Saturday, August 23, 2008
Well here I am crazy, American traveler woman trying to see a HUGE part of England in just a short amount of time. Well, I have to say, that I've seen a lot!
I took the train to Salisbury-- a Gothic city, bordered on both sides by the River Avon and recognizable from a distance by the spire on the Salisbury cathedral. The plan was that I was to meet my guide, a Stonehenge/Avebury expert at the train station. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans. He had received my automated response email about being in Kenya, and thought it was a personal email to him saying that I left early and wanted to cancel my tour. So I waited over an hour at the station, and luckily a station manger named Samir took me under his wing. We were able to track down my guide's number from the Internet and finally got a hold of him. So a few hours later, I had no tour and already used up half my day. So I tried to hop on a train to the city of Bath (tell you about it soon) but I tried to squeeze into another filled train car, popped out, and the doors shut. I had faith that I would get somewhere EVENTUALLY, so I tried to hail a cab. There had been 5 cabs outside for hours, then as soon as I got out there, they vanished! Taken away from the cab fairy. Poof! But not to worry, because I waited in the...get this...SUN! For all you fellow Californians out there! Do not take the sun for granted! I actually got lucky. It rained in London the morning I left, and started raining in Salisbury the hour I left. I had really nice weather. Yay!
So I finally got a cab and took it my bed and breakfast. A beautiful place about 10 minutes outside of Salisbury called the Bridge Farm Inn. Seeing horses and cows grazing in the green pastures, the ivy covered brick tutor style home, and lovely gardens instantly put me at ease. Norma, the owner, showed me to my room. I cruised out to the lovely gardens along the river (that she maintains herself! and was greeted by a old, sweet Jack Russel who let me rub her tummy, but wouldn't follow me onto the wet morning grass-- a friend for our prissy LUCY!) I was refreshed and ready to tackle another adventure. So I took the "byway" back to town. A tiny, berry lined trail that starts from the farm property, passes the river and cows, and heads into town. I found the visitor's center, got some great help, had a sandwich and head back to the train station. I decided to visit the Romans...
Bath is an absolutely AMAZING place. I know I say that word a lot, but some of these places are just indescribable. The stone remains at Bath are the remnants of one of the biggest ancient religious spas in the world. The ruins are dedicated to the Greek goddess of the thermal spring, Minerva. Local residents and pilgrims that journeyed there bathed in the hot and cool pools to pay respects and for their healing purposes 2000 years ago. The city itself is built along the river, spired churches, Gothic design everywhere. It's a very hip, elegant place, with million dollar homes up on the hill, and great restaurants and street music. The baths are stunning. Much of the ground level still in tact, even the drainage system still works. An upper level was built later after the Romans. The green water now has algae from the sun, but there once was a roof over the main bath, keeping the water crystal clear. They've found many artifacts, pottery, tools, gems, curses and messages engraved on thin metal and tossed into the temple pool for Minerva. We were allowed to taste some of the hot spring water...warm, metallic, but with the atmosphere, not bad. I had a great dinner at The Riverside Cafe. I wrote a chapter of Super Nova there, and just did not want to leave such a rich, peaceful, gorgeous place!
Today, I hung in Salisbury before heading over to the stones. Visited the dramatic cathedral and the farmer's market. Meat pies (I thought Sweeney Todd right away!) quail eggs, and a great used book stand (I bought a book from a very prolific British writer for kids: Jacqueline Sullivan.) Met Russel, who worked in the children's bookstore, Freddie Sunshine. I really enjoyed the store, and talking to him about books, traveling, and films.
Headed over the bus station and caught a bus to Avebury, the city of stone circles. It predates Stonehenge by 500 years which makes it 5,000 years old! It's also 14 times bigger than Stonehenge. It's huge! So I had to switch buses at a town called Marlborough. This area is full of charm. Ancient stone churches. Massive trees, like willow hanging, floating all around. Shops and cafes. Ivy covered buildings. Beautiful. Headed toward Avebury. Got close when I saw the first stones, but I also got distracted. I thought the driver would stop, but she didn't, so I waited until I realized were were way beyond Avebury. She pulled over along the side and two bad things happened: 1.) I left my favorite hat on the bus!!! I figure I'll be donating hats to every country I go to. 2.) I had to walk along a very, very narrow road with cars zoomed toward me. So I would hop up onto the embankment, which just happened to be very tall, thick grass, covered in stinging nettles!!! (Painful weeds that attack your skin!) So I didn't get run over, but I got "stung" and assaulted by the smell and sights of way to many dead animals along the way. (One I think was a badger on steroids, or a really weird looking dog, I'm not sure!) But, I made it there and had a few hours of utter fascination! ( I stayed clear of all the sheep poop, lucky for me!)
These rocks are the remnants of several circles. There isn't any totally conclusive evidence, but researchers think that this was a temple honoring a fertility goddess to the native peoples of this area. There are hundreds of stones (or markers where the stones were) and they way from 10-100 tons each! Many are over 21 feet tall. It's remarkable. The triangular/wider stones represent the woman. These also have small holes somewhere within the stone. The taller, elongated stones are represent the male stones. They have very simple faces carved out of them, many of which are only visible when the sun highlights them at just the right time. There were two stones--one male, one female, that had a special connection. On May Day only, the shadow of the male stone, fell perfectly onto the female stone to honor the "sacred marriage." That is just a tiny bit of into. But the entire place was magical--only leaving you to wonder who these people were (why they disappeared) and what exactly the stones meant to them.
Back to Salisbury, back on a bus to Stonehenge. Oh, how breathtaking. Even after seeing photos of the stones all my life. The surrounding land is gorgeous. All open fields as far as the eye can see. Stonehenge began in the neolithic period 3000 years ago. First a huge circular ditch dug by antlers and primitive shovels. Then wooden markers were constructed. Then later, around 2600 BC, blue stones were brought up river on rafts in all the way from Wales. Then were carried by men for miles from there. 250 miles in total. There are theories about the blue stones. Most seem to agree that these people believed these stones had healing powers. The sarsen stones (25 tons each) were dragged over from the downs 20 miles away! The were placed upright and table-topped with other sarsens to create a continuous stone circle around the horseshoe of blue stones that surrounded the altar stone. They were smoothed and shaped and adorned with prehistoric carvings. There are many theories related to the stones, but each stone is carefully placed according to the phases of the moon and the position of the sun all year long. A calendar? A temple? A place of healing?
The last two days have fascinated me. History come to life. Almost as good as traveling back in time. Almost, I say. What could we learn from these people? What wisdom did they have that might change our world. We will never fully know. But maybe the magic is wondering what might be possible.
Thank you, England, for enhancing my sense of wonder.
Off to the Kenya. Might not be able to post anymore until I return. No Internet in the field.
My love to you all. May you spend your days in wonder,
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I just spent an hour describing my day to you and somehow I lost it all!!!
So here are the photos. Buckingham Palace--impressive, yet packed! Didn't wait in line--an hour and half, but what an icon here! the public can go inside to selected areas when the Queen is vacationing in Scotland! Westminster Abbey and House of Parliament building. Wow! Gothic and beautiful towers and spires, guarded by the famous clock tower himself, Big Ben. I especially loved the Poet's Corner (burial sites or memorials to Chaucer, Austen, Shakespeare,) and the markers for Darwin and Newton! Very enlightening to see the great revolutionary scientists honored at the church. Covent Garden: a great entertainment center with shops, great food (falafel!) and street performers. I watched a guy escape chains and a straight jacket and other performer walk a tight rope and juggle knives! St.Paul's Cathedral: stunning, with an amazing dome 550 steps up! Couldn't go in (too late) but the first part of the done is called the whispering gallery--supposedly you can hear your whisper from 107 feet away in a few seconds. How cool! The Tower Bridge and Tower of London--symbols of the history--good and bad--preserved for us to remember and reflect, and to move forward in our future more carefully. And a show. Shakespeare's Mid Summer Night's Dream--with my friend Abby at the Globe Theater! The original Shakespeare#s Globe burned in a fire, and then was destroyed in later years. An American actor/director spent his life rebuilding an exact replica in the same techniqe (no metal screws or nails!) It's a beautiful replica in the round, close by where the original stood so long ago. I really enjoyed hanging out with Abby (my friend Sheila's niece) and her boyfriend Aaron, and his parents from New Zealand. (go Jane go!) The performers were so hilarious, and I was honored to watch such comedic talent. Such a cool day. London has much to offer. And I had not enough time.
Here's to the future-- may we reflect on the past, and continue to evolve with peace and humanity.