Day 17 part 1: What’s the Meaning of Stonehenge?!

What's the meaning of Stonehenge!?

Hogsmead!

Today was full of mysteries, marvel, and charm as we explored two ancient structures, Stonehenge and Avebury Stone Ciricle, and two villages tucked away in the valleys and countryside of England, Lacock and Castle Comb.

Our witty and knowledgable tour guide and driver from Mad Max Tours picked us up bright and early after breakfast at the YMCA (that finally consisted of the anticipated Weetabix, kind of like a granola bar, except eaten in milk like cereal). As we began our first jaunt though the picturesque countryside, our driver began pointing out important sites, pretty views and facts as we passed them by; though he was interesting and enjoyable to listen to, the ride lulled some of us to sleep. When next we opened our eyes we were at the famed Stonehenge! We looked around the flat and Stonehenge-less landscape and automatically sighed with disappointment–that is, until we realized their was another bus to take us up the road a ways. Excitement ensued as we grabbed walkie-talkie-like devices for a self-guided audio tour and boarded the bus. Gasps of awe and clicks of camera shutters started immediately as the massive structure came into view. We were finally able to see what has inspired people to study and admire for centuries.

Our focus had to be reigned in for our class discussion before we could take our fill of the site. Jessica Donahue gave a sparkling presentation highlighting the history of Stonehenge and it’s connection to the 66th plate of “Jerusalem,” a poem paying homage to the ancient structure written by William Blake, a poetic genius and jack-of-all-artistic-trades. Stonehenge stands in a large area of grasslands, surrounded by circular ditches and burial mounds, and was constructed over 5,000 years ago. The structure of stones–some small, broken or fallen, others towering above our heads, massive and intact–are shaped in a fragmented outer circle and horseshoe-like inner cluster. It was built as a temple, with the stone arranged in a sophisticated alignment to mark the passage of the sun and changing seasons, namely the winter and summer solstices in pagan rituals. Many mysteries still remain about the who and why of Stonehenge, as only half of the site as been studied archeologically; but our individualized audio tour was helpful in walking us through how it was built, archeological discoveries, and educated speculations on “the meaning of Stonehenge.”

Our next stop was another Neolithic wonder, the Avebury Stone Circle–look for that in the other blog entry for today!

Following another sleepy bus ride, we stopped in Lacock, a small (only four streets) village tucked away amomg the tree-cover hills, sheep-filled valleys and tiny, winding roads. Perfectly charming, rustic and whimsical, the homeowners and businesses of this little village have hidden their satellites and other 21st century clues carefully, as it is a frequent set for movies, and most important to us, the set of Harry Potter. After lunch in a small park with the sun shinning down on us, we got our unofficial Harry Potter tour, which consisted of our awesome tour guide/driver pointing out the spaces as we passed them and throwing fun-facts at us. First was the famed Church street, a.k.a Hogsmead–it looked just like the movie set! I kept looking at every store front in hopes of finding The Three Broomsticks and a warm butterbeer! Then hidden behind a couple houses, we spied the front entrance to Professor Slughorn’s summer home in the 6th movie. Down the street we spotted the fictional home of Harry’s parents, the scene where they faced Voldemort for the last time, sacrificing their lives and leaving Harry as “the boy who lived.” And last, but not least, we visited Lacock Abbey–the cloisters and rooms of which served a courtyard and classroom for the first two movies. Wishing we had more time, but ready to see what else Mad Max Tours had in store for us, we were soon on the road again.

To be continued…

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Our 30-hour-Day One

Our journey began Sunday, April 27 in the Cedar Rapids airport full of hugs and “miss you’s” from friends and family dropping us off for a month. We were full of anticipation, excitement, and nerves (some of us were flying for the first time), imagining what literary adventures England had in store for us. After finding Dr. Clark (who was MIA for a while due to a late arrival to the airport) we laughed and gabbed all the way through our first flight to Chicago. It was interesting to figure out how to maneuver through the crowds with our gigantic backpacks, and we mostly bumped into each other for fun. Before we knew it, our three hour layover was over and we were boarding the plane to Manchester, UK! Things were going smoothly, with the exception of figuring out how to shove our backpacks in the overhead bins. Shenanigans ensued for the first chunck of our international flight, as our group was clumped back-to-back, allowing us to carry on silly conversations and share in the excitement. It wasn’t long before we quieted down with books, movies, and pillows. I think I can speak for the majority of us when I say that sleeping on the plane doesn’t work well. The time difference was our first big hurtle–loosing six hours of what would normally be prime sleeping time. On average, we managed a fitful 3 hours of sleep. We landed feeling like it was 2 a.m. (way past bedtime) only to fight the 8 a.m. sunshine we found in manchester. We may have been exhausted. We may have been a little delirious. But we were in England.

After some unnecessary freakout moments getting through international customs and more laughing-fits, we were soon playing follow-the-giant-backpacks through the airport to the train station. We activated out Brit Rail Passes (which we did NOT write on, Dr. Clark, haha) and boarded the train to York where we encountered three things: 1. Our first glimpses of beautifully quaint towns, cookie-cutter houses, sheep, and lusciously green countryside. Within five minutes of watching the breathtaking views pass us by, we had already taken dozen of photos and decided this is where we were join got live out the remainder of our days in bliss. 2. Authentic, in-action British accents surrounding us! We’re fascinated. It is just awesome to listen to and really made it feel “real” we were in England. We had the opportunity to chat a bit with those next to us, and we are determined to discover the real meaning for the term “cheers” (which we hear all the time and used in different settings). 3. Lastly, exhaustion. The adrenaline was beginning to wear off, and we were crashing.

Train Ride from Manchester to York

By noon (England time) our train arrived in York: our first official destination. Like a herd of turtles with lumpy, colorful shells, we meandered through the stunning, charming streets of York. We took pictures at every street and corner. If our backpacks weren’t enough to indicate our tourism, the constant clicks of our cameras were overdose. We walked along a trial following the River Ouse to our hostel. Our eyes took in every bird, flower and quaint house, and our cameras quickly began checking off the culture immersion checklist items, “eye-spy” style.

First glimpse of York

Our hostel surprised us–it’s a pretty classy place, set up like dorms with multiple sets of bunk beds and a shared bathroom. Nothing like the horror movie “Hostel” images we had envisioned. We were all ready to crash by 2:00 p.m…but we desperately needed food. We dropped off our bags and headed back downtown, first to find money (or pounds rather), and then to Ask Italian, a delicious restaurant downtown York. Pasta and pizza filled the table, and we scarfed it down before it even cooled.

 

Home Sweet Hostel

Our first exploration of York was breathtaking. It’s a beautiful city full of a rich and long history. Everywhere you look, you can find gothic churches, unique shops, cafes, and pubs, and gorgeous little homes. Dr. Clark was great at point out all the major sites, like York Minster, a gorgeous cathedral, and the ruins of the city walls that protected York long ago. Also, twenty feet below the streets is the ancient Roman city! Apparently they just keep building on top of things until today’s York was built.

York Minster! We can almost see it!

We got a peak at the historic University of York grounds and gardens, the ruins of St. Mary Abby, and the Yorkshire Museum. The museum covered the history of York, which roots back to ancient Roman times, then Viking control, and on to monarchy rule. The highlight of the museums (for us) was Shakespeare’s first folio: the first publication containing all of his complete collected works, printed in 1623. It was in beautiful condition and we goggled a bit. Without his book, many of Shakespeare’s masterpieces, like MacBeth and As You Like it, would have been lost.

Us at the Ruin of St. Mary's Abbey

After the museum, we stopped at a grocery story to pick up a simple supper–and lots of British chocolate and prawn cocktail crisps (shrimp cocktail chips (surprisingly good))! Then we split off for the evening in desperate search for our beds or free wifi (we really wanted to connect with our friends and family at this point), and some of us decided to extend our night to go on a ghost walk. Courtney, Amy, Jessie, Andrea, Chanelle, Christina, and I decided to push past our exhaustion to make the most of our time in York. A charming gentleman in a silly top hat and took us on a fascinating and theatrical tour of downtown York, sharing the haunted history and intriguing mysteries of this ancient city. We heard stories of a weary army of Roman soldiers trudging through a home cellar, a poor dog named Shamus bricked into the walls at York Minster, a headless duke roaming the Shambles (a medieval street), neglected workhouse children, and a young toddler who starved to death–trapped in a house with her family who fell victim to the plague.

Ghost Tour Guide With the Awesome Hat

After the tour we were starving, so we found a pub just in time to get some chips (french fries) and fried cheese bonbons (like mozzarella sticks, but balls) AND we found excellent FREE WIFI! We ended the night perfectly by (finally) checking Facebook (we didn’t realize what we were missing until we didn’t have it at our fingertips). And we discovered our new favorite hangout spot–The Hole in the Wall. We’re determined to go back tomorrow night for some live music.

Despite over 30 hours on an average of 3 hours of (crappy) sleep, every moment on our feet was worth it! Safe to say we’re ready to crash, but pumped to get back at it tomorrow!