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deladane

Detailed Photo Review of Paris and London Trip in June 2019

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The pies looked delicious.  The Evensong Service sounds very interesting.  Glad ya'll had fun at the game!

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Having lived in Berkshire County just outside of London for 4 years, I am really enjoying this review.  No one does a ceremony like England!  I'm sorry you did not get to visit Windsor.  They do a changing of the guard with the band marching down the High Street that is much less crowded than the one in London.  When you visit England again, that is a nice day trip from London and a very quick train ride!!

 

We have never taken a free walking tour before.  Considering your walking tour of the changing of the guard in London was 20 pounds, what would you normally tip for a "free" walking tour?  I'd like to take advantage of some of these free tours, but am so unsure what to tip.

 

Looking forward to the rest of your review!!

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On 8/30/2019 at 8:59 PM, Cotswold Eagle said:

And here’s what it looked like in the glorious Olympic summer of 2012 😎

 

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So cool!  Did you attend any of the events at the Olympics?  

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Edited by deladane

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15 hours ago, Walt fan said:

The pies looked delicious.  The Evensong Service sounds very interesting.  Glad ya'll had fun at the game!

 

I know people complain about the food in England but we really liked everything we ate there!  

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4 minutes ago, pcrum said:

Having lived in Berkshire County just outside of London for 4 years, I am really enjoying this review.  No one does a ceremony like England!  I'm sorry you did not get to visit Windsor.  They do a changing of the guard with the band marching down the High Street that is much less crowded than the one in London.  When you visit England again, that is a nice day trip from London and a very quick train ride!!

 

We have never taken a free walking tour before.  Considering your walking tour of the changing of the guard in London was 20 pounds, what would you normally tip for a "free" walking tour?  I'd like to take advantage of some of these free tours, but am so unsure what to tip.

 

Looking forward to the rest of your review!!

 

What makes you think I didn't get to Windsor??? 😉  


For the free walking tours, our tip depends on the length of the tour and how much we enjoyed the guide.  Most of the free tour companies recommend a tip of $10 to $15 per person.

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We took the Tube back to our hotel to get changed for the evening.  I must say that something I really missed about cruising was the logistics of getting ready for the evening.  It is so convenient to ride an elevator back to our deck and walk a few steps down the hall to our cabin to shower and get changed for dinner, as opposed to taking some form of public transit to travel across the city to get back to our hotel, and then needing to take more public transit to get to our evening activity.  Even with conveniently located hotels, it still always took a long time and really made me miss that aspect of cruising.

 

Once we were ready for the night, we took the Tube over to the Aldgate Station.  We had reservations for dinner at Mayfair Chippy at The City location because we had to stay on schedule and this place got good reviews on Trip Advisor so it was just easier to plan a reservation here as opposed to aimlessly wandering the streets looking for a good restaurant.  This restaurant was in the business district near lots of high-rise office buildings, so it was not surprising that most restaurants were closed on a Sunday night and the streets were somewhat deserted.  When we got to Mayfair Chippy, it was actually very crowded and nearly every table was occupied, so it’s a good thing we had a reservation!  We were seated immediately and it didn’t take long to look over the menu because we planned to order their specialty… fish and chips!  What else would you order at a chippy?  The food came out quickly and everything was crisp and tasty.

 

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After dinner, we walked a few short blocks over to the Sky Garden for our evening activity.  On Thursday, we visited the Sky Garden from the reservations I made on their website 3 weeks in advance, but that kind of ticketing is only available during the day.  At night, the Sky Garden features a bar in the main open space called the Sky Pod Bar.  You can make reservations on their website starting 2 months in advance (way better than just 3 weeks in advance for the daytime slots!), and you can either request a table or just sign up for standing room around the bar.  There are also a few restaurants in there, but we were not interested in eating dinner there.  I made reservations for the bar for 9:15pm so we could watch the sunset and then see the nighttime skyline light up after dark. 

 

The Sky Pod Bar has a dress code at night and they do not permit flip flops or shorts, so we made sure to be dressed appropriately when we got changed at the hotel.  When we arrived at the hostess stand in the downstairs lobby, there was a group of people who were arguing with another hostess because she denied them entry because of what they were wearing.  I didn’t realize they would enforce the dress code so thoroughly, but those people were wearing shorts and flip flops so I guess it really did matter!

 

We went through the same thorough security check that we did on Thursday afternoon, then took the elevator up to the 35th floor to the Sky Garden.  We checked in again with the hostess at the Sky Pod Bar and she said we were free to walk around and order drinks at the bar, but we needed to leave after an hour and a half.  It also said that on our booking confirmation, and that wasn’t a problem because we didn’t plan to stay that long anyway.

 

I was drawn towards this gorgeous view of The Shard.  I tried to go outside on the balcony to take a better photo but the doors are locked at night and you need to stay inside the main Sky Garden complex.

 

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We took a look at the menu at the bar and were surprised that the beer and cider prices were quite reasonable.  We each got a pint and took it to walk around and check out the views.  That’s why I didn’t want to book a table… I knew we’d want to wander around while we were here.

 

We timed our visit perfectly to watch the sunset.  The views from up here were so amazing!  It was hard to avoid the glare off the windows, but I did my best!

 

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We stayed at the Sky Garden for about 45 minutes, then found our way back to the elevator to leave.  Back down on the street, we caught this view of The Shard peaking out down the alley.

 

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Before heading back to the hotel, we decided to take a detour to see the Tower Bridge lit up at night.  We didn’t get to see it on Thursday night on the walking tour, and we were so close by so why not?  We walked down to the Thames in search of a walkway along the water.  On the way, we caught another great view of The Shard.

 

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We could not figure out how to access the walking path because the gates near the Tower of London were locked, so we walked down along the Tower Pier to get as close as we could to the bridge.

 

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I love that there was a red double-decker bus going across the middle of the bridge right as I took this photo!

 

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Mission accomplished, we turned back to exit the pier and caught this view of The Shard and a neighboring building lit up for Pride month.  A beautiful end to another wonderful day in London!

 

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Fitbit Daily Summary… Steps: 21,014,  Miles: 10.17,  Flights of Stairs: 24

 

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3 minutes ago, deladane said:

 

What makes you think I didn't get to Windsor??? 😉  


For the free walking tours, our tip depends on the length of the tour and how much we enjoyed the guide.  Most of the free tour companies recommend a tip of $10 to $15 per person.

Oh, I do hope you saw Windsor!  It is my absolute favorite place on earth!!  Sorry, but I thought I saw an overview of your trip where you mentioned Bath, but I did not remember Windsor!  

 

Thanks for the information on the walking tours.  We were in Barcelona in May and wondered about taking one, but were hesitant.  I'm glad to hear you have had good experiences with them.

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Just now, pcrum said:

Oh, I do hope you saw Windsor!  It is my absolute favorite place on earth!!  Sorry, but I thought I saw an overview of your trip where you mentioned Bath, but I did not remember Windsor!  

 

Thanks for the information on the walking tours.  We were in Barcelona in May and wondered about taking one, but were hesitant.  I'm glad to hear you have had good experiences with them.

 

We saved the best for our last day in London... Up next: a verrrry long bus trip to Windsor, Bath, and Stonehenge!

 

Of course every tour is completely dependent on your guide, but we have had very good luck with our guides on both free and paid walking tours (with the one exception being on the Marais tour in Paris!)  Definitely give it a shot.. our philosophy is that if the tour is really terrible, we can always leave early!

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Thank you so much Deladane for sharing your trips with us. I'm so glad I found your review as it helps me a lot with my planning for our trip next year for both London and Paris. I've just reserved tours with Strawberry Tour 🙂 

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I am somewhat intimidated by the subway in London.  Did you find it easy to use with lots of signage?  The only other time we have used the subway was in D.C. and even then we had to wander a bit with a map.  

 

So if the Sky Bar states a dress code some people don't think it applies to them?  I have never understood that reasoning.  Great timing with a beautiful sunset.  Your pics came out really well!  And I love the pic of the bridge all lit up. 

 

You need to let us know at the end of the review which place gets top honors for their fish and chips! And which pub was your favorite!

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I just recently found your blog and I am still on page 5 but I am extremely curious - how do you take pictures of yourselves (as a couple) without using a selfie stick?

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17 hours ago, Biris said:

Thank you so much Deladane for sharing your trips with us. I'm so glad I found your review as it helps me a lot with my planning for our trip next year for both London and Paris. I've just reserved tours with Strawberry Tour 🙂 

 

Wonderful!  Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions 😎

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17 hours ago, Walt fan said:

I am somewhat intimidated by the subway in London.  Did you find it easy to use with lots of signage?  The only other time we have used the subway was in D.C. and even then we had to wander a bit with a map.  

 

So if the Sky Bar states a dress code some people don't think it applies to them?  I have never understood that reasoning.  Great timing with a beautiful sunset.  Your pics came out really well!  And I love the pic of the bridge all lit up. 

 

You need to let us know at the end of the review which place gets top honors for their fish and chips! And which pub was your favorite!

 

The Underground system in London is very well labeled.  Each station has 2 huge signs listing all the stops of that train line... one with the station you are currently in going to one end of the line, and the other going for the opposite end of the line.  Just look for your destination on that map to know which platform you need for your train.  After living in NYC for 6 years, I am very comfortable reading subway maps and finding how to get from point A to point B, even if I need to transfer lines, but I found that London's system was very user friendly.  When in doubt, there were always agents available to help us!

 

I have a feeling that the people who show up at the Sky Garden and don't meet the dress code requirement, it's not that they purposely wore the wrong thing and expected to go inside anyway.  I think they just didn't know there was a dress code at all and are mad that they were refused entry so they try to talk themselves in.  Either way, I was happy to see that our efforts to abide by the dress code were rewarded with swift entry into the building 🙂  

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9 hours ago, gbolton said:

I just recently found your blog and I am still on page 5 but I am extremely curious - how do you take pictures of yourselves (as a couple) without using a selfie stick?

 

Thanks for reading!  I am not a fan of selfie photos because they are too up-close to us and you don't see enough of the background (which is the purpose for the photo in the first place!).  I usually look for another couple or family of tourists who are nearby and taking turns taking photos of each other and offer to take one of the them all together.  They usually offer to take our photo voluntarily, or if not, then I ask if they can take one for us and they usually say yes.  I try to make sure the person taking the photo is another tourist who won't mind taking a few seconds out of their day, as opposed to a local who is in a rush to get to work and doesn't want to be bothered.  

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Monday, July 1, 2019 ~ Windsor Castle, Bath, and Stonehenge

 

Today was our last full day in Europe so I planned something special as our grand finale.  Very early on in my research, I discovered a full day (over 12 hours!!!) bus tour that takes you to Windsor Castle, Bath, and Stonehenge, and we were both immediately excited about this opportunity.  Several different companies offer this tour, but we booked with Viator because they were offering a 10% off discount for Black Friday.  Of course, Viator is just a middle man as a booking agent so they would not be operating the actual tour.  When I got our confirmation email, it said the tour was with Evan Evans Tours, so that was fine with me because they got good reviews on Trip Advisor.  There were several ways to book this tour, but we opted to book with all of our entrance fees included, because why would we NOT do that?!  It would be a pretty boring tour to just take a bus to each of the towns but not enter the main attractions!  We could cancel for free up to 2 days in advance, so that was reassuring although we did not plan to cancel.  As busy of a day as I knew this would be, the idea of spending some time sitting on a bus sounded wonderful after 10 straight days of walking all over Paris and London!

 

The only down side to this tour was that we had to meet at the Victoria Coach Station by 7:30am!  Holy moley that was crazy early!!  It would take us about 30 minutes to get there from our hotel, so we needed to leave by 7am at the latest.  Our hotel did not open the breakfast room until 7am so that meant we were on our own to find breakfast today.  I set the alarm clock for zero-dark-thirty so we could get ready and leave the hotel by 6:45am.  We had already scouted out a Costa Coffee on the corner of our street so we stopped in there to pick up some croissants for breakfast.  We also bought some pre-packaged sandwiches to eat on the bus for lunch.  The tour description said there was no designated lunch break and we did not want to waste our precious time at the attractions with searching for a place to buy lunch, so it worked out perfectly to pick up a few sandwiches here.

 

We hopped on the blue Victoria line to take the Tube to the Victoria Station.  Unfortunately, what we did not realize was that the “Victoria Station” and the “Victoria Coach Station” are two different places!  They are about a 10 minute walk apart, but it took us longer than that because we had to keep asking people where to go.  I had assumed it was all in the same building, but I guess it was no different than in Manhattan when you arrive by train into Penn Station and need to walk to Port Authority to catch a bus.  Silly me!

 

Anyway, after a stressful and confusing few minutes of fast-paced walking, we finally found the Victoria Coach Station.  The directions said to meet at Gates 1 to 5, so of course, when we entered the building, there was a sign pointing to the left towards Gates 0 and 1, and towards the right for Gates 2 to 5.  Awesome.  We went to the left, assuming both directions would meet in the middle at the end of the hall, and that turned out to be correct.  We spotted a big sign for Evan Evans Tours and there was a lady with a clip board checking other people in.  There were already over one hundred people standing around in this area, so I can only imagine how early they had arrived!  We found our names on the check list and the lady gave us wrist bands and said to stand in line as the buses were already boarding. 

 

We got at the end of a very long line, so I immediately realized there must be multiple coach buses doing our same itinerary.  Sure enough, as we approached the front of the line, there were still tons of people in line behind us.  The first bus must have been close to full by now, and I did not want to be the last to board because we’d get the worst seats at the back of the bus, or possibly even be split up and not get to sit together.  No thanks!  When it was our turn to board, I asked if that bus was nearly full, and the lady said yes, that we were the last two people on that bus.  I asked if it was possible to go on the next bus instead, and she pointed me towards a second line of 8 other people who must have made the same request!  Haha!  Clearly I was not the only person with that concern!  After that, the person in charge came over to see what was happening and she was very upset that they couldn’t find people willing to take the last 2 seats on the first bus so she basically forced the next people in line to get on that bus without giving them the option of refusing.  I felt bad for them, but I was happy that we were now one of the first people to board the second bus and we could have our pick of seats.

 

As we boarded the bus, our guide handed us each a portable audio device called a Vox Box and some headphones.  I wish I had known we would be using this device because the ear buds were very uncomfortable for me and I would have brought my own pair, but since I didn’t know, my pair was back in the hotel.  We found seats towards the front of the bus and got settled in.  There was a storage rack above the seats to stash our bags, and the seats were plush and well padded, but there was no toilet on the bus.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a coach bus in this style without a toilet at the back, so that was surprising to me.  It didn’t take long for all 50 people to board the bus, and then we left the station.  Each bus left as it filled up, so we knew we would be the second bus to arrive at Windsor Castle. 

 

Our tour guide for today was Andy, and the bus driver was Russell.  Andy used a microphone on the bus to explain the plan for our day, and a bit of history and background information.  It took about an hour to drive to Windsor Castle in rush hour traffic, and Andy spoke for that entire time!  We arrived at about 8:30am, and there was only one other bus in the parking lot!  That was probably the first Evan Evans bus to depart, so it paid off that our tour left Central London so early in the morning!  As Andy led us from the parking lot, we could see the Castle up in the distance.

 

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On the way, Andy pointed out this portrait of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle made entirely out of Legos!  How cool is that?!  It was created for their royal wedding which was held here in 2018, and remains on display at the Windsor train station.

 

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We walked through the train station and wound our way through several side streets until we saw this straight ahead of us:

 

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Andy explained that he was going to let us walk around Windsor Castle on our own and that we would need to find our own way back to the bus by 11:30am, so he pointed out this horse statue on the corner as a good landmark to find the right side street back towards the bus parking lot.

 

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He continued to walk through several more side streets as we approached the Castle entrance.  I snapped this photo while we were walking and it turned out to be one of my favorite photos of the entire trip!  At the far end of the street, you can see the gate where we would eventually exit Windsor Castle at the end of our time there.

 

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Finally, we walked up along the side of a stone wall and Andy told us to line up here to wait to enter the Castle.  They don’t open until 9:30am so we were very early and would have a long wait here in this spot.  Andy filled the time and kept us entertained with more stories about British history.  This was one of the times when we made use of the Vox Box so we could hear him clearly, and you can see his Vox Box hanging from his neck.

 

This is Andy…

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I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a photo with the outer gates when no other people were around!

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It was kind of fun that we could keep listening to Andy while we took this photo!  Notice the ear buds in our ears and the box hanging around our necks…

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In this time, Andy explained that if we wanted to watch the Changing of the Guards, the best place to do it was OUTSIDE of the castle grounds, back near that blue horse statue.  He said that they close off the exit gate when the guards are marching through, and if you get stuck inside the castle at that time, you likely will not be able to get back to the bus in time for our 11:30 time of departure.  He said we should exit through that gate by 10:50am and that we could line up along the sidewalk outside of the castle to watch the guards march by, but we could not watch the actual changing of the guards because then we would be too late to catch the bus.

 

While we were standing there, we noticed hundreds of other tour groups arriving in the area and getting on line behind us.  The line snaked all the way down the street and around the corner, so it was great knowing we were at the front of the line, even if it meant we were twiddling our thumbs in that spot for about an hour before the Castle opened!  At least once we were allowed to enter, we would be first to go through security and stay ahead of the crowds inside the Castle.  The people at the end of that line would be waiting for a very long time to enter the Castle and would ultimately have less time to spend there.  Evan Evans Tours for the win!

 

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Finally, at 9:30am, they allowed us to enter a big holding room where we lined up again as Andy handed out tickets to each of us.  We then showed these tickets to the security agent as we walked through the metal detector and our bags passed through the x-ray machine.  Andy had warned us to leave any questionable possessions on the bus so we wouldn’t have a hold up at the security check.  After that, Andy left us to explore on our own.  When I booked this tour, I had assumed our guide would escort us around the grounds and explain what we were seeing, but that was not the case.  We could have purchased audioguides, but by now, it was 9:45am, so we only had one hour to see everything before needing to exit for the Changing of the Guards.  We didn’t think we’d have enough time to listen to the guide and go at that slower pace if we wanted to see everything, so we opted to just walk around and see what we could see.  As it turned out, one hour was exactly the perfect amount of time for us to move through the grounds at a quick pace and get to explore St. George’s Chapel and the State Apartments.  It probably helped speed us along that we were not permitted to take photos inside (although I did accidentally take one or two before I realized no photos were allowed!  Oops!).

 

Once past security, we followed the path along the outer perimeter of the property.

 

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When we got to this fork in the road, we could either continue towards St. George’s Chapel (on the right of this photo), or go down to the State Apartments.  Andy had said he recommends spending more time at the Chapel because most people don’t save enough time to see this place and he thinks it is more interesting than the Apartments, so we went there first.

 

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The side of St. George’s Chapel

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When you enter, there are ropes to prevent you from walking into the middle of the chapel, and you have to walk along a specific path that winds all around the chapel.  First you walk along the side towards the back of the room…

 

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From the back of the chapel, you have a beautiful view of the entire room…

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At that point, I saw the sign which said no photos allowed, so I had to stop taking pictures.  Bummer! 

 

This chapel was the site of many royal funerals, and many of them are buried here so you can walk around and view their coffins.  It caught me off guard at how moved I was when I saw the coffins of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth I in their own special room in the chapel.  I really wasn’t expecting that!  Andy was right that this chapel is worth spending some time to explore, but sadly, we had to keep moving if we wanted to see the State Apartments.

 

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As we walked between the two buildings, we caught a great view between the trees, overlooking the town and countryside.

 

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I snapped this one last photo before walking through that door to enter the State Apartments, where once again, no photos were allowed inside.

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We followed the marked path through a series of rooms used by former Kings and Queens.  Although Windsor Castle is her primary residence, the rooms on our self-guided tour are not used by Queen Elizabeth II.  I suppose that is not too surprising though since the Queen lives here instead of in Buckingham Palace to keep her privacy, so she probably doesn’t want a bunch of tourists traipsing through her bedroom! 

 

It took us about 20 minutes to walk through the section of the State Apartments open to tourists.  When we exited, we were in this interior courtyard which was perfect for a photo opportunity!

 

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It was getting close to 10:50am so we made our way back out to the exit as Andy had instructed.  It was now much more crowded than when we walked through earlier this morning.

 

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We weren’t exactly sure how long it would take to exit out to that street intersection, but it turned out that as soon as we passed through the opening at the base of that hill, we were back in front of the gate where we took that photo while we were waiting to enter the castle.  We just had to walk a short distance downhill and we couldn’t miss the place we needed to go because there were already a ton of people lining the streets and waiting for the guards to march by. 

 

Right on time at 10:52am, we heard and saw the marching band coming up the street!

 

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I just love those bearskin hats!

 

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It’s so impressive how well they march perfectly in step…

 

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In less than 2 minutes, the whole thing was over.  The guards continued marching towards the castle and that was that!  We still had over 30 minutes until we had to meet back at the bus, so we walked around the town for a few minutes, then started walking back towards the parking lot.  On the way, we passed a store called EAT which sold to-go sandwiches.  Both of us were very hungry by this time and we realized that the sandwiches we bought this morning would not be enough food to fill us up until 7:30pm when the tour ended so we stopped to buy two more sandwiches for a mid-morning snack and we saved our original sandwiches for later in the day.  Andy recommended that we use the restrooms in the train station before returning to the bus, so we did that, then walked the rest of the way to the parking lot.  We arrived at 11:25am and nearly everyone else on our bus was already back in their seats!  We had great luck all day with the people on our bus all arriving promptly for our departure time.  I always hear horror stories about these big bus tours where you waste half your day waiting for that one couple who can’t seem to get back to the bus on time.  We had no such issues today and pulled out of the Windsor Castle parking lot at exactly 11:30am!

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I'm so glad you got to see the band marching down Windsor High Street.  It really is amazing to see!!  We spent two nights in Windsor after our TA cruise in April/May, but sadly the one full day we had in Windsor turned out to be a day in which the guards were not marching.  I used to live in Datchet, a village about 5 minutes drive from Windsor.  We did all of our shopping in Windsor and I have many fond memories of being out and about running errands after doing the school run and seeing the guards march on the high street.  It never got boring to see, and even the locals would stop for a moment to appreciate it!  The entire town of Windsor is so quaint!  I'm so glad you got to experience it!  

 

I have not attempted to upload a photo to Cruise Critic since they did their latest change, so I hope you don't mind if I attempt to upload a photo from Windsor.

 

Loving your review and can't wait for more...IMG_7601.thumb.jpeg.7d8027e2ab9e8c36b262bcd3442f911b.jpeg

Edited by pcrum
Problem with photo

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5 hours ago, deladane said:

It caught me off guard at how moved I was when I saw the coffins of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth I in their own special room in the chapel. 

 

Not Queen Elizabeth I, just Queen Elizabeth (and after King George VI's death, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother). She was not the monarch, her husband was, so she doesn't get a regnal number, simply taking the title of 'Queen' as wife of a reigning monarch. Elizabeth I reigned in the 16th Century and is interred in Westminster Abbey.

 

Typically, this doesn't work the other way round, so the current Queen's husband, is Prince Philip is not King Philip!
 

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