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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Sunday at Hampton Court

Sunday morning, I was still dead tired (and my legs were by then aching from the stairs on Saturday), but I dragged myself out of bed to meet my friend Patrick, who was in London with his parents, as his father had given a paper at Cambridge earlier in the week. (My, doesn’t that sound impressive? For those of you who can remember back this far, Patrick and I were both in ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’ at Duke and had to simulate hanky panky together in the shadows during one scene.) We lived in the same freshman dorm, and we are always connected through our friend Neil, but we hadn’t seen each other since our 5-year reunion. Once I got to the British Museum, Patrick had scoped out the queues for the special Terra Cotta Soldiers exhibit from China, and he said there was no way we’d get early tickets. So, we headed out to breakfast!

We had a great time catching up over a pot of tea; he had a bacon sandwich, and I had a really good salmon florentine eggs Benedict. He filled me in on finishing his English dissertation about George Elliot and the concept of individualism and his theories about how her writing was dictated by her very interesting (and scandalous) personal life…and, even better, I got the update on his own recent personal life. After that, we walked to the National Gallery, where Patrick tried to get a picture on one of the lions.

Then, he went into the National Gallery, and I headed to Waterloo Station in order to meet my friend Kelly for a palace excursion. We both wanted to go to either Hampton Court or Windsor, so we let the train schedules determine our destination, and Hampton Court won. It was only about a 30-minute ride, and quite cheap at just £5 round trip.

I highly recommend Hampton Court! One again, folks, Fodor’s will not let you down, as it was a Fodor’s Choice attraction (so was, I might add, the Prospect of Whitby AND the fabulous brunch destination of last Saturday, Electric Brassiere).

Hampton Court is best known as the riverside palace of (principally) two monarchs: Henry VIII and William (as in William and Mary). Most interestingly, it is a juxtaposition of two completely different architectural styles. The front is Tudor, and the back is baroque. Apparently, William and Mary wanted to ‘update’ the place from the old Tudor style, and they hired Christopher Wren to do so, but all sorts of problems struck – from a wall collapse to the death of the queen – so the upgrade was never completed. It’s like the place is having an architectural identity crisis.

Kelly and I managed to join in on two really great guided tours, so we got an overall overview and a tour of the Henry VIII section. I learned (OK, maybe Mrs. Johnson covered this in high school, but I’d forgotten it) that Henry VII ended the War of the Roses by uniting the houses of Lancaster and York (and marrying a York gal), so Henry VIII sort of had to prove his legitimacy as king (and, the sign of the house of Tudor was a white and red rose, which combined the Lancaster and York symbols).

Anyway, I guess I would bore you with a bunch of details, but the house itself is just enormous and great fun to wander through, with lots of open courtyards, so you can kind of break it all up with walks through the splendid gardens outside, which is what we did, so you never get that ‘oh, my God, I cannot look at one more painting’ feeling. And even by the end, when we’d probably been there for about four hours, we were still really enjoying it, and had the nicest time hearing one of the guides tell us ghost stories and tales of Queen Catherine (married to one of the Georges…they were the Hanoverian kings from Germany, who had to come in because there were no Protestants to take over the throne). Since we were in the queen’s rooms, he filled us in on how her bath and other personal grooming worked. He also gave us some good scoop about the tradition of ‘grace and favour’ apartments. Apparently, there are still some people living in these apartments, which date WAY back to when lords were getting killed in wars, and their surviving families would show up on the king’s doorstep asking for a roof over their head, since the lords had died fighting for the king and all… Well, in the 1980s, there was a terrible fire, which started in one of the ‘grace and favor’ apartments and damaged part of the historical palace, and after that, the Queen decided to end the system (people have apparently sort of wrecked some of the history by making the apartments fit for modern-day life). So, now there are 4 elderly people still left, but once they pass on, that’s it. (There was also an explanation about how this system ties into the fact that they can fly the Royal Standard, but that would definitely be too much information).

We even saw the world’s oldest tennis court, which is still in action.

Anyway, I highly recommend Hampton Court as a fun day trip! We were especially lucky that the gardens were still very much in bloom. Along the way, we stopped for a tea/beer/scone/refrigerator cake break, and although it got a teeny bit chilly a times when the sun went behind a cloud, it was mostly sunny and a really lovely day to be outside.

Whew, by the time I got home, it was about 7 p.m. and I was just wiped out. What a pleasant weekend!

Patrick and Kelly both took photos, so I'll post them as soon as I ge them.

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