London 2010 – Day 2 (morning) – Hampton Court Palace

Today I got up early to catch the train to Hampton Court Palace, a historical royal palace in the outskirts of London. The 30-minute train ride departs from Waterloo Station. I had some trouble with the ticket machine, but a young lady gifted with an angelic voice offered help. I foresaw a beautiful day ahead.

The 2005 bombings still haunt today. On the train, there were constant announcements telling passengers not to leave bags unattended and to report “suspicious” behaviour.

From the station it was a 10-minute walk to the palace, crossing this beautiful river. It is possible to reach HCP from central London by boat. The downside to the scenic route is that it takes three hours.

The main gate:

The main gate was closed so I had to use the side gate called Seymour Gate, guarded by this dude who seemed to hate his job. Can’t blame him; it was boring and he had only a toy halberd to fend off hordes of children tugging his cumbersome costume.

The Seymour Gate:

I joined a palace tour which was also some sort of reenactment. This stressed-out man showed us the medieval kitchen and briefed us on our duty and proper palace etiquette as “servants”. We eventually reached the Great Hall where we had the honour of meeting Henry VIII himself. The king, however, was in bad mood over some “inappropriate gift”.

At that point I decided to leave the Tudors to sort out their business, and tour the palace as a free man.

The palace houses many works of art, including portraits of the Tudors. They come with explanations which really give insights into history. For example, in this portrait of Elizabeth I, the fruit-laden trees symbolise fertility, so the picture in fact celebrates her availability for marriage.

There is also antique furniture, like this throne chair of Queen Anne:

A sign next to it says “It’s so tempting to play the queen, but please do not touch this vulnerable throne chair.” I like how they put thought into even simple signs. The tone is friendly yet firm. I wish our museums could write like this, instead of the cold, uncreative “Do not touch”.

This room contains many pieces of Chinese porcelain, including even a statue of Guan Yin (觀音).

Hampton Court displays two distinct architectural styles, Tudor and Baroque, the latter due to 17th-century rebuilding to rival the Versailles. The Fountain Court is part of the rebuilding.

And it looks more refined than the cruder Tudor brickwork that dominates other parts of the palace:

The influence of Versailles is even more apparent in the garden:

My lunch today was a steak and ale pie. I liked the strong ale favour, but the gravy was incredibly salty. I also ordered an espresso. Strangely, it was served in a tall mug, making the coffee seem like leftover.

Stay tuned for the afternoon…

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