May 9, 2011 Monday
We woke up early as usual and got ready for the day. By this time, Maiko and I were getting used to having breakfast and preparing for the day in our cramped quarters.
The Premium Tours bus usually picked us up 15 minutes late so we decided not to bother getting to the pick up point earlier than 7:15am. But when we arrived at the Holiday Inn at exactly 7am, we found Alan (our previous tour guide) and a few others already there.
It figures. The one day we decide not to come early is the day the tour bus shows up way before the scheduled time.
The van picked up its usual round of passengers with relative ease. We arrived at the Victoria Coach Station too early, and the van wasn’t allowed to go inside the station just yet. Alan had to lead us from the street corner toward the Coach Station.
Once inside, Maiko and I quickly found seats at our assigned gate and waited for our tour guide to arrive. 8:30 am rolled around and a tour guide announced that all those who were going to Windsor Castle for the half-day tour (that meant us) and all those who would be going on the Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath tours would be on the same bus.
He explained that if we were on the half-day tour, we could stay in Windsor Castle until 12nn, when another Premium Tours coach would pick us up and drop us off in London. The rest of the group would have to meet up earlier at 11:10am so they could hurry off to their next stop.
The tour guide had to check our names on his list to make sure we were on the right tour. Our conversation went something like this:
Tour guide: “And what is your name?”
Tour guide: “Yes this bus is going to Windsor Castle.”
Me: “I know.”
Tour guide: “So what’s your name?”
Tour guide: (Looking at the list and finally getting it) Oh, Windsor—and you’re going to Windsor Castle.
Me: (Thinking how being Asian and sharing the same surname as the Queen of England isn’t as helpful when you’re in London)Yup.
We piled into the bus and the seat Maiko and I picked happened to be right in front of a toilet. I had never been in an overnight bus so I was fascinated by the cubicle in front of me. It sank down to the very floor of the bus and had a sink on top for washing hands—which was at the level of the rest of the seats.
The trip went by very quickly—probably because I was asleep most of the time. I did wake up enjoy the scenery Runnymede, however.
The bus dropped us off at a parking lot, and we followed the tour guide up some steps to the train station, through the Windsor shopping complex and out into town.
Windsor shopping complex
town surrounding Windsor Castle
The sight of Windsor Castle took my breath away. I couldn’t help but grin, knowing I shared its name.
Since we were entering a living castle—and the Queen’s residence, at that, we had to go through a security check. We waited in line with other tour groups. Our guide passed maps and tickets while we were queued. Finally after half an hour, we passed through the security scanners and walked out into the courtyard.
There was a long line at the shop that rented out audioguides, so Maiko and I decided we wouldn’t waste time and we hurried into the castle grounds.
Windsor Castle occupies more than 13 acres of land—this includes the castle itself, and the small town surrounding it.
Windsor Castle is also the oldest and largest working castle in the world. Its history dates back to almost 1000 years. Many royals have lived and died in the Castle over the centuries. And the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, uses the castle as her weekend residence.
Since we only had two hours, we only saw a small part of what the castle had to offer.
It didn’t help that we were following a big tour group from India (called the Flamingo tour) most of the way. They occupied most of the castle’s pathways so we couldn’t really see much until they had passed.
We finally veered off and climbed some stone steps to get away from the Flamingos.
We discovered a relatively quiet area of the castle in front of the Upper Ward.
We also found a postal box set into the castle walls. We were so happy because we’ve been looking for one to mail our postcards from. And we can say that our postcards were mailed from Windsor Castle!
Mailing postcards from Windsor Castle
After touring the grounds for a short time, Maiko and I went to the North side of the castle and joined a line to get into the palace itself.
Cameras weren’t really allowed use in some parts within the palace, so we had to content ourselves with just soaking in all the sights.
We got to see the Magnificent State Apartments, which housed the Royal Collection. Centuries of armors, swords, and even guns were on display in various rooms, as well as other countries’ gifts to the British Kings. From one of the windows, we even managed to watch the changing of the guards.
The Drawings Gallery always features an exhibition, and the exhibit we got to see was called “Prince Phillip: Celebrating Ninety Years”. We got to see photographs and memorabilia from the Prince’s early life in the British Royal Navy, as well as his life as Prince Consort to Queen Elizabeth. We also got to see some drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci.
I discovered that Prince Phillip was an artist—and at the end of the tour I got to see a couple of his paintings displayed on the wall.
Maiko and I also got to see Queen Mary’s Dollhouse.
The Dollhouse is guaranteed to make every little girl drool. I would advise parents not to take their little girls there unless they are prepared to launch a major time-consuming and money-sucking dollhouse project.
I never much played with dolls when I was little, but I was still impressed with the magnitude and detail of the dollhouse.
Enclosed in a protective glass case, the Dollhouse was over three feet tall and contained miniature scale models of prevailing period (1924-1925 when the Dollhouse was made).
The carpets, curtains and furniture are all copies of the real things and even the light fixtures work. Apparently, even the miniature bathrooms are fully plumbed—and the toilets actually flush. They even have mini toilet papers!
The tour within the castle lasted about an hour and a half. We would have liked to have one of those audio guides to find out more about the castle’s history and its rooms, but we didn’t have the time to get one.
Besides, we were getting annoyed at the people who had audio guides because they would be so lost in what they were hearing they didn’t realize they were blocking pathways and stalling the tour.
When Maiko and I headed back outside, we encountered a slight downpour of rain. We took this as an opportunity to see a little bit inside St. George’s Chapel on our way out of the castle.
It’s one of the most beautiful churches in England and the burial place of 10 monarchs. We got to see the tombs of King George the V and his wife Mary. They were made famous in the Oscar winning movie The King’s Speech. In the Quire, we got to walk on the vaults where King Henry VIII and Jane Seymor were buried.
The rain had stopped by the time we had finished our quick tour. Outside the castle walls, we stopped to take pictures of the town. We entered a few shops and looked around for souvenirs—though none caught our fancy.
Maiko got a kick out of taking pictures of me everywhere the word “Windsor” could be found.
Eventually, we headed into the shopping complex toward the train station. Maiko found a cute toy soldier outside one of the shops and decided she wanted a picture with it.
We saw a small shop selling tons of magnets so we stopped to look at a few.
I was looking through the magnets from stand and trying to pick out what to buy, when a clueless (and quite insensitive) teenage tourist decided she wanted to get magnets too.
It was pretty obvious that I was choosing magnets on the other side of the stand but she didn’t seem to care. She kept on rotating the stand to pick out her own magnets. At one point I held the magnet stand steady just so I could get the magnet I wanted, but the annoying person didn’t get the message and kept trying to rotate the stand.
I eventually gave up and went inside the shop. Thankfully there were more options there.
After buying our souvenirs, Maiko dropped by Caffe Nero to buy a cup of coffee and some Danish.
Then we headed back to the parking lot where a coach waited to take us back to London.
The tour guide/driver tried to give a running commentary of the different views we passed, but the van was small and the windows even smaller so we didn’t really get to see much of what he was pointing out.
We got a bit confused when the driver said he would be dropping off the people at Harrod’s and then heading straight for Victoria Coach Station. I had paid for a fish and chip lunch along with the half-day tour, so I was worried that we wouldn’t have it after all.
We spoke with the driver and found out that most of the people in the half-day tour had opted for tea at Harrods instead of a fish & chip lunch at a local English pub. So Maiko and I were the only ones who were dropped off at St. George’s Tavern in London.
Before leaving the coach driver asked if our morning tour guide had given us vouchers for our lunch, and we said no. He was nice enough to accompany us into the pub and talk to the manager about our situation. He gave the manager the tour company’s card and told him to call if there were any problems. Then he wished us a good day and left.
The manager/server was a jolly man and he sat us right down and gave us the menu. Maiko and I both ordered a fish & chip lunch as we had been looking forward to it the whole day.
Fish & Chips
Once our ordered was delivered, Maiko finally realized that the green stuff she had seen on other fish & chip plates were mushy peas—and not guacamole.
We enjoyed our hearty lunch, and then headed for the Victoria tube station.
The next stop was the Tower of London, and it was where I would meet a former student of mine, whom I hadn’t seen in seven years.
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