Epic Trip Diary: 6 August – 8 August

Monday, 6 August – Olympic canoe sprint, and Windsor Castle 

Another day to get up early because we had tickets to go see canoe sprint!  I had no clue what that might be, but as I mentioned before I got the tickets I did because they were cheap.  And Olympics are Olympics no matter what sport.

Our train dropped us at Windsor, and from the station you could see the castle a few blocks away on top of the hill.  Big, pink Olympics signs (all the Olympics signs were pink) said it was a 25 minute walk to the venue.  We had tickets for a little boat ferry that took us down the Thames – and it’s much skinnier in Windsor – and Aimee pointed out the queen’s swans.  After we docked, we still had to walk 10-15 minutes so I’m not sure how much time we saved, but it was still a nice little boat ride.  And the weather was much nicer than it was for shooting.

As we checked in at the venue, we were handed photocopied pieces of paper listing the heat times and participants.  No official programs for this event.  As I scanned the list I saw that the US doesn’t participate!  Oh well.  There’s always Team GB to cheer for, and I was also determined to cheer for Belarus.  🙂  Aimee rolled her eyes at my silly allegiance.  There were also participants from less common places like the Cook Islands, Senegal, and Samoa.

I found out pretty quickly what “canoe sprint” meant.  All races were in a straight line just like rowing races.  Canoe races involved athletes on one knee in the boat, paddling on one side of the boat.  Kayak races had the athletes sitting in the boat like rowing, but facing forward and with blades on each end of their paddle.  I pulled a pen out and as each heat was completed, I marked the place for each finisher as though I was keeping score at a baseball game.

The crowd cheered loudest for GB, of course, and the two little girls sitting in front of us discovered that cheering involves screaming – much to the chagrin of their parents.  They screamed for much of the event.  I wasn’t really annoyed as much as I felt bad for the parents.  The crowd around WAS doing the same thing, but only during specific times (heats involving GB) which the girls didn’t understand.

The event only lasted for the morning and then Aimee headed back to London while I stayed in Windsor.  She said if I was only going to see one castle on my trip, it should be Windsor.  I knew I had other castles coming up on my bike trip, but this one did look fantastic.

The castle was beautiful, but no pictures were allowed inside so you’ll just have to Google it or visit if you want to see yourself.  I particularly liked the doll’s house, and a room just off the main dining room that was decorated all in gold.  I’m not generally a fan of gold, but it was stunning for this setting.  The audio guide was nice to have, but also a bit annoying because much of it was about the oil portraiture and I’ve never cared for oil portraiture.

The moat garden was open so I paid the extra two pounds to wander around it.  Wow.  Magical place filled with amazing foliage and roses.  I swiped two rose petals from the ground for my scrap book and contemplated writing a Facebook status update about finding the most beautiful place on Earth.  No joke.

Saw some of the famous palace guards and discovered they CAN move.  If it starts to rain.  A drizzle started, and while I opened my umbrella the guard snapped his heels together then shuffled tiny little baby steps backwards and to the side (never turning his head) until he found the opening to his little guard house and stepping in out of the wet.  And then it poured.  At least it waited until after the event was over.  I bought some official jubilee blend tea from her majesty’s gift shop, then found a Starbucks near the train station to get a hot mocha for the ride home.

Oh, saw something interesting on the train ride back to London: a boat-less water ski course.  There were cables suspended overhead that pulled people around the lake.  I barely had time to register what I was seeing before it flashed out of sight.

Canoes!

Kayaks!

Go, Belarus!

Looking across the moat garden in the middle of the castle grounds.

Moat garden. I might blow this up and frame it.

Definitely in the running for the most beautiful place on Earth.

Windsor Castle: definitely worth a visit.

Tuesday, 7 August – Bath 

On the train ride from London to Bath, I was already convinced I had made a good decision by following Aimee’s advice to take this little side journey.  The countryside was as beautiful as I had always imagined it.  The train passed a guy mowing the yard in front of his castle!  Okay, so maybe it was just a big house that looked castle-like, but still!  My breath caught in my throat as the train slowed down coming into Bath.  What a beautiful city!

I checked into my guesthouse to drop my backpack and then was off to wander.  The Georgian architecture was beautiful.  (Sorry, you might hear the world ‘beautiful’ a lot in this post – three times already – because I really loved Bath.)  I wandered up to the circus, and over the the crescent, both of which I loved.  When I make my millions from being an administrative assistant, I’m moving to Bath.

One of the things I loved most was looking down over the fences into the garden-level apartment courtyards.  Whenever I see a home I usually imagine myself living there, and I pictured myself watering their flower pots and hanging my clothes to dry down there below street level.  I could tell that most of the garden-level apartments around the city went down two levels deep because many would have huge window wells within these little subterranean courtyards.  I would have loved to see inside one!

My wandering led me to the botanic garden, which was also beautiful.  As eye-rolling as it sounds, I almost cried with happiness several times that day at this lovely city.

I headed back to the center of town to take the tour of the Roman baths, which were built in the first century.  First century!  I had walked by them before and thought, “Wow, they’re small.”  I didn’t consider how the city had been built on top of the ruins for 1700 years before anyone discovered them.  So the baths – and the museum that goes with them – is all underground.

I didn’t enjoy the audio guide or the museum – which you had to go to to get to the baths – very much because a lot of it just talked about about how the Romans worshiped their gods and how the other native peoples worshiped their gods.  It was kind of dull.  But what was interesting was the display of ancient coins that had been excavated from the site being that I’m a numismatist that wears a coin necklace every day.  Some of the coins predate Christ.  Predate.  Christ.  I tried to let that sink in but it was hard to imagine these coins existed before Jesus walked on the Earth, especially coming from such a young country where we’re amazed if a building is from the 1700s.

The baths themselves were interesting, but I think I was getting tired.  So after looking around for a bit I left to look for dinner.  I’d had a Cornish pasty for lunch, so I figured it was okay to get something un-English like pizza for dinner.  I got an orange gelato from next door and wandered back to the guesthouse to sleep in a bed for the first time in nearly two weeks.

The circus.

Beautiful tree in the botanic garden.

Looking down into one of the garden apartments.

The main bath.

Coins from the bath site.

Wednesday, 8 August – Bath 

My brain woke me up at six (the sun was already very up) so I showered then sat in bed reading until the kitchen opened at eight for breakfast.  Hotel breakfasts in England put the US to shame.  Lots of fresh and hot food for you to enjoy.

Checked out, went wandering, and stopped at the Victorian Art Gallery.  I’ll admit I was lured inside by their poster outdoors which indicated they were having an exhibit of Olympics-themed art.  But, they also had an exhibit of wooden “toys” made of wood scraps and found objects that were interactive.  Such fun!

I passed by a sporting good store and decided to poke my head inside.  They had one of those Team GB shirts I’d been watching for in my size!  Even though it was on sale, it was still a lot of money, and it was a football jersey so I wasn’t sure how much use I would get out of it.  Eventually I decided to leave it there.

I made my way to the beautiful (of course) Bath Abbey.  The walls and floors were covered with gravestone-like memorial tiles for the interred.  There was an art installation of calligraphy and abstract needlepoint displaying scenes from the life of Christ that was so interesting to look at.  I found a seat for the free organ concert that was taking place and afterwards bought a ticket to climb to the top of the abbey.

We saw the bells – and stood right next to them as they LOUDLY tolled three o’clock – and took in the magnificent city views from the roof.  From the balcony overlooking the square our guide said this was the perfect place to photobomb pictures.  I looked out and saw a teenager snapping a picture of her friend in front of the abbey, so I threw up a peace sign.  The other people on my tour laughed but the girl never noticed.  She’ll find out when she’s going through her pictures later.

The spiraling stairs (212 of them!) to go up and down were quite steep, very narrow, and worn from a millennia of use.  I couldn’t help thinking that you’d rarely get an opportunity to do something like this in the US for fear of people slipping, falling, and suing.  Throughout the whole trip it did seem like there was more of a sense of personal responsibility and less protecting-people-from-themselves.  It was refreshing.

After stopping for traditional cream tea, it was time to bid farewell to Bath and return to London.  I didn’t make it back to Aimee’s flat until probably 10:30 and crashed on the futon to rest up for my next adventure: bicycling through Suffolk…

I broke the rules and took a photo of the Olympics-themed painting exhibit.

Inside Bath Abbey.

View from the top of the abbey.

Looking down on the baths.

Some of that amazing abstract needlework.

Yeah, I want to live here…

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