Thursday, August 27, 2009

Our Holiday in the Country

After the first two minutes, driving went well.

We headed out of London for the ruins at Avebury. These were far less crowded than Stonehenge, and much more accessible. It was possible to walk right up to these giant stones, placed thousands of years ago in a huge concentric circle.

But, of course, Stonehenge is a must-see, so we did-see. It looks about how you would expect, after having seen pictures and video of it hundreds of times. This would have been the perfect occasion for the hand-held audio tours that are now standard at museums and attractions, but the kids haven’t developed the patience for this kind of sightseeing pace.

I did come across an interesting theory, though: Stonehenge was created primarily as a showcase site, meant to be an impressive display of human ability. This purpose stands in contrast to the older henges, like those at Avebury, that seem to have had a more purely religious or spiritual purpose. This theory helps to explain something I learned in a Stonhenge documentary I viewed before the trip. Apparently, one of the top stones has a mistake on it. On top, there is a hole dug out that was meant to be the hole underneath that the vertical lintels fit into. Since the hole was not dug properly, the masons simply turned the stone over and left the mistake facing skyward, where no one would notice. If the henge is meant to be a spiritual symbol, then such a mistake would probably have been discarded. But as a showcase, who cares what you can’t see?

In any event, we made it into Salisbury for the night, and enjoyed our stay there. The cathedral there was notable for a couple reasons. First, it contains one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta. Second, the 404 foot spire, the highest in England, is so heavy that the marble support columns inside are visibly bent and the whole structure has listed a couple feet. Overall, it was a remarkable building—we all agreed just as interesting and impressive as Notre Dame in Paris.

Before heading back to London, we stopped in Bath and Oxford. Both towns were nice enough, but the weather was poor and it all started to blend together after awhile: historic downtowns, with cobbled pedestrian malls and a recurring set of retail stores. We managed to avoid the Gap and Starbucks, but we have gone into every Next store west of London looking for a particular Star Wars shirt Quin has his heart set on.

So, that was our holiday. All went well. Except for those first two minutes. Half a mile from the rental agency I whacked the left side mirror against a parked car’s mirror and cracked it. I never had problems going onto the wrong side of the road. Instead, I kept finding myself floating left in the lane, as if I wanted to put my body in the “proper” position in the lane. Shannon was made quite nervous on many occasions. Luckily, she wasn’t in the car when I actually hit something.

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