Buckingham Palace today. We took the Underground to the Green Park station, followed the directional signs for the palace as we walked through the park, and emerged at the right front corner of the palace grounds. We walked around the front of this imposing edifice to the left side visitors’ entrance and waited a short time in the 9:30 tour group line. We had saved ourselves some aggravation by having our tickets in hand. Denise had sent off for them, and we received them several weeks ago. We picked up audio guides and followed the directions as we entered the palace.
To describe what we saw, one would have to use the most over-the-top words available: opulence, elegance, extravagance, luxury. Our tour included only the public rooms, so we didn’t see the private apartments, the kitchens, or the service rooms. But what we did see was amazing. There were lots of people going through with us, but the crowds were not oppressive. We visited a number of different rooms: the entryway; grand staircase; blue, green, and white salons; music room; state dining room; grand ballroom; silk tapestry room. Throughout the tour, every room was filled with so many paintings, sculpture, and other precious objects that we could hardly take it all in. In one room, we saw some of the gifts that foreign dignitaries have presented to the Queen: a Mexican art piece, bowls and platters, a model of a Hindu temple, vases, etc., etc. The opulence of the rooms was breathtaking: the wall coverings, flooring, drapery, upholstery, and especially the ceilings, each more ornate than the last.
In addition to our tour through the public rooms, the itinerary included stops at a number of display cases depicting other aspects of life in the palace: the sewing department where the Queen’s dresses are made, the kitchens, the wine cellars, the silver and gold plate maintenance rooms, the cutlery and tableware department (with a note about how all dishes are washed by hand – and very carefully), the office responsible for all the invitations that are sent out every year. Buckingham Palace is a big operation that employs hundreds of people, and they all seem to have the same purpose: to make it all perfect. At least, that’s what we saw today.
The audio guide was also very informative. We learned about the history of the various rooms, important events that happened there, which monarchs made contributions to the development of the collections displayed, and how the current Queen and her family have used the rooms. Information was also provided by videos running in continuous loops. They explained how the state dining table is set or what happens during the Queen’s garden parties. We were so happy that we were finally in London at the right time so that we could have this experience.
We had also purchased tickets for the Palace Garden Tour. This was actually just a guided walk along the path that circles the grounds. The guide, a proper English lady who loves her job, pointed out certain features, special areas (such as the play yard of the Queen’s children), and trees and shrubs of particular importance (such as trees planted by various royal personages). When the tour was over, we were near the exit, but we walked back to the palace, thus completing the circuit of the grounds, and had lunch at the Garden Café, outdoor seating under a large tent. Before leaving the grounds of the palace, we did a little souvenir shopping, of course, thinking we might be able to help with the Queen’s cash flow.
We had decided that we would spend the rest of the afternoon walking back to our hotel, so we took off along Piccadilly, then along Long Acre, then to King’s Way and Holborn. Along the way, we stopped a couple of times – for tea and shopping, notably Paperchase, Ryman’s, and Stanfords, all map and stationery stores. Walking in London is one of our all-time favorite activities.