26 February 2013

wednesday walkabout--visiting the Windsors

Yes, again, my walkabout is not on Wednesday.  Neither is this really off my London-to-do list as I had to catch a bus out of town.  But it's one of those things I decided I simply had to do and today was the best day to go and visit...

So I got up early and caught the bus 1hr 20min out of London to the town of Windsor.  I strolled a little while drinking a hot chai latte on this freezing morning while I waited for the castle to open to visitors.  But I saw a quaint little street, a crooked house (not quite so obvious in my photo but compare it to the straight monument out the front) and cleverly painted phone booth the Duchess of Cambridge was using (not the baby carriage behind her).

When the time came, I collected my ticket and made my way in to visit the Windsors.  Ok so I didn't actually see them but the Royal Standard flag was flying overhead indicating HRH Queen Elizabeth II was home.  I was within 1000 metres probably and it was fun to look around and across to the royal quarters and know she was there somewhere.

 Windsor Castle is huge.  In fact, it's the largest inhabited castle in the world and the oldest consistently used castle in Europe.  That's pretty impressive in itself.  I quite liked this castle though you couldn't really take it in one view.  Not from where I roamed anyway.  Maybe from a neighbouring hill you could.  It's not really one massive monument of a building but more a series of buildings, all ancient and beautifully crafted.  I liked the main stone work though I was trying to figure out why.  Maybe the not quite clean cut stones with darker mortar.  It was quite impressive.  My ticket included an audio guide on which Wills welcomed me to the castle and the other voices fed me loads of information, most of which was interesting.  Above you can see the entrance gate into the main castle area and peaking through the gate, across the quadrangle to the state apartments.

Below are pictures I took as I followed the audio directions around the inside wall.  The smartly designed archers' windows with excellent manoeuvrability and maximum protection (Windsor Castle was originally designed as a fortress), the lovely 'moat' and a mix of the ancient and modern.  Around 500 people live and work in the castle.  I'm sure there's loads to do though all I saw working were the guides, shopkeepers and a couple guards that stand and do mostly nothing but an occasional march.

I followed on with viewing all the open areas beginning with Queen Mary's Doll House.  It's truly exquisite.  Built in the 1920s to a scale of 1:12 it is three feet tall and filled with contributions of the finest work from a variety of artists and craftsmen.  It has amazing detail and even has a lockhouse with miniature crown jewels.  With superb talent and to my amusement, it was also fitted with electricity and fully functioning plumbing.  Not ever used as a dolls house it's really more a miniature display. Fascinating to see; maids rooms, housekeeper's room, day nursery and all the regal rooms.

I then went through the Art Display which features the Queen in the current exhibition, "Portraits of a Monarch". There's some really great photography in there.  Then I went through the state apartments.  Every room was impressive.  The detail in these buildings is astonishing.  So intricate.  Everything was really grand in glorious rich colours and lots of gold.  The Hall of Guards, or whatever it's called, was decorated impressively with loads of weapons.  I think there was audio mention of it once being like that to make the weapons accessible in case of an attack.  There's also now grand showcase cupboards full of weapons and armour and crown from all over the world.  Some gifts, some taken, loads look like pieces of art!  Fascinating.  Also on display was a small banner presented to the queen for 2013.  You see, apparently the people who live at Blenheim Palace (or the associated houses or something) pay a rent of one banner for the year.  That's my kind of rent payment!  I took my time wandering through the visitor route.  Each room had so much to see.  I always look up when I enter rooms like these as I'm intrigued by how much detail and artistry goes into the ceilings.  And the fun part was that a lot of these rooms are still functioning.  Like the grand hall that is super long where the Queen hosts state dinners and many special guests have dined that fits one long table seating 140!  There's not a lot I can justifiably say about the staterooms and since there's a 'no photography' rule you'll simply have to visit yourself if you're in the neighbourhood.

I wandered back into the cold and down the hill to St George's Chapel.  Another extraordinarily detailed building that gives an immediate feeling of impressiveness and grandeur.  Still in regular use it's these kind of churches where you can more easily imagine and focus on the greatness and regal side of God.  A God who deserves respect and honour and worship.  My favourite part of this building, however, was the huge grates at the back of the main chapel area that blew hot air up into the spacious building.  I was surprised no one else joined me, walking around them without thinking.  Suckers.  I lingered quite a while thawing my toes and enjoying the bliss of warmth.  I took a quick look around the lower ward and the interesting horseshoe something-or-other which is a bunch of accommodation that was built in the 1400s and still lived in today.  I did actually see people moving about daily life and also noticed a few mailboxes about the castle.  It's like a village inside the walls.

 After my visit to Windsor Castle--which was well worth it--I ate lunch at Pizza Express enjoying my delicious dough balls starter I got free with a voucher plus my completely filling main dish which was like pizza toppings wrapped in a pizza base.  Delicious.  And now to finish my day I need to skidaddle off to the Criterion Theatre at Piccadilly Circus to see "39 Steps".  Bravo!

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