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A right royal affair
Buckingham Palace (London)
Member Name: Pointress
Buckingham Palace (London)
Advantages: Fabulous insight into a working palace
Disadvantages: Too crowded
Until recently I have always been proud to declare myself a Republican. I still fiercely object to being called a subject. I'd much rather be seen as a citizen. But since the Diamond Jubilee my position has softened. I don't mind saying that I think the Queen has done - indeed continues to do - a good job. With the exception of completely misjudging the sense of the nation when Princess Diana died, I don't think she's put a foot wrong. So I was not totally adverse to a friend's suggestion that we go to the summer opening of Buckingham Palace and see the 60TH anniversary of the Coronation exhibition.
My friend booked on line - http://www.royalcollection.org.uk. You have to select the date and time of your visit and we picked 2.15 today.
An adult ticket costs £19.00 + £1.25 booking fee which I think compares pretty favourably with entry into other stately homes - for example tickets for Blenheim Palace are £22. There are concessions a over 60/ Student ticket is £17.50, its £10.85 for under 17s and under 5s go free.
How to get there
The nearest underground stations are Victoria, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner. There are also a number of buses which stop pretty close to the entrance which is at the side of Buckingham Palace on Buckingham Palace Road. I work in Westminster so walked up from Westminster Abbey and the walk took about 15 minutes.
When it is near your booked time slot, you are let in through the gates and stand in a covered holding area. The website says that if you miss your allotted slot, you will not be allowed in. Luckily we arrived just about on the dot of 2.15 and so were ushered straight in.
At this stage you are warned that there are no toilets until the end of the tour which typically lasts 11/2 hours. Therefore if you think you might need the loo, the advice is to leave the queue and go to a nearby public convenience! Luckily neither of us needed to go!
After a few minutes, the queue began to edge slowly forward. It took a time to get through the airport-style security checks. Bags are screened - the couple in front were surprised to find a kitchen knife in their bag which of course had to be handed in - and you go through the usual metal detector gateway. I of course set this off as my raincoat has metal decoration. You are also told to switch off all smartphones, ipads etc as photography in the State Rooms is strictly verboten. Large items of baggage, backpacks and pushchairs have to be checked in but we just had reasonably small handbags and one umbrella between us.
Included in the tour is the use of an audio guide - this saves on the £4.95 colour guide. This audio guide is really good and I would definitely recommend you take advantage of it if you visit. It explains all the different State Rooms as you walk through the tour and you have the option of listening to additional bits of information - details of various works of art for example - if you are particularly interested in something. There are also lots of guides positioned on the route who can answer any other questions you might have.
~ What you see ~
The tour takes you through the main 'State Rooms' of the Palace - that is the public rooms that are used for ceremonial and official occasions. Because it is a working Palace, it feels a lot less sterile and formal than other stately homes and somehow has a good feel about it. They are of course all very impressive - absolutely magnificent ceilings, fantastic candelabra, wonderful drapes and of course exquisite furniture. A lot of the rooms seemed very familiar - I guess we've had so many glimpses in the Palace on tv and films. I have to admit I was impressed.
~ The Art ~
One of the rooms that particularly impressed me was the Picture Gallery. Like most of the other rooms, it was created by John Nash in the 1820s when Buckingham House, as it was then, was made into a palace for George IV. The gallery is really a long 47 metre corridor which is used to display some of the best art from the Royal Collection. And what a Collection! Apparently the pictures are changed regularly - I imagine the Queen has quite a stock to choose from. At the moment it features a lot of old masters. Some fantastic paintings by Canaletto, Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck and the like. There's even the earliest surviving painting by Caravaggio - a portrait of a boy peeling fruit thought to have been painted in 1592.
~ Coronation stuff ~
After the Picture Gallery, you enter the main Coronation exhibition area. There are references to the coronation before you get this far - particularly in the Throne room where there are some of Cecil Beaton's portraits and a video showing the full Royal Family getting into position for being photographed. The main part of the exhibition starts however with a short film showing all the preparations for the great day. You can sit down at this point to watch the film which is a well put together video montage. Back on your feet you walk through to the main exhibition area and en route see a film of the Coronation itself.
The next area is dedicated to the Coronation outfits. For me this was the most impressive part of the exhibition although I have to say it was really too crowded to make it a pleasant experience. You had to fight your way through to get a close look at the displays which was rather annoying. I did manage to get a good look at the Coronation dress and robe which was designed to by Norman Hartnell - absolutely gorgeous and what we did notice was how the narrow the waist looked! So much detail in the embroidery. The robe alone took over 3,500 hours to stitch.
Nearing the end of the tour, the displays in the state dining room are set out to commemorate the two Coronation state banquets. They had to hold two because there were so many guests who had to be invited - over 8000!
The end of the tour takes you out to the Buckingham Palace Gardens and the Garden café. What a welcome sight! You are warned to wear comfortable shoes and indeed I had done so but boy was I ready to sit down and have a nice cup of tea!
The café was pretty busy. Notices ask politely that you do not bag a table until you have bought your refreshments. Inevitably people mess up the system by ignoring this advice but we were still able to find somewhere to sit down and enjoy our tea. Naturally this is all done very nicely. Staff are on hand to ensure the queue moves quickly and efficiently and we were soon faced with an array of delicious looking goodies. We had a cup of tea each and shared a smoked salmon bagel and a huge scone packed with fresh strawberries and cream. This set us back £14.95 but was really good. There were all sort of lovely looking cakes too, some decorated with little chocolate buttons embossed with cute gold crowns.
The Gift Shop
Once we had devoured our afternoon tea and had a good old natter, we set off towards the souvenir shop. I wasn't convinced by the £7 Buckingham Palace shower cap but again all very well done with a wide range of gifts to choose from. Of course some were very expensive but there were plenty of less expensive items too. I bought a box of marzipan fruits for just under £7 which is what you would expect to pay elsewhere but of course this box has a pretty Buckingham Palace ribbon. My companion managed to fill her shopping basket and got a free hardback book on the Queen's Jubilee wardrobe as she had spent more than £50. Although it wouldn't feature very high on my books I must read list, I'm sure it will look very nice on her coffee table!
To the exit
Before we could spend any more money, we felt it time to get on our way. There is a nice walk through the garden towards the exit and as you leave you can get your ticket stamped (so long as you have bought the ticket directly from the Royal Collection Trust) which converts it into a 1 year pass. I'm not sure that I will choose to go back next year but it's nice to have the opportunity.
For those of you who may fancy going this year, you'd best get your skates on. The summer opening of the State Room and the Coronation exhibition ends on 29 September. Personally, I think it is worth a visit. We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon at the Palace and the only reason I am giving it a 4 instead of a 5 is the overcrowding.
Summary: Well worth a visit
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