Keri, Lauren, Owen and I took the tube to Paddington and then, with the help of Google Maps, I figured out how to get us to Windsor, a lovely little town about 45 minutes due west from central London. I held our place in queue while the kids took turns with Keri walking around town. They tell me it was nice. Keri did get me a soy latte as compensation for my work.
Once inside, we each got our own audio controller for a self-guided tour. Windsor Castle created separate audio guide programs for children and adults. I would have thought this could not possibly work out, but they did a nice job with it, timing the different segments so they match up perfectly at each "stop and listen" location. Lauren and Owen were very attentive to whatever was being said to them, and I did not have to hear a word of it. Perfect.
Among the things I learned in the adult tour were that Windsor Castle was built by William the Conqueror as a fortress. Like the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace, the Castle was picked because of its location on the River Thames. Windsor Castle also sits atop a large hill. Unlike those other buildings, this one still serves as a residence for the royal family. Indeed, it is the longest-serving royal residence in Europe, having been transformed over the years from a fortress entirely into a residential castle. We were told several times that the Queen prefers Windsor Castle as her weekend home.
The tour was, functionally, broken into two parts -- the castle exterior and the State Apartments. The castle exterior is largely practical, built with the things one is accustomed to seeing to fend of a potential attack -- moat, turrets, angled cut-outs in the walls for shooting arrows in all directions, etc. One exception to this is the Round Tower, an imposing structure that sits in the middle of the castle and atop which flies the Queen's colors (when she is in residence). We were told that this structure had 30 feet added to it in the 19th Century for no reason other than some kind of tower envy. (That's quite a tower you have there, Your Majesty. Quite, indeed.)
The State Apartments are a series of rooms that are used as part of state functions. They were built out by King Charles II, but their design comes straight out of the Victorian Era. The rooms are filled with a truly breathtaking collection of portraits, tapestries, fine china, weapons and other valuables taken from all corners of the (now former) Empire. I was reminded on this tour that England really was the preeminent world power for about 150 years, lording over an empire that extended from Canada to the Middle East to South Africa to India to New Zealand. England's colonial history has some dark parts, for sure, but you cannot help but be impressed by the magnitude of what this relatively small island nation was able to accomplish.
I was also struck on our tour by the focus on Napoleon, or at least those British military leaders who bested him in battle. Both Admiral Nelson (hero of the Battle of Trafalgar) and the Duke of Wellington (who defeated Napoleon once and for all at the Battle of Waterloo) are lionized in several different rooms. In the 21st Century, we hardly think of Napoleon as a a threat to the existence of the world as we know it. Clearly, things looked very different in 19th Century Great Britain.
Our tour of the castle took a couple hours, after which we hit the Windsor Wagamama (again, we had a happy and sated Lauren on our hands -- not sure how she is going to respond to haggis later this week). Keri and the kids made use of the Hardys candy shop in the train station, and we were off -- back to Victoria.
We met Keri's parents tonight at a small burger place near Bond Street, Patty & Bun. The name pretty much says it all. There are not a lot of options on the menu, and the place is not fancy, but they get the job done. That job -- producing a good hamburger on this side of the pond -- is nothing short of a miracle and I for one don't take the achievement lightly.
Tomorrow is our last full day in London and we are all already a bit sad about having to leave the place. And just as we were starting to fit in here, the kids having committed the Underground map to memory and addressing me as "g'vnuh."