My previous England post was published back in October 2016...four months ago friends, four months! Why has it taken so long to publish another? Two reasons: the busyness of the holidays, and second, but more relevant is the fact that I haven't been ready to finish my posts on this trip. This very post you're reading is the final one and that makes me sad. Through writing these posts I get to completely re-live my vacation. I have an excuse to surround myself with a bubble and immerse myself in the memories as I write, and I haven't wanted to give that up. But we're now coming up on almost a year since the trip and I thought to myself, "self, it's time to wrap it up." So, without further ado here's the final post in our UK 2016 trip:
We woke up on our final full day in England with sadness that our trip was closing but also with some excitement on my part as we were set to tour Windsor Castle. It's amazing to me how our trip progressed and changed as it happened. Our original plans included Cornwall and the Costwolds, with maybe even a quick nip over to Paris for a day or two. We realized as the trip got closer that we were spreading ourselves too thin and that some things just had to give. We cancelled our hotel reservations in Brighton and reconfigured the first week. The one thing that remained the same was Windsor. It was always our intention to spend our last full day in England in the city of Windsor. It's close enough to London to make it a convenient last location before our flight the next day but far enough away that we didn't feel like we were in the hustle and bustle of the city.
We parked at the Windsor & Eton Riverside train station right on the River Thames. As we were leaving the car park a large airplane was preparing to land at nearby Heathrow giving us an amazing view. It was a bit surreal to see this example of modern life looming large over the 11th century castle, past and present colliding in a very obvious way.
One of the many planes that flew over Windsor Castle while we were there. (If you look closely you can see the Royal Standard flying above the round tower in photo below)
Don't let this building fool you the way it fooled me! It's a modern addition built sometime after the original burned down in 1930.
The Thames walking path in Windsor, right by where we parked.
Along the Thames in Windsor near where we parked our car.
Windsor was not what I was expecting. I thought it would be a quaint, preserved village with the castle on the outskirts but it is a busy little city with the castle right in the thick of it. I don't know how they sneak the Queen in and out without anyone noticing. There is obviously a private entrance round the back. The Queen is in residence at Windsor twice a year, at Easter and in June. We were there just a week before Easter, and were told that the Queen was in residence as evidenced by the Royal Standard flag flying above the round tower as opposed to the Union Jack. So, somewhere in the Royal Apartments, not far from where we were wandering, my social media friend Queen Elizabeth II was just hanging out. She was probably having tea and maybe checking up on my Instagram. Hey, Lilibet, hey!
Before we entered the castle grounds we wandered the town a little bit. The first order of business when we pulled into any town or village was to go in search of bathrooms. I will tell you, the public toilets just outside the Guildhall building were awesome and free. Not every public toilet was free in Britian. I have come across this in the States so I know it's not just a British thing but I certainly came across it more often in England than I ever have at home. There is a special kind of cruelty when you are desperate for the toilet and it requires payment of coins which you don't always have on you, in fact I nearly had an embarrassing story for you all in the city of York. Fortunately as I mentioned, the public toilet just outside the Windsor Guildhall was free. It also contained an old fashioned scale which did require payment and looked cool. On a sidenote I stumbled upon the website The Great British Public Toilet Map, how brilliant is that? That will prove very useful on our next trip. Um, also the website Pee Place- you're welcome.
Construction on the present guildhall began in 1687 by Sir Thomas Fitz but was taken over upon his death by Sir Christopher Wren, he of St. Paul's Cathedral fame. Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles got married at the Windsor Guildhall in 2005 thrusting it into the spotlight and out of the shadow of the neighboring Windsor Castle, but of course I didn't know that as we walked passed it. I just liked the statues.
Walking on the High Street, looking at the covered corn market of the Windsor Guildhall
Photo: Close up of the covered corn market area. The statue of Queen Anne was added in 1707 when she was crowned queen. On the other side of the corn market is a statue of her husband, Prince George of Denmark. The white sign just above the yellow cone is the sign pointing to the Gentleman's bathroom below ground. In fact that gent has just come from it.
After taking care of business we sauntered down part of the Queen's Walkway, paid the expensive entrance fee at the admission centre, bought our official souvenir guide book, and picked up our pre-recorded self guided tour. This was our last castle of the trip and I was determined to make the most of it. The grounds of Windsor Castle are extensive. It's like a small village unto itself. About 160 people live on the 25 acres that Windsor Castle encompasses. Work began on the castle in 1070 by William the Conqueror (hey there 27th Great Grandpa!) as a defensive structure but became a royal residence with state apartments and royal quarters by the 12th century under King Henry I. The Round Tower that we see today was built under the direction of Henry II in 1170, and enhanced under the reign of George IV in the 1820's.
Walking down the Queen's Walkway towards Windsor Castle.
1887 Statue of Queen Victoria in what used to be the market place on Castle Hill.
Visitor entrance to Windsor.
Statue of King Charles II which stands in the Quadrangle.
St. George's Gate
It's amazing to think of all that this structure has borne witness to, centuries of both strife and peace; monarch after monarch, civil war, World Wars, and a modern destructive fire that almost stole away priceless treasures from future generations. While it has been altered over the years the main integrity has been kept and the original Norman buildings and touches are preserved and respected. Personally sometimes I find it hard to grasp the actual history and age of things when I'm looking at it, especially if there are a lot of people around. Intellectually I know what I'm seeing but it just seems too big to comprehend. I have laid my hands on 2000 year old fortress walls in Ireland, sat in a 1st century temple in Rome, and literally walked the same stone pathways as my 11th century ancestors, so when I found myself staring at the Norman Gate built by medieval hands it didn't totally register with me. But, what did register was the beauty of the garden on the hill next to it, the sounds of the boots of the guards on parade, and my fellow observers who were just as overwhelmed and delighted as me.
Guards with the Moat Garden and Round Tower in the background.
The Moat Garden and the Norman Gate to the left.
Our first stop after wandering the Middle Ward were the State Apartments and Queen Mary's Dolls' House. The line is often quite long for this but lucky for us the weather was quite nice at this point, so we weren't miserable. The view along the North Terrace is beautiful. It overlooks the River Thames and on this day we were regaled with beautiful birds circling and swooping. It was quite the display. I tried to get video of it but they were too fast and darted out of the shot making a shaky video. I did get a beautiful still shot though. It looks as though it is some kind of bird of prey- (most likely an osprey).
Guards marching passed up while we queued up on the North Terrace.
Exit of the State Apartments with the initials of Elizabeth I.
We entered the State Apartments up a short staircase into a dim room. This is where my memory fails me, as we saw so much while inside and no photos were allowed. I rely heavily on photos to jar my memory and since there are none to refer back to from this part of the day I only remember snippets. Forgive me if you've been to Windsor Castle and I get the order wrong. I remember very little about Queen Mary's Dolls' House, other than the fact that it has running water and electricity and was very opulent for such a little thing. You're always shuffled quickly through exhibits like this while on tours- they want to keep the line moving which I completely understand, but the rushed pace doesn't give you much time to actually take things in. We were fortunate to be in England during the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death and there is currently a special exhibit in the Royal Library of works collected by the royal family and things relating to Shakespeare. It was quite crowded in this part of the castle and was difficult to look at every item on display. The one piece that sticks out in my mind was a drawing by Queen Victoria inspired by a Shakespeare play. It was a lovely pencil sketch, delicate and well done. Gazing on this drawing connected me far more to Victoria than just seeing her signature on an official document. Here, was something that she felt compelled to do and had the passion to do- it was a little window into the real woman and not the monarch.
After touring the China Museum, which was chock a block with the overly ornate, far too pretty to be practical sets of fine bone china, we found ourselves at the foot of the Grand Staircase. This is truly beautiful, but let me fast forward to the two places that really struck me and are still very vivid in my memory: St George's Hall and the Lantern Lobby. The current St. George's Hall was created for George IV out of two adjacent spaces which were merged and combined into one long space. The reason this room stands out for me is the ceiling. Between the modern hammer-beam roof (which was built using Medieval techniques in 1992 after the original was completely destroyed by a fire) you'll find the coats of arms of all of the Knights of the Garter since it's foundation in 1348. Occasionally you'll see a blank one in the midst of the colorful ones, these used to be painted, but are now the erased arms of those "degraded" Knights who were expelled from the order for various reasons. This room was truly stunning to be in.
The Lantern Lobby stands out for me because of its unusual shape and size but mostly because it houses a suit of armor worn by Henry VIII. I have seen a set of his armor at the Tower of London, so this is not my first brush with Henry and his exaggerated metal codpiece, but it's placement in the Lantern Lobby allows you to get up quite close and personal. Known for his girth later in life, the armor (made around 1540) is quite impressive, but I was struck once again by the fact that while his size might have been out of place in the 16th century he'd be right at home in the 21st century. At approximately 6'1" he weighed around 300lbs at the time his last set of armor was made, which of course isn't small but also isn't as grossly large as he's sometimes made out to be. I just love to see history this close up, portraits can do the job but there's nothing like a tangible connection to a historical figure. I consider myself very lucky to have been able to view pieces like this in person.
When you exit the State Apartments you find yourself looking at the Quadrangel and the Queen's personal apartments. This is located behind a fence, with no public access- especially while we were there as the Queen was in residence in her private apartments. We had our photo taken with the Quadrangle in the background, took photos for our fellow tourists and then made our way to the Lower Ward. I thought we had saved the best for last. I was really looking forward to seeing St. George's Chapel. So many monarchs are buried in the Chapel and that is what I came to see. The final resting places of Henry VIII, Edward VII, the Queen Mum, and the spectacular Albert Memorial Chapel were all on my list. I'm sure you can imagine my great disappointment to find that the chapel was closed! We didn't realize that the chapel is closed to visitors on Sundays! I'm not sure I'll be returning to Windsor Castle so it was with real sadness that we walked away from the chapel that day, I would later console myself with ice cream because well, I eat my emotions.
View of the Quadrangle and the Queen's entrance (where the car is parked.) Since she was in residence she was in there somewhere.
Another view of the statue of King Charles II inside the Quadrangle.
Sitting in the Lower Ward with St. George's Chapel to the left, the Mary Tudor Tower on the right (now the home of the Govenor of the Military Knights) and the Round Tower in the background.
Photo: Young guard in the Lower Ward. I commented on how young he looked when I posted this photo on my instragram (@cheerupoldbean) and was told by a member of the British Army and Scots Guards that when the young men first join they have to go through public duties first and that is why they are so young. He did a great job with keeping a straight face and ignoring the tourists taking pictures.
We exited Windsor Casle via the King Henry VIII Gate in search of food, namely Cornish pasties, because well as I said I eat my feelings and also it was our last full day in England and most likely our last chance for a pasty. We found the tiny West Cornwall Pasty Company, a little chain with delicious, hot pasties. If you have been following along with my adventures you'll know that we ate Cornish pasties a lot on this trip, I don't regret this decision one bit, even though it meant we ignored other cuisines and healthy options- we're very unlikely to have them again until our next trip to the UK. San Luis actually had a Cornish pasty restaurant, but as luck would have it, it closed while we were in England. With bellies full of comfort food we wandered the pedestrian shopping streets of Windsor, popping into expensive store after store. We went into a department store called Daniel which was incredibly posh- the kind of place where all you can afford is a pair of socks, which I almost purchased just to have a bag with my husband's name on it. I surreptitiously took a photo of the women's hat section (Millinery)- it was spectacular; color coded fascinators, cloches, pill box, wide brim, you name it, they had it. I seriously wanted to get a fascinator as a souvenir but when you see a sign that says you must have help with the hats and cannot touch them without a salesperson I knew I was out of my depth and beyond my budget.
Duchess of Cambridge pub
The Harte and Garter Hotel and The Tower Bar and Brasserie
The Horse and Groom pub. I just love that sign!
We wandered the Windsor Royal Shopping centre and came upon a steel drum band, Sussex Steel- a charity providing musical opportunities for youths- playing on the Community Stage as part of the Windsor Festival. We stayed a few minutes and enjoyed the vibrant music. It was nice to see so much going on in the town of Windsor, it was bustling. It was a good mix of tourists and locals and we felt very welcome.
Bicycles, phone boxes and trains! Windsor and Eton Central, opened in 1849 is attached to the Windsor Royal Shopping.
Before setting off for our hotel and admitting that our time was coming to a close, we took a detour to Eton. This was our version of digging our nails into the soil, trying to hang on tightly so we couldn't be forced to leave. You might ask me, if we love it so much why don't we move there? My answer: If it wasn't so complicated financially we would do it in a heartbeat. I sincerely believe it will happen at some point in the future even if it's after we retire. Daniel is often homesick and I am such an Anglophile that the topic comes up frequently. If we ever win the lottery the first thing we're doing is buying 2 first class one way tickets to London.
But I digress... Eton is a maze of narrow streets, Houses, and Schools tightly knit together. Eton was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI and is a full boarding school for boys, meaning the boys live on the campus full time in Houses much like Harry Potter. The uniform of Eton is called "Eton Dress" and it's black tailcoat, waistcoat, and pinstriped trousers are probably only known outside of the U.K., because of Princes William and Harry, who both attended. We didn't see any students in the "Eton Dress" and I was on the look out. Perhaps they don't have to wear the uniform on Sundays? In fact, there really wasn't anyone out and about, we only saw a handful of boys. There were cars behind us so we couldn't be looky-loos, nor could be find a place to park so Eton was a bit of a blur. I got one photo of a staff member in a very snappy looking suit while we were driving through the college, but that seems to have been accidentally deleted, much to my disappointment! The only photo that remains was taken just after you leave the school grounds. We got stuck behind a horse drawn carriage and I was able to get a photo of it as it veered off the main road and down a path. That my friends is Eton in a nutshell. It smells of wealth and aristocracy and hopefully intelligence. The boys being educated behind those stone walls are the future of Britain. 19 British Prime Ministers are Old Etonians (alumni), countless influential writers, notable scientists, members of the royal family, Nobel prize winners... the list is long.
We left Eton in our rear view and reluctantly drove to our hotel at Heathrow Airport where we flew out the next morning. Our very last hotel was by far the most expensive but also the most modern and luxurious. I would stay at the Sheraton Skyline again in a heartbeat. It was ultra convenient, being located within view of the airport terminals and incredibly comfortable. It was the perfect place to stay our last night. We ate sandwiches and giant Dairy Milk chocolate bars, drank copious amounts of milky tea, and packed our bags. We always spend the last night of our trips just hanging out in our hotel room. We like to re-group and prepare ourselves for the long travel day ahead. I have a fear of flying so I get massive anxiety the night before a flight, staying in helps me calm myself. I also feel that when you stay at pricey hotels you should get as much out of them as you can.
This is what greeted us as we walked into our room. Posh or what? Even the television knew my name!
View of the indoor pool from our room. Next time I vacation I need to remember to bring a bathing suit regardless of season!
We couldn't leave England without one more bit of drama. When it came time on the day of our departure to return our rental car it was utter chaos. We used Avis which is located directly in Terminal 5, the terminal used by Britsh Airways. While it was incredibly convenient when we landed we had a hell of a time trying to figure out how to get back to it to return the car. The signs and roadway system at Heathrow are incredibly confusing. Often times we'd only find out at the last minute that we were in the wrong lane and had to watch with longing as our destination would get further and further away. It took us an age and some panicked tearful moments on my part before we finally ended up where we needed to be. I kid you not, that rental car almost ended up abandoned in a field near the airport, I shudder to think of the trouble we would have been in for that one. Our flight home was uneventful and pleasant. God bless British Airways, for they had the entire Violator album available on their system. Depeche Mode sang me home and eased my sadness at leaving dear Old Blighty behind.
We're preparing for another road trip this year. No planes, passports, or rental cars involved in this next one, it'll be a road trip of the traditional kind. We'll be packing the cooler, plugging in the iPod, and hitting the open road. I'm all set to chronical this next adventure with the promise of more photos, more food, and some hiking sticks. England might be all wrapped up but another adventure awaits us and I can not wait to answer the call!
*for videos of the marching guards at Windsor and of Sussex Steel steel drum band head to Cheer Up Old Bean's Facebook page. (Www.facebook.com/cheerupoldbean )