Highclere Castle was our last tourist destination on our visit to Europe. Marcia had prepared us well for the visit. We watched the PBS special on the Highclere Castle. We watched several episodes from the second season of Downton Abbey in the weeks prior to the visit.
We arrived in Bath a couple of hours before our Roman Baths dinner and tour. We explored the pedestrian streets and window shopped.
Eventually we found the Apple Store. Sarah went to one of the new iPads with the Apple Pencil. She found the Sketches app. Within in 15 minutes, Marcia, Ella, and I were on iPad’s creating creating drawings with the Sketches app. The feel of the Apple Pencil was uncanny. It glided across the surface and appeared to be pressure sensitive. The harder you pressed the thicker the line. It turns out there is a bluetooth pairing between the iPad and the Pencil.
Upon exiting the Apple Store we went to a plaza where a crowd was watching the Wimbledon men’s single final. In the press, Andy Murray had been mentioned as Britain’s hope. We enjoyed the moment as the hopes of British citizens came true.
Based on the website, we assumed the dinner would be held by candlelight in the Roman Baths. Although the rather plain restaurant was across the street and the meal was less than stellar, we enjoyed the actual Roman Baths. Rachel and Ella were listened intently to their audio guides.
The five of us headed out to Stonehenge at 9:00. Several people had warned us that you can no longer get close to stones. I thought it might be a let down to visit what Sarah said was “just a bunch of stones”. To the contrary it was quite impressive because even 500 years before 2500 BCE, there was significant human activity at the site. There was a circular ditch and earth bank. The ditch was filled with caulk and had a diameter of 110 meters. Before the stones, it was one of the first cemeteries in Britain. From the perimeter of Stonehenge, we could see several large dirt mounds on distant hills.
Marcia’s sister, Marla, encouraged us to go into the huts by the exhibition hall. Good advice. A fellow tourist was posing while his wife took a picture. Since our kids refused to pose, I included our smiling fellow tourist.
From the car park, Marcia picked up our tickets in the short line for those with the foresight to book online months in advance. Thanks to Marcia for doing the reservation six months ago! The car park is several kilometers from Stonehenge. So, there are multiple buses running back and forth to the site. They fill them. Once the seats are full, they encourage people to keep moving to the back until the aisle is full of people standing.
Later the girls decided to they had sat long enough and made up their own version of football.
It was less than an hour from London to near Marlow that we received the orientation and checkout for the canal boat that was our home for five days. Part of the orientation was going through a lock. Normally there is a lockmaster available to help. It worked out well that the lockmaster was not there. David, the owner of the boat showed me which buttons to push to raise and lower the sluice, and to open and close the gates. The Sancerre weighs 30 tons and is 60 ft long and 11 ft wide. The boat was surprisingly challenging to drive. It was like driving a truck without power steering. A lot of vibration came through the tiller. I expected it to easy. No way. It took some muscle to Negotiating 180 turns on a river, dogging scullers rowing with their backs to their forward motion, and trying to figure out which channel to take for the lock were what complicated the being at the helm of the canal boat.
During our first full day, we travelled from Bisham Abbey to Windsor. We were headed down stream and managed to successfully pass five locks. Two of the locks were unstaffed, so I had the opportunity to try my hand at operating locks. It was comforting that David said the controls were set up so you could not make a mistake. Nevertheless it was a relief when everything worked as designed. The bow thruster made steering the 60 ft boat into the lock easier. The hard part was controlling the stern. During orientation when I was entering the lock the stern scraped the side of the lock. My comfort level increased as we passed each lock. By the next day it was relatively easy to enter the lock straight and stop where directed by the lockmaster.
David had mentioned that the locks were designed two centuries ago when the pace of life was much slower. The canal boat travelled a hair faster than a person could walk. This allowed us to attend to the rural nature of the countryside. There were pastures and forests abound.
On our last day in London, Marcia and I visited The Brick Lane Market. Sarah, Ella, and Rachel choose to take a day off. They stayed in the apartment. The market is huge. There is a covered area. Several streets are closed to cars for the Sunday market and the sidewalks are full of vendors and their new and used wares. The best part of the market was the array of food vendors from all parts of the world.
We had Gosleme, a Turkish dish. The free sample made the decision to stop
After perusing the market, we returned to the Underground to get to the Tower of London.
Marcia, Ella, Rachel, and I enjoyed a sunny day. Everyone else thought it was a great day to buy tickets to ride the London Eye. Marcia stood in line to buy vouchers, then in another line to convert the vouchers to tickets. Then we approached the line that looked like a two hour wait. So, off we went to have lunch in hopes that the line would be shorter when we returned. Much to our delight, the line was about half of what it had been.
We walked along the Thames and came open sand sculptures. The artist had sheets laid out for tourists to toss coins.
The focus of the outing today was a trip to the Prince Edward Theatre for Aladdin. We arrived early enough to have time to have lunch before the performance. We found the Theatre and Marcia braved the line to pick up the tickets at will call.
Before the performance, we wandered into Chinatown looking for a restaurant. There were many great options. We examined many menus. Some were too expensive, others were missing Szechuan dishes that I was hoping to see.