Every once in a while, there are days when I travel that I'd like to wake up and repeat the whole thing again because it was just so magical. In England, it was the day I boarded the Orient-Express British Pullman train to Sandringham, the Queen's country estate in Norfolk and where they spend Christmas every year. They open presents on Christmas Eve, walk to church on the estate on Christmas morning (and crowds line up to see them), and spend a lot of time mucking about their gorgeous grounds and gardens. It was a big deal when Kate married William and she went to Sandringham for the first time (last year, they decided to spend Christmas at the Middletons which was a surprise to royal watchers).
If I did this day again, I'd have it be a wee bit cooler. It was during London's heat wave, and the train isn't air conditioned. But still, it was an extraordinary day. You board the train in London and it takes about two hours to actually get out of London because the train is so long and they have to switch tracks. But I didn't care - I was enjoying my orange juice, scrambled eggs, and smoked salmon with lovely company. Soon you're whizzing up to Norfolk.
I'm still glad things can take my breath away and the first view of Sandringham did. It was so recognizable from all the pictures I'd seen but yet better than I could have pictured it. The house is so homey with flat-screen TV's are hidden in old-style furniture and a huge fireplace in the main Saloon. The heat outside didn't help but I still could picture a blustery, snowy day with all the royals dressed for the holiday. The women have to be ready - Kate had to change five times on Christmas day alone.
I went through the house three times - the first time it was too crowded. And each time I went, I got new info from all the guides stationed in each room. There's a decent museum near the house, and a great gift shop and garden shop.
When I realized I had half an hour to spare, and I had wandered around the lakes, I found a huge, shaded tree, put my phone away and gazed at the house (munching on pretzels I might add). Thirty minutes well spent in the English countryside, without any distractions. Bliss!
Orient-Express is running this day trip three times in 2014 - book it this year or add it to your list of must-do's in England. It's iconic and a wonderful day trip from London. Check out my other favorite royal day trips here on my National Geographic blog.