A day tour in England - Windsor Castle
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller
The weather forecast was unambiguous. They predicted a fairly clear day, with rain towards evening, but can you ever really say with the English Weather? Early morning sunshine greeted me so the weathermen had probably not been all wrong. Armed with hope (and a raincoat), I set off, quite early, for Victoria Bus Station. Changing trains on the Underground had become quite easy by now, but why take a chance? It was the first time I saw early morning London. Faint grey blue sky, roads still wet from the previous day’s rain, the corner Costcutter already up and selling fresh baguettes, almost empty trains with a few bleary eyed early shift white collar executives sipping their customary coffee concoction from paper cups, and catching up with the world in general on their Blackberry’s. It beats rush hour London anytime.
The Evan Evan’s bus tour was due to leave at 9 am from the Victoria Bus Station. After disembarking at the Victoria Station, I was unsure in which direction I was supposed to go. It was all marked on the map, road signs were in place but it took me some time to go across the street to get to bus station. Maybe I was high on the London air or maybe still not fully awake (it was the early shift after all). A cup of Hot Chocolate was all it took to drive out the dreamy haze. The station was an enclosed glass building with clean, functional, but nowhere-near-new chairs, an almost empty newspaper stand, fully serviceable ticket counters, an eclectic (or just plain touristy) crowd milling about, yawning, but brimming with anticipation. The 8 am sunrays were slowly peeking in through the large windows. The station serves as a bus stop for multiple tour operators, and it being a weekday, I assumed the rush was lesser than normal. That said the turnover was quite fast. Frightening English efficiency can be good at times.
All bundled up in the bus by 8.45 am, our tour guide, a middle aged dainty lady introduced herself and the bus captain. By then excitement had set in. The tour group was mostly comprised of American families, few local tourists, even lesser Indians and other Europeans. I am uncomfortable to admit I didn’t make any acquaintances; I was in my own reverie. The journey out of London took its own sweet time; it was rush hour, and shops were opening up in Kensington. Despite the (heavy) congestion tax on cars in City limits, the sheer number of cars is unbelievable. Once out on the highway, we were headed for our first destination, Windsor Castle, the Queen’s Official Residence and home to the Royal Family for some 900 years.
The first ever memory I have of Windsor Castle is a documentary I had seen on National Geographic about the 1992 fire at the Windsor Castle which destroyed over a hundred state rooms. [At the time, I wasn’t much into English anything, but for some reason I saw the entire documentary]. When our tour guide started regaling us with the story of the Castle, the documentary came rushing back. I couldn’t wait to get there.
Windsor castle is located in Windsor in the English county of Berkshire – about an hour’s drive from London. The Castle dominates the skyline as you near the town and is visible from the highway. The castle fulfilled every fantasy I have had about castles from the time of Cinderella. The sun kissed pinkish hued towers were peeking out of autumnal trees. The bus was parked some distance from the castle (obviously castles don’t accommodate parking lots unless you consider horse stables and were arriving on a horse carriage), and the kilometre walk to the castle through the former railway station (and now resembling a mini mall) and part of the town of Windsor had me feeling just a little bit like Cinderella. I was walking through a Disney’s fairy tale (except maybe for the airport style security checks, Wi-Fi Hotspots, and the constant hum of the aircrafts landing at Heathrow)
On the agenda were State Apartments, castle grounds, the fourteenth-century St. George's Chapel, and if we were lucky, the 11 am changing of the guards. There’s also the Queen Mary's Dolls' House at the Windsor Castle, but then I’d have to give up the tour of the State Apartments to go see it. In fact Windsor Castle is worth a day’s visit. They even offer headsets with commentary for all the tourist attractions within the castle grounds. The State Apartments which are still used for State occasions and Royal receptions were a mélange of striking colours. Surprisingly enough, an LCD TV was playing a tape of a dinner the Queen had hosted for our own President – Smt Pratibha Patil. The series of rooms are comprised of ornate chairs, ornamental lamps, beautiful portraits, rich tapestries and carpeted floor and every room tells you a different story (if you listen carefully). They have also marked the place where the fire had first started in 1992, from one of the spotlights being used for some renovation work. The St George’s Chapel is a stately 15th century church which has been the site of many royal weddings and the burial place of 10 of England’s monarchs.
We were lucky enough to see the changing of the Guard (in part due to the fact they had blocked the only exit until the parade was over). After the one at Buckingham Palace, this one was more intimate, and I could hear the commands more clearly. Then there’s the souvenir shop (naturally) selling all royal memorabilia. The grounds are worth a visit. The scenic backdrop bestows you with views of the winding River Thames and the quieter town of Eton- also known for Britain’s most famous (most expensive too) public school.
Our guide had told us to pick up our lunch from the railway station cum mini mall. No hot food allowed (one of my complaints about the food, I can’t stand those fridge cold sandwiches), so I settled for sparkling water (a.k.a soda, but I did not know that before) and rich chocolate brownie (I certainly don’t mind the chocolate overdose). Our next destination was Bath in Sommerset, UK.
*[This post is the first part and an account of my experience with a group tour. It's also my second version of a very english day out]