Day 10: Saturday, June 2nd, I was up at 5 AM. I got about 7 hours of sleep. It was a bright Bristol morning, full of the sound of... whistles? Looking down from the fourth floor, it looked like some teenage girls were walking down the street randomly blowing whistles. I later heard some fire trucks rolled by about 3 AM, but I slept right through that. We had a very nice room at the hotel. There was even a balcony, although it was barely big enough for one person to stand out there. The shirt I washed in the sink the night before dried off nicely. The TV news had been running a story about a reality show where the winner got a new kidney transplant. That morning, it was revealed the reality show was a hoax. I liked the BBC News theme music. One newscaster pronounced conservatory "con-SERVE-a-tree." At breakfast downstairs, it was the usual fare, except they added salmon to the buffet. I noted the pepper was very finely ground– almost like dust. We sat with Alan & Mary, from Canada, and Brien & Elaine, who mentioned there were no snakes in New Zealand. They do, however, have white tail spiders. 
Apparently, all the elevators in Britain talk. As the door closes, it says, "Door closing." When it goes up, it says, "Going up." I think that was the day the elevator doors stuck. They'd almost close all the way, hang for a minute, then open back up again. "Going down," the elevator said. "No, we're not," I replied. I took the stairs. 
It was a bright, clear morning as we got on the coach. We were on our way by 8:20, headed for Bath. We saw boats on the River Avon. Lots of civil servants live in Bath. Public transportation makes Bath a virtual suburb of London, which is only an hour away by train. Charles Dickens lived nearby, as did composer George Frederick Handel. Jane Austen used to visit Bath. Our first stop in Bath was the Royal Crescent, a row of 30 magnificent Georgian buildings constructed in the 1700's. Wealthy shipowners from Bristol were it's first residents. Many of the houses had since been split into very expensive apartments, and one was a hotel. Actor Omar Sharif was a favorite visitor. Rooms at the hotel inside the Royal Crescent went for 200 pounds a night in the off season. Donna noted that was about the same rate as the Four Seasons in Manhattan. 
Driving through the streets of Bath, we passed the offices of the Bath Chronicle and a pub called the Bath Tap. One business had the sign Adventure Café Bar; I wondered if adventure was the name, or one of the services offered. Part of the movie "Vanity Fair" was filmed in Bath.  Lots of the buildings in Bath are hundreds of years old. Some of the older buildings had bricked-in windows. We were told that was done in protest of the "tax on light" imposed by William Pitt the Younger in the late 1700's. Pitt found innovative ways of taxing the British people to help pay for the Napoleonic Wars. It is said that's where we get the expression "It's the pits." 
We rode through the circus and parked near the Bath Cathedral. Loud seagulls were everywhere. The cathedral at Bath has a couple of interesting features. Over the entrance is a statue of King Henry VII, who didn't get many tributes. The facade of the cathedral shows angels climbing up and down Jacob's Ladder. We peeked inside– the place had a magnificent vaulted ceiling. From there, we walked down to the Roman Baths. Before going inside, everyone took a "loo break." The sign on the restroom said "Gentlemen," but they let me in, anyway. 
We went through the Victorian entrance and into the Roman Baths. Much of the original stonework is still in place, two thousand years after it was built. Hot spring water still bubbles up from underground into the ancient pools. The stones around the big pool itself are uneven, and you have to watch your step. Brien asked me if I wanted to go for a swim. "You first!" I said. The Romans used the Baths for social, religious and health reasons. Inside were several rooms that were used as saunas or washing rooms. One pool, off to the side, was built for the Roman gods, so no swimming was ever allowed in it. There were lots of exhibits on Roman and ancient British life. Going back out through the Victorian building, we were offered a glass of Bath well water. I'd been warned the water tasted awful, but I grew up on a farm with an artesian well, and it wasn't so bad. The surprise was that a glass of Bath well water cost 50 pence. The gift shop sold "Bath water" in bottles. I got a refrigerator magnet. Donna and I walked around downtown Bath. A young man approached us to sign a petition, and was disappointed we weren't British. We passed yet more camping supply stores. Street performers were delighting tourists with music, song and puppets. In a city square, a man was playing a beautiful Mozart composition on a big xylophone. Donna and I shared a Cornish pasty, which had lamb in it, I think. I got a Dr. Pepper. Back at the coach, there was a big music store next to where we were parked, but it was closed. As we were boarding the bus, a groan rose from the group: the music store was opening. "Two minutes!" Nick allowed, and several people bolted off the bus. Annisa came back with some tea towels she'd seen through the windows. She was flying to Amsterdam the next day. 
Shortly after 11, we pulled away, and circled around the block (possibly unintentionally) before leaving downtown. We saw a hillside of row houses, apparently stacked one on top of each other. We also passed the school where Winston Churchill made his first public speech. Churchill's pet parrot was still alive? That didn't seem possible. We drove over a viaduct and onto the A36, into the Cornish hills. Miles away, through the trees, we could see the Cherhill White Horse carved into the side of a hill. Unlike the Uffington White Horse, which dates back to the late Bronze Age, this one was created in 1780. It's about a half hour drive from Bath to Salisbury, traffic permitting. Fields of ripening strawberries were on our left. We were in Somerset (pronounced "Zomerzet"), and entering Wiltshire. Twisting roads took us past tall trees. A field of poppies covered a hill. One farm had about 10 acres of pig pens. 
There was an army base nearby where they practiced tank maneuvers. Some of the little country roads had signs: "NO TANKS." The trees gradually thinned out into wheat fields. Rolling hills of peaceful farm land began to flatten out. Off to the side we saw bumps in the landscape: Aubrey Holes, ancient burial mounds. Green grassland spread out on either side of the road. We came over a small rise... and there it was, straight ahead. Stonehenge. 
We pulled into the car park and came to a stop. The lot was full of cars, busses and RV's. The sky was a brilliant blue, with some white clouds off to the west. Many people were lying out on the grass having picnics. A vendor was selling hot sandwiches out of a trailer. We all followed Nick to the gate. The path led down below the surface, past the gift shop, and we found a tunnel under the road. The ramp led up, and we emerged on the other side. Stonehenge appeared rising before us. I'd waited my whole life to visit that place. The effect was overwhelming. The path wound up alongside the stones. It only goes so far, then you're walking on grass. I'd been told there would be a fence around the stones, but that day there was only a single string circling around on stakes. I listened to the audio tour, which had pre-recorded messages you activated at various places around the stones. I could see a traffic jam on the road just over the next hill. 
The first impression I got was that the whole place is smaller than I'd imagined. All the pictures I'd seen made the stones look monstrous. The stones were still freakin' huge. There were hundreds of visitors that day. Even with all those people around me, I felt at peace. There's a calm that comes over you when you're in a sacred place, like a cathedral or chapel, and that's what it felt like. There was an elegance in the simplicity of the stones, and it created a feeling of reverence. 
I found myself looking at the people around me. They were all walking quietly, respectfully. Nobody crossed the string. What must it have been like for some Neolithic man, hunting for game, to come over a hill and see the stones emerging from the morning mists? He must have felt he was in the presence of gods. Did he pray at the base of the stones? If he had any extra game, did he leave it behind as an offering? The literature and books all speculate about Stonehenge being an observatory, or a religious site, or a place for important ceremonies... but what was it like the rest of the time, when no ceremonies were going on? 
I imagined the ancient Britons walking around the stones, just as we were doing. Did they step as quietly, as reverently as we did? Did they peek at one another through the stones, or step back to see them framed in distant clouds? Did they pick up some flower at the base of the stones to take home with them, something to remember their visit? I wondered. Stonehenge was the stuff of dreams. 
I finished listening to the audio guide. I looked around... and I didn't see anybody in our tour group. I thought, Uh oh. I hurried back down the ramp and under the road to the gift shop. Nobody was there, either. I came to the gate, and realized if I went out, I couldn't get back in again. I turned my back on Stonehenge and went back out the gate, hurrying back to the car park. It turned out I was the next to last person to return to the coach. I felt kind of sheepish. There was a huge traffic jam on the highway as we headed out for Salisbury. Poppies dotted green fields to either side. 
It was mid-afternoon when we got to Salisbury. We could see the spire of the cathedral from miles away. At 404 feet, it was the highest church spire in the country, and pretty daunting to look up as you walk towards the cathedral. Inside, we saw people taking photos. Every other cathedral we'd visited prohibited photography. Donna asked one of the priests if photography was allowed or not allowed. "We encourage it," the priest said. Donna said, "Okay, do you encourage taking pictures or not taking pictures..?" Photos were indeed allowed. Many visitors wandered through in silence. The interior was exquisite, and the windows, shining from the afternoon Sun, were just gorgeous. There were memorials on all the walls and floors. Found one dedicated to the soldiers of the Burma Campaign in World War II, and I thought of the China-Burma-India veterans I performed for a few years past. 
At the far end of the cathedral, in the space behind the high altar, was the simple Trinity Chapel. There, I found a simple black coffin, with a thick candle at either end. It was the tomb of Saint Osmund, who died in 1099. Nothing fancy, nothing ostentatious, just a couple of candles. He sounded like my kind of saint. Walking around a corner, I had to stop myself from stepping on the grave of Edward Heath, who was prime minister back in the 1970's. It must take quite a bit of clout to get buried in an English cathedral, near holy places. I thought of the burial mounds near Stonehenge and decided things haven't changed much in five thousand years. Salisbury Cathedral was 750 years old. It harkened back to a time when the Catholic Church had everything figured out, where everything in the world had its place. It made me think of my days in Catholic school. The world had order back then– purpose and reason. 
A priest wandered by and asked me, "So, what's you're interest here?" Was that a trick question? I said something about history and culture... then I confessed that I wasn't nearly the practicing Catholic I used to be-- but even so, I was finding everything around me very inspirational. He smiled and patted me on the shoulder, saying, "God bless you." We looked through the cloisters, and found some sculptures on the grounds outside. One was called "The Walking Madonna," and reminded me of the Pioneer Woman statue in Ponca City. Donna and I hit the gift shop, then headed back towards the coach.
I noticed that whenever I bought something with a credit card in Britain, everybody checked my signatures. Most American businesses would let that slide, so long as the transaction was approved. Heading out of Salisbury, the road took us through a narrow tunnel cut under some train tracks. A sign warned, "High vehicles use center of road." It was a beautiful afternoon. Nearby was an army firing range. They would put up a red flag for the neighbors anytime they were using live ammunition. 
We got back on the highway. It was 70 miles to London. Traffic was steady, but not congested. That was pretty much the last day we'd be together, so we all filled out surveys about the tour. My only suggestion was to have some games or something for everyone to do on the long drives between places. At 4:15, we passed Heathrow Airport. It was amazing that a plane lands there practically every 60 seconds. Traffic got heavier the closer we got to London. We crossed the Thames near where the Magna Carta was signed. We pulled up next to the hotel on Kensington High Street where we began our journey. In the hotel, a very nice girl named Christina got us set up in our rooms. Donna met up with the Trafalgar rep in the lobby and got the receipt for our Sunday tour of London. I got some maps and figured out where we were supposed to go. With everything worked out, we went up to our room, which had a lovely view of a wall. It was a tiny room. There were scorch marks on the lamp shades. We cleaned up, and headed out to find some supper. I'd had the idea there would be a farewell dinner for the group that evening, but there wasn't. We took off walking down Kensington. Many restaurants had their menus posted outside so people could check them out before going in. We looked at a couple and settled on an Italian place called Café Pasta. 

     "Table for two?"
     "Do you take plastic?"
     "Yes, we do."
     "Table for two."

It was early in the evening, so the place was very quiet. For an appetizer, we had meze: olives, zuccini, cheese, flat bread, shredded, pickled beet, and a red mango with a tomato inside, covered with cheese. I had spaghetti bolognese, with beef and pork, and it was delicious. Donna had a portabella mushroom pizza. They didn't cut the pizza up into slices– they just left it for her to tear off in bites. That was really good. I had an Italian beer called Panini, which had a slightly sour aftertaste but was otherwise fairly smooth. Everything on the label was in Italian. After supper, it was still light out, so we went for a walk. We found the Underground station a couple of blocks up the street. We also looked through a bookstore, and were sorely tempted to buy some books. On the way back, we met up with a half dozen people from the tour group. They were looking for a place to eat, too. We looked through the hotel gift shop and found some t-shirts for 8 pounds. We relaxed in the room that evening. Donna read while I went over maps of London and got caught up on my writing. It had been a big day. 

There's two different busy roads that go by Stonehenge. These roads threaten the site-- not because of the pollution from car exhausts, but from the vibrations of all those vehicles going by. I read that there were plans to redirect the roads and remove them from around the site. The car park would be grassed-over, and the visitor's center would be moved two miles away. The stones would be way off in the country. In the near future, the only way to get to the site would be on a little train. It'll take all day for a person to visit Stonehenge. And you know what? That'll be just fine. 
Preparations -- Day 1 -- Day 2 -- Day 3 -- Day 4 -- Day 5 -- Day 6
Day 7 -- Day 8 -- Day 9 -- Day 10 -- Day 11 -- Day 12 -- Epilogue
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