MaiTaiTom Gets The Royal Treatment…Two Weeks Exploring London and Scotland
Next: DAY THREE – Slough Off, First In Line, The Incredible Chapel, Apartment Hunting, Another Fine Mess You’ve Gotten Us Into, Eton Lunch, Standing Room Only, The Wrong Tube Turns Out To Be The Right Tube, Ivy League and Night Of The Living Dead
Our long day’s journey into a longer night started innocently enough with a train ride. From the Gloucester Road Station, we took the tube to Paddington Station and boarded the train (8:22) to Slough, where we changed trains to head to the Windsor & Eton Riverside station. To start the day at Paddington Station, my motto of “two coffees are always better than one” was strictly adhered to.
At the Windsor & Eton station, I met a gentleman with a stiff upper lip, and yes, that is another coffee.
Unlike our V&A “friend” from yesterday, I had purchased Windsor Castle tickets online and, once there, we were glad we did. The line for tickets stretched halfway to the Cotswolds (the photo above is not the entrance), however when 9:30 hit, the “MaiTai Four” were the first people inside the castle grounds (there actually were three ladies in front of us, but they had tickets for the wrong day…hope they let them in). We picked up our free audio guides and we were on our way.
Windsor has been the home to royals for more than 900 years, and it’s the Queen’s favorite residence (our corgis would love this place).
From King John to Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth, the castle has been expanded.
The grounds are finely manicured, and every vantage point makes for a good photo, especially when Tracy and Kim take them.
Speaking of corgis, as we headed to our first stop, we stopped by the gift store and picked them up a couple of Hunting Stewart tartan scarves…
We decided not to stop and get the scoop from the Windsor ice cream truck. It made me want to scream.
Most people headed straight for the State Apartments, so the four of us made a quick left at the gift store and headed to one of the most astounding chapels we’ve ever visited. (Sadly, no photography inside…those photos from internet).
Inside the chapel are the tombs of ten sovereigns, including Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour, and Charles I (who was imprisoned at Windsor Castle before he had his head topped), and George V. Princess Margaret is interred here, and I assume Elizabeth and Philip will end up here, also. That reminds me, I better set up our final resting place…but it probably won’t be here.
The interior has to be seen to be believed. Besides all the tombs and the rest of the chapel, the choir (photo from wiki) is incredible. It’s been around since 1348.
Back outside the gray clouds had somewhat parted…
…and we made our way to the sumptuous State Apartments (also no photography inside).
The Grand Staircase is really grand (this photo was taken by some scofflaw on the internet…not moi…thanks!)
The audio guide gave out interesting tidbits and when we arrived in St. George’s Hall we listened as the guide recounted the terrible fire that erupted at the castle in 1992 (the year Queen Elizabeth referred to as the “annus horribilis”) and destroyed nearly 100 of its rooms. It was said that something like 4,000 gallons of water a minute were used to fight the fire. The restoration project was immense and successful. It’s a fascinating story, and it concluded with a video on the audio guide showing a state dinner held in that humongous hall.
Next stop, the doll’s house. St. Mary’s Doll House is “the largest, most beautiful and most famous dolls’ house in the world. Built for Queen Mary by the leading British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens between 1921 and 1924, this most magical of residences is a perfect replica in miniature of an aristocratic home.” Personally, I only found it mildly interesting, but my playing with dolls days are long behind me.We walked the grounds some more, and the more we walked the hungrier we became. By being the first to enter we had successfully navigated the castle in under two hours, so we decided we’d start on our walk through Windsor and then go eatin’ in Eton.
It was only a ten minute walk to the small town of Eton (home of famed Eton College), connected by a footbridge from Windsor. We passed a charming restaurant on the Windsor side of the River Thames…
I thought I heard Tracy say, “Tom, you’re a mess.” However, before I could reply she pointed to an eatery called the Eton Mess (55 High Street).
This turned out to be a great little find.
…to the grilled eggplant sandwich to my most enjoyable steak sandwich with blue cheese and grilled onions…
Returning toward Windsor, we saw this view of the castle as we made our way over the bridge.
Just past the castle we stumbled upon (something I’m quite adept at doing) Windsor Parish Church – St. John The Baptist. It has quite a history…in 1168 it looked after a leper colony; three Windsor martyrs: Churchwarden Henry Filmer, Robert Testwood and Anthony Pearson were burnt at the stake nearby in Deanery Gardens in 1543; and in 1784 it became a ladies school. The present building dates from 1822.
One of the highlights inside is “The Representation of the Last Supper” located in the West Gallery by German painter Francis de Cleyn, who was the painter to James 1 (two coats…one day). It is considered “a national treasure.”
This art piece is the Church Monument to “Edward Jobson wife and ten children,” a Jacobean marble memorial (1605) showing the kneeling figures of Edward and Elynor Jobson and their six sons (one between the parents, a baby) and four daughters.
The Royal Pew (or Frogmore Pew) is located on the south side of the Sanctuary. The two thrones within the pew were the gift of Princess Augusta (daughter of George III) who was a regular worshipper here.
…and the Queen Victoria Statue. The bronze statue of Queen Victoria was erected in 1887 in celebration of the queen’s Golden Jubilee (below). The cost of £2,500 was covered by subscriptions from the people of Windsor and the surrounding districts.
After a little stroll through Windsor…
…and stopping for gelato, we caught the train (not this one)…
We caught a break for our tube ride back to Kensington. There was an inordinately large crowd waiting for the tube. When it arrived, we got on what we thought was the correct line (Circle Line). On board, we realized it was not. A person on board told us we were lucky we had boarded the wrong car as the Circle Line was not running on this afternoon for some reason. He said, “That’s why so many people are waiting.” He and another lady showed us where we could get off, and it was an easy transition to get back to Gloucester Road Station.
By now, the crew was really tired, well, except for me. Kim and Mary went to their room while Tracy laid down. What’s a tourist to do? “I’m going out for a walk,” I told Tracy, and I wandered aimlessly (something I do very well) until I saw a beautiful building that I thought was a church through the trees.
I meandered through the museum (some of the rooms were closed for renovations) and wandered over to the “Godzilla Room,” which I don’t believe is its real name. I thought a little music by T-Rex would have livened up the room.
The light show for the dinosaurs kept me amused for a few moments, but checking the time I realized I needed to get back and shower, because we had dinner reservations with a friend who we had met on our 2013 trip to England (Trip Report here).
As we hopped on the Tube, none of our group could envision where this night would eventually take us. It started innocently enough when we exited the Leicester Square Tube station. A man was giving a little concert, and it was a short walk to The Ivy (5 West Street), Covent Garden. Trouble was still a few hours away for the MaiTai Four.
We walked by the Agatha Christie Memorial at the intersection of Cranbourn Street and Great Newport Street, an interesting bit of foreshadowing of our upcoming Endless Night, which, coincidentally, would end up a mystery to us all.
Across the street from The Ivy was the marquee for The Mousetrap at St. Martin’s Theatre. The play has run continuously since 1952 (since 1974 at St. Martin’s), the longest continuous run of any play in the world. I was just happy because with the Mousetrap right across the street, we wouldn’t have to worry about any rodents.
The Ivy is famous, as well. The Ivy opened in 1917 (so we were here on its 100th anniversary year) under the ownership of Abel Giandolini. The restaurant’s name was derived from a conversation with a regular customer, actress Alice Delysia. She said to Giandolini, “Don’t worry, we will always come to see you, we will cling together like the ivy.” It was a lyric to a famous song of the time, and the name stuck.
We were meeting our friend Brock, who had hosted us at his b&b in Tetbury in 2013 (The York House…one of our all-time favorite lodgings, now sadly closed). Today, Brock runs a cider company. We have kept in touch with him over the years, and he stayed with Kim and Mary when he traveled to their home in Bodega Bay a couple of years ago.
The Ivy is a place that caters to the rich and famous (of which we’re neither), but Brock has connections and scored a reservation. Speaking of rich and famous, two nights later as we watched the news in Edinburgh, we saw the Queen dined at the Ivy, her first venture out in public in more than a year. We are such trend setters (and, by the way, not our last brush with royalty on this trip)! Photo is from Vanity Fair.
I started with a delicious gnocchi, autumn squash & Pomerola with Parmesan pine nut crust, while my main course was an excellent slow-braised Cornish lamb. We are now nearing the time where my memory starts fading.
After dinner, Brock suggested we hail a taxi and head to a hotel bar where he said they make “the best martinis on earth.” Brock, who lived in Edinburgh for a time, also recommended that we have dinner at the Prestonfield House in Edinburgh while there. The wine having already taken effect, we enthusiastically replied, “Yes!”
Brock called the restaurant/hotel from the taxi and secured us reservations for Saturday night. He made the reservations under the name, “The Reverend Thomas Fielding.” Much laughing ensued (you can see where this evening is headed).
The taxi pulled up to The Egerton House Hotel, a 5-Star hotel in Knightsbridge. We had no idea what we were in for. As it turned out, Don Henley had a better chance of surviving the Hotel California.
Once inside, we walked into a small, elegant room with a couch and a few high end chairs, and in the area behind that room stood a little bar and dapper bartender.
Brock had to convince the bartender that he had been there before, but after some small talk, Brock and the bartender talked like old friends. Trouble was stirring (or was it shaken) only moments away.
Tracy, Brock and I ordered the famed martinis, which as we found out was gin frozen at something like minus 20 degrees centigrade (it actually froze the lemon peel the bartender put into the glass). By the way, some of these “facts” might be a little off, because by the end of the evening brain cells were in short supply. I can tell you this, however, the martinis were very, very good.
The martinis were made with quite a flair, and the large (and I mean large) glasses were filled to the brim. So much so, that the first sip of the martini had to actually be made by leaning over and sipping the martini without picking it up (the proof is in the incriminating photos seen below). This is where we all should have stopped.
Next, Brock ordered an herb martini, which he didn’t care for, and Mary made the mistake of drinking it herself, momentarily forgetting that gin and Mary do not get along.
The rest of the evening is sketchy at best. Tracy and I only remembered having two martinis, but when the dust had settled, it looks like we might have had three (along with Brock), while Mary had wine and a martini, and Kim two large Rusty Nails.
At some point (the exact time is lost in our collective memories), the four of us got into a taxi and made our way back to the hotel. Tracy and Mary were laughing non-stop at something when we exited the cab (by the way, this is related by Kim, who was the only one left with a few brain cells remaining…and I mean only a few).
Kim did say we all gathered ourselves for a modicum of self-control as we entered the lobby, although Mary and Tracy were still giggling. We (carefully) made our way to our respective rooms (I only know this because I did wake up in our hotel bed the following morning).
Tomorrow would be our final day in London. Surprisingly, we were able to accomplish a few things along the way. On a blustery, rainy day, we’d visit a famous house located across from a well-known monument, stop in a museum that proves war is Hell and stroll around London for a bit.
We would end the day with a little Founding Fathers action by taking a quick photo of the Father of our Country near a famed square and visiting the house where the Father of Electricity lived for a number of years. Yes, I’m shocked, too. We also took a sacred oath that Gin Martinis, no matter how delicious, would forever be off our “to do” list.
DAY FOUR – The Bar Bill from Hell, Government Beef With Wellington, Somber Memorials, For Heaven’s Sake…Not The Horses Again, This Old House, Naked Napoleon, War…What Is It Good For, Burger Stop, Don’t Forget The Grass, Go Fly A Kite, Deluge and A Call To Arms
The good news was we awoke. The bad news was we awoke. Like a Dickens novel, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” One thing we recollected from the previous evening was that we had made plans to meet Brock at a nightclub on this night…a place called Annabel’s. Discretion being the better part of valor and all that, we politely texted him to cancel. We still had 12 more days of vacation, and one night of debauchery is one more than our limit.
In any case, we only had one more day in London, and even though the weather was not conducive to much outside activity, we had some places to see. After breakfast at the hotel (not recommended, but surely needed), Mary informed us that she had picked up the prior evening’s bar tab. After looking at it, it would have been best if she had put it down after literally picking it up. I won’t give the total, but it did have Kim considering coming out of retirement.
Onward and upward. We knew the Apsley House opened at 11, but we got there early and walked across the rain-slickened street to the Wellington Arch. Constructed in 1825, this was originally the entrance to Buckingham Palace at one time, but later became a victory arch proclaiming Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon. The arch is now topped with the largest bronze sculpture in Europe, depicting the Angel of Peace “descending on the ‘Quadriga’ (four-horse chariot) of War.”
According to literature I’ve read, the original arch was dismantled in February 1883 by the government at the time. It went on to say, “Initial proposals to melt the statue down and cast a smaller one from the metal were rejected when a number of army officers objected.”
The arch was rebuilt in 1885, but instead of the equestrian statue that had previously topped the arch…
Hyde Park Corner also contains a couple of war memorials. The Royal Artillery Monument was built in the early 1920s in commemoration of the casualties of the Royal Regiment of Artillery during World War I.
Not too far from that memorial is the Australian War Memorial, which was dedicated in 2003 to the 102,000 Australians who were killed in World War I and World War II. The grey-green granite slabs used for the semicircular curved wall came from Western Australia.
Just before going back across the street to see the Apsley House, out of the corner of my eye I saw something that gave me a terrible flashback to 2013 (see report here).
On that morning in 2013, we made the mistake of going to see the “Changing Of The Royal Horse Guards.” I believe on this day…four years later…is the first time those horses have moved since that fateful morning (picture below is of that “event”).
Back to reality. The Apsley House (149 Piccadilly, Hyde Park) was the home of the man who helped Napoleon meet his Waterloo. Without that battle, ABBA would have had a different first hit and probably not won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. They owe it all to Wellington.
The £8.80 (one pound discount for Tracy’s elderly husband) entrance cost includes an informative audio guide (highly recommended…one of the better ones). Once again there was the darned “no photography” rule, so these are from the internet (except for the below one which my scofflaw phone magically took…that’s my story and I’m sticking to it).
The mansion is still owned by the family. One of the coolest stories was about a giant, nude statue of Napoleon erected at the bottom of the staircase that Wellington loved and, of course, Napoleon hated (to the victors go the spoils). The statue, Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker, was by Italian artist Antonia Canova, and at one time it was on display at the Louvre. Louis XVIII sold it to the British government in 1816, who in turn gave it to the Duke of Wellington.
It was back on the Tube to see more of war. Our next stop was the IWM London, part of the Imperial War Museums (that’s part of the Berlin Wall below).
This is a very well-organized museum. That’s a bombed out car from the Middle east on the left.
By the time we walked from the tube to the IWM, it was past 12:30, so we toured it for a little while (we gave it short shrift…but by now we had already decided we’d return to London again), but after about 45 minutes…
…we decided to grab some lunch. It was at this point, we also realized we’d forgotten to bring our tickets for our last stop of the day, so we hightailed it back to the hotel.
Since Kim had no money left after last night’s bar bill, we walked down the street to Byron, whose sign said they made “proper hamburgers.” Being the proper people we are, we went in. The burgers really hit the spot, as did the onion rings, at soaking up the remnants of the prior evening’s debauchery.
It was a little early for our 4:30 reservations to see Ben Franklin’s House, but we decided we’d go check on another founding father first.
When we exited the tube we were at a spot I had almost booked for dinner. The interior looked quite cool when I had checked online.
We walked for a bit, and located near Trafalgar Square is a statue of none other than George Washington, which struck me as a little weird. It’s tantamount to a Babe Ruth statue being erected at Fenway Park. It was raining, but we were going to see this, by George.
The marble original is in Richmond, Virginia. The Gorham Manufacturing Co. was authorized to make bronze replicas in 1910 from the original molds (original molds no longer exists today). These statues are displayed all over the country and the world, including one at Palace of Versailles and this one.
So the story goes, Washington stated once that he would never stand on English soil, so the statue came complete with some American soil it could be placed on.
There’s only one house remaining in the world where Benjamin Franklin resided, and it is located in London at 36 Craven Street. The house was constructed in 1730, and Franklin lived here for 16 years starting in 1757.
We had booked the Historical Experience, which I hoped didn’t include flying a kite in a lightning storm. When we arrived, the woman taking tickets was kind of shocked we were on this tour. It seems everyone else on this particular tour would be the board members of this organization. After chatting amongst themselves for a few minutes, it was deemed we were ok to go on the tour with them.
The house was renovated and restored in 1998 by The Friends of Benjamin Franklin House (I think that’s the group who went with us on the tour) and the house was then turned into a museum.
I would say this is a tour only for diehard Franklin fans. There is no furniture in the home, so the audio visual presentation focused on the years Franklin lived in this house.
On the way back to the Tube, the skies opened. It was our sign that our time in London was numbered.
Dinner on this evening was thankfully just a block away from our hotel. We had made reservations at the Hereford Arms, the place we got shut out of on Day One.
The pub crowd was spilling out nearly into the streets by the time we arrived for our 7:45 reservations. We walked through a haze of cigarette smoke and entered the lively pub. Reservations here are absolutely a must.
Tracy and I enjoyed our fish and chips (it was one large fish) along with mushy mint peas, which I graciously let Tracy take my share. She adored them. Although at a pub, my libation of choice on this evening was water.
Tomorrow, we’d catch an early train that would take us to Edinburgh. Our day would start with a chance encounter with a controversial London politician, a Harry Potter moment, a fun train ride through beautiful countryside settings, an enchanting b&b, an incredible Edinburgh cathedral, a “sheepish” moment and our first taste of…you guessed it…Haggis!
Next: DAY FIVE: Brexit “BoJo” Encounter, Platform 9 3/4, On Track For Edinburgh, How Did He Fit All Our Luggage In Here, It’s Millers Time, Exhilarating Edinburgh, Church of Hard Knox, Thistle Put You In Awe, Hello Dolly, Where’s The Cannonball & The Golden Hour