Friday, June 25, 2010

June 20, 2009 Hampton Court

Hampton Court!  Look at the Mistletoe in that huge tree.  It's nothing like our Mistletoe!

This morning I took the Northern Line to Waterloo Station.  It's a large station for tubes, rail roads, and buses.  I had to go to Waterloo to catch a train for Hampton Court which is about 30 minutes southwest of London.  It turns out that this is also the station where you catch a train to go to Ascot!  I spotted the first crazy hat and thought, "Huh?!?  Who would wear that in public?"  Then I noticed another one and then a clump of women in bizarre hats and then I heard the announcement for the trains to Ascot.  It looks really silly to see women wearing cocktail dresses, cashmere pashminas, and Alice In Wonderland hats at nine o'clock in the morning!  Ah well, it was free entertainment while I waited for my train.

The train finally arrived and I got on and sat in an almost empty car.  Alas!  No private cars.  No individual car doors opening directly to the platform.  No steam billowing around the iron wheels. 
Just yellow plastic seats.  What a let down!  The area around Waterloo looked like all neighborhoods around public transportation, not that great.  But, just beyond the station were middle class neighborhoods of Victorian row houses with long,, narrow back gardens like we've seen on all those shows on PBS.  They were perfectly identical and attached to each other.  I can understand why people say, "You know.  Her, in number 10."  You can't exactly say, "You know, the lady that lives in that big red house with the pink crepe myrtles."  They look too much alike.

As we got closer to Hampton Court, the houses got bigger and nicer.  They went from row houses, to semi-detached (duplexes,) to detached houses.  You could say they got less "Onslow and Our Rose" and more Hyacinth Bucket!

Hampton Court was just what you would think one of Henry the Eighth's castles would look like.  It's another house that poor Cardinal Wolsey "gave" to Henry.  Wolsey built it for himself to reflect his power as the highest religious power in England.  Apparently he saw himself as equal to the king.  The big mistake he made was to invite Henry and Katherine of Aragon to his palace for the weekend.  Henry was very impressed!  So much so that he began to get very jealous!  He didn't have a country house this nice, and what was Wolsey thinking -- equal to a king!  So after a few years of Henry's increasing jealousy, Wolsey decided that he'd rather keep his head than his house.  Henry immediately got the original architect to double the size of the palace so that all his courtiers could stay in the palace with him.  After Henry, William and Mary came along and remodeled some of his work and added their own wing.  It's beautiful, but not as interesting as the Tudor sections. 

The most amazing part of the house was the Tudor kitchens.  It was a whole series of rooms, one for baking, one for beers and ales, one for fish, and one for meat pies.  They were staffed by people in costume who were actually cooking using Tudor recipes, utensils, and techniques.  They weren't actors; they were historians who have a touch of the dramatic.  Good grief!  You should have seen the size of the fire and the fireplace in the roasting room!  No one could stand closer that ten feet to the fire, it was that big and that hot.  Somehow, the historian  managed to stand inside the fireplace and talk to us!   I always wondered if people could really heat a room with a fireplace.  You can!

Upstairs they were having a special exhibit of paintings of Henry and his family.  Once again, I got to see painting that I thought I would never see outside of a book.  They had the famous, full length picture of Henry in that very aggressive stance wearing an enormous suit.  They also had the family portrait that Katherine Parr talked Henry into having done.  Henry had his two daughters declared illegitimate after his son was born.  Not exactly a morale builder for the family.  But Katherine Parr, his last wife, worked diligently to repair Henry's relationship with his daughters, especially with Elizabeth. The painting shows Henry and his son, Edward, in the middle, and off on the sides are Elizabeth and Mary.  The strangest part of this already awkward painting was that they also painted in Edward's mother, even though she died three wives ago! Katherine Parr must have been a saint.  "Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced , beheaded, survived." 

I do believe that the best part of Hampton Court was the gorgeous, oh so English gardens.  They were gigantic, and yet so peaceful.  There must have been a thousand people waiting in the gardens for the actor playing Henry to arrive by boat on the Thames, but the gardens still felt uncrowded.  I particularly liked the Tudor gardens.  These English!  They really know how to do gardens and large public spaces.

At the end of the day, I went through the Tudor maze.  I've never worked my way through a real garden maze before.  It was harder than it looked.  For a moment there, I started to wonder what I would do if I couldn't find my way out!  Then, just when I started to panic, I found the center of the maze and people started to help each other find the way out.  Just like life!  No wonder we use mazes as metaphors.


                   This is a herbaceous border!  I always wondered what that was, exactly.

                                       The William and Mary wing of Hampton Court.


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