Monday, November 22, 2010

Escape From Stonehenge

I remember, as a child, seeing Stonehenge on television. It was some sort of documentary that my mother was watching and since she had control of the remote...Stonehenge it was going to be. I was certainly too young to follow the theoretical discussion about the purpose of Stonehenge in the programme, but there was something about the stones that I found intriguing. That intrigue only grew once I began learning about the circle and the mystery that surrounds it. As a result, Stonehenge was high on my list of places I wanted to visit in my lifetime.

In the summer of 2008, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit Stonehenge. In the middle of July, I and my friend Kristina took a trip together to the UK. The trip itself lent to a few humourous and "WTF" stories, of which I will slowly but surely share in my blog. There's one big story in particular that I'm itching to share, much to Kristina's chagrin. Whether or not I embarrass her with the tale will depend on how good the Xmas present is that she gets me. But tonight is mainly about our visit to Stonehenge.

Kristina and I pre-booked a tour on one of our days abroad. The tour was scheduled to go to Stonehenge, followed by Salisbury and then Bath. As you know, I had a raging semi for Stonehenge, so I was really eager to go there. I also wanted to view one of the original copies of the Magna Carta that was held within Salisbury Cathedral, so this tour seemed pretty right to me.

Sidebar: Salisbury Cathedral also has the oldest working clock in the world. Now you know!

Before the tour was set to being, we were asked to meet at a specified location in order to board the bus. Kristina and I arrived at said location, only to find that there were several lines for several tours. After a bit of clever investigation, I discovered the line in which we were to be. We waited, and we waited, and we waited. I can't blame the tour company for this, as we were early, but it was nipply out and they could have at least let us board the buses early, even if we could not leave until 9AM. God damn you Golden Tours (a division of Greyline Tours)!

At 9AM, they shuffled us on the bus. Our tour guide, a douche whose name was Mark I believe, began telling us about the itinerary for the day. And with that, things were off to a bad start. Mark told us that we would only have 45 minutes at Stonehenge. WTF???? Why was this not stated in the tour information? 45 minutes was a New York minute to me when it came to Stonehenge. Once he told us all the information that should have been provided to us well in advance, we were on our way!

The journey to Stonehenge was short, as much of the scenery took place within London. Mark attempted to do the whole "and on your right is" thing, but our route was not really conducive to such an activity. I loved it because I got to see random old buildings and shops and funny looking little people. But to those who wanted to catch glimpses of landmarks, it was a complete fail. "To your left, obscured by seventeen buildings, are the Houses of Parliament!" Wow, Mark. Thanks. By the way Mark...did you know that if turn 180 degrees and travel about 7000 kilometers, you can see the Calgary Tower? Useless tit head. But I digress.

First stop was Stonehenge, and thus the point of this entry. The group exited the bus and moved way to the gates for entry. Fortunately the tour guide had his shit together and we weren't delayed with entry nonsense. Kristina and I walked through an underpass that lead to the stones. We walked up a few steps once we emerged from the underpass and there it was. Stonehenge. It was nothing short of beautiful. A circle of erected stones, some of which were put there as far back as five thousand years. A site famous around the world that I have been fascinated with for most of my life. I saw it on television, read about it, and studied it in school. And there it was...before my eyes.

I wanted to go to the stones and see them up close, but due to erosion, souvenir hunters, and other mischievous folks, visitors were forbade doing so. I believe that access to the rocks by the general public is only allowed four times a year (during the summer/winter solstice and the spring/fall equinox). At any rate, I was stuck following the paved circle around the stones. I stopped every few seconds to take pictures and listen to the bollocks audio guide that was provided to visitors.

While walking around the stones, Kristina seemed to be in a hurry or uninterested in the history in front of her eyes. She rushed around the circle. I was certainly in no rush. I had wanted to be right where I was since I was five years old, and I would not be robbed. Unfortunately, Kristina had the only watch between us and I was unable to tell accurate time using the sun. As a result, I lost track of time.

When I had finished my stroll around Stonehenge and I was sure I had all I could take with me (a full memory card would have to suffice), I walked back through the underpass and into the gift shop. I turned in my audio guide and picked out a small pewter Stonehenge souvenir, a token reminder that I was really there. While I was finishing up my purchase, Kristina barged through the gift shop doors in a panic.

"The bus is LEAVING!" she exclaimed as we pushed our way out the door. We ran up an incline to get to the parking area while Kristina, nearly in tears, repeated a story about how Mark was not going to wait on anyone and had no choice but to leave. We reached the parking lot and the bus was still in the lot, but it was on its way to the exit. We increased our pace and waved our arms to catch the attention of the bus driver. Surely he'd see us and stop. We were RIGHT there!

The bus driver looked in his side mirror and I made eye contact with him through it. Call me crazy, but I could have sworn I saw a smile cross his lips. He looked back forward and kept on moving. That fucker saw us and chose to leave anyway. Kristina and I stopped chasing the bus as it turned out on the main roadway. We had been abandoned.

As it turned out, I had taken about 50 minutes around Stonehenge. Sorry, Mark. I was overtime by a fiver. Kristina was in an inconsolable panic. She expressed how scared she was that we were left without a ride to the next location (Salisbury) or back to London. Kristina was behaving as though we had been airlifted to the middle of the Sahara Desert with no compass, no water, and no clue. But this was Stonehenge. Hundreds of people were milling about. Cars whipped by along the main road every second. And tour buses were coming and going nearly in sync with the ticking of the second hand on a clock. It was comparable to being lost in the forest though you can see a neighbourhood of homes on the ridge a half kilometer away.

We went and spoke to an employee who in turn passed us on to a manager of tourism at the site. Mark had given Kristina his mobile number so that we could get in touch with him, and the manager called Mark to discuss where he was located. The manager then set us up with another tour bus. The deal was simple...11 quid a piece would get us to Salisbury. That was 11 pounds for about 13 kilometers...a better deal than we'd find through a cab. Kristina and I jumped on the opportunity and before we knew it we were on our second bus. This bus was a nearly empty double decker bus, and oh so much more comfortable than the one we had begun our journey on. A recorded voice echoed through the bus, explaining the sites around us in all directions. Much more informative and much less annoying than Mark's piddly little voice. Before we knew it, we were in Salisbury.

Salisbury was a nice place. Quaint, homey feel, paired with the amazing cathedral, of which we could see the spire no matter where we stood. Kristina and I first made our way to the pub where Mark and our tour mates were visiting. I chose to wait outside while Kristina entered the pub to let Mark know we arrived. It's rare I get angry enough that I don't trust myself, but that was one of those times. I wanted to throttle that little dipshit. I get it. I broke his golden 45 minute rule. That doesn't matter. You shouldn't leave when someone is over by five minutes. Fifty minutes, sure, but not five. I was also furious with that asshole bus driver. Seriously...screw him. Kristina exited a few moments after entering. She told me that the other members of the tour whispered things such as "It's her...the girl that was left [at Stonehenge]." Apparently, Mark was rather surprised we had managed to catch up. He told Kristina when we were set to leave. Kristina and I decided that because we had not much time left in Salisbury, that we would stay close to the bus. That meant no Salisbury Cathedral for me. No Magna Carta. But any delay would have screwed us, as Bath was significantly further away from Salisbury than Stonehenge was. A ride would cost us a lot more from where we now were. Kristina and I sat against a wall outside the bus and patiently waited for departure.

The bus took us to Bath, where we visited the Roman baths and the exterior of Bath Abbey. It's also where I purchased my sneakers. In the Roman baths, Kristina and I quickly darted through, not wanting to be late for our bus ride home. I bought the shoes in haste as well, as I did not want to take precious seconds to ensure proper fitting.

Fast forward to the bus ride back home. Mark, that pansy-ass piece of crap, remained quiet for most of the ride, talking to us only to teach us a memory trick for reciting all the English monarchs. Wow. Too cool for school, douchebag. At the end of our journey, before we exited the bus, Mark stood up and asked for everyone to give a hand to the bus driver for his excellent driving. Mark then said that tips could be left at the front. What? Tips? Was he serious? There was no way that Kristina or I would be tipping that driver. He saw us and he left us behind anyway. I wouldn't swerve to miss him in traffic, let alone reward him for being a crapsack. All the driver and Mark got from me was a sneer.

The moral of this story could be many things. Perhaps it is a tale of why it is important to be responsible. Perhaps it is a story about why one should always wear a watch. Maybe it's even about how awesomeness can overcome anything. But I choose to leave you with this:

F*** Golden Tours (a division of Greyline Tours)! F*** them in their f***ing faces! Make them **** in a **** with **** **** or **** while they **** their mother's **** **** **** on a hot plate **** for **** under **** **** and have the White Sox **** **** **** a carburetor **** so they **** and **** **** **** **** before burning a **** on their **** **** for what they **** **** **** **** **** **** with a half-eaten carrot and a ****ing bluray player! Yeah.

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