Saturday, February 9, 2008
On Thursday I made my way to Paddington Station and took the train to Windsor. My mother told me that we went there when I was five, so I arrived in town curious to find out whether my childhood memories would come flooding back. They didn’t. It was just as well, though, because I love to explore new places.
I alighted from the train and made my way through the shopping arcade (very American of them to put a shopping mall between the train station and the main attraction!) to find myself face to face with the sprawling expanse of Windsor Castle. I’m kind of a sucker for medieval architecture, alternately picturing myself in a turret shooting a crossbow at enemy invaders and donning a fancy gown to sit for a state dinner with my knights. Medieval Me is quite the Renaissance woman.
I walked up to the castle entrance where the kind lady at the ticket booth extracted my pound of flesh, sent me through a metal detector, then let me loose to explore the grounds. Armed with my audioguide, I walked along the castle walls, past the Round Tower, through St. George’s Chapel, and into the State Apartments.
There I saw the shocking display of opulence that is Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House (you could feed the population of a developing country for at least a year with the money that was spent on those dolls–none of whom were present, curiously. Perhaps they spend their winters elsewhere.). I continued through the Drawings Gallery and into the Apartments, which were decorated with all the usual gilded pomp and circumstance.
My visit to the tower finished, I wandered across the river to Eton, the neighboring town and home to the famous college of the same name. I arrived in time to see a few tour groups starting their slow walk through the grounds. My penchant for people-watching went into overdrive as I inspected all of the families in the cluster.
There were the fathers in their double-breasted suits with orange pocket squares poking their sons in the ribs if they made the slightest misstep. Beside them stood carelessly elegant mothers busy making sure no other mother was careful enough to be more elegant. Nearby there were fathers in suits and ties, with sons dressed to match. Every time the tour guide turned around they busied themselves straightening their sons’ hair and looking hopefully at their wives. No tour group would be complete without the twin boys in their matching school cardigans, little sister in tow. Their parents seemed more concerned about keeping the family together than about listening to the guide.
I turned down a side road and meandered through some outdoor sports facilities where young Etonians were playing some sort of handball game in dreary-looking cement cubicles. I walked by dormitory buildings, a chapel, and a music hall before turning back to the high street.
There were students everywhere, some running to sports practice, others walking self-importantly in their coats and tails. Being conspicuously female and ‘slightly’ older than anyone else in the vicinity, I started feeling frighteningly aged and out of place. I had to get out of there. I took my time on my way back to the train station and took one last look at Windsor Castle and Eton before heading home to London.