Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pomp and Ceremony and Privilege

There is no doubt that Windsor Castle is best seen in the good morning light or on dusk. This home to the English monarchy is the largest and longest continually inhabitated castle in the world. It presents an imposing facade high on the hill above the town of Windsor as the 'pilgrims' make their way up that hill from the parking areas, running the gauntlet of the fast food outlets on their way to try to catch a glimpse of our Lizzie!

We get to Windsor a bit after 10 am with lots of traffic crawling the last 5 kms or so. The day again is beautiful and there are lots of British drivers in open topped cars travelling the motorway.
With the British summer sun beaming down on us it is time to make sure that we liberally apply sunscreen now. But you would be horrified at the number of young and older people here who strip off and bake in the sun.

The queue to get in to the Castle is long and we have finally struck tourists, b***** tourists - not bad considering that we are 6 months in to our journey! It takes us almost an hour from the time we turn into Castle Hill to get tickets and then go through security. But it is not unpleasant, the staff and the people around us are chatty. When we do get inside, there is a guided tour about to start so we join this to get some of that precious insider knowledge. And the Queen's standard is flying meaning that she is in residence at the Castle as we are here. We are told that most weekends she comes to the Castle as it is her favoured home.

We meander through the Lower Ward en route to the entrance to the State Apartments hearing of the castle development and the goings on of the various monarchs through history. Not sure that I would ever want their lives - even with all the perks. I mean even as a King your people could turn on you and you could be beheaded and when as a woman you are no longer in favour, beheading was the most convenient way to make way for the next titillating little romance!

There is no Changing of the Guard ceremony today as the Coldstream Guards are practising for the Trooping of the Colour ceremony that takes place in June for the Queen's official birthday. However, they are still doing sentry duty and from time to time we see two or three Guards marching to their next post. And those on Sentry Duty, when not at a post, casually stroll through the grounds, chatting to tourists and posing happily for snaps. In fact their contract stipulates that they must agree to this!

We met David (on the left) and Brett and they were happy to let me get a photo of Michael with them - was going to add some witty little quip about the differences in hats, but my wit has momentarily left me. Brett at the age of 23 has seen a tour in Northern Ireland (when I commented that he looked too young he told me that he had enlisted at 16) and David has relations in Penrith, NSW - small world. We talked about how Antony almost went to Afghanistan with the Brits and they said that if he ever gets the chance that he should jump at it - they seem to like working with the Aussies - we said thanks, but no thanks!!!

From here we head over to have a look through the State Apartments. You can't take photos here (don't worry, we bought the guide book), but suffice to say they are everything that you would expect and them some. In the Drawings Gallery there is a special exhibition to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's accession to power including amazing sketches of the King and his courtiers by Hans Holbein the Younger and line drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. Then it is in to the China Room which is of even more interest after being to the Wedgewood Factory and then up through the Grand stairway and vestibule where we see lots of armour and weapons on display.

Through the various reception rooms and display chambers such as the Kings Bedchamber and the Queens Presence Chamber and through the huge St Georges Hall and the Grand Reception Room with its amazing chandeliers. I could go on and on and on and bore you all, but we have the book so you can read all about it in detail if you want to when we get home! In St Georges Hall there are the shields of all the Knights of the Garter. We have almost left the room when I notice that the 1000th knight registered (in 2008) is Prince William. But I can't see his shield anywhere so we ask one of the attendants - she happily shows us where it is, nothing more special than any of the others! What is probably more interesting is that there are a number of them that have been painted over white - this is where the knight once awarded, has been stripped of the award - mostly in the time of Henry VIII and the changes with the church! (Many of these would have also lost their heads).

Once we were through the Castle, St George's Chapel and the grounds surrounding, we took ourselves off to the Horse and Groom pub just down from the castle for a bite to eat. We had Rib eye fillet steak (Blue) with mash and vegetables (Michael, obviously) and Cumberland sausages with mash and fried onion rings (Maria). Great food, much better than it looks and a brilliant setting in a pub building that dates back to the 1700s. Served by a young Aussie barmaid who this week has been there a year!

Bellies no longer grumbling we head over to Eton to have a look at the College and a privileged life! Funny thing, it was closed the other day after their speech night and when we get there today there is another sign on the gate announcing a closure to - SWINE FLU! I am a little sceptical at first wondering whether this is just a convenient excuse but when we get back to the GH I check it on the net news and yes, for sure, there is a confirmed case and the College has been closed by the Health Commission. Bugger, bugger and more bugger. We do not have the time to hang around and wait for it to re-open in another week. And unfortunately, we have missed the Eton College Museum of Natural History by a mere 5 minutes. Trouble is that 5 pm does not feel like 5pm, more like 2 or 3! But we still manage to take a photo or 60.

So back over to Windsor to do the Windsor Wheel - one of those huge ferris wheel style with enclosed gondolas. We though that this would give us a different perspective of the Castle. It also gave us so pretty amazing views of the countryside surrounding it. We buy the photo that they take as it really is pretty good - we can download it from online so that we could post it on the blog - but we have to wait up to a week, so - you miss out on that one!

Dinner tonight is at the local Go Sing Chinese restaurant. We went with some trepidation as we will always judge a Chinese meal by those we had in Beijing where we got to eat true chinese style cooking, not adulterated for the western palate. But we are not disappointed. While it is certainly not that traditional style, it is very good.

You can either order from the a-la-carte menu or from the all-you-can-eat menu. This is an interesting concept where they have 156 dishes available and for £14.95 per person you can have as many as you like with the rider that any dishes not eaten are charged at full rate. I guess this is to encourage people to try some, and order more if they are still hungry rather that order over the top and leave a whole heap of food uneaten. We choose to go down this path and order:
Special Crispy Platter for 2 (spring rolls, satay chicken, crispy seaweed, barbecue spare ribs, sesame prawn on toast). The prawn toasts were rubbery, but the seaweed was amazing - shredded into fine strips then flash (deep) fried with ground dried shrimp powder on top - absolutely delicious! (no pic, ate it before we remembered!)
Chicken Breast in Lemon Sauce
Sliced Duck with Ginger and Shallots
Deep fried Shredded Beef with Carrots and Chilli
Special Fried Rice.
And then it was back to the Oakwood Guest House to find out that the favourite Britain's Got Talent contender - Susan Boyle from Wales (we were near her town when she was first voted in) had been topped by dance troupe Diversity who had been placed sixth favourite by UK bookmakers!!! Wow.

No comments: