Monday, September 14, 2015

An American Family in Europe, Day 7: Windsor Castle & Stonehenge

(Previously: Day 6, Goodbye France, hello England)

We got a slow start this morning and were scrambling to try to get to Windsor Castle in time to see the 11 a.m. changing of the guard. Some bad traffic, and us getting lost, certainly didn't help things.

As we drove into the town of Windsor, it was approaching 11 o'clock and we thought we might, at a minimum, catch a glimpse of the red-shirted guards marching through the town on the way to the castle. I dropped my wife and kids off so they could walk closer while I looked for a parking space.

My advance planning paid off a bit here: I had two likely parking lots in mind and, thanks to my close perusal weeks earlier of Google Maps and Google Streetview, I knew roughly where they were. I found one of the lots, called River Street, parked there and caught up with my wife and kids outside the castle gates.

Though we had missed the changing of the guards inside the castle, we got a good view of the guards marching out the gate of the castle to the beat of their drummers. And, as we wandered the castle grounds later, we would get to see a couple more small-scale guard changes. All in all, we got a satisfying view of the famous guards action.

I had bought tickets online, and that saved us from waiting in line at the ticket counter. We picked up audio guides and entered the well-groomed grounds. It was busy, but not nearly as crowded as Versailles.

We wandered through the state apartments, where various royal artifacts, are on display, including the actual bullet that killed Admiral Horatio Nelson. I asked a few questions of the docents and they gave me patient answers (by comparison, I don't recall any docents on hand at Versailles).

We opted not to see the Queen Mary's Doll House, because the line was long, but did tour St. George's Chapel, where Henry the VIII (among others) is entombed. We got some ice cream, took a few pictures of the red-jacketed guards and exited to have lunch of Thai food nearby.

Our next stop was Stonehenge, but before we even left Windsor we had a problem. Our GPS, which had gotten us around for the past day, suddenly quit trying. "Route not found," was all it would say.

Turning to the bench for an emergency substitute, we used my wife's iPhone's GPS program. This was actually a better routing program but it meant we were burning through a limited allotment of data that we had purchased for the phone for this trip.

As we neared Stonehenge, I was a bit surprised to see how well you could see it from the highway. You're not exactly close, but if you just want to say that you saw Stonehenge, you could take a quick look here and keep going.

We opted for a closer look, and turned off the highway into the Stonehenge parking lot. As we entered, a sign said parking would be 5 pounds. Sigh, I thought, as I pulled out my wallet. But when we got to the parking attendant, he simply asked, "Do you have a reservation?" We said yes, and he waved us on in, without paying.  Huh? So if you don't have a reservation, you have to pay to park?

(Double bonus confusion: The Stonehenge website says you must make reservations, but when we got to the entrance to pick up our tickets, there was a separate line for people without reservations.)

The English Heritage Pass we had gotten at Dover Castle covered our admission to Stonehenge. One point for the Planning Dude.

Stonehenge has a new visitors center, which looks sharp, but it's not next to the stones. To get out to the site, most people take a shuttle bus, although you can hike out there, too.

Stonehenge is an odd tourist attraction. If you want to be negative, you can dismiss all the postulating about it's origin and point out that it's just a bunch of rocks. But even for a casual viewer, you can see why it's mysterious. Why are these rocks here in this shape, out in the middle of this feature-less plain?  No one really knows the answer -- and I didn't try to break any blood vessels trying to solve the riddle myself -- but it does give you some pause to try imagine the thought process of the people who built Stonehenge long ago.

After Stonehenge, we drove to an apartment we were renting outside Bath. It was a nicely appointed place and bigger than I expected. The very nice hosts lived in the attached house next door, and didn't mind when our son went to play with their little boy on the trampoline.

We had Indian food delivered for dinner, and watched a movie to relax.

Next: Day 8, Bath

The full trip, by day: 

Days 1 and 2, Los Angeles to Paris

Day 3, Paris

Day 4, the Palace of Versailles

Day 5, the Eiffel Tower

Day 6, Goodbye France, hello England

Day 7, Windsor Castle & Stonehenge

Day 8, Bath

Day 9, Doctor Who and Swansea's LC

Day 10, the waterfalls of Wales

Day 11, Blists Hill and Ironbridge

Day 12, Warwick Castle

Day 13, Oxford and Harry Potter Studio Tour

Day 14, this is London

Day 15, British Museum and British Library

Day 16, the Tube goes on strike

Day 17, Greenwich, the Thames and Westminster Abbey

Day 18, the Tower of London

Day 19, heading home  


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