Monday, June 25, 2012

I'm only running a day up bright an early this morning to head into London today. The B&B (Athole House) was AMAZING. Seriously, one of the nicest places that I have stayed. Friendly owner, great staff, terrific breakfast, big room and perfect location. It's a bit outside of Bath, but it's a pleasant walk (downhill into town, at least) and quiet and lovely. (note to self: must leave great review on Tripadvisor).

At any rate, we packed up and were out the door by a bit before 9am, heading to Hampton Court Palace. It was one of the "must sees" on the list for London,and  it definitely worth it. We got a bit lost trying to find it, but copped  a perfect parking spot jut outside the Lion Gate, got to walk through the gardens to the palace, and spent four hours wandering around gawking at the building and the exhibits. We actually ran out of time, and felt a bit rushed -- this is a full day sort of thing, if you tend to wander about and ask questions.  There are seven or eight different paths you can take through he buildings, each with a different theme and section of the enormous complex.  Queen Mary, William III, Henry VIII, the kitchens, the gardens, etc. There is an audio guide,which is good but a bit slow, but it's really necessary as the building itself has very few notes or placards to tell you anything about the particular location you are in. The building ranges over several centuries, from Tudor to Georgian, and is a long, confusing jumble of buildings that culminates in a Versailles-like "long water" and carefully planned garden. It was really interesting, and I could have spent all day poking around in the corners.

The Queens Apartments were given over to a display of portraits and sexy-pinup-girl type paintings (most by a portrait artists named Lely) that were surprisingly racy. Apparently, it was quite common to have ones mistress painted in some sort of classically-themed scene (Cleopatra was very common) in various states of dishabille. Some of the better ones were copied over and over.

The Great Hall and Kings apartments were predictably monumental and intended to give the sense of power and control, and it certainly does that. And, of course, the obligatory study with the teensy little bed in it was included.

In one of the side-halls, we discovered a tiny courtyard which  had a huge round, barn-like building in it -- like a cone. I immediately said that it was a larder, a store for meat...and I was right! We saw one just like it (round, even) in Sweden at one of the great houses we toured. Now, of course, it's a staff toilet, but it was originally a cooler/larder for hanging meat. Ha!

We visited The Great Vine -- a grape vine that has been growing and producing for four hundred years, and walked through the exquisitely tended gardens: rose garden, knot garden, sunken pond, french-style patterned gardens. I tracked down one of the gardeners and asked how many people were around to maintain the acres and acres of stuff...only 24 people, plus a few greenhouse staff.  Wow.

Headed into London with only a few false starts, and a renewed understanding of why you don't drive a car in the city. We did manage to find the hotel without much problem once we got pointed in the right direction, but oy, what a trial. Too much traffic, lanes that are only vaguely followed, and not understanding the "hive mind" of British drivers made it pretty nerve-wracking.  We both breathed a sigh of relief when we returned the car nd walked back to the hotel.

Of course, we headed back out almost immediately, since we had reservations at the Denis Severs Museum, up n Spitalfields. We hopped on the Tube at the nearest station and were immediately crushed and crammed with all the rush-hour commuters.  It was hot, sweaty, crushed and sardine-like. I was surprised to discover that the Tube trains aer NOT air conditioned (or even have fans) and that you can, indeed, cram another fifteen people into every car if you get very friendly. The conductor (or his recorded facsimile) kept urging everyone to move into the center of the car and use every space. He sounded so optimistic. I spent the ride to Liverpool station with my  face about even with the armpit of a hot, sweaty businessman. I'm really getting to know Londoners in an intimate way I wasn't expecting.

Oh,it's all very civilized, of course; everyone ignores everyone else and politely smiles or says 'sorry' when you bang into someone with particular force or step on their toes.  We may have to avoid rush-hour at all costs, or at the very least, stay off the Central Line.

We arrived in Spitalfields with an hour to spare, so we grabbed some dinner before heading to the museum. *I* loved the museum, Mark definitely humored me -- it's more of an art exhibit, an "experience" than a museum-- five floors of a Georgian townhouse decked out on each floor as if the residents have just stepped out for  second. You can hear hints of them in the house, smell the dinner on the table, the beds rae mussed, the drinks half gone, forks left haphazardly in the pie -- it's a very weird sort of place that you either get or you don't, I guess. By the time you reach the upper floor the family has fallen precipitously in their finances and they are living in squalor (whereas on the first floor, they were in luxurious rooms with every fine thing. Mark wasn't into it, I don't think, but he was a good sport about it.   I'm sure the turnaround-is-fair-play will be when he drags me to the RAF museum to stare are planes for half a day.

Tomorrow we head off into London proper to see the big tourist sights -- Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, etc. I need to figure out the Tube map!

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