Friday, February 27, 2009

A Date With The Queen

I was sitting wondering where to go out next after Windsor and I realised the problem was not of paucity of choices but there were too many choices and it was all so confusing. Reading my Lonely planet guide, I realised that London will need no less than four days. Hence today 18th I decided to take a stroll around London's most visited places.
I took a train from Reading and landed up at Paddington station 30 minutes later. The off-peak price for London starts at 09:30 and costs 14.50 Pounds, compared to the 18 pounds peak hour price, it is quite a good saving. From Paddington station I followed the map and walked for about 15 minutes and reached the entrance to Hyde Park. Its probably the most written about parks and also the most well known. Entered the historic park through its Lancaster gate.
As I enterd the royal park, the first scene that greeted me was this beautiful Italian garden.Since it was Winter the flowers had not blossomed, I can only imagine how it will look in winter.

Hyde park is divided into two sections by a water body called the serpentine (Although it is common to refer to the entire body of water as the Serpentine, strictly the name refers only to the eastern half of the lake. Serpentine Bridge, which marks the boundary between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens) . This is one end of the Serpentine which is crowned by this beautiful fountain.

I did not have much time and had to cross the massive park and hence briskly started walking along this road which passes along the banks of the Serpentine. I saw a lot of people feeding ducks and is a beautiful sight to watch.

The Serpentine is lined by scores of ducks and cormorants and makes a lovely walk, without one realising the distance covered.

Along the way, I spotted a Memorial, which was dedicated to Diana, the princes of Wales. In the memorial water Flows from the highest point in two directions. It Cascades Swirls and bubbles before meeting in a calm pool at the bottom. The water is constantly being refreshed and is drawn form a chalk aquifer 100 meters below. The massive memorial has 3 bridges, on which one can walk to go to the heart of the memorial.
As I continued my long walk I spotted this bridge, called the Serpentine bridge, built in 1890's it divides the water body into two sections. The building in the backdrop is the London Park tower Casino.
Kensington garden and Hyde park are dotted with a lot of memorials and fountains and half a day is required to see all of them. I continued my walk towards the Hyde park corner after passing through the famed Speakers corner.
Near the Hydepark corner gate as I exited the park, I spotted this massive statue of Achillies and is dedicated to " The Duke of Wellington and his brave comrades in arms"
As I exited the Hydepark, I was immediately confronted by this Wellington Arch. One can actually climb the monument and see the statue ( for a small fee) and see the view of all the memorials around.
The statue on top depicts the angel of peace descend on the chariot of war. The Beauty of this bronze sculpture can further be appretiated if you click on the image for a enlarged look.
Passing underneath the Wellington arch, I reached the Constitution Road, which has monuments dedicated to the Commonwealth soldiers of the World wars.

I walked down the constitution road and reached the Bukingham palace and found hordes of tourist here and a lot of security. I stood there wondering the reason for the spectacle, when suddenly I saw a royal convey come out of the palace and in it was the queen and her husband Prince Philip.
I wasn't in a postion to get a good shot and this is the best I could manage.
Bang opposite to the Bukingham palace is this 'Victoria Memorial' It was built in 1911 to honour Queen Victoria. As well as the 13 feet high statue of Victoria there are angelic figures representing Charity, Courage, Truth and Justice. The gold figure at the top of the monument represents Victory.
Crossed the road across the statue and I got a panoramic view of the Buckingham Palace
From there I continued walking on the Bird Cage road which lines one side of St James Park. The park was mostly marsh with lots of birds like Moorhen and Pelicans. Continuing down the street for about twenty minutes I found a very familiar landmark- The Big Ben. The tower is like a symbol for London.

As I approached the tower the imposing Westminster abbey came into sight. The view is arresting and stunning. Every Monarch other than Edward V and Edward VIII have been crowned here since William the Conqueror. I kept walking around the abbey totally awed by its beauty.
Below is the Imposing statue of Richard I .

One of the Towers, if you click on the image for a closer look you can see statues of ten Christian Martyrs . The tower forms part of a grand royal entrance to the Abbey.

Next to the abbey is the Victoria Tower garden and in it is this memorial by Rodin. It Commemorates six citizens of Calais who offered themselves as Hostages had vainly besieged their town and 1317.

Walked the Victoria Tower gardens and then crossed the Lambeth Bridge and this is how the Abbey looks across the Thames.
Walking on the opposite bank of the Thames river towards the Westminster bridge, I was attracted by these beautifully decorated lamp posts.
As I kept approaching the Westminster bridge, I was confronted by another side of London, the law enforcement. Two suspects were chased and apprehended by these Taser wielding policemen and after a quick frisk of their body were handcuffed and taken away. London is certainly a safe city, thanks to the police.
Another glance at the Westminster and the Westminster bridge and i started walking on the bridge.
On the left of the bridge is the London Eye . A huge slow moving Ferry's Wheel, was initially started as a temporary structure but it was so loved that it is now permanent. The wheel takes 30 minutes for one full circle.
From the Bridge I hit the parliament street towards Trafalgar Square. The road is lined with beautiful Victorian Buildings on either side and every building seems to be better than the other.
I reached Trafalgar square, the public heart of London. Londoners gather here for any celebrations from football victory celebrations to festivals.The square is flanked by the exquisitely built buildings of National Portrait gallery , National Gallery and the Church of St. Martin- in-the-fields. In the Center of the square is a 43.5 meter high column, from which Nelson surveys his fleet. The monument was built to commemorate the 1805 victory over Napoleon off Cape Trafalgar in square.
The base of the tall monument has beautiful relief engravings

On the four sides of the column are these four massive lions. These are probably the most photographed structures of London. These bronze lions are said to have been built using the metal from Spanish canons.

From Trafalgar square I walked towards Piccadilly Circus and on the Haymarket road I saw "Her Majesty's Theater". This famous theater has hosted premieres by major playwrights such as George Bernard Shaw, J. M. Synge, Noel Coward and J. B. Priestley. Today Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, has been playing here continuously since 1986.

From here I reached London's most famous road junction; Piccadilly Circus. Named after the stiff collars (Picadils) that were the sartorial staple of a 17th century tailor who lived nearby. The Circus here actually comes from the latin 'Circus' meaning Circle. There is a Statue of Eros here and can be seen in the photograph. The advertising neon boards are on the Virgin Megastore.

From Piccadilly I headed back to Padington via the Oxford street, which is the Mecca of European Shopping. Probably every expensive and famous brand is represented by a store here. For many British chain stores, their Oxford Street branch is regarded as their 'flagship' store and used for celebrity launches and promotions.

After two and a half kilometers of window shopping I reached back Paddington station and headed back to Reading. I started my walk at 10:10 and was done around 18:30.
I just did not realise the time flyby as in walked into streets and streets of history.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A trip to Windsor Palace and Eton

Well I started my " Discovery of England" today and decided to explore the places close to Reading first ( I am staying here) . Looking into the map it seemed like Windsor and Eton would be the destination of the day.
My Guide book told me the Palace opens at 09:45 and since it is an even date (18th ) I would get a chance to witness the Change of guard Ceremony. I Started at 8 AM from Reading Train Station and got down at Slough after a 20 minute train ride. From Slough they have these special trains which go only to Windsor and I hopped into one of those and after a 6 minute ride across beautiful country side arrived at the picturesque 'Windsor and Eton' Central station. The Windsor palace is just a stones throw away from the station.
I arrived at the gates of the palace at 9 AM and the view that greeted me is photographed below.

There was no crowd at the ticketing counter which was said to open at 9:45 and hence I decided to take a stroll around the outskirts of the palace. I was back to the ticketing place at 9:30 and within minutes of that I saw hordes of people coming in to join the ticket window and by 9:45 there were about 200 people behind me. Ticketing was a breeze and the 14.5 Pound ticket includes an audio guide which is a great help in knowing the history of the place. Also a lot of help is available inside for further information, in the form of friendly staff inside the Complex.
I was the first visitor to enter the palace ground that day and it gave me a chance to photograph many people free images, which otherwise is pretty hard, considering the sheer number of visitors to the place even on a week day. Once inside the Gate the view looks like this....
The palace actually started as a motte and bailey on the highest point along the banks of Thames and was built by William the Conqueror in 1070. Once he realised that the place was a good hunting ground it became a residence for subsequent Monarchs. The castle is still a principal residence for the queen of England and she spends many weekends here. The people here proudly call it the oldest continuously working castle in the world. The Centre point of the entire complex is the below featured tower called the " Round Tower"( it didn't look round to me thought, was more like oval) It is the keep of the castle ( the keep is the most fortified place of a castle and the monarch will probably fall back to it and defend his position from here in case the castle falls into enemy hands)
The Round tower has a moat around it, which has been, transformed into a garden today.

From here I walked into the state Apartments , which I felt was the centre point of the tour. First to greet me was Queen Mary's Doll house ( Photography was not allowed inside, so sorry no pics) It was designed in 1912 for Queen Mary by Sir Edward Lutyens, and is a 1:12 scale model of the household during that time. The model is so very intricate that it even has replicas of the Crown, jewellery, paintings and other decorative pieces found in the palace. The model has electricity working water supply and even vintage wine in the cellars. in the adjacent rooms are displayed dolls and clothes used by the royal Children. After the Doll house were a set of galleries which housed works of some of the best European Artists including Leonardo and also personal items belonging to various monarchs down the ages all the way till the present generation. There was also a exquisite collection of China and the beauty of it cannot be described in words.
Once Out of China Museum I entered a grand Staircase , which had been beautifully decorated with medieval weapons collected from all parts of the British empire. One thing of particular interest to me were the robe and weapons of Tippu Sultan ( The de facto ruler of Mysore in the late 1700's , whome the British defeated and killed) The collection included draggers, swords and Muskets all very well maintained and looking as good as new ( I saw similar weapons a few weeks earlier at Srirangapatna in Tippus palace and sadly they looked nothing more than a chunk of rusted metals pieces. It also shows how much we respect our past)
As I exited the Grand Staircase ( I felt I could spend a entire day here) I entered a series of rooms. The first one was the superbly decorated Waterloo Chamber. Its Scores of portraits is simply mind blowing. There is a ultra super shiny wooden table in the front ( which I told is polished by someone walking over it with dusters on their feet!)
Then were a series of Kings private rooms ornately decorated and with scores of paintings many of them by Rubens and Van Dyck and beautiful wood work by Grinling Gibbons. The Kings dressing room and Kings bedchamber has a lot of important renaissance work and it sure made me feel like a king even if it meant for a few hours. After a 3 hour trip of the state Apartment ( I had to rush through and it still took me 3 hours!) I exited through the Norman Gate featured below.

Next stop was the elegant St Georges Chapel, commissioned by Edward IV for the Order of The Garter. The chapel is built in a so called Perpendicular Gothic architecture and it sure looks as good as it sounds. The inside of the chapel has a lot of royal mausoleum's and tombs from Edward IV (1483) to the most recent Queen Elizabeth (2002) can be found here. A gigantic Battle sword Belonging to Edward III, who found the Order of Garter (Orders of Knights) is found here. Masses are still celebrated here every day and have been since the last 600 years .
Below is the Side view of the chapel .Photography is not allowed inside but the beauty of it cannot be described with any adjectives.

One of the most interesting ceremonies in the Windsor palace is The Changing of the Guard. It takes place at 11 AM Monday to Saturday from April to June and on every even day rest of the year. I times my visit on an even good weather so that I would not miss this ceremony.
At about 10:55 the old guard arrives With the march of their thumping boots and muster like photographed below.

At 11:00 the new guard marches in with a grand band and stands facing the old guard

The band played 4 pieces of music and sounds so very pleasant. Since the Queen was not in Windsor when I visited, the ceremony took place outside the Guard room and the 'Queens Guard' were in their regimental dress.

The Old and the new Guard Face-off

I left the palace at about 4 Pm and Below is the photograph of the entire complex from the exit gate

One final view of the Soldier
From Windsor I walked across the Thames river to Eton college, by the pedestrian only Windsor bridge. The college is where many of the royals have studied and even today 70 highly qualified boys are awarded scholarship or one has to pay a 23,000 pound per annum fee to attend it.
The college was closed to visitors when I went there ( open only during march-April and July - September) But the walk in the town, which still has its medieval looks was worth it.
After that I walked for about one hour on the banks of river Thames and it was quite a scenic walk, with people feeding the swans ( I heard they are under the queens protection) and the light drizzling rain falling on the face. I went back to reading after Sunset. I truly felt like a Royal for a Day.

All pics Shot with Sony A350 18-70mm lens