London - My Preciousss! (part II)

I thought I would have trouble sleeping because of the jet lag but I fell asleep almost immediately and slept very well. I woke up around 6:30am, had breakfast and went to the bus station. The weather was nice and sunny. After a short wait we got on the bus and started our trip. Our first stop was the Windsor Castle. I was not that excited about the castle (I really wanted to see Stonehenge) but after our guide, Mel, told us we would spend almost 2 hours there I bought a ticket to go inside. The entry price is 15 pounds and there is a discount for students and seniors. So, if you are a student, don't leave your student card at home, like I did, it may save you a buck or two.

Windsor Castle, a thousand-year old fortress transformed into a castle, is the largest inhabited castle in the world and, dating back to the time of William the Conqueror, is the oldest in continuous occupation. This is the primary residence of the Queen. She calls the Buckingham Palace in London "the office" and considers the Windsor castle her home. It was interesting to learn that there were many security breaches but the most entertaining one was from 1982, when a young, mentally disturbed man, Michael Fagan, entered the palace and got into the queen's bedroom. The queen woke up to find the man sitting at the end of the bed smoking a cigarette and bleeding (he had cut his hand by breaking a crystal ashtray in the dark). The queen try to signal the security but remained calm and talk with the guy for some time. The man wanted simply to discuss his problems. The security eventually arrived 12 minutes after the queen's first signal. Another interesting fact was the castles were actually maintained by the royal family with their own money and they are not maintained by people's taxes. Very interesting.

Windsor Castle We arrived shortly. The weather was sunny, there was not a single cloud in the sky, just beautiful. We entered the castle and at that point we were left alone and were told to get back in one hour. This is something, which really impressed me and reminded me one more time that I am in Europe. I am pretty sure this cannot happen in USA (the guide to leave the tourists alone) because of liability issue and who knows what.

The castle was huge and ancient but in a very good shape. I was able to see the change of the guards or at least the first 10-15 minutes. The ceremony is pretty lengthy though interesting. A band marches in, followed by the new guards. They have a lead who aligns them in perfect lines and then exchanges one of two of his guards for the old guards. All this is accompanies by a lot of shouting and stumping. After a couple of guards are exchanged, the band plays a march, then a few more guards are exchanged and this keeps going on and on. I didn't have enough time to see the whole ceremony and I hurried inside the castle.

First, I went into the Dolls' Room and I saw the Queen Mary's Dolls' House, the most famous dolls' house in the world. It was pretty big with many details. It contains working lifts, running water and electricity, and took 1500 craftsmen three years to complete. Two dolls, France and Marianne, were displayed there as well. They were given to Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret by the French people in 1938. The dolls had hundreds of outfits and jewels, made by famous French jewelers and fashion designers and came with two mini versions of Citroen. Unfortunately, the princesses were not able to play much with the dolls as the WWII started and the dolls were shipped to Canada. Later, during and after the war the dolls were sent to different events and museums and the money from these exhibitions went to help to war victims' families.

I passed a small gallery with sketches by many famous artists, such as Leonardo de Vinci. I didn't spend a lot of time there, as the clock was ticking and there were so much more to see.

After the gallery I entered the other rooms and my jaw hit the floor. I am not a person who gets impressed by stuff, clothes, etc. but these rooms were amazing. There was so much glamour, so much wealth, so much history, and so much art collected in these rooms. It was breathtaking. I was looking around like a person who lived all of their life in a jungle and now was in a city. There were so many things, so many details to be looked at. And this was just a small portion of the castle. I laughed at myself being worried I would be bored in the castle. I wanted to stay for days. I was the last one to get back on the bus. Unfortunately, taking pictures was not allowed inside of the castle.

Stonehenge The ride to Stonehenge was longer (about 90 miles away from London) and I my jet lag was killing me. I was hardly able to keep my eyes open. I should have gotten more coffee. Damn! Somehow I managed to stay awake and eventually we arrived at Stonehenge. There were clouds in the sky. I was finally going to witness the "British" weather. I bought an audio tour for 6 pounds and headed towards the stones at the other side of the road. Honestly, I have always imagined the stones to be very tall 3-4 meters (9-12f) and I was a little disappointed. The mystery of its function and constuction, though, makes the trip totally worth it. The audio tour recorded information was a little too much for me. I guess I was tired and I found myself drifting away at several occasions. I made a full circle around the stones and I kept wondering - why would someone bring these stones in the middle of nowhere, arrange them in circle with astronomical accuracy? The stones are pretty heavy and it is believed that some of the stones were brought to their current location from Wales 5000 years ago! The vertical stones have little bumps and the horizontal stones - holes, so they fit together similar to lego pieces. How ingenious is this? Amazing. At the end of the tour the sun appeared from behind the clouds and lit the stones. The sunlit stones were really beautiful against the cloudy background. And I have missed the rain... again.

Oxford We got on the bus and continued to our final destination - Oxford. Oxford is England’s oldest university town and the earliest colleges date back to the 13th century. The University of Oxford comprises 38 Colleges (interesting) and 6 Permanent Private Halls of religious foundation, which are self-governed.

Martyr's Monument When we arrived Mel showed us around the town. The architecture is really unique and it makes your feel like you have travelled back in time or you are in a Harry Potter movie. In fact, many of the Hogwart's school scenes were filmed at Oxford University. We started at the Martyr's monument. It commemorates three Anglican bishops who were burned at the stake under Queen Mary in the 1550s: Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, and Hugh Latimer, who were executed in Oxford on the orders of Queen Mary Tudor for their religious beliefs and teachings.

We saw the Hertford Bridge, which links two colleges together and looks like the "Bridge of Sighs" in Venice. There is a false legend saying that many decades ago, a survey of the health of students was taken, and as Hertford College's students were the heaviest, the college closed off the bridge to force them to take the stairs, giving them extra exercise.

After more than an hour in Oxford we got on the bus and headed back to London. It was already dark and the traffic was terrible. We arrived back at Victoria Station shortly after 7pm. I left my purchases at the hotel and hurried to Leicester Square where I was meeting a friend of mine for a movie. I decided to hop on the bus to save time as I was already late. This was a huge mistake. There was traffic, thousands of street lights and I arrived at the Odeon cinema with a huge delay. We saw Dorian Gray and after the movie we talked and caught up on our lives. Little did I know that several blocks away was Gerard Butler parting with some friends.

I got back in the hotel around 1am. The receptionist told me the check-out time was 9:30am. What? It turned out they had released my room in the morning because I didn't confirm I was staying the third night. Shoot. I didn't know what to do. It was too late to look for a room elsewhere. The guy told me not to worry as someone might cancel and free up a room. Yes, "I should not worry. I should stay positive. Everything will be alright", I thought and went to my room.


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