Who cares about Stonehenge, it's Matt Damon!

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
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Trip End Nov 21, 2006


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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Sunday, November 5, 2006

Sometimes on the road we'd joke that we needed a vacation from our vacation. And when that vacation just happens to be a year-long journey, a day or two off to do absolutely nothing isn't only inevitable, it's essential. But I wasn't on my pace, I was on my parents', and between the fact that they had more limited time (and hadn't been doing this for 11 months), the rental and paying all the bills, I wasn't in a position to be calling the shots. I say all this because after frantically driving around Ireland and taking a midnight ferry back to the UK I was all in favor of a nice sleep-in and a day of doing absolutely nothing.

Thing is, St. Clare, Wales -- and more to the point, a pull-out couch in a Travelodge in St. Clare, Wales -- isn't exactly the ideal spot for either. So I had to suck it up for a couple more days until we were in London, the one place I'd be spending more time after my parents had left and I could pace myself a little more calmly.

Our one day in Wales was a testament to the wealth of knowledge my Dad's friend Jon (referenced earlier) had at his fingertips. How he discovered some of the places he'd lead us to is beyond us, but now it was benefiting us -- and by us I mean my Dad in particular. We drove through the green, hilly Welsh countryside to the tiny of Hay-on-Wye. If ever the Twilight Zone scenario would play out in which there was a nuclear war and my Dad was the only survivor on Earth, then Hay-on-Wye would probably be the place he'd wish to be at the time of launch. Hay-on-Wye is basically a shrine to books. Seemingly every other establishment in the town was a book store, and that doesn't include the book fairs being held in public areas. This was something like liquor stores in Cervantes or pubs in Dingle, just an absurd ratio of one small service compared to the populace that it ranged from overkill to flat-out unnecessary.

To leave Hay-on-Wye required taking this tiny mountain pass that seemed to not even be a lane wide. Again, how Jon ever discovered these places is a mystery. All the going was slow, the scenery was spectacular. And there were so many sheep around (the reason the English make the same jokes about the Welsh that Aussies make about Kiwis) that the day had now been rendered a success by my Mom. Our last bit of business in Wales before crossing into England (my real official last country shift, if you want to get into the semantics of the United Kingdom, if FIFA considers England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland all different countries, then so can I) was at Tintern Abby so my Dad could finish his literary kick for the day.

Our stop for the night was in Bath. Normally I would've been a little more keen to be in a place with one of the largest unis in the country, but shortly after checking into Hollyvill B&B (more on that in a second) I learned that Jimmy and Lloyd (the Aussie twins from Ios) had a party planned in London the next day, making we want to keep this night quiet and the next, frantic day go as quickly as possible.

Now, normally I'm not in the business of breaking down B&B's, but this one was special, but in a short bus kind of way. The owner of the establishment has something beyond hyper OCD. She demonstrated the proper way to hit the 'On' button to turn on the shower. She informed us that breakfast would be at 8:30. Not 8. Not 9. Eat at 8:30, or you don't eat at all. I nearly started a riot when I had the audacity to place my backpack on my bed. Every so often, not booking ahead can come back to hurt.

Our long, chaotic journey from Bath to London the next morning started promptly at 8:30 with breakfast and then a tour of the famous Roman baths. The site itself was pretty cool, but the whole thing is on an audio guide. This means two things. First: while there might be some interesting facts to be taken away, you must weed through the lame and boring. And chances are, you miss the interesting stuff while zoning out the lame and boring. Second: since my parents are slavish devotees to audio tours, I was going to be done perusing the grounds at least an hour before.

With Bath done, we made a quick stop at Wells and its massive cathedral before getting to the main attraction: Stonehenge. Put something like Stonehenge in the States, and we'd certainly do a good job of tackying it up big, with a whole tourist town set up around it, complete with Stonehenge-themed restaurants, an amusement park and the like. But in England, it's in a nondescript, not-so-easy-to-locate area. In fact, it's not even located in a town. As we walked in, a group of American teenagers rushed by, far too giddy and excited for having just looked at a bunch of stones. I thought I overheard them say something about Matt Damon. Curious. In any case, we paid for our admission got our audio guides (refer to thoughts above) and walked on to the grounds. The first thing to grab you about Stonehenge is the pure size. Pictures you see from a distance (you're no longer allowed within throwing distance) really don't capture the scale and size of the stones. Standing there really throws into focus the mystery and wonder of just how this thing was built, let alone why. On audio guide time, I was close to completing my lap far quicker than my parents and started talking to a young English couple after they too had mentioned Matt Damon. I decided to backtrack and do a little research, and sure enough, there was Matt Damon. At Stonehenge. A summer of getting a Team America viewing (at least) once a week had wrecked the moment a bit, but so be it. I ever so discreetly pointed out the celebrity sighting to my parents. My Dad, ever so not discreetly walked right up to Matt, told him he was a big fan and then got Matt Damon to pose in front of Stonehenge with my Mom.

With Stonehenge done, and uniquely so, we stopped in Salisbury long enough to take a few happy snaps of the cathedral before pressing on to London. I barely bothered to pitch my bags down in the hotel room before setting out to meet up with Jimmy and Lloyd. The walk from the hotel to the Tube took me along the Thames with the parliament and Big Ben all lit up. A nice way to start London (and reconfirming what I said about Krakow -- the best way to see a city for the first time is at night). The party was a like a scaled down Ios reunion, as it was being hosted by Xevi and Glenn (Phone Booth and Spoiler), and many of the Aussies had since migrated back to London to work and rebuild their beer money. It was good drunken debauchery and just what I needed (especially with the ability to sleep in laying ahead). After convincing half the party that I was Jimmy and Lloyd's American cousin and then a couple Kiwis that I was in fact from the next town over from there's (you don't need an accent as long as you have knowledge of a few street/restaurant names and a straight face). After a hair-raising bus ride home sitting in the first row of a double-decker, I was stumbling back into the hotel at 5. All in a day's work.
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