The Princess in London: Part 2

When I left you, I was just about to tour the state apartments at Windsor Castle.  This part of the grounds is closed to visitors when the Queen is actually staying there, but she was away when I visited.  The state apartments are vast, a maze of drawing rooms and reception rooms, ballrooms and dining rooms, queen’s and king’s bedchambers.  Some of the rooms are used more than others; for example, it was hard to picture Elizabeth II settling in for the night in the museum exhibit bedrooms we saw, but the Waterloo Room, a grand hall at the entrance to the apartments, is used regularly for formal state dinners and events.  Another dining room, a circular room with an incredible view of the town and countryside, is still used for the royal family’s private dining.

My favorite part of the state apartments was the beautiful and impressive art collection.  I didn’t expect to find a small art museum in the Queen’s house, but the rooms are filled with portraits by Rembrandt, I really liked van Dyck’s portrait of Charles I’s five eldest children, all younger than 10 and gathered around a huge bull mastiff, who sits patiently with the eldest child’s hand on its large doggy head.

Once I’d finished wandering around Windsor, I left the castle and crossed the Thames into Eton territory.  I saw a bit of the campus, as well as some Etonians wearing their funny uniforms, which include pinstriped trousers and a coat and tails.  See a very young Prince William at Eton below.

(Picture borrowed from http://resources0.news.com.au/images/2010/01/15/1225820/064716-prince-william-wearing-traditional-eton-uniform.jpg)

I was also very amused by this poster I found on the Eton Societies notice board.   That very night, the Eton Debating Society would be impersonating Republican Primary Candidates and debating the issues as though Eton had just become the 51st state.  Too bad I had to get on the train and couldn’t stay to see what the Etonians made of the absurdities in American politics.

Another sunny day dawned and I rode the train to Hampton Court, which was inhabited at various times by Henry VIII, Queen Mary I, James I, Charles I, Charles II, William III and Mary II, and George II.  The castle was originally Tudor, as reflected by what is now the front half.  In the late 1600s, William and Mary commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to rebuild the palace in a Baroque style, which is now the back half of the complex.  The original intention was to tear down all of the Tudor palace, but funds were short and the mix of architectures is all the more interesting!

A few sections of the newer half of the palace were closed for setting up a new exhibit, but I did enjoy exploring the Georgian Apartments.  I spent most of my time in Henry VIII’s palace, however.  He’s the kind of historical character who’s so disturbingly fascinating you can’t look away (even though, to be honest, he’s not nice to look at).

For example, I started out my exploration of his castle in the vast kitchens, housed in the castle’s basement.  Always one to make a Harry Potter connection, I thought of the Hogwarts kitchens, but no house elves were to be found.  I’d like to believe that the Hogwarts community eats more sustainably than Henry VIII did.  As you might surmise from the picture, about seventy percent of the royal diet was meat in Henry’s time.  And the tradition of courts moving from one castle to the next at various points in the year?  It all started because the king would eat up all the resources in one area and the court would have to move to allow the community to replenish itself.

As everyone knows, Henry VIII went through wives about as quickly as he went through local livestock, so after touring his kitchens I headed to the courtyard to hear the latest gossip about his upcoming marriage.  Henry VIII’s niece Lady Jane and his son Edward’s nurse met in the courtyard to “speculate” about who the sixth queen might be.   As they led us through the palace and into the Great Hall, we learned all about the previous five wives and how their fates might affect Henry’s next choice.  Lady Jane showed us a picture of one Elizabeth Brook, a young beauty from a well-connected family who she was sure would be the next queen.  Lady Frances reminded Lady Jane that Henry’s most recent young wife, Catherine Howard, had been unfaithful to him, so he would be unlikely to choose another young bride.  She expected Henry to take back his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves.  The lively pair invited the audience to place bets as to whose speculation might be correct.

Eventually, Henry VIII himself came along to put a stop to the gossip.  Neither of the ladies were correct, as Henry had already chosen to ask Catherine Parr for her hand.  She is the only bride of Henry VIII’s to “survive” being married to him.  The first and fourth wives, Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves were divorced, the second (Anne Boleyn) and fifth (Catherine Howard) executed, and Jane Seymour, the third, died after giving birth to Edward.

Once that matter was settled, I spend some time touring the grounds of Hampton Court.  It was a gorgeous day to wander around the Palace Gardens and get slightly lost in the maze, one of the oldest mazes in Britain.  My strongest association with a hedge maze is the mammoth one built for the final Triwizard task in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, so the experience was just a tad creepy.  Luckily I found the maze centre and my way out without using a Portkey or running into Voldemort, a sphinx or a Blast-Ended Skrewt.

All in all, I had a delightful time in London!  I’ll be returning to see more of the city itself in a little over a week’s time; but more about my spring break plans tomorrow!

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Even Sunnier Days in Belfast!

I know that I owe you two long posts, one to finish up my experience in London and at least one more about Drama at Queen’s.  I’m working on those!  Trip planning is dominating my time at the moment.

Here’s a picture of Belfast’s Botanic Gardens to entertain you while you wait.  It’s been in the 60s (Fahrenheit) for four straight days in Belfast, and people are delirious with joy!  Everyone’s wearing their shorts and sundresses.  Starbucks baristas are frantically whipping up iced lattes and Frappuccinos.  Students are barbequing and sunbathing on the lawn outside my dorm every afternoon.  There’s barely an inch of free grass in the Gardens, as you can tell from this photo, which I took on my way to peruse the charity shops on Botanic Avenue for…you guessed it, shorts and sundresses!  I didn’t pack a lot of warm weather clothing…

This kind of weather is outright balmy for Belfast.  It may be short-lived, but all of us here are enjoying it while we can:)

A Royally Good Time: The Princess in London

While I love the intrepidity of traveling alone, it’s also wonderful and necessary to see a familiar face every now and again.  I’m lucky to have Scotties studying abroad all over Europe, a cousin teaching English in Madrid, camp friends and family friends throughout the UK.  This past weekend, I stayed with Nikki and Nancy, friends from my summer job at Camp Aloha Hive who live in Weybridge, outside London.  I really enjoyed catching up with them, playing with their cats, and eating lots of delicious vegan food.  We also talked a lot about camp, which got me super excited for the summer and all the cool things still in store for me after my adventures abroad.

I also got to have dinner with Jan, my mom’s friend from when she worked in London during college, her son Alan and partner Dick.  They were in Paris for much of the time I was in London, but I’m so glad I got to see them, and dinner was delightful.  We went to a Persian restaurant in Richmond where Jan and I shared some hummus, and I had okra stew and a magical dessert: saffron and rosewater icecream.  Happily, I will get to see Jan and Co. more later in April, in both London and Belfast.  Sneak peak: Kathryn Dean and I will return to London during our European travels over spring breaks, beginning in a little over a week!  Details to come.

In addition to catching up with good friends, I fit in two castle tours: the working palace Windsor Castle and the history-rich Hampton Court.  Both were incredibly interesting and fun for different reasons.

Windsor was my first stop.  As soon as I left the train station at Windsor & Eton Riverside, I could see the castle looming above the town to my general left.  (“You literally can’t miss it,” Jan had told me.)  So, having no trouble keeping the castle in sight, I started walking into town until I found the visitor’s entrance.  The grounds are vast.  The picture below can only give you a sense of the scale if you consider that there is more castle to the left that matches the right side of the path, and much more castle at the distant end of the path, where you can see white towers on the horizon.

I decide to go St. George’s Chapel first, when a guide helpfully pointed out that it would be closing before the State Apartments and other attractions.  The chapel architecture is stunning.  I couldn’t take pictures inside, but I wouldn’t have been able to capture it anyway, especially the glorious afternoon sun radiating through the massive, west-facing stained glass window.  Here’s an artsy view of the chapel exterior, however.

Completed in 1528 (after more than 50 years of construction), St. George’s Chapel has since been the site of royal baptisms, weddings and, most often, funerals.  Quite a few royals are buried there, my favorite examples being King George VI and the Queen Mother (Elizabeth II’s mum and dad), King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour.   The grave of the latter two was apparently unmarked for quite some time until, after breaking into it several times accidentally during renovations, someone decided to put an engraved marble slab in the floor.

This last tidbit of information I got from a very knowledgeable docent who was giving a tour of the chapel.  Apparently, this tour was for very fancy people who knew things about art history and architecture or perhaps had lots of money, but I did not realize this.  I started listening to his tour so that I could learn more about this beautiful place, and he engaged me and didn’t make any funny faces, so I assumed it was all right.  He pointed out interesting details in the west window, which portrays an array of saints, but also the stonemason who finished the chapel.  At the bottom of the window, some of the faces are scratched blank, the work of some rebellious folk during the Reformation.

It was not until we got to the Albert Memorial Chapel that I realized I was not technically supposed to be on this tour.  After introducing the room to the group and pushing aside the velvet rope for them, he said to me quietly, “It’s not open to the public, I’m afraid, but…” he kind of glanced around, “Are you by yourself?”  I nodded.

“Well…” he said, “Come on.  You’ve been with us most of the way.  It wouldn’t be fair.”  He must have recognized me as a princess, or at least as an earnest college student.  So, I got to learn even more about the chapel in this richly elaborate Gothic room.  This is actually the oldest part of the chapel, and used to be all there was.  The chapel was renovated and made even more elaborate after Prince Albert’s death, at which point Queen Victoria renamed it the Albert Memorial Chapel.  A funerary monument to Albert resides in the chapel, along with several monuments to lesser known royals.  The walls are adorned with dyed, engraved marble pictures of Biblical scenes.  The room is exquisite, and I wish I could have taken a picture to show you!

Next, on my way to Queen Elizabeth’s state apartments, I visited the exhibit of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House.  I’m including a picture of one of my favorite rooms, the queen’s bedroom, because the detail is just too amazing to settle for not showing you.

Since we couldn't take pictures inside, I borrowed this one from <telegraph.co.uk>

The doll’s house was built for Queen Mary between 1921 and 1924 by British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and is fully furnished, a little palace in its own right.  The exhibit also included dolls and doll clothes given to Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in the 30s by “the Children of France” on a state visit to England.  I thought it was very cute to see toys the Queen would have played with as a little girl!

Speaking of cute, there was also a special photography exhibit, “60 Photos for 60 Years,” to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  A few of my favorite pictures: the Queen as a young woman stopping work at her desk to pet a corgi, the Queen and Margaret Thatcher in mostly darkness, looking at each other in profile (very intense and creepy) and the Queen meeting Lady Gaga.  The cutest one was of her inspecting some royal troops, all of whom looked very serious except for William, who was smirking as though his grandmother had told him a joke as she glided past.

I’ll let that sink in, then post about the state apartments, Eton, and Hampton Court in Part 2!

Sunny Days in Belfast

The quaint corner of Europe that includes Northern Ireland is notorious for gloom, clouds and rain, but Belfast has been blessed with some gorgeous sunny days over the past few weeks.  Good weather always puts me in a cheerful mood, and I’d like to catch you up on the many ways I’ve enjoyed the recent sunshine!

The last Friday in February, I walked to City Centre for some shopping, stopping along the way to play guitars in a guitar store.  I’m really missing my guitar, since it wasn’t worth the hassle of plane transport to bring it along, and I was thinking about buying a cheap one and then selling it in June.  While I was trying out the guitars, I got into conversation with an English man who was in Belfast to play in the Belfast Nashville Songwriters’ Festival.   Familiar with the bluegrass/country/folk music scene in the North Carolina mountains, he was delighted to learn of my Carolina roots and also thought it was cool that I studied Drama.  He advised me to follow my dreams and to always buy the most expensive guitar I could afford.  It was a quirky little interaction.

I later met up with my friends at Maggie Mays Belfast Cafe, a classic Queens student haunt, for a quick dinner before going to one of the Festival concerts.  The Four of Us were playing in the Black Box, a music venue in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast.  Brendan and Declan Murphy are two brothers originally from Newry, I believe, who gained Northern Irish popularity in the 80s and 90s.  Their music is a mix of country, pop, Irish and American folk, and they are quite a pair!  Older brother Brendan did the singing and the talking while Declan smiled and made funny faces and tapped his foot, which made for an entertaining dynamic.  My friends and I were a bit young compared to the rest of the crowd, but we really enjoyed the performance, and the Black Box is quite a class venue.

Last weekend, we had a small Agnes Scott reunion in Belfast, with Anna Cabe visiting from Glasgow for the weekend and Kathryn riding the train from Coleraine on Saturday.  The three of us had a delicious brunch on Saturday, visited Linen Hall Library and toured City Hall.  We also spent some time in the bustling and beautiful St. George’s Market, as I mentioned in a previous post.  For dinner, we went to The Crown Bar, one of the oldest pubs in Belfast, founded in 1849.  The elaborate Victorian design is reason enough to visit The Crown, but it turns out they have delicious food as well.  I can’t remember what my meat-eating friends had, but I really enjoyed my champ (mashed potatoes with scallions, butter and cream) and vegetarian sausages, with a glass of red wine.  The leisurely nature of our meal caused Kathryn to miss the train she’d planned on taking back to Coleraine, but this gave us a good excuse to chat for longer while we waited another couple of hours for the next train.

After Kathryn caught the 9 pm train, Anna and I stayed out a little longer to hear some Irish traditional music at the John Hewitt, another old pub.  We started talking to an older couple there and soon found out that their daughter Lynn had studied abroad at Agnes Scott two years ago!  We couldn’t believe it. They were very nice, and not just because the honorary Scottie’s dad bought us drinks.

Sunday, Anna and I visited the Troubles exhibit in The Ulster Museum, along with some of the history and applied art exhibits.  Anna didn’t know a lot about the Troubles, so some of the information in the exhibit was shocking for her.  It pretty much just picks up the facts about the tensions, politics, bombings, hunger strikes, etc, and plops them in your lap, so it can be overwhelming, especially considering how recently these things occurred.  This was my third visit to the Troubles exhibit, but it’s the kind of intense information you benefit from hearing more than once, so you can process it little by little.  More about all that will appear in later posts.

Since it was still not raining, we walked around the Botanic Gardens, which hug the edge of Queen’s main campus, and toured the many charity shops and vintage shops on Botanic Avenue.  Overall, it was a very pleasant visit, and Anna got up to catch the ferry back to Glasgow before the sun had risen Monday morning.

And of course, St. Patrick’s Day was gorgeous and sunny, even hot, which was perfect for the festivities of that very Irish holiday.  You probably know St. Patrick as the missionary who brought Christianity to Ireland and thus the island’s patron saint.

St. Patrick’s Day is particularly important for Irish Catholics here.  Though going to mass is now only one piece of the holiday’s traditions, St. Paddy’s is an opportunity for Catholics to loudly display their religious identity in historically sectarian Belfast.  This occasionally leads to drunken rioting, which is why my Northern Irish friends told me which parts of the city to avoid on Saturday, but overall there’s a good deal of family friendly fun, religious and secular.

I took the bus to City Centre to catch some of the parade, which left from City Hall and wound its way north to stop at St. Anne’s Cathedral.  Being short, I didn’t get any good pictures of the parade, but it was rife with elaborate costumes and rousing pipes and drums.  One vivid green float that caught my eye held a man dressed as a leprechaun, gleefully juggling torches.   There were also papier mache masks galore, including some really cool, under-the-sea themed octopus-y ones.

After the parade, I went to St. George’s Market with my friends for the Irish traditional music and dancing.  For lunch, my friend Jess and I had macaroni and cheese from the Finn McVeg vegetarian food stand in St. George’s.  My friends moved on and I wandered through the market for a little while, then went to the pub next door to hear more live music.  I also had a wee half pint of Guinness because, after all, it was St. Patrick’s Day, and I was in Ireland.  And no, the Guinness was not green.  Green beer was being advertised in some places, to be fair to those who may have wondered.

That was about the extent of my St. Patrick’s day partying, because I flew to London Saturday afternoon!  I decided to take advantage of the holiday from classes on Monday the 19th to do some traveling.  More about my sunny days in London in the next post!

The Life of a Drama Student

I must apologize for my long absence!  I am working backstage for a student production of Fat Pig at Queen’s, so the last couple of weeks have been mad.

My Agnes Scott friend Anna Cabe took the above photo of me at St. George’s Market on Saturday.  The hubbub of the market is a metaphor for the busy schedule I’ve been keeping lately.  In addition to working on Fat Pig, I’ve been working on school assignments, attempting to plan trips and entertaining my lovely friends, Anna visiting from her study abroad post in Glasgow and  Kathryn down from Coleraine just for Saturday.

Our show opens tomorrow, and I’ll try to give an account of my first experience working in a Northern Irish theatre.  I’ll also update (gradually) on my hiking trip in the Mourne Mountains and much more fun around Belfast.

Thanks for reading!