Friday, April 13, 2012

Day 13 Hampton Court Palace and we commune with the Goodies

Sunday 8th April 2012
I’m sorry but it just cannot wait until the appropriate chronological moment: Hampton Court Palace is SO much fun! We loved it! There, now that’s out of the way we can continue.
We’ve done a lot of historic palaces and grand spaces.  Yesterday was crowded and busy and has left our nerves a bit jangled.  Quiet time on the river would be just the thing.  But there's a fly in the ointment...the extensive engineering work being conducted on the rail networks over the weekend complicates matters. Richmond and Hampton Court are not accessible by rail. It’s 08.40 by the time we’ve decided precisely what we’ll do and are on our way. We are taking a chance and heading to Kingston on Thames to join a trip down the river with Turks. If that means time is restricted on other things today, then so be it. The first departure from Kingston with Turks today is 10:30 so we should have ample time to make it, but buses provide a back up if it all goes pear shaped.  I don’t have maps printed out so we’ll be off into the unknown in terms of finding actual connection points. “It’ll be an adventure” says hubby enthusiastically as he don's his trusty man bag. Off we go.  It’s grey and wet in London today with a bit of luck this and the transport situation might keep the crowds down.
At London Waterloo, we make a beautifully smooth transition to the rail service. Flash our Oyster and we’re on the train which remains almost empty for our whole journey. Not many people about thismorning yet. I’m pretty happy to be passing through Waterloo Station. It’s another of the stations I’ve heard mentioned, anyone’s guess where, over the years. All the while as we quickly walk to the appropriate platform I'm looking like a real tourist gawping about at everything. I board the train quickly and realize that it’s a few minutes to departure so I have time to snap a quick reminder. I guess this photo is the ultimate evidence that when you're in a new country EVERYTHING is interesting!
Spring is advancing and the lilac is in bloom along the railway line. In parks and gardens spring blossoms are providing a cheerful lift on an often drab grey canvas.  Wisteria trained on walls is budding purple and here and there pendulous sprays begin to unfurl.  Just before Mortlake we pass a street that is lined with blossom trees in full flight. Oh did you see that?! Glorious. Blossom Street flashes into a scene of a Church, bells ringing and parishioners moving in for Easter services.  Our journey slows as it is announced that a train has failed on the line ahead. We’re held up at Mortlake station long enough to watch a little girl bounce along in her red skirt, red tights and red shoes.  Pony tails holds her hair neatly back aided by several pretty little clips.  Some things don’t change. Has there ever been a time when little girls didn’t like red skirts and shoes and pony tails?
The train moves along slowly, but we’ve been advised to expect a slow trip.  Beautiful studded doors on a wisteria draped row; horse chestnuts, flowering crab apple, bright yellow forsythia. Into the wilds of brambles and lilac and borders of messy yards. North Sheen station; Richmond; river crossing; St Margarets. A man walking his dog around a large oval stands in suspended animation, cigarette held to his mouth as we flicker past.Now Twickenham. Long rows of buddleias topped by the brown sprays of last season’s flowers. Groves of Silver birches. We move through the points of a junction our train veering to the left.  Mini frame views out the other side of the train to a long section of garden allotments. Looking across that way is too much like hard work. I return to my own window view.
At Strawberry Hill an announcement that the track ahead is now clear as a magpie alights on the corner of a roof peering furtively over the edge. We’re nearly there. At Hampton Wick a group of plastic coathangers with metal hooks lie abandoned on the tracks. The sort you get things hanging on in shops. How do coathangers end up on train tracks? Did the person get changed on the train platform or what? Were the clothes nicked and the person in a hurry? Now we’re pulling into Kingston only 2 minutes behind schedule at 10 oclock.  There’s not a lot of people around. We consult the map at the station and set off to the river.  We head right and pass under the railway then left hugging the lines.  The visual senses are a little undernourished, but the ears more than make up for it as birdsong accompanies a beautiful celebration of distant bell ringing for easter Sunday.
We reach the river and looking to our right there is a lovely riverside park. A string of coxless fours skim past.  A woman purposefully strides along the river. We follow and keep a lookout for the pier.  We have no difficulty finding it, though we see pretty much no signage. We are about 10 minutes or so early for the boat but enjoy watching life on the river to pass the time.  
There’s a steady parade of people powered watercraft making their way up the river.More coxless fours. Single canoes with outrigger; two fully laden waka’s .. well they are manned in the fashion of a war canoe anyway with lots of crew padding on either side. A service vessel buzzing around them under outboard power seems to be providing some coaching. someone on board is videoing the action.  I turn looking for the source of clattering slapping percussion as a flight of swans takes off long necks stretched ahead as they glide under the arches of the bridge heading downstream
I don’t like standing still much and wander about on the pier contemplating what we’ve learned over the last week or so. There’s been a theme through the ages of revelry. At no time in English history have people been afraid to have some fun and the tradition continues, evidence of good times lays where the revelers were settled for the dedicated modern archeologist to interpret.
Through the arches of the bridge we see our heritage vessel lowering her funnels and approaching. A small crowd of people has assembled for boarding.  We have a look around the boat which is mostly enclosed, but prefer to be up on the bow for the half hour trip.  In due course when we’re underway a crew member came around to collect our £5 per adult (one way).
As we motor down the river we pass some impressive waterfront houses, clubs and venues.An island in the middle of the river has been completely consumed by a venue called Raven's Ait. One side of the river is lined with a long row of bench seats. Obviously a popular spot for ambling and contemplating. On the opposite back a long unpaved track runs along a high brick wall. This is the more popular side today and there's a few people out jogging or walking the dog along the river. 
We pass an older couple sculling down the river with younger passenger. Their scull is old and wooden and very beautiful indeed. With the classy role happily filled we chug along past a barge whose name I observe is Barramundi... what the... We give the three blokes on board a wave. A tinnie is raised in reply.  Clearly Australians.  It's only when I comment to this effect to hubby that he points out the large Australian flag painted on the side of the boat...we are well past when the penny drops for me.. ah.. yeah.. wasn't that barge painted green and gold too?  Yep. Sheesh. ... the name would have done it. Someone seems to be a bit homesick. 
Suddenly the castle comes into view. Excitement builds. The brick wall ends and in it's place an elaborate fence with large decorative panels.  Most are gold but others grey and they seem to be under restoration. Beyond the golden panels a large formal garden and palace. The wharf is beautifully positioned for access to the castle. It's been a delightful trip down the river. This is definitely the way to get to Hampton Court.
We alight from the boat as the clocks in the palace chime the hour. It is a short walk up to the gates of the castle precinct which have unicorns and elaborate beasts impressively on guard.  
We are persuaded on entry to become members of the Historic Royal Palaces.  I am well prepared with our two for one, but we haven’t used them at all.  Hubby doesn’t want to as the entry fees go towards upkeep of the various properties so he’d rather just pay up. Before we leave the area we claim our free members book with stories of the palaces and stow it in the trusty man bag.  Now we're ready for action.  I have plenty of time to photograph the front of the castle while I wait for hubby who has ducked off to inspect the facilities.  There's a lot of heraldic animals arrayed along the bridge across the moat. They are wonderful sculptures but they look very new. I wonder whether they've been cleaned, or perhaps the originals are in safe storage out of the elements leaving reproductions to show what it was originally like. 
I just love love love the chimneys!  I saw a show once about these chimneys. They were restoring one of them and apparently every chimney is unique and every brick in every chimney is unique.  If any bricks need replacing, as they do from time to time, it’s a case of having the replacement hand made as a one off. A costly business.
We pass through another gateway admiring the ornate brickwork and elaborate carving. It must have been very impressive for it's time.
There is a timetable of theatrical events that runs across the whole day.  One thing is abundantly clear when you arrive: one full day is not enough to see everything at Hampton Court Palace.  First we head in and acquire our audio guides (which we don't use in the end).  This is also where you acquire your medieval attire for your visit.  Sizes for adults and kids. I SO want to dress up but find that the velvet clobber is really warm and we’ll be too hot as we’ve dressed warmly already.  A sigh and I put my item back on the rack. There's not many adult ones left and I guess it’s better for parents with kids dressing up to have them anyhow… sigh..We take advice from one of the staff about how to approach our visit and head off for the audience with the king which starts soon.  We have a little while to enjoy the great hall.  There’s a court jester, Mr Somers, and other courtiers hanging out here.  A couple of fully costumed women are playing medieval musical instruments.  The whole thing is fantastic.  In due course the crowd assembles for the audience with the king and the courtiers issue instructions making sure that the audience is arranged appropriately so that everyone can see.  Instructions are given on how to behave in the presence of the king.  Cromwell and Mr Somers get into an argument. Suddenly in the midst of raised voices there is a fanfare and announcements and in strides Henry VIII with his entourage.  We all descend either to one knee or for ladies we have the option of adopting a sort of standing squat.  A long enough pause for us to feel that we are waiting for the royal pleasure and finally the King bids us rise. Various people are brought forward to make their petition and the King passes judgement.  Some of the petitioners are clearly members of the public.  Other’s are actors.  The whole thing is fantastic. It is so much fun to be there.
After the audience we went looking for the secret meeting that was scheduled to be happening in the chapel court but couldn’t find it.  The medieval palace is a bit of a rabbit warren with lots of blind corners and secret spots where assignations could be made and where someone could secrete themselves to overhear.  We prowl the atmospheric corridors but Princess Mary’s secret assignation remains so. We are unable to detect a plot.
We head over to the kitchens where the kings cooks are busily preparing a feast. This is an occasional special event at Hampton Court and the reason we have timed our visit for today. Some members of the public are seated at a large table and are being instructed on medieval table manners.  Others are talking to the cooks who seemed to be making some sort of stew in large pots.   Hubby and I move over towards the fireplace and have a chat with the fellow turning the roasting mutton.  I ask “no dogs to turn the spit?”… and we’re off on a detailed discussion about the credibility of the idea that dogs turning the spits would have been feasible and not just someone’s idea that never really was used. Our informant is apparently writing a paper on the subject at the moment.
We wander on through the kitchens, back alleys and corners. It is all very atmospheric, there are spaces where mock ups of foods and stews are set out for the days when the feast isn't under preparation.  In some of these spaces they have used smells to help make it seem real.  It’s nearing lunchtime and we've overhead  in the kitchens that they occasionally send over some food to the Tiltyard café.  We decide it’s time for lunch.
We need to backtrack and in the course of our walk we admire the elaborate clock. It glistens in the light and even hundreds of years on it's impressing visitors to the palace. 
The route over to the cafe is lined with beautiful spring borders.  Hubby begins to wonder if he'll ever get me in to eat. There is so much to stop and admire over along the way.
The Tiltyard Cafe is a bistro sort of arrangement.  We um and ah.. lots of it looks nice. Hubby (on my suggestion chooses the roast lamb, he supplements that with a king’s ale and I went for the home made sausage roll with caramelized red cabbage. Both were very nice, beyond that I’ll let the pictures tell the story.
I’ve got my eye on the garden history tour. We wander from the Tiltyard café into the wild area of the gardens and come upon daffodils as far as the eye can see in a density that is unsurpassed.  Some patches here and there are finished but still plenty of daffs. Glorious daffs. Other spring blossoms are in full flight. Birds are singing. The Hampton Court gardens are gorgeous. 
We are making our way around to the Gardens exhibition to meet the garden history tour at 14:30. We round the corner of the palace and gasp.  Beds of tulips and a huge expanse of clipped yew trees make up the Great Fountain Garden. It’s a breathtaking scene.  We slowly loiter and wander and just soak it up. The weather is delightfully cool, almost indetectable veil of fine mist hangs in the air. This is not what I was expecting. I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t this. 
 As we stroll along in front of the palace facing the privy gardens the King comes striding out with his personal guard.  A young woman approaches clearly intent on requesting a photo with the King. There are shouts from the body guard as she is bid to show the proper courtesy to the King. once she has done so it’s all smiles and the photo is duly taken a haughty Henry VIII with hands on hips, tourist lady looking a little out of place by his side.
We make our way to the Garden Exhibition and spend some time reading the panels lining the rooms about the history of the garden.  Bang on time our guide arrives and assembles the group. There’s about half a dozen of us. Some of the content of the tour recaps what we’ve been reading in the exhibition but of course there is the chance to ask questions and you’re hearing about the changes over the years with the particular garden in front of you which is better than a panel in a room. We also learn more details of course. One thing is that there is a symbolism in the use of yew trees and green and white in the gardens. In medieval times, they put borders on the gardens in strips of green and white.  They know this because it’s shown in one of the paintings of the period.  Oh. We had peeked in the medieval garden and I thought that the green and white borders indicated work was in progress and we should stay out!  Hahaha.  At any rate the white is purity and the green eternity.  Yew trees live for thousands of years and are also symbolic of eternity.
The gardens were initially created for William III and Mary II. had come to the throne having been living in on the continent they wanted a palace that would rival Versailles and this can best be seen from the view of the palace looking over the private garden. They were progressively demolishing medieval Hampton Court and replacing it but they ran out of money. Thank god they ran out of money.
Some of the most interesting tour content for me is the maintenance and planting regime and staff numbers. When we’ve completed the formal areas we head back to the wild area and into the service area for a tour of the greenhouses.  Noone can tell me the name of the bird that is singing so beautifully in the trees round about, but our guide points out a blue tit that is hopping about in one of the trees nearby (YES!!). 
Along the way I have been a little preoccupied by our guide. She’s of the same “type” as me. Same complexion and overall look. I envy her hair colour. It shines golden in the afternoon light but is darker underneath. It’s the colour mine is supposed to be and was once. Well it was until I really got the message that the Australian sun really is trying to kill me.  Our guide’s complexion is what mine would look like if my skin had the privilege of living in the climate it is designed for.  It’s a strange feeling really to be given a tour by a pseudo-snodge.  I mention it to hubby when we’re alone afterwards. I’m revealing no surprises there, he’d noticed for himself.
Garden tour concluded we crunch across the gravel to take a turn on the train that is hauled by two lovely English Shire horses named Aragon and Massey.  Shire horses are descended from the great war horses of long ago.  Appropriately the drivers and our commentator are all dressed in period costume.  The train takes a turn around the great fountain garden and in most elements the commentary repeats content from the garden tour we’ve just done, but it’s good fun and I do find that most things bear repeating for me if I want any hope of retaining the information! One new piece of information they gave was that Henry VIII went hunting in the home park here when he was waiting for news that Ann Boleyn had been executed.  He had given instructions that he was to be told when the event was concluded.  A canon was fired and then when heard in Richmond was repeated there so that it could be heard at Hampton Court Palace.
By now it’s nearing 4pm and time for another theatrical performance in the Great Hall. We need to move it or we’ll miss it.  We’re just in time and find ourselves as good a position as we can for the fun.  There’s been a rebellion during the day while we’ve been off doing other things. Now the aftermath.  I won’t elaborate on the events as I don’t want to spoil people’s fun who haven’t been yet.  Suffice to say that the king gives a command that there is to be revelry in the Base Court and he appoints a master of revelry.  The wine is to flow at the fountain.  We are all bid to be merry.  The visitors all head enthusiastically down to the cobblestones of the courtyard were our master of revelry and his assistants instruct us all on what to do. Children under 7 years of age are not allowed to participate as the dance gets faster and faster as it proceeds.  Some fancy footwork is required… ideally.. we are goaded to higher performance.  Luckily the king seems to be busy elsewhere or who knows what consequences because all most people seem to manage is to keep up with the snaking, turning, twising mass of dancers.  I try my best with the footwork on the cobblestones.. good grief, it’s impossible.  Hubby suggests just skip around… I can’t skip on the cobblestones. The dance speeds up. We are forcefully commanded not to break the chain of dancers. The dance speeds up again. Oh no, we’re looping around again. I wish I was fitter. Stumble, skip, turn, run. I look back in concern to the little girl next to me.  This is medieval England gone mad,  the poor kid is being stretched, surely beyond endurance as she fails to move quickly enough.  She refuses to drop out.  Oh thank god, it’s slowing. Eventually we form back into a massive single circle which is how we started.  Master of revelry announces that wine will flow at the wine fountain for those who are of age.  We give that a miss. It’s a fitting end for the day in the medieval palace.  Oh man this place is a fun day out!
We’ve still got a while before closing time. We check our map and what we have yet to see.  We head into the apartments of William III and Mary II.  Just for a quick look mind you.  We’ve already seen enough Verrio ceilings to last us a while.  We wander into the King’s Guard Chamber. We gasp. Oh wow!  Our armour appreciation has worked out really well. We started at Sandringham and the exotic armour beautifully arrayed there as part of the décor.  Then we visited the State Apartments at Windsor Castle and the armour, and trophies of war on display is a big step up. A really beautiful display.  We’ve heard about how the idea was to impress upon your visitors the folly of playing silly buggers in opposition to the United Kingdom.  Just look at all our arms and the proof of our prowess in using them.  We’ve had an intellectual knowledge of this idea.  Walking into the King’s Guard Room at Hampton court, well, now we actually get it. The density with which the arms are displayed is at a whole new level.  This is not just armour displayed for symbolic effect. This is an armoury.  We both have something of an “ah ha” moment.  This is actually an intimidating space.  The weaponry is still arrayed beautifully, but the sheer number and type of weapons in the room has a big impact.  We pause, necks cricked, gazing in wonder.  The attendant here is a keen re-enactor who clearly loves weaponry.  He enthusiastically gives us the performance statistics on some of the guns in the display.  Woah... I'm not quite sure I believe all he said actually... We’re glad we came in here. We also learn that the masterful arrangement of the weapons is done by the chief armourer.
We continue around William and Mary’s apartments and we do indeed view a few more Verrio ceilings and that sort of thing.  Nothing that sticks in my mind as essential to share here… oh except perhaps the bizarre ritual of being roused from your real bed so that you could go next door to the ceremonial bed so that you could perform the ritual of public dressing… bizarre.
We’ve loitered longer than we should have.  We miss the last boat to Kingston by 7 minutes.  Just 7 minutes. Bugger. That’s a shame. We should have paid more attention to when the last service left.  The river trip was really great on the way out.  What now?  We figure there’s got to be a rail bus.  We find the station with the help of some friendly locals and have only a few minutes to wait for the rail replacement bus. It will take us to Wimbledon and from there we can get the underground home.  It will no doubt take us a while to get home, but hey, we’ve never been to Wimbledon or anywhere in between before so it’s all good.
Again by sheer coincidence we find ourselves arriving at Tower Hill station at precisely the right time to join the London Walks Jack the Ripper walk. Will we won’t we.. I can’t decide and hubby is leaving this one to me. He's prepared to drag his bone weary carcass around for a couple of hours in the dark if I want to. We look about. There is an enormous number of people here tonight. But there are multiple guides also. I speak to one of the guides and he doesn’t seem to appreciate my question of how many people are going to be in the group, but answers that he refuses to take more than 50.  We decide to give it a shot. We can bail if it's not fun.
I’m not going to try to pass on the details of the tour. Though I will say that our first stop is the ancient roman wall to the city of Londinium as shown. Our guide, Simon, was a very good performer. Very animated.  The information provided was interesting. I read rather a lot about Jack the Ripper when I was a young thing, but there definitely information provided that was new to me. I guess now the Ripper is absolutely, unquestionably dead so more can come out. We go stalking around the east end and the prostitutes church for a couple of hours.
We stand somewhere in the general vicinity of various significant events. We were the last of the three groups to leave so often we were off at a distance noting that the other group over there is standing where this or that occurred. Haha. Oh right. Ok.  When we get on the move to a new stop, it is just hilarious. The Dickens walk was crowded to the point of irritation. The East End generally is so packed with large ripper walk groups, by both London Walks and others, that it is rather like stepping onto the set of the Goodies.  It's so ridiculous it's funny. You cross, merge and unmerge.  You string out, you bunch back up again.  You speed up and slow back down suddenly.  Woops, we need to go down this creepy Victorian era alleyway just like the one were so and so met her grisly end.  Oops. It’s blocked by another ripper walk group. Just go part way and come back.. meanwhile the blockage dissipates.  Oops some of the group haven’t followed directions.  Who are those people are they ours? There’s definitely a sense of security being part of so many people with a common purpose. At the scheduled time the walk ends opposite the Ten Bells pub. There is a merchandising opportunity. Jack the Ripper t-shirts.. but you couldn’t pay me enough money to wear that madman’s name on my clothing and we head off home. It’s been a huge day. We've enjoyed the Ripper Walk, even as simply observing tourist mania it's been a laugh... and let me say again, our guide Simon was a brilliant guide. Very talented, so it's not a dead loss on the subject matter front either.

You know my hubby is a bit of a trooper. I’m sure he would have been happy to just go home rather than do this walk, but no, he hung in there and we had fun.  Now it’s time for his reward. As we walk to Liverpool St Station what should we pass but … drum roll please… a KFC.  London’s reputation is redeemed. This is Hubby’s reward for good behavior someone upstairs loves him this is clear.  We head in and join the queue. The menu overall is quite small compared to in the US. Format for the store is very similar to Australia or New Zealand.  Gasp. Look at that, it’s not a franchise. This outlet is run by the parent company! My first observation is that the locals in London are deprived as we are at home. No “biscuits” on the menu at all.  By the way, for the uninitiated, KFC biscuits aren’t like anything we’d call a biscuit, they are sort of like a fried scone.  There’s some sort of reggae burger dinner deal, but I can’t find anything anywhere to explain precisely what that is so I play it safe with some popcorn chicken.  Reggae sounds like it might be spicy. Hubby gets a three piece feed or whatever it is they name it over here.  Our food in hand we head down to the basement eating area and slide into a space among the much younger crowd and tuck in.  Hubby doesn’t say much but I can feel the quiet happiness as he tucks into his beloved KFC.  Never did the colonel have a more ardent fan.  Now for my popcorn chicken: the UK version is different!  You see! This is why we try the KFC everywhere.  Here the popcorn chicken is very peppery. Not an original herb or spice anywhere near it.  It was never going to be a particularly satisfying meal for me. I only tolerate KFC really.  I never feel quite satisfied by it.
I always enjoy wandering through a new railway station and am delighted to find that Liverpool street station the roof structure consists of some very pretty ironwork.  Is it the fatigue or just lack of skill that makes their beauty so hard to capture?  Happily there is a fruit stall and he’s still open.  I buy a couple of pieces of fruit. One is some sort of citrus I failed to write down the name of, but we don’t get it at home. It’s like a mandarin but more tart in flavor than the varieties that are popular at home.  That really hits the spot after the KFC but it makes a mess of my hands and the brown paper bag is sloppy with juice by the time we’re off the tube at Kings Cross.  Breaking the whole fruit in half to start wasn’t really the best plan.Well beyond discovering Liverpool Street Station it's a straightforward trip home. We're exhausted!

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