July 2, 2014: After spending a couple of days in London and a day in Paris, it was finally time to explore some of the English countryside via a tour of Bath and Stonehenge. This was my second of several tours booked through Premium Tours, and would turn out to be the best one by far. I can’t recommend this tour highly enough. Just make sure you choose the option in which you see Stonehenge in a private viewing at sunset—I think this option is only available during the summer, and only on certain days, but it is so worth it. Whereas the public must view Stonehenge from behind ropes at a distance, this tour gives you access inside the ropes to walk among the stones. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The day began with a trip on the subway to the Marble Arch, where I would be meeting with my guide and waiting for the bus to pick us up. While waiting I snapped a photo of the arch. You can click on any photo in this post to view a larger version.
The guide was a cheeky older fellow with a biting wit named David. In his welcoming speech to the group he told us that the company basically gets two types of reviews from people on his tours: those who loved him and those who hated him. I fell firmly on the former side, finding his humor quite entertaining, and a welcome change from the by-the-book guides you frequently encounter on these tours. I can see how some easily-offended people might not like him, but in my opinion he made an already great trip even more enjoyable.
Our first stop was the very charming city of Bath. On the way I snapped a couple of photos of the countryside from the bus.
The main attraction in Bath is the ruin of the Roman Baths, but the entire city is rich with character. It’s easy to understand why so many celebrities have homes here. We only had a few hours (most of which were spent in the Baths), but you could easily spend an entire day or more meandering through this majestic city.
While waiting in line to get into the Roman Baths, I befriended a couple who were on the tour with me after I overheard them talking about Monty Python—it turns out I wasn’t the only one to organize an entire trip to the U.K. around the Python reunion concert. We bonded over that (they were going to the show the day before mine) and also over Treme (the HBO show) and our mutual love of Trombone Shorty—they were from New Orleans and had seen Shorty perform before he was famous. I’m usually alone on these trips and too shy to strike up conversations, so this was a nice change of pace for me.
Before long it was time to enter the Baths. I’ve always been fascinated with ruins, especially those of the Roman Empire, so I was very much looking forward to this.
After exiting the Baths I had free time to walk around the city. It was a beautiful day to enjoy a beautiful city (finally, a day without rain). Here are some photos from my walk around town. You can click on any collage photo on this page to open up a gallery.
I only wish I had longer to spend in Bath, but it was time to move on. Our next stop was an old Saxon village called Lacock. On the way I snapped a couple more photos from the bus.
Lacock, with its quaint buildings, is like a walk back in time. We had lunch reservations at a 14th-century inn called The George.
I can’t recall exactly what I ate (some sort of meat pie) but it was delicious and fresh (we had placed our orders earlier that morning to give them time to make the food from scratch), washed down with some home-brewed ale, and followed by a tasty dessert. This was my first proper English meal of the trip—and the most inexpensive by far.
After lunch we had a walk around the town. It didn’t take long to see why this was a key shooting location for the Harry Potter films. Here are some photos from our walk around the town.
Some Harry Potter interior scenes were filmed in this abbey.
This house appeared in The Half Blood Prince.
The tiles of this roof are made of stone and supposedly have not needed replacing in hundreds of years.
Before long it was time to kick this trip up to eleven (as Nigel Tufnel might say) and hop back on the bus for our ultimate destination: Stonehenge. They no longer allow cars to park at Stonehenge itself (which is a good thing), so you must park at the welcome center, from where a shuttle takes you up to the site. While waiting for the shuttle I walked around the museum, which had lots of useful information about the history of Stonehenge.
Finally, the park closed to the general public and it was time to catch the shuttle for our private viewing. On the way to the site I managed to snap one heavily-zoomed photo of two of the many barrows (burial mounds) found in the surrounding area.
Then we made our approach to Stonehenge. It’s impossible to put into words the feeling of standing on this ancient site, and photos fail to do it justice, but here are a few.
The stones are roped off to the public so most people never get much closer than where I’m standing in this photo.
Kinda looks like an Easter Island face.
Having the entire place to ourselves was amazing, especially as the setting sun bathed the sky in pretty hues that made for some great photos. At one point our guide David had us be quiet and just soak in the atmosphere. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea of a place like this giving off vibes, but standing there in silence among those massive stones was definitely goosebump-inducing.
Soon it was time to hop back on the bus and return to London. By the time I reached my apartment it was 11:30 p.m and I had been on the road for over 13 hours, but it was more than worth it. As I mentioned at the top, this was the best of all the tours I booked through Premium Tours, as well as the best day I spent in England during my entire two-week stay. And on that note, I leave you with one final photo of the sun setting over Stonehenge.
This installment covers Days 21–22 of my 2011 trip to Europe…
November, 2011 – We woke up very early in Zagreb to catch the train down to Split. It was a unique journey. We rode one train for a while, it stopped in the middle of nowhere and everybody on the train transferred to a bus. The bus then took us to a remote train station where we waited for another train to pick us up—this was all part of the one ticket we bought (apparently there was some issue getting a nonstop train, though we were able to on the way back).
In all, it was about a 4- or 5-hour ride, and there was some pretty scenery along the way. The following photos were all taken with my cell phone from a moving train, so they are of lower quality, but still a good representation of the Croatian countryside:
We arrived in Split that afternoon. The moment we stepped off the train we were accosted by people aggressively trying to rent us rooms. We had already reserved a room, so we left the gang of prospective landlords behind and made our way into the city—and an amazing city it is.
Our primary reason for visiting Croatia had been to see Dubrovnik. We knew we would visit other places along the way but did not have anything specific in mind. A friend of my uncle’s recommended Split and when I looked at it on the map, it looked like a good halfway point between Zagreb and Dubrovnik, so I booked us three nights. I’m so glad we decided to stay there because it is truly one of the most remarkable cities I’ve ever visited.
Split is built in and around the palace of the ancient Roman Emperor, Diocletian. The old palace structure houses everything from apartments to shops and restaurants. The city is completely integrated with the usable parts of the palace; I’ve never seen anything like it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
After exiting the train station we headed down to the waterfront and I called the landlord with whom we had arranged a room to let her know we had arrived. She told us to meet her at a church near the waterfront. So we strolled along the water, eventually coming to the main waterfront and getting our first look at the magnificent, palm tree-lined Riva promenade.
We met the landlord and she showed us to our apartment, a tiny upstairs room a little outside of the main city, but still within easy walking distance. After settling in and changing into shorts (the weather was unseasonably gorgeous for early November; it was even warm enough for shorts at night), we headed into the city.
As you walk around the core of Split, inside the ancient Roman palace walls, you are often strolling on the very same roads used by the Romans, still intact and lined with ancient temples and other structures. It was great to take all of this in at our leisure, but part of me wishes we had taken a walking tour with a guide who could have filled us in on the history. I did have a city map with points of interest marked, so that helped.
For our dinner that night we decided to eat in one of the outdoor cafes along the waterfront as the sun set. I don’t recall much about the meal but the view of the Adriatic alone was worth the price of admission.
Later that night we toured the sublevel of the palace. There isn’t a great deal to see down there, and they were prepping for an exhibit so there were a lot of anachronisms such as flat screen televisions, but because the architecture is identical to what the main floor of the palace would have looked like, walking through the sublevel gives you a good idea of what it would have been like to meander through a Roman palace in its prime.
The next day we climbed the Marjan, a hill overlooking the entire city. The hike took a couple of hours with stops for photos of the countryside and some interesting vegetation that reminded me of something out of an Elder Scrolls game. The views along the way and at the top were breathtaking.
After returning from the climb we had some pizza for lunch and then walked around the city some more. Later that night we headed a bit off the beaten path for a nice dinner in a cute restaurant. We also booked an excursion for the following day to nearby Krka National Park to view the beautiful waterfalls, which will be covered in the next segment. In the meantime, here are a few more photos taken at night: