culture, destinations, England, road trip, travel tips

The Stonehenge of America

As a US American citizen, it’s not always easy to hop across the pond for European adventures. So when I can find a European experience in my own country, I’m all for it!

There are a lot of Stonehenge knockoffs in the United States. I regret not having a car while living in Nebraska, because it could have taken me to see Carhenge. There’s also a Foamhenge in Virginia and Alabama has its own fiberglass “Bamahenge”. But nearest me is the Stonehenge of Maryhill, Washington. It’s just across the Oregon border, making it easily accessible by both states. After I visited Multnomah Falls, I headed further east for this next stop.

Since I got to visit the real Stonehenge while in England this past May, it was fun to compare the original stones with this full-scale replication.

History

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Me with the Heel Stone at England’s Stonehenge

 

England: Part of the enticement to Stonehenge is that no one knows for sure how it was made or what it was used for, though we do estimate it at being 5000 years old. Many theories for its purpose have been presented over the years, but currently, there is strong evidence suggesting it was a sort of calendar device, due to its specific alignment with the solstices.

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The Heel Stone at Maryhill’s Stonehenge

 

Washington: One hundred years ago, England’s Stonehenge was believed to be used for human sacrifice. So when the founder of Maryhill’s Stonehenge wanted to build a memorial to the recently-deceased of World War I, he thought about the sacrifice these soldiers gave and thought Stonehenge would be fitting.

Material

Stonehenge Visitor Center

A replica of what may have been used to transport the heavy stones of Stonehenge

 

England: Perhaps Stonehenge’s biggest mystery is how the builders obtained the stone from 200 miles away, without any modern machinery. Erecting this circle would have been difficult as well.

Maryhill Stonehenge

If it’s made of concrete, should it be called Concretehenge?

 

Washington: Originally, the plan was for this memorial to be made of local stone. But building a Stonehenge out of stones proved to be difficult even in more modern times, so they switched to concrete. The concrete doesn’t look nearly as beautiful as the original stones, but they tried to improve the appearance by using foil to create a crumpled texture.

Appearance

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England’s Stonehenge with a visible attempt to keep the ruins intact

 

England: Stonehenge is in ruins; there’s no doubt about that. I visited midday, so I was able to walk around the path, admiring the stones from a bit of a distance. There are special sunrise and sunset tours that allow visitors to walk into the inner circle, but they still cannot touch the stones. Many pieces have fallen and some are missing.

Maryhill Stonehenge

Can you picture the original Stonehenge looking like this one in Washington?

 

Washington: My favorite part about this Stonehenge is that it was an opportunity to see what Stonehenge was intended to look like. At a mere century old, the preserved memorial shows the Stonehenge with all of its transepts intact. Best of all, you can get up close and personal with this Stonehenge. Spend as much time as you want walking through the inner circle, and even touch the “stones” if you want. No special tour necessary.

Location

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England’s Stonehenge as seen from the road

 

England: Stonehenge is situated on the Salisbury Plains. Although its mostly surrounded by farmland (sheep get to spend more time viewing Stonehenge than humans do), it is visible from the throughway. To walk around Stonehenge, though, you’ll need a ticket before taking the bus ride from the parking lot to the stone circle. Since I’m not comfortable driving in England (or really any foreign country), I took one of the many bus tours that stop at Stonehenge.

Washington's Stonehenge as seen from the road

Washington’s Stonehenge as seen from the road

 

Washington: Fortunately, I am comfortable driving in most of the United States, which is good because I’m unaware of any busses that stop here! Parking was free and right next to Stonehenge. This Stonehenge is also conveniently located off a highway, though you have to drive a mile or so down country roads before it becomes visible. It sits atop a hill, with a gorgeous view down to the Columbia River and the surrounding farmland. Instead of sheep, these farms are for orchards and wind power!

Other Attractions

Stonehenge Visitor Center

A prehistoric re-creation at the Stonehenge visitor center in England

 

England: The visitor experience at Stonehenge has really improved with the addition of a visitor center. This museum has videos, artifacts, and replicas of past life in the area. There are also bathrooms, a gift shop, and a cafe. I took the advice of some other travelers who said I shouldn’t take such a long bus ride from London just to visit Stonehenge. So I found a bus trip that also included an extended stop in Bath.

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War Memorial next to Washington’s Stonehenge

 

Washington: There was a little building at the site entrance, but it wasn’t open at the time so I don’t know what lies inside. There was a flyer that listed some interesting events, and there were port-a-potties on the side of the building. Although there weren’t restaurants, there was a picnic table where I enjoyed a snack I brought. There’s also a soldier memorial to remember the wars that have happened since this Stonehenge was erected to commemorate WWI. I also don’t think you should make this trip just to see this Stonehenge. Across the river bridge is The Dalles, Oregon, which leads into the high desert. I also included Multnomah Falls, Crater Lake National Park, and a few state parks on this weekend trip.

One other big difference between the two Stonehenges was the crowds. One had hundreds of visitors while I was there, while the other only had a couple visitors at a time and I even got to spend some time all alone there. I bet you can figure out which was which!

Have you ever visited a replica of a landmark from another country? Tell me about it in the comments; I’ll probably want to see it too!

The Stonehenge of America

Whether you’re in the US, Europe, or anywhere else in the world, you can turn little attractions like this into real adventures! Learn how in my brand-new book, Uncommon Adventures, available in paperback and Kindle ebook

Uncommon Adventures Jessica Lippe
Want to take more trips to places like this? Be sure to check out my new book, Uncommon Adventures, now available on Amazon!
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culture, destinations, England, Things to Do

My Three Parthenon Trips

A trip to the Parthenon…what does this make you think of? For most, that would involve heading to Athens, Greece. That was one of my Parthenon trips. But my first Parthenon trip happened three years before I ever even set foot in Europe. And my last Parthenon trip happened over three years after I left Greece. What an uncommon adventure! To understand the full significance and beauty of this historic architecture, I believe it requires three trips to three different countries.

Nashville: Discovering the Former Glory

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While not a primary reason to visit Tennessee, I loved visiting the world’s only fully intact Parthenon and saw it almost every day while in Nashville. While it doesn’t have millennia-old history or fine material craftsmanship, this is one of the best places to go to visually learn about the Parthenon.

The exterior is a spitting image of the Parthenon in its glory days. You can walk around and see each piece of art. You can even walk up and touch the columns or sit on the steps, something you absolutely cannot do at the Acropolis. Another thing you can only do here is step inside the Parthenon. While the lower levels definitely look modern-day, the top level features a giant statue of the Greek god Athena, the namesake for Greece’s capital. While a similar statue used to be housed inside Greece’s Parthenon, no one knows what happened to that behemoth. So not only is this the only place where you can see the Parthenon in its intended glory, but also the only place to see this statue and what it looked like inside.

At the time of my visit to Nashville, I had never been to Europe. I wasn’t sure if I would ever get to Greece in my lifetime, but I recorded in my travel journal that if I did make it there, I might be disappointed at the real Parthenon.

Athens: The Real Deal on Location

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A few years later, I found myself in Greece! And I recorded in that travel journal that I wasn’t sure if I liked the Greek or American Parthenon better.

The center of Athens is the Acropolis, and the centerpiece of the Acropolis is the Parthenon. This is the original. It’s a special experience to be able to walk among the ancient buildings atop this mountain. The ruins are preserved as best as possible there, but the art is better kept in a different home. Just downhill, the Acropolis Museum recreates the Parthenon indoors with the friezes displayed in their original order. Other Acropolis archaeological finds are on display here as well. But not everything from the Parthenon is housed in this museum.

The Parthenon is in ruins, partially because of its age, and largely because of an explosion when it was being used to store British military ammunition. If you speak to a local Greek about the Parthenon, they will be sure to include blaming the Brits. Not only for the explosion, but also because they “stole the original art off the Parthenon and refuse to give it back”. The Greeks’ relationship with the British might be strained because of this, but for me, this international argument was mostly just a call for me to take another trip.

London: Rounding Out with the Lost Art

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After seeing the Parthenon in Athens, my next trip to Europe had to involve Great Britain. While an expensive city, London can be done on a budget, especially when you visit the free museums! One of the best museums (that also happens to be free) is the British Museum, oddly named since it consists entirely of artifacts taken from other countries. An entire section of the museum is devoted to ancient art from Athens.

Stepping into the Greek section of The British Museum almost felt like being teleported back into Greece. The room appeared to be the Acropolis turned outside-in. Each end of this room displays the Elgin Marbles, the statues that originally adorned the Parthenon. They are displayed in the same order as they were intended to be, so you can easily imagine the Parthenon’s roof topping just over their heads. Other statues are bookended by this art, along with a message of the United Kingdom’s stance on why they believe the Parthenon pieces in their collection should remain under their care.

The British Museum had a lot of other fascinating artifacts, such as the Rosetta Stone. London itself had even more to offer. But the feeling of being among the Parthenon’s marble statues was uniquely satisfying. After many years and a worldwide search, I had finally come full-circle with seeing every element of the Parthenon that began with an unlikely trip to Nashville.

 

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Get travel inspiration for around the world with the Parthenon and more when you order my new book, Uncommon Adventures!

Which Parthenon trip would you most like to go on? Let me know in the comments!

destinations, resources, Things to Do, tour, travel tips

Travel Tips for Thessaloniki: Best Beaches and Beyond

I recently wrote a guest post on The Boho Chica. Click here to check out the best beaches near Thessaloniki, Greece. While writing, it got me thinking a lot about my time in Thessaloniki. Although it was nearly four years ago and lasted only two weeks, I really enjoyed getting to know the local culture.

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Here were a few of my favorite things in Thessaloniki:

Taking a Walking Tour

Thessaloniki Northern Walking Tour

I’ve taken a lot of walking tours, but the Thessaloniki Free Walking Tour was among the best. I took the upper town tour, and I got to see a lot of things that I never would have discovered on my own. The guide is great; he played music, gave travel tips, and really made the tour personalized.

Visiting the White Tower and City Walls

Thessaloniki White Tower View

As the most iconic site in Thessaloniki, the White Tower is fun to go inside and explore. It is one of two remaining towers from the old city wall. The remaining walls and northern tower aren’t quite as popular, though their lack of tourism does make them free to visit. If you enjoy history, seeing the towers and walls are a must-do on your visit.

Having a Rotunda View

Thessaloniki Rotunda Ceiling

I stayed in RentRooms, a hostel with a view of the Rotunda. I loved eating breakfast at their outdoor cafe for the scenic view as well as the food. The Rotunda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site from the 4th century. I enjoyed being able to go inside, though the exterior seemed more ornate. Nearby is another ancient structure, the Kamara.

Visiting Turkey?!

Kemal Ataturk Home in Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is in Greece, but while there you can also visit Turkey. There’s a little bit of Turkish soil in the middle of this city! Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, was actually born in Thessaloniki. His family home is now a museum owned and run by Turkey. I enjoyed going through the house and learning about Turkey, especially since Istanbul was my next stop in my Mediterranean Trek.

Admiring Art

Thessaloniki Statue

I visited a few Thessalonian museums. I saw ancient ruins, Jewish history, and photography. Even outside of the museums, art abounds. A long stroll along the boardwalk is not only good for seeing the sea, but also all kinds of statues and other art. Wherever you go in Thessaloniki, keep your eyes open and you’re sure to find art.

 

These are just a few of the most memorable of the many things I enjoyed in Thessaloniki. What is most enticing to you in this part of Greece?

 

destinations, England, saving money, Things to Do, travel tips

The London Pass: Is the Upfront Expense Really Worth It?

I had a great time in Ireland and England! I took a break from writing here so that it could truly be a vacation, but now that I’m back, you can expect a lot of posts with advice for the British Isles in the coming weeks. To start out, I’d like to go back to the very first item I purchased for this trip. I bought it before I bought plane tickets, or even knew what time of year I’d go to Europe: it’s The London Pass.

What I Did With My London Pass

Tower Bridge London
On Tower Bridge. Note the blue London Pass lanyard around my neck. Free souvenir with purchase!

I bought a three-day pass, and those three days were packed! Here’s a quick breakdown, along with the approximate normal price in pounds:

Day One: 

  • Tower of London (normally 28, but the pass also includes a skip-the-line at the entrance)
  • Tower Bridge (normally 10)
  • HMS Belfast (normally 16)
  • The View from the Shard (normally 32)

Day Two:

  • Churchill War Rooms (normally 22)
  • Westminster Abbey (normally 23)
  • Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off (normally 34)
  • St. Peter’s Cathedral (normally 20)
  • Royal Mews (normally 12)
  • Kensington Palace (normally 20)

Day Three:

  • City Cruises (normally 19)
  • The Fan Museum (normally 5)
  • Cutty Sark (normally 15)
  • Royal Observatory (normally 16)
  • National Maritime Museum (admission is free to everyone, but passholders get a free book worth 5)

Feel free to use my itinerary on your own trip or tailor it to fit your personal preferences.

Although I met my goal of doing an average of five activities per day, I did feel rushed in some areas. A lot of the attractions have fairly short hours (10am-6pm seemed common), so I was never really sure what to do early in the morning or late in the evening. If opening times were longer, I would have been able to see more, plus spend more time in places like Tower of London.

What About Other Cities?

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One advantage that The Leisure Pass Group has over other types of passes is that it often includes transportation, such as this City Cruise on the London Thames.

The London Pass is just one item sold by The Leisure Pass Group. They offer passes similar to The London Pass in different cities around the world. The only time I ever considered another one of these passes was when I was heading to Paris. It offered admission to a lot of the museums that I wanted to see. However, so did the Paris Museum Pass, which was just a fraction of the price. The Paris Pass did offer a few extras, but none that I was willing to pay the extra price for.

To sum it up, out of all the city passes sold by this company, The London Pass seems to offer the best value.

How to Save Money When Buying the Pass

Stonehenge Tour England
Visiting Stonehenge from London can be pricey! But it’s a little less pricey if you use The London Concierge.

The London Pass is a huge expense. The per-day cost was more than my hostel bed and meals combined. Currently, a three-day pass is 125 pounds, which exchanges into more than the $50-a-day that many modern urban backpackers try to budget by. Even the cheapest-per-day pass for 10 days is more than $25 a day, which doesn’t leave much room for housing and food in one of the world’s most expensive cities. So many of us budget-conscious travelers will have to accept the fact that if you really want to experience all that London has to offer, you’ll have to spend more than your usual per diem. You can always balance it out later with some less expensive trips. (I’ve got nearly-free camping trips planned out this summer.)

However, spending money in an expensive city doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to save where I can! The London Pass often offers some money-saving options.

For starters, decide how many days you want your pass to last. Obviously, the more days your pass is valid, the more expensive it is, but the less it costs per day. As a first-timer to London, I found that a three-day pass was perfect for my one-week trip. I fit in everything I came to see (plus a couple pleasant surprises). That left me with a few days without a pass, which were still chocked full as I spent those visiting free attractions (like parks, free museums, and iconic places like Abbey Road), and well as some attractions that weren’t part of The London Pass, such as London Eye and Up at the O2.

If you plan in advance, you can keep an eye on The London Pass’ website to look out for sales. I bought my pass during a sale, and ever since then, I’ve noticed that they often offer online sale prices.

You can also find discount codes online. I won’t share any here since they’re always changing, but a quick search on Google should give you the most up-to-date promo codes. You can combine a promo code with a sale for maximum savings.

One more way I saved with The London Pass was by using The London Concierge. The London Concierge is a discount ticket purchasing website exclusively for people who have purchased The London Pass. You can buy tickets from The London Concierge even before you activate The London Pass. This is where I bought my bus trip to Bath and Stonehenge, making it a good deal.

But Is It Really Worth It?

Kensington Palace London
Feeling like royalty as I wait for my prince on the Kensington Palace staircase? Priceless.

If you total up the amount I could have spent at the attractions I went to during my three-day pass: 86+131+60= 277. Even at the normal retail price of 125 pounds for a 3-day adult pass, I got more than double my money’s worth. Or did I?

As I mentioned before, there were a couple of attractions I would have liked to spend more time in (namely Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral). However, I felt pressured to rush through these a bit so I could fit more attractions into the day and get my money’s worth. If I had been paying directly for these attractions, I would have spent more time at them. There were also a couple attractions I went into just because I had the pass. Although I ended up enjoying the HMS Belfast, I never would have entered without The London Pass.

There were some attractions that I didn’t feel were worth it. The View from the Shard was little more than a rooftop bar with a big cover charge (and it wasn’t even on the roof). Touring Westminster Abbey was okay, but I had a much better time at the free Evensong service I attended there a few days before I started using The London Pass. Of course, every person’s opinion is different, so I didn’t know how I’d personally feel about these attractions until I went there myself. Now that I know, I know not to go back to those places if and when I return to London.

In fact, while The London Pass was good for a first-time visitor to London like me, I don’t think it would be a very good value for a returning traveler. Some of the attractions were one-and-done deals. For those that I would be interested in seeing again, I would plan out my visit ahead of time and try to find discount tickets specifically for those attractions. Or I would just enjoy the abundance of free museums, church services, and parks available to everyone in London. Although you might miss out on a few must-dos, it is possible to spend nothing on attractions and still have an enjoyable time in London.

Conclusion: For London first-timers who are spending several days or more in the city, go ahead and buy The London Pass. Buy a short-length pass (three days seemed almost perfect), and supplement your non-London-Pass days with an abundance of free attractions and sites not included in the London Pass. If you’ve been to London before or are only going for a very short trip (say, a weekend getaway or a business conference where you won’t be available during the daytime), try to find other ways to save on the attractions you want to visit.

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Books, News, writing

To the Writer Who Saved Notre Dame

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I was just one of millions who were shocked yesterday at the fire that destroyed Notre Dame in Paris, France. But all the memories I had from nearly four years ago with this structure came rushing back. While in Paris, I loved walking to this city center and did so several times. I took a walking tour around the island that taught me a lot about the history and art. I climbed to the belltowers, found sanctuary inside the sanctuary, attended an evening service, picnicked in its shade, and even explored the underground crypt. I never imagined that this building that pointed to God for over 850 years would be destroyed in my lifetime.

Without the dedicated firefighters working hours upon hours yesterday, Notre Dame would be in worse condition than it is now, and for that I’m thankful. But we must also remember that it’s possible there wouldn’t be a cathedral to save today if a writer hadn’t saved it nearly 200 years ago.

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Victor Hugo and The Hunchback

Notre Dame de Paris wasn’t always as beloved as it is now. After years of neglect, it found itself in a state of disrepair in the 1800s. At the time, a Parisian writer by the name of Victor Hugo decided to do something about his beloved city center. He wrote a book titled Notre Dame de Paris. It ended up being translated into many languages. In the English translation, it was titled The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

As the popularity of the book spread, readers spilled into Paris to visit the now-famed Notre Dame. This eventually pressured the government to restore the cathedral to its former glory. Why? If you haven’t read the book, the story might not be what you’d expect. Many of us think of the Disney adaptation, which, while I didn’t enjoy it much as a kid, as an adult it became one of my favorite Disney movies due to its unique themes. Victor Hugo actually spent more of his book describing the Notre Dame, with the storyline more as a selling point. It’s even darker than Disney’s darkest cartoon, and does not have a happy ending. But the point was made, and Victor Hugo got his real-life happy ending of a restored cathedral. I was able to visit Victor Hugo’s final resting place in the Pantheon in Paris, lying amid other famous French who shaped their culture.

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What Writers Can Do

As I watched the live updates of Notre Dame burning, I couldn’t help but think of Victor Hugo and how he used his character Quasimodo to save the cathedral only to have it destroyed today. But if a writer could save Notre Dame once, could another writer save it again?

I’m not saying that writer is me. Although I have toyed with an idea of a story about a backpacker who visits places like Paris, it’s still only an idea in my head and not on paper. I did feel a personal connection to Quasimodo as I stood in “his” belltower, I actually have the same type of scoliosis that this character did. (Obviously, mine is a mild case where his was much more extreme.) As an urban backpacker, this can cause extra pain as I travel. Paris was the first place I visited in Europe, and while I was already starting to feel pain there, I couldn’t help but feel like it was a place of refuge and freedom.

But most of us are writers in some form or another. In this modern age where anyone can be published, maybe we all can work together in writing our way to save Notre Dame again. I’ve already been inspired by the news reporters saying that it will be rebuilt (though we don’t have a timeframe yet- hopefully in this lifetime!) and the people on social media who have pledged money and shared their own stories. If you’ve been to Paris, share your personal experience so that the Notre Dame’s memories will not disappear, even if its roof has. If you haven’t seen Notre Dame, I know its tales have still affected you in some way. Share what you’ve learned about the historic cathedral, or write about how excited you are to see it being rebuilt. Who knows? Maybe one of us will become the next Victor Hugo, writing a book that features the future Notre Dame.

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Start now: What’s been your experience with the Notre Dame, whether in person or through books/movies/etc? How did you feel when you heard it caught fire? Share with the world in the comments below!

All photos taken by me, Jessica Lippe, July 2015.