I caught the train from Waterloo and headed out to Hampton Court, which some of you may be familiar with if you wanted that documentary about Henry VIII's Looooooove Palace.
Henry and Anne, sitting in a tree... k.i.s.s.i.n.g.... until, you know you, he chopped her head off. Awkward.
It was originally built by Cardinal Wolsey (who was lifting some funds from the collection plate, if you get what I'm saying), but Henry saw it and said, "Wait a sec. How comes you gets a nicer house then me? Git out! Mine! Mine! Mine!" And that's exactly what happened.
I had an afterhours tour all scheduled, so I spent the day wandering some of the rooms that I was pretty sure I wouldn't have a chance to see during the tour. They had a weekend full of interactive events. Tourists could don fancy robes to walk around the castle and we were handed handy dandy little audiotours, which made for interesting listening. They had the kitchens all fired up and demonstrators were showing us how to make a fancy feast.
(Little on the job training in the ovens)
Roasted peacock was evidently a big thing back then. Guess someone got sick of being woken up at crack of the dawn every morning by their noise.
The location of the king's chocolate room was also recently discovered and opened up for the public to look at.
(I had been hoping for some free samples)
Hampton Court was built as a palace for the Tudors, but then King George showed up and said, "Ugh. This mid-century Renaissance is SO last century. Gut the place. What an eyesore." But tragedy struck before he could tear everything down, so half the palace is Tudor. Half the palace is Georgian.
I took a left turn at the fountain and found myself out in the royal's backyard.
The gardens were gorgeous (although I began to understand why the aristocracy used to keep the unwashed masses out. Jeez, people can be jerks. The sign says don't climb in the planters, lady who just deposited her child inside of a flowerbed crushing all the blooms beneath his padded bottom just to take a picture. Yes, he was here. As told by the destruction left in your wake.) But enough of my snobbery. The gardens were gorgeous.
(there was an annoying tourist I had to keep shifting around to block him with this statue)
(and a guy who literally stepped right in front of me to take a picture with his camera on a tripod. Queue up, sir! We are in England! Barbarians...)
I turned the corner and discovered I was right next to King Henry's tennis court. If you watch The Tudors, yes, the court is really a real thing and is still in operation. There were actually two guys catching a mid-afternoon game.
I continued my stroll and came upon the oldest hedge maze still in existence. I decided to give it a go. Just keep turning right...
...and right... and right... You could almost hear the courtiers giggling and laughing as the snuck through the maze for a midnight assignation. Just keep turning right... And FINALLY you end up in the center of the maze.
After all this fun, I decided to pop out the Lion's Gate (not the movie studio, my Los Angeles friends) to see what lay across the road.
Well, across the street was a big, golden statue in a pond covered in green.
And some deer. You know. Just hanging out in the park. Right next to the path. Something about passing a creature, no matter how gentle he seems, with five foot antlers to make one decide perhaps that is enough adventure. One dumb American tourist was thinking three feet away was the perfect distance for a selfie. I kind of was hoping the deer would decide enough was enough and chase him around like a bull in Spain. Alas, they were gentle British deer who just looked at him with a quiet chastisement: "Rude."
The dinner hour was approaching, so I headed off to see if I could find a good pub. While heading up one street, I came upon this sign:
Now, Sir Christopher Wren was the guy who built that second wing of Hampstead Court, and also built most of the major buildings in London (including St. Paul's Cathedral). This house was about a block or two from the entrance to the court. I just imagine him waking up each day to Hampton Court and how that influenced his style.
I finally found a pub and placed my order at the bar before sitting out back on a breezy patio.
I probably should have taken a picture of my food, but I ate it too fast. I imagine the conversation between chefs going something like this as they figured out this recipe.
Chef #1: You know what this chicken breast needs? Some butter.
Chef #2: Great idea! Do you think some spices?
Chef #1: Um... no... maybe just some more butter.
Chef #2: With a double helping of butter!
Chef #1: BRILLIANT! And I know! Let's add even more butter!
Chef #2: You know, we could get wacky and add some cheese...
Chef #1: DO IT! And add more butter on top of that.
It was DELICIOUS. When did eating food in America become a full contact sport. I like a place that decided that all food really needs is butter... and maybe some cheese... but mainly butter.
I headed back to the palace to catch my tour.
I was greeted at the gate a friendly guide from the National Trust. In the courtyard, they handed us a sparkly beverage and we got ready for our... SALACIOUS GOSSIP TOUR!
That's right! An entire evening of royal intrigue. Who was sleeping with whom! Who died where? Who was dragged down the stairs while giving labor because her husband was so mad at his parents he did want them to see the baby? SALACIOUS GOSSIP!
The entire palace was closed except for the forty of us. Remember that fountain in the middle of the courtyard? Well, our guide took down the chains and we walked out onto the grass. What scandal!
We were taken into rooms that people aren't allowed into. Snuck into galleries lit by only a single bulb. Taken up the servants' stairs where all the behind the scenes action was taking place. We passed around historically accurate sheepskin condoms with laces, which was the only defense in the day against syphilis, which took court favorite, poor John Wilmot (portrayed by Johnny Depp in The Libertine). We saw the yellow pages for whores in Covent Garden with the descriptions of their services. Scandal!
(the underside of stairs)
Unfortunately, we weren't able to take pictures in the rooms, but let's just say that our celebrity gossip of today has nothing on these royals. The adventure was an absolute hoot.