Monday, May 20, 2013

Castle Day

Day 2 of my London adventures. I spent the morning at Windsor castle. It's about a half hour from London, and there are frequent trains. The weather was a little spotty, but it was a cool castle.

It's the castle I've ever visited that is still in use. This one was also built by William the Conqueror after he invaded. I'm quickly becoming a big fan of his. The only downside is that since it is a working castle, you can't take pictures inside of anything. So you'll have to take my word for it that the chapel and state rooms are gorgeous.

 Over the years, parts of the castle were actually made to look more fortress-like, to fit the personal preferences of the royals. Notably the central tower had a good 6 feet added to its height to make it look more medieval.
Pretty gardens

Changing of the guard
 The changing of the guard is supposed to be even more decorative here than at Buckingham palace, but honestly, I think this is something you can pass on. It's just not that exciting.

St. George's Chapel
 Besides being an example of beautiful architecture, the chapel is also the burial place of many royals, including Henry VIII, George VI (king during WWII) and the Queen Mother.

Beautiful setting
 Windsor is set on a slight hill, and the views are really lovely. William picked a good spot.

the Upper Ward
 In the Upper Ward, you can see the state apartments, which are gorgeous and, well, stately. It also houses Queen Mary's Doll's House. Queen Mary was the wife of King George V (king during WWI). Her cousin Princess Mary Louise came up with the idea as a present to her, knowing how much she loved doll houses. It is a perfect 1/12 model of a fashionable home with all the latest and greatest innovations (like a miniature vacuum cleaner). The plumbing and lighting all work, and the furnishings were often provided by real companies. The best craftsmen of Europe each contributed to the doll house, whether it be tiny furniture, china dinnerware, or bed linens. There's a library filled with tiny books, many copies provided by the authors themselves of their best work, some are original works created especially for the doll house, like The Haunted Doll House by M. R. James, a famed ghost story writer. There's model cars made by the actual manufacturers, the wine cellar is complete with miniature bottles (with real wine) from the best vineyards, and many of the paintings and sculptures were provided by well-known artists. On top of it all, there's a tiny set of crown jewels, provided by a London jeweler. Just incredible.

After Windsor, I took a train to Oxford and from there a bus to Blenheim. I ended up arriving there a bit later in the day than I had intended, so I did not have as much time as I might have preferred. It worked out though; I had plenty of time to see the rooms, and since it was raining, I didn't care so much about not walking the grounds. An unexpected bonus to arriving a bit later was that I practically had the place to myself. What a privilege to be able to walk the rooms uncrowded! To be able to stop and look at whatever you liked, unfettered by the masses! Almost like being a guest. Blenheim is also a working residence, though it is not a royal one. Blenheim Palace is the home of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. Constructed from 1705 to 1724, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site besides being the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.

It has literally always been a money pit. The first duke's designs were lavish and ridiculously expensive, and he died before it was completed. His widow carried on with the work, despite hating the gargantuan house, because she loved him and wanted to see his dream fulfilled. She did manage it, though work stopped at various points when money ran out. The first couple of dukes managed to keep things going, through good management, but the 5th and 6th dukes went through money like fish through water. The 7th duke sold everything he could to keep out of bankruptcy. This tided the family over for a bit, but the house was in terrible disrepair. Later in life the 8th Duke married a wealthy American widow, and the general consensus was that Mrs. Price bought herself a title. Her wealth wasn't really enough though, so the 9th Duke followed his father's example and crossed the pond in search of a wealthy bride. Lucky for him Consuelo Vanderbilt's mother Alva had high expectations for her, and nothing short of a Duke would have satisfied her. It may not have been a happy marriage, but the house got fixed up, and I like imagining the looks on the British Baronesses' faces as they were forced to make way for a young American Duchess.

The current Duke and Duchess still spend part of the year there (the family doesn't seem to have any more money problems), so you can't see the whole house, but the state rooms are really impressive.

Blenheim Palace

Following my visit to Blenheim, I returned to Oxford to have dinner with my friend Jim, who now studies physics there. We had spanish tapas, and then we went over to a traditional British pub, the Eagle and Child. This is the pub where the Oxford Inklings met up, including J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Charles Williams (among others). As a major Inklings fan, it was happy nerd moment for me. Although I have to say, I'm not much of a fan of British beer.

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