When I have not been working in or exploring London, I have been fortunate enough to travel to towns and treasures that surround London. With the excellent railroad infrastructure in England and the UK, it is relatively easy and cheap to get around an see all that there is to see in England.
Stonehenge and Bath
To be honest, I had underwhelming expectations of Stonehenge. People who had been to Stonehenge before had said that it was not much to see. However, either because of my low expectations or because of the history and mystery surrounding it, Stonehenge far exceeded my expectations. What makes Stonehenge so magnificent is the context surrounding it. Of course, we have all seen pictures of Stonehenge. If you were to just experience Stonehenge as if you were looking at a picture, it is literally large rocks organized in a circle, a minor feat by modern industrial standards. However, as you walk around Stonehenge and inspect the grounds, you cannot help but put yourself in the shoes of those who built Stonehenge and used it as a worshipping-place thousands of years ago and wonder how they managed to build such a structure with only manpower and rudimentary tools. It is said that they even brought some of the stone from Wales, over 100 miles away. Although we do not know precisely who used Stonehenge or for what religion, it is difficult to not sense the surreal importance of it. The importance of the religious grounds is especially hard to ignore with the burial mounds that surround it in every direction. If you take the time at Stonehenge to try to understand the context surrounding it, I promise that you will experience something far more breathtaking than just “large rocks organized in a circle”.
Bath is a town that sits around an hour away from Stonehenge. The town once inhabited by author Jane Austen was also once home to the Romans who constructed the historical Roman Baths. The hot-spring waters that filled the baths were thought by the Romans to have a religious healing effect and have been preserved since the Romans abandoned them. The museum on-site has ruins of the original baths as well as Roman artifacts from the era. Coming from America, my sense of time and history has been far-extended between Stonehenge and Bath. Of course, I was knowledgeable of Pre-Columbus history of the world, but physically encountering ancient history puts into context how truly young our country is as history before and beyond the discovery of America comes to life.
Brighton is a vibrant beach town directly south of London that is very different from the beaches that I am used to in the US. If the weather is good in the summer, it is a great place to relax and find a change of scenery from the city-center of London. A focal point of Brighton is the Brighton Pier which has a theme park, restaurants, and shops that has a very lively energy to it. After getting lunch on the pier, we relaxed on the rocky shoreline which is nice if you do not enjoy getting sand all over you. Brighton is also home to the extremely unique Royal Pavilion, the summer home of King George IV. The rebellious and extravagant king found his palace to be too boring and modest, so he hired an architect to expand and remodel it to the Indian-style palace as it appears today. It is a magnificent building worth seeing. After seeing the Royal Pavilion, we wandered around The Lanes of Brighton. The Lanes are haphazardly-arranged, narrow lanes in the heart of Brighton with small shops, restaurants, pubs, and cafés worth exploring. After getting a cup of coffee at a café at The Lanes, we wandered back to the beach to our last stop for the day – British Airways i360. British Airways i360 is a large observation deck that looks similar to a donut on a stick and was constructed by the same architect as was the London Eye. The 360º observation deck takes you 160 meters (~530 feet) into the air to provide you with breathtaking views of the beach town. Even for someone like me, who is morbidly afraid of heights, the 30-minute trip up and down was an incredible experience. I would contend that Brighton is the most unique place that I have visited in all of my travels this summer.