Thursday, May 27, 2010

Spring Break in London (Part III)

We almost talked ourselves out of visiting Windsor Castle, thinking it was a little out of the way, as it's not located in London. What a mistake that would have been, as it turned out to be quite easy and relatively inexpensive to get there by train, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. In fact, I would venture to say that Windsor Castle was the highlight of our vacation, at least for my husband and me.

We'd just gotten off the train here and took a quick photo of the castle walls, which can be seen rising above the other buildings.

The train pulled up to this wonderful area full of shops and eateries. We stopped for cups of hot cocoa and coffee before heading to the castle.

We left the shopping area and began to walk outside toward the castle.

Wow! The castle walls were literally right there! It was amazing to think that we were about to visit the grounds of the place built by William the Conqueror over 1000 years ago.

The town of Windsor is quaint and quite appealing.

We were told Windsor Castle is the largest inhabited castle in the world, and also the oldest in continuous occupation. It's one of the principal official residences of the British Monarch.

This aerial view of Windsor Castle shows the awesome size. I've read that the castle's floor space measures 484,000 sq ft. Hmmm... I suppose I could fit my belongings in a castle that size, how about you?

The boys finish up their hot cocoa while waiting for Dad to come back with our tickets to tour the castle grounds.

This is one of the entrances to the castle grounds.

These crowns sit atop every lamp post surrounding the castle.

We arrived just in time to watch these gentlemen march by, looking all royal and official.

We decided to spring for the audio portion of the self-guided tour, and the boys, particularly M, thought it was very cool.

The boys were anxious for the tour to get underway.

The tour started and we headed toward the entrance (not the same one I mentioned earlier).

This is the Round Tower, which divides the castle into two distinct sections, the lower ward (home to St.George's Chapel), and the upper ward, where the Royal Apartments and more formal state rooms are located.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, it seems odd to see history mixing with the modern world. Here we were visiting this very old castle and yet there were cars parked within the walls. These are cars of the folks who work inside the castle.

We went inside the castle right about here and toured an art exhibit and several rooms, as well as Queen Mary's doll house, which is amazing. Photos were not permitted inside the castle.

These are the grounds outside the castle walls.

This is the upper ward where visitors are not allowed.

If you look closely, you can see an armed guard standing post near a doorway. We were told Her Royal Highness, The Queen was on the premises that day, so perhaps this guard was on duty as a result of her being there. It sounds like a plausible explanation, so I'm going with it.

Here's another one of those things that struck me as somehow odd. We were looking at the upper ward and taking photos of this beautiful historical structure, and at the same time, an airplane was flying in the distance. I couldn't help but wonder what former royal monarchs would have thought about airplanes.

I don't really know what part of the castle this is; I just thought it was a cool view.

I liked this view as it shows just how high the castle walls are.

The flag flying atop Round Tower is the royal flag, which is supposed to indicate the Queen is on the premises. We were told the British flag flies on days when the Queen is elsewhere. That somehow seems like a breach of safety, don't you think?

This is St. George's Chapel, where King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, the king's favorite of his six wives, are entombed.

Of course this was a must-have photo while in England, right?

At the end of our tour we visited the gift shop and bought a couple of postcards and Christmas ornaments, something we like to do when we visit a new place. We walked around the little town of Windsor, had some fish & chips and then made our way back to the train station. What an awesome day!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Spring Break in London (Part II)

Sorry it's been a few days between posts. We've been busy prepping our house for this week's pack-out. Even though we don't leave Spain until July, our household goods will be shipped ahead of time, in hopes of it all arriving in the States by the time we get there. Anyway, here are more photos and commentary from our London trip...

The boys goof off in the lobby of this tour company as we wait on our guide to take us on a walking tour of the grounds surrounding Buckingham Palace as well as watch the Changing of the Guard.

This, friends, is Barry, our very eccentric tour guide.

I think Barry enjoyed carrying his tour sign. I think it gave him a real sense of power whilst walking among the common folk awaiting the Changing of the Guard. And I'll tell you what else it must have given him... ENERGY! The man wasn't letting any grass grow under him.

Police on horseback were monitoring the crowds and preparing the way for the Guard.

Wow! It was so impressive to watch these men ride by.

This is where Prince Charles and Lady Diana once lived with their sons, William and Harry.

I couldn't resist snapping a quick photo of these policemen wearing their "bobby hats." Those are so very English, aren't they?

We saw several groups of men marching by, some with instruments, others with weapons. The uniforms were a little different too. I'm not really sure who was who.

Here the boys pose in front of Buckingham Palace.

These hats were cool, but they look very hot, don't they? And my head itches just looking at them.

We had a little taste of home by having lunch at TGIFridays. We continued our taste of home kick with dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. We were told London's Hard Rock is the very first one of these establishments. All I know is the burger was very tasty, but the music was incredibly, mind-numbingly loud! Geez, I'm getting old.

And get a load of this... We were on our way to dinner, just getting ready to leave the Underground tunnel, when we ran right smack into friends who were also vacationing in London. Who would have thought in a city the size of London that we'd run into another soul we know. It's such a small world, isn't it? We visited the Tower of London the following day, and ran into the same friends again. No, I'm not kidding.

By the way, the Tower of London was quite interesting. The Tower has served as a fortress, a royal palace, a prison, a place of execution and torture, an armory, a treasury, a zoo, the Royal Mint, a public records office, an observatory, and since 1303, the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.

This is Simon, a Yeomen Warder (a.k.a. "Beefeaters"), who conducted our tour of the Tower of London. Yeomen Warders are ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. They've served at the Tower since 1485, and they have traditionally been responsible for looking after any prisoners at the Tower and safeguarding the British crown jewels, but in practice they act as tour guides. Simon was quite entertaining and sarcastic, which I totally appreciate. ☺

Special Yeomen Warders are responsible for the care of the ravens, which are housed within Tower grounds. Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the White Tower, the monarchy, and the entire kingdom would fall. I guess they'd better take good care of the birds, huh?

I found it amazing that we were standing on the walls of a centuries-old castle, and could look across the street and see all of these modern buildings. Strange!

It was so intriguing to me that within these walls so many people lived, were imprisoned and many executed, including Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey. Man, the British have quite a bloody history!

We visited the Sherlock Holmes Museum, and M was very shocked to learn that Sherlock Holmes is a fictitious character. We thought he knew that all along.

The museum is actually a house that once belonged to an older gentleman. They do a pretty good job of making it look authentic for the period. Here we have to wait to be allowed upstairs to take a peek at Sherlock's personal quarters. They have a guard standing post.

The boys had seen the recent Sherlock Holmes movie, so going the museum was all the more fun for them, as you can see.

Both boys had the opportunity to sit in Sherlock's chair while chatting it up with Dr. Watson. ☺

No words necessary.

These are tiled walls in the Underground close to the Sherlock Holmes museum. We thought these were cool tiles.

Uh... excuse me, M... didn't know you were busy.

Our boys have fun wherever they go.

Stay tuned for recaps on our visit to Windsor Castle, a couple of museums and our unplanned mini-cruise... I have to get back to organizing for our move. The packers come in 2 days, and there's still a lot to do. I'm sure you have things to do as well, so run along. I'll be back in a jiffy. Cheerio!