While staying in London, Brian and I knew that we wanted to take a few day trips to explore some of the historic places just outside of the city. But which to choose? The mysterious Stonehenge? One of the estates made famous by some of my favorite shows and movies like Downton Abbey and Pride and Prejudice. Should we go take in the waters at Bath, or venture out to the beautiful White Cliffs at Dover? With so many choices, we debated for quite a while, but ultimately we knew that we would be back again, so the comfort of knowing that eventually we would see it all, made choosing much easier. Oxford was a easy choice because Brian had studied abroad a few years back, so he wanted to visit his home-stay family, and show me his old stomping grounds. We decided on Windsor as a second trip, because it is home to a grand castle, steeped in history.
Windsor Castle really exceeded my expectations. We took the train out from Waterloo Station in London, and enjoyed a pleasant ride through the countryside. The castle was a very short walk from the station, which is right in the center of town. After buying our tickets, we picked up an audio tour headset, and then joined a short tour group that takes you through the castle grounds. I highly recommend both, especially the grounds tour, as it was wonderful to hear about the castle firsthand from someone who was passionate about the it's modern purposes and rich history (Warning, I am about to go on a bit of a history lesson tangent, so you aren't interested, sorry!).
William the Conqueror began building Windsor Castle after the Norman Invasion in 1070. It's the best preserved castle from that period because it has always been a royal residence. The Queen lives at Buckingham Palace during the week and then takes her "long" weekends at Windsor. We were told she usually leaves London Thursday mornings and returns Monday evenings - I wish my weekends were "long" too. Brian and I got to tour about half of the outside grounds and most of the state rooms. I was impressed by how many rooms they let us go in. The decor in most of the public rooms feature the decorative touches of Kings Charles II and George IV. Charles II had an almost blank canvas to work with because the castle was raided and everything was sold during the English Civil War. Later, George IV wanted to make the castle more grand, so he expanded it and made the interior more lavish with lots of gold leafing. He also added to the castle's tower, to make it stand taller.
Rooms in both styles remain fully intact, so it was interesting to see both. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside the castle, so I have no images to share. Note that this is where the audio guide comes in handy, as it provides commentary for each room that you journey through. Some of the interesting tidbits that we were able to glance include: a suit of Henry VIII's armor from his more plump days, portraits of past kings and other important people by famous artists like Rubens, a room with all the shields from past and present knights, the room where the Queen knights people, and walls decorated with hundreds of guns and swords in ornate patterns. It's crazy that we were there for three hours, and I feel like we kind of went through quickly. Here are a few more images from the castle grounds:
St. George's Chapel lies on the castle grounds, and is the final resting place of many famous royals. I was so excited to see Henry VIII's grave, and wander through the building admiring the grand architecture. I learned from our tour guide that Henry VIII is buried with his favorite wife, Jane Seymour (the only one who gave him a son). In addition, Charles I lies with the pair. After his execution, the Roundheads didn't want to give him a proper burial, so they sewed his head back on and just threw him in the tomb. Again, no photographs were allowed inside, but here is an image of the cathedral's exterior:
Windsor was a wonderful choice for a day trip from London, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves castles, or the Tudors. I would allow for ample time to visit, and arrive early, as we could have easily spent more time there, but could not because it closes in the late afternoon. Also, be sure to allow time for exploring the town of Windsor. We had to catch a train back into London because of the Tube Strike, and wish that we had more time to spend seeing what else Windsor has to offer.
Now on to Oxford...
The following day, we made our way out to Oxford. It took much longer than we would have liked, due to the Tube Strike and an accident on the road that delayed our bus, but we still enjoyed a lovely afternoon exploring the city. If you are planning a trip to Oxford from London, buses leave every 30 minutes from Victoria Station via the Oxford Tube, which makes transportation very simple.
After wandering through the university and adjoining city streets, Brian and I headed over to his home-stay family's house. We were greeted by smiling faces and two adorable chocolate labs. It was wonderful to spend time with them, hearing old stories about Brian's experiences over delicious homemade lasagna (a treat after eating out for so many nights), and a few pints of English ale. I can see why this place made him fall in love with England.
Next stop... Brussels, Belgium.