During my stay in England, I haven’t simply resided in little old charming Hatfield the whole time. Over the past two months I’ve taken several different weekend/day trips around this beautiful country, and I’m finally getting around to writing about them. One of the first few trips I took was to the lovely town of Windsor, the Queen’s favorite “vacation” spot.
Although Windsor is much more than just a castle, the castle is where I spent most of my time while there. The place is rather large and impressive, so it’s easy to spend quite a few hours touring around the grounds. I began the tour of the castle at St. George’s gate, one of the extravagant entrances built by former royalty. Through this gate you could vaguely see the courtyard just outside of the part of the castle where the queen resides when she’s in, which she happened to be the day I was there. Whenever the Queen is in, the castle displays a certain flag atop the tower called the Royal Standard. There are several other flags that are flown for different reasons when the Queen is not in. Throughout the guided tour, I learned lots of different historical and cultural facts about the castle. I learned that the reason why Windsor was such a solid spot for the castle was because it was naturally built atop a hill, overlooking the city so that guards could see if anyone was approaching. It was also ideal because the River Thames flows right next to it, acting as a natural moat.
The whole time we walked around the grounds outside, it was lightly snowing and it made the experience that much more magical. Not only was I exploring one of the most famous castles, but I was in the presence of royalty in the midst of this beautiful winter wonderland. It was truly something magical, as if I were in a fairy tale. The guards continued to march around and patrol the grounds the whole time I was there. I was informed by the tour guide that if you were even slightly in their marching path, they would either yell at you very loudly, or simply just run you over as if you weren’t even there. As much as I wanted to see if this was actually true, I definitely did not want to be the one to test it out.
I wish that I could share with you pictures of the magnificent insides of the castle, but unfortunately photography is prohibited in the staterooms and you have to physically see them for yourself. I can tell you that it’s well worth the look though. When you first walk in, you have the option of viewing Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, a miniature replica of Windsor Castle gifted to Queen Mary in the 1920’s. Now, I don’t care if you think dollhouses are lame or whatever, you have to take a look at this if you ever go to Windsor Castle. The entire thing is made out of real, working pieces. As in the electricity works, the miniature cars have engines that run, there is water that runs through the small pipes, there are real bottles of wine, real silverware, real miniature jewels, guns that can actually fire, etc. And all of these things are on a one inch to one foot scale, encased in this house that is less than four feet tall. It truly is a sight to see and a spectacular invention of its time.
Following the Queen’s Dolls’ House display, you can then walk through 21 staterooms, all completely unique. I got to walk up the Grand Staircase, the same steps the Queen and loads of other royalty and famous guests have walked when they’ve been hosted at the castle. Although I won’t go into detail about each room within the castle, I’ll provide you with a list so that you can research them and look them up if you choose to do so. The tour went as follows: you walked through the China Room to the Grand Staircase to the Waterloo Chamber, then the King’s Drawing Room, King’s Bedchamber, King’s Dressing Room, King’s Closet, Queen’s Drawing Room, King’s Dining Room, Queen’s Ballroom, Queen’s Audience Chamber, Queen’s Presence Chamber, Queen’s Guard Chamber, St. George’s Hall, Lantern Lobby, Green Drawing Room, Crimson Drawing Room, State Dining Room, Octagon Dining Room in the Tower, Grand Reception Room, and finally the Garter Throne Room. Each room was so pristine and classical, holding many historical artifacts new and old. My favorite room was probably St. George’s Hall, a massive banquet dining hall that contains the guards of hundreds of past soldiers on the ceiling. The place is huge and quite impressive, not to mention that the room that follows it (Lantern Lobby) contains several very beautiful, shiny silverware pieces and other expensive things. Overall, I can’t do the staterooms any justice by simply trying to explain them, so I’ll just highly suggest that someday you try and make the visit yourself.
After exploring the Staterooms, I headed to take a gander at St. George’s Chapel on the castle grounds. The chapel was just as magnificent as all other chapels/cathedrals I’ve seen during my time here, with tall arches, gorgeous stained glass, and ancient history around every corner. The tombs of several royals were also within the chapel’s walls, adding to its grandeur. Once I had finished walking around the chapel, I headed outside to watch the guards do their changing of shifts (and waited to see if any soul was bold enough to try and cross their path). No one dared. I decided to be the stereotypical tourist and take a picture with one of the motionless (and emotionless) guards that was standing outside one of the doors. After watching several other people take their turns, I got up the courage to go and stand next to him. I say “got up the courage” because honestly, this was one of the most intimidating moments of my life. Let me tell you, when I say that this guard was emotionless, I mean it. I tried to make eye contact with him for a brief moment while walking over to him but couldn’t hold it for more than a second before averting my eyes, as his gaze was just so empty and cold. I kept a good foot or two of distance between us and clenched my teeth for the picture, trying to hide the fact that I was about to pee my pants. I quickly walked away once the picture was taken and returned to my friend and photographer Zara, who jokingly asked me if I had thanked him for the picture. I said no and then began to panic, thinking about how disrespectful I had been in not thanking him for letting me stand next to him for a second. It really wasn’t that big of a deal, but I had been so nervous that I hadn’t said a word and I then began overreacting as I was still in quite a state of nervousness. Honestly he was probably a perfectly fine and normal man, I just get abnormally intimidated when in the presence of authority figures as such (even though I am probably one of the most innocent people ever when it comes to law and my being intimated is quite irrational). Regardless, I still got a nice (albeit somewhat awkward) picture with a British guard.
After we had finished with the tour of the castle, Zara and I walked down William Street and shopped around a bit, stopping to have lunch at a little French restaurant called Cafe Rogue. After we were full and content, we walked along the Queens walk and popped into a small antique store called Berkshire Antiques. Although we were drawn in by the sparkly, shiny jewelry in the window and had no intentions to buy anything, there happened to be a tray of all different sorts of decently priced rings and I made the mistake of trying one on and, consequently, it fit perfectly. When I went to the register to buy it and told the owners about my find, explaining how I had happened upon it, they informed me that finding something like that was called the “Cinderella effect,” which made sense and justified my decision on buying it. Zara and I continued to talk to these two kind shopkeepers for a good 15-20 minutes about Windsor, where we were from, England, etc. before thanking them for the jewelry and nice conversation and making our way out.
Windsor is not only home to Windsor Castle but also to Eton College, the boarding school that Prince Harry and Prince William both attended, among other royals and famous people. We tried to take a look at Eton College and Eton Chapel, but unfortunately they were closed for the day. On the way back to the buses, we popped into Windsor Antique Bookstore and looked around for a bit. One of the great things about England is that when something says “antique,” it usually means it. In America, any objects before 1980 are considered antique. Since England’s history stretches much farther back, there are things from as early as 1200 in some antique stores.
When we left the shop and headed back to the buses to go home, we paused on one of the bridges to gaze at a group of about 30 swans floating on the river. It was then that I was informed that all swans are owned by the Queen and that stealing/causing harm to one is punishable by law by either a 5,000 pound fine or six months in jail. So if you’re ever in England and think that snagging a swan for a pet seems like a good idea, just keep in mind that you’d be stealing from the Queen of England and chances are you’ll ruffle more than just a few feathers.