After the Banqueting House we went to Kensington Palace - nice gardens, crappy "palace." Fortunately, the trip was included with our London Pass because if we had paid 12.50 GBP (roughly $18) to get into that place, we would've been higly disappointed
. The two highlights of the trip were Princess Diana's dresses and the gardens. The gardens are extensive and lots of people come to Kensington just to walk around or picnic in the gardens. Princess Diana's dresses were beauitful, but not very well displayed. The exhibition staff just had them hanging on manequins without any pictures or videos of Diana in them. A little sign by the dress gave the location of the event to which she wore it. After Diana's dresses, there is a worthless exhibit about Debutante society in the 1950s. Again, this has the potential to be an interesting exhibit, but not as is. All one sees is a couple of black and white videos, some manners books, and a few random "hands-on" exhibits where one can learn how to tie a bow tie or dance a waltz. The upstairs of the palace features the life of William III and Mary II, the first royal couple to live at Kensington, but hardly any of the material the rooms are original to the palace. Some of the Queen Victoria items are original as are some of the paintings, but so much is repro. If you have limited time in London, I would not recommend visiting Kensington, unless you want to have a picnic lunch in the gardens.
To end the day, we headed out to Hampton Court, the palace of Henry VIII upon which William III later expanded. Hampton Court is about a 35 mins train ride outside of London, but still relatively close. After Kensington, anything would have been impressive, and Hampton Court certainly was. The audio guides at Hampton Court allow the visitors to pick and choose what they want to see and take different tours according to their interests. I'm more interested in Henry VIII then William III, so I stuck to the Tudor stuff. One of the most interesting Tudor tours was a Tudor Cooking tour which was led by food historians and took people through Henry VIII's kitchens discussing what people ate, how it was prepared, etc
. Very interesting and not something you get on every tour. Then we walked through both Henry and William's apartments and toured the gardens. It's very easy to see what parts of the palace are Henry's (16th century) and William's (17th-18th century) especially since William commissioned none other than Christopher Wren to do build his additions. Other monarchs have lived here as well, but these two made significant contributions to the structure of the palace.
By far the most hilarious part of Hampton Court was all the people walking around in Tudor capes. No, these people were not employees dressed in period clothes; they were tourists - grown men and women (and children too, but they have an excuse) walking around with velvet cape-like garmets over their normal clothes. Vicky and I tried to get a picture of them, but couldn't quite get one without it being obvious what we were doing. I can't wait to the people get home and see themselves in their pictures. Hilarious! Vicky and I were fortunate enough to visit on Henry's wedding day, so we got to hear him and his new bride (Catherine Pratt) make a speech in the middle of the courtyard. Fun times. What's a historical tourist attraction without historical reinactors? Henry promised us all that the fountains in our villages would be running with free wine. Vicky and I are still waiting for it.
Thursday was round two of "London Pass," so we again jammed as much as we could into one day. Most of what we saw today dealt with London politics, hence the title of this post. We began at the Banqueting House, across the street from 10 Downing Street, which is well-known for the site of Charles I's execution. However, it was also part of Whitehall Palace, which was the royal residence after Henry VIII moved it from the Houses of Parliament site. Whitehall burned down and the palace was the royal residence was moved to Buckingham Palace, but the Banqueting House survived. There is not much to see in the Banqueting House, but it's still well worth the trip.