We visited Windsor on our way to the hotel and I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that it wasn’t more royal. The castle is there, smack in the middle of town, surrounded by gift shops and Asian restaurants. Standard admission costs twenty pounds, so we just walked around it to take pictures. By the way, most landmarks and tourist attractions we have seen in England are ridiculously expensive!
Then we headed to our first ever four-star hotel. It was beautiful! It was just off a city called Basingstoke, which we didn’t actually visit, and it was surrounded by green and silence. It was such a quiet place, with the darkest streets I’ve ever seen.
Next day, we decided to spend the morning in Oxford. If you told university student me that one day I’d be hurrying around those streets, I’d never have believed you. A lot of our course books, dictionaries and other materials came from there and I dreamed of this far, old, fancy place. But travelling has a way of bursting your bubble and nothing is so fancy anymore. Wonderful, of course, but not glamorous and untouchable. I was there and the buildings were very beautiful, there were roadworks and renovation works and a lot of traffic. We had to rush back to our car because we had only paid the parking lot for two hours (I think it cost four pounds, which was the same for one hour in Windsor). I passed by an Oxford University Press store and the classics of English literature, course books and dictionaries brought a surge of nostalgia for student life. At the same time, my present job’s materials also come from there. Funny little feeling, but I couldn’t linger.
Our most expected excursion: Highclere Castle, where they filmed Downton Abbey. It would be closed for visitation, but we read there was a walking path around it, where you could get a good glimpse. First we tried to walk from the pub where we stopped for lunch, to reach the end of the trail and walk our way to the beginning. Busy road, no sidewalks, very unkempt footpath. Then we drove to the castle entrance, so we could have a better idea of what to do. You’re not allowed to park there, so we parked on a side street, walked the path, but no sight of it! It is surrounded by trees and all I could see was the top of the towers. And lots of sheep.
We were driving in the middle of nowhere, along fields and farms and saw nothing else for miles, when bam! There it was, on the right side of the road, ancient and mighty, only just a little hidden by fog. Such a thrill! We kept on following the signs until we got to the visitor’s center, which is quite a distance and you can’t even see it from there anymore. From there, buses take you up to the stones and back, but we didn’t want to pay for it. So we drove to a side street, parked and took a stroll. It’s perfectly visible from there, if not super close. But if seeing it is what you want, that’s your option! I not only got to see Stonehenge, but learned something history books and travel websites don’t tell you: there is a huge pig farm across the road from it, ha!
As we arrived in Bath the fog cleared. We sat for a hot sausage in the center and just as we finished my boyfriend whispered, “Is that George R R Martin?” I looked as the man got up and met his wife (presumably) coming out of a store. Of course it wasn’t him. What would he be doing there in Bath, sitting right next to us, what were the odds? But it looked so much like him – the beard, the glasses, the hat. I was intrigued. They strolled around, we followed. “It’s really him, isn’t it?” I kept saying. But I wasn’t convinced and we missed a chance of having a picture (and maybe a chat?) with this fantastic author.
And so we come to the last day of our trip. One last English breakfast and off we went to Pevensey, where William the Conqueror landed in 1066. Quite a desolate village, but it was good to see the sea and visit a castle for free, for a change. And one more delicious pub meal, at a place with no menu (“If you want to eat, go around the bar and look at the chalk board!”) but lots of friendly seniors.
I also saw a fox for the first time in my life. It was dead on the side of the road. Never have I seen so much road kill!
Finally, we arrived in Dover and grabbed a bite to eat before boarding the ferry. It was awful. My panini was cold, the cheese wasn’t even melted and his was dripping mayonnaise. We had that same unease as the first time we were there and couldn’t help but wonder, “What the heck is wrong with Dover?”