We had a great time in Iceland and were heading to London Stansted on an early flight. I had lived in England for a few months when I was 19, and luckily my former host parents Ian and Lis picked us up from the airport. They live in a city called Woking, which is a 30 minute train ride from the center of London. After searching around for Ian for a bit in the busy Gatwick airport, we spotted him and were headed on our way. We dropped our heavy bags off and enjoyed a pleasant lunch where I caught up with Ian and Lis and met their new dog, Kulley. We asked for suggestions on what to see, and as it was early in the day they offered to take us on a short drive down to Mercedes Benz World, which is a large Mercedes facility with free admission to the public, and the only one of it’s kind.
At Mercedes Benz World they have race tracks where you can learn to drive sports Mercedes on different street tracks or off-road. David would have loved to do the driving experience, but unfortunately it costs 90 pound, so we decided to pass. It was still fun to watch other people trying to spin their cars on the wet road or speed through the race course. Inside the Mercedes World building they displayed different kinds of Mercedes cars, from one of the first cars in the world to the newest. They exhibited the first Benz engine powered Motorwagen built in 1886. Karl Benz’ wife Bertha wanted to prove that her husband’s invention was feasible and would be of use for other people, so one day when he was out she drove it about 106 kilometers. She became the first person to drive an automobile over a long distance, and helped bring about the dawn of the automobile.
David was a little disappointed that the real driving experience on the race tracks cost so much, so when we saw a Formula 1 simulator you could go on for 10 pounds, he went for it! The simulator was set up to the real settings in a Formula 1 Mercedes race-car, so he hopped in and tried keeping the car on the track, which seemed to be quite challenging. Mercedes Benz World is a great place to spent some time at, especially for car lovers, but after about an hour we had seen everything and were heading back to Ian’s and Lis’s place to rest for a bit. Later we headed out for dinner with them to a nice Korean restaurant. After dinner we just sat at their home to talk and David got to try his first British beer, served warm as is the style.
We had a lot planned for the next day, so we got up really early and after a quick breakfast we headed out. Ian & Lis had kindly offered to take us to Stonehenge and one of the many castles they have all over the country. It was a two hour drive from Woking to Stonehenge. The closer we got to the site, the more traffic was on the road, and suddenly the site appeared in a huge grass field right next to the road. We could see the masses of tourists from the road. We got to the parking right next to the big visitors center. Lis & Ian already had seen Stonehenge various times so they decided to just walk their dog in the area for a bit. They are members of the National Heritage, which you can buy a membership to see over 400 sights in England, so we were super lucky and got into Stonehenge for free by pretending to be them! Otherwise the entrance fee was about 15 pounds. At the visitors center there is an exhibition about the site and a huge gift shop. They rebuilt some houses, which they think the people who built Stonehenge might have lived in, and a replica of one of the stones on a wooden construction, which might have been they way how they got the stones to the sites.
The actual site is a short ways off the visitors center, so you can either take a bus shuttle or walk about 10-15 minutes to Stonehenge. The surrounding rural area is lovely and has some more ancient sites and burial hills. We didn’t want to let Lis and Ian wait for too long, so we hopped on the shuttle bus to the site. It took only a few minutes to get to Stonehenge and once we left the bus, we were greeted by more tourists. In order to protect the site from erosion by the crowds of tourists that arrive every day, it is no longer possible to get very close to the stones. There are paths leading around them, so it can be seen from all angles. Ian & Lis told us that when they were kids people would just go up to Stonehenge and play even on the stones. Even with there being so many tourists and being almost impossible to get a shot without people in it, it was a really impressive and special place.
Old Wardour Castle
After walking around Stonehenge for a bit, we headed back to the car parking, where Lis & Ian were waiting for us. We moved on to our next stop for the day, Old Wardour Castle. It was about a 30 minute drive from Stonehenge, driving through some very narrow roads that even scared Ian a little. Luckily we managed to get through with very few cars coming the other way.
The castle is close to Tisbury and quite hidden in the middle of nowhere, but there are signs showing the way. The entrance fee is only about 4 pounds, that makes this place even more worth visiting. The castle itself is more a ruin of a castle. You can wander around and explore the rooms of it, which are still intact. In some of them are signs explaining their former purpose. A big part of the outer wall of the castle has been destroyed and the ceiling is missing in most parts, but this all adds to how special the place is. The castle was attacked during the civil war in England, when the Parliamentarian army sieged the Royalist castle. When the attack happened the Lord was visiting the king in Oxford, and his wife stayed back and defended the castle for 9 days with only 25 men against 1,300 men. Eventually they had to give in and the castle was lost. Shortly after, the former Lord’s son took back the castle and during the battle they accidentally destroyed most of it when some shells place under the walls exploded prematurely.
After wandering around the castle for a bit, we had a nice picnic with Ian and Lis on the grass surrounding the ruins, it was a pretty spectacular place for that. We finished the picnic and headed back to the car for a two hour drive back to their place in Woking. It was still pretty early so we decided we should head into London, to see some of the sights and go to a traditional pub.
Ian dropped us at the train station in Woking and we took the South West train to London Waterloo. The train service is good, with taking only 30 minutes and running pretty often, but unfortunately the tickets are very expensive. We paid around 17 pound each for a return ticket.
We arrived at Waterloo Station and were greeted by an incredible amount of people. It was rush hour and a Friday afternoon and on top of that summer time, so the city was crowded! We rushed out of the station and walked toward the London Eye, which is only a couple of minutes from there. It looked quite nice and impressive but neither of us were really tempted to go up. We decided it was better to walk around the city and get to know the places by foot. We crossed the bridge from the London Eye and could see Big Ben from there. Although everyone knows it from pictures, it still looks very impressive!
From there we moved on toward Buckingham Palace. We walked through Saint James Park, which is a nice little park with a river running through it’s middle, filled with all kinds of birds and a ton of squirrels. Buckingham Palace is nice, but David was wondering why the Queen wouldn’t want to stay in any of the buildings in the city which he thought were a lot more impressive! Unfortunately we didn’t see the famous guards outside the palace, as they are only there on certain times of the day and the famous change of the guards takes only place one time a day in the morning around 11am.
Our next stop was Covent Garden. We walked there from Buckingham Palace, which took us about 20 minutes. We were getting hungry so before getting to the actual market hall of Covent Garden we had to stop for some dinner. Everything is pretty expensive in London, so it took us a while to find a place which was within our budget. We finally found Jamaica Patty, a small restaurant and take away, which doesn’t look like anything special, but the food tastes very good. 5 pound got us food, a drink, and chips.
It was a Friday evening and the streets were packed with people. Everybody seemed to have been out for an after work drink, especially with the weather being that nice! To our luck most of the people were standing outside in front of the pubs rather than being inside. We headed into one of the many pubs in Covent Garden and David finally got his first real London pub experience.
After that we passed by Covent Garden Market, which was unfortunately already closed at that hour and then decided to take the subway toward the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Originally we had planned on coming back to London the next day before our flight to Dublin, but with the trains being so expensive and with all the luggage we would have to carry around we decided against it and just tried to squeeze all in this one evening. We jumped on the subway, which was again pretty expensive (9 pound each for a return ticket) and got to tower hill just when the sun was already setting.
We got a quick look at the Tower of London, which didn’t impress us too much, at least not from outside. A short bathroom search for me brought us back into another pub and another beer for David. There didn’t seem to be any public bathrooms, or only ones where you needed coins. We then walked on and around the Tower Bridge for a bit and enjoyed the warm summer night. Before long we headed back to Waterloo Station and took a train to Woking, where Ian kindly picked us up.
The next day Ian drove us to the airport where we took our next flight to Dublin, to visit some of David’s friends in Ireland. We would get to see Dublin, the Cliffs of Moher, and the Rock of Cashel, check it out!