Tuesday, July 31, 2012

(From "Random Reflections") My English Adventures, Part 2: The First Days

On June 19, around 9:30am (4:30am America time), our plane landed at the London-Heathrow Airport. We fetched our luggage, exchanged our American money for British pounds, and finally stepped outside and breathed in our first breaths of English air. The sun shone, the temperatures were warm, and our surroundings looked beautiful. Okay, they actually didn't at first because we were standing outside the airport doors, and how attractive are airports, really? But we soon piled into the charter bus that would cart us around all over England for the next ten days (many thanks to our driver, Steve) and drove out of the industrial airport area into more of the English countryside. I had my eyes glued to the window, taking in all the pretty scenery and trying to let the fact that I was really in England register in my brain.

Runnymede
We jumped into our sight-seeing right away, making our first stop of the trip at Runnymede, the field where the "Magna Carta" was sealed in 1215. It was a big, beautiful, grassy field that was really fun to frolic through. At this site there was also a memorial to the Magna Carta, as well as a memorial to John F. Kennedy given to America by Britain. It was also at this site that we saw our first random pasture of cows. This initiated us into the realization and awareness that cows, as well as sheep, are everywhere in England. 

After a short visit at Runnymede, we continued on and reached our next stop: Windsor Castle, the oldest continuously inhabited castle in the world. It was a magnificent castle with gardens that took my breath away. We spent a fair amount of time there, taking in what was for most of us our first time seeing a real-life castle. There were limited places open to the public inside the castle, but we were able to go into a chapel and walk around outside on the castle grounds. We got to see one of the guards dressed in a red outfit and black hat, standing still and stone-faced, occasionally marching back and forth in front of his spot. We also got to explore town, giving us our first taste of adorable English buildings, streets, and shops. I also had my first piece of real English cuisine: a sausage roll. It was super yummy.

Windsor Castle
One of the beautiful gardens alongside the castle
The guard
After our afternoon in Windsor, we drove to Warwick and checked into the Warwick Arms Hotel, which would be our home for the next five days. Located right in town, it was a quaint hotel in which no part of the floor was even and no room looked the same as another. After settling in, some of us somehow mustered up the energy to go explore town. There were lots of cute shops and places to eat, along with a lovely church called St. Mary's and a racecourse that we would visit later. Warwick's atmosphere was, overall, calm and quiet. The town was small and not very busy, and we felt safe there. It was definitely an enjoyable place to stay during the first days of our trip.

Me in front of Warwick Castle
That night, I crawled into bed at what was about 6pm in America and 11pm in England, after having been awake since 7:30am (America time) the day before. Thus I had been awake for almost 36 hours, except for two hours of not-so-good sleep I had managed to get on the plane overnight. Needless to say, I slept like a baby that first night in Warwick!

The next day, June 20, we spent the day at Warwick Castle, another large English castle that was built as a fortress by William the Conqueror in the 12th century. Since it is no longer occupied, there were more areas inside and around the castle open to visitors. We got to watch many cool demonstrations, including the raising of the portcullis, the firing of the trebuchet, and the flight of the birds of prey. We were able to walk through sections of the castle's interior which were set up to look exactly how it would have looked in a certain time period, like medieval or Victorian. History definitely came alive as I explored those areas. We also got to see the castle dungeons, which were interesting, but sufficiently unpleasant. The most amazing part of the day, though, was when we got to climb one of the tallest towers of the castle (it is the tower behind me in the picture on the left-hand side). The staircase was long, narrow, winding, and took forever to climb, but when we finally got to the top, the view was utterly breathtaking. Below are a few shots.


After an exciting and eventful day at Warwick Castle, we returned to our hotel for the evening. We got our beauty sleep to get ready for the next day, when we would visit the home and the final resting place of one of the greatest authors of all time. 

And here is where I'll stop for this post. Coming up next: Stratford-upon-Avon and Oxford. Stay tuned!

As they often say in England, cheers!
~Stephanie

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