Tuesday, 31 May 2011

From Windsor to London

We were first in the queue at Windsor Castle which was quite something given the numbers of people and tour buses that arrived shortly afterwards, literally 100's. Security was tight with all bags going through the x-ray machines. We had given ourselves a tight timeframe as we needed to get the rental car back to Gatwick in the early afternoon. 

As you would probably expect Windsor Castle is in pristine condition and absolutely spotless. Liz had obviously retreated there after Obama’s visit this week as the flag was flying high. The attractions at the castle are all very well set up to cope with the throngs of people that visit. Wonderful audio commentaries are available to give you more insight into many of the things to view and admire there. Windsor is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world and was established by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. Over the many years it has been successively redecorated, enlarged and rebuilt by monarchs. The Queen had to rebuild several rooms when there was a fire several years ago now...the annus horribilis year.
We were also first into Queen Mary's dollhouse and the State Apartments.  The Queen Mary's dollhouse is a masterpiece in miniature. It took three years to complete and involved 1,500 craftsmen. The house has electric lighting, hot and cold running water and we were told even the loos flush! Very cute. The State Apartments have richly decorated interiors and are lavishly furnished with treasures in a display that would rival any art gallery in the world. The Queen spends most of her private weekends here and Windsor is said to be her favourite residence.......we didn't see her!

We did see the changing of the Guards at Windsor...quite an event of pomp and ceremony. Even though there seems to be much ritual we were reminded that the guards are fully trained soldiers ...not to be messed with. While we were able to take photos with them, they were not to be distracted.

There was much to see at Windsor including a special exhibition to mark the 90th birthday of Phil. (10th of June for those wishing to acknowledge it). It was an excellent display of memorabilia, photos, paintings etc. that illustrated his life, work and wide range of interests from photography to competitive horse drawn carriage racing (still at the age of 79!)

Equally amazing was St Georges Chapel which is within the Castle grounds and is used daily with a service held every evening. It has ten monarchs buried there including Henry VIII and Charles I and the dear old Queen Mother. The chapel also is the official church of the Order of the Garter the senior and oldest British Order of Chivalry, founded by Edward III in 1348. Crowns, Coronets and Crests have been placed above the Knights stalls (seats) in St Georges Chapel in Windsor Castle for over six centuries.  Much of the trimmings that go with this age old custom are on display in this magnificent building.

Like many of the things we have seen we could easily spend all day here but we were keen to get back to the car and avoid any penalties for not "paying and displaying". Signs about the penalties were abundant and it made us just a tad anxious. We set off for Gatwick and as we were making good time decided to call in at Hampton to see Hilary - where I am staying for 5 days after Brent leaves and before I go on the tour. It was lovely to see her and good for Brent to meet her and see where I would be staying. It was a flying visit and with the GPS set for Avis- Gatwick we were off down the M25.

GPS lady delivered us safely to the long term car parking at Gatwick airport. By the time we knew we were in the wrong place it was too late and we were forced to take a ticket and proceed in. We stopped to ask a bus driver who was out of his empty bus having a smoke for some directions. I swear he was the rudest person I have met in Britain. We eventually found way out to the car parking customer service office who were more than helpful and gave us a get out of the car park for free card.....Phew, it was looking like an expensive mistake for us  for a little while. Meanwhile back at Avis we were about to find out just how expensive it was to be. All the mucking around with the car parking incident meant we were late returning the car by just over an hour and they wanted to charge us for another days rental, another days insurance , and another days GPS!!! I had to walk away while Brent dealt with that one! He succeeded!

Back on the train to London with the correct ticket in our hand (this time) we were disappointed that at our destination there were no inspectors and had to show it to nobody! We were off to stay in Islington with Brent's sister Linda and her partner James for the night. We negotiated the tube to Kings Cross with ease being old hands at this now. It can be quite addictive getting on the Underground but we choose to walk where we can over ground as you get to see heaps more...and there is always a heap to see! We had a lovely night with Linda and James having not seen them for 7 or so years so there was much to catch up on. They took us to their favourite cheap and cheerful a short walk from their home. It was called Chili Cool and Brent suggested that Chili Cool was an oxymoron but Linda corrected him and said it was just a cool place to be seen! We left the ordering to the experts and were not disappointed.

We walked back home by the canal looking at the numerous canal boats moored apparently illegally. Canal boats can only really be a British invention, some of them are 20 metres long and two and half metres wide...like living in a squashed caravan on water.

We met the local wildlife as Linda and James have befriended a blackbird (Dave) that they feed worms to all too frequently as he is well rounded. He comes right up to their back door while the squirrel sits on the fence with his tail fluffed up protecting himself from the wind. Meanwhile the pigeons get the cold shoulder!

We visited the magnificent British Museum. A huge building that you could spend literally days in and still have more to see. Dotted throughout the museum they have stations where staff have a few interesting exhibits and they allow you to have a "hands on" experience. There is nothing like being able to hold a sharpened flint used as a cutting instrument (because of lack of cutlery at that time) that was 350,000 years old. Phew, that is old. The museum has many fine exhibits including the Rosetta Stone (which I knew little about until now- ignorance is bliss) and controversial treasures like the bits (Elgin Marbles) they plundered from Greece from the Parthenon no less. In the New Acropolis Museum they have left a space for its return sending Britain a strong message while in the British Museum they have on display their justification why they cannot be returned! An on-going debate.

We have moved on to Marylebone for our last two nights in London. We went and did a little bit of shopping in Oxford Street tonight ......shops are amazing and people everywhere. In one rather "the warehouse" type store I asked a salesgirl if they were having a sale to which she politely replied ...this is normal. It was a madhouse. They would have had at least 10 operators on each checkout and we saw four checkouts over 2 floors and a queue of at least 50 in each queue ...hence my question.

We finished up by watching the  first half of the European Soccer Cup Final - Manchester and Barcelona  in Nike Town ( so big could have been a city) on their huge TV screen and cheered along with the others there showing our allegiance to both sides! When you don't know who to cheer for anyone will do.!

We have had some wonderful accommodation throughout our trip so far so we had to luck out sometime.  This is it. The internet photos I saw when I booked do not tell the whole story. At the time of booking I remember the difficulty I had with these two dates. I now know this was because of "Bank Holiday" weekend- a long weekend. It is so noisy it is unbelievable. In the short space of an hour there have been constant sirens, car alarms, howling tom cats, crashing and slamming doors,  noisy adjourning tenants (  Soccer Cup Final  does not help)smashing glass  and neighbours arguing. The sad thing is that while this is not top dollar accommodation it is more than what we would pay at home and more than  most places we have stayed on this trip that were far superior. I guess we will just accept it and be grateful that we did so well up until now. We will be busy again over the next two days and will hopefully sleep through anything :)

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