OK – we are finally heading on the tour bus over the Salisbury plains to Stonehenge. The culmination of our 35-day vacation has arrived! The tour guide (who seems to be amazingly knowledgeable) takes us a roundabout way and we passed, among other things, Sting’s house – where Madonna met Guy Ritchie and where they spent their honeymoon (oooh, ahhh) and a bunch of actual thatched roof cottages. I was very excited to see real thatched roofs but it was hard to get a good photo through a moving bus window. Hopefully you can get the idea, at least.
Then we got to Stonehenge. This location has had some sort of temple for 10,000 years. Wooden structures were eventually replaced by stone. I wonder if the place was continually in use until the completion of the last stones about 4,000 years ago? Did different tribes use it in different ways? The original wooden posts were located where cars now park and are only indicated by unemphasized circles painted on the tarmac. I was told by others who visited to be prepared for disappointment. Perhaps, to them, it seemed like just a bunch of rocks but to me it was much more. The amount of time, effort and work that went into this thing is just incredible. These giant rocks(and I do mean giant- the largest is over 25 tons) were moved, some all the way from Wales (lots of theories on how this happened, some claim glaciers, but I’m not buying it) They are securely inserted, many have more stone below the ground than above. Also all the lintels were leveled, and have painstakingly ground out tongue and groove joints at the top to ensure their security. For thousands of more recent years this was not considered a sacred space and was simply open to the public. People came and hauled pieces away to make barns and buildings. There was even one enterprising fellow who rented rock picks to tourists so they could take pieces away with them. It wasn’t closed to the public until 1977. They have done some work to stabilize the remaining stones with concrete in the past 30 years or so – but even so, the fact that so much still remains is incredible. No one knows the full purpose and meaning that Stonehenge had for its original builders and, the likelihood is that there was more than one, but it definitely has been associated with burial for much of its history. Looking around the countryside, one can see raised burial mounds, or barrows, popping up on the fields. Behind the cell phone guy at right you can see the closest one, and there are three more in front of the trees in the background. Sometimes these had mixed bones of several people and other times just the single bones and artifacts of one person – I would assume a person of great significance. Green as the fields, the barrows blend in if you don’t know they are there. I was happy I knew to look for them. This subtlety wasn’t true thousands of years ago, when the burial mounds were originally erected, the topsoil was removed from them, leaving the undersoil of white chalk showing through. Actually Stonehenge originally had a ring of white chalk all around it as well as a white chalk road that stretched for miles leading to the local river, where pilgrims must have arrived to see the monument. I would have loved to see that. Imagine, alighting from the river to follow a road of white chalk, dotted with occasional standing stones. As you got closer you would see more and more white mounds dotting the landscape until, eventually, you came over the rise to see Stonehenge itself. I am really having a hard time writing this blog for some reason – I can’t really explain why this was such a special place – or how it made me feel…. You can read more about this amazing monument at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonehenge
One thing I was sad about was I didn’t get to actually touch the stones. Unfortunately, due to so much deterioration, you can’t touch the sarcens of Stonehenge any longer without a special appointment (except on the solstices) and I read that plans are to make it even more difficult for people to reach the stones. Currently a main road runs right past the monument and the rubber necking delays are predictably long! It is planned to move the road at some point in the future and make the visitor center a mile or more from the stones. This would make it so that no one would just ‘happen’ across Stonehenge any longer, and only the hardy would make the hike over, which, in my opinion, would be a shame.
We headed back to Salisbury and (after a bit of souvenir shopping that almost had me missing the train), made it home. It had turned into a kind of awful windy rainy day. In fact, the weather we had the entire time was very volatile. It would be hot, then cold, rainy, then sunny. I think this is typical for England but I ended up having to dig through lots of luggage to find suitably warm attire for my trio. Andre’ was simply in denial about the temperature the whole time since he hadn’t brought anything but shorts and short sleeves with him for vacation. We walked in the rain from the train station and Griffin, who wanted to be the leader, ran about half the time. I looked back to see how the others were faring and noticed how the electrical poles in this part of the world are really different. As you can see, there is one pole for the whole block and the lines run out like rungs of a spiderweb – very beautiful and sure saves on the amount of poles needed. We packed up everything and, after more chatting, of course, fell into our beds. We left very early the next morning, excited to take the Eurostar train through the chunnel.
We really spent a ton of time on trains in England so I will close our time there with some nice helpful warning signs seen in the train station. I really love the way that the yellow signs are so graphic – and of course, we can’t visit England without hearing, over and over, Mind the gap! Katrina actually works as an engineer for the trains (current challenge is climate control in the tunnels) and said they just can’t regulate the height of the trains and platforms since they are of so many different kinds and all built at different time periods. OK, I buy this explanation, but if that’s true, why is this only in London???
We headed for home, taking the Eurostar for 4 hours to Gare du Nord (I was very underwhelmed by the chunnel, btw). We did crafts to pass the time – see a Griffin creation below. Then, since the people in control of transportation want to kill me, we had to get four miles across the city to Gare de Lyon for the TGV home. Um… can someone change this system please?
Due to obscene amounts of luggage, this necessitated a cab ride – which was actually quite lovely – a peek at Paris…. I got to see Gare de Lyon from the outside, which is a beautiful building.
We enjoyed lunch at the train station before our connector arrived – then spent a few hours getting to Lyon where we had to transfer, again, to the train for Besancon. That transfer was totally crazy since it wasn’t the end of the line and we were trying to get all our stuff off the train super fast. Andre’ was literally tossing large bags off the train to me. I was so impressed all day long by how strong the kids were. They each had a carry-on to handle and Callie and Zander were also responsible for rolling suitcases that weighed no less than 50 pounds each – and those were the light ones. (Andre and I each had our carry-ons plus 2 giant rolling cases each). To say the least our crew was quite a sight. At the last transfer we actually had to lug the stuff up and down flights of stairs and the kids even tried to do this, without complaint – they are really getting to be seasoned travelers. We finally got to Besancon and then Daddie went to get Mr. Liberty who transported us home – only 13 hours after we had left Katrina’s apartment. Whew!