April 17, 2009

... and the rains came

Another lazy morning (at least for the grownups... the boys found a way to wage major battles in a small bedroom with an upper bunk, a few wooden swords, and a gaggle of beanie babies). Sprinkles in the morning breaking into more sprinkles by 11:30 a.m. Lunch at the house, then off to Hampton Court Palace in the afternoon.

As with Warwick Castle, I had been to Hampton Court on my 10th grade trip to England many years ago. My journal from that time remarks on the beautiful gardens--it was a similar time of year--but I don't remember much else about it. And it did not look terribly familiar when we drove up.

It's fun driving right through the gates of the palace and into the parking area, then walking up the long front drive to the entry. The building is impressively large, built in installments I gather. They had a special, widely spread and ubiquitous exhibit for Henry VIII, as this is the 500th anniversary of something or other. I have the details nearby, but this is a blog, not a NYT article, so forgive me if I don't check all my facts (if it was the NYT, I'd just make them up).

This is another site I'd recommend visiting. The artwork and rooms are really phenomenal, and the tapestries are ancient and mammoth. The sense of history, as with most places around here, is palpable. The great hall is enormous, with perhaps the highest ceiling I've ever seen (except the Kingdome, perhaps). I enjoyed touring the older parts of the palace more than the newer, perhaps because I really enjoy older medieval and dark ages history. (Being, of course, a recovering D&D aficionado).

(This photo happens to be the same photo used in the Landmark Trust properties catalog. Without, of course, the children. Apparently, there are apartments you can rent in Hampton Court Palace through the Landmark Trust, which I think is one of the coolest concepts I've ever come across.)

With a 9-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a 12-year-old, though, we could not linger long over the tapestries or artwork or architecture. We hurried through the majority of the building, then out to the maze. The maze is very cool and very old, an outdoor shrubbery labyrinth that frankly is not terribly difficult to navigate but is fun for kids and also fun to imagine the aristocracy of the old days frolicking in. The boys led me at breakneck speed through the shrubs, past preteens playing tag and knots of little girls looking bewildered. All told, they made four full circuits of the path before we adjourned to the cafe for delicious ice cream (I had rhubarb).

Then, on to the gardens! The gardens are really quite spectacular. I somehow imagined there would be more drama to them, but after a little while I found the simple geometry and smartly placed color to be much more enjoyable than the Disneyland color explosions I'd anticipated.

Of note is the Great Vine, an ancient grape vine that yields nearly a thousand pound of grapes each year. It's immense, and I am sure the tremendously immense Wisteria outside has vine envy since the grape gets all the attention.

The boys also enjoyed this long tunnel, having a couple of sprints along its length.
While we were at the gardens, the British weather finally arrived. The refreshing, light sprinkles we'd enjoyed all afternoon finally turned into what this Bay Area resident would call light rain.

A quick trip to the gift shop and a hop into the car, and at about 6 p.m. the light rain turned into a legitimate rain in earnest. Dinner at home (nice little local Indian place delivers, thank goodness) and a relaxing evening.

Tomorrow the plan is Stonehenge, but we're not sure what the backup plan is if we chicken out due to the expected rain.

1 comment:

Chris Eldin said...

Very nice!!! Looks like your family is having a great time!

Oh, and that tunnel is soooo sprintable! :-)