Friday, July 26, 2013

Loving England- Part 3 Windsor Castle!

 One of our four days in England, we decided to get out of London and visit Windsor Castle. It's an easy train ride of about 45 minutes. You can leave from Waterloo Station and they can sell you a pass to the castle and a train ticket all in one there.

You arrive at a darling train depot that looks like something out of Thomas the Train. If you walk out and across the street you see Windsor Castle right ahead of you. It's an easy walk uphill of about 10 minutes along the high street of Windsor to the castle entrance.

Walking up the High Street toward the castle.
Almost there...
 Getting there early is nice and we hooked up with one of the tour guides or Wardens they have free of charge. He was funny and we learned so much about Windsor built in 1066 by William the Conquerer. The castle is actually a fortress with towers, chapels and a village inside it.

Inside the walls.

Looking towards Eton College Chapel from the castle.

Windsor is the oldest and largest inhabited royal castle in the world and has been lived in by kings and queens for over one thousand years. The Queen still spends her private weekends here as well as a month at Easter and in June. When The Queen is in residence the flag called The Royal Standard is flown.

On a tour you can see the state apartments where the queen still holds many state dinners. The entrance is pretty impressive it's about 3 stories tall of swords, shields and suits of armor. You can also visit Queen Mary's Doll House built in the 1920's. It's a small mansion complete with authentic details of the time including electricity, hot and cold running water and flushing toilets!

Looking toward The Queen's apartments in the center above. This area is gated off and not part of the tour...

We also got the free headsets as well since the tour with the Wardens only last 30 minutes.

The doors have so much history and details. The hinges and the pulls alone and the sheer width of some amazed me. 

 The castle is immense and opulent  inside and it is hard to tell where the horrible fire from 1992 did damage. You do go in the state dining room and hall where they show you how bad it was. You can also see how they tried to keep the original materials in the restoration by doing things like flipping parquet wood floor tiles over.

This is the moat made of chalk. It never actually could hold water and has become a garden of sorts.

You can see the changing of the guard if you are here early. . .

To me the highlight of Windsor was St George's Chapel. It was built in the 1400s and is the prettiest, fragile and most beautiful church. Absolutely lovely with it's gorgeous glass windows. I wish I could have been able to take photos. Inside St George's, they are also restoring Prince Albert's Chapel built by Queen Victoria, which is even more fragile and you can only peer at through ropes.

St George's Chapel outside and below.

 St George's is home to the Order of the Garter, the oldest order of British chivalry established in 1348.  We just missed the procession where they do each year in June. Small school children were on a field trip the day we were there and we able to put on small garter robes and caps and parade around in the state dining room. It was cute. Nice how they introduce the tradition of all this when the kids are young here.

The Queen and the Duke at the Garter Ceremony.

One of the most interesting parts of the day was seeing The Quire (or choir) stalls of the Garter Knights. When one is given a knighthood a stall is provided and a personal plate is fixed to it's back and remains there forever. You see many old and elaborate plates as well as the knight's banners, crests and helmets. Plates from the 1400s are still there.

A plate above and banners and helmets below. Photos via

 My boys really loved reading the family names on the gold plates and the dates. Yes, this is also where the choir sits. 

These gorgeous red and gold doors predate the chapel and were from one built previously in 1240. They were kept and still stand today. I bought this postcard. They were even more impressive up close.

As you walk out of the castle walls you can notice little patios of what are Grace and Favor residences. These are occupied by members of The Queen's household, royals and war veterans and some of their widows. These apartments are rent free and are given indefinitely.

After a while some of us were running on empty and had enough of the castle... 

Back out on the streets of Windsor, there were heaps of British charm, restaurants and shops.

 My boys are always thrilled by Pizza Express so we found one right on the High Street. 

Sodas were in order. We needed a bit of sugar. English Fanta has no artificial colors as they are banned there and according to the kids tastes much better without it. No day-glo orange. Why can't we do that in the U.S.?

Windsor has many great shops and a large outdoor mall with many restaurants and a terrific sweet shop. These are located within walking distance to the castle. It's a wonderful spot to stay the day. If you have a bit longer, Eton is quite close. There are also some very nice spots along the Thames to have a bite. Our only regret is we didn't get to Windsor Great Park in front of the castle.. Just not enough energy left in my crew. Hopefully next time!

If your not completely sick of England, I have one more U.K. post coming!

Thanks everyone for reading and all your comments!


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jolly Old England Part II

A few more snaps and things from our London part of our trip..

On our first day out we decided to do Westminster Abbey which we have never managed to make it to on our previous trips. It was gorgeous and once inside you are blown away by the size of it. I had no idea how many famous Brits as well as kings and queens are buried here. The individual chapels are quite beautiful. The current church was built in the 1200's and it is thrilling to see something so old that has survived so much. 

Doors were amazingly beautiful.

The guys waiting to get in.

The front. Sorry there was no snapping this without people.

Lots of these guys if you look around!

I think what makes these kind of spots come alive is the stories that go along with it. Make sure you get a headset or a tour guide. You will hear why each nook and cranny has a story and it's fascinating.

So lovely. No photos inside of course.

From here we walked to some of the parks and about. Do you know there is another palace in London? We walked right past St James Palace. It was where William and Harry lived with their father Prince Charles for some time. Now it is home to Princess Anne as well as Beatrice and Eugenie in London. Funny about London, you are wandering about and there you are at another palace...

It was the first royal palace and former home to the monarchs before Buckingham Palace was built.

Nearby, we walked through St James Park.

It's smaller than Hyde Park, but quite lovely and has some very nice gardens.

 The view from the park looking straight at Buckingham Palace. You can spy it in the middle there.

We also spent some time in Hyde Park. It's 630 acres and is divided by the Serpentine.


Hyde Park is so huge you could wander for days and never see it all. I loved the big open spaces.  London has these park chairs you can rent, but they always appeared to be empty when we were there. It was cool June weather though. Such a thoughtful thing. You could just bring your picnic and it's already there for you. Keeps the parks looking a bit nicer, not so motley either.

Love the neat order of these chairs! Only in Britain!

The Princess Diana Memorial Playground is wonderful and fun to just wander through with it's brambles and secret paths.

There is a wonderful pirate ship that my boys are now a bit old for, but my youngest still loved the swings.

Even my husband had fun trying to figure out some of the games. As you can see there are separate little hideaways that have small games to try in each. A child behind him is on a spinning one.

My  personal favorite part is the Serpentine and waterside cafes.

This is the view from another cafe there. 

You can sit here and have a drink or a snack and rent or watch the paddle boats.

More stylish Londoners.

The Princess Diana Memorial Fountain nearby, is a large oval - fun to follow along on a warm day.

There is an art installation you can climb right now by the Serpentine Gallery.

 This part of the park is Kensington gardens I think.

Looking toward Kensington Palace, Kate and Will's new home under renovations.

Londoners really come here to chill at the end of the day. I like how this gentleman brought his novel and found a stump. I noticed others brought the newspaper and found a chair. It's a real gathering spot after work in the summer and the park stays open until midnight!

At the end of the day many Londoners also head to their local pub. The pub is really more a neighborhood gathering spot and so many are wonderful restaurants as well.

I love the colorful baskets of flowers that decorate almost all the pubs.

I also adore the national summertime drink which is Pimm's cup! Seems everywhere you go, monument, castle or pub you can get it. It's a very lightly alcoholic drink. It's very like an ice tea and jammed full of cucumber, fruit and mint if you get a good one.

I have made a few of my own jugs at home by the pool and they have been very well received! I like that they don't have much alcohol, which is nice in summer.

As you can see I enjoyed a few of those.

We particularly liked this gastro-pub, The Grazing Goat. Pub food has really gotten better since I was here last.

One thing that always surprises is the many places to eat outdoors in England. Even thought their weather is usually not great it's almost always an option to dine outside. That is so different than here in California where outdoor eating is harder to find. Crazy given the weather differences.

I hope I haven't droned on too long about London, but I wanted to share all the details. Tomorrow's post will be on our day trip to Windsor and The Victoria and Albert Museum. Later I'll share some about our stops in Belgium, Holland and Germany, which I promise are a lot shorter!

Thanks for reading!