Chapter Six: A Visit To Henry’s House

P1050744Chapter Six:  A Visit To Henry’s House

Day Seven – Coming Out Of The Closet, That’s The Ticket, I’m Henry VIII I Am, Garden Splendour, A Return To St. Christopher’s Place, A Lesser Palace, Missing The Squirrels, Party In The Room: Part Deux and “You’re Back!”

We were at Vauxhall Station a little before 8 a.m. (passing by a unique spot to relieve oneself) and were told to go to the ticket window to buy our 9:10 tickets to Hampton Court.

EngDay4K #16There was one minor problem…the ticket window was closed.

We then headed to the Self-Service ticket machine where we were supposed to get credit for our 7-Day pass, but the Self Service machine doesn’t do that. 

Undaunted, but now seriously caffeine deprived, we found the Travelers Assistance Closet and asked where we could buy our train tickets.   The guy came out of the closet with his hand held machine and said, “I can get your tickets.”  We were able to purchase them from him (cash or credit card with pin# only). The cost of the roundtrip ticket was £7 per person.

P1000780After scarfing down our pastries and coffee, we saw there was a train leaving at 8:40, so we scurried over and hopped on that one. The quiet ride out to Hampton Court was approximately 35 minutes, with stops along the way (including Wimbledon).

EngDay6K #22It’s just about a five-minute walk from the train station to the gates at Hampton Court, and since it did not open until 10 a.m.

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We were able to walk through the rose garden and stroll along the river until ticket time (2FOR1).

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The first thing we saw before entering probably wasn’t here during Henry VIII’s reign.

P1000782Originally built in the early 1500s by the Archbishop of York (Thomas Wolsey), this became the residence of Henry VIII, who added on extensively to Hampton Court including bowling alleys and tennis courts.  Interesting statues and whimsical animals greeted us.

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The loved/hatedOliver Cromwell was Lord Protector for a few years and sometimes spent weekends here while he was busy destroying the country (according to many of the audio guides and docents throughout England).

EngDay6K #37Although he was posthumously executed (seems like a rather extreme event), Cromwell also seems well liked by many of the British people, at least according to a poll we were told about by one of our docents.  Everyone, on the other hand, likes cool pictures of grapes.

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In the late 1600s, William III and Mary II occupied and added on to the palace, and the gardens were re-landscaped during the reign.  After Mary died, William finally got the King’s Apartments finished, however he never got to enjoy the new addition.  He died of complications from pneumonia after falling off his horse and breaking his collarbone…and this was BEFORE Obamacare.

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There are lots of fun little statues in the courtyard before entering that we had some fun with because that’s what we do…have fun.  It seems drinking took up much of their time in the old days.

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The audio guide is a must for Hampton Court.  We first toured Henry’s Kitchens first.

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Then it was on to the the State Apartments, the Great Hall (with its magnificent ceiling) and the Chapel Royal.

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There were lots of school kids visiting the day we were there, so we tried to keep one step ahead of the little whippersnappers. They were having a great time pretending they were kings or queens (as did Tracy).

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We strolled through beautiful room…

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…after beautiful room…

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Even the weapons looked nice.

EngDay6K #30The stairways were lovely…

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…as were the ceilings.

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We even learned some fascinating medieval dining facts and etiquette.

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I guess this is why this place is fit for a king (or kings).  Very old kings.

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After touring the inside of the palace…

P1000846…we walked out back to a huge area that seemingly equaled the size of Delaware.

P1000844Even more impressive than the inside of Hampton Court, the grounds (especially some of the gorgeous formal gardens) were absolutely stunning.

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I think they have enough chimneys, too.

P1000854Dahlias, roses and other blooming flowers added a colorful end to our visit.

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These were some of the nicest gardens we have seen on all of our European travels.

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It was a Tracy paradise!

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Hampton Court allegedly has the world’s oldest grapevine. Grapes from the vine are on sale at the gift shop, and Mary bought a basket for £6. FYI: Mary seeded the grapes in Chipping Camden for the trip home and put them in the fridge. This spring she will attempt to sprout them and try to grow a few vines. She told me, “I thought it would be cool if it works?” I wonder if we will have to call her “Queen” if it does.

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One of the interesting facts we learned was that these black table grapes were only available to the royal family until the 1920s.

EngDay6K #03Hampton Palace turned out to be one of the best 1/2 day trips in all our travels.

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We decided not to take the horse-drawn train around the grounds, as we had to catch a another one for our last visit to London town.

P1000836We didn’t know the train schedule for the trip back to London, and when we arrived at the station, we saw there was a train that left for London at 12:54. Since it was 12:52, our timing was impeccable.  The next one after that didn’t leave until 1:30.

Arriving back at Vauxhall, we remembered (actually our stomachs remembered by their constant growls) that we had only consumed a pastry.

P1000868 We made a return to James Street (restaurant row) in search of lunch. Kim and Mary decided on pizza and a salad at Pizza Express, while Tracy and I grabbed the last table on the street at the Café Rouge on James Street. Most every restaurant was jammed, and it was nearly 2 p.m.

P1000870This was as close to Paris as we felt in London, and not only because we were eating French food. It was nice to be able to sit outside (even with the occasional sound of some type of jackhammer) rather than in a dark pub (not that there’s anything wrong with that…it was just nice eating in a fresh air environment). Of course, it was sunny out, but the waiter warned us it would “definitely rain tomorrow.”   He probably wondered why we chuckled.

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I had a very good beef bourguignon while Tracy opted for the ratatouille. We relaxed for a bit with a vin rouge to go along with the meal. Kim and Mary found us and said they were going in search of postage (yes, some people actually still send postcards) and a pharmacy.

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I probably should have gone with them to the pharmacy, because I was on day two or three of a little cold I had acquired, one that eventually I would share with the group (always the giver, I am).

Instead, Tracy and I decided we would go to one more 2FOR1 attraction (hey, I wanted to get my money’s worth), so we hopped on the tube to Kensington Gardens.

P1000879We walked through the expansive park, said hello to some swans, ducks and squirrels and then walked the short distance to the adjacent Kensington Palace. We love to feed the squirrels at home, and we found a cute little guy to say hello to outside the palace.

P1050757 Kensington Palace is definitely not the place to go on the same day you visit Hampton Court Palace.

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It was ok, but it was probably the least impressive of any of our other London excursions (except, of course, for those stupid horses, who we assumed were still standing and staring at each other over at The Horsey Palace).

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There were some interesting rooms to see, but…

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…to my surprise, the most interesting display at Kensington Palace contained many of the dresses worn by Elizabeth (she must have had the smallest waist in royal history) in the 50s, Princess Margaret in the 60s and 70s and Diana’s rather hideous dresses from the 80s. The 80s had good music, but fashion was not the decade’s forte, well, except for my Miami Vice pastel suit.

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We took one final stroll though the park.

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Kim and Mary had returned to the hotel earlier than the two of us and, with the assistance of our cracked concierge, scored us a reservation for a return visit to Rocca di Pappa at 8 p.m.  Promptly at 6:30, the party duo arrived at our room bearing more wine and cheese.  We know how to travel and how to pick our friends.

P1000912A little before 8, we walked into Rocca di Pappa, and the hostess smiled and gave us all a hug and said, “We even have YOUR table for you.”  She seated us at the table we had dined at two nights previously.

P1000913About ten minutes later we noticed the table next to us was empty and had a reserved sign on it, and there were now a few people waiting.  It was obvious that the hostess was just being nice to us when she seated us, not knowing that we had reservations.  Why would she know my last name?

P1000914When we told her, she showed us the name on the reservation card that was sitting on the table. It was not even close to the correct spelling of my last name (which, by the way, is a very, very famous English surname), but it was close enough to let us tell her that it indeed was our reservation. She thought it was pretty funny when I told her the correct spelling of my last name. Yes, the hotel concierge had struck again.

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Kim and Mary ordered the mussels with pasta, Tracy a less-than-stellar pasta carbonara, while I consumed the very tasty lasagna. Once again, we all had a great time, and while I was chatting up the cute server from Croatia, Tracy (while giving me the first true “look” of the trip) reminded me that she got the house, cats and dogs in the divorce settlement. What a spoilsport!!

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We stopped for one last gelato in South Kensington before heading back to the hotel to pack.  We arrived at the hotel in one piece and only had to save Mary once from being hit by a bus while she looked in the wrong direction. We had survived London, but danger was lurking less than 12 hours away.

Tomorrow morning we would travel to Heathrow, pick up a car and hit the road (hopefully not literally) for our nine days in the English countryside.

I was getting pretty nervous about this prospect, having never done that wrong-side-of-the-road driving thing before.  Fortunately, the collective brain trust would come up with a foolproof plan that would keep this carload of Americans safe for the next nine days as we traversed the highways and back roads to Salisbury, Bath and into the Cotswolds.  At least, we hoped that would be the case.

Next: Day Eight – Hey Where’s The Steering Wheel, Yes It’s DIESEL, The New Vaudeville Band Is Here Somewhere, Diver Bill Saves The Day, You’re Early, Cloisters With Food, What…Another Magna Carta, Tower Of Power, Church Of Doom, Plopping our Buttocks At The Buttock, Now That’s A Bad Hand, Without A Kir In The World, Sunset Dinner and Cathedral Under The Stars

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