The last couple days with the parents were eventful to say the least. Our Cotswolds B&B was fantastic given how randomly we’d chosen it and the region itself was quite pretty. Lots of little villages with cute shops and restaurants and supposedly great antiquing. I stayed out of the antique shops though, sure I’d see something I’d either love and couldn’t afford or couldn’t afford to ship home even if I could afford the price. The village of Bourton-on-water closest to us was particularly pretty being mostly set along a picturesque river/canal and made up of mostly old stone cottages. I doubt the photos will really evoke the charm of the place but we’ll see when I get them back from the parents. We ended up enjoying another proper cream tea as well as some other tasty meals. I must say thought that it’s quite the older folks area and I’d probably have started to go a little stir crazy had we stayed there as long as we’d stayed some other places.
The next morning we were off to the Reading area to meet some distant cousins that my mother has been in contact with on the net. Amazingly enough I managed to get us there despite no real map of the area and some pretty shoddy google map info I’d transferred onto a notepad. They turned out to be quite friendly and wonderful hosts and shared some stories of distant relatives on my mother’s side of the family. Unfortunately we needed to have the car back by 3 so our time with them was short, but they’d been busy when we’d been near London initially so we had to make do with this time slot. They warned us that we’d have to leave reasonably early to beat the potentially terrible M25 (ring road around London) traffic. How right they were…
We’d seen signs warning of a shutdown on the traffic warning signs, it turned out the M25 was shut down completely right around the exit we needed. Long story short apparently there had been some sort of epic accident that closed all 8 lanes (both directions) for over 24 hours. Needless to say, we didn’t have the car back by 3, in fact we spent over 5 hours in the jam and only got it back around 8 pm, collapsing in exhaustion in the Airport Holiday Inn at Gatwick in preparation for my parent’s flight home the next day. Terrible end to an awesome trip for them, still we got them off safely the next morning and they’re home now. As I write this they’re probably bathing kennel-stinky dogs.
I on the other hand made my way slowly into London, collapsed into a hostel I’d booked for my first night and slept for a couple hours before stumbling down to the common room and hopping on the internet. This time the hostel had a pretty great food service so I actually just ate there. Big pizza with chicken and brie for about $10 cdn is hard to beat in London. Even better that they sell alcohol during pub hours so I had a tall beer. I followed it up with a quick walk over to a cinema and finally saw the last Harry Potter movie. Much like my Sydney experience this was an overpriced small place (though with a great projector) with that weirdest of things to us North Americans… assigned seats. Still, I figured it was my last chance to see an English movie on the big screen for a while so I took it. Probably the weirdest moment was the pre-show music, I hadn’t really been listening but then I was suddenly struck by exactly what it was. The Aleksandr Nevsky suite by Prokofiev for the epic Eisenstein Stalinist propaganda film. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself, it’s always been a favourite piece of music but seemed somewhat out of place there.
Today I transferred to a new hotel as recommended by a friend, it’s in somewhat of a shambles due to some renovations but I do at least have a single with ensuite. Of course the internet is broken and the tv near non functional but I went out for the afternoon/evening anyway. My friend Shilpa from my RIM days invited me to meet her out for dinner in Windsor so I decided to go out and see the castle first. Luckily the new hotel is more or less directly opposite Paddington station so it was an easy trip to catch the train which was helpful. Less so was the guy who told me it was two stops when in fact I needed to transfer at the first one… costing me extra to come back and almost making me too late to do the full tour.
Windsor Castle is even more beautiful than I imagined. The outside architecture a mix of really old and relatively new, most of the older more rugged bits having been prettied up as the castle passed from being a fortress to a more ostentatious royal residence first. St. George’s within the grounds is every bit as pretty as it always looks in pictures as well, incredibly Gothic inside and out with one of the prettiest ceilings I’ve seen yet. It’s home to the Order of the Garter so the quire is surrounded by the heraldic arms of the current members. I actually just got into the chapel though as it closes before the rest of the castle. Moving on from there I went to see Queen Mary’s Doll’s House which is incredibly intricate, every miniature crafted with precision and care. Some of the paintings inside are actually miniature versions of other works painted by famous artists. Moving on from there I toured the state apartments, many of which were restored to 17th century state after the fire back in 1992. So many old masters on display, beautiful art by Reubens, Bronzino, Van Dyck, Rembrandt and others. I really can’t even describe what tickled my fancy as every room had some kind of feast for the eyes. I really hadn’t considered Windsor anywhere near top of my list to visit but it turned out to be amazing.
Eventually I met up with Shilpa and her friend Wilfred and we had a drink in Starbucks (they don’t make the one hot drink I like there over here) before heading on for a tasty Asian dinner. It was great to see Shilpa after a year or so and catch up. Annoyingly I forgot to take a picture of us all, but oh well. Was definitely a good night though as I’d started to feel the stirrings of melancholy I felt in Sydney after saying goodbye to my NZ friends. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issues setting off alone but something about switching over to that mode makes me a little mopey. Of course, now I’ve returned to Paddington and I’m watching on my TV as riots rage at various places around the city. There is the smell of smoke in the air and straining out my window I can see a few red glows. The sirens passing both nearby and in the distance around the city are endless. I’d been planning to go out and have a pint but I think I’ll stay in and write instead as the violence has been spreading and the Met Police are begging people to stay off the streets. Hopefully I’ll be able to post this tomorrow with wifi as I’m expecting about 20 “are you ok” messages on facebook when I log on. So in short, yes I’m ok and I’m heading to Edinburgh tomorrow so things shouldn’t be an issue.