Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Private Evening Tour of Windsor Castle

The 21st Century Teenager and I had no problems driving to Windsor yesterday and the 21st Century Husband met us there on schedule so everything started out really well. I’m happy to say it continued that way as well. We were a bit early for our tour (very unusual for us!) so we went to a lovely little teashop beside the very famous Guildhall. Dating from 1687, the Guildhall was the site of the marriage of The Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker-Bowles and also the Civil Partnership between Elton John and David Furniss. Our friends got married there a few years ago and it is an amazing building, well worth a visit. The room they use for marriages and civil partnerships is just gorgeous. But I digress. The teashop was called The Crooked House and it is exactly that - a very small 300 year old crooked house! We all had tea and a piece of carrot cake. The cake was delicious, and the tea was all leaf tea, very traditional. I had camomile tea (I’m still not drinking caffeine), which was made with dried camomile flowers – you could actually see the dried flower heads! (We were all given strainers to strain out the flowers and leaves of our tea before drinking of course.) It was a lovely break before our tour.

By the time we made our way to the castle gates it was getting dark. There were about twenty of us on the tour and the castle was closed to all visitors except for us. We went through the visitor centre first for a security check and then our guide led us through the courtyards. Seeing the castle from inside the walls in the darkness gave us a very unique perspective. We headed for the wing that contains the staterooms and were led by our guide at a leisurely pace through them all. The ropes that normally stop one from looking closely at paintings and furniture were removed so that we could walk wherever we chose (of course no one touched anything). It was lovely to have a such a close look at things. Our guide told us about the rooms, their history and their contents. She was extremely knowledgeable and welcomed questions. It didn’t matter how obscure the question was, she always seemed to know the answer.

I have been inside Windsor Castle once before, in 1989. Of course some of it has changed a bit due to the catastrophic fire in 1992, but it has been sympathetically restored and looks incredible. The wonderful thing about this visit is that as it was night time, all the chandeliers were lit, and we saw the rooms in the most amazing light. Some of the chandeliers were over 16 feet tall – just imagine! The castle was decorated for Christmas and we saw three huge Christmas trees all beautifully decorated.

I will always remember this wonderful tour, not least of all because we were allowed to get so close to the beautiful treasures inside the castle. At one point, whilst looking at a piece of furniture I looked up and realised that on the wall above me there were three original Reubens paintings. It was quite staggering to realise I was inches from these incredible treasures. In another room, we had a close view of Rembrant’s famous self portrait, a painting I have seen in photographs many times. To see it in real life was just wonderful. In St George’s Hall, Queen Victoria’s sleigh was on display for the first time. It was a beautiful sleigh and as our guide described Queen Victoria as passenger and Prince Albert as driver we could almost see them there!

In all, our tour took nearly two hours. At the end we went into a room containing glass cases full of antique china and porcelain. There we were offered a glass of mulled wine and mince pies and allowed to wander at our leisure looking at this fascinating collection. All three of us had the most wonderful evening. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to tour this beautiful historic property in such an enjoyable fashion.

Today went very well too. Despite my claustrophobic experience of being stuck in traffic in the car park in town for over an hour last Friday and my resolution not to drive into town until after Christmas, I drove in for my Pilates class. I parked in a different car park and had an entirely different experience! After my class, I decided to risk doing a bit more Christmas shopping and managed to nearly finish it all. I walked back to the car park feeling ecstatic on one hand to have just about finished, but a bit worried on the other about what it would be like trying to get out of the car park. In the end, I had no problems at all and didn’t spend any time at all stuck in traffic. I did take a wrong turn as I’m not used to parking in that car park, but it was quite a minor inconvenience!

So now I am at home with almost all my shopping done, but I still have not finished my cards (last posting date is tomorrow!) and I do need to wrap all my purchases. But I am getting there, and I do feel a lot more relaxed knowing that. The 21st Century Teenager finishes school for the Christmas holidays tomorrow. I always look forward to him breaking up for the school holidays, it feels like Christmas has really started then. I’ve just had a phone call and a wonderful chat with my cousin in Canada, dinner is in the oven and it feels like all is nearly right with the world. I think I just might be beginning to get into the Christmas spirit!

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