Our tour officially started today, and it was a loooong day. We were to meet in the courtyard at 6:45 AM, which meant we needed to be up, showered, packed, checked out, and ready to go by then. That turned out to be pretty easy, because I woke up at 5:20. So we were both all ready to go at the appointed time.
The tour, though, wasn’t! There were four different Contiki tours departing from the hotel this morning, all at the same time. Ours ended up being the third one out, so we had our group meeting and check-in at 7:00, and were on the bus and on our way by 7:30.
And of course we got to meet our Contiki reps. Our tour manager is a tiny hyperactive Aussie girl named Roxy, and our driver is — really — a tiny grinning Aussie guy in tight pants, shiny shoes, giant graduated aviator shades, a lip ring, and a shirt unbuttoned almost all the way to his navel to show off his very hairy, tattooed chest.
Oh, and he’s named Muffin.
This is Roxy.
The bus itself is a bit dangerous all by itself, because it’s a European (actually Dutch) bus, which means it’s left-hand drive. Which means the door is on the right-hand side, like any bus in Canada. But since, in the UK, you drive on the left side of the road, that means that the door does not open onto the sidewalk; it opens into traffic. We’ve been warned to be careful about that!
So our first “stop” (not really a stop) was a driving tour of London. Muffin drove us around London for an hour and Roxy pointed out basically every major tourist landmark in the city. From Buckingham Palace to Tower Bridge to the “Gherkin” to the London Eye to Picadilly Circus, you name it, we probably saw it.
Tower Bridge (definitely not London Bridge!)
London Tower (it’s short, more like a fortress) with the “Gherkin” in the background
Then, we drove to our first actual stop: Stonehenge!
I forget where I took this
The drive through the English countryside was interesting all by itself. In a lot of ways, it was almost but not quote like driving through, say, some of the hillier parts of Saskatchewan. Especially when going past canola fields and power lines, you could almost forget you were in a different country. But the trees and bushes and such are kind of different, and there are a lot of sheep, and it’s hillier and the roads are windy, so it always feels just a little bit off. And then you spot an old farmhouse or a quaint little village and it’s all red brick buildings and very British and you remember where you are.
Some of the English countryside
Stonehenge was kind of weird. It was exactly what you expect: a big ring of stones. Though it was actually smaller than i expected. Not the stones themselves: they were huge. But the ring itself was more compact than I had envisioned. It was pretty cool, because you walked all the way around the ring and could see it from all sides. We had the audio guide gadgets so we got a bunch of education out of it.
Unfortunately, we only had 45 minutes there, which was enough time to listen to the whole audio guide, but if you also wanted to take photos, go to the gift shop, etc., it was really tight. So I skipped over some of it (and mine was acting up anyway), and ended up buying the guidebook from the gift shop so I can read about everything I missed 🙂
Another view of the stones
Then it was off to Bath! Well, first we had to wait for one late member of the tour to show up. That was about a 10- or 15-minute delay, and Roxy did not look pleased. Generally a Contiki tour will happily leave without you, but because this was our first stop on our first day and you can’t exactly get on a train from Stonehenge, I think she was being a bit forgiving.
The town of Bath is quite literally named: it’s the site of an old Roman bath that was built on a hot spring which was reputed to have healing qualities. Over the years, the baths have been expanded, built on top of, rediscovered, restored, etc.. So we took that audio tour as well. It was neat to see but really took longer than I would have liked (even though I enjoyed seeing it).
Modern (20th-century) statue in the Roman style overlooking the baths
The baths from water level…a couple meters below modern ground level
The town of Bath is kind of interesting. It’s very different than any other British city I’ve been in. There are a lot of white stone buildings; our tour manager kept talking about the Edwardian (no, wait, I think it was Georgian) architecture. And the streets are very winding and narrow and pedestrian-oriented. Pamela and I both thought it felt a lot like an Italian city…it reminded me of Rome in many ways.
A street in Bath
Anyway, after the tour of the baths, we had lunch at an establishment that described itself as “The smallest pub it Bath”, and it was indeed tiny. By then we ony had about an hour to kill before catching our bus, so we went to a fudge shop that Roxy recommended highly, bought some fudge, and wandered around and took pictures.
Fountain by Bath Abbey
Then it was time for a fairly long drive to the place where we’re spending the night: a city (?) named Wolverhampton. Our hotel here is surprisingly nice: the rooms are spacious, there’s free wifi and even a pool(!), the restaurant is quite nice (dinner was included with our tour package tonight), and the hotel halls are kind of winding and full of weird turns and steps and nooks and crannies. It’s not near anything remotely touristy, but Pamela and I both really like it.
One downside is that there’s no elevator…a common feature of these hotels. We’re on the second floor…which is European for “third floor” (it goes: Ground floor, First floor, Second floor, etc.). So we have to climb the narrow staircase every time we leave or return to our room. This also means we have to carry our bags up and down the stairs. Pamela and I are both well under the 44-pound limit for the trip (my bag originally weighed in at under 30 pounds), and we’re glad about that!
The hotel hallway and stairs.
After dinner, I went for a short walk while it was still a little light to get some photos of Wolverhampton, and now Pamela and I are in our room relaxing. It’s another early morning tomorrow (that may be a theme on this tour) and neither of us were super-enthused about the idea of going pub crawling with the rest of the crew. We did meet a few people over dinner, so we’re not being complete loners 🙂
Residential street in Wolverhampton