Hilariously, I considered then the position I'm in now as "having it made." When in fact it is just as fraught with worry and feelings of being unknown as it was then, just... slightly different. But the distance between there and here is uncountably long when you're there. From here back, it's extremely countable. From here forward--uncountable again.
Anyway, I was poking around the site, as I said, kicking away dead links and such, when I stumbled into the old-old-old website, and my travelogues. My very first trip On My Own (not with family, I mean) to Anywhere Important was to England in 1997 with splash_the_cat. I was 22. I had mythologized travel to an amazing degree, which is why I think I'm shocked throughout the travelogue about how easy things were.
I'm deeply amused about my not understanding the insults of the bus driver, or why buses might take longer than trains, and loads of other stuff. I am so very 22 in this.
British Air had tickets to England on sale. Less than $400. It was early October, and I thought it was distinctly possible to realize one of my longest-standing dreams, thanks to the sale.
I didn't think it through very hard. I was meeting some friends for lunch, and Julie and I were the first ones there. I was friends with Julie, of course, but we didn't really know each other that well yet. But suddenly I found myself asking her if she wanted to go to England with me the next month. She got a funny look in her eye-- one that I have come to recognize as the "yes, yes, I am a crack-head" look. "Sure!" she said enthusiastically, and held out her hand to shake on it.
And less than six weeks later, we were on a plane to England.
It was my first experience with trans-Atlantic travel. Probably my first trans-anything travel-- the furthest from home I'd ever ranged previously was Colorado. It seemed all too easy, and in some ways it was. Julie an I stepped onto a plane at 9PM one night, fell asleep and got up at 9AM the next morning in England. We took the Underground to the train station, and the train to Bath. We were a little dazed and confused, but overall, it just seemed easy. And then we were in Bath by 2PM. Just-- easy.
We went to the youth hostel and dropped off our things, then headed back down the hill towards town. It was November, and though not cold to us, the weather was rather moist-- it all conspired to make us two of very few tourists. We went all over the Roman Baths (<<< left), and stopped for high tea at the Pump Room. I had a big Jane Austen moment, and the tea was delicious. I never liked tea before at all. But combined with the scones and cream and jam and sandwiches and so forth, it was perfect.
We wandered in and around a few little shops, enjoying ourselves quite thoroughly. There was a huge line of people waiting outside of a book store to see one of the Monty Python people at a book signing. We skipped past this because the line was enormous, and we were tired, and it was dark. We hadn't seen half of what we had planned to see in Bath. Not that things seemed any less easy, because they didn't-- but we realized that maybe our ambitious plans to tour five towns in five days were going to fall apart.
We went back to the hostel. I sampled British Kit-kat and British Coke, decided I didn't like either (probably because of the "vegetable extracts"). We both fell asleep somewhere around 8:30 and slept like the dead through the night.
Day two saw us up not any bit to early, dragging down to town to see the Costume Museum. We were totally enthralled, but time was getting short, and we planned to bus over to Glastonbury that day.
The only other thing to note was that I was reading Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor at the time, which went fairly well with the surroundings.
me at Glastonbury Abbey
We arrived much later at Glastonbury than we had expected. Apparently buses take much longer than trains-- I suppose it makes sense, but we weren't prepared for three hours of jostling and bouncing. A quick inventory of the town made it clear that there wouldn't be enough time to see everything we wanted to see that day and still leave time to head to Salisbury the next morning. Staying in Glastonbury throughout the next day was an easy decision, though.
We had a great time chatting with our B&B proprietor. She advised as where to go for an authentic fish and chips dinner-- Julie liked it quite a bit more than me, but other than tea, I had thus far hated or merely tolerated everything I had eaten. The fish and chips were far more edible than the sausages and bus station pasties that I'd eaten earlier, so it was fine. There was a fire roaring in the grate of the fish and chips place, and hence, we got to experience atmosphere.
We spent a lot of time in the bookstores in town, as there is a necessary and wonderful concentration of New Age, mythic, Arthurian, religious and archaeological literature in town. We headed back to the Bolthole and I once again slept like a fiend. Breakfast was good when it came the next morning, our first English breakfast; I didn't learn the proper value of English breakfast on this trip, but the Bolthole's food gave me an inkling.
We climbed Glastonbury Tor in a wall of mist. It was a fairly amazing thing to climb so high and see so little.
Julie at Arthur's Head falls in the Chalice Well Gardens; the red of the water is due to high iron content-- or according to myth, to Jesus' blood from the Grail which lies at the bottom of the Chalice Well.
We headed back down to town and poked around the Abbey grounds. I got to see the supposed site of Arthur's grave, and we had a good time looking around at the ruins. Then we went for a walk through the Chalice Well Gardens. I felt well and truly indulged in my Arthurian obsession. We went back over to a little archaeological museum housed in the Tribunal, and Julie got to be indulged for a time.
We went up and down the main roads of this town so many times that we began to feel like we lived there. Glastonbury definitely wove a spell around us; we had a serious debate about whether we should stay another day or two or to continue on with at least some of our itinerary. Largely based on the fact that we did not want to deal with the grief of accommodations for the night, we pressed on. We went back to the Tribunal and begged the tourist office folk to explain the bus schedule to us. Much rigamarole ensued, but it was determined that we had to take a bus to Yeovil and then train to Salisbury.
The bus to Yeovil deposited us at the bus station, not much past 5:30 at night. However, it was pitch dark, and it felt impossibly late to be out and about. It was concluded that we had to take a local bus up to the train station, which proved to be the biggest adventure of our trip. The local bus driver first of all made fun of me for confusing the money pieces, and jokingly said we must be Welsh, as we were clearly from out of town. It's funny now, but at the time I was frustrated. The stop for the train station was a zero, as well. There were no street-lights, no lights at all. The bus driver said the train station was three miles up the road, and though we knew he was kidding, we had no real inkling of how far it was. There were some faint lights up the road, but we couldn't really make out any sort of distance whatsoever. Julie and I walked along a narrow English road in the pitch-dark. She had very enterprisingly brought a flashlight, which made the trek slightly less treacherous. There was a tense moment or two as we realized that we were quite suddenly on a bridge, and water was rushing unseen beneath our feet-- I don't know why, but it sort of scared me for a moment. But there was no harm whatsoever, and we continued on, up a hill, and found the train station not 500 yards from the bus stop. We had been unable to make it out because of the hill.
Salisbury - Stones
We arrived in Salisbury at a very tidy 8PM and did not immediately collapse into bed. We chatted with an Australian girl who was visiting, and got onto the subject of Thanksgiving, as that was the holiday we were missing back home right at that moment. Not surprisingly, the Australian, while she knew what Thanksgiving was, only did so because of television-- specifically, The Brady Bunch. I continued my sampling of British candy bars thanks to the vending machine downstairs, and we called it a night.
Morning led us to a delightful French pastry shop, and then we caught the bus to Stonehenge. While we were heartily sick of buses, we were very happy to be off to Stonehenge. It was everything we hoped, and more. Perhaps it was because our tour guides had been very snarky in warning us that it wouldn't be as cool as we hoped; perhaps because we fully respect the human effort that went into building it. I don't know. We were so enthralled that we missed our bus back, and had to wait a good long time for the next one.
Back in Salisbury, we toured the Cathedral, which I enjoyed, as I believe this was my first cathedral. We found ourselves with nothing else to do that we could do before sundown, so we went to a movie and watched The Full Monty. I had winegums as a snack, something I'd had only once before in my life. We found some edible food at a Turkish restaurant called the Charcoal Grill. Actually, edible doesn't do it justice-- it was fantastic. Then back to the hostel for sleep.
me, hugging a megalith.
The next morning we got up and headed out to Avebury, the second on our stone circle tour. Avebury was an enormously pleasant surprise-- first because of the up-close and personal view of the stones, second because there was a really, really good restaurant called the Stones that fed us hazelnut vegetarian lasagna. I ate it as though famished-- which I pretty much was. We took a look around a little museum that was on sight, and then headed back to Salisbury, and its train station and thence to London.
We saw almost nothing of London whatsoever, as it was dark when we got there and we were leaving the next day. We did see the Tower Bridge, all nicely lighted up, on the bus ride across London to Rotherhithe Youth Hostel. Rotherhithe proved to be clean, quiet and spacious, and though there were some people sleeping in our beds, it didn't really matter. Just a small case of musical beds. The airport the next morning was the last place I wanted to go, but I was tremendously pleased and amazed at what we had accomplished.