Adventures at Home: Stonehenge

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Many travelers coming to England have Stonehenge firmly in their itineraries, and it bewildered me that I had still not been there – it is one of the most iconic, mysterious and historical sites in my home country. Located in the south of England, in Wiltshire, Stonehenge is actually quite far for me to get to, and it has only been in the last few years that I am really beginning to scratch the surface in discovering the south of England.

With J. based down south now, it is only just over an hour’s drive to Stonehenge which makes it an excellent day trip. It is worth researching your visit before you go; Stonehenge may seem to be in the middle of nowhere, but there are plenty of interesting places nearby to see if you have time, including other English Heritage sites such as Woodhenge or Old Sarum.

The drive should have taken just over an hour, but this stretched to nearly two hours due to traffic congestion only 2 miles short of Stonehenge – a dual carriageway turns into single lane. This is extremely frustrating as it is a major road network and the main access road to Stonehenge. You feel so close and yet so far at the same time.

After about 45 minutes of stopping and starting the engine, we got through the bottleneck to find Stonehenge on the right of the road.

J chuckled: “right we have seen it now, let’s go!”

It’s true, we had seen it from our car, but we would have to go round three sides of a square to get to the Visitor Center.

Waving our English Heritage membership cards at the stewards, we were able to get free parking, just another perk of being an English Heritage member.

We booked our tickets in advance online through the English Heritage website which they recommend. Despite being members and getting free entry, the online booking not only saved us having to queue for the tickets but it also secured a time for us to get in. The heightened security upon entry seemed excessive, but I guess this is one of the most important historical sites in this country. Every bag was meticulously searched, we were all scanned in and I was even questioned where I came from. It is a necessity to keep us and Stonehenge safe, but it’s a sign of the times.

There is a shuttle bus from the Visitor Center which takes 5 minutes to get to Stonehenge. It is a very accessible attraction for all to see which is brilliant. Alternatively, you can take a relaxing 2 mile stroll through fields. We were not in a rush so we walked there and got the shuttle back.

We timed this all brilliantly as by the time we got back in the car to go for lunch, the rain came pouring down!

We took an audio guide which gives plenty of information about the history and significance of Stonehenge. I was very intrigued by how they changed the original road layout, as there used to be a main road which was right next to it! You could have touched it from your car seat.

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We drove through the beautiful Wiltshire countryside (in the rain) to find some nice pub food. It’s a lovely little slice of rural England round here. After recharging my batteries with a refreshing lime and soda and a gourmet steak sandwich, I felt quite tired but still had to drive back the hour and a bit home. As Old Sarum was only two minutes down the road, we jumped back in the car to have a look at this ancient hill fort/royal residence for the ultimate stop of the day.

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A much quieter attraction to Stonehenge, but still a significant place, Old Sarum is the oldest settlement in this area; a royal palace for Henry I and where the Doomsday book may have been presented to William the Conqueror. After a dispute in the 13th century, the decision was made to move the cathedral in the grounds to an area nearby. The settlement which grew around it became Salisbury and ultimately, Old Sarum dwindled in power.

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This was a fascinating insight into history, and I am sure this is only a taster for what this region has to offer.

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Afternoon Tea at The Ritz, London

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This was the main event of the weekend – Afternoon Tea at The Ritz. Afternoon Tea that we had had to reserve a whole six months in advance for, all the way back in February! We have been looking forward to this for all that time.

Afternoon Tea was served at 15:30, and as we arrived we were greeted attentively by a bell boy who directed us to the Palm Court, the room where they serve the Afternoon Tea. We were quite surprised by how small the room was but that just added to the exclusivity of the affair. After a small wait, a waiter with an iPad with the reservation details ushered us to our table, which was positioned in the center of the room! Great location for people watching and admiring the beautiful golden decor.

Palm Court ceiling

Palm Court ceiling

The staff really treat you well and make small talk as they serve the menus and drinks. Despite it being ‘The Ritz’, we remarked at how we didn’t feel like the whole thing was ‘snobby’. During Afternoon Tea at Fortnum and Mason’s earlier this year, it just felt rather stiff and a bit awkward and the waiters were not so busy, so would be standing around watching us which felt uncomfortable. However, the selection of teas was much more impressive (they are a Tea Merchants after all!), whereas The Ritz only had about twelve teas, of which, I opted for the Red Tea which I drank but wasn’t near as good as the Green Tea with Fresh Apple I had at F&M. F&M even have the option of hot food instead of sandwiches which I prefer personally, as I’m not the biggest fan of finger sandwiches.

Most tables at The Ritz were asking the waiters for a photo, so of course we did too. It’s good to know that it is a done thing, as at Afternoon Tea at F&M, I didn’t feel at all comfortable to ask such a thing! But when at the Ritz, one msut take a photo!

James and I having Afternoon Tea at The Ritz

James and I having Afternoon Tea at The Ritz

Afternoon Tea is for about an hour and a half, yet we did feel slightly rushed unfortunately, but only in the most polite way. There is so much food and tea, I only got through 3/4 of my tea, but ran out of time to drink the rest! For example, they served the scones before we had even half-finished the sandwiches and the cake trolley came very early for us, “just for later.” and when we had just one cake left, several waiters came round saying ‘Aahhh, so, just one more?! Go on, you can do it,’ for us to take the cake so that they could then remove the cake stand. It’s completely understandable, as there is a second sitting at 5pm and they need us gone so that they can set the tables again for the following reservation. The staff are very efficient and attentive, but still, I kept having to look at my watch and think, ‘oh no, we only have half an hour left to enjoy this!’

All good things must come to come to an end…

Now, we need to decide where we go next in London for Afternoon Tea! Unfortunately (perhaps), we have started at the top, so I doubt anywhere else is going to live up to my extremely high expectations now, but I am willing to give them a try.

It was the most fantastic 21st birthday weekend, and to end it with Afternoon Tea at The Ritz is a memory I will always cherish.

Click to see my post: An Evening at Regent’s Park Open Air Theater

Click to see my post: 21st Celebrations in London

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An Evening at Regent’s Park Open Air Theater: Part Two

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After spending the earlier part of the day at the British Museum, which I wrote about in Part One about my 21st Celebrations in London this weekend, the rest of the day was spent in Regent’s Park, where we watched Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the Open Air Theater.

James had brought his parents’ pic nic hamper from home for us to use that evening before the play. On the way back to the hotel from the museum we spotted a Tesco’s, so we popped in to grab some food for later.

We were so lucky with the weather as it was beautiful and sunny all weekend! We walked around the park a little before sitting down in a nice spot for food.

James with his pic-nic hamper

James with his pic-nic hamper

Regent's Park

Regent’s Park

We made our way into the theater area at about 18:30 and James surprised me by saying we had premium tickets (best seats, free drink on arrival and a programme each)! The play started at 19:45 and was about 2 hours long with an interval.

The stage

The stage

The play was absolutely fantastic and I’m so glad James had booked the tickets for us to go! I had never heard of the play beforehand, and even he said he was rather skeptical about what to expect before we saw it. We needn’t have worried as it was an excellent performance.

It was a musical with some great songs, but most of the main cast were also professional ballet dancers and the choreography was incredible which really made it all that more amazing. It was a mixture of just the right comedy, romance and drama and the crowd were not only giggling at times, but even joining in with a “Yee-Hah” every now and again during the dance-offs! The chemistry on set was flawless and you could tell that the actors were having just as much fun as the spectators.

James and I at the open Air Theater

James and I at the Open Air Theater

I love going to the theater, and am lucky enough to have already seen quite a lot at the West End already; although there is still so much I want to see! Seeing a play at the Open Air Theater was something different. It was perfect for a warm (warm for British standards!), summer’s evening in London, and an excellent choice for a birthday present.

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21st Celebrations in London: Part One

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To celebrate my 21st birthday last week, James organised a birthday weekend in London for me. This is the first trip he has planned for us, as it is usually me who sorts everything out!

The main highlights of the weekend included seeing Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theater on the Saturday evening and also Afternoon Tea at The Ritz on Sunday afternoon, but I would like to write separate posts about these as they were fabulous and deserve their own spotlight on the blog!

We met at St. Pancreas on Friday evening for dinner at Searcy’s. It was a convenient restaurant as we did not get into London until 20:30. I arrived into Euston after a manic journey of train delays, cancellations, and a stop in Crewe, but managed to arrive only 40 minutes later than expected which was a relief.

We booked two nights at the Great Northern Hotel which is located right by King’s Cross and St. Pancreas. It was ideal as it meant we didn’t have to go far on Sunday evening from collecting our luggage to getting our trains back up north and we were right by the Underground to get around the city. It isn’t the cheapest hotel; luckily breakfast was included, otherwise a full English Breakfast in the Plum & Spilt Milk restaurant costs £17 alone (!). On each floor with rooms, there is a pantry with access to free tea, coffee, newspapers and cakes which was sweet and the hotel was decorated beautifully. I’d definitely stay here again, it felt luxurious and we were treated well by the staff.

The room was designed like a couchette (a berth in a train carriage). It was small but the design and facilities were amazing which detracted from the size. The hotel was very traveler-friendly, as that’s its main purpose, being so close to the Eurostar. Vintage train travel posters hanging up added to the design. USB and European port chargers were in the walls in the restaurant and rooms as well as UK ones, to save travellers using adapters!

Before checking into the hotel, we walked across to King’s Cross to see Plaform 9 3/4 to take a picture. Despite being already 21:45, there was still a small queue lining to take pictures. Apparently the queue is ridiculous during the day, so we were lucky that we only had to wait under 5 minutes. I’d recommend going at this time at night to save queuing!

In the queue, I gave James the very important job of taking a photo of me at the platform. We both know he isn’t the best at taking pictures (I am the photographer), so I sorted out the aperture on my camera and told him what to do and prayed the picture would turn out okay for this very important moment in my life…

Me going through the platform to catch the Hogwart's Express!

Me going through the platform to catch the Hogwart’s Express!

I’m very proud to say that he managed to take the picture no problem for once (I am in the picture, it is not wonky and nothing has been cut out) The only thing I am going to say about the whole thing, is that the owl looked a little bit pathetic on the trolley, but oh well!

Saturday morning, after a delicious breakfast, we made our way to the British Museum which I had yet to visit for the first time. It’s absolutely massive but free. We got a museum map and noted the things we wanted to see the most: Rosetta Stone, Elgin marbes, the mummies and a temprary exhibtion on Napoleon, ‘Bonaparte and the British,’ for the French Studies student that I am.

Of course, the Rosetta Stone had to be the FIRST THING you see as you enter the main exhibits, so there was a constant crowd of people trying to get up close to take pictures. It was quite disappointing as I wasn’t able to really appreciate seeing it up close as I had to move on to let other people squeeze past, but it was absolutely incredible to see the stone which was the key to deciphering hieroglyphics.

The ceiling

The ceiling – it’s worth coming here just for the architecture!

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The Elgin Marbes

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The exhibit ‘Bonaparte and the British’, explored Napoleon’s complex relationship with Britain, through the means of prints published during his lifetime. Some British, others French, but all range in negativity and positivity depending on how he was favored during moments of political importance. For example, one British print published after the Peace of Amiens in 1802, depicts Napoleon as a woman, peace personified. This is because the British are pleased to have secured peace with France after many years of war.

There were few French prints though, although I did like the one, ‘Vent contraire,’ where British ladies are wafting their fans in an attempt to blow a possible French invasion away from the southern coast of England. It was an interesting insight into this part of French history, especially to see Napoleon, such a controversial figure, to be displayed in a way so that we can see how his contemporaries viewed him in Europe.

Although one French man next to me at one point was not impressed – looking in disgust at some of the British propaganda prints and going “C’est trop!! C’est pas vrai!!” Moving on…
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