Oh, Henry!

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Henry VII

Oldie goldies like me will remember the pop song lyrics that made Herman’s Hermits famous: “I’m Hen-er-y the Eighth, I am.” Well, I’ve discovered that Henry, the lusty, mad-for-an-heir, bloodletting monarch from the 16th century, certainly knew how to live well. If Hampton Court palace is a model for the good life, I am ready to live like a king at any time!

20170717_173253Admittedly, the palace was limited by the styles of the times: the furniture doesn’t look quite as comfortable as the pieces we have today, but kings and queens weren’t given the freedom to lounge about that we have, so perhaps it’s not of great consequence.

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King’s Throne

There certainly was an army of people on hand to see to their every need! The kitchen staff alone numbered in the hundreds, cooking for the king’s entourage and any guests he might be entertaining.

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Roasting meat on a spit.

In fact, as the Royals travelled around the country, their staff and accoutrements travelled along! Think of a parade of carriages for the people and wagons for the equipment moving throughout Britain. Quite a spectacle in its day, I’m sure.

Hampton Court has a spectacular chapel, designed for Henry VIII, but updated by Christopher Wren of St. Paul’s fame during the reign of William and Mary. Unfortunately, photos aren’t allowed, so I can’t show you the stunning ceiling decoration – a turquoise colour edged in gilt — or the lavish wood carving that adorned the walls. Nor could we take photos of Henry’s jewel-encrusted crown, which is actually a lavish reproduction, since Oliver Cromwell had the original destroyed during the days of Roundhead rule.

As much as I loved the elegant rooms, it was the grounds that really gave me palace envy. If this is how the rich and famous landscape their properties, I’m all in! I think I need to cozy up to a duke or two for an invitation to a weekend at an estate of this scale.

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Fountain

Wow! Brilliantly coloured plantings, fountains, manicured lawns, shade trees clipped to resemble topiary – it is all overwhelming in scale and beauty. There’s even a hedge maze in which you can get turned around and lost, but we managed to blunder our way out.

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Riotous colour!

Even the common folk can enjoy the grounds today; part of it is parkland open to the public, although that area is largely grass and trees. Lack of admission fees translates to a dearth of flowers, apparently. However, it was lovely to see local children playing and families picnicking in the abundant green space.

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Cozying up to the locals!

No wonder Henry’s six wives were tempted; handsome fellow or not, if the marriage gave them access to this beautiful property, perhaps it was worth the gamble!

Take me to Church(ill)

While London today may reek of hip and cool, it’s the London of the past that has the strongest pull. From churches to Churchill, there is so much history to absorb and the chance to walk in the footsteps of so many amazing historical figures.

I began my week with a visit to the Churchill War Rooms, the network of subterranean offices and sleeping quarters where the British prime minister and his cabinet planned during the Blitz of London. Interestingly, although the building was reinforced, if a bomb had hit directly, they probably would not have been as safe as they believed. Luckily for the Allies, the Nazis had pinpointed other targets.

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Churchill statue

Churchill, himself, was a fascinating person, and it was interesting to soak up more knowledge about his life. As was the fashion among the wealthy of the day, he was a skilled polo player – a small measure of how different his life was from my workaday existence!

My sister arrived Tuesday in the pouring rain – the only really awful weather we’ve had since I’ve been here. We navigated our way back to the flat, dried ourselves off and prepared for sightseeing.

Our initial foray was to St. Paul’s Cathedral, an architectural masterpiece by Christopher Wren. En route, we stopped at a smaller church that was bombed during the Blitz, St. Andrew’s of the Wardrobe. (The man on duty insisted on walking us part way to St. Paul’s so we wouldn’t get lost. People here have gone out of their way to be kind!)

It turned out that much of the area surrounding St. Paul’s was decimated during the Blitz, but volunteer firefighters kept the cathedral nearly intact. It was London’s first Baroque cathedral, and Wren, bless his heart, wanted it to be light and airy, rather than dark and brooding.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral

The stained glass and mosaics are amazing, as is the decoration and the design. The grand scale of the building is echoed by the grandeur of people who are buried there, Wellington and Nelson among them.

The next day took us southwest to see the Salisbury Cathedral, a great gothic edifice, and Stonehenge, a “church” of another kind situated on the Salisbury Plain. We navigated the British Rail system despite a train cancellation – always gratifying!

Salisbury was as dark inside as St. Paul’s was light, and the statement that each makes about man’s relation to religion is worth consideration. The choir areas in each cathedral were fascinating, too – there are seats assigned to the local dignitaries and a special carved podium for the bishop. It must be humbling to take part in a formal service there.

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Salisbury Cathedral, chapel

Despite the huge influx of visitors to Stonehenge these days, the site retains its magic. The stone circle is magnificent, seemingly springing forth from the rural landscape. Researchers now believe there was an alley from the stones down to the River Avon a few miles away. Depending on the light, the structures can seem brooding or joyous, and each step around the perimeter reveals a new arrangement, one more alluring than the last.

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Stonehenge

As crowded as Stonehenge can be, the air is still infused with mystery, and visitors are easily caught up. The rooks that patrol the area and the starlings that nest there simply add to the sense of intrigue, as does a landscape dotted with burial mounds whose chalk surface has long been covered by grass.

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Sisters at Stonehenge

All in all, satisfying ventures into the city and the countryside! British Rail has a been a pleasure to ride, and navigating the buses and the subway is made easy, thanks to sites such as Google maps and Transport for London. Time, perhaps, for a prayer of thanks that Churchill and Co. were able to keep Britain safe for us to enjoy years later.

Out and About

Hello from across the Pond! I am settling into my new life here in London, managing to figure out which keys go with which locks and finding my way to the grocery store and to the city centre.

Although I am saving many of the London sights for my sister’s visit next week, I am still managing to play tourist – in between doing work. Yes, no rest for the wicked.

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Elaine on Canada Day

I ventured to Trafalgar Square for the giant Canada Day party and celebrated with a crew of others dressed in red and white. I even saw the High Commissioner, although her name meant nothing to me, so she is undoubtedly a party loyalist. The crowd was large, and there was a Tim’s set up – I met people who waited in line for three hours just for a box of Timbits!

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A shout out to Kathleen for introducing me to meetup groups, because they have them in London, too, and it’s a great way to hang out with locals while seeing sights. On Sunday, I joined a group for a journey by rail to Eltham Palace, a childhood home of Henry VIIIand his siblings. Much of it had fallen into ruins, including an amazing medieval hall, but a wealthy couple took it in hand in the 1930s and turned it into an art deco creation, while restoring the hall to its original condition. It was a gem of a home, and the extensive gardens were equally beautiful. The other half lived very well, indeed!

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Yesterday, July 4, it seemed appropriate to celebrate my other nation’s birthday with a trip to Wimbledon. Tickets are impossible to obtain, unless you sign up for the ticket lottery or buy an expensive hospitality package – unless you join the queue for a grounds pass. Quite the experience! We sat in a field for four or five hours until the grounds opened and they let us trickle in through security. I landed next to a father and son from Vancouver, so we had a very nice chat, but, oh, my, there must be a more efficient way. (Yes, I know it’s tradition.)

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I did get admitted to the grounds, and it was a treat. I wandered around to get the lay of the land before plunking myself down at a small back court where benches were available. In honour of July 4, I was able to see two U.S. women battle it out for a place in the second round, as well as a match between a woman from China and one from Kazakhstan.

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In the process, I had the company of two other women: one, a young bartender from Nottingham and the other a hair salon manager. Since her salon is in Wimbledon, she has met all kinds of people and even introduced us to Andy Castle, a BBC tennis commentator who is in disgrace for his comment about a player’s girlfriend, who is a dental surgeon: “I wish my dentist looked like that.” Oh, my! Such scandal.

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I did get to see some of a Gael Monfils match, but most of the big names, including Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, played on the show courts, which are sold out ages in advance. Ah, well … there was still good tennis everywhere and atmosphere aplenty.

Today, life is much quieter: work, grocery shopping and laundry. I want to have my duties out of the way by the weekend so I can enjoy myself.

Cheers,

Elaine

Bonjour, Battersea!

This is the post excerpt.

MyLondonDigs.jpgSo, the adventure begins! I arrived last night at Heathrow: smooth flight, nice seatmate, comfy airport hotel. I wasn’t sure I would fall asleep, given the five-hour time difference, but morning was here too soon!

I took my first bus to the tube station at Heathrow, purchased my Oyster transit card and wrangled my suitcase onto the train, bound for the city. My landlady met me at Gloucester Road, and we loaded my bag into her car. It was almost as big as her back seat; my Corolla would be a giant on London streets.

My flat is in an old Victorian block of homes on the South Bank of the Thames, across from Kensington. There are lovely moulded ceilings, a bow window and a marble and tile fireplace – amazing. It is light and airy and even has a small outdoor patio.

After unpacking my gear, I took a walk through Battersea Park, which is only a block away. It is huge. There’s a lake, a mini children’s zoo, a community centre, tennis courts, soccer pitches and lovely landscaped garden areas. There’s even a weekly yoga class, if it fits into my schedule!BatterseaParkPagoda

Tonight, it’s off to a local pub with my landlady; she is a sweetheart and has made me feel very welcome. Tomorrow, it’s Canada Day, so I’ll celebrate along with other visitors and ex-pats. Road hockey at Trafalgar Square, anyone?