A day trip got me out of London for twelve hours and, sure, it stuck me on a bus with 40 strangers for most of that time, but who can be bothered to be bothered when it took me through the crisp fall air to the leafy, golden countryside?
When you're doing long-term travel as I have been, it can be hard to remember the magical moments among a day full of great ones. When everything is shiny and new, and you're not taking notes as you go (I tried this and was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things I needed to write down, which ironically caused me to feel further removed from the experience than was intended), sometimes all those good moments blend together. Enough time has passed since London that I can now say luckily the bad bits get absorbed as well.
But sometimes, when looking back, the extra special moments do uncover themselves from the pile of memories and catch the light to draw your attention a little longer. A few loom larger than life (we'll get to Ireland, don't you worry), and some are small blips in the scheme of things, but those are the ones I try my hardest to hold onto because they so quickly slip away. I suppose there's a lesson here about true magic not ever existing outside the moment, unable to be captured on film or by hand or in words, but I do my best to scrap that rule whenever I can.
One such magical moment happened at Windsor Castle.
Our tour arrived at the castle before opening, so by the time we waited in line and had our tickets scanned, we were the first ones on the grounds. Our guide told us the best way to maximize our visit was to start with the State Apartments and end at St. George's Chapel, where Meghan and Harry were married. I take direction well, so I made a beeline uphill to the apartments where there was another short queue of 10 or so people who also got As as students. When the doors opened, the group in front of me ascended the stairs, took a sharp left towards signs for Queen Mary's Dolls' House (suckers), while I continued on straight. Straight into the gold and crimson State Apartments to find myself -- wait for it -- completely alone.
I have seen a number of castles by now. I have listened to the hilarious audio tour at Gravensteen in Ghent. I have shuffled shoulder-to-shoulder in an amoeba through Versailles. I have taken in the views from Edinburgh Castle under sunny skies and under rainy ones. I have never, and I feel confident saying I never will again, walked through a castle, that a royal family still uses to this day, completely alone. You better believe I was grinning like a damn fool the entire time. I was not trying to play it cool in front of the docents. In fact, I told each of them the same joke at every opportunity. "I appreciate you coming all the way down here just for me!" I turned in circles staring at the ceiling. I adjusted my invisible crown and fluffed my imaginary mantle. I pretended I was the Queen.
I knew I didn't need to waste energy remembering how it looked (thank you, internet), and I wasn't allowed to take photos anyway, so I was able to enjoy each new room without distraction. I spent my walk squeezing in that feeling of wonder. Physically squeezing my fists and my lungs and my butt cheeks, like I could hold my breath and suspend an experience long enough that it would grow solid, and then all the parts of me that had been compressed/constricted/squeezed would walk away with a real piece of an otherwise intangible, finite experience. We don't do that enough, I think: let ourselves be overtaken by the same wonder and excitement that awaited us around every corner as a kid. In part due to the potential for embarrassment, as if expressing unadulterated enjoyment is something to be quashed, and in part becoming jaded by all we have already seen, as if seeing more hardens us to even more. But I was giddy, and the moment was perfect, and I didn't care who knew it.
In the end, my visit was short. The place isn't that big, after all. I tried to draw it out -- you know, walk slowly so I could savor it, but not too slowly so that anyone behind me might catch up -- but all in all, I probably saw the apartments in less than 10 minutes. They were a really good 10 minutes.
The rest of the day was what you might expect after I mentioned this was a bus tour: plenty of driving, truncated stops at some awesome English highlights, and progressively grayer skies. I'll let the photos do the talking from here on out. My mom doesn't prefer this because it means she doesn't have any text to navigate the rest of the post, but I think the Roman Baths and Stonehenge speak for themselves. Which reminds me, if you have been dying to see fifty different shots of Stonehenge at slightly varying angles, well, then, you're in for a real treat. Remember, it's not the monument itself that's wild to see, it's seeing it while learning about how it got there. (Did you know the "small" bluestones weighing between 2 and 5 tons were brought to the site from more than 250km away? We still don't know exactly how, but historians guess via waterways and then rolled on long timber logs over land. Wild.)