Castles and Other English Delights
It is 10:53 am. We are on the Thameslink train to Windsor Castle. The Thameslink is similar to a subway, but upgraded by one level. The seats face each other like a train and some seats have a table between them. The seats are more comfortable and the ride is swift. We left ‘home’ over an hour ago. The buses and tubes seem to be getting more and more spread apart, making connections difficult. Fortunately or unfortunately, the only time clock we have ticking away is our London Pass, limited to six consecutive days total. The clock is ticking and the sights are waiting. I am growing impatient with the commute for the day. The Thameslink will only take us to Slough and we will have to take yet another train to Windsor/Eaton station.
Finally at 11:45 am we arrive at Windsor. After walking through the modern shopping plaza that now houses the station, Windsor wakes up the senses and has been worth the wait. The town of Windsor is like stepping back into time. The buildings that house shops and restaurants look like yesteryear. The architecture is typical Tudor England with the warmth and charm that one longs to see when visiting this country, but is absent in London. It would not be surprising to see a woman wringing out the wash in a bucket on the street or a many in 17th century garb shouting the days news in the street. It is charming and quaint.
Down the road from the castle is Eaton University, one of the most famous in the world. The tops of the university buildings peak over the trees and can be viewed from the castle grounds. Windsor castle looks like every school child fantasizes a medieval castle to look like. There are turrets and towers all around the grounds. With a little imagination, one can still see the sentries pacing back and forth on the tower walls keeping a sharp eye for enemy invaders or friends of the royal residents and determining the difference with skills that could cost them their life.
This is the longest inhabited castle in the world, dating back 900 years. This is the castle that had the destructive fire in 1992. It destroyed many rooms and treasures that are irreplaceable. It has been reconstructed to as close to authentic as possible, but some paintings, furniture, and other works of art are gone forever. What has been replaced has been done with excellent workmanship. What is still original and authentic is marvelous and awe inspiring. Some of the fabrics, like some silks would have cost too much to weave at today’s prices, so other tapestries were used in its place.
Queen Elizabeth lives here during the month of April and the first week of June for the initiation and celebration of the Order of the Garter. An early king started the Order and I am sorry I cannot remember which one, to show an honor for one who has done something exceptional for England. There are only 19 of them at any one time.
The castle, in one room, houses Queen Mary’s dollhouse. This was a gift to Queen Mary and was created on the scale of 1:12. It is an exact replica of the castle at the time that she lived there. It was an exceptional piece in that it had electricity and all of the lights work, plus all of the bathrooms and kitchen sinks have running water. It took 1,500 workers three years to build it. Queen Mary, put it on display for a small fee to earn money for the many charities that she sponsored.
Protocol called for the king and the queen to have separate bedrooms and private quarters. We were able to tour both areas. Each of them had not only their bedrooms, but each had rooms for their staff, for audiences, waiting rooms for those waiting for an audience, and a room for the guards who protected their welfare. The king’s apartment had two staircases. He as well as the other royals or people of high distinction used one and the other was for everyone else. The royal staircase has magnificent murals painted on the walls, while the other staircase was plainly adorned. The walls of the king’s guard’s room are covered with weapons that were available for use if the need arose. The question that arose in my mind, but never had an opportunity to ask anyone is, when Victoria was on the throne as Elizabeth now, does the Queen use the smaller queen’s apartment or does she use the kings? If she uses the kings, does the Prince Consort use the queen’s apartment or does he have another apartment?
St. George’s Chapel was a wonderful gothic chapel with more famous people from history buried there. It is light and airy. When we went in, the choir was practicing and they did sound like a chorus of angels. The queen attends church here when she is in residence.
The more I learn about royalty, the more questions I have. Where does a Lady in Waiting come from? Are they waiting for something or just waiting on the queen? Are they demi-royalty or can any woman get the job? How old are they before they retire? How much time does the queen have to just relax or does she have someone around her all of the time. We know the Prince Consort had private times. I wonder if the queen had other aspirations about what she wanted to do with her life when she was growing up? Was she close to her sister or did she hold over her head that she was going to be queen and Margaret was only going to be a princess her whole life. Do you think Margaret ever gets tired of seeing her sister’s face and name on everything? The list goes on. Inquiring minds, especially mine want to know.
As we were standing in the court grounds, jets were flying overhead at the rate of about one plane every three minutes. From where we stood, it looked like the jets were being slingshot from out of one of the towers. It was a mind-bending mix of the old and the new. With the entire number of cut backs in airline schedules, it was curious how many jets were in the air at this time. It would be a stretch to imagine how the skies looked prior to September 11th.
After a three hour tour of the castle, my ankles were the size of a couple of pork roasts. It was a perfect excuse for an afternoon tea break. Down one street a block from the castle, a café had outdoor table, which gave a perfect view of the castle. We had creamed tea. Neither of us has ever heard of this before and we were not sure what to expect. We were served a pot of regular tea, two soda biscuits, a small pot of whipped butter, a pot of red jelly, and a pot of very thick whipped cream. The whipped cream was about three whips away from being butter. We surmised that we were to spread butter or the cream on the biscuits and then shower that with the jam. If that is not the custom, we may have started a new fad that originated from “those Americans”.
Right next door to the tea shop was a pub named the Nell Gwynn’s Pub. The teashop attendant explained to us that she was King Charles II’s favorite paramour. He had a tunnel built from under the castle to where the pub is now. At the time, that was her home. He reportedly had 19 female friends, but she was his favorite.
By this time, it is 3:30 pm and too late to get to another tour spot. We still need to take the train from Windsor to Slough and then another into the heart of London. It did not help that we took the wrong tube as we were heading to the half price ticket kiosk and so we wound up taking four tubes instead of two. We were in time to get two tickets for half price to the play Chicago. With time to spare we ran off to the internet café to check mail and send off the last parts of this hopefully, long running series.
When we arrived at the theater where Chicago is playing, we thought we were early. We were in for a surprise as they were already seating. This play is not about the singing group of the 70’s, but rather about the city. Well, at least it takes place in Chicago, but the real story is about women who murdered their men. No, this was not another version of the London Dungeon. The play is a musical with excellent music, creative choreography, and excellent talent. The play was funny, fresh and not at all maudlin. The sound system was excellent and it made us think that perhaps the Starlight Express needs to check their equipment. We had no problem with any of the dialogue or lyrics. The rare times we $7.00 for a movie, which we end of hating, I am filled with regret and swear I will never do it again. The same goes for plays. However, we had paid full price for this play, I would have not had any remorse. It was worth the money for twice the price, but thankfully, we did not have to pay that.
To top the day off, we stopped at the Duchess of Windsor pub for a pint of ale before taking the tube to Victoria station, and then changing tube lines and taking the tube to Brixton, where we picked up a bus to get home. This commuting is tough work. I don’t know how some do it everyday for work. Since our B & B is out of the way, our days are long. We leave here by 10:00 am and don’t get back until 11:30 or later at night. Next time we will find somewhere closer to the town center so that afternoon naps are possible. Boy, do I miss them.