I’m back home in the States and I already miss Europe and the wonderful places I’ve visited. The ones that really struck me are too many to name, but the ones that definitely left me speechless are the official royal residences of the Queen and her family: Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace in London, of course.
I’ve been to BP before and since I already toured the Queen’s Gallery (a museum in its own right with prestigious paintings and sculptures by the Greats), this time I decided to see the 20 State Rooms that are open to the public exclusively during summertime. Additionally, this year the biggest state room, the Ballroom, features a special exhibition of the Queen’s 1953 Coronation; definitely an extra reason to pick this option amongst the others.
The tour leads the visitors inside the palace’s courtyard and into the Grand Hall where usually dignitaries and illustrious visitors are welcomed. I managed to snap a few pics before being sent to the Tower of London to be beheaded … just kidding, but not really, because pictures are not allowed. I’m sorry, I’m not able to share the grandeur, the magnificence, and opulence of the Throne Room, Music Room, and Dining Room through images with you, my description alone will never grasp the details of the carved golden doors, ceilings, mirrors, candelabras, drapes, and frescos. It’s not only the prestigious materials one is drawn to, but the history that lives through those walls. It’s not haunting, but rather fascinating and intriguing.
My favorite part of the tour was the Coronation exhibit with memorabilia and objects from that day on display (invitation, pens, prayer books etc.); the gown and the robe, the jewels worn by the Queen, her family, and her maids of honors. There is also a recreation of the Coronation Banquet in the State Dining Room, where three tables are set up with all the original golden silverware set (with a total of nine different forks, spoons, and knives), the finest white and gold china, and chalices. The centerpiece is also modeled after the floral arrangement of that day with the original seating map. I loved the beautiful view of the dining room on to the gardens and the adjacent blue Music Room with colomns made of lapis lazuli, where usually the baptized royal babies pose for their official picture. The grand finale is the walk through the Bow Room on to the vast gardens where the famous annual garden parties take place.
If BP is the mother of all U.K. castles, Kensington Palace is the Disneyland of all royal exhibitions as it offers a fun, interactive, and visually stimulating experience. The palace used to be Queen Mary and King George’s residence and the birthplace of Queen Victoria who also spent her childhood and teenage years here, until she received her privy council in the Red Saloon after becoming Queen. This room, along with the ones Queen Victoria grew up in, is all covered with laser writings on the walls citing passages from the letters she penned during different phases of her life. The most touching quotes are the ones about falling in love and being married to Prince Albert; they are incredibly sweet! They are paired with personal objects — such as fan, jewels, and gloves — displayed in shiny glass cabinets and in some rooms, they are softly whispered through some hidden speakerphones. Overall, the exhibit is designed to feel, hear, touch, and witness the evolution of a great love story.
There is another exhibit that is currently on display, it’s called “Fashion Rules” and features a few iconic gowns that belonged to Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, and Princess Diana — priceless!
But the ultimate Disneyland experience takes place at the apartments of King George, where a small booklet at the bottom of the grand stairs is available to whoever wants to play “Top Courtier”. This game consists of questions related to a situation happening in each room and tests your likeability to become a staple at the King’s court. My friend Kanako and I went as far as to win carte blanche and an all-access pass to the King’s bedchamber — I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing but it was so funny! A courtier dressed like a 18th century notary, asked us tons of hilarious questions and he also wanted to play cards to test our skills to make sure we are suitable for a King. LOL!
The stunning KP gardens, with romantic flower beds and water fountains, are the quintessential English gardens. We could not leave the palace without having a traditional English tea at the beautiful Orangery, right across the palace. All in all, I think our crash course in British Season is complete!