Stone Henge ROCKS.
Sometimes planning ahead is overrated. Sometimes it’s not (as you’ll soon read about in a couple posts about our trip to London!), but more often then not a little spontaneity adds much needed spice to life. Our plan for Friday was simply to go to Salisbury, see Stone Henge, and be back at Regents in time for Formal Hall that night at seven.
Shortly after leaving that morning we discovered that there were no buses going from Oxford to Salisbury directly and that the best option would be to take a train instead. So we sauntered off in what I believed to be the right general direction then asked for more information when we reached the bus station. The best part is that when we finally got to the train station, I asked the first uniformed man I saw when the next train to Salisbury was. He said “It’s here now. Would you like to buy a ticket?” And just like that, without even asking the price, I immediately consented to buying a ticket and he magically produced two tickets to Salisbury from a hand-held machine. “But you better hurry,” he said, “The train’s leaving in about sixty seconds.” So we sprinted onto the platform and into the train right before the doors shut…and in an instant we were being whisked off to Salisbury. No amount of careful planning could’ve predicted such impeccable timing.
After a couple hours of lovely countryside scenery we arrived at our destination. And right outside the train station, as if waiting for our arrival, sat the big, shiny Salisbury Sightseeing Bus! And much in the same fashion with which we bought our train tickets, we bought tickets to see Stone Henge and the Cathedral and were promptly whisked away a minute later.
The strangest part about coming upon Stone Henge is seeing it from about a kilometer away and realizing its close proximity to the freeway. They don’t show you that in postcards. Most picturesque calendars and guidebooks lead you to believe that Stone Henge is this isolated monolith sitting aloofly atop a hill miles away from civilization. In actuality, it’s not on a hill at all, but smack dab in the middle of some farmland adjacent to a four-lane highway. It’s not as epic as they would have you believe, but it’s the kind of thing that any Salisbury George or John passes in his car everyday on his way to work. (i.e. Oh, the stones look nice today…*yawn*…Where’d I put my coffee mug?)
When we got up to Stone Henge everyone received a little electronic contraption which looked like some sort of cellphone prototype from the 1980’s. The way it worked was you found one of about twenty signs stationed around the stones and pressed the corresponding number onto the keypad of your 1980’s Star-Trek phone, after which you’d hear the site’s historical background detailed to you in a crusty British accent. You’d precede then to the next station after this, and so on.
After a few minutes of this approach Becca and I vied for a more interesting option. We the walkie-talkies aside and turned documentary time into a Stone Henge photo-shoot. Below you can see some of our glamor shots, which we spent the entire hour so carefully crafting. My favorite are the ones we tried to take by setting my minuscule digital camera down on a bench and/or the ground and turned on the automatic timer. Most of them turned out a little crooked but probably best succeed in capturing the essence of our Stone Henge experience.
After looking at ‘the rocks’ the Magic Salisbury Schoolbus took us down the hill to the breathtaking Salisbury Cathedral near the center of town. I was struck at how gigantic it was. It seemed unreal. Salisbury is a small and sleepy town with a center full of mom-and-pop type shops – the existence of a mammoth, ornate cathedral seems almost comically out of place.
The inside of the cathedral was gorgeous and, once again, quite massive. We spent a very full hour walking through the cloisters and the beautiful sanctuary, enjoying the Gothic beauty oozing from every ornate nook and cranny. But the serenity of our religious experience was cut unfortunately short by the realization that we had to catch a train back to Oxford ASAP to make it to formal hall. (“Formal Hall” or Friday dinner is, as the name suggests, quite formal; so it’s very important that one arrives promptly to be granted a seat and escape any potential looks for judgment from professors etc.)
Catching the train this time around was a little less miraculous and fell disappointingly short of the Bond-like experience we had that morning. Trains weren’t running as frequently so we had to wait an extra hour to the next one back to Oxford. I remember that the three-hour train ride seemed so short on our way to Salisbury, but our return trip could not go fast enough. Time for formal hall was fast approaching and so was unlikelihood of us getting seats or having time to change into appropriate formal garb. But this was Becca’s only chance to experience a Friday formal at Regents, so I was determined that we were going to make it somehow. I called the house and cheerfully pleaded with a couple of my housemates to help us out.
It was dark when we finally reached Oxford. As soon as the doors slid open, Becca and I bolted out of train at a full sprint towards the college. Ten or fifteen minutes later we tumbled into Pusey Street, panting and sweating as if we had escaped a bear attack…or had just outrun Father Time. Formal Hall started promptly at 7:00 pm…it was now 6:48 pm. We heaved a rather winded sigh of relief and met David, who had pulled his car up to the front of the college with our formal dresses and shoes in tow. In our exuberance we gushed with some kind of effusive, semi-coherent thanks, grabbed our clothes from him and then scampered off to change. Of course, time did not allow for the typical female primping process to take place in all its fullness and/or glory. So began a five-minute frenzy: we hopped into our heels, splashed water on our sweaty faces and did our best to look socially presentable before serenely walking into the dining hall as if nothing had happened to fluster us.
I was quite proud of us. We had managed to do lots of things in one day – we had a full day of tourism of Salisbury, proven we could navigate Britain’s public transportation systems, AND still had made it back in time to enjoy a lovely fancy dinner with friends. The evening was one of my favorite Fridays in Oxford. We mingled among friends and cheap cocktails at the college JCR before a large group of us headed to Que Pasa and spent the rest of the evening on a steady diet of cheesy pop dance-tunes. I love dancing any day –but especially under these favorable circumstances.
All in all, it was a wonderful day: Not only did I discover my long-suppressed affinity for Kei$ha songs; but I also discovered that sometimes the best days are the unplanned, hop-on-a-train kind of days.
*(That’s the town of Salisbury, not to be confused with the grocery store, Sainbury’s).