While I love the intrepidity of traveling alone, it’s also wonderful and necessary to see a familiar face every now and again. I’m lucky to have Scotties studying abroad all over Europe, a cousin teaching English in Madrid, camp friends and family friends throughout the UK. This past weekend, I stayed with Nikki and Nancy, friends from my summer job at Camp Aloha Hive who live in Weybridge, outside London. I really enjoyed catching up with them, playing with their cats, and eating lots of delicious vegan food. We also talked a lot about camp, which got me super excited for the summer and all the cool things still in store for me after my adventures abroad.
I also got to have dinner with Jan, my mom’s friend from when she worked in London during college, her son Alan and partner Dick. They were in Paris for much of the time I was in London, but I’m so glad I got to see them, and dinner was delightful. We went to a Persian restaurant in Richmond where Jan and I shared some hummus, and I had okra stew and a magical dessert: saffron and rosewater icecream. Happily, I will get to see Jan and Co. more later in April, in both London and Belfast. Sneak peak: Kathryn Dean and I will return to London during our European travels over spring breaks, beginning in a little over a week! Details to come.
In addition to catching up with good friends, I fit in two castle tours: the working palace Windsor Castle and the history-rich Hampton Court. Both were incredibly interesting and fun for different reasons.
Windsor was my first stop. As soon as I left the train station at Windsor & Eton Riverside, I could see the castle looming above the town to my general left. (“You literally can’t miss it,” Jan had told me.) So, having no trouble keeping the castle in sight, I started walking into town until I found the visitor’s entrance. The grounds are vast. The picture below can only give you a sense of the scale if you consider that there is more castle to the left that matches the right side of the path, and much more castle at the distant end of the path, where you can see white towers on the horizon.
I decide to go St. George’s Chapel first, when a guide helpfully pointed out that it would be closing before the State Apartments and other attractions. The chapel architecture is stunning. I couldn’t take pictures inside, but I wouldn’t have been able to capture it anyway, especially the glorious afternoon sun radiating through the massive, west-facing stained glass window. Here’s an artsy view of the chapel exterior, however.
Completed in 1528 (after more than 50 years of construction), St. George’s Chapel has since been the site of royal baptisms, weddings and, most often, funerals. Quite a few royals are buried there, my favorite examples being King George VI and the Queen Mother (Elizabeth II’s mum and dad), King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. The grave of the latter two was apparently unmarked for quite some time until, after breaking into it several times accidentally during renovations, someone decided to put an engraved marble slab in the floor.
This last tidbit of information I got from a very knowledgeable docent who was giving a tour of the chapel. Apparently, this tour was for very fancy people who knew things about art history and architecture or perhaps had lots of money, but I did not realize this. I started listening to his tour so that I could learn more about this beautiful place, and he engaged me and didn’t make any funny faces, so I assumed it was all right. He pointed out interesting details in the west window, which portrays an array of saints, but also the stonemason who finished the chapel. At the bottom of the window, some of the faces are scratched blank, the work of some rebellious folk during the Reformation.
It was not until we got to the Albert Memorial Chapel that I realized I was not technically supposed to be on this tour. After introducing the room to the group and pushing aside the velvet rope for them, he said to me quietly, “It’s not open to the public, I’m afraid, but…” he kind of glanced around, “Are you by yourself?” I nodded.
“Well…” he said, “Come on. You’ve been with us most of the way. It wouldn’t be fair.” He must have recognized me as a princess, or at least as an earnest college student. So, I got to learn even more about the chapel in this richly elaborate Gothic room. This is actually the oldest part of the chapel, and used to be all there was. The chapel was renovated and made even more elaborate after Prince Albert’s death, at which point Queen Victoria renamed it the Albert Memorial Chapel. A funerary monument to Albert resides in the chapel, along with several monuments to lesser known royals. The walls are adorned with dyed, engraved marble pictures of Biblical scenes. The room is exquisite, and I wish I could have taken a picture to show you!
Next, on my way to Queen Elizabeth’s state apartments, I visited the exhibit of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. I’m including a picture of one of my favorite rooms, the queen’s bedroom, because the detail is just too amazing to settle for not showing you.
The doll’s house was built for Queen Mary between 1921 and 1924 by British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and is fully furnished, a little palace in its own right. The exhibit also included dolls and doll clothes given to Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in the 30s by “the Children of France” on a state visit to England. I thought it was very cute to see toys the Queen would have played with as a little girl!
Speaking of cute, there was also a special photography exhibit, “60 Photos for 60 Years,” to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. A few of my favorite pictures: the Queen as a young woman stopping work at her desk to pet a corgi, the Queen and Margaret Thatcher in mostly darkness, looking at each other in profile (very intense and creepy) and the Queen meeting Lady Gaga. The cutest one was of her inspecting some royal troops, all of whom looked very serious except for William, who was smirking as though his grandmother had told him a joke as she glided past.
I’ll let that sink in, then post about the state apartments, Eton, and Hampton Court in Part 2!