A Visit to Royal Windsor

And when we say Royal, we mean it. When Hester Davenport met us at the train station on the day we went to Windsor, one of the first things she asked Victoria, myself and Brooke was, “I forgot to ask . . . did you want to see the Queen?”

“Ha Ha . . .  see the Queen! Really, Hester, you are too funny.”

“No, I mean it,” Hester replied. “I quite forgot when we made our date that today is Royal Ascot. The Royal Family will be leaving the Castle at 1:30. I need to know if you’re interested in seeing them in order to plan our day.”

Were we interested in seeing the Royals?!?

Honestly, I don’t know if all the pomp and circumstance we were treated to from then on was connected to the Royals and Ascot, but the entire day was pretty royal, if you ask us. First of all, we saw the Guards approaching the Castle . . . .

Victoria believes they were Welsh Guards (as seen from the Guildhall).

And later we saw the Guards leaving the Castle led by a drum major
Hey, haven’t I seen these guys on a postcard somewhere?
They carry some pretty lethal-looking weapons

Honestly, the entire morning was grand. We bought our Castle tickets and viewed Queen Mary’s Doll House  (which is an incredible structure indeed. Maybe I’ll do a blog just on doll houses someday, one of V’s minor passions)
and visited the nearby exhbition of photos of the young Queen Elizabeth and her late sister Margaret, plus the royal children and grandchildren. Wasn’t (isn’t) she  adorable?
 Soon, it was time for us to queue up to see the Royal motorcade leaving the Castle for Ascot and so we all got wristbands for re-entry into the Castle later and went to claim our places along the drive leading to Ascot.
Above is the Queen’s departure point at the Castle, and she drives down the Long Drive
right past all of us gapers. In the distance, closer to
Ascot, she transfers into an open carriage, as does the entire royal party, to parade into the racetrack in their finery. We saw quite a few people around town in the morning dressed in those quirky hats  that British ladies so adore.
 The crowd wasn’t as large as I’d expected and we found spots right near the Castle gates. Can I tell you how thrilling this was? Of course, it can’t compare to that time I encountered Prince Charles by chance in London, but it certainly came in second.
Here’s the unedited video I shot of the Royal Family motorcade. You’ll hear Vicky asking the policeman which side of the car the Queen will be on and you’ll here me saying, “Here they come!”

What a bunch of tourists.

You’ll also have heard me asking where Chuck was, as I hadn’t spotted him then. I was a tad occupied with gawking, waving and taking video. However, the blow-up of the photo taken by Victoria below may indeed show Chuck in the front passenger seat. That’s Camilla in the rear in red.

I blew up a few frames from the video clip, which will give you only a slightly better view of the Queen. And Prince Phillip. Actually, once the motorcade had gone by, I asked Brooke if she’d been able to get a clear view. She said yes, she’d seen just fine. “But,” she said, “Who was that old guy sitting next to the Queen?”

Here’s a picture from the web of what she looked like in the carriage, June 15, 2010, at Ascot.

At this point, we returned to the Castle in order to complete our tour, our Royal sightings now just a fond memory. In the above aerial photo, the Queen’s residence in the Upper Ward is at the top, right. The round tower and its garden/moat is in the upper middle, and the state rooms are in the area just above the Round Tower, at the right. Toward the lower left, you can see St. George’s chapel and the middle and lower wards surrounded by thick walls.

Whoops, another royal in the sign on the ticket office, which one suspects might be meant to portray Henry VIII.

and this equestrian statue of Charles II as you’re heading into the Castle grounds.

Finally, Kristine bought some ornaments to add to her Royal Christmas tree ornament collection, this guard being one of about eight she finally came home with, including ornaments meant to be the young Victoria and Albert.

God Save The Queen.
The Round
Tower is the dominant feature of the castle. It is sort of a remnant from the original fortress built here by none other then William the Conqueror almost a thousand years ago.
All over the castle grounds are lovely gardens.
Just a couple of the gorgeous roses that proliferate in England in June.
As we walked back to the Tourist’s entrance to the state rooms, we stopped to admire the view of Eton College, across the river from Windsor.
A few more guards on patrol.
The state rooms are overwhelming in their magnificence. These areas have been updated since the days of George IV (1762-1830, but are based on the designs he approved for the remodeling of Windsor. We all know him (once the Prince Regent) as a profligate spender, but much of what he created has lasted quite well. Above, the Grand Staircase.
At left, the Crimson Drawing room.
The Waterloo Chamber is adorned with paintings of all the Allied Heads of State as commissioned by George IV from Sir Thomas Lawrence. Kristine and Victoria are particularly fond of the portrait of our pal, Artie, the Duke of Wellington.

When we finished touring the State Rooms in Windsor Castle, we sat outside and rested up (all but the photographer, of course). Left to right: Kristine (holding her ornaments), Brooke (thrilled to have seen Henry VIII’s grave0 and Hester Davenport (the best guide for a day out in Windsor).

We were right outside St. George’s Chapel.
Their website has a 360 degree tour.
Apartments and meetings rooms are built into the walls of the lower ward. Here is one rather colorful section.
About 300 people work in the castle and about half live on the premises. 
If you plan a trip to Windsor, just a quick train ride from London, be sure to allow a whole day to see the Castle, the chapel, the grounds, the town and its charming restaurants and shops. 

British and Belgian Signs We Loved

Here are a bunch of signs.  Some funny, some fascinating for various reasons.

Apsley House Garden
Tiles in the Baker Street Tube Station
Target at the French Encampment at Waterloo
In case you can’t make this out, it reads: “St. James Theatre. On this site stood the St. James Theatre demolished in 1957 despite an epic campaign of protest led by Vivien Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier.  George Alexander, manager from 1890-1918, staged both Oscar Wilde’s ‘Lady Windemere’s Fan’ and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ for the first time.”  The sign was put up by Theatreland: Heart of the Performing Arts in London, a joint venture of the City of Westminster and the Society of West End Theatres. It sits just outside the still-existing Golden Lion Pub, 25 King Street, St. James, to which Almack’s patrons occasionally were known to have retired for a drink during the Wednesday night balls.

Don’t you love pubs named after  architects? The Henry Holland can be found at 39 Duke Street in Marylebone. Holland (1745-1806) did work for the Prince Regent at Carlton House and the original Brighton Marine Pavilion, and he designed Brooks’s Club, St. James St. as well as many other English sites.
John Lennon, 1940-1980, Musician and Songwriter, on a Baker Street building
Some folks don’t care for the new government in Westminster.
All the pubs had World Cup games!!!
A shop in the Seven Dials neighborhood, above and below.
What in the world is elastic glue anyway?
Same Seven Dials area.
The part I like best is “Horse Clothing!” It also reads B. Flegg, Est. 1847, Saddler & Harness Maker; Large stock of Second Hand Saddlery and Harness, Horse Clothing.”
The Tate Britain Gallery had a big sign advertising their Rude Britannia exhibition of satirical drawings, cartoons, and so forth. The Brits excel at this kind of fun, whether social, political or artistic.
This sign reads “Nell Gwynn Chinese Restaurant. Eat and drink in the house used by Charles II and Nell Gwynn.” So that’s how the mistress of a king ends up after all these years, serving egg rolls and Peking duck!
No comment.

Maybe this is a little better. After all the Belgians are renowned for their beer, as well as their chocolate.
Even on the 195th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the Wellington Cafe near the battlefield advertised the World Cup on tv. Incidentally, this was about the only mention of the victor of the battle that we found around here. Seemed like all the souvenirs were of Napoleon.  Remember, guys, he lost!!!

Public and Private Westminster…A London Walk

On the second afternoon Ed was joining us in London, he and I (Victoria) did one of our favorite things — took a London Walk

We’ve taken many in previous years, but on Thursday, June 17, we chose Old Westminster, guided by David Tucker, a fellow Yank, whose knowledge of history and legend is — well, legendary.

The picture above at right was taken before the tour looking across Parliament Square with its ever-changing groups of protestors. This group opposed the current Afghan war. Big Ben stands at the northern end of the Parliament Buildings and the dark structure with the prominent chimneys is the relatively new Parliamentary office building. That is where we met David at the Westminster Tube Stop.

Above and left is the view from the river frontage of the Parliamentary Office Building, looking acrosse the Thames to the London Eye and the former County Hall, now a hotel, art gallery and aquarium. At right, a statue of Boudica, the English/Celtic  Queen who tried to stop the Romans about AD 60. Various alternate spellings: Boudicca, Boadicea and others.

At the other end of the Westminster Bridge stands this coade-stone lion. This is another hint about that story of coade-stone I am promising to tell someday.

Looking at the river front of the Houses of Parliament  from the Bridge, the House of Commons, its offices, library, etc. is on the right. The House of Lords is on the left.
David told us all sorts of interesting symbolism in the decoration and coloring of the buildings, but I will not steal his thunder by repeating every word (as if I could remember!).

On the street side of the building, Westminster Hall is quite prominent, many centuries older than the rest of the building, as it survived the great fire of 16 October, 1834, along with a few other parts of the Palace of Westminster, as the complex is properly known. The statue above someone’s hands is of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658).

J. M. W.Turner watched the Houses of Parliament burn and painted the scene.  Reconstructions took from 1840 to 1870. The architect was Charles Berry, assisted by Augustus Pugin, their style was the popular Perpendicular Gothic.

Here is an aerial shot showing the river frong, with the tower of Big Ben on the right and the tallest point, the Victoria Tower on the left (south).
Back on the street, looking across at the ornate House of Lords crowned by the Victoria Tower on the right. If I turned around from this position I would be looking at the apse end of St. Margaret’s Church, the church of Parliament, which stands rather in the shadow of Westminster Abbey.
This file shot taken from the London Eye shows Big Ben and the edge of the Palace of Westminster on the left, looking southwest. The small white roof and church tower in the middle is St. Margaret’s and the large building behind it is the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, commonly known as Westminster Abbey.
On our walk we crisscrossed the streets and proceeded south of St. Margaret’s and the east end of the Abbey to see the Jewel Tower, c. 1365 in the reign of Edward III, aka the “King’s Privy Wardrobe”.

At left, the apse end of the Abbey, toward the street across from the Palace of Westminster. The monument is George V (1865-1936). He became King upon the death of his father Edward VII in 1910.

At the south end of the Palace of Westminster stands a lovely park  called Victoria Tower Garden. This is a view of the Palace of Westminster is one I had never seen before.
Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) is honored with a bronze memorial in Victoria Gardens erected in 1930. She campaigned for women’s suffrage, enduring several improsonments, but backed the government in WWI, causing a rift in the suffragist movement.  Women gained the right to vote in Britian after the war.

 I could not resist taking this shot of what apeard to me a whimsical structure in the Garden. Later I learned it is the Buxton Memorial Fountain, commemorating the 1834 emancipation of the slaves  in the British Empire. In 1865 Charles Buxton, M.P. designed and erected it in honor of his relative Sir T. F. Buxton  and others who worked with William Wilberforce to end slavery. The Fountain was conserved and rededicated in 2007, the two-hundreth anniversary of the end of the British Slave trade.

The private part of Westminster is found in the streets south of the Jewel Tower, where many Georgian houses are the scenes of political receptions and conferences.

David told us many entertaining stories about the poltical confabs that happened around here, during WWII and the Thatcher administration too. Then he led us around a corner, through the Dean’s Yard, past Westminster School and the School for the Abbey Choirboys, and all of a sudden we were standing in front of the Abbey.


A Funny Thing Happened at Apsley House

Honestly, you wouldn’t think that two grown, American women with quasi scholastic backgrounds could have such fun at Apsley House. Tell nearly anyone in the general population that you’re going to Apsley House, or The Wellington Museum, and they’ll begin to yawn – or give you odd looks. As did the cab driver who took us to the National Army Museum. “None of my business,” he said,”but do you mind telling me what your interest in the place is?”  “The Duke of Wellington,” Victoria informed him. “Aha,” he said, apparently clueless, as he gave us odd looks in the rearview mirror.

Tell people that your visits to Apsley House have provided you with several good belly laughs and they’ll think you’re mad – it’s not the sort of place one automatically equates with hilarity. I’ve already shared some of these incidents in a previous post. During our last visit, Victoria and I had another funny experience, however this time it was more of the “odd” funny kind, rather than the belly laugh type.

Funnily enough, it was again in the Waterloo Gallery where this incident happened. (What’s up with that room?!) I was gazing out one of the windows that looks out over Hyde Park Gate, Rotten Row and the paved road in the Park. Then, I looked down and spied flowers. Standing on tip toe, I peered down to discover that they were pink roses, growing on bushes that stood in a narrow side yard of the House. I pointed them out to Victoria and later, in an off-hand manner, happened to mention to the docent that the Duke certainly had beautiful roses in his garden.

Well! You would have thought I’d said, “I’ve been sleeping with your husband for the past three years.” Or something equally as shocking. I cannot convey to you the outrage/offense/dismay, almost horror, my innocent remark about the rose garden occasioned.

“No, no,” the docent was quick to argue, “the Duke has no roses in his garden. Those roses are planted in Hyde Park not at Apsley House.”

Victoria and I glanced at one another. The docent’s adamant denials were decidedly odd. The roses were definitely not planted in Hyde Park. See the photo below – it’s dated, but the arrangement of the House, the Park and the Gate are unchanged today. Apsley House is at the right in the photo. The back of the side garden fronts the paved road of the Park. There’s no room at that location in the Park to plant roses.

“But the roses are right there, through that window,” I said, “you just need to look down to see them. They’re in this garden.”

“No, they’re not. They’re planted in Hyde Park!”

Hhhhmm . . . . I glanced around expecting to see White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. Or perhaps Nurse Ratched. I decided to let the matter drop. You betcha. Never let it be said that I don’t know when to beat a retreat. Victoria and I sidled our way into the next room as un-obviously as we could and then began to whisper furiously to one another.

“What’s up with that? She’s telling me that I didn’t see with my own eyes what I just saw with my own eyes and expecting me not to argue the point.”

“I don’t know . . . that was the oddest reaction.”

“You saw the roses, right?”

“Yes! They’re right there, in the the side garden, big as day! In this garden. Not in the Park.”

“What’s up with that?”

“That was so strange . . . . “

“Listen, when we’re done here, we’re going around to that side of the house to see what’s there, okay?”

“Definitely! Even though I already know those roses are in this garden.”

Hhhhhhmmmm . . .  so, of course, when we were leaving, Victoria and I hotfooted it over to the side of the House. And this is what we saw . . . .

And this . . . . .
as well as this . . . . .
What’s up with that?
Does the landlord forbid his tenants from growing roses on the property? Would the Duke of Wellington be breaking the lease and chancing eviction by growing roses?

Was one of the Dukes of Wellington once convicted of grievious rose abuse and thus all future Dukes of Wellington were subsequently prohibited from ever owning a rose again, on pain of incarceration?

Are they really contraband/prohibited/stolen/poisonous roses that are illegal to possess in one’s garden?
Surely it couldn’t be that this docent had never been to the west side of Apsley House and so was simply mistaken about the topography there?
Why were the docents’ denials so adamant, as if I’d accused the Duke of keeping a bevvy of under-aged harem girls out there in his garden instead of pink roses?
Honestly, what’s up with that?

The Squares of Bloomsbury

Yesterday on this blog, I (Victoria) reported on my visit to Bedford Square in Bloomsbury, reportedly the only complete Georgian square left in London.  There are many squares in Bloomsbury but most of them are now surrounded by hotels, university buildings and other modern structures, and they are open to the public. Even so, most of them were ready for visitors on Open Squares Weekend, 2010, June 12 and 13.
Russell Square is the largest of the Bloomsbury squares. It is a comfortable lunch spot for many area workers, has fine strolling paths for lingering tourists, and boasts a gelato shop also offering sandwiches coffee, etc.

The pigeons enjoy a bath in the Russell Square Fountain. I always wonder about the people who toss crusts to these urban creatures (to me, just flying rats) since it only encourages them to stay and invite their pals. Trafalgar Square now has a few neighborhood falcons that chase away the pigeons and signs disallowing feeding.

The venerable old Hotel Russell can be glimpsed through the trees.  We had a mini family reunion there a few years ago and celebrated Valentine’s Day in the excellent restaurant. That’s another plane tree in the foreground.

Flowers blooming in Bloomsbury’s Russell Square.
The statue at the edge of Russell Square is Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford (1765-1805) who was not only a prominent politician but the man most responsible for the development of this former Russell family farm into urban squares for residential use.  In a few days, I will blog on my visit to the Woburn Abbey, the country estate of the Russell/Bedford family — in Bedfordshire, where else?

Tavistock Square is another of the Bloomsbury public gardens, and it has evolved into a sort of memorial for peace and justice. There is also a bust of Virignia Woolf (1882-1941), the great 20th century writer.

With her husband and friends, Woolf was the center of the Bloomsbury Group, a renowned literary circle. She lived on Tavistock Square in a now demolished house.

In the center of Tavistock Square is a bronze sculpture of Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1949), the father of Indian independence and inspiration for all non-violent protesters around the world. He studied law at London University and later was beaten and imprisoned by British authorities in India.
Near the Hiroshima Tree, planted in 1967 to memorialize the victims of the first atomic bomb dropped on the city in 1945, is the Peace Stone, at right.  In 1994, this stone was dedicated to “all those who have established and are maintaining the right to refuse to kill.” It is London’s only pacifist memorial.
                                                                     In a strange concurrence of place and event, the street ou
tside this corner of Tavistock Square was the scene of a terrorist bombing on 7/7/2005 in which a double decker bus was blown up, killing 13 innocent travelers.  Several bombs exploded that day on underground trains, killing many more people.
Along with several universities, Bloomsbury is the home of the great institution, The British Museum with its amazing collections. Out in front of the museum in the summer of 2010, TBM planted a South African garden with assistance from the Royal Botanical Garden at Kew. It fit in well with the obsession Europe has this summer with the World Cup being played in South Africa.
Gordon Square is a twin of Tavistock Square, just a block away. It is open to the public and has lovely rose gardens. I particularly liked the color of this large grouping.
Another of the open gardens near Bloomsbury was the charming little retreat at the Academy Hotel on Gower Street.  We visitors to the garden were welcomed despite the many hotel residents enjoying their elevenses in delightful surroundings.
From here I left for George St. in Marylebone where Kristine, Brooke and I met up and went to lunch in the Marylebone High Street, at the Prince Regent pub, of course. Here are Kristine and Brooke, just off the plane, getting ready for a pint!

I was too ready for a drink to re-take ths rather blurry shot of the pub sign, in Prinny pink! All that garden-walking made me quite thirsty.

Also in our Marylebone neighborhood is Durants Hotel which traces its origin back to the 18th century. However, there was also a Durant’s Hotel in St. James’ Jermyn Street, which may have been the more famous of the locations in the Regency and early Victorian periods.  Nevertheless, we’d love to stay here in its old English Men’s Club-designed setting.

Also in “our” neighborhood on Baker Street, we found this blue plaque saying that John Lennon once lived here.  Marylebone is quite a lively place, pronounced locally as MAR-le-bun, spoken quickly.  We enjoyed the many restaurants, pubs and shops near the apartment we rented. And it was very convenient to have a Tesco supermarket next door!

The Wallace Collection in Manchester Square was also in our neighborhood.  I will blog about it soon.  For now, cheerio.