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WINDSOR CASTLE IS OPEN TO TOURISTS, CLOSED TO ROYAL FAMILY

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For tourists taking advantage of off-season fares to London, the Nov. 20 fire at Windsor Castle is NO catastrophe. As if she didn't have enough problems, Queen Elizabeth II is more to blame for any holiday tourist headaches.

The royal family always spends December at Windsor and while they are in residence, the state apartments of the castle are closed - fire or no fire.Same is the case this year.

The royal standard is now flying over Windsor - the Queen is in residence. And that means no tours of the "usually open" state apartments.

But Wednesday, (Dec. 2), the British Tourist Authority announced that all other areas of Windsor not affected by the fire are open as usual.

Perhaps the castle's most important attraction - St. George's Chapel - was not affected by the fire. Still, tourists might find themselves waiting in brisk winter winds to get into the church (tourists are not allowed while services are being conducted). While Westminster Abbey is the burial place of most monarchs, the vaults of St. George's contain the remains of Henry VIII and the mother of his heir, Jane Seymour.

Only two of the rooms normally on the tour of the state apartments will be closed when the castle reopens to the public after the Queen leaves her holiday retreat.

The state apartments (where the royal family has an official residence) will reopen on Jan. 4 - as planned before the fire.

The tour of the apartments will cost about 4 pounds ($6-$7.50 depending on exchange rates). Tours will be available seven days each week until the Queen resumes residence immediately before Easter.

Other Windsor attractions, including the exhibit of Queen Mary's Dolls' House and the Queen's art gallery, will reopen later this week, says Robin Prestage, press officer with the British Tourist Authority.

Windsor is not the personal property of the monarch, but is a "crown" property. The monarch is given use of the castle by the government as a government privilege, much as the president of the United States is given the use of the White House. Same is true of Hampton Court, Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London.