We went to the Palace to visit the Queen.
She wasn't exactly able to receive us, being at her summer home in Balmoral (Scotland), but we paid our respects anyway with a Royal Day Out at Buckingham Palace. This was very high on the bucket lists of both my girls (Eliza literally found a brochure about it lying on the sidewalk during our previous day trip to London), and since the opportunity to tour inside the Palace is only open while the Queen is away for the summer months, we had to jump on it.
(Again with the happy face, my son! "Heh. Off we go on one of Mom's Adventures.")
This was our second jaunt to London, and I'm happy to report that we felt and looked markedly less bewildered. Progress! We arrived at King's Cross station (yes, THE King's Cross) and made our way up and out of the station and then immediately back down into the Underground and through the labyrinth of corridors to the Victoria Line subway ("Tube") platform.
Popping out of the Underground, we enjoyed a rare morning of pleasant London sunshine as we traversed Green Park toward the palace. Since it wasn't a day for Changing of the Guard (that happens every other day, and we did that last time; here's Ian's post about it), it was easy to scoot around the front of the palace and then join the throngs being disgorged from the tour-buses. At least we had our tickets pre-booked online.
Our combo tickets included the Queen's Gallery, the Royal Mews, and the Buckingham Palace State Rooms. First stop: the Queen's Gallery, where a special exhibit of paintings showcasing the fashions of the Tudors and Stuarts, called In Fine Style, was actually quite a bit more educational and broadly appealing than it may sound, thanks to a very well-done multimedia audio tour. Among other tidbits, we discovered that Henry VIII -- you know, the serial monogamist -- was hugely into fashion, that 17th-century professional embroiderers tended to be male, that armor for nobility and royalty needed to follow haute style trends, and that lacemaking is an incredibly painstaking process.
We got a kick out of the toddler boys dressed up like little girls, which of course was absolutely true to the times.
We reluctantly tore ourselves away, knowing that we had miles to go before we slept. Then it was on to the Royal Mews. "Mews" is a fairly archaic word that means "a group of stables," and it is indeed the place where the royal family keeps their horses, carriages, and horseless carriages (limousines). I found this place rather fascinating, actually. We took the guided tour, and got to see a couple of the 27 horses currently owned, and usually named, by the Queen. For you horse people out there, the horses at the Mews have to meet certain height requirements and most of all, have the temperament to withstand huge crowds and parades -- like for royal weddings or jubilee celebrations, for example. They also get summer holidays, and the veterans among them get to "nanny" the new equine trainees. Imagine Mary Poppins with four legs and a predilection for carrots.
You've got to see this carriage. It's not the carriage used most, especially since it takes a team of people 48 hours to remove it from its "garage," but it is very, very special. The Coronation Carriage weighs four tons, is pulled by eight Windsor Grays, and was used for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, Silver Jubilee and Gold Jubilee. Apparently it's terribly uncomfortable to ride in, so for her recent Diamond Jubilee, I guess they decided that an 87-year-old monarch deserved something a bit cushier. But I had the Classical Conversations timeline song running through my head when we learned that the carriage was built at the end of the Seven Years' War with France (the Seven ... Years ... War) and is adorned with a few symbols of victory and hopes for peace.
And, hello? That is a LOT of gold. Bumpy ride or not, anyone in that coach must feel like Cinderella.
Here's the most modern limousine at the Mews -- from the 1970's! It looks black in the photo, but it's actually a claret color if you see it in the right light.
Guess how many cars the Queen actually owns?
One. It's a green Land Rover (not kept at the Mews), and yes, she has a license to drive it. She even has some mechanic training, which puts her one step ahead of me. Well, that plus the fact that SHE'S THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND.
And speaking of the Queen of England, our last stop was the Palace, which we kind of hurried through because 1) we were getting tired, and 2) the girls really really needed to use the loo, and the Queen does not open her restrooms ("toilets") to the huddled masses. However, I will tell you that the splendor and artistry of this palace are almost beyond words. Truly, I wonder whether it ever gets old or commonplace. Do the Queen and Prince Philip ever just go lounge on their monogrammed side-by-side thrones? Do they take supper in there on TV trays?
Because of the recent Diamond Jubilee, the State Ballroom offered a special exhibit of the Queen's 1952 Coronation. We saw the gown she wore, the purple-and-ermine robe, the dresses worn by her ladies-in-waiting and all the other members of the pageantry. We saw a video of the ceremony, and the elaborate yet solemn gravity of it, the knowledge of how few people in the history of the world have experienced what she was experiencing right then, gave me goosebumps and nearly moved me to tears.
Then again, I am a bit of a sucker for any kind of pomp and circumstance, so don't mind me.
Later, the children and I talked about how it took eighteen months to prepare for that coronation ceremony. During that time, because her father had died, the queen was already Queen. But things weren't quite official in all their glory until that breathtaking moment before millions of witnesses in and around Westminster Abbey. As Christians, we're kind of in the same position today -- officially sons of God and heirs of Christ, but not yet glorified. One day, the glory that is in us already will be revealed. Reigning with the King of Kings will far outdo Buckingham Palace!
But in the meantime, we're waiting. And enjoying the earthly symbols and shadows of what's to come.