Monday, June 14, 2010
[Note: This post is a continuation of the recap of my recent trip to the United Kingdom. To view part 1, go HERE.]
Day 4. After a rainy, dreary Saturday, we awoke to a beautiful Sunday morning so we decided to head out of London for the second time to enjoy the gorgeous weather at Hampton Court in Richmond. Hampton Court was originally the private home of Cardinal Wolsey in the early 16th century, though Henry VIII took over (and enlarged) the palace for himself when Wolsey fell out of favor in 1529. While the palace remained a royal residence through the reign of Queen Anne, it's most often associated with Henry VIII and his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I.
When we arrived at Hampton Court, the palace was celebrating the wedding of Henry to his sixth (and final) wife, Catherine Parr. As devoted followers of HBO's The Tudors, Dave and I enjoyed the serendipity of this reenactment coinciding with the current plot on one of our favorite shows. We spent the afternoon wandering the palace and its lovely ground and enjoying the (admittedly cheesy) reenactments, which including jousting and falconry. As a tennis player, Dave was disappointed though that the real tennis court was closed for renovation. That aside though, it was a wonderful way to pass an idyllic Sunday afternoon.
Day 5. Monday was a Bank Holiday in the United Kingdom, so we were disappointed to find that the vast majority of sites and businesses were closed. As a result, we spent much of the day relaxing and taking in the streets of London. We spent a few fascinating hours at Fortnum & Mason, browsing its four floors of enticing foods and gifts. After freshening up at the hotel, we headed over to Rules near Charing Cross in the West End for an incredible dinner of sea bass (me) and duck fois gras (Dave). We finished up with a sticky toffee pudding, a traditional English dessert that had me wanting to lick the plate clean. Both Dave and I agree that this restaurant is not just one of the best restaurants we've been to in London, but perhaps one of the best restaurants we've been to anywhere. It's definitely going to be on our list of places to return to on our next trip.
Day 6. Our last day in London proved to be jam-packed as we scurried to take in all the sites we had hoped to spread out over our last two days. Our first stop was to the tiny borough of Holburn, also known as "Legal London". The bar in England is (unsurprisingly) full of all sorts of fascinating -- and archaic -- traditions, not the least of which are the four Inns of Court. All barristers (or what we would think of as trial lawyers) must belong to one of these four inns, which provide many of the same services as our state bars (e.g., discipline and enforcement matters, legal education). We strolled along the grounds of the largest (and oldest) of the four inns, the Lincoln Inn, which is located across from the Royal Courts of Justice.
The Temple Church is actually located inside the grounds of two of the Inns of Court (the aptly named Inner and Middle Temple). The church was originally built by the Knights of Templar in the 12th century, making it one of the oldest buildings in London and one of the few surviving examples of Norman architecture remaining. Unfortunately, the Temple was badly damaged during the Blitz, but it has been lovingly restored. The archway I'm standing under in the photo above is one of the few remaining original features of the 12th-century church and is beautiful in its design and detail.
Generally speaking, we tried to take in different sites than we did on our trip to London last summer, but we couldn't resist a second (well, fourth or fifth for me) trip to Westminster Abbey a place so rich in history and tradition that the air feels positively heavy with it. Each time I tour the Abbey, I see something different and this time was no exception.
After leaving Westminster, we headed west to Kensington to take in Kensington Palace (the childhood home of Queen Victoria as well as the home of Princess Diana post-divorce) and enjoy a proper English tea before our evening out at the theater. Unfortunately, the weather failed to hold and by the time we walked from the Tube station to the palace, we were thoroughly soaked through. After enjoying some very restorative tea (which really does hit the spot on chilly, wet English afternoons), scones and sandwiches at The Orangerie, we trudged in our wet clothes through the park and gardens of Kensington, which are lovely even on the nastiest of days. While we didn't make it inside the palace on this trip, I have been in before and it's a beautiful, stately home full of wonderful Victorian antiques and furniture as well as an impressive collection of Victoria's clothing.
We wrapped up our time in London at the Apollo Victoria Theater, where we saw Wicked. I've been wanting to see the show for a long time, but unfortunately missed it when the Broadway tour came through Houston, and I wasn't disappointed. The show was fabulous. London, like New York, is a major theater town and there are literally dozens of shows on offer in London's West End. Like NYC, you can often score a great deal on last-minute seats at one of the many ticket booths near Leicester Square.
Next Up: Dave and I head north to the Highlands, where we take in the lovely town of Inverness, walk the fields of Culloden and keep our eyes peeled for Nessie.