Monday, August 25, 2014

London & Brussels 2014 {Day Three}

I mentioned that I was very excited about the excursion that I had planned for Thursday. If you want a clue before you read all about it, here's a video that should give you a BIG hint...

 I got up at 4:57 (my alarm was set for 5:30, but I woke up then and just decided to stay awake), had breakfast in my room, and got ready to head out.  I started out my day at Paddington Station, where I planned to take a 7:18 train.
I was headed to Highclere Castle (aka: Downton Abbey).

Here was the plan:  I did not have a reserved ticket for entry into the castle, because they were already sold out when I decided to go to England.  I checked on all the other expensive tours with other tour companies, and they were sold out too.  According to Highclere Castle, they do have some walk up tickets available for the 10:00, 12:00, and 2:00 tours.  So, being the Black Friday trained American that I am, I planned to get to Newbury by 8:05.  Take a cab to the castle and be there by 8:30 to get in line for tickets.  I was prepared to spend all day there if I had to.

I got to the station way early, so I had to take a picture of the Paddington Bear statue!
I got on the train that was suppose to leave at 7:18, and about 7:24, I noticed we still hadn't left.  About that time, someone came and told us to get off the train because all traffic out of Paddington had been suspended.  WHAT?!?! DON'T YOU KNOW I HAVE TO GET TO HIGHCLERE!?!

It seems there was a fatality up the tracks.  Someone had committed suicide.  I went around trying to figure out how long it takes to clean up a body off of the tracks.  I couldn't get a great answer, but I finally talked to a guy who was nice and told me that he didn't think I needed to try to go to a different station, but that I should just wait.  While I was talking to the helpful guy for the 2nd time, he got a text alert that there would be an 8:30 train from Paddington to Reading.  He told me to get on it, and change trains in Reading.  I immediately began watching for it to hit the board that tells you which train platform you need to be at.

The second it hit the board, people started running for that platform.  I mean literally, they were running.  I got on the train, and got a seat.  It was so packed. that people were standing.  When we finally pulled into Reading, I got off the train and spent about 30 seconds looking around for anything that gives notice of what trains were leaving when.  I didn't see anything, so I headed upstairs.  I found the boards quickly and saw that there was a train leaving for Newbury at 9:14.  The train station clock said 9:12.  And just FYI:  The train doors close 40 seconds before they take off.  HOLY CRAP!!!  I took off running.  Running down the escalator, yelling at the people "Walk left, stand right!", because that is the rule there, though everyone doesn't observe (probably Americans).  I hit the bottom and looked for the correct platform, and again, RAN to the train.  I hopped on the closest car, and the doors closed before my butt had hit the seats.

 I arrived in Newbury at about 10:00
Of course I was in a panic thinking I had missed the 10:00 tour...
Luckily, the tickets were not as hard to come by as I had anticipated.
Well, that or else everyone who would have been in line, was also held up on later trains, since I was on the first one out of London.

And the tour isn't specifically timed for 10:00 sharp, so all was good.

I was so happy to secure that ticket and walk through those gates.
Some places disappoint in person, but Highclere was everything you would want it to be.

The only disappointment was that the family and  Carson and his staff were not outside to
greet me ;-)

They absolutely do not allow any pics inside...

We got to see the Library

The drawing room

Upstairs we got to see Lady Cora's bedroom, Sybil's bedroom, Edith's bedroom (I think), and Mr. Pamuk's bedroom.  We also got to walk around and look down to the great room.

We got to come down the main grand staircase, but this was the staff's staircase.
Another aspect of Highclere is the Egyptian Exhibition.  You see, the Castle is the seat for the Earl of Carnarvon.  The 5th Earl of Carnarvon famously discovered the tomb of the Egyptian Boy Pharaoh, Tutankhamun (and was said to have been cursed for doing so).  In the Egyptian Exhibition, you got to see actual artifacts from some of the Earl's earlier expeditions, and replicas of King Tut artifacts (since the originals are in Cairo).  It was pretty neat.

The gardens were gorgeous.  I love all of the follies around the property.

See that one way up on the hill?

The family who actually lives in Highclere, (not the fictional ones I've been talking about), raise sheep.

My cab driver stopped and let me take a pic of this folly on the way out.  
Of course this folly make me think of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy taking refuge from the rain in the movie Pride and Prejudice!
I was able to catch the train that went straight from Newbury to Paddington without any changes.  Once at Paddington, I made some purchases at the Paddington Bear shop, and then I took the train back to my hotel to reformulate a plan for the rest of the day.
It was raining off and on at this point, so I decided to head for the Natural History Museum.
Unfortunately it seemed like everyone else in London had the same plan!
I had to wait in line for close to an hour to get inside.
Truth be known, I didn't give a hoot about the science stuff inside the Natural History Museum.
I only went in to see the architecture.
So after all of that waiting, I was only inside for about 20 minutes!
It is a stunning building though.

After I left the museum, I took the tube from South Kensington to the King's Cross/St. Pancras Station.  
It's like a shopping mall down on the lower level.
So I did some shopping while I was there.
But the main purpose was that I wanted to get my Eurostar tickets printed out and find out where the check-in was located.  I had an early train to catch the next morning, and I just operate better, knowing everything is squared away and where I need to go.

The Eurostar trains leave from their own sectioned off spot, since you have to pass through customs to get to them.  You can see them lined up in the pic below.
It's a beautiful station.
After I left St. Pancras station, I took the tube to Hammersmith where I walked to Kerbisher & Malt for dinner (in the pouring rain unfortunately).
Esquire magazine called Kerbisher & Malt "the best contemporary fish & chips in England".
I had the Cod & Chips.  It was really good.
After dinner, I headed back to the hotel.  I had to get to bed early because I had another early morning planned...

Next up:  Brussels!



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