Brian left for the US of A this week for work and in his absence, I decided that I needed to plan some "out-of-town" adventures for the 5 of us.
Our first stop was Windsor Castle- the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world! We loved, loved, loved it! The town of Windsor itself was so charming that we could have spent the day exploring and taking it in. After getting some tickets and our audio guides, we walked through the Norman gates of the castle, where a live tour was just beginning. We were introduced to the Upper, Lower, and Middle Wards as well as the famous Round Tower. Then, we went inside to Queen Mary's Dollhouse. This is the largest and most famous dollhouse in the world. Built with tiny real books, and actual running water and working elevators as well as real gold tiny place settings. In a word, everything in the dollhouse is tiny, but very real. Incredible. From there, we went to the State Apartments, where pictures are forbidden. The scope, majesty and grandeur of these rooms in beyond anything I've ever seen. It really felt like a working, lived-in castle, but larger and more grand than any of the castles we have previously seen. We slowly walked through the rooms, listening to our audio guides and trying to see it all. Its definitely a place that you could walk through several times before you tire of it.
Outside of the castle in the lower ward, is St. George's Chapel , where you can visit the burial sites of many of England's kings and queens such as Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Edward IV, Henry VI, Edward VII and Alexandra, and many more. After leaving the castle grounds, we walked toward Eton College, a prestigious private school that has educated 19 of Britain's prime ministers. The town of Eton was so picturesque...I could not stop taking pictures of it and wished Brian was here so the pictures could be decent. ;)
We stayed close to home the next day, visiting the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden- which may have been a kid favorite. They could climb on old buses and trams and even drove a simulated tube and played in kid-sized taxis. I loved reading the history of transportation in London and how it literally shaped the area in and out of the city- prompting an urban sprawl as tubes became more popular and efficient. Also, the Thames! Boats used to be the main mode of transportation and without this river, London might not have been settled at all.
We had to walk through the shops at Covent Garden after the museum and, as usual, there was some sort of entertaining show that the kids insisted on watching. City life! Then, we grabbed some delicious Ben's Cookies, sat on the curb and blissfully devoured the warm cookies before walking over to Trafalgar Square to check out the lions. There was a string quartet playing in the square and it was so beautiful...we picked up their CD after listening for a while because I love the gorgeous sound of violins! Then, on to the main attraction. The kids climbed on top of the lions and hung out for a bit before heading back home for the day on the bus.
Ready for another short trip, we headed to Hampton Court Palace on Thursday. Right on the River Thames, this huge palace conducts living tours- people dressed in period outfits and playing the parts of actual monarchs and their courtiers that lived in the palace long ago. We learned about Henry VIII and explored his huge kitchens, saw how meals were prepared and where they were eaten. Then, we saw the Tudor side of Hampton where King William and his wife, Mary, lived as well as their gorgeous Fountain Court and privy gardens. Outside of the castle, is the famous Hampton Court Maze commissioned by William III and includes 1/3 of an acre of hedges that lead to a center (or the goal to be reached). I told the kids that the first one to reach the center is the winner and they ran free. Kate and Lauren stuck together and found it, Taylor got lost so Tessa and I eventually caught up to her, and we found the center altogether after getting lost a couple more times, which is the point, right?! Either way, it was a lot of fun and a definite first! From there we walked for a bit along the Thames and then over to the carriages placed on the front lawn for kids (and adults!) to climb into and play on. This is where I fell asleep in the sunshine on the grass. It was lovely.
Brian came home the next day with half of a suitcase full of American goods that I had requested. Our boat shipment (which includes most of our stuff from America) was supposed to arrive on July 5, but there was a problem with the shipment in the US and it was delayed three weeks. Because we still don't have any of it, we are running out of things that we need and have had trouble finding in the UK (Mucinex!). Luckily, Brian heads back to the States about once/month and can stock up. The kids thought they had died and gone to heaven when he pulled out Mambas and their favorite granola bars as well as some new wet brushes. And, I got my Mucinex, because we have all been fighting a nasty cold for what seems like forever!
We spent time walking through our favorite parts of Regents Park on Saturday and then headed over to Holland Park, where there was a ward get-together to say goodbye to a great family that is moving to Colorado this week.