The First Lady, The Countryside, and The Queen
So far one of the best things about being in a new place is that I’m allowed to be a new person as well. I can introduce myself to others however I wish, people don’t look at me with conceptions based on the past, and they come to know me not as what I should be or once was, but what I am now. I haven’t been called a sir since passing customs.
Today started with an early rising. I then made my way over to the Victoria Coach Station to begin my tourism day with an Evan Evans tour that brought me to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath. I could tell from the very beginning it was going to be a fun day and that I was quite lucky to receive the tour guide I did. She was our British Mum, very sweet and caring and fully devoted to making sure we got the best and most out of our day. It is a little mad to be visiting all three of these places in one day; it’s like taking a sampler plate at a restaurant. Our tour guide, Debra, was also very funny, knowledgeable, and entertaining; this is her 25th year running these things so she knows a thing or two. Before we were to set off she was getting a count on people and she yelled to the driver at the front of the bus that she had room for two more singles (I kind of threw their numbers off what with my not having a travel partner) or a couple that had been here long enough to decide they weren’t talking anymore.
Windsor Castle and Queen Elizabeth II
We got rolling, headed for Windsor Castle first. We passed by the largest English place of worship, Fullers Brewery, and Debra spoke to us about Windsor’s history and told us a great deal about the Queen. I’ve always like the Queen and as I learn more about her I find myself liking her even more. She seems like such a genuine, intelligent, and kind woman. I can’t believe she’s 91! Here are some rapidfire facts I learned:
The Queen, Debra said, would likely choose Windsor as her favourite place to stay, especially above Buckingham Palace. Buckingham is a sort of prison, encompassed by the city and the extreme traffic, it can be suffocating. But Windsor, located on the 25 mile circumference of castles erected on equidistant from one another with the Tower of London at the center, is a far more peaceful place.
It has plenty of countryside beside it; less traffic and more freedom.
Windsor is also the place where the Queen spent much of her childhood and her early adult years. During WWII and the London bombings, the royal family made the decision it would probably be best if they didn’t stay in London at the time. They chose instead to stay at Windsor and this is where Queen Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret, spent much of their childhood.
Something the queen has always despised during dinners and such is when people ask to pass the salt or the butter etc etc. As young children, she and Margaret always made a point of setting the table so that each person had their own salt and pepper, and their own butter tray with butter that they would stamp with the royal seal. She also hates when people loiter about chatting after dinner; you come, you eat, you go. And you mustn’t be late to things: the British, and the Queen especially, hate people who aren’t punctual!
Apparently the queen still rides horses, at least, she did so up to a year ago. She has also historically driven her own car up until recently. She is a very self sufficient woman and she likes to impart normalcy in her life as best she can.
If ever we are in the elevator with the Queen, Debra insists we stick to talking about horses.
There’s a famous story of a person asking her about her “servants” once and she responded saying “I don’t have servants, I have employees.”
She and Prince Phillip recently went to a play in town. I know this sounds silly, but this too is an act of normalcy in a way; they sat in the stalls among the rest of us. They were a bit late and everyone was getting rowdy until they walked in to take their seats in the crowd and she looked at them all and told them she was “terribly sorry” and hoped they hadn’t waited too long. After the play concluded, she arose and said “Well that was marvelous, wasn’t it?” leaving the crowd in awe of the fact they had just been in her presence.
There’s more, and it’s all very interesting, but I’ve still got a lot to cover, so I’ll leave the stories about the Queen at that. In short, I greatly admire her. We were told never to say anything bad about her here because even “the worst” of people in London would beat you up for talking ill of the Queen. She is a very beloved Queen, and “one they’ve certainly got their money out of.”
Windsor was beautiful. It’s absolutely massive and walking through it was a reminder of how much of a peasant I am. Jokes, but seriously; the royalty live quite the life. The rooms were stunning with enormous chandeliers, hundreds of incredible paintings, and a bunch of supersized carpets, intricately sewn and hung on the walls depicting ancient artwork. It really was something. They don’t allow pictures inside the State rooms, but I got a few outside. I was the “first lady” into the castle in our group and close to the last to arrive back on the bus, not counting the couple we left behind in Windsor. Debra felt awful but she couldn’t find them anywhere, we’d waited 20 minutes past our departure time, and she decided they could join the other tour group that had arrived 15 minutes after us. They never showed up for that group either. . . Debra said there are worse places to be left than Windsor, Stonehenge for example, where the travel options are sparse. She’s only ever lost one person at Stonehenge and she still feels awful about it today, wondering where she ended up. Debra presumes the girl must have walked through Stonehenge and transcended to some parallel universe in the 1600s. Anywho, I ate at a small cafe afterward where I had a BLT and picked up a ham, cheese, and pickle sandwich to go. They were both really surprisingly good!
After Windsor we made our way over to Stonehenge. This time, I was one of the first to leave and the very first to arrive back on the bus. Stonehenge was semi-interesting. I actually took the audio tour here, because I don’t know that I could have enjoyed it much otherwise. In the end, it’s kind of a boring site; once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it, and it’s not a place I’d highly recommend others go. Maybe you have to see it once in your life, I don’t know, but I would much rather spend a full day in Bath.
The City of Bath
Bath is a beautiful and charming little city. It’s so close to Bristol, I was sad I don’t get to go there. The Georgian architecture here is wonderful and the streets are filled with dozens of small little shops and stalls with everything you could imagine. I really wanted to go to Primark, but I guess I’ll head there tomorrow. The Roman Baths themselves are pretty cool too. They ask us not to touch the water because it gets to be pretty gross and full of bacteria that thrives due to the temperature. There is a spot at the end where you can have a glass of clean water though, if you choose. It was really, really, metallic and not very good. But supposedly it’s cleansing! The Romans came to Bath as a place to detox. There’s a bunch of history here that I can get into as well, but the best I can do is just recommend you come on your own. Rather than fast or detox with some stupid juice blend as we like to do in our culture, the Romans believed that was a stupid idea. Probably similar to what my Italian professor said; they like their food do the Italians. The Romans weren’t about to quit eating. So they ate and drank to their heart’s’ content and then detoxed by sweating it all out at the baths. There was so much more to do in Bath, I felt bad only staying for an hour and a half. A bunch of celebrities live there and we drove by Nic Cage’s house and it appeared he was in. Debra says he’s there quite often and really very kind to everyone.
The English Countryside – Where My Heart Is
To get to and to leave Bath we had to drive through the English countryside and it was here that I really began to ask: what in my ancestry prevented me from being British? I just love it here so much. It has a real homely sort of beauty and I just know I’m going to hate leaving. I love the pastures, the horse racing tracks, the people. I love the accent, the history and the culture. I love the homliness, the peacefulness, the outfits the schoolchildren wear that make me wish I could go back through school all over again. And oh, let me tell you, the roads here are so much sexier: I’ve seen 8 Aston Martins so far, there are Mercs and Beamers and Audi’s everywhere you look, and even the cheaper cars are golf TDIs or Mini Coopers, Renault Clevos or Vauxhall Astras. There are Jags and Alfas in abundance and Porsche’s, Audi R8s, the occasional Ferrari. It’s a car lover’s’ paradise this, and a good lot better than the minivans and pickup trucks of the states.
We got back at about 20.00 and I headed off to find food at Pizza Union. It was a super busy pizza shop that makes a TON of 12in pizzas in minutes. They were cheap too! Only 5p for mine, a sort of hawaiian. It was good and a nice way to end the day. I took the underground back home, showered, and promptly fell asleep, exhausted after such a long day of activity. Can’t wait for day 3!
Next up: Hyde Park, Charing Cross Road, Covent Garden, and Wicked!