Day 7: Windsor Castle & Downtown London at Night

Below is the seventh journal entry recording the events of the trip Carolyn and I took to England and France in July of 2006:

Monday, July 24, 2006 London, England

Today was one of the most interesting days we’ve had so far. We took the train this morning to Windsor, where we toured Windsor Castle. They had a free hand-held audio tour guide, which was very helpful. The castle is still an active residence of the queen; she spends weekends and holiday there. Like the other two castles we’ve visited–Warwick and the Tower of London–it was begun by William the Conqueror.

Windsor Castle was very different from the others in another way, too: it got us much closer to the kings and queens of England’s history. We visited the state rooms, which were incredible. Even the movies couldn’t do it justice: fancy, decorative, historical swords, shields, guns, artwork, uniforms, crowns–all elegantly displayed. The fanciest chandeliers I’ve ever seen decorated all the rooms, and the whole place could’ve doubled as an art museum–it had the personal, private collections of kings and queens. The state apartments had personal items that had belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte. There was also the morbid display of the bullet that killed Admiral Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Oh, before I forget–we saw an amazing doll house that belonged to Queen Mary. There was also an exhibit of artwork and photography, the highlight of which was several drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, including a sketch of the apostle Philip which was his practice (so to speak) for his famous Last Supper painting. It was so cool to see these up close! He had a drawing of a nude male, and there was a quote with him saying that you have to be modest when portraying male parts, or else you end up with “a sack of nuts rather than a human figure.” There were also some very interesting photos of Queen Elizabeth II from babyhood through this year. Oh yeah, Carolyn leaned on a display case and set off the alarm. It was pretty funny.

We went through the state room of Charles II, complete with his artwork, which had been his father’s. There were old paintings (done in person with the subjects present) of many monarchs. It was really interesting to see in these pictures the family resemblance of James I, Charles I, and Charles II. There were also paintings of Charles II from early childhood on, and it was like looking at photos of someone as they grew up.

We saw Charles II’s queen’s receiving chambers, complete with her painted on the ceiling.

One of the most impressive parts were the rooms dealing with the Knights of the Order of the Garter. They were plastered with shields, armor, coats-of-arms, and a commemorative throne/chair in honor of Edward III founding the charter in 1350. It was from the early 19th century. This is a room where the queen has fancy state banquets. This is also the area of the castle damaged by a fire 14 years ago. We saw the room where the queen officially knights people into the order. One thing that was kind of funny was a suit of armor worn by Henry VIII when he started getting fat, and you could tell its wearer was pudgy–the breastplate had a big gut! The armor dates from 1540.

We watched the changing of the guard, which was pretty cool.

Then we visited St. George’s Chapel, which was absolutely fascinating–by far the most ornate place I’ve ever seen. It was begun in 1475 by Edward IV and finished 53 years later in the reign of Henry VII, in 1528. We saw here the tombs of kings and queens, including Elizabeth II’s parents, King George VI & Elizabeth. We saw the burial sites of Edward IV (reigned 1461-83), Henry VIII, Jane Seymour (one of his wives), and Charles I. These last three were all marked on a stone placed there in 1837 by William IV. We also saw there the tombs of Henry VI (1422-71), as well as Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

It was pretty interesting getting to see the tomb of Giles Tomson, one of the scholars who translated the King James Version of the Bible. Also on display there were a first edition of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan from 1651 and a book from 1529 that was owned by Henry VIII’s first wife, Katharine of Aragon.

As we were leaving the chapel, we saw a pair of red wooden doors that the queen uses when she visits the chapel–they date from 1240! Also on the way out was an old porch with part of a painting on a wall–a face from the 13th century, which they think might be Henry III. There were also extremely elaborate tombs in a marble room for the son and grandson of Queen Victoria.

A couple oddities: the gift shop (where we bought several souvenirs and gifts) sold a set of stuffed ornaments, consisting of Henry VIII and all six of his wives. Also, directly across the street from this amazing medieval castle is, of all things, a McDonald’s.

We walked the streets of Windsor and bought several more gifts and souvenirs. Then we had lunch at a pub called the Highlander, where we sat outside on a rather bumpy cobblestone street.

After some yummy ice cream, we took the train back to Waterloo and brought the Tube back to our room. We took a bathroom break, dropped off the stuff we bought and my carrying bag, and took the Underground to Westminster.

We took pictures of Westminster Cathedral and then headed east toward the river. We saw (from the outside) Westminster Abbey, the clock tower with Big Ben, and Parliament. Impressive buildings! We also saw there a small church where John Milton worshiped.

We crossed the Westminster Bridge and got tickets for the London Eye, which is like a giant slow motion Ferris wheel. I don’t remember exactly how high it goes, but it was high enough to see beyond London in every direction. At one point, I looked out across the river and could see Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and Hyde Park all at once, barely having to even move my eyes at all. It was great! I can’t even describe the view from up there as the sun began its descent in the west. It was one of many moments during this trip where I’ve been struck with the realization that I am having the experience of a lifetime on this vacation!

After we got back on the ground, we walked east along the Thames River as night settled onto the city. It was amazing. The city skyline and the flowing river were stunning, beautiful–and the people were very interesting. There were lots of street performers along the river walkway: a costumed girl singing and playing a portable piano, a violin-bassoon duet, several guitarists, and our favorite: a guy dressed like a silver-gray statue–totally decked out in this solid color from the hat on his head to the platform he stood on. He stood perfectly still, somehow not even blinking. He was completely motionless until someone dropped money in his cup, at which point he moved in a mechanical-mannequin-like way to shake their hand and pose for a picture with them. It was very impressive and entertaining. We’d never seen anything like it! The guy was really good at it. Further on there was another guy doing the same thing, but he looked like a gold statue. He followed us with his eyes as we walked by–it was pretty funny! Both of them were dressed like 16th-century dudes, complete with fancy goatees. There was some lady doing something similar to these two guys, but we couldn’t tell what she was supposed to be–she didn’t look like a statue, she just looked weird.

We had a really enjoyable walk up the river, with a great view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, designed by Christopher Wren, lit up against the night sky. We passed a busy skateboarding area, which was pretty cool, and lots of restaurants. Finally we came to the Globe Theatre, which is an exact replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, even near the site where the original theatre burned down. We went inside to get some brochures, but I don’t think we’ll make it to a show. It was really neat, though.

We crossed the Millennium Bridge over the Thames River, not too far parallel to the Tower Bridge, stopping for a little while just to enjoy the incredible view and the cool night breeze.

Finally we took the Tube back to the Waterloo Station, where we again shopped for dinner food at Simply Food. I got a cheese and tomato sandwich with some smoked salmon to put on it, and two pints of milk. Carolyn got what she said was the best vanilla yogurt she’s ever had, some lemonade, and a Caesar Chicken Wrap. Our train was delayed, so it was about midnight by the time we alighted at Swiss Cottage and arrived back here at 37 Belsize Road. Now it’s really late!

Published in: on June 5, 2007 at 8:50 am  Leave a Comment  

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