Back in the MotherlandAugust 29, 2019 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C
Happy to report the flight was uneventful and more pleasant than I anticipated, no doubt in large part to modern pharmaceuticals. I obtained the seat assignment I'd originally requested, so I had my window to lean against while I caught some sleep. The flights were on schedule and my bag arrived, so things are off to a good start!
Once I got to London I did the housekeeping stuff- obtained cash, got a transport card for the Tube, bought and installed a SIM card and made my train reservations for the remainder of my trip. I have a month-long Britrail pass but was unable to obtain seat reservations on the internet. You have to be in the UK to do that, which is frustrating.
After dropping my bags at the hotel, I headed off via tube & train to hit my first sight, Highclere Castle, aka "Downton Abbey". I watched a documentary on the home and learned that it costs $1,000,000 pounds annually to maintain the estate. No wonder they have to make it a tourist attraction, albeit only during the summer. They are largely closing the attraction at the end of the month, so I made it here just in time to see it. They allow you to wander the grounds, gardens and much of the interior of the house BUT you are not allowed to take pictures inside. The excuse is that the "Lady" doesn't want their to be pictures taken of their private home. Yet she is happy to have such pictures sold in many forms (postcards, books, etc) in their gift shop. She also is quite enamored with placing photos of herself throughout the home. I promise you there are no less than 6 photos of her in each and EVERY room. From the documentary I also learned that several of the story lines in Downton are based upon some of the history of the family- for example the estate was once in jeopardy of being sold due to a lack of funds but the Lord had married a rich American woman, who ended up 'saving' it with her finances. Also, the same woman/Lady did spearhead turning Highclere into a hospital and rehab center for military personnel during the 2nd World War.
On the trainride to Newbury, which is where Highclere is located, I sat next to a lady with her 3 little girls. They were really cute and there is something enchanting about hearing little kids speak with an English accent. Of course they are just like siblings the world over, pushing one another's buttons, etc. One of the kids had opened something incorrectly and her older sister said "Well done but not in a good way." Later she scolded her sister about a game saying "That's not the proper way." LOL I can also tell you that apparently little girls the world over are enamored with the colors of pink, purple and all things unicorn. Based upon what I overheard in their conversation, they also think they know everything. One of the girls had obtained a book full of pictures of kittens and cats and I have never seen someone so rapturous in looking at a book of kitten pictures. That kid really needs to have a cat but unfortunately her mom said she's allergic. Guess she finds out at a young age that life can be cruel!
While Highclere Castle is indeed very large, it is nothing compared to say, Biltmore House. The original house was much smaller and fairly nondescript. In the 1900's the present structure was built arround the original one and the architect, Berry, is the same one who designed Parliament, and the style is very recognizable as a result.
The interior rooms were nice but some of the rugs and furniture was a little tatty looking due to how old it was. Some highlights were a desk of Napolean's and some incredible silk wallcoverings. I wish I could have obtained a picture of those wallcoverings.
In each room there were Downton set pictures to let you know what key scenes had taken place there. There was no guided tour, it was self-guided, but there were docents in each room who could answer questions.
The day was sunny and the temps were in the mid-upper 70's, so it was quite nice wandering through the gardens.
They also had an exhibit about the one of the former Lord's Egypt discoveries. The current Lord's grandfather financed the ultimately successful hunt for King Tut's tomb. Having spent a few weeks in Egypt on a prior trip, this didn't hold any interest for me, so I didn't bother purchasing a ticket for it. That said, the connection is interesting.
I caught my train back to London and then had dinner at an Indian restaurant, whick was no better than that which I've had in the states, and called it a day. I am certainly hoping to find better curry later in the trip. Other than India, I can't think of a better place to eat Indian.Read more