Part 8: Prague and London

Day trip! For the past two years, we’ve taken a little day trip near London. First year, we went to Hampton Court to enjoy the King’s Christmas. Last year, we went punting in the River Cam at Cambridge. This year, we were going to Windsor Castle.

It was a quick train ride from Paddington Station to Windsor. However, as we got closer, it was evident they were feeling more of the winter than London. We saw snow and ice in varying amounts. And fog. It grew. Once we got to Windsor itself, most of the town was enveloped in a thick fog. We found the castle quickly but had to wait in line to buy tickets, once to get into the ticket hall, and then in the ticket hall itself. After a brief line at security where guards admired my husband’s wooden Czech made cane, we were in the castle complex. Well worth it.

We ran into a tour guide who gave free 20-30 minute tours of the castle. He was well-informed and funny. If you have the chance to do a free tour of Windsor, do it. He told us the legend of the founding of the Order of the Garter by Edward III. During a feast, a woman had her garter slip down her leg and everyone made fun of her. The king picked up the garter and shamed them for their unchivalrous conduct and said, “Honi soit qui mal y pense” (Shame on he who thinks evil of this). It’s the motto today. The less romantic story is that garters may have been the leather pieces that would keep armour up. He also tried to show us the nearby river overlooking the boy’s school Eton…but the fog was too thick to see it!

As time went on, I became increasingly concerned about my toes in the weather. They were so cold I actually was having difficulty walking. As soon as the tour was over, we immediately went into the State Apartments to check out the interior of the palace. What an astonishing palace! Sadly, no pictures allowed. We first were ushered into a room with china services over the years, which were amazingly ornate (and often over the top). Then we filled into a magnificent hall filled with giant paintings of past monarchs and those who did service to crown and country. We were led room by lushly furnished room. One was covered in wood with a jade collection; another had brilliant paintings from European masters. However, the most astonishing was the St. George’s Hall that contained the heraldic shields of all the knights of the Order of the Garter. To become part of the order is a very high honor, you did something of great service for queen and country. However, if you commit treason, you lose it. So the hall had some shields that were wiped out – those who had been cast out of the order…

As an added bonus, there was a little exhibition on the Queen’s wardrobe over the years. It was neat to see the various dresses worn for numerous occasions of state. It was neat to see the power of clothing. Often she would wear something on her dress, or the design itself would be a nod to the place she was staying. She did something with Celtic imagery in a visit to Ireland (or Northern Ireland) that apparently was the first of its kind by a British monarch. That’s cool. And there was a display of her hats. Glorious hats.

We also wandered into St. George’s Chapel, which is astonishingly beautiful. I was really excited to finally visit the tomb of King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. I have a fondness for the monarch. Apparently, he’s buried with the infant child of Queen Anne. Apparently, there wasn’t a big tomb made for him like Queen Elizabeth. There appear to have been plans but clearly that didn’t happen. Very strange.

Afterwards, we had some high tea at a local hotel that we passed. Nothing like tea and scones to warm up the soul after wandering around in the cold.

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We headed back to London to catch a lovely gathering of our friends and family with the London Program at a local pub where we feasted on cheese and currants. Then we went back to our rooms, ditched all of our unnecessary accessories (purses, glasses, etc.). It was time to go to the Winter Wonderland. This too was a tradition for the past three years. We have a particular ride that we adore. It’s a giant pendulum that spins around while your seats also twist around. Nothing like seeing London flying through the air upside down! But given the upside nature of the ride, you really can’t have anything in your pockets, etc.

So we went. As per our new world order, we had to wanded down before getting into the festival. We first wandered around to see what rides we wanted to do in addition to our favorite ride. We opted for the ride that takes you very high and then drops you. Well, that proved to be a more daunting experience than I had expected. When we got strapped in and raised, we went higher than any other ride there. Into the fog. The ground disappeared below between the fog and the darkness. At the top, the ride slowly spun amidst the fog. We hung there so long that I started having concerns that the ride may have broken down (they break down eventually). After an eternity, we heard strains of “Ave Maria” and the ride suddenly dropped us.

Not doing that again.

We made our way to our favorite ride, I was a bit shaken by our experience. Fortunately, that was a treat as always. Something about the speed and the wind through my hair was exhilarating and not terrifying. Another successful trip to Winter Wonderland.

It was time to meet my parents for dinner. This time we were going to try Rules, one of the oldest restaurants in London. It is beautifully decorated with wood paneling and antiques. There was the added touch of Christmas decorations in creative ways. The food was pretty tasty. I tried some oysters, which are always a delight.

That’s all for now!

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