September 20, 2012 (7:52pm)

We’re just getting ready for dinner and we’ve had another long day on our feet, but I need to go back to yesterday and talk about Westminster Abbey again.  It was hard to get enthusiastic about it because Gerry and I walked around, glued to our audio-guides and never had the chance to comment to one another about the things we were seeing.  Couple that with the no photos rule (and the 15 pound per person entry fee!), and it is understandable that I would forget to tell you about the one thing that impressed me!

That was Henry VII’s Lady Chapel.  If you have been there, then of course you know that the ceiling of the chapel defies descriptors for its beauty.  It is high Gothic, with all the vaulting ornately decorated and truly stunning.  The chapel also has a lot of light, so the ceiling is well lit.  It is gorgeous.  But also gorgeous is the whole effect of the chapel:  The ceiling, the big windows, and the banners of the knights that hang above.  The banners are so colorful, and all different.  The effect is magnificent.  Each of the chairs beneath them has the coats of arms of the knights who occupied the seat throughout history. Here’s a link to see some pictures (since we couldn’t take any of our own).

Now, on to today….

September 22, 2012  11:10am

…or maybe not!

Yes, it has been an action packed couple of days and true to form I will probably jump all over the place telling you about them, rather than follow a nice orderly chronological format.

So, I’ll start with last night.  Last night we had dinner with a friend from our grad student days in Syracuse, then “Robin” now “Robyn”.  (Did you know that Robin with an “i” is a man’s name?  Perhaps just in Britain.  We, Americans, have to do everything differently (somewhat like Puerto Ricans) including having our own language rules.  Anyway, we had a delicious dinner and a very good time with Robyn and her family, Andy and Laura.  We travelled there and back via public transportation (what a luxury!).

Does that seem odd to read?  I really believe that public transportation, when it is useful (as in where it goes) and easy to use (once you get the hang of it), it is so much better than driving and worrying about where to park!  Plus, the people-watching is SO much better!  For instance, there are ads in the tube trains for finding a love interest.  Last evening, a man got into our car staring at his mobile phone (not unusual here – at least 2 out of every 3 people are staring at their phones, even as they walk around, which makes walking sort of hazardous for those of us who are not staring at our mobile phones).  Our tube-mate, after staring for some time at his screen, then looked up and began searching the car for someone!  I am sure the app was telling him that in our very tube car there was someone who matched his ideal profile and he was looking for her (or him).  Then he’d consult the screen again, and look around again.  He kept looking at me.  I was sure of it.

Ok!  Back to Thursday and our trip to Hampton Court Palace.  We went on the Tube.  It was in Zone 6 so we got a different kind of ticket that covered us all the way there, and it wasn’t much more expensive than the day pass for just Zones 1 -2 (Central London).  The ride was easy and from the station it was clear where to go – the palace is big enough that you really can’t miss it!

 

The main courtyard with the wine fountain!

Again the entry fee was steep, but there was so much to see that it was definitely worth it.  We got another audio guide, but this time we coordinated our button pressing so that we heard the same thing at the same time and then could comment to one another.  A totally different experience – plus kind of fun going around counting down to the button press!  Three, two, one!  I was especially interested in this palace because of watching “The Tudors”.  I recommend it, by the way.  Watching the series, I had only gotten up to the part where Henry VIII was trying to ditch his wife Katherine so he could marry Anne Boelyn, and the palace plays a role in his life from that period forward.  There was an exhibit on Henry’s early years, his marriage to Katherine and the rise of Wolsey.  The palace actually spans a much longer period of the history of British Kings and queens, and the most spectacular parts of it actually date from much later.  The Tudor portions are easily distinguishable by style from the later additions.  Henry was nothing if not a big, fat show-off so there are a lot of touches to the Tudor wings that speak to his excesses.  The first is the wine fountain that stands in the courtyard, and would have been there for the reception of all his guests.  I could really enjoy a fountain like that …  Spectacular and historically significant is the great hall, built during his years with Anne Boelyn.  The ceiling is a masterpiece of the hammered wood ceiling type that became an eminent craft of this period of British history. (I hope you like the unusual picture of it.)

 

In case you couldn’t tell, this is the unusual picture of the ceiling of the Great Hall…

The gardens are a definite “don’t miss”. There are all kinds of garden surrounding the palace.  There are the private gardens for the king and queen, garden where the royalty could entertain friends, gardens for the common people.  Even today, there are public gardens that are not part of the tour, that are open to the public.  One of the highlights for us was seeing a grape vine that is almost 300 years old.  The trunk is as big around as a sea turtle would be if sea turtles were round.  Old, gnarly – it really looks its age!  The branches (vines) fill up an entire greenhouse and apparently it still gives fruit.

We had lunch at the palace. I had something called “Toad in the Hole”.  It was sausages with caramelized onions inside a Yorkshire pudding (shaped like a bowl).   I had to have it because I love Yorkshire pudding.  When I told Robyn about it, she said that it is the ultimate in comfort food:  She remembers her mum and dad giving it to her when she was under the weather.  I think I will try to make it when I get home.  (Funny thing is, this dish is pretty funny looking and looks a bit like a toad in a hole…though I am not sure that is how it got its name.) After lunch, we wandered around the gardens some more, and tried out the maze.  This maze is the oldest maze in the UK.  I am happy to report that we found the center – and we found our way out again! Eventually, we found our way to the river.  We thought we had missed our river boat home (according to the internet it was to sail today at 3:00pm, but when we got o the dock, we found a sign, which you can read below…foiled completely in our attempt to get the river boat ride, but thankful that we have round trip tube tickets.

 

Gerry in the maze, the oldest maze still extant in England! We found our way in – and yes, the way out, too!

 

Our boat!

 

The final additions to the palace – it really is an imposing building!

 

The palace – this is the 17th century addition – is impressive from every angle!

Continue to days 4 and 5

 

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