Monday, October 25, 2010

Across the pond, part three

As Monday dawned in The Cotswolds, we were filled with sadness that it was time to leave this beautiful and peaceful area of England. Getting lost several times in the previous days had robbed us of precious time that was to be spent exploring villages. We carefully planned our morning to visit as many towns as possible before we began the drive to London.

Our reward was a brief ride through Upper Slaughter, Lower Slaughter, and Burford. Bibury, our favorite village, was so inviting that we stopped and spent a leisurely hour taking in all that this slice of heaven had to offer.

Typical village path (road). This one is in Upper Slaughter.

One of the lush gardens of Bibury.
Windsor Castle was our next stop since it is conveniently located between The Cotswolds and London. It is impossible for me to find the words to describe the castle that Queen Elizabeth calls home. I will simply say this: it is big! As we approached the castle, its gray, stone walls and 1,000 rooms greeted us, stretching out endlessly in every direction. We toured the state rooms which are as elegant and royal as one would imagine. The Queen spends weekends at Windsor Castle so this led me to ask one of the guards if she leaves personal items there, such as a toothbrush, or does she bring a packed bag with her from Buckingham Palace. In return, I received a somewhat terse response of, "I would have no way of knowing that, madam." FYI, the British do not like to joke around about their monarchy with tourists! 

One of Windsor's courtyards.
Meticulously manicured gardens are located throughout the castle grounds.
We left Windsor as thankful to be returning the rental car as an expectant mother is to receive an epidural. After a long and tiring day, we wearily traveled by tube (subway) to our hotel, The Grosvenor House, in the Mayfair area of London.

The next few days found us visiting Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, #10 Downing Street, Kensington Palace, Kensington Park, St. Paul's Cathedral, Harrods, Piccadilly Circus, and the Eye.

The Houses of Parliament

A riverboat cruise on the Thames was an efficient way to see many historic sites and we especially enjoyed the guide's humorous narration. I was surprised at the Thames' pollution. Extremely muddy and odorous, this famous river was once the site of the monarchy's palace until the smell made it necessary to build a new castle away from the Thames.

We spent an hour on an entertaining tour of the Tower of London. Our Beefeater guide was priceless and kept us laughing throughout this ancient palace of death and imprisonment. We visited the site of Anne Boleyn's beheading which fortunately is nice and clean now. And the Crown! Absolutely stunning.

Memorial at the site of Anne Boleyn's beheading.
The pageantry and ceremony of the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace included hundreds of plumed horses, soldiers dressed in candy-apple red, and a marching band that surprised us by playing "New York, New York." We arrived an hour early to claim our viewing spot and were joined by a few thousand people eagerly awaiting this top tourist attraction. We enjoyed about 45 minutes of the ceremony and left early, feeling we needed to move on to other venues.

Buckingham Palace Changing of the Guards

It was impossible to pass up the opportunity to attend a London theatre production and "Wicked" did not disappoint us. This prequel to "The Wizard of Oz" tells us the story of Elphaba, The Wicked Witch of the West, and Glenda, the Good Witch of the North. It's an evening I'll never forget.

I was very fortunate to meet Sharon (Alan's cousin) and Len and their treat of dinner at Lemonia was incredible. I felt like I had known them for years and their company was instantly pleasant and comfortable. Their driving tour of the city at night presented us with a different view of London. Thank you Sharon and Len. I certainly hope we meet again.

I'll complete my story by sharing that I was constantly on the look out for Eric Clapton. From the moment I exited Delta flight DL10, I was on Eric watch. I asked pub patrons, tube riders, and hotel desk clerks if they ever say him in the area. The answer was always the same: "No." And then one day near the end of our vacation, I was rushing along with everyone else in the tube, and when I turned a corner, suddenly there he was, staring right at me.

I could go vacation was complete.