Thursday, June 4, 2009

Final Days, part 1

Rolling on the River

These are our last days before (finally) returning home on Sunday. It’s been a fine trip, a superb trip, but the allure of the familiar is now greater than ever. I‘m looking forward to picking back up all the threads, school and a new teaching assignment, restarting The PENguin, resuming my work with Bonhams on another spectacular auction to follow up the success of the last one in February, serving the PCA as the board best sees fit for me to do.

But we are still in (just outside, really) London, and we know what Dr. Johnson says about that, so yesterday we decided to do something we’ve not done before, and we took a three hour leisurly sail down the Thames to visit Hampton Court.

As you will see from the images, it was a fine summer day, perfect temperatures in the upper teens (upper 60s to you), nary a cloud in the sky, lovely weather as you get only in England (and not too often at that), still all the better to be enjoyed.

Hampton Court was built on the basis of an older manor house by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and later by Henry VIII. A word on Henry: this year marks the quincentennial (doncha just love that word?) of his coronation, and even moreso than ever he seems to be everywhere. The Brits have a love/hate relationship with this oversize monarch who did so much to set in motion the forces that have shaped this nation, and even now don’t know whether to revere or revile him.

But that does not stop the celebrations, and at Hampton Court they are intense. We will miss the late June coronation weekend, but did get to experience the events leading up to Henry’s sixth wife Kateryn Parr. As we toured through the rooms well trained actors led groups in reenacting the events of the wedding and we were even presented to the King. It was fun, followed up by lectures on Medieval clothing, as well as all the other exhibits and attractions of the palace. We even got out into the gardens and Sharon, remembering the old trick, was able to lead us to the centre of the maze.

We did not return by river, pleasant though that might have been, but took the train into Waterloo Station and happened into Cubana, nearby on Lower Marsh. We did not know what to expect from this crowded, noisy colourful space on three levels, but the mojito (Sharon) and lime cooler (me) were very good. After a vigorous day we were ready not just for drinks, but starters, so I had the croquetas of chorizo and sweet potato and Sharon the crab rosti. Ou measuring point for Cuban restaurants is the famous Bodeguita del Medio, in the Bay Area, modelled on the Havana original. This hole in the wall looking place exceeds it. The drinks and appetisers were grand and the main courses, mine the Congri Santiago (think Cuban red beans and rice, with chicken and more chorizo), and Sharon’s a seared tuna, were even better. We skipped dessert as it was getting late and we had a train to catch back to Petts Wood.

It was a lovely finish to a fine day of touring. Today we visit Rye with friends Sylvia and Ray.

While waiting for the boat, I could not resist snapping off a few more images of Westminster.

Especially close in to the city, the river, these days, is lined with luxury high-rise apartments
Developers often like to locate them in rather incongruous structures like this disused generating plant.
But there are also plenty of signs of more traditional riverside life

One of the bridges we crossed under left us with about six inches of headroom to spare. The captain came on twice to be sure everyone remained seated

as well as more luxury high-rise apartments for the wealthy

and posh homes
But, not everything on the river is posh
And it is, after all, a working river with locks and all that

A contest: if anyone can tell me (not guess) what this is, I'll send them a penAfter three leisurely hours we got to Hampton Court Palace, awed by what we saw, but not having yet seem much of anything
Here a Tudor courtyard with a Georgian facade as added by William and Mary, who were the first monarchs after Henry to do much with the palace
The exterior is filled with these little details that beg to be photographed, doncha think?
The guide to the place starts you at the Tudor kitchens which have been lovingly restored and interpreted.

For scale, Sharon and her audio guide in front of the great fireplace where dozens of roasts would have been prepared for banquets to feed as many as 1200 people.
The great hall with its timbered, vaulted ceiling
An actress portraying Kateryn Parr's sister passing along court gossip, including that of Henry's sexual abilities in 1543
The great man himself
And Mistress Parr being led by a "courtier"
The king and his queen-to-be

The long water, centerpiece of the gardens

Sharon and Rosa at the entrance to the maze.The truth is that Rosa guided us through

Rosa finds her niche at court

Only as I was writing this did I find out from the website that rooms in the palace can be rented. Hmmmmm???

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