Sunday, January 4, 2009

Windsor Castle

Our time in London was incredible - London is a truly amazing city - but our plans often ran into snags. On the day we arrived (Saturday), we discovered both London Underground stops near our hostel were closed for the weekend. This made any trek to and from the hostel a much, much longer bus ride. The very first meal we intended to eat was foiled when our handpicked Moe's-like burrito place was closed - despite no warning on its website. (This was to be the start of persistent trouble throughout the week with eating, which included unannounced holiday hours, closure for private functions, and a restaurant owner simply not showing up for work on time.) Laura and I also battled flu-like symptoms (Laura much worse than I) throughout the week. Much of this came to a head on Monday, our most discombobulated day of the trip.

That day, Laura woke up feeling particularly sick. However, we had plans to travel by bus between the popular but not particularly closely located triumvirate of sights Winchester, Stonehenge, and Bath, so Laura soldiered on. When we arrived at the station, they had changed Winchester on our itinerary to Windsor Castle. This was the first curve ball - it's not cool to change the trip you paid for and not tell you until you arrive - but actually worked out well because we both wanted to see Windsor Castle anyway.

So we took the bus trip to Windsor Castle, during which Laura fought valiantly not to vomit on anyone around her. After arriving victorious (read: Laura still had her stomach contents intact) and marching with the group through security and into the castle, we were all told to be promptly back at the bus at 12:55.

But let's pause the story for a moment for some pictures we took of beautiful Windsor Castle. The castle's site high on a hill was originally chosen by William the Conqueror in the late 11th century for its strategic value. The original structure has been rebuilt and extended by monarchs ever since and has been continuously inhabited for nearly 1000 years. Today it is one of several residences for the royal family and Queen Elizabeth spends many weekends there.

We only had time to look briefly at the grounds, the State Apartments, and St. George's Chapel. The State Apartments are some general use areas and the home of many fantastic paintings. St. George's Chapel (completed in the 16th century) serves as both a place of worship and royal mausoleum.

A view of the castle walls as approached from the town below.

Laura on the way to the State Apartments.

Another part of the castle, The Round Tower, isn't actually round and is surrounded by a moat.

More of Windsor Castle.

Matt in front of a very picturesque entryway.

St. George's Chapel

Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed inside, so to get an idea of the castle interior, you'll have to visit the official site. I personally loved the interior because it conformed to the images of castles that are popularly propagated in fairy tales and in the movies, with swords, guns, armor, and coats of arms on prominent display, references to knights abounding, magnificently appointed rooms, and great views.

Hopefully you see that Windsor Castle was fantastic ... but now back to the story. At about 20 minutes or so until we had to be back at the bus, we started the short walk through the town of Windsor to the bus lot. Laura wasn't feeling well (because of the aforementioned flu symptoms), and we were both hungry (our dinner the prior night was a single candy bar due to the aforementioned problems with restaurants being open). We stopped into a sandwich shop to get some grub for the road. The line was long and time started getting tight. Laura, being ever punctual, was adamantly in favor of abandoning the sandwiches and heading to the bus. I needed that sandwich in the worst way. I reasoned that if Laura went back to the bus at her own sickness-slowed pace, I could run to the bus after buying the sandwiches and still arrive on time, or at least nearly on time. So Laura went on to the bus and I waited in line for sandwiches.

After checking out, I had about a minute to get to the buses at 12:55. This wasn't enough time, but I certainly wasn't going to be very late. So all was basically well - or at least it should have been - because after leaving the sandwich shop in the direction of the buses, I realized I had no idea where I was going. I looked for signs for "tourist buses" or "bus parking," but to no avail. I looked for streams of tourists coming or going from a particular direction, also with no luck. So like a bouncing pinball, I ran full speed through town, stopping to ask five different people in total if they could direct me to the tourist buses. The first, as luck would have it, gave me a completely incorrect answer, which I gladly followed in the wrong direction. Answers then gradually got better from there, and all told it took me about 15 minutes to actually get to the bus lot. The bus, of course, was gone and I found Laura waiting nearby with a stern look on her face. This was not my finest hour. Lucky for me, there was a silver lining for Laura - missing the bus meant she didn't have to spend the rest of the day cramped together with strangers trying to keep her insides inside.

So when we should have been on the way to Stonehenge, we instead made our way back to the hostel. When we would have been seeing Bath, Laura was recovering via a nap and I was writing blog entries. And as for the sandwiches...they weren't even very good.

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