We ended up being very busy in the Advent season with a number of activities for the kids, so we did not get to as many christmas markets as we had hoped. A colleague had mentioned to me that one of the several markets in Cologne remained open until January 6th, so we decided to check it out a few days after Christmas. Clare needed to get her screen replaced on her iPhone, so we used the Apple Store appointment as an excuse to get there (turns out it was only the screen protector that was cracked after all!). The kids had been asking to go ice skating in London, but we said no because it was super crowded. So this time we said yes. Clare was patient while the three of us went skating. It was certainly one of the most pleasant skating experiences of my life. With mulled wine and smoked meat wafting through the air, surrounded by pine trees, in the historic downtown of Cologne, with the cathedral in the distance. It was worth the price.
After seeing 2000 year old civilization in Italy in October, we decided to go back even further in time in December to visit experience the druidic magic of the sunrise during the winter solstice at Stone Henge. Clare found a tour which would take us from London to Stone Henge, where we would get to stand right in the middle of the rocks, a privilege only 1% of visitors to Stone Henge get. Usually you can only look at the stones from a path around the perimeter.
Before our adventure to Stone Henge started, we had a few adventures along the way. Clare had booked an apartment in London back in June, and shortly before the money was due for it, she had the feeling that it might be a scam, after reading a review that it was a fake address. So she ended up booking 2 rooms in a regular hotel instead. It started to seem more and more like National Lampoon’s European Vacation. We had also booked train travel from Aachen all the way to London, taking the Eurostar train from Brussels to London. But then we learned that the French train service was on strike, and there was a pretty good chance that our train from Aachen to Brussels might be cancelled. So at the very last minute we decided to drive to Brussels instead and park there. We ended up parking at the best parking garage ever – Park Indigo. Not only was it freshly painted and clean, but it had hanging foam dividers between each parking spot, and classical music playing. And it was only 15 Euro per day, half the rate of the parking at the train station, and only 3 blocks away.
We arrived safely on Saturday afternoon as planned, after a very enjoyable train ride. After checking in at the hotel, we went to the London Eye, the big ferris wheel by the Thames. Spencer didn’t want to go, so he and I went bowling while Meg and Clare went on it. Then we had some tasty Korean mexican fusion street food, headed back to the hotel, and called it a night. Sunday morning we woke up at 3 a.m., quickly got dressed, and headed out in a cab to the place where the bus was picking us up. We got on the bus right around 4 a.m. and arrived at Stone Henge around 7 a.m., where we had about a 20 minute walk to the stones. Meg was wearing her new scout jacket, which is waterproof and quite warm, and was eager to show us all how she is a better hiker than us, and kept walking ahead, in spite of my requests not to. When we got to the stones, the Druidic ceremonies were just about to start. I set my backpack down for a minute to pull out my camera, and then Meg was gone. A minute or two later Spencer and Clare came back to me, and we could not find Meg, but the ceremonies were starting, so we just walked towards the stones. Soon we were crowded in by hundreds of people, and there was no turning back. Meg ended up finding a security guard, and ended up watching most of the ceremony with them. After the ceremony was ever it didn’t take too long to find her, and she didn’t seem that worried about the whole thing. It seems she had even a better spot for viewing the ceremony than the rest of us. That is one independent girl!
While Stone Henge was the big reason we went to England, we also had some time to explore London as well. After we got back from Stone Henge we had a little time to relax, then we headed to Westminster Abbey for an organ concert. Once again, Clare’s research was spot on – it was fairly expensive to get a tour of the church, but concerts are services and are free, though it did require a ticket in advance. It was a very nice concert. Afterwards we had dinner at a typical London pub.
The next day we headed first to the Tower of London, which housed many famous prisoners throughout history, as well as the Crown Jewels. We walked along the Thames some, then had pizza at a place recommended by a work colleague from Naples. We toured the National Gallery at Trafalgar square a bit, walked past Buckingham palace, and then headed back to the hotel with tired feet. Clare and I had a date at a nearby Indian restaurant and brought back some takeout for the kids.
The next morning it was time to get back on the train already. We got to King’s Cross station with enough time to stop by platform 9 3/4, where they have set up a Harry Potter shop. The trip back on the Eurostar train was very enjoyable, and our car was waiting for us back in the nicest parking garage ever. We got home in time to open a few presents before shutting our eyes and dreaming of der Weihnachtsmann.
After Stone Henge our tour bus continued on to Salisbury, which has one of the largest churches in England. Unfortunately we could not go into the church itself because they were having services, but we did get to tour the grounds a bit and we also got to see one of the original copies of the Magna Carta, which is also housed there. You’re not allowed to take pictures of the Magna Carta itself, but we do have a few pictures from inside the room.