As the sound of my alarm buzzed me awake after a not so fulfilling four and a half hours sleep the grogginess slowly subsided to the building excitement that envelopes me on all trips to the airport. This weekend was no exception; I was off to spend the weekend visiting one of my best friends Juliet who is based in Wokingham. After a quick 50 minute flight to Heathrow and a tasty bacon roll and orange juice, the delights of flying Virgin Little Red, I arrived to blustery winds and vaguely warmer temperatures.
Juliet and Jordan picked me up from the airport (thanks guys!) and I was immediately struck by how green and leafy this part of South West England was. The drive back to Wokingham was short, gorgeous and filled with lots of great catching up chat. We arrived at their flat and after a second breakfast – it still only being 8.30a.m – we started planning our weekend.
If I am going to be entirely honest I knew pretty much nothing about Guildford prior to visiting. Juliet had mentioned it was nearby and after asking a few people at work who all gave glowing reviews we decided to brave the unknown and check it out.
Guildford is a small town 25 minutes by train from Wokingham. As we arrived in to the small station we followed the signs for the town and soon came to a map where we could see the highlights of the town and where they were in geographic relation to each other. We decided to make our way up to the castle as a starting point and work our way back through there. The town has an old fashioned English countryside feel and reminded me in a way of Stratford-upon-Avon, if perhaps slightly less old. The winding streets were full of quaint interesting buildings and we passed a beautiful stone church which was having an event in the grounds which local produce stalls and music.
As we entered the grounds of the castle I was quite taken aback by the beauty and intricate design of the gardens. With it being early May all of the flowers were out in full bloom and it was a magnificent sight to see. Each section used different coloured flowers and with the sun peaking through the clouds it was a stunning walk. We meandered through the gardens stopping at almost every section to take in the flowers and then climbed the small yet steep hill to the castle. The castle itself is more of a ruin however, there is a small museum encased inside and for only £3 you can pay to climb to the top of the tower. We decided we were quite content with the views of the gardens and surrounding Guildford from the hilltop and after taking in the beauty of the town wandered back down to check out the bowling green. There was a pretty pavilion and yet more gorgeous gardens in this section with the flat bowling greens adjacent which you have to take a sort of secret passage type tunnel to enter. It was all quite exciting really.
From the castle we followed some winding side streets back to the main high street of Guildford stopping off at some frightfully expensive shops en-route. The High street is again quite beautiful and made up of a mismatch of old heritage buildings and modern retail developments. We made our way up the High Street, stopping off in different shops, to the Guildford House Gallery. The gallery is set in beautiful old house from 1666 and houses lots of artwork that you can buy. Some of the paintings were absolutely beautiful if a little out of our price range. They also have the tourist information centre here and a giftshop selling lots of local jewellery and crafts.
As we made our way back down the High street taking in the ornate clock we stopped in to the Medieval Undercroft which dates from the 13th century and is believed to have been a merchant’s shop. Entry, as for all of the Heritage Sites in Guildford, was free and we wandered around the small space with high vaults finding out about what might have went on here 800 years ago. They had set up the undercroft as a shop might have looked to allow visitors to experience what life might have been like all of those years ago.
With our tummies rumbling we crossed the street to the Angel’s Dining Rooms, a restaurant/hotel in the old Posting House. As you made your way up the old staircase to the restaurant at the back of the hotel you were really struck by the modernity of the restaurant and the rustic, historical beauty of the hotel. They had a great deal for a glass of wine and a main for £11.95 and so I settled on the seared tuna steak served with lots of fresh greens and some yummy rosemary sautéed potatoes. Of course with a glass of Malbec! The meal was a lovely slice of luxury and I really liked that it was a local restaurant serving local ingredients.
The last must-see of Guildford was a walk along the river and as luck had it just as we were crossing the bridge a canal boat was opening the locks to allow it to go from lower to upper level of river. Neither of us had seen this procedure before and although it was a gradual process, still an interesting thing to stumble upon. We strolled along the river and stopped off at the Alice in Wonderland statue, Guildford is where Lewis Carroll spent his last years, and made our way back over to North Street for some last minute shopping before heading back to Wokingham.
We picked up some beers for Jordan and wine for me (a lovely German Riesling) and ordered a curry from a local take-away, Radhuni. Unfortunately, the Just-Eat order service seemed to have a technical glitch and it took them almost 2 hours to deliver our order. It may have been our starving stomachs but the food was actually pretty nice. After watching a few game shows and chilling out with Jordan, who unfortunately had been working all day while we were in Guildford, we got an early night.
After a great sleep and breakfast we decided to check out another neighbouring town today – Windsor. After dropping Jordan at work and having some leftover curry for lunch we drove over to Windsor which was about a 30 minute drive. Our first stop was the Great Park which was HUGE and a nice opportunity for us to stretch our legs. Quite a few of the trees had mushrooms in front of them to explain when they had been planted and by which member of the royal family. After doing a big loop through the park and stopping by a small lake where we spotted a family of Canadian Geese with a trio of goslings, we headed into town.
It was a sunny day and as a result Windsor was really busy. We drove through the town and eventually managed to get the car parked. We wandered through the town and were particularly excited to try a shake from Shakeaway with the tagline ‘World Famous Menu’. We both ordered fruit based shakes and despite my asking for mango and kiwi, all my famous shake seemed to taste of was yoghurt. After drinking not even half, we both destined our shakes to the bin.
Our first stop was the castle and I was taken aback by the sheer size of it. Having visited quite a lot of castles including Edinburgh and Stirling, they always seem to be quite small but Windsor Castle definitely had grandeur and size above the others. With the main exhibition focussing on artwork from the Battle of Waterloo and the price being a hefty £19.50 we wandered around the outside and decided to pass on going inside. We did however, wander around the winding streets and went into the local Parish Church which was quite beautiful and had a famous painting of The Last Supper which had recently been restored. We also managed to stumble across a local free museum detailing the history of Windsor other than the Royal connection which was somewhat interesting and gave us the chance to play with a guillotine.
The town was bustling with activity and as the day bore on we headed down to the river for a serene walk and managed to stumble across a cool wine shop with cork window displays over the Thames on the Eton side of the river. We crossed back over and as we made our way back to the car managed to walk through some of the park where they had some medieval looking trees and a fountain which children were making the most of due to the heat of the day
As the heat of the day was fading we made our way back to Wokingham to pick up Jordan from work. We made a yummy lemon and soy chicken stir fry for dinner and we played a few round of Scene It with Jordan completely demolishing both of us in turn – that boy has a crazy amount of general knowledge.
For my final day with Juliet we had decided to go into London for the day since I was getting the train home from Kings Cross in the evening. The train only took 45 minutes to Paddington and from there we went straight to our first food stop of the day – Satay House. We had made a reservation the night before after this place was voted best Malaysian restaurant in the UK and had high hopes for our lunch. After hanging around outside for 15 minutes since we were quite early and it hadn’t even opened yet, we finally settled down to explore the delicious looking menu.
I had a lychee juice with our shared starter of roti canai and popiah goring which was tasty although not exactly as we had expected. The roti was quite thick and served with a mild curry sauce with veggies and the popiah were similar to Chinese crispy spring rolls. For main I ordered one of my absolute favourites, beef rending and coconut rice and Juliet had Nasi Campur with fish. My beef was succulent, super tasty and exactly as I had hoped. I had a mango juice with this course which was again super tasty and fresh. We finished our Malaysian extravaganza with a lychee and mango sorbet, iced milo and Sago Gula Melaka. By this point we were both so full and yet in complete heaven. By milo and sorbet were really good and Juliet’s rice pudding was also really tasty if a little strange in texture.
With very full bellies and feeling a little sick we made our way over to Kensington Gardens and the palace, where Kate, William, George and newly arrived Princess Charlotte were staying. As a result the gardens were a hubbub of activity and the Palace itself had rows of television vans parked outside. We had decided the night before to visit the Palace and so after getting tickets and dropping my bag at the free left luggage facility we started in the fashion exhibition. The exhibition had some famous peaces worn by the Queen and her sister Princess Margaret throughout the 60’s and 70’s and then had pieces from Princess Diana in the 80’s. It was really interested to compare the Queen’s more traditional style to that of her sister who had less pressure and more of a free reign to embrace changing styles. Diana’s pieces were almost flamboyant and although all of them championed British designers and had strong influences of shaping the British fashion industry there were some more than questionable choices.
The next part of the palace we explored was The Queen’s State Apartments. These rooms were created for Queen Mary II and her husband King William in the 17th century and were very dark and traditional in décor. We learned some interesting historical stories from the many guides dotted around there were beautiful views out over the gardens beyond from the windows. From here we made our way over to The King’s State Apartments and probably the grandest part of the palace – The King’s Staircase. The staircase was covered in paintings by William Kent and covered in Gold. As you ascend them you really do feel like you have stepped back in time and thanks to a ingenious pamphlet can smell the different smells of the palace that you might have experienced should you have arrived during the 17th Century. The King’s Apartment’s in general were much grander than that of the Queens and included a huge art hall with a lot of famous works therein.
The final exhibition explored the life of Queen Victoria who was raised at Kensington Palace by her mother who wished for her to be kept away from the temptations of court. It followed her life from her early days at the palace, meeting the love of her life Prince Albert, to him sadly dying and her living a huge proportion of her life as a widow. Having not known much about the royal family prior to my visit I really do think the palace is a great way to learn more about them while seeing where they grew up and lived. The gardens attached to the palace are also beautiful and we wandered around them before heading over to Chinatown.
Chinatown in London is fairly small in terms of other big cities, particularly New York, but still contains some excellent finds. It’s in a great location, right behind Leicester Square. We first went to Chatime to get a drink. This Taiwanese bubble tea joint was really busy but the tea is some of the best I have ever had, including in Taiwan itself! I had a passion fruit green tea and it was heavenly. We then headed down the street a little to Kowloon bakery for me to pick up some snacks for the train. I got a Char Sui bun which was lovely and sweet which yummy pork inside and a custard tart for desert. I also picked up a rice triangle filled with pork and vegetables having eaten so many when I was in Sichuan. It was a great breakfast treat the next day!
After our busy day we took the tube along to Kings Cross and I had to say goodbye to one of my best friends. I had the best weekend with Juliet and Jordan and will definitely we down again soon to visit, thanks for having me. My four and a half journey back to Edinburgh was made slightly better by the fact it was a Virgin-East Coast train, and I managed to finish my book. Result!