Adventure waits for no one. Just as how I no longer wait for other people to go with me when I want to go on trips, adventure would also not wait for me to arrive – or get back. This is the hard lesson I learned during my London side trip to the Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Roman Baths.
The tour had not even started and I was already running late. My Airbnb flat was just a couple of blocks away from Pullman London St. Pancras, the nearest hotel pick up point, and I guess I underestimated the distance and my speed. I passed the first Premium Tours coach and went straight to the second one. The wrong one. I almost had a heart attack when the driver told me I wasn’t on his list. Didn’t my reservation go through? He directed me back to the first coach, the correct one, and good thing it had not left yet. I made it at exactly 6:45 am, the indicated meeting time. We left at 6:48 am, a bit late because the couple who got there before me was having trouble with something.
We arrived at the Victoria Coach Station where we waited to be dispatched. Multiple other coaches were there, some for the same tour but all from different tour companies. The Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath tour is a very popular London side trip, so Premium Tours had two coaches for the same tour that day. I got on the first coach and our group was a good mix of people from different nationalities and age groups. We left at 7:55 am. Our friendly driver was John while our very knowledgeable tour guide was Steve. A clipboard was passed around so we could choose the type of food we wanted for the included lunch at a pub. There was a selection of meat and veggies vs goat cheese tartlet and vegetables, for the vegetarians. There was a total of 3 of them on board.
The first stop was the Windsor Castle. We arrived at 8:35 am, just a few minutes after sunrise. The castle doesn’t open until 9:45 am though so we had time to see some sights in Windsor Town. Then, we were told to return at exactly 11:20 am to the bus.
In winter, the changing of the guards supposedly alternates with London. I saw the changing of the guards in London the previous day, but somehow, there was no changing that day at Windsor Castle.
Before queuing, we took a look at the Queen Charlotte’s Street, the shortest street in the country at only 16 meters. To its right is the Market Cross House, a.k.a. The Crooked House. I was not able to take a photo of it because I missed that part of the guide’s lecture.
From Queen Charlotte St, we went to queue before the gate. It was still a while before they open so I entertained myself by taking selfies against the wall. In hindsight, I should’ve gone with the Malaysian family to get coffee.
Going inside the Windsor Castle involved some security checks where we were required to take off coats and scarves (then of course to put them on again). But what can I do? I was only entering the largest inhabited castle in the world and the longest-occupied palace in Europe. Past the metal detectors were the free audio guides that definitely enriched my touring experience at Windsor Castle.
It was a choice between checking out the State Apartments first or Queen Mary’s Doll House. Good thing I decided on the former. Inside the State Apartments were lots and lots of paintings, interesting royal paraphernalia and rooms where the royalty were born, fed, clothed, etc. Unfortunately (or fortunately), taking photos is prohibited. I lost track of time looking at all these wonders and listening to the audio guide.
Just like how Cinderella was jolted back to reality when the clock stroke midnight, I was grossly reminded of being a tourist-in-a-group-tour when some kind of royal clock chimed 11:00 o’clock. I suddenly realized that more than an hour had already passed and I was still to see Queen Mary’s Doll House. I brisk walked my way over and had the briefest look at it. I started running back to the parking lot but it was soooo far away. I forgot how far it was from the castle. I had to literally run the length of the North Terrace, pass St. George’s Chapel and return the audio guide. I exited the castle at 11:21am. A minute late of the meeting time and I still had a long way to go! I still had to run down the streets of Windsor Town, the stairs of a train station and look for the coach in the parking lot.
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After doing the walk of shame the entire aisle of the coach, I sat on an empty seat (not my original one) and we started leaving not ten seconds after. Three people supposedly hadn’t returned either but they were left to take the other bus. After that very traumatizing experience, I became very conscious of the time. Very conscious.
Next stop of our London side trip was the Stonehenge, the one reason why I was excited to go to London. We were supposed to stay for 20 minutes max and this already included the mini-shuttle ride from the Visitor Center to the Stonehenge site and back.
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From the shuttle drop-off point, the Stonehenge was already visible. It had rained the previous day so the ground was muddy. Going around the standing stones was like going in orbit around the sun; some points of the path were only a couple of meters away from the stones while some others are so far away that other (jaded) people didn’t bother venturing there anymore. I got quite affected when upon reaching the site, someone blurted out, “That’s it! They’re just stones!” I mean, come on, they are just standing stones. That’s evident in photos, you didn’t need to go all the way there to verify that! But seeing them up close, seeing the massiveness of them all, contemplating their existence, their mysterious origin and purpose, was priceless enough for me. Too bad entering the Stonehenge grounds is quite risky in winter or I would’ve done that, too.
Anyway, there was a free audio commentary again. But after being the source of my downfall at the Windsor Castle, I hardly listened to any of its lectures. I think I missed a couple of interesting items by doing that. I just took a dozen photos of the Stonehenge, a couple of selfies, asked a couple of nice ladies to take my photo and I hightailed my way out of there. I was one of the first ones back on the coach. I reclaimed by original seat and my sun-warmed water bottle then waited for everyone to get back.
Lunch at Swan @ Stoford
From the Stonehenge, we had late lunch (3:30 pm!) at the Swan @ Stoford where I got to know some of my tourmates. A couple of girls (not friends) were Thai and a couple was from Chicago (the guy has a Filipino mother!). We were served some photogenic food but I couldn’t finish all that they gave me. I loooved the steamed artichoke though.
As the sun was setting, we made our way to Bath, another world heritage site. During winter, the £15 entrance fee to the Roman Baths was not included in the tour (the reason behind this is another mystery). I had a very brief internal debate of whether or not I should pay this steep price when I knew my photos would be no good because it was already very dark. But I figured I was already there and I might as well do it. We were given one hour to stay there and I nearly hopped from one room to the next, only listening to some of the stuff on the audio guide, mortally afraid of getting left behind.
All in all it was a great tour. I got to see the Windsor Castle and the Roman Baths, then check off that bucket list item, visit-the-Stonehenge. Prior to availing the package tour, I tried to research how much it would cost if I did it D.I.Y., for example, just visit the Windsor Castle and the Stonehenge using public transportation. However, I assessed the process to be more expensive and stressful. I wasn’t wrong: the convenience was worth it. However, as it was my first time to join a bus tour, I think I learned my lesson well about punctuality. It’s really not a great idea to not be conscious of the time while on a group tour. I swear, had I not been anywhere near that clock inside the State Apartments, I would’ve missed the coach entirely. Had it not been for this one gaffe, the tour would have been perfect.
December 28, 2016
***All photos were taken using iPhone 6 and GoPro Hero 4