But I’m supposed to be writing about our trip.
Wednesday morning, we were having breakfast, planning out our day. Rob bought an app to assist us in navigating our way through London. Fortunately, we very quickly learned that the app was misleading us and, had we followed it, we would have never reached our destination. I honestly cannot praise the employees at the Taj Hotel enough. They were able to explain the best way we could get from the hotel to our final destination: Hampton Court.
This was to be our one and only big excursion. Had we been in London longer, we would have gone to a palace further away or visited Cambridge or Oxford. We had considered also going to Hatfield Place but Rob’s being sick precluded any hope we had of doing that as well. After all, Rob really wanted to do some shopping and we had planned to do some on our first Sunday there. We had not found many gifts for anyone thus far so we were anticipating (or dreading, in my case) the inevitable day of shopping on Saturday.
Surely I’d find something fabulous at Hampton Court, right? Not so much. Still, I had a wonderful time. It’s relatively easy to get to Hampton Court from London. You just take a train and there’s a short walk which is well marked from the station to the palace. And there it is, just across the street from a gardening shop and a pub. I am still amazed by the confluence of contemporary living with these historical places I’ve so longed to see.
Hampton Court has some actors walking around in costume, not unlike one would find at the Renaissance Festival. At Hampton Court, you get to follow Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and others as they describe the political climate surrounding the King’s Great Matter. These actors move throughout one part because Hampton Court itself is divided into two different eras—Tudor and Stuart. We went through the Tudor section and most slowly. One of the things I noticed is how the various rooms smelled. Smoke and slightly herbal. It smelled old but not stale.
We didn’t follow the actors although we did watch the first of the Henry the VIII actors and we later stumbled upon the King George I reenactment. I wasn’t aware there was so much drama at Hampton Court even decades after Henry had died. We didn’t immediately leave, learned enough to know about the court’s intrigue, and now I want to read more about British history.
I don’t think I’m going to turn into an Anglophile but anything is possible.
We ate lunch there in a kitchen built at Elizabeth I’s urging before continuing our exploration in the gardens, which are lovely. I can only imagine their splendor in the spring but they were pretty enough to be enjoyed and the weather was prefect. Not too warm. We saw the tennis courts, the oldest so far as I can tell, which are still in use. Two people were playing a game as we wandered by. There were some beautiful swans all about the property and other water fowl. Truly, enchanting. I had to remind myself that, as lovely as things were, what I was seeing was the crème de la crème, that those who lived in poverty did not experience anything even close to what I was witnessing and could only dream of seeing it as up close and person as I was on this visit.
When we left, I was still in the afterglow. After all, I had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn’s story when I was eight years old and became passionate about Elizabeth I so much so that my mother bought me a copy of Elizabeth Jenkin’s biography of the monarch. I didn’t even mind that we had nothing else on our agenda for the day. I was content. I had seen one of the familiar portraits of Henry VIII, his crown, another portrait of his family, walked the same corridors he and Anne and Elizabeth had walked.
Back in our room, we relaxed until it was time to go out for dinner. Naturally, we headed downstairs for canapés first. Then we did something anathema to many but perfect for us. We went out for pizza. Now, being from New York, I fully confess that I am a bit of a pizza snob. Mind you, my children and I all agree even bad pizza is good. We decided to go to Pizza Express, a chain pizza place in London. Our expectations were low (or maybe I should say my expectations were low) and the pizza was mediocre. The place was packed, noisy, and a bit overwhelming because of that.
Now that I write this, I realize an irony. Everywhere we went, we managed to avoid crowds, except when we went out to eat the first few nights. We would walk up to things and there would be no line whatsoever or, if there was a queue, we would decide to come back later and, when we returned, find none. It was quite amazing. While others were hustled through certain exhibits, such as Henry VIII’s crown, Rob and I could linger, walk around it more than once, to fully take in the tiny details of what we were seeing.
And we have big plans for what we would see the next day, plans that exceeded our expectations, even though the pizza did not.