Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The palace, the paintings, the portraits

Day 3: London
Today was our scheduled tour of the Buckingham Palace State Rooms and Gardens. Our time was 930am and we got there a couple of minutes before. Security check was a breeze then we were ushered into the quad where arriving guests would be greeted. 

This was the second time we've taken this tour of Buckingham Palace and it did not disappoint.  The State Rooms were spectacular; the art, priceless; the audioguide, excellent.  The special exhibit this time was about the Queen's clothes and the designers who have dressed her, "Fashioning a Reign."  It was very well done (of course).  We were struck by how short she is--they said 5'2" but I'd have thought she was shorter, like 4'10".  One of my favorite exhibits was how they had a contest to choose a new Order of the Garter costume because, before the Queen, all holders were men.  They showed hats and gloves and shoes, too. I'm not sure I liked it more than 2011's exhibit of Kate's wedding ensemble and cake but it was very interesting. No pictures allowed.

We had just enough time after touring the State Rooms and special exhibit to grab a pastry and coffee in the café before our garden tour at 1145am.  The pastry was spectacular!  I wish I remembered what it was.

The garden tour guide took us out into the Queen's private gardens.  We saw roses, contest-winning (?) trees, the tennis court, a very big vase, the pond, and more.  It was very pretty.  They have 8 full-time gardeners but I'd have thought they needed more.  My favorite section was the one they deliberately leave wild.  No pictures allowed.

We lingered awhile in the public garden area, chatted with some other tourists,  took a few pictures, then headed out to lunch at Sekara.

Sekara is a Sri Lankan restaurant on Lower Grosvenor Place where we dined twice on our trip last year.  It was quiet in the dining room.  The service was prompt and pleasant.  We ordered the chicken biryani (again!), spinach, and naan bread.  It was delicious!

With no specific plans, we decided to walk to Trafalgar Square and visit the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, quite delightful for a walk.  We laughed at the irate scooter rider who yelled and cursed at the distracted Asian tourist who wandered into his path.  He said "I would be in jail for manslaughter if I killed you because you weren't paying attention!"  I don't think the Asian tourist understood the words but he sure understood the tone.  Hilarious--and thankfully  no one was hurt.

"Eating doesn't kill you, sofas do." 

We made it to the National Gallery just in time for a free tour.  The guide took us by four paintings and went into loving detail about each.  Our favorite was Hans Holbein the Younger's "The Ambassadors."  After the too-brief tour, we went to the Impressionist rooms but most were closed (again).  The three rooms that were open had fabulous paintings, some new to the collection.

Hans Holbein the Younger, The Ambassadors, 1533 
Monet, The Thames below Westminster, 1871
Renoir, The Skiff, 1875

St. Mary in the Fields
We made our way out and next went to the National Portrait Gallery (free).  We just wandered about looking at the portraits of kings, queens, nobles, clergy, important people.  Very interesting (and white).  The contemporary gallery was filled with recent notables--most of whom I still did not know.  We took a break in the beautiful rooftop bar--what a view!  We marveled that many people left delicious scones and desserts on their tiered afternoon tea trays.  I was very tempted to offer to eat some of them but didn't want to be the totally uncouth American tourist.

Horatio Nelson
Gorgeous view from the rooftop restaurant

Wallis, Duchess of Windsor

Afterwards we headed out into a glorious, warm early evening.  The streets were buzzing with workers, tourists, performers.  The Blue Guide is heavy but comprehensive and pointed us toward Ben Franklin's House for a photo op (it was closed).  Then down to the waterfront and a stop in the pretty Whitehall gardens.  Then photo op with the London Eye.  Then over to the Embankment Gardens for Gordon's Wine Bar.  The bar was way too crowded so we kept going and had drinks at The Princess of Wales pub, standing on the sidewalk with a hundred of our closest friends.  Lovely.

Whitehall gardens-an oasis of tranquility

Embankment gardens lead to Harry's Wine Bar
It was still early but since we had to pack up and leave the next day, we decided to eat two doors from the Princess of Wales pub at Fratelli la Bufala pizza restaurant.  The service was good but the pizza was average (I had to ask them to cook ours longer, very soggy in the middle).

We made our way back to the hotel and packed up our stuff.  Then we decided on a nightcap in the bar at Apero, attached to our hotel.  I didn't particularly like this bar--very hipster-ish, with uncomfortable bar stools.  Bar staff had very little interaction with us--too busy chatting with friends or other staff.

Back to the room for a good night's sleep.  Tomorrow we'd pick up our rental at LHR and drive to Havant.

1.  Sekara Sri Lankan restaurant is always a good choice
2.  Thanks again, London, for your free museums!
3.  If you have a chance to visit Buckingham Palace during the Summer Opening, do!
4.  Why are the Impressionist Rooms at the National Gallery closed so often? 
5.  Drinking on the sidewalk is pretty cool 
6.  I love English gardens in all their beautiful variety

Next: On the (other side of) the road again

No comments:

Post a Comment