Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Buckingham Palace

It is a known fact that even people who are the most avid sightseers on holiday rarely have visited all of the attractions that are closest to their home.  And sure enough, despite our having lived in London for years, we had never been into Buckingham Palace.  So we decided that while we were in the UK, we would put that right.

The Palace only opens for a few months each summer, while The Queen is staying at Balmoral, and you do generally need to book your timed ticket well in advance.  We decided just to go for the State Rooms, but you can also visit the Royal Mews and the Queen's Gallery if you feel like doing the full set.

Sadly you don't get to make your entrance through the front gates, but after going in through the side way you do still get to go in the main door that the family and guests use on official occasions.  And straight away, you get a real sense of the grandeur of the place.  In the internal quadrangle there are additional information boards explaining when and how the Palace was extended to look as it does now, and letting us know what the different wings are used for.
You get an audio headset, so you can take the tour at your own pace.  It takes you through the State Rooms, and gives you some interesting commentary on the decorations, furnishings and works of art.  The rooms are magnificent.  They have managed to strike a good balance of ornate opulence and tastefulness.  Too often these grand residences, whether in the UK or abroad, have gone for such flambouyant displays of wealth that they can look a bit gaudy and overwhelming.  They sometimes put me in mind of Del Boy let loose with a big budget.

But here, even though it is clear that the intention was to impress the visitor, it has been done in a rather more elegant fashion.  Of course there can be no doubt that a lot of money has been spent, and the place is full of fine antique furnishings, paintings and sculptures, but somehow it just seems to look more refined.

Perhaps in part this is helped by the fact that these rooms are in regular use, rather than just being show pieces.  This is where Her Majesty receives and entertains her many official visitors, so the space has to be welcoming and practical as well.

Many of the art pieces weren't really to my taste, but I loved the chandeliers.  I like chandeliers generally as I think that combination of crystal glass and light is beautiful, and these ones were especially good.  Again, they weren't overly showy, but fitted the rooms perfectly, and looked stunning.
In the state dining room, I was a little disappointed that the table was not fully laid as if or a meal - or should I say banquet - as I would have liked to see that, but I guess it isn't really practical, and perhaps all of the pieces make some people too tempted to try to take a more exclusive souvenir.  But you could still get an idea of how grand these occasions must be.  Nic was a little concerned to learn that when The Queen, who doesn't eat all that much anyway, finishes eating a course it is immediately cleared away, regardless of whether others were still going.  I am sure that as a good host she would take her time, but still I think that Nic will be taking along a chocolate bar as insurance in the unlikely event that he ever gets invited to dine at The Palace!

 One of the highlights for me was the temporary exhibition because in this year of the Diamond Jubilee, they were displaying some of Her Majesty's fabulous diamonds.  As a child, I remember seeing the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London and liking Queen Victoria's tiny crown, perhaps because it seemed just the right size for me back then.  But my favourite this time was probably the Durban Tiara.  It is a simple deco style, but it looks absolutely stunning.  Not sure where I would wear it though, and I rather doubt that our backpacker insurance policy would cover it!

The tour ends in the Palace Garden, which you walk around the edge of, past the gift shop and ice cream stall, to get to the exit gate.  There is a cafe on the terrace, which we might have tried out had we not had to rush off to meet someone.  I was a little disappointed to see that they were using paper cups though - I would have thought that even we mere tourists should get a proper china if we have tea at Buckingham Palace.

Overall we quite enjoyed the tour.  It was more relaxed than I thought it might have been, and certainly impressive.  I would happily recommend it to anyone who likes a bit of how the other half live.

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