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Erinb's London Trip Report...

Old Oct 27th, 2003, 01:52 AM
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Erinb's London Trip Report...

Hi everyone,

Just got back from our wonderful trip to London. I was not able to take the time to post live reports again because we did not have a convenient internet access and honestly we were just too busy! But I did keep good notes, so I could write this later. bbWhat a great, but not uneventful time we had and (sigh) it is all over too quickly. How could 10 days go by so fast, it seems we had been planning forever, then whoosh! It?s gone by us!


London Trip Report,
Day 1
Wed/Thu Oct 15/16,2003

We began our trip on Wed, Oct 15th, flying out of Raliegh/Durham on the American Airlines 174 leaving at 6:30pm. I was traveling with a good friend of mine, Penny, whom I have traveled with several times in the last 10 years and she makes a great travel companion. The flight was great, and fast! Coach was only about ? full so we were able to grab an empty row and stretch out most of the flight. A little tip, go online the night before if you are flying AA. You can check the seating arrangement for available seats and know ahead of time which ones have not been taken, I got on the plane and immediately staked out the row next to us that had not shown as sold yet, and that held up so I had that end of the row to myself to stretch out during the flight. I have to say that even with that capability, I still would like to know the name of the man/women who invented those retractable armrests. I want to shoot him/her, I want to mangle them or slow torture them, actually. They don?t fully retract so you keep bumping either your head, your arm, or your body against it. They are pure torture, and it?s only fitting that the designer go through something equally tortureous. If anyone ever finds out who they are, please let me know, I know a voodoo queen in New Orleans that will be glad to put a hex on them for me.

As for the rest of the flight, it was a smooth ride and before we knew it, we were in London! It has been over two years and I was just so excited, I was jumping out of my skin. We got to the airport and collected our luggage, passed thru customs and headed first thing to the ATM machines (1). Both of us took out our 1st installment of cash. I would like to mention that something happened at this machine that would cause me problems later in the trip, but I did not realize it at the time. In the middle of my transaction, the machine went down. It took a minute or two and then I had to start over, but I was ultimately sucessful in getting my cash and didn?t think anything about it. We headed to the Gatwick Express counter to purchase two return tickets for about 20 pds each (2). The return was left open ended and could be used anytime within 30 days.

Finding the train, Gatwick Express was easy, just follow the signs. We only had to wait about 5 minutes for the next train, then we boarded in a very comfortable 2nd class and waited about 10 minutes and we were off. A food cart came thru and offered lite snacks and drinks for a price. The trip took about 20 minutes and then we arrived at Victoria Station. Since we were going to be in London for 9 days and our London Visitor Travelcard only covered 7 days, we decided to purchase day passes to be used on the metro that first day. Cost 5.25 pds each.(3) We proceeded to take the Circle Line from Victoria to the Gloucester station (pronounced Glous-ter not Glou-ces- ter).

For those of you carrying luggage, both Penny and I had one suitcase and one carryon each. Our suitcases both weighed less than 40 pds. The Gatwick express came in on the same level as the airline, no stairs to or from the airline to the train, but there was an extremely long walk to the lobby. At Victoria we had to go down one or two flights of stairs to get to the underground. At Gloucester station, the train comes in right below the exit of the station, no long walks underground, but we had 3 sets of stair levels to climb up to that exit with our luggage. (Mine was heavier and I just took it slow, but you know, I did not have to wait long before someone local offered and helped me to carry it up the steps. One minute I was struggling to pull it up the steps and then the next minute some brawny young british lad picked up the back end of my suitcase and we were whisked up the stairs. I could have kissed him, however he was already heading down the road. ) Once at the top of the steps, it was just a few steps thru the turnstyle and out of the station. It could not have been any easier access.

For the record, The Gloucester Station is amazing. It connects with the Circle and District lines and also has a lift that goes down and connects on another level with the Piccadilly line. These three connections at one station offer the traveler almost full access to most of London. I think the we had to change lines only three times during our whole trip.

We emerged from the metro station, to a beautiful fall day, in the mid 50?s, sun shining, wind blowing and turned the corner and there was our hotel, the Millennium Gloucester. You do not know how wonderful that was to see. (Our last trip we had to hike 10-12 blocks to and from the nearest metro station). We walked across the road and down about a ? of a block and into the building pass thru area and then into reception. We went ahead and registered and found out, as we thought, that we would not be able to check in until about 1pm. Since it was not yet even 9am, we asked if we could store our luggage and we were told yes, to see the concierge. This was fast and no problem. (4)

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Old Oct 27th, 2003, 01:54 AM
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Day Two or 1st day in London (or London here were are!)
Thursday, October 16th, 2003

We knew we would not be able to check in immediately and had planned our day accordingly. Both my friend and I were hungry and decided it was breakfast time first, as it was just around 9:00am. We walked ? block to Gloucester rd and there was DINO?S restaurant on the corner, just as our fodor?s friend had told us. (5). This would be one of the best recommendations we have gotten from the fodor?s board. They served a wonderful full english breakfast for about 5 pds and a nice continential breakfast for around 4 pds. Penny did the CB and I had the full and just hummed over the english bacon. I had forgotten that wonderful part. Some people think it is canadian bacon, but it isn?t. English bacon is kind of a mix between our american bacon and our american country ham. Very meaty and salty and has the most wonderful smokey flavor. As for the CB, the crousiannt and pastries were fresh and wonderul. We had breakfast here almost everyday and it was a wonderful way to start each day. In talking to one of the owners later, this restaurant DINO?S is a an italian family owned franchise. All the waiters and staff are usually part of the italians family that owns it and they all still spoke italian between themselves. They were not typical italian waiters and they were both warm, friendly and acommodating. For those on a budget, they served a wonderful lunch and dinner also. In my mind this restaurant was kind of the local corner diner, Italian style. This neighborhood would show that many of the local restaurants and shops have a wonderfully warm friendly atmosphere to them and I know I will select this area again in a heartbeat!

Our 1st day was jammed packed with things to do and Penny and I decided to plan to do most of our touristry things in the 1st 4 days. Many of the items on our lists were things we had planned to do our last couple of trips but had to put aside or canceled. We really wanted to make sure they were done this trip, so we planned tehm all first. For today?s iteniary, we had planned Kensington Palace and Gardens, the Organgery for lunch, check in the hotel, then St. Pauls for the afternoon, then dinner around 7 for an early night around 9pm.

After breakfast we headed out to the metro (to my glee was still just across the street), and took the tube to the High St. Kensington station. Our target was Kensington Palace and Gardens which was a few blocks away. We entered the lane that runs beside the park and the walkway to Kensington Palace and Gardens. I can not tell you how wonderful it was to see the park and how much it is being used. It was a beautiful fall day and the kids were out in their red sweater/grey school uniforms, adults were jogging or walking their dogs and college students were just loafing or reading their books. It was beautiful. We reached the entrance to the Palace and paid our 11.5 pds for the tour of the state apartments. The tour was great because it included two things, the dress collections of both QE II and Diana, Princess of Wales, and also the dress collection of the Victorian and Regency eras. I found both fascinating. What was not great about the Palace is something I always complain about famous buildings?lack of furniture so you can?t really get a feel of how people lived there. Most of the pieces are probably in the museums, not in the Palace and I found it to be the same at Versialles. It?s hard for me to visualize life at the Palace when all you see is art on the walls and rugs on the floors. (Windsor would be an exception to this the next day).

My thoughts on Kensington: the dress collections were absolutely wonderful, the palace also had a tailors and dressmakers collection and this was fascinating. The fabrics and stitching methods were very interesting to see and the needlepoint and sequin methods just beautiful. I can?t imagine having to do all that work by hand. QE II?S hat collection was quite stunning and funny to me! Her dressmaker also seemed to follow one central pattern in the 50?s and 60?s and this gave the young queen a very slim waistline, but an extremely busty appearance!

Diana?s dress collection, while beautiful, was also so poignant and sad to me. So young! Just so young to have died. I found two dresses to be my favorites, the midnight blue velvet and then the white with the rose sequin design. All of them were stunning, and had the designers name and date of 1st occasion.

We finished our tour thru the palace and of course hit the gift shop last, then went out and toured around the gardens. I can just imagine them in full bloom, and they still had, even in October, roses blooming along the fences and gates. Also the gardens overlook the park and the section of the park that was built for the world exhibition in 1900?? We finished our tour of Kensington Palace and made our way to the Orangery, were we would be having lunch. On our way we came across an older gentleman sitting on a bench and he was feeding the local squirrel population. I can not describe to you how tame they were and he of course had names for each of them. They would come up and sit on his chest or shoulder and he would feed them a peanut. They would take it and then another one would come and ask him for a peanut. He let me give one a peanut but told me not to pet them. (I would not have even tried?in my neck of the woods squirrels bite and Degas if you ever visit here, leave the squirrel gun at home?them boys are tame and will not be lunch for you!). This older gentleman had an absolutely wonderful smile on his face and he was so proud of his boy?s as he called them. Just watching him, you had to smile.

We moved on to the restaurant within the Palace gardens, which was called the Orangery. I remember hearing someone from the board saying that this was not worth it and it was overpriced. I couldn?t disagree more on that opinion. The restaurant is a light, airy with windows that are from ceiling to floor, kind of like an atrium or solarium would be in a garden. They overlooked the gardens and the park itself. They served many different dishes, but mostly soups and sandwiches and then desserts for teas that were out of this world. We decided to get a light lunch and then a dessert. Penny had a chicken salad sandwich with spring onions and I had a dish of the soup of the day which was crème of mushroom, served hot with bread. Penny had the chocolate torte and I had a slice of the lemon cheesecake with rasberry crème sauce. Both lunches were about 10 pds apiece. The sandwich was huge, as was the bowl of soup and neither of us could finish our generous portions. (Grin, we also wanted to save room for that dessert!). We ate lunch at a very relaxed pace and just enjoyed the food and view. If you do nothing but have tea here, you would get good value. The pastries looked wonderful and they do tea for a very reasonable price.

After hearing us talk, a very nice lady at the table next to us, Margaret from Atlanta, chimed in and said hello. She was in London with her husband who was there on business. Most of her days, she was by herself, then her and her hubby would have something to do in the evening. She talked about all the stuff she had done the last two weeks and what she had left to do. I could tell she had reached the point where she had done just about everything you could do on your own and was now craving either companionship or going home. We spent a few extra minutes just talking to her and enjoy the relaxing view. I somehow was able to word this with out offending her and she said that yes, she was really ready to go home. She also said that it might have been different if her husband had some of his days free, but she did not enjoy touring the sights alone. She was used to at least having a relative, children, or her husband. For her it wasn?t the same. I told her that my friend and I had come on this trip and planned several solo days, but I felt that we had the best of both worlds, being able to strike out on our own and also link up at the end of each day for dinner. Penny agreed.

We finally headed back out and decided to walk the long walk of the park and see it. In my three trips I had never walked through Hyde Park and it is spectacular, especially in it fall colour. We walked about half way and then sat for a few minutes to catch our breath. Then saw another extremely funny site. I would have paid a bundle to have brought my camera. This little old lady was walking what could only be described as extremely minititure poodles. (no bigger than spit we would say at home). They were confronted by a bobby and his huge black gelding. The poodles immediately went into protect and attack mode and stalked this horse down. It was hilarious seeing that horse backup at these tiny terrors. The bobby finally backup enough to turn around and ride away. The little old lady, just looked over her should at us with what could only be described as a devilishly gleeful smile. I couldn?t help but laugh. She nodded her head at me. We waited until she walked on by, and then Penny and I finished our walk thru the park and ended up at south kensington and caught the no 49 bus down gloucester rd toward our hotel. This gave us a chance to see what was on the road north of our hotel and that was just about everything you could need in a neighborhood. For those of you looking for a place that has everything for a long term stay, this area is prime. Gloucester Rd has it all, many pubs, restaurants, grocery, dry cleaning, laudromats, many fast food restaurants, every type of foreign cusine, from thai to indian, to italian, to american. We made it back to our hotel about 2pm and checked in.

Both Penny and I were given a single room each with a king size bed, hers in non smoking, mine in smoking. The rooms are huge in comparision to other rooms I have had in London or Paris. They were clean and very nicely placed. Penny?s was a little worn in the carpet, but other than that was very nice. Her room actually had a small seating area with a loveseat, while mine had just a desk and a seating chair next to the nightstand. Both had huge bathrooms with tub/shower. Both rooms came with trouser press, iron and board. We were worried about the lack of hair dryer until one of us opened the desk drawer and there it was plugged into the back of the drawer. Strange, until you used it and realized that it was a great place to dry your hair, sitting down in front of the mirror. Probably less electric shock accidents that way also. I had an opportunity to see a twin room and it was huge. If you are looking for a great hotel, in a great location this one was it. It had some wear because it is a conference hotel, but it looks like they are trying to maintain it. My floor had just had all the carpet replaced on it and Penny?s had all new wallpaper.

The hotel was great and we only had one problem throughtout the whole trip which I will mention later. The service was excellent for the most part, and housekeeping did a wonderful job each day. We could not have asked for a better hotel. I will tell everyone now, this is a 4 ? star hotel used by many as a conference hotel. The rates are normally very high, but because of my travel website agent connections I was able to obtain a special advertised rate of 55 pds per night per room for travel industry personnel. We snagged that rate and booked our trip last year, only to end up having to reschedule for this year. They were wonderful and honored that original special for us as long as we booked by the end of this October. Can you believe it, 55 pds per night for a 4 ? star hotel, Yeah!

Okay back to the rest of the day! We finished our day by heading back to the metro around 3:30pm and took the tube to St. Pauls. We exited via the St. Paul?s metro station (I think we had to change one line). We actually made a mistake and arrived about 15 mninutes too late for the last tour that let you go up the stairs to the top, so we had to be content with touring around the inside of the church just looking up. We decided to come back another day to try to make it to the top. It was still nice to see the inside of the church. For those of you thinking about going, they are in the midst of a 4 year outside renovation, so the scafolding is everywhere outside. The inside is okay though. We walked around the outside of this impressing church and both Penny and I commented on the lack of such wonderful structures in the states. You just do not see this type of building unless you are in the larger cities like NYC or Chicago, and even then, they have nothing like the detail of these older british buildings. We finished at St. Pauls and decided to head back to our hotel where I could crash for an hour or two and Penny could walk around a bit. We agreed to meet in the lobby for dinner at 7:30pm. She wanted to scout the area a little bit and find a phone card.

In my room, I unpacked everything and then took a much need nap. I am of the school that believes you stay up as long a you can, but if you just can?t there is nothing wrong with a short nap to help get you thru. I don?t sleep long, just about an hour and that helps me get over the initital jet lag. I then take a quick shower and change. By 7:30pm I was raring to go again and met Penny for dinner. We had made a decision to have dinner somewhere local and then walk the neighborhood. Penny had found her phone card and would need to phone her hubby at home by a certain time, so we found the nearest phone booth, on that same corner of our hotel, and the restaurant across from it was without a doubt the least british that you could have ever found! Yes, a Texas longhorn steakhouse, I kid you not. Penny and I both laughed and said ?Well why the hell not!? (Degas, baby?you would have been so proud of us!). It was a popping place let me tell you. They had british kereoke going with our country and western singers and mexican dishes on the menu. Penny had the chicken wraps and I had the beef fajita?s. We both had frozen marqueritas and sang with the locals doing the patsy cline?s ?stand by your man? It was quite an amazing feeling and surreal at the very least. Our waitress for the night was a young british girl named Tracey and we had a blast talking to her. She told us we ought to be ashamed?spending our 1st night in london in a local american restaurant. I looked at her and then swept my hand around and she said, ?well okay?so it was packed with local brits??I kept my mouth shut and bit my tongue to keep from laughing. We all laughed anyway. I can?t tell you how much fun it was to hear the locals trying to sing our older county and western and how funny it was to hear their british accents working around our country words.

We exited our restaurant and Penny made a short brief phone call home to let hubby know we had arrived and everything was okay and safe. 2nd tidbit, the phone card Penny bought cost her 5 pds for 100 minutes and is called Minutes for Peanuts. It was the real deal?she bought the one that worked for UK TO USA and there were no surcharges. She could have gotten one for 10 pds for 500 minutes if she wanted to. Even after calling her hubby 4 times (every 2 days) and her sister twice, she still had 15 minutes on the card when we left 9 days later. If you are looking for a great long distance card, you can find this at any local 24 hour convienence store.

After she phoned home, we headed toward Cromwell Rd and walked about 10 block west to my first british supermarket. I kid you not, in three trips I have never seen a supermarket in London and Penny found one while I was napping. We picked up all the things we would need for the rest of the trip, bottled water, quick snacks, personal stuff we forgot to pack etc. I also bought a form of epsom salt because I was already feeling the pain of the 1st day walking and knew that I would need it and use it well.

In walking back to the hotel, we noticed on Cromwell, and internet café, two pastry shops, a stationary, two indian cusine restaurants and just about every mom and pop business that you could want to find. I was amazed at this neighborhood. It was perfect!

We ended our day with an irish coffee for me in the bar, and penny had a pot of tea. We sat back and just talked about what we had done that day and the iteniery for the next day and agreed to start out early. By that time it was 11pm and I was ready for bed. We paid the bill and signed the reciept with our room number (mistake #2 to be discussed later), then headed to our rooms.

I am a late nighter, but let me tell you that I had no problem finding my pj?s and falling asleep that night. I did take about 10 minutes to soak in the epsom salts and treat my feet to a cold soak and treat any sore spots. So far there were none and that meant that I had picked a good pair of walking shoes. I will tell you later about which ones they were and how much they cost me. You will laugh!

A great 1st day, don?t you think?
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Old Oct 27th, 2003, 03:26 AM
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erinB, the great passion you display in your writing is wonderful. I'm pumped up and ready to fly myself! Super report - please continue in the same funny and informative manner. And, yes, I'm proud that you showed those stuffy Brits how to belt out some real COUNTRY songs!
 
Old Oct 27th, 2003, 05:23 AM
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Erin, you're right about Gloucester Road. It's my favorite place to stay in London. Dino's has an even bigger restaurant at the South Ken stop--got my best egg salad sandwich there once and I think it cost about 2GPB! My hubby likes their spaghetti.

Wish I'd realized you were staying at the Millenium, I'd have recommended you and your friend go to the pub in the Forum hotel (now the Holiday Inn) for a drink. THey have the best Irish coffees in town and the pub is truly "BRitish" in flavor.

Let's hear more...
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Old Oct 27th, 2003, 06:29 AM
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Degas:

Stuffy Brits? You've clearly led a sheltered life.

Apart from the fact that most old US country songs started life in the British or Irish countryside, that's the last way you'd describe Brits singing C&W.

Tone-deaf, tuneless, paralytically drunk, moronic, or downright dangerous, maybe. But for those of us whose lullabies came from Liverpool neighbours singing the whole Tex Ritter or Patsy Cline oeuvre at chucking-out time, a touch of stuffiness would have substantially improved the quality of life.

The first time I ever heard those songs sung by anyone sober or with a hint of decorum was in the US.
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Old Oct 27th, 2003, 06:41 AM
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Flanneruk, ease up, my good man - it was only a bit of humor and a reference to a bygone era. I was reading the adventures of Sherlock Holmes last night. We all know Brits are now a nasty bunch of wild football hooligans! (more semi-serious humor)
 
Old Oct 28th, 2003, 03:17 AM
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London Trip Report continued
Day Three (Windsor Castle we finally made it!)
Friday, October 17th, 2003

Hi everyone,

This is installment two for day three of my recent trip to London, England!

Waking up that first morning knowing I was in London was just the most, just the best, just the absolute most wonderful minute of my year thus far. I can not tell you how many times I have looked forward to this day. Why? Because I am going to see something I have been trying to see for over 7 years now, Windsor Castle!

But let me backtrack a bit and tell you what is on the itinerary for the day. We had decided to do Windsor Castle first thing on our trip because this is the one thing that kept getting canceled on previous trips. Friday was Windsor Castle day. Our plans for the day were to head out via Paddington to Windsor Castle for most of the day and return around 5pm to rest for a bit, then head to London?s Imax Theatre for the special presentation of The Matrix Reloaded on the big screen. If we had enough time, we were going to eat dinner ahead of the movie, if not we would do it after. We had one glitch in that we discovered after we left that we had left our reservations confirmation for the Imax at home. Both Penny and I remember purchasing the tickets on line and having them hold them at the box office, but I could not remember ever printing out the confirmation or receiving it via email. My visa bill did not show the purchase yet so we felt that something had gone wrong via the transaction and that meant that we were looking at the possibility of not having tickets for that night.

I tried to contact them via phone that morning before we left the hotel, but it was too early. We made the decision to go ahead with our plans for Windsor and just check again sometime during the day. If we had to, we could move something around for tonight and switch the Imax to a night that we could get tickets.

So, we left out of the hotel around 8am and went to Dinos for a fast cont. breakfast, then took the tube from Gloucester station to Paddington. We bought tickets to Windsor, cheap same day return for about 6 pds. Based on a recommendation from the Fodors board, we decided to go do the trip via Paddington to Slough, then to Windsor Royal Station, rather than the express with no changes. This recommendation was right on the money. We spent about 30 minutes from Paddington to Slough, then less than a minute in Slough, changed trains and came into Windsor Royal Station. The train was on an elevated track and you got to see Windsor Castle and the grounds from above, which was absolutely spectacular. My heart was just a pounding. I know that Great Britain has many castles, but this was just the absolute picture of a medieval castle to me. All of those historical fiction books that I had read just came alive looking at this magnificent structure. The station we pulled into was also a small shopping center and that had Pennys eyes wide open from the minute we arrived. Me, I had tunnel vision, I made tracks for the entrance of the castle, when Penny pulled me back and said what about our plans.???? I sighed and said OK.

We stopped a minute and got our bearings and found the hop on hop off bus and decided to take the tour of the town of Windsor and surrounding areas for about 6 pds. The tour guide was excellent and we rode on the upper level so that we could see the view. The hop on hop off tour took about an hour and we toured the town of Windsor, Eton College, Runnymeade and the surrounding estates. I think the Queen Mum had a town called D??? that she loved and was quite quaint. The tour was well worth the 6 pds because it gave us a good perspective of all the sites and shops that we would want to come back to and the general history of the area surrounding Windsor. It also gave us a idea of how huge this estate was. Windsor Castle Estates are HUGE! Just looking down the lane called the Royal Mile shows you how much land accompanies this estate and it will take your breath away. We decided not to revisited any of the surrounding towns and stay strictly in the Windsor area since there was so much to see and do.

The tour guide was very informative, giving us little tidbits of information about the royal family, through out history and current events. When she got to Eton College she discussed Prince William a little bit and told us some stuff about how the kids got into Eton. Even with the scholarship, families had to spend quite a bit to get these kids through school.

Also, I must do this and Penny concurs. We have decided to post our first trip advisory warning: Parents, do not bring your teenage daughters to London, Windsor or Eton College. You will never get them back again. If you wondered where all the good looking young men were in the world, look no further than England. You daughters will never, and I mean never, ever, recover. It will ruin them for American young men. There was not a single bad looking young man under the age of 30. My 43 heart palpitated just looking at them. They are all young, strong, muscular, and tall. Blond or dark haired, they all have beautiful blue or gray eyes, ruddy cheeks and all look like young gods! And some of them even had Scots accents, I just about died in my seat on the train when the young man next to me asked us where we were from. He was from Edinburgh going to school at Eton College and his name was Bry. I wanted to fold him up in my shopping bag and take him home to my niece. Wouldn?t she go pop-eyed at that souvenir?(big grin). And yes, it would be for my niece you dirty minded people?(snicker,lolol).

Okay, seriously now, our hop on hop off tour returned us to the entrance of Windsor Castle and we paid our entrance fees (12pds) and waited for the next warden to start the tour. The tour of the outside of the castle took about 30 minutes and basically went over the history of the structure and how it had evolved over the years. He discussed the fire damage in the 90?s and how they had been able to save most of the art work. The old moat had been filled and made into gardens. He also discussed how the order of the Garter worked. (I had not known this prior to the trip so that was very interesting to me). The tour ended right outside the entrance to the state apartments and Queen Mary?s doll house.

Penny wanted to get some outside photos before we went inside so I stopped for a smoke and talked with another one of the wardens walking around outside. His name was Mo, and he had been in service for as a Warden for about 20 years. I asked him if he still enjoyed his job and he said absolutely. He asked where I was from and said he had been to North Carolina at Nags Head. I told him about our recent hurricane. We were talking, having just a relaxed conversation, when 2 or 3 people walked out of the state apartments. He and I were looking at each other talking, standing about 5 feet apart facing each other, with the whole open courtyard around us, when those three people proceeded to walk out of the doors and about 20 feet across the courtyard. Then they just walked between us, I mean right between us as we were talking. Mo looked at me, I looked at him, we waited until they got down the road a bit, then he just shook his head. I said you know, they had the whole courtyard. He agreed and just smiled. We laughed about it and he sat down with me and we started talking about vacations. He wanted to go to Alaska next, and I told him ?you and me both?. I wanted to take one of the cruises. He asked if I had been here before and I told him my saga of Windsor Castle and his eyes got really bright and then congratulated me on finally making it to the castle. I told him I would probably be back, that it was magnificent. I told him I would probably buy something as a souvenir but didn?t know what yet and he told me to go to the store at the other end, they had a better selection. I told him that we would probably just see the state apartments and he said ?oh no, you need to make sure to see the dolls house?, so I said I would. By this time, Penny had made her way back and we said bye bye to Mo, a wonderfully warm character and credit to his job! Me, I was ready to whop-smack those people side the head with my shopping bag if it hadn?t been for the twinkle in Mo s eyes. (evil grin).

Penny and I made our way around the back of the castle into the entrance of the dolls house and Mo was right. Do not miss this. I was thinking that it would be just a collection of different dolls of Queen Mary, but it is actually a miniature mansion and estate house with all the miniature furniture and furnishing. I mean all of them, to the nth degree, 10 stories of furnishings and linens, silverware lamps everything you could think of in a mansion, artwork, every detail was addressed. This was a miniature collectors dream. Even the gardens around the house were done in every detail. Absolutely fabulous! It would also take a magnifying glass to see some of the detail.

After touring the Dolls House, we made our way through to the State Apartments and found out that there was a special exhibition of QE II coronation dress, crown and cape on display for her 50th anniversary. I remember watching this on public television a few years ago and the whole ensemble was still in pristine condition. The rest of Windsor was almost a blur to me, so many suits of armor and so much weaponry and art on the walls. What I loved about this was that these apartments were still used for state function so they were still furnished in full and it was great to see this when so many castles were simply empty. I will tell you my favorite room was the one that had all the different collections from empires that Britain had conquered over the years. I know this sounds naïve, but many of these collections would not be present today if they had not been removed and in this protected environment. Many of the empires have gone through so much upheaval and unrest (middle east) that many of the collections would probably have been lost. On the one hand I am sad that their native peoples do not own these collections in their own museums, and on the other I am trying to be practical in knowing that they survived these many years because of where they are. I looked at the Tibetan and Chinese collections and knew this to be true. Maybe someday they will become stable enough for these things to be returned to them.

After touring the state apartments and all it?s glory, we made our way down to St. George?s Chapel and walked around all the tombs, sadly saw where the Queen Mum was laid to rest. I also saw where Henry the VIII was buried along with two of his wives and so many other royal family members, including the one that abdicated.

We ended up at around 1pm in the gift shop and I broke my rule of no souvenirs by purchasing a tin tea service tray with Windsor Castle painted on it. I just had to have it and it is just beautiful. All in all, touring Windsor was everything it should have been.

Penny and I made our way out to the town of Windsor for some serious lunch and shopping. We couldn?t resist having a lite lunch in the crooked house on main street. If you have never seen it, it is hilarious. This house is all crooked and leaning and it has now been made into a tea and sandwich shop. Penny had the chicken sandwich and I had a bowl of minestrone soup and bread. We both had cokes and spent about 5 pounds each on the meal. After lunch we split and agreed to meet back at the train station at 4pm. My first stop was in Windsor?s free museum just down the road. In it a young artist had studied the castle and grounds and recreated some of the things she saw in miniature. She had about 20 boxes set up in the exhibition and what was so odd about it, was that way she had set up the boxes, you could look down from above and see what would be an absolutely perfect miniature of say, the grounds or gardens or possibly one of the rooms, like the library. But then she also had a magnifying glass that you used to look at what she had in the rooms from a door on the side of the box. Using that magnifier you saw the room from a skewed perspective and instead of your focus being on the garden and the roses, it made your attention focus on the window across the garden where something else was shown, such as a historical figure or a piece of artwork that could only be viewed from that perspective. I found the exhibition quite interesting. If you have any extra time, I would recommend stopping by this free museum because it had many interesting exhibits lined up for the future.

I walked down the side streets just window shopping and browsed the stores for books. I finally came across two bookstores and then my prize, an Oxfam charity shop which had a small book room in the basement. I ended up buying about 6 books, just different British fiction and travel books. The clerk pointed me to another shop around the corner that had some secondhand books and I headed there. It was one of the heart foundation shops. I found some more books, but more importantly found a wonderful set of 4 custard cups made in porcelain with an English tea rose design. Cost 99p each cup. I felt this was more than reasonable, in fact, if I had not run out of there , I would have offered more just to ease my feelings of absolute guilt at this steal. I finally lost all steam and just had to rest my rabbits, when I looked down and realized that I was already 10 minutes late in meeting Penny. I grabbed everything and just ran to the station, collapsing on one of the benches. Penny was just walking into the station. We laughed and realized that we both had lost track of time. She had about 6 bags with her and I was scared to ask her how much damage. She just laughed. We waited about 10 more minutes and the next train appeared and we headed back to London.

We arrived at our hotel a little after 5pm, only to realize that both of us had forgotten to check on the Imax tickets earlier that day. We split to rest for about an hour and I called the theatre and explained the problem. The young lady was raring to get off of work, but still took the time to see if she could help and find the tickets. We spent about 30 minutes because her computer kept going down. I finally offered to call back and get someone else so she could head home. She said no, that now it had become a challenge to her. After about 10 more minutes she finally gave up and said that it must not have gone through. I agree to go ahead and pay again. She told me that she would note my purchase and if I returned to the states and got my visa bill and found out I was charged twice, to call her and let her know and she would credit my account. You couldn?t get any more fair than that?so she started the phone purchase with my visa and the system went down again. All I heard for 5 more minutes was ?bloody bugger?no you are not going to do this?I just had to laugh. We attempted three times to make the purchase and it kept going down right before she would need to put in the credit card info. At 6pm, she finally said, ?I give up, I have to catch the bus?I am comping these tickets.? At first I did not understand and I was like oh no wait what do I do, and she said no, I am giving you the tickets free. She asked me my name again and told me that she would leave them at the box office in envelope. I could not believe it. I laughed myself silly. Penny said I had the luck of the Irish, especially since we have no arrived home and my visa bill shows no previous purchase. (lolololol)

So we left the hotel about 7:15pm and made our way toward the Imax theatre. We decided that would have a lite dinner after the movie and arrived at the Imax theatre near Waterloo Station around 7:45pm. The tickets were at the box office and Penny and I bought popcorn and cokes. Both drinks came sans ice in huge 44 ounce cups that we could barely carry. They started letting people in the theatre around 8pm and we made our way up from the front of the theatre into the seats.

I will tell you right off, I almost had a nose bleed, that is how steep the steps and seats were. They were also in little narrow rows almost one on top of the other. I had altitude sickness even before I sat down. I finally hobbled in my seat on shaking legs and tried to put my drink in the holder only to find out that the large cups do not fit. Penny made the mistake of placing hers on top of the holder and when she sat down, the whole cup collapsed because it had no ice and toppled over spilling all over the seats below. Mortified, remember that word, simply mortified she was. I told her not to worry. If the idiots who designed this theatre so stupidly wanted to sell 44 ounce drinks that didn?t fit into the cup holders, they were gonna have spills. We snagged an attendant so that he could figure out what to do with the ticket holders of the drenched seats. He kind of glared at us, I just shrugged my shoulders and swept my hand around and said, hey what do you expect.

Guys, I do not normally complain and most of the time I try to find the silver lining in situations like this but I have to tell you that while the movie I saw that night was absolutely one of the best experiences on screen that I have ever seen, the seating in this wonderful theatre was so uncomfortable that all I could think about was getting out of there. Maybe it was okay with the shorter 45 minute format for the majority of the films shown in 3D, but for a full length feature of 2 1/2 hours, the seating was pure torture. You felt like you were stuffed in a coach airliner seat with only about ? the room. The man sitting next to Penny was of average height (about 5, 10) and had his knees pressed so tight against the seat in front of him he could not move either left or right. I was sitting straight up with my arms draped against the bar in front of me. You were so close to the seats in front of you, all you had to do was look down to see the parts in their hair.

As for the movie experience, seeing The Matrix Reloaded on Imax big screen was wonderful. The crisp clear sound and picture just took that movie to another level. I will tell you I suspect, based on some blips during the action sequences, that I think they are experimenting with some 3D on this movie, but are not yet ready to show it. We had been given 3D glasses to see some of the opening trailers, but a lot of effort was put to collecting all of the glasses before they began the actual movie. And I mean a lot of effort. To the point that they were counting each row and the glasses that were returned. I would not be too surprised to see this movie being offered in part 3D soon at Imax theatres. As crisp as the movie was, some of the action sequences were kind of blurry and had some of the shadow markers of a 3D sequence.

We finished the movie around 11pm and made our way back to the hotel. Since it was so late, we decided to just buy Burger King for dinner that night and eat in our rooms. I collapsed at around midnight and didn?t see the light of day until around 8 am that next morning.

What a wonderful 2nd day in England! Windsor Castle was the absolute best! I will treasure my tea tray for the rest of my life, and I fell asleep dreaming about castles, young studly Englishman, and the fact that 3 tourists at Windsor were very lucky that I saw the twinkle in Mo? s eyes.
erinb is offline  
Old Oct 29th, 2003, 05:37 PM
  #8  
sojourner
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More!! More!!

I am truly enjoying your trip report, Erin. Looking especially forward to more about your book shopping expeditions.

Thanks!
 
Old Oct 29th, 2003, 07:54 PM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Erinb...what a great trip! And 55 pounds a night? Whoa, bargain!

Too bad we couldn't meet last year...you sound like great fun.
crazymina is offline  
Old Oct 30th, 2003, 02:05 PM
  #10  
 
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Great trip report, Erin.

I stayed about a block from your hotel last year. At the Park International. Bet we shopped in the same supermarket!

Looking forward to the rest of the trip!

Keith
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Old Oct 30th, 2003, 02:12 PM
  #11  
 
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Erinb - please continue! We're headed for London in a few weeks. Your tips and recommendations are fantastic.
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