Visiting Kensington Palace
Having thoroughly enjoyed my day out at Windsor Castle, I decided that I would venture out again the following week. Little did I know that it would be the last time I could do this before London entered Lockdown 2.0. So in writing this blog post, I am so happy that I did it because I am not sure when my next outing can occur.
I still have not decided to take the tube, so once again it was the Thames Clipper boat for me to the centre of London. Just after the March lockdown, Thames Clipper rebranded to the Uber Boat, a partnership/sponsor deal that was probably a long while in the making and had no idea about the pandemic that would plague 2020. The boat didn’t run for a few months, but started back up in May/June. (I can’t really remember, because in lockdown, time was infinite.) Again, as I write this post, I am glad I took the boat because in Lockdown 2.0 (which is running from 4 Nov - 2 Dec) there is no boat service and my only option to get into town is cycling.
Back to my day out … I arrived at the Westminster Pier. I had thought about this day in advance, because Kensington Palace is almost an hour walk from this pier. So, I brought with me my cycling gloves and helmet. I was going to rent a “Boris Bike” and ride to the palace. Boris Johnson is our current Prime Minister, but prior to this he was London’s mayor. It was during his time in office that he, a keen cyclist himself, brought in the rental bikes that are stationed all over town. They are now sponsored by Santander Bank, but they have the lovely nickname of Boris Bikes, and it rolls of the tongue nicely thanks to alliteration. The option to ride a bike is very cheap, and there is a handy mobile app that helps you plan your journey to locate where you can park the bike when you are done.
I unlocked the bike, adjusted the seat, secured my helmet and hopped on my steal horse like the Lone Ranger setting off on a mission. I was wearing my bright pink rain jacket because I knew the weather was going to be a typical British drizzler. It didn’t disappoint. The ride itself was lovely, because the new bike lanes that have been completed around Parliament Square keep you completely separate from the vehicle traffic. They take you diagonally across from the Houses of Parliament and onto Birdcage Walk. From here, it is a right turn at Buckingham Palace, and then a left turn down Constitution Hill. Crossing over Wellington Arch, you then make your way into Hyde Park, where you can choose a few options to get to Kensington Palace.
While on my way through the park, I came across the Household Cavalry. They are the branch of the Army that guard on Whitehall in front of Horse Guards Parade. There are two regiments, Life Guards and Blues & Royals. The uniforms indicated these riders were Blues & Royals, with blue tunics and red plumes. However, some of them had white plumes, which are typically worn by the Life Guards. My heart was fluttering with excitement in seeing them ride. They appeared to be doing some kind of training manoeuvres, perhaps either to train the horses or the riders themselves. I was excited to see them because I haven’t seen them since March. Normally, my schedule sees me perform at least three Changing of the Guard tours each week. With the coronavirus being transmitted via groups of people in close contact, the British Army made the decision to stop the ceremony indefinitely. I have missed it so much.
After filming a quick video of the guards, I hopped back on my bike and finished the ride to Kensington Palace. I parked my bike at the gates of the park and made the walk up the slight hill. On the way, I snapped photos and short videos of the trees, in so many magnificent shades of red, yellow, green and brown. Something fluttered from a tree. It was a ring-necked parakeet! They are bright green, almost neon, and this one was sitting in a yellow leafed tree. There is a story that Jimi Hendrix opened a cage on Carnaby Street in 1968 and released a male and female (named Adam and Eve) and they are the reason we have an infestation of these birds. (There’s another story about two birds escaping a filmset where Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart were filming in 1951.) I watched as this lovely little bird did his thing and then flew off. It was nice of him to greet me upon my walk to the palace.
When I booked my ticket for KP the day before, I did it using my Historic Royal Palace’s membership. That means it was free! I went to the bookshelf to check something in my Kensington Palace souvenir book and noticed two tickets being used as bookmarks. They were from my last visit to KP, and they were dated 2008. Wow! Had it really been that long since I had been there? I couldn’t believe it. I made a mental note to not let so much time go by, as this place is lovely and my membership has benefits that I need to use!
Kensington Palace had enforced a one-way system, and unlike Windsor Castle were not as militant with their hand sanitiser stations. Still, it was a timed entry where only limited numbers of people could come in at one time. Last year, the palace celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria with two extensive exhibitions. Sadly, I didn’t make it to see them. However, the Young Victoria exhibition was still in place. That was the first section of my visit. I was really enjoying the layout of the items and the way they presented the story of this young girl and how she grew up in the palace. Funnily, I would occasionally be distracted by this other tourist who was running around the room taking photos of everything. She was wearing a clear plastic raincoat, backpack and newspaper boy hat. It’s one thing to slyly take photos, even when they are allowed. It is another to make quick moves and dart around the room as if you are going to miss something if you don’t snap the shutter. There were only three other people in the room, so her haste was really uncalled for.
Anyway, the exhibition included some wonderful items that I didn’t know were in existence. There was a dollhouse that had such intricate items, you wonder how little children would have been allowed to play with them. There was a very large and beautiful paper theatre that was playing an opera and visitors were allowed to sit and watch the performance. I talk about these paper theatres on my Fitzrovia tour, and how they were revitalised by a woman who was randomly looking for a piece to her childhood toy. I was captured by how grand this theatre was, and it was neat to see something I talk about actually be alive and working in its grandeur.
After the Victoria rooms, you see the famous black velvet dress that Princess Diana wore to the White House where she danced with John Travolta and some beautiful photos of her by Mario Testino. My last visit in 2008 had been to view the wedding dresses and other Princess Diana dresses. On this visit, there were three tiaras on display and I took my time drinking in their sparkles. One had been designed by Prince Albert for Victoria, and was made of diamonds and emeralds. These were what I call “old style” emeralds, were they are not “cut” but rather rounded. Somehow, it made them appear more beautiful, more unusual, and more valuable. There was a story on the wall where Queen Victoria had been quoted to say, “Albert has such good taste.”
The tour continued onto the older parts of the palace. In my opinion, this is my favourite part because we go right back to the days of King George I and his original use of the building. Kensington Palace has never been a major player in the royal story, except during George’s reign. It was only ever built because it was (back then) on the outskirts of town, in the countryside where he could breathe better.
Kensington Palace has always been a home for “extra royals” as I call them, and yet it has also been the “party palace”. Princess Margaret loved it here. Princess Diana raised the princes here, where they have both lived. Prince William and his young family live here, along with the Queen’s cousins. It’s the older parts of the building that I love, but it is nice to see that it can be lovingly restored and revamped for modern use.
As the tour came to an end, I noticed some pillows on a bench for visitors to rest. They were of all the people who had lived there: King George, Queen Charlotte, Princess Margaret, Princess Diana, Prince William, Duchess Catherine. Hmmm…. aren’t we missing some people who recently lived here and then moved? In the gift shop, I hunted to find some mention of Prince Harry and Meghan. There were a few items on clearance to commemorate Archie’s birth. There were two books about Meghan, one on her in general and one on her style. I bought the former.
Leaving the palace, the rain had subsided and I was starving. I decided to go to Cafe de Mario, a little restaurant just a short walk from the park gates that lead to the palace. This restaurant is where Princess Diana would frequently take William and Harry for pizza. Naturally, I had to follow suit. I ordered an Aperol Spritz and a Mario Special (pepperoni, black olive and mushrooms). It also happens to be ALL of my favourite toppings for pizza. I gazed around the restaurant at all the lovely images and paintings of Princess Diana. The pizza was delicious and my heart was full of joy. After paying my bill, I hopped on a Boris Bike and made my way back to the pier to take the boat home. This had truly been a special day out, and I was keen to do it again as soon as possible.