About a month before my departure for the Tour de France I read a tweet from VisitBritain about the state rooms at Buckingham Palace opening for visitors from July 26 to September 28. On previous visits to London I toured the fascinating Mews (stables) at Buckingham Palace so I clicked through and bought tickets.
Did not give it much more thought until I was in France and looking at my itinerary for the end of my trip: ticket on Chunnel to London, check; hotel reservation at The Ampersand, check; tickets to War Horse at Theater and Buckingham Palace state rooms, check and check. Leaving myself a little time left over to go book shopping. My flight from Heathrow was not scheduled on Air New Zealand until 4:00 p.m., so I had time to take the tube to the airport. I was all set to make the most of my 24 hours in London.
London is an easy city to navigate with the underground, taxis and footpaths through parks. My hotel’s location was perfect: a half block from the South Kensington station on the Piccadilly (red) Line. The Ampersand did not exaggerate its charms in the Booking.com email advertising its special rate. It is beautifully decorated and the service was superb.
I already blogged about the thrill of seeing The War Horse on stage. So let us fast forward to the next morning and Buckingham Palace. A quick trip on the Tube and soon I was walking past the Queen Victoria Memorial and looking at the gorgeous Buckingham Palace gates.
I was just here on Tour de France Stage 3 and so I reveled for a moment in happy memories. When bike guide Daniel asked me the highlight of my trip while we were in the Pyrenees, I said riding the race course into the heart of London, turning the corner at Big Ben and seeing Buckingham Palace and then the finish line. I felt like a rock star. I reserved the possibility that Paris might top it, but it did not. So it was great to be back to the best spot of my Tour adventure so soon.
It took a few minutes to find the visitors entrance on Buckingham Gate Road, and then a couple of minutes to change my computer print out for actual tickets. I arrived just in time to the correct waiting area to be able to get through security and enter the state rooms a few minutes past my appointed time.
Wow, the Queen must feel like she is slumming it when she visits the White House. During the week, she lives above the store, so to speak, and what a store! Beautiful works of art, mostly portraits of family, fill the rooms where official drawing rooms and ballroom. In addition, there was a very interesting collection called “Royal Childhood.”
I decided to forgo the free headphones and enjoy the rooms and the overall ambiance. After the walking through all of the rooms, I enjoyed a snack at the café and a browse at the gift shop.
The exit takes visitors through the garden. I wondered if the Queen or any of the royal family gets to enjoy the garden on their own or only on official occasions. Not that I feel sorry for them. This is one of their many stately homes and most of the others offer much more privacy. Still, what must it be like to grow up seeing art masterpieces hanging on the drawing room walls?
After a quick trip back to the hotel, I hopped on the Tube to head to Heathrow Airport with about 10 pounds of new books. Air New Zealand docks in the hinterlands so I got plenty of exercise before the 10.5 hour plane ride home.
Spending time in Yorkshire and London reminded me why I have returned again and again to England and Ireland. Looking forward to the next opportunity.