What impressed me most about England so far was how all of these grand, sweeping structures held thousands of years of rich history behind their walls. From the Gothic cathedrals to the Georgian-style homes on the streets, each of these unique pieces had such fascinating stories to tell about the thought processes behind the architecture and the people who resided in them.
On Wednesday morning, my mom and I grabbed a quick bite to eat at our hotel and met up with our tour group for our half-day excursion to the Windsor Castle, located roughly 22 miles outside of London.
“Hi, I’m Brad. Are you joining us for the Windsor Castle tour?”
A tall and handsome gentleman with a British accent stuck out his hand and greeted us with a friendly smile. I was beginning to like these Brits! From what I noticed thus far, most here were very good looking, exuberant people who dressed extremely well and carried themselves with a lot of confidence. They were also very proper in their behavior and mannerisms. Brad was certainly no exception to this observation.
We boarded our bus and embarked on our hour-long journey to the Windsor Castle, first navigating through the streets of London while Brad pointed out some of the major landmarks, including Oxford Street — which I mentioned as the street that holds more than 200 shoe stores and only one pub. This time, Brad described it as “heaven” for women and “hell” for men.
It was a gorgeous day so far with not a cloud in the sky — a complete change from the overcast and dreary weather we experienced during our first few days in London — albeit the wind which made for excruciatingly frigid conditions, at least for me.
Approaching the grand stone castle surrounded by pristine green grass and amidst the cloudless blue sky, it was like something out of a dream, unlike anything I had ever seen before.
Well, this was the official royal residence in Windsor after all. Go figure!
I was completely taken aback! I couldn’t believe I was staring at a real life European castle — with a nearly 1,000-year-long history and considered the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world — no less!
And the Royal Standard flag was up, meaning the Queen was home! Would it be our lucky day to see her? Unfortunately, not today.
As we grabbed our audio headsets and learned more about the castle’s history, we walked the perimeter of the building and marveled at the vastness and magnitude of it all. And to top it off, it had an incredible view of the River Thames.
We reached the exhibition part of the castle, perusing some of the fine china used by royalty as well as a doll house exhibit. Built for Queen Mary by the leading British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, one could get a clear sense of what a real aristocratic home looked like in the 1920s. The detail was uncanny. Why couldn’t I have a doll house like this when I was a kid? Oh yeah, I forgot, I’m not royalty.
After fighting through crowds of tourists, we left the castle to take a look at St. George’s Chapel, a beautiful ecclesiastical building and the official place of worship at the Windsor Castle.
As we approached the chapel, we were welcomed by a changing of the guard ceremony right outside the building. I’m always dumbfounded at how the guards can keep such a stoic look on their face without even budging. It must take talent and skill to achieve something like that!
We made our way into the chapel, and like St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, I was overwhelmingly astonished at how intricate and detailed the artwork and sculptures were. It was almost as if all those countless pages in my college art history textbook were coming to life right in front of my eyes.
After admiring the interior of the chapel, I submitted a prayer request for my coworker, who was recently diagnosed with liver cancer, that would be said at mass on Sunday.
We then checked out a few of the gift shops along the charming street right outside Windsor Castle. We also had a few minutes to grab a quick lunch at Eat — a very modern cafe chain in the UK — where I had a really delicious bowl of pot pie. Yes, you read right, it came in a bowl, just like soup.
What a great way to end our trip to the Windsor Castle!
An afternoon in London
The afternoon was free to do whatever we wanted. I had always aspired to ride the London Eye, the often-photographed big wheel standing adjacent to the Big Ben and parliament building.
Our hotel concierge — a nice Italian man whose looks reminded me of Barrow in the TV series Downton Abbey — showed us the “Tube” — the London underground public transit system — routes and which line to catch to get to the London Eye. At first a little hesitant, we finally mustered the courage to try public transportation in a foreign country.
If you like to people watch, this is the place to do it. As a self-proclaimed people watcher myself, the Tube experience was probably one of the best parts of my trip to London! There’s no word to describe it other than “rush” because not only are people literally rushing to their destinations, but you also get a rush being in the station and the train itself.
People walk twice as fast and are twice as aggressive underground as they are above ground. I’m sure this rings true in any big city, but this is something I’m just not used to.
In Hawaii, we don’t have any kind of rail system, although we’re in the process of developing one, yet I still don’t believe the feel would be the same. I’ve caught the rail in Seattle and Phoenix, but they don’t have that hustle-and-bustle urgency as in London.
Even sitting in the train was quite amusing for me. I looked around at the wide range of people in my car: The middle-aged man with the mustache, slumped over with his right leg crossed over his left, reading the day’s issue of The Guardian. The slender, 6-foot fellow in his 20s, wearing a trendy blazer and shoulder bag. He must’ve just gotten off of work and was probably en route to his quiet, quaint apartment. I gazed over at the young Asian couple next to me — the pretty girl with dyed blonde hair sitting down and giggling while looking up at her good looking boyfriend in a gray blazer and stylish hair standing right in front of her.
I think it’s safe to say that the Tube is a good representation of the kind of diversity that’s in London.
To my amazement, catching the Tube was incredibly easy and a really fun experience! If you ever go on a trip to London, I highly recommend this mode of transportation. As long as you’ve got a map with the routes, it’s really a simple process.
At last, we got off at the Embankment stop and crossed over the bridge above the River Thames.
We purchased our tickets to get on the London Eye and about 10 of us packed in our capsule where we were free to sit on the bench in the center or get up and wander around to enjoy the view.
The entire ride took about 30 minutes to do just one revolution. But one revolution was enough to enjoy the incredible view around us.
I felt like Peter Pan. You know, the scene where he and the rest of the gang fly over the prominent buildings of London, like the Big Ben clock tower and Westminster Abbey. I personally think riding the London Eye would guarantee you one of the best views of London. I’m glad we went on it.
Another Italian dinner
My mom and I were pretty bushed from our full schedule, so we decided to eat dinner nearby and catch the Tube back to Euston.
We found yet another Italian restaurant called Azzurro, located right next to the nearest Tube station. Entering the dimly lit restaurant with stone walls and a curved passageway to get from the bar to the dining area, it was almost like being in a little cave that served food.
However, the fact that it was quite empty — being that this was a restaurant in the middle of a busy area at 6 p.m. — was a little troubling to us.
To our surprise though, the prosciutto-wrapped melon appetizer and caprese pizza were quite good! I wouldn’t say it was as good as Prezzo, but not bad!
Overall, it was a great day and I feel like I learned a lot about London and its people in just a few days of being there.