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A Real Castle and Lived in by Real Royalty

Friday – Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle from above

Windsor is a tourist town. Restaurants and souvenir shops line the narrow streets. The castle is spectacular. Built on a hill for good defense, Windsor castle is the summer and weekend home for the royal family.

We left the train and trudged up the winding road, looking up until our necks hurt. About half way we stopped for a snack of cheese, crackers and water.  Tourists flowed by in groups. May 31st and the tourist season appeared to be in full swing.

We passed a long queue of people waiting to buy their entry ticket. Once again our prepurchase on line meant we could almost walk right in. The ever present security check queue took only fifteen minutes. Times have changed.

The castle grounds are beautifully kept. The cobblestone roadway, although a little rough to walk on, added to the ancient atmosphere. I felt as if I were walking into a history book. Centuries of kings and queens have resided here, entertained here, made diplomatic decisions and treaties here. We toured what was called the queen’s apartments. The elaborate halls and smaller rooms are used today for formal meetings of state etc. but are not part of the Queen’s actual home. We did see the room where her official 90th birthday party was held. We did see what had been the actual formal bedroom of king   Charles II .  His going to bed and rising was a formal affair attended by close and important people.

King Charles II Bedroom. Check out the ceiling. 

The rooms were elaborate.

We followed a self-guided audio tour which meant we could move along at our own pace. There were a number of stairs so we had special guides for the handicapped take us up and down in the tiniest of old elevators. There was just room for Tom and I inside. Needless to say, I said a prayer before I entered.

When the tour was over we enjoyed a very late lunch in one of the local pubs. We returned to the castle chapel for a 5:00 p.m. prayer service. This time there was no security check. We had access through one castle gate that led right to the chapel. This service was freely open to local residents and any tourists that were interested. Once again we sat in the “Quire”. The chapel was a small version of Westminister Abbey. There was no choir present, no hymns sung and no pomp and circumstance. We could hear but not see the priest who led us through a twenty minute service of prayers and scripture.

King George’s Chapel

The service over we followed the smallish crowd back out through the castle gate and joined those who were shopping. We wandered up and down the streets checking out some of the stores. We had already bought our souvenir tour book in the castle shop so were only looking. At this point we were tired. It is amazing how exhausting being a tourist can be.

We walked back down the hill to the train. On the trip home, I napped a bit and enjoyed the few minutes of country scenery. By the time we had returned to our Air B&B in the docklands it was after nine. We had a great visit with our hostess Sara and crawled wearily into bed.

Just two more days and our holiday would end. Where were the angels today. Well certainly the two women who cheerfully stuffed us into the tiny elevator had been very helpful and friendly. Mostly Tom and I had been our own angels for each other. This was definitely a day for us together. At times it felt like we were alone in our own little world in the midst of a crowd. We enjoy each other and walking in history so we had a grand day.

London  Days two and three

Covent Garden and Westminster Abbey

These two days we walked miles. My fit bit registered 17,898 steps on Wednesday. We had intended using the Hop On and Off bus but instead we bought an Oyster Card for the local transit. London Transit is wonderful. It’s quick, easy, very accessible by lift and except in rush hour not too terribly crowded. We followed our pattern of sleeping in until 8. This slow beginning for our day kept us relaxed and fairly stress free.

Wednesday

Covent Garden – a stray piano

We took the above ground railway to the boat bus and walked to Covent Garden. We wondered past a lot of sellers’ stalls and bought nothing. We checked out the live theatre productions and considered buying tickets to something but didn’t. We had lunch in Covent Garden entertained by a string ensemble in the courtyard.

We had a long walk along the river. Tom took my picture in front of the Scotland Yard headquarters. We walked past the parliament buildings and stopped to talk to a police officer. We asked about tours. He said the best tour was of Westminster Abbey. We walked over and discovered that there was a huge lineup to buy tickets. We decided it would be better to order the tickets on line and go tomorrow. We had a lovely quiet day. The only real angel this time was the policeman.

At supper time we ate in a typical British pub.

We returned to our lodging and visited with Sarah. She is a lovely young woman who loves to talk and discuss things, particularly religion. That was so good.

Thursday,

First task of the day, was arranging tomorrow. We decided to visit Windsor Castle which is in the town of Windsor on the outskirts of London. We had to organize where we caught the regular train and make sure we could get a ticket. That meant travelling to Waterloo station downtown. I would have to ride the “tube” down several layers into the earth. Since I struggle with feeling closed in, I knew this was going to stret……ch my comfort zone. We hopped on the DLR – the above ground transit – a piece of cake. One station and we transferred to the underground – the first layer. The train hurtled along screeching so loud on the corners and the downward slopes that I had to remove my hearing aids. The noise was painful. In about ten minutes we were at Waterloo station. The escalators up looked like at least 20 stories and we had to take two of them. The incline was frightful. At least we were going up so I didn’t have to look down. At street level Tom went up yet another level to buy our ticket to Windsor. I had had enough. I settled on a stool at a bar in MacDonald’s to wait.

The man beside me was eating – it looked like Timbits. I watched him pour HP sauce on his Timbits. I couldn’t resist. I asked, “What are you eating?” Turned out the Timbits were actually some form of breaded meat balls. The ice broken, we talked until Tom returned. He worked nearby and lived in the north end of the city. As we talked, my heart rate slowed. Riding the subway hadn’t been that bad, I told myself. Besides there is a lift so I won’t have to stand on those escalators to get home. Not that I like elevators. They too are closed in.

When Tom returned we walked out past the parliament buildings towards Westminster Abbey and beyond. We wandered through St. James Park which is lovely. We had a late lunch. And toured the Abby.

Westminster Abbey

Westminister Abbey is an imposing elaborate structure. Beautiful inside and out. It has witnessed so much history. As I stepped inside, I remembered seeing the queen’s coronation on our brand new black and white TV, when I was a little girl. The self-guided tour focused on the many historical people whose remains have been encrypted in the Abbey. It felt like a tour of death rather than life. After a while, I grew tired of looking at stone sculptures of famous figures laid out on stone coffins. I gratefully found a seat in the main abbey sanctuary and sat down for a rest. After the tour we attended a special sung communion worship to celebrate the Ascension of Christ. It was beautiful. They ushered Tom and I and many others in to sit in the Quire (choir). Tom actually sat in the Canada chair – the chair where the Canadian ambassadors, and other dignitaries sit for special services. Tom of course was in his glory. I sat down below expecting to hear his voice soar out over me.

It just didn’t happen, partly because the actual choir took up a portion of the seats. They led the crowd sitting below us. The organ and the combined voices poured forth their song. Being one of many, Tom even at his best, would never have been heard.  And Tom was not at his best. The beautiful formal Anglican service began with a procession. The lead man in a white gown overlaid with a gorgeous cloak of embroidered gold swung an incense pot. The aromatic fragrance rose up and swirled among us. Tom’s throat had closed up.

The priest and a number of others processed in behind the incense all of them dressed in white gowns with gold embroidered cassocks. I felt as if I was present at Lady Diana’s wedding or the coronation. The sermon was interesting, the music fabulous. I felt honoured to worship in Westminster Abbey.

Afterward, we had supper at a British pub. and took the “tube” (subway) home. Our day had been full. We were ready to sleep.

 

God Works in Mysterious Ways – Monday, we arrive.

It’s hard to believe that I haven’t written all week. Well I have but only in my journal. Tom and I are enjoying London at our leisurely pace. We get up when we naturally waken, enjoy breakfast and then we’re off – 10 a.m.  We return here after supper. Yes, we could see more but this pace suits us. Now for the last few days.

God Works in Mysterious Ways

God’s angels have literally surrounded us.  We ended up taking a taxi from the airport to our Air b&b. Not our intention of course. We started by having a caring London information agent at the airport setting up an Uber ride for us. Tom and I are obviously not suited for Uber. The first one cancelled. The second one we thought was booked wasn’t. We gave up after an hour of failure, and called a taxi. The info agent was an angel for sure, but this taxi driver must have had direct instructions from the Almighty. He had to park his unmarked cab (Mercedes) and come searching for us, as we stood their waiting for a SkyX taxi. He loaded us and all our luggage and we finally pulled out of the airport, travelling in total luxury.

Tom looked around the cab, saw no credit card signs and said, “You do take AMEX or VISA, I hope. That’s what the cab company said.”

At the next traffic light and our driver looked around at us. “You paid over the phone?”

“No.”

“I have no way of processing a card in the taxi.”

“We have no English money.”

“Can we stop at a bank?” I asked.

“Certainly.”

“We stopped at a bank fairly close to our Air B&B. I hopped out. The bank machine defeated me. I went inside and waited in line. (Always lots of lines in London). At the wicket the clerk callously said, “you have to go outside to the machine. We can’t take your cards – not any of them. Even though I was desperate for the “loo” at this point, I had the sense to say, “Is there a limit on withdrawals.”

“Yes, 300 pounds.”

I returned to the machine and requested only 300 pounds. Almost immediately the paper money spewed forth. I tore back to the car, well aware of the cost of keeping a taxi waiting in Canada.

Problem number two – we couldn’t find the Air B&B. We found the street and drove back and forth. No sign of number 19. By this time Tom and I were both desperate for the Loo.

“We’ll check at this hotel,” the driver said.

“Good,” I replied. Throwing caution to the wind, I added, “Can we go to the ‘loo’ here.”

“Certainly,” he replied. “I need to go too.”

He shepherded us into the hotel and helped us find the appropriate places. By the time I returned to the foyer, the driver had instructions.

He parked the car, unloaded us and then dragged our two biggest suitcases, with a carry on top of one, to the bottom of 25 steps. We all looked up. “I’ll help,” he said.

He took us to our building. We had no key. We called. The person who answered said, “follow the instructions in the email, I sent you.”

We had no email. We, of course, were not yet on wifi and not using our cell phone because of roaming charges. “Please send it again.”

We turned on our phone and got the email.

“You’ll be ok then,” the driver asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “How much do we owe you.” In my head I was expecting the entire 300 pounds. Uber was supposed to cost between 60 and 70 pounds from the airport. This accommodating driver sighed and said, “Would 70 pounds be okay.” I grinned and handed him 80 pounds and we thanked him profusely. We even told him he was our angel for the day.

Eventually, we got keys, got inside and said, “We’re here, in London, a dream come true.”

 

Angels Lead Us Home

We’re at the Airport, or more precisely and formally, “Liszt Ferencz International Airport.” On boarding passes and baggage tags, is written “BUD” bound for “YYZ” (Toronto).  It’s August 26th. Tonight, we’ll be home. This is a joy filled moment.

 

The trip home today has surpassed all my expectations. This morning, the courteous and ever-helpful front desk clerk printed our boarding passes and summoned a taxi for us. He negotiated the fare to the airport in advance, allaying Tom’s fears. The cab was prompt and spotless, the driver polite and helpful. He even folded down the front seat and pulled it forward, unasked, accommodating Tom’s size thirteen feet. We spent the long ride to the airport giving thanks Tom wasn’t driving. That was joyful. We felt God’s guiding hand leading us home.

 

 

On the plane from Budapest to Amsterdam, I was entertained by a most interesting, generous and kind man. When I struggled into my seat, he very carefully cleared the seat belt to the side. Our conversation began with my thank you. He seemed to want to talk so I asked him if he was visiting in Amsterdam.

 

“I’m Dutch,” he said, “And I’m heading home to Amsterdam.”

 

We talked. Proudly he told me about Amsterdam and the places that it would be good for us to visit. In the end, he ordered from the duty free shop on the plane, a tin of special Dutch waffle biscuits and the neatest music box egg timer painted in the Delft tradition.

 

“These are for you and your husband,” he said, “a gift.”

 

He touched my heart with his generosity.

 

The plane had been late leaving Budapest, shortening our connection time. Our new friend, Eugene, led us through the maze of the vast Amsterdam airport. He made sure we had our documents verified and escorted us into the correct line up. He couldn’t have been more caring and kind. He was an angel in disguise. Meeting Eugene was a total joy-filled experience.

 

Our good God had yet another angel in store for us. When I boarded the plane for Toronto, I was pleased to discover that my seatmate this time was a lovely women from the Ukraine, who spoke very little English. We had a great time as we struggled to share info about our lives, our children and grandchildren. The stewardesses, through their access to her passport, had discovered that today was a her birthday. They, brought her a birthday surprise of lemon cake and champagne which she shared with us. I got to pay Eugene’s kindness forward as I helped her get the movie screen going and fill out the Canada Customs form we all have to fill out. She enjoyed her company even with the language barrier. It was a privilege to sit beside her.

 

We have been truly blessed by angels of joy to finish our special journey.

 

 

A Day on Our Own

We delighted in Budapest yesterday, our last day. We began with the luxury of a slow morning, nowhere to go but breakfast. After breakfast, a short walk brought us to a shopping mall. Two of the casters on one of our big suitcases had disintegrated. With help from the desk clerk, we found the mall and the equivalent of Walmart or Zellers or Sears. Suitcases in every size, color and price awaited us. We focused on lightweight, cheap and sturdy. Our new suitcase fits the airline requirements and cost only 16,900 FORINT. We were grateful that the exchange rate was 204 FORINT to the Canadian dollar.

 

An afternoon nap prepared us for the rest of our day. We packed and weighed suitcases until our “stuff” was organized. The hotel clerk identified for us a live “Folklore” concert that evening, sold us the tickets and wrote down directions for the subway and concert hall. The Hungarian words seem to have an excess of letters, which makes them hard to remember. The tickets were worth every penny/FORINT. We soaked in a history of Hungary, superbly recounted in almost two hours of professional traditional dancing, singing, and orchestra. The evening was a highlight of our trip. Tom and I decided that we much prefer concerts and dramas to touring palaces. We returned to the hotel joyful and proud. With some good advice, we’d planned our own evening, found our way to the concert hall and back on public transport, chosen a fine Hungarian restaurant for supper, and experienced an awe-inspiring show. We crawled into bed still smiling.

 

One More Step to Home!

Yesterday morning, we disembarked in Budapest. Scenic had a big meeting room set aside in the Marriott Hotel for any of us who needed it. We left our luggage in a secure room. With two lovely couples from Australia, we walked over to the biggest local market in the twin cities.

As we wandered, I finally bought souvenir gifts for our grandsons. We had a lovely conversation with the young woman working in the stall. She and her husband had lived in Canada for a while. “My husband was homesick,” she said. “We returned home.” We talked a while longer. It felt good to connect with one person in this huge market that covered about three city blocks.

An hour and a half of noise and brightly colored stuff left us all exhausted. We stopped at a local café for an iced coffee. The men bought a beer. After resting a while, we three women continued perusing the shops on the way back to the hotel. By 2:30 it was time to say goodbye. We exchanged emails and offers of visits. We had enjoyed these new friends during our canal cruise. They were truly God’s gifts to us.

Tom and I took a taxi to our hotel. After checking in, we dragged our suitcases into the world’s smallest elevator. Without exaggerating, it was no more than 3 feet square. On the fifth floor, we unlocked the door to another tiny room with two single beds, not even pushed together. We’d endured single beds on the ship. We were too tired to care. We dropped our stuff and collapsed on the beds for two hours. Once awake, Tom agreed to ask for a main floor room. I was not ready to go up and down many times in that tiny elevator. The desk clerk agreed with a smile to moving us to the first floor, as low as we could go. That meant climbing one flight. There was no extra charge. I was grateful. To our surprise and delight, this room had a regular queen bed. For the first time since we left home, we could cuddle up properly. Now that was a joyful moment.

We unpacked, changed some money and walked to the Huszar, the loveliest Hungarian restaurant, for supper. The hotel had recommended this place and it was just great. We had chicken paprikash, and Hungarian goulash with the sides that accompanied it. They were served on a board platter for us to share. The food was delicious. The young man who served us was helpful and sweet. We took our time and enjoyed our dinner. Our extravagance included tea for me and apple strudel to share. The entire meal was a joyful moment.

After dinner we walked a bit, returned to our hotel and once again collapsed into bed. Our wonderful cruise has taken its toll. We are both exhausted. We slept well…

 

 

The Party Is Nearly Over.

Wow, what a fabulous final day on our cruise. This morning, we were given a guided tour as our ship cruised into Budapest. Hunor Nagy, our Hungarian tour director, spoke with pride as he pointed out the attractions that can be seen from the Danube and gave us the history behind them. Our ship docked across from the stately and stunning parliament buildings. He deserves a lot of credit for securing that docking space ahead of everyone else.

We spent the afternoon at the spa, enjoying the hot springs. My knees and back were grateful. Back on board ship, we experienced an hour of Hungarian traditional music and dance. Four young dancers and three musicians filled with exuberance entertained us with their artistry and agility.

Tonight, the captain sailed from our docking place down the river and back so that we could experience Hunor’s daylight tour of magical Budapest after dark. High above the city, their statue of liberty holding the olive branch of peace looks down with love. She is free. After World War II, the Russian Communists had put a red star upon her. In 1990 when the Russian soldiers left Hungary, the star was removed. Once again, she is a Hungarian symbol of integrity, peace, and strength.

The short evening cruise brought a perfect ending to a dream holiday. Now, I am sitting on our little veranda. I am looking across at the parliament building. Totally illuminated against the dark sky, this bastion of new democracy outshines any prince’s palace. My heart is filled with joy and gratitude.

Tonight, we gave a copy of my book, Spectacular Stella, to one of the young women who served us all day and evening for the last two weeks. She has a four-year-old son at her home in Croatia. Our small gift obviously brought her joy. She fetched her phone from her cabin to show us a picture of her beautiful son with the sparkling blue eyes and long eyelashes. Her love and pride in her little boy touched my heart. This day has overflowed with joy.

Vienna

We woke up this morning in Vienna. Just the thought of being here filled my heart with joy. I like cruising while I sleep. It’s a wonderfully painless way to travel. Our first concert took place at the Spanish Riding School. That’s right, we actually went to a performance of the Lipizzaner Stallions. Both horses and riders amazed us. The sand floor arena in the centuries-old school gleamed under the light of chandeliers. The horses danced to the music of Strauss, Schubert and Mozart. Years of watching my daughter and later, my granddaughter practicing their riding has given me just enough knowledge to be deeply impressed by the skill and precision of these riders and horses. This was definitely a joyful moment.

After the show, Tom and I wandered around Vienna on our own. That meant we got lost. We were searching for St. Stephen’s Cathedral. As we wandered, we discovered a stunning rose garden. There were plenty of big churches. We’ve seen so many ancient towns that the buildings and churches are looking very similar. We finally asked for help and learned we had set off in exactly the wrong direction. That helped a great deal. Eventually we found St. Stephen’s. It was truly a joyful moment. We went inside to pray. I thought it was a good idea to give God thanks for the good people who showed us the way. From there we caught the shuttle bus back to the boat.

This evening we attended a special concert at the Liechtenstein Palace with the Vienna Imperial Orchestra. The music was excellent. Two opera singers performed arias and a duet, and two ballet dancers interpreted the orchestra’s performance of Johann Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz. During their performance, they chose audience members to dance with them. Tom was thrilled to be chosen. It was a joyful moment for both of us. What a fabulous day.

Saltzberg and The Sound of Music

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are no words to describe the joy of this day. I think it’s mixed with my childhood, my love of stories and the wonderful movie the Sound of Music. Of course we are here, actually here in the Austrian Alps. It’s hard to believe.

This was our longest day. The boat docked in Passau this morning. Planned for us was a two and a half hour bus ride to Salzberg, lunch a show and another bus ride for 1 hour to Linz to meet the ship. Many people decided the bus ride was too long and declined the opportunity.

I was determined to go. I have enjoyed the movie and the musical, the Sound of Music for most of my adult life. Tom came along because the only other choice was a day on the ship or tramping through Linz by himself. I’m glad he came along and so was he.

The bus ride up the mountain was beyond description. Mile after mile, turn after turn, brought a wider view of the idyllic countryside. It felt like we were on an airplane looking down at the neat fields and villages. Vista after vista appeared with every break in the trees. The winding road was narrow. We thanked the bus driver when we got to the lodge. Already the day was filled with joy-filled moments.

The meal was yummy. The show opened with a beautiful young woman singing, “the hills are alive with the sound of music”. I felt like I was living a dream. My heart soared. Tears dripped down my cheeks. Every song, the ones by the kids, the ones by the handsome young man, instrumentals by the orchestra touched my soul. Even as I write this the tears pour down my cheeks. One of the last songs they did was “Silent Night” written by Salzberg’s Franz Gruber. It was introduced as a song of peace so much needed by the world.

We still have Vienna but as far as I’m concerned I have flown, flown on God’s Spirit. Thank you God. I’m glad, I’m a woman and can weep with joy when my heart is so totally touched.

 

This trip has been filled with joy filled moments. Wow. It was expensive. When I was planning it I struggled to spend that much money for a holiday for us when half the world is starving. Yet today, I understand what Jesus meant when he said to the woman who poured the nard on his feet and wiped them with his hair. “Leave her alone. I will not always be with you”. Sometimes it is good to just relax into the joy God gives you.

Healing has begun.

Today I sat at the front of the ship soaking in the beauty as we travelled down river. Mile after mile of idyllic peace. A yellow canoe cut through the sparkling green water. Occasionally, a small village nestled against the hills and protected by its tall church spire, broke the lush green of the countryside with white and blue and red. Today families enjoyed the tiny beaches. Children frolicked in the water at the river’s edge. This is a joyful morning. On this trip most mornings bring this peace.

 

When we arrived in Nuremberg, both of us decided to skip the historical documentation of WWII. Hitler’s Germany is a dark and painful blot on human history. Today’s German citizens feel the shame and the pain. Everywhere we’ve stopped we have seen the results of their hard work, rebuilding and restoring after the war. This is a monumental job, not just with their buildings but with their souls.

 

Instead we went on the walking tour of Nuremburg titled, a taste of Nuremberg. Mostly we saw the castle and some spectacular churches, Besides feasting with our eyes, we were given a sample of German gingerbread made with spices and ground nuts- a yummy cookie. We also enjoyed German sausage on a bun plus a generous sample of the local beer. The tour was delightful, the people of the city warm and friendly. Our taste of Nuremberg was delightful – a joyful moment a new memory of Nuremberg to lay beside the horror of Hitler and hopefully add to the healing.