Sunday, August 07, 2011

Caron in London: Buckingham Palace

So, after we'd checked into the Dodgy Lodge we headed off for our tour of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace. Yes, I know, I'm a republican, but these are the rooms in which our head of state conducts her official functions and I wanted to take the opportunity to look round them. I also wanted to see Kate's wedding dress and cake. And when I say I, I mean that Bob and Anna made this trip under sufferance.

We'd booked for the 4pm tour - and I'd strongly recommend that time of day. The last entry is 4.15 so there aren't so many people behind you and you have more  time to make your way round.

The two photos above show, firstly, the rear view of the Palace, taken from the gardens after the tour, and the   more familiar view of the front of the palace taken before we went in.

Here's the wedding cake outside:

And looking through the famous gates;

I'd booked tickets online the week before we went, and we were told to present ourselves to pick them up 45 minutes before we were due to go in. We expected to have to queue for ages, but the process was actually quite efficient so we were able to go and sit on the grass across the road and take in the view for a while.

At 4pm, we presented ourselves as instructed at the visitors' entrance at the side.  We joined a group of people seated on wooden benches in a canvas covered holding area. We then had to go through airport style security. We saw one person having to completely dismantle their baby's pushchair.

After that we picked up our free audio guides which were easy to use with optional extra sections in addition to the standard commentary before finally stepping in to the actual palace. We were marshalled along a wide corridor and then turned off onto a narrower one with windows looking on to the quadrangle which led to a viewing platform in front of the Grand Entrance, through which all important visitors traverse on their way to meet the Monarch. So we walked in the footsteps of Barack Obama.

I found the commentary on the building of the Palace, or rather the transformation of a fairly standard London mansion into the opulent headquarters of Royal I had a bit of a wry smile to myself as I listened to tales of politicians' disquiet at the cost of the renovations which eventually led to the sacking of the chief architect, John Nash who went massively over budget. For some reason the words "trams" and "Holyrood" kept going round my head.  Mind you, this guy had spent the modern day equivalent of £211,000 on a banister for the Grand Staircase. Some might say that was taking the proverbial.

There was such a feeling of wealth and glamour and luxury and opulence about the place. I don't think there was a point in the whole tour where I couldn't see any gold. It was everywhere. There was a gold barometer the size of a grandfather clock, a gold piano - which I'd love to see Elton John playing at, for some reason, gold banisters, frames. And to go along with the gold were huge, intricate, sparkly chandeliers. There were big mirrors everywhere, spotlessly clean. How I wanted to add some fingerprints as I wandered from room to room with wide eyed, child-like amazement. The intricacy and beauty of the handwork in the ceilings blew me away. It's amazing to think of such detailed work being achieved without the help of modern technology.

There was the Throne Room where the photos were taken after all the Royal Weddings I can remember. They had life size photos from William and Kate's wedding in April.

As if there hadn't been enough wealth on display, what with all the crystal and gold and paintings and all, they'd made a special exhibition of the Royal Faberge collection. Peter Carl Faberge was a renowned Russian  jeweller and goldsmith famous for his jewel encrusted Easter eggs. The Royals have a huge collection of his stuff which must be worth millions. The pictures online really don't do the pieces justice although you get some idea of the gorgeous craftsmanship. For example, this one looks almost a bit bland in the photos, but when you see it in the flesh it's incredibly beautiful and twinkly. My favourite piece was the Basket of Flowers egg. The detail and the colours make the flowers so lifelike.

The highlight for me was always going to be Kate's wedding dress, which was on show in the ballroom, where they hold the State banquets. That room was actually smaller than I thought it was going to be. However, I am completely and totally with the Queen, who described the way the dress was displayed as horrible and creepy. It was maybe a little distasteful to have a headless figure in a palace where so many of their foreign cousins had lost theirs. I understand why the veil was suspended above, because the lace work was made to match the lace work on the dress, but it did look a bit weird without a person inside. For me, though, the biggest disappointment is that the mannequin was the same colour as the dress so the intricate lace work on the arms, shoulders and bodice just couldn't be seen. Why couldn't they have used something flesh coloured. Bob was unimpressed at the way the cabinet containing Kate's shoes, earrings and bouquet was powered - from above. He said that it looked tacky and he was surprised that they hadn't used the technology available to hide the wiring. He was also unimpressed that in most rooms there were loads of very comfortable looking chairs, but they were fenced off and there was nowhere to sit.

Many of the sites were so familiar - the Music Room where Charles and Diana posed for photos during their engagement, the white drawing room, which was used for the photocall after Prince William's christening in 1982. One surprising fact is that that room connects with the Queen's private apartments by way of a secret doorway behind a mirror.

As we left the Palace through the Bow Room, I thought of Spidey taking the same route when she went to the  Garden Party there recently. She had one over on us because the residents were actually in the day she visited and she met one of them.

The visit wasn't quite over. It was so hot and we were thirsty, so we were delighted to see the Garden Cafe where we had some ice cream and drinks.

I took a bit of a fancy to this urn:

The tented areas you can see are the toilets - although you can't call them that there, the signs say "lavatories" and the shop.  The exit is after a long walk through the beautiful gardens and past the lake. If it wasn't for the constant rumble of traffic, I'd have found it hard to believe I was in Central London. It struck me that I understood why they might appreciate the tranquility of Balmoral. I've visited there and as castles go, it's pretty impressive, but it really is a cottage in comparison to the Palace. Anyway these photos speak for themselves.

And look at the heron!

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my time there - and if you get your ticket validated with your signature, it's valid for re-entry for a year - you just have to book your time slot. The Palace is only open for 10 weeks a year, but my ticket will still be valid when it opens next year so I'm planning on going back.

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