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Wednesday, May 17, 2000

We left the hotel this morning with Hampton Court as our destination. Since we only had tube tickets for zone 1 and 2 we had to purchase an additional ticket to allow us to ride out to zone 6 and take the bus on to Hampton Court. We took the tube to Richmond Station (I think). Just outside this station is the bus stop to take you on to Hampton Court. We had to wait 15-20 minutes for the bus. It was then another 40 minutes to Hampton Court.

In all it took nearly two hours to reach Hampton Court and two hours to return. While we were able to do this very cheaply, I think a better use of time (and money) is to take the express train that gets you there in about 30 minutes. I believe the train cost about £10 Return and leaves from Victoria Station (I may be wrong as to which station it leaves from). This would give you an additional three hours - which you could definitely use at Hampton Court.

Hampton Court is huge! Our Heritage passes allowed us in free saving about £12 each. Originally begun by Cardinal Wolsey it was confiscated by King Henry VIII. Built on the Thames, it was an easy day's journey to this country estate. Your admission price gives you access to a very full day of activities.

The house and grounds are so large that there are multiple tours to take. There is an "introductory" tour that begins at the front gate. You can also sign up for multiple other tours throughout the day. These only allow a limited number of people per tour so be sure to sign up early. There are also four or five different audio tours (each lasting nearly an hour).

The house is full of huge elegant rooms with hundreds of paintings, tapestries, and antiques of all descriptions. You can also visit the more mundane areas such as the kitchens, stables, tennis courts, and cellars. One area of the palace is now an art gallery.

How did we spend our day? We began by taking the introductory tour that last about 30 minutes. This tour also highlights the Clock. The clock at Hampton Court is a marvel. Not only does it tell the time, it also shows the phases of the moon, sunrise and sunset, high and low tides, and many other events. Of course, I don't have a clue as to how you read the clock.

After the introductory tour, we got free tickets for the Henry VIII State Rooms tour. This 45-minute tour guided us through, what else, Henry VIII's staterooms. By now it was close to noon and we were hungry. So we stopped in the café for a reasonably priced bowl of soup and bread, with hot tea to drink. The day was cool with occasional bits of rain.

After lunch we wondered through the servants quarters before walking through another section of the palace. The weather cleared up so we decided to visit the formal gardens. The "back" of the palace is a large park filled with perfectly trimmed trees. To the east side of the house is a large formal garden and several smaller gardens. And to the west of the house we found that the Park was overgrown in weeds. I am not sure the reason they had allowed this area to become overgrown. We walked out to the hedge maze and had a very fun time getting lost. We actually had no trouble finding our way to the center of the maze; it was getting back where we kept making wrong turns. The maze was very fun.

Walking back to the Palace we found the tennis courts. These are inside and people were playing. I am not sure who is able to play on these courts. Back at the palace we looked at our map and realized that there were still several sections of the Palace that we had yet to visit. By now we were getting "palaced out" but we wanted to at least walk through each room. So we walked very quickly through the remaining sections.

Hampton Court Palace is well worth visiting and it is easy to spend a full day there. Plan on arriving early with plenty of film and good walking shoes. As we left, it started to rain. We caught our bus and were soon relaxing on our way back to the tube. School was just getting out for the day, and the bus was soon filled with school children in their uniforms.

We took the tube back to Nottinghill Gate. Having heard so much about this area of town, I wanted to get out and look around. I must have been thoroughly lost as I couldn't find any area that seemed particularly special. We tried to find Portabello Road but only saw a small cul-de-sac that was labeled Portabello Road (obviously a different one). Perhaps the next time in London I can return and spend some more time here.

It was about 6 p.m., and we were hungry. As we were looking for a restaurant, Alan stopped in a bookstore. I walked a block further and found a Pizza Buffet. Knowing this would go over well with Alan, I went back and got Pat and him.

The pizza was ok but not great. There was also a very interesting salad bar. I say interesting as it had many items that you don't normally see on a salad bar in the states. This included whole boiled eggs and small boiled potatoes. There were many other items that I don't remember now but made a very interesting and tasty salad.

After dinner we took the tube to Piccadilly Circus. I had seen pictures of Piccadilly on television many times (such as at New Years) and I was surprised at actually how small it is. We still had some time before the show so I went into the Virgin Record store next to the theater. I found a copy of "Leon: The Professional" DVD and purchased it to add to my collection.

We had front row tickets to the Reduced Shakespeare Company's "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare - Abridged". This is a two-hour comedy sketch of the works of Shakespeare including performing Hamlet in 20 seconds in reverse. One of the actors was sitting in the seat next to me at the beginning of the performance as part of the first skit. We were laughing non-stop throughout the performance. If you want a good laugh, I highly recommend this comedy. The theater is small enough that there really are no bad seats.

After the show we headed back to the hotel. Alan stopped in Burger King and purchased some burgers. I stopped in the little store for some colas. After this late night dinner, it was time for bed.

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