Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Henry, Victoria, Diana and Winston

With Maggie and Sarah off exploring Stonehenge etc, I set out early armed with my London Pass and soon arrived at Hampton Court, favourite home of Henry VIII and his various wives and children. It is still a pretty impressive place, a d with the 500th anniversary of Henry’s reign this year, its been specially decked out for daily re-enactments of his last wedding to Katherine Parr (but right at the end of the day so I didn’t stick around for that).

Toured Henry’s apartments including the great hall and beautiful royal chapel, the extensive royal kitchens and an exhibition on the young Henry and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, as well as the more recent parts of the palace from the reign of William III and Mary II. The gardens, which are huge and perfectly manicured feature the world’s oldest and longest grape vine which was pretty cool to see.

Back into the city to another royal home, Kensington Palace on the edge of Hyde Park. As well as a display of some of Princess Diana’s dresses (she used to live in the palace but her apartments aren’t open to the public) and an interesting exhibition on debutants, I saw the room where Queen Victoria lived until she ascended the throne and many of the elaborately decorated rooms used by previous royals who lived here.

Headed out to explore Hyde Park ust as it really started to rain but still managed to find the Princess Diana memorial fountain, a simple stone cirle of running water, and the considerably more elaborate Albert memorial (opposite the Royal Albert Hall) before wandering past Harrods and onto the tube.

With th weather still not improving I figured I may as well head underground, so went to the War Cabinet Rooms, the underground bunker from which Churchill and his staff worked during WWII. Many of the rooms, including the cabinet room and the map room were left just as they were when abandoned at the end of the war (with the addition of a few mannequins to add a touch of reality of course), while others which had been used as storage in the interim have been meticulously restored from old photos. Accompanied by the excellent audio guide, it made for a fascinating look at the workings of the government during the Blitz.

In the middle of the war rooms is the modern and interactive Churchill museum, full of belongings, quotes, movies, sound bytes and photos depicting the complete life and work of Winston Churchill which made for a nice bit of modern history to round out the day before reuniting with Sarah and Maggie for a huge pub meal.

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