the world. My only purpose for signing up for this bus tour was for the opportunity to see Stonehenge, and yet the place that totally blew me away was this little town of Bath of which I previously knew nothing about. continue...