Pussy-cat, Pussy-cat…where have you been?

Cardiff to Windsor

Sad to be leaving Cardiff (we’ve already decided we have to come back), we packed up and headed out of the Marriott and back to the train station.  This time, the journey will involve changing trains mid-journey at Reading.  I’ve already explained to Mom and Vicki that we have to grab all of our stuff and get it off the train before the it leaves, as well as avoid being trampled by anyone attempting to board. Luckily, everything worked out fine and we made our connection without problem.

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Arriving in Slough, we managed to schlep our bags up and down the stairs over the train tracks.  One of the prices one pays for a train system developed during Victorian times is a lack of accessibility in smaller stations (most larger stations have been retrofitted with lifts).  Successfully exiting the station, we headed over to the taxi queue and loaded our bags for the short ride to the last Marriott of our trip.  This Marriott is the one that serves Heathrow Airport and we noticed a large number of flight crew personnel hanging out in the lobby.  After checking in, we made our way upstairs to our room with our bags one final time.  Hastily we unpacked, already anticipating an afternoon visit to the Queen.  OK, so it was an afternoon visit to Windsor Castle, but the Queen might be home.  It’s her favorite castle after all.

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Back downstairs, we hailed a cab and headed to Windsor, about a 10 minute drive away. Hopping out of the taxi at the foot of Windsor Castle, we tried to decide what to do first.  Fortunately, Mom has come to realize that shopping will always come first with Vicki and me, and didn’t complain as we popped into a couple of shops to buy yet more souvenirs that we will somehow have to shoehorn into our luggage.  After collecting our purchases (a couple of scarves, hats and other miscellany), we headed over to the Horse and Groom pub for some lunch.  There, I had what was the best fish & chips of the trip, hands down.  It was a true British pub experience, complete with several elderly British couples enjoying a lunch out.  (Mom, Vicki and I decided that we want to know where British ladies get their coats.  They always seem to have the loveliest coats.  Personally, I think that they pick them out knowing that they will spend much time in them.)   After lunch, we headed out to tour Windsor Castle.

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Back outside, we discovered that the weather had done another one of its abrupt turns and a shower was blowing through.  However, by now, we don’t go anywhere without our rain gear, so we simply pulled up our hoods and persevered.  Luckily, the shower was brief and didn’t dampen our enjoyment of the Castle at all.  This is my third time visiting Windsor and I was just as much in awe during this visit as I was during either of the previous ones.  One thing that Mom and I noticed, was that the scaffolding that had enfolded St. George’s Chapel the last time we were there had been removed.  Also, due to the fact that it was June and not November, many more flowers were in bloom in the Queen’s Jubilee Garden.  This is the garden that was planted to celebrate the Queen’s 50th year on the throne.  We also visited the State Apartments and Queen Mary’s Dollhouse.  The Dollhouse is especially spectacular because it is so complete in its detail, that one could actually live in it if they were small enough.

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And, apparently the Queen is getting a DELL.  I just couldn’t resist this picture.

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Finished with our tour, and somehow managing to have missed tea with the Queen, we instead settled for tea at this quintessentially English little shop called…wait for it…the Crooked House.  Apparently, it was built with green oak and did not settle evenly.  We found nothing whatsoever wrong with the tea and scones however.

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Drawing a long day to a close, we caught a cab back to the hotel. (Darn, 3 taxis today and they’ve all been regular cars.  Will have to wait until tomorrow to show Vicki a classic London black taxi).  Back at the hotel, we stopped off in the lounge for something to drink and a last bite of the evening.

How do you get around London during a Tube strike?

On our last full day in London, we started with breakfast in the lounge (sense a theme here?) We caught yet another taxi back to the train station at Slough to take a train into London.  Our plans for the day revolved around our last HOHO tour of the trip.  With only one day in London, we wanted Vicki to get as big a taste of the city as possible and we figured the Big Bus Tour of London would fit the bill.  Our train arrived in Paddington Station a short 30 minutes later.  There, I tried to figure out the best way to get to Marble Arch, where most of the HOHO tours start.  Taking the Tube (the London Underground) was out due to a 48-hour strike.  It seems that the London Underground workers haven’t gotten the memo about the rotten world economy and were striking for more pay and benefits. While I was planning our route to Marble Arch, Mom and Vicki took a quick side trip to the WC (that’s water closet or restroom).  There, they encountered a first…pay toilets.  In all of our travels, this is the first time we’ve come across these.  (Mom and Vicki immediately started carrying change in their pockets, just in case.  Some things you don’t want to hunt for if the need is great).

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With directions from one of the many helpful station staff trying to help people navigate without the Tube, we made the 20-minute walk to Marble Arch without incident.  It was an interesting walk through one of the many ethnic neighborhoods in London.  This one appeared to be Middle Eastern and some of the fruit stands and restaurants looked and smelled very interesting.

Arriving in Marble Arch, we spoke to one of the Tour staff and were put at the head of the line for the next tour bus.  We were really glad to be at the head of the line because we appeared not to be the only tourists trying to beat the Tube strike by using tour buses.  Luckily, when the bus finally arrived, we were able to get good seats on the top of the double decker bus.  Even better, the weather was mostly sunny and fairly warm.  As the bus pulled out, we began to notice something else…traffic in central London was even worse than normal, which we again attributed to the strike (grrrrr.)  We had ample time to enjoy the sites as we moved through the city very slowly.  We noticed a lot of scaffolding on many of the historical building and monuments.  Is this the UK’s economic stimulus, we wondered.  We finally departed the tour at the Tower of London, another must see for Vicki.  Mom and I were also looking forward to a return visit, since our last was rushed due to early winter closing times.

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Arriving at the Tower, after a brief stop for lunch, we bought our tickets and entered to find ourselves part of an effort to storm the castle.  Actually, it was a living history demonstration of the offensive and defensive maneuvers performed during the Tower’s long history.  Tearing ourselves away from the mob, we joined the Beefeater led tour of the grounds.  After completed the guided tour, we took our turn in the queue for the Crown Jewels.  A completely awesome sight, the only thing keeping us from remaining drooling over the jewels was the moving sidewalk (and crowds that wouldn’t let us walk backwards).  Finally, we took a look at some of the oldest Roman wall remains in England.

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It was while touring the Tower, that we came up with the perfect theme for our trip.  This year is the 500th anniversary of King Henry VIII’s ascension to the throne and there are many special activities in and around London.  We spotted this sign at the Tower Cafe and felt it summed up our two weeks perfectly.

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Finished with our visit to the Tower, and emerging with our heads still attached, we again joined a queue for a HOHO bus.  Once again, the realities of the Tube strike frustrated us, as we waited about half an hour for a bus and then had to squeeze on.  Luckily, we were able to grab seats downstairs.  Not so luckily, it as a blue route bus with a recorded commentary and we couldn’t hear a word.  For the next hour, we inched across London until we reached our final London goal for the day…Harrods.

What can I say about Harrods?  Harrods is more than just a famous London department store, it is truly an experience in and of itself.  We wandered, for a few minutes anyway, through rooms of items we couldn’t afford.  We then came to our senses and headed downstairs to the “bargain basement”.  This is actually the area of the store that stocks Harrods logo goods for the tourists.  There we found many items within our price range.  I’m pretty sure at this point that Vicki must be buying stock for a hat emporium as she bought several more here!  We also found some cute bags that were marked down. (Yep, still suckers for anything on sale.)  Lastly, we headed upstairs to the Food Hall.  The Food Hall is almost impossible to describe.  It is room after room of foods of every description.  You can find everything from beef and cheese to sushi and pizza.  Mom, Vicki and I finally made it to the Sweets room and picked up some homemade fudge and some crème brulee desserts (again on sale, we took that as a sign).  Lastly, we made it to the bakery.  There we stuffed sacks with freshly made scones, croissants and other delectable goodies.  Luckily, the exit was on the other side of the Bakery Hall.  Otherwise, we might still be there.

Safely outside, we hopped in a taxi at the conveniently located queue for a trip back to Paddington Station.  Finally, a real London taxi experience.  Everyone should have a real London taxi ride at least once.  It turns out that our cabbie was originally from Ireland and we spent a wonderful 15 minutes in conversation until we reached the station.  Reluctantly, we exited the cab and entered Paddington for our final train ride of our journey.  Half an hour later, we were back in Slough.  We stopped in the local Tesco supermarket for some sandwiches so that we could pretend to eat dinner before gobbling up our dessert goodies from Harrods. (Although we came really close to grabbing donuts at Tesco.  Would you believe that there was a Krispy Kreme in the Tesco?  The smell was so reminiscent of home that we almost couldn’t resist, but thinking of our crème brulee and fudge, we managed.)  After a final taxi ride, we settled onto our beds at the Marriott to enjoy a”picnic” supper.

Sadly, we packed our bags after dinner, although pleased to find that we could, in fact, get everything in them.  Mom didn’t even need her extra bag.  Obviously, Vicki and I need to work on her shopping gene development.

Stay tuned for a final post of our time in Heathrow Airport (would you believe more shopping) and a final trip “report card”.