Thursday, June 09, 2011

In and out of Buckingham Palace

I should have blogged this while that damned wedding was top of the news, so some of the online traffic could have detoured here, snicker. But anyway... The “in” part, unfortunately, has no pictures, since a tour of London's Buckingham Palace disallows photo-taking--not until the tour disgorges you at the back exit and its lovely garden. There you can begin snapping away again. But I'm getting ahead of the story.

My entry point was through the ubiquitous London tourist bus, where the cheery tour guide made it a point to ask everyone where they came from. I said Manila, he said “Philippines, what a lovely country!” Aww, I thought--then he said the same thing to a pair of girls from Brazil and a middle-aged couple from Croatia.

One of the bus stops is beside the Ritz Hotel. You're given the option to get off here, enter a side street that winds along Green Park where lots of Londoners were taking in the soft afternoon sun, and emerge on the courtyard of Buckingham Palace. Afterwards, you can go back to the same stop and wait for the next red bus to pick you up for the rest of the city tour. (The ticket is for one day of hop-on, hop-off activities; you can customize where you want to go or what you want to check out. Neat.)

A bend in the park trail, and there it was--OMG, the palace. Breathtaking. It's around 2 p.m. as I reached the courtyard; the sky was overcast, but lucky for us there was no rain. Pictures and more pictures: the Victoria monument, the gilded gates, the balcony where Charles and Diana executed the first royal public kiss, the palace guards in their crimson uniforms, the flowerbeds, the avenue bristling with banners that I learned later on led to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery.

Done, I asked a guide where the palace tour started. Go to the side, I was told. A side gate led to a covered area where one could buy tickets and fall in line. If you carried a camera, young men and women in spiffy royal-blue uniforms went up to you to say, in a crisp but courteous manner, that no pictures were allowed from hereon.

So, for a description of what I saw inside and the background of all of it, I'll let the Palace-run Royal Collection website do the talking:

Buckingham Palace serves as both the office and London residence of Her Majesty The Queen, as well as the administrative headquarters of the Royal Household. It is one of the few working royal palaces remaining in the world today.

Today the State Rooms are used extensively by The Queen and Members of the Royal Family to receive and entertain their guests on State, ceremonial and official occasions. During August and September when The Queen makes her annual visit to Scotland, the Palace's nineteen state rooms are open to visitors.

The State Rooms form the heart of the working palace and are lavishly furnished with some of the greatest treasures from the Royal Collection--paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin and Canaletto; sculpture by Canova; exquisite examples of Sèvres porcelain; and some of the finest English and French furniture.

Let me reel off snapshots in my head of the palace interiors, some of which were also glimpsed during the Kate-William wedding: the vast ochre-colored inner courtyard that's the first thing you'll see upon entering the palace grounds; the majestic staircase designed by John Nash; all manner of splendidly appointed state rooms, one of which was described as the room where the Queen receives the new UK Prime Minister (reminded me of that scene in The Queen when the Blairs first paid their respects to Elizabeth II); richly carpeted hallways, magnificently embellished ceilings, countless artworks. All of them, by the way, excellently annotated by an electronic Walkman-like tour guide that allowed you to zoom in for a short discussion on, say, a painting or a piece of furniture with a touch of a button. Kainggit--because this part is something we could do as well even with minimal resources.

I couldn't take pictures, as I said, so here's the next best thing: The official website of the British Monarchy provides an interactive 360-degree view of four palace tour highlights: the Grand Staircase, the Throne Room, the Blue Drawing Room and the White Drawing Room. Here.

At the end of the tour, you're let off at the back of the palace, where there's a cafe, rest rooms, a souvenir shop, and a garden leading out to a London street.

The garden, apparently, is a precious retreat. Again, from the Royal Collection website:

Described as a 'walled oasis in the middle of London', the Palace's garden is home to thirty different species of bird and more than 350 different wild flowers, some extremely rare. Visitors end their tour with a walk along the south side of the garden, with splendid views of the west front of the Palace and the famous lake.

A walk through this cool, shady patch of green--it was nippy September last year when I did this tour--is just the right reinvigorating cap to that fascinating but also rather exhausting trek through man-made splendor. My reward to myself: a cup of strawberry ice cream stamped--what else--Buckingham Palace.

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