The Guards coming . . .
In all my visits to England, I’ve never managed to be in London during public openings of Buckingham Palace. And I didn’t expect it to be open this time over, either. As I mentioned in a previous post, one day whilst in London I strolled across the street from our hotel to the Royal Mews gift shop and while there I overheard one of the ladies who works there telling a man about an unprecedented opening of Buckingham Palace while the family was away over the Christmas holidays. On that day and the next, the Palace would be offering two private, guided, champagne tours each day. Tickets were to be had a few doors down at the Queen’s Gallery. Honestly, dear Reader, no one ever covered the ground between the gift shop and the Queen’s Gallery as quickly as I did that day. I snapped up two tickets to the 4 p.m. tour that very day – by the way, the tickets were enclosed in a really impressive blue envelope, with directions on what forms of I.D. to bring – and then I hightailed it back to the hotel to crow at Greg about my coup. Even he was impressed. And excited.
As instructed, we arrived at the gate on the Queen’s Gallery side of the Palace in Buckingham Palace Road at 3:45. After showing two forms of picture I.D. each, Greg and I were personally escorted to the Ambassador’s Entrance of the Palace and passed through a security screening. Typically, when the Palace is open during the summer, visitors are taken inside in large groups, with over 7,000 visitors coming through in all. Over the two days the Palace was opened in December, just 100 people would have the opportunity to view the interiors. This personalization was evident from the start – we were shown into a waiting area and given upholstered chairs to sit upon until the rest of our group had arrived. Greg and I gawped, goggled, gaped and poked each other in the legs for a while before I turned my head to the right . . . and saw Chantrey’s bust of the Duke of Wellington!
To digress, by this point in our London visit, it had become abundantly clear to Greg that several people other than myself actually knew who the Duke of Wellington was, our having seen Apsley House, the Wellington Arch, Wellington Place, Wellington Street and having had dinner in the Wellington Pub. Vindication at last!
But back to the Palace . . . . once we were all assembled, our tour guide, Dawn, greeted us and took us into an antechamber where a coat check had been set up. We then assembled in a massive hall, where there were full length portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, amongst others. This chamber opened onto the staircase, below, and we were invited to ascend and stand on either side of the staircase whilst Dawn told us a bit about the paintings – William IV, Queen Adelaide, Prince Leopold, Princess Charlotte, etc. etc. etc. As The British Monarchy Website explains: “Queen Victoria requested that the series of portraits of her immediate family were displayed around the upper part of the stairs. These include her grandparents, George III and Queen Charlotte, her parents the Duke and Duchess of Kent and her predecessor on the throne, her uncle William IV, and his wife Queen Adelaide. Thus the portraits served as a kind of ‘receiving line’ so that whoever climbed the staircase was simultaneously received by her family.”
I should tell you here that in addition to Dawn, there were two other uniformed Palace people attached to our group, one of whom preceeded us and opened the tall, double doors to every room we entered, the other followed our group and closed the doors behind us as we left. And whilst you might think that decorum ruled the visit, you’ll be glad to know that Dawn encouraged us at every step to make ourselves at home – “get up close and get a good look at that painting; do go over to the windows and push the curtains aside for a look at the lawns where the garden parties are held; take a seat – any seat; yes, yes, do go on up to the front and stand where those who are being knighted stand. Terribly fun, is it not?” Greg and I kept catching each other’s eye and making faces. Terribly fun, yes.
Of course, no photos were allowed, and I’ll admit here and now that I could not for the life of me tell you the exact route of our procession through the State Apartments, but here are some photos of some of the rooms we visited. Note: the work of architect John Nash was evident everywhere and his ornate ceilings and fireplaces appeared in almost every room.
|The Picture Gallery|
|The White Drawing Room|
|The Music Room|
|The State Dining Room|
|The Blue Drawing Room|
As Dawn hadn’t mentioned the portrait, I sidled up to her and asked, “Pardon me, but isn’t that a Wellesley?”
“Yes,” Dawn replied, “He was brother to the Duke of Wellington.”
“Elder brother,” said I, “Richard, Lord Mornington.”
“Oh,” said Dawn, “I am impressed.”
Greg was impressed, too. I was a tad depressed. After all, the ability to properly identify Wellesleys isn’t all that impressive as party tricks go. I mean, how often can one flaunt such a talent? And to whom? The ability to eat fire, do bird calls or play the zither would be much handier, but one must be satisfied with one’s lot in life.
We ended our tour exactly where we’d begun, in the Great Hall, shown below, where flutes of cold champagne were served before we all trooped off to a makeshift giftshop near the cloakroom.
And where I bought myself an official William and Kate wedding tankard. Once we’d collected our coats, Greg and I were each handed an official Buckingham Palace Souvenier Guide and the pair of us were personally escorted out, across the quadrant below
and through the archway on the far right
By this time, night had fallen and we paused to take one last look back at the Palace, where we’d enjoyed a truly Royal visit.
London streets provide atmosphere galore, as does the Victorian era corner of Mercer Street, below.
Sometimes it feels as though a peek down any street will provide you with a glimpse of something historical or iconic. The photo below shows the award winning and celeb favorite Ivy Restaurant in West Street in the West End on the left and the St. Martin’s Theatre just beyond, where Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap has been playing since 1952.
Back to Charing Cross and you’ll find a row of second hand bookshops, including Any Amount of Books and Henry Pordes. Victoria and I have spent many a dusty hour amongst their stacks and enjoyed every moment of it.
And always, there are the pubs. You just about fall over them. Below is the Porcupine in Great Newport Street.
Turn towards Leicester Square and you’ll arrive at the gates to the entrance of London’s Chinatown.
Where I have to admit Brooke and I have enjoyed many a roast duck. Yummmm.
You’ll see Chinese characters at the bottom of the street sign below.
And finally there’s Compton’s in, where else, Old Compton Street. It was once the Swiss Hotel and is currently a mostly gay bar. You can read more about it here. No matter what goes on inside, the outside of the building is quintessentially British, not to mention gorgeous.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our stroll as much as I have!
You’ve got to love a city in which you trip over history with every step. A simple stroll through London affords many glimpses of the past, beginning on your own doorstep. Case in point, the photo above – that’s Greg and I with Nathan, the world famous doorman at the Rubens Hotel in Buckingham Palace Road. Go down the steps and turn around and you’ll find the plaque below, stating that the Rubens was used by General Sikorski during WWII as his headquarters.
Directly across the street from the Rubens you’ll find this view of the Royal Mews.
One day, I left the hotel on my own and made my way towards Piccadilly, passing Buck House on the way.
Then I headed down the Mall, where I passed Clarence House, home to Prince Charles and Camilla.
At the corner, I turned left and a quick stroll brought me to St. James’s Palace
Heading north, I entered St. James’s Street and looked in the windows at Lock’s Hatters and various other long standing shops until I found myself, once again, in front of the bow window at White’s Club.
I browsed F and M, and Hatchard’s book shop, and various nearby streets before returning to Piccadilly for tea at Richoux, one of my regular haunts just opposite the Royal Academy. You can visit their website and check out their menu here.
On another day, and another stroll, Greg and I headed to Charing Cross Road, where at No. 103 (below)you can find the vestiges of the Tam O’ Shanter Pub. A public house called the Bull’s Head stood on this site from at least 1759 until 1893. At the time of the opening of Charing Cross Road in 1887 the building was enlarged and repaired to the designs of R. W. Read and its name was changed, firstly in 1894 to the Tam o’Shanter, and again in 1900 to the Palace Tavern. It ceased to be used as a public house in 1960, and is now occupied by a firm of caterers
Just at the corner with Old Compton Street, you’ll come across Molly Mogg’s (below), one of the smallest pubs in London.
Part Two Coming Soon!
I’m using one of those crazy european keyboards in the private airport lounge so excuse the many typing errors you might find in this post., We have the lounge all to ourselves just now, sitting looking out at the planes on the runway, drinking complimentary rum and cokes at 10:40 a.m. in my case, I’m drinking in the hopes that the rum will mitigate my desolation at having to leave home. greg’s drinking in the hopes that it may help his back over the next 11 hours. in any case, we’re already as good as gone from london. And yes, dear Reader, whilst Greg has no idea (the poor sod) I’m already formulating ideas for my return. In fact, I’m thinking that maybe the next time I return, some of you will be with me. And Victoria. How does a Number One London tour to England sound? Sounds a bit of alright to me, but let me know your thoughts on the idea. Right then, off for another snort, a few tears and then to board. Sigh. P.S. as you see, I’ve already broken one of my resolutions below by not waiting a month to plan my next trip to merry old. I told you I’m no good at this resolution thing.