Rule Britannia! Today was the Queen’s 90th birthday, and while there weren’t many celebrations in London to mark the occasion, I did get to hear the 41-gun salute in Hyde Park while I was touring Kensington Palace. Today was also the day I decided I’m all set with the city and ready to go home. It’s not that I’m ready for vacation to be over, I’m just tired of the crowds of people everywhere and city life in general. I keep thinking back to last year’s April trip to the Cotswolds and wishing I had planned something similar this year…
Anyway, I’m making the best of city life for a couple of more days. My first stop of the day today was Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens. The park is quite large (270 acres; 625 acres when combined with neighboring Hyde Park). I expected to spend a few minutes passing through on my way to Kensington Palace and ended up walking around for nearly an hour. There are a few formal gardens, but the majority of it is open parkland. After walking for a while, I made my way to Kensington Palace, the current home of William and Kate. The palace is separated into the family living quarters and the historic areas, which you can walk through on a self-guided tour. There are four sections to visit: the King’s State Apartments(focusing on King George II), the Queen’s State Apartments (showing how Mary II lived), Victoria Revealed (about the life of Queen Victoria), and the Modern Royals (a fashion display of dresses worn by the Queen, Princess Margaret, and Princess Diana). There was a talk about the royal lineage going on while I was there, which I decided to listen to. The first 10 minutes or so kept my attention, but I lost interest quickly about halfway through the 30 minute talk when I couldn’t keep track of all of the people. I stopped at the Palace Cafe before leaving for a scone and hot chocolate. The outdoor patio looked inviting until I stepped outside and realized it was quite windy and cool, even in the sun!
I decided I had time to squeeze in a visit to Royal Albert Hall before heading back to the hotel to change. Royal Albert Hall is most well known as host to the BBC’s Promenade series (“The Proms”) each summer. The hall holds over 5,000 people and is an oval shape. I’ve watched many recordings from Royal Albert Hall, so I was excited to see it in person. Though there’s nothing playing this week that interests me, the tour was a great way to see the inside and learn about some of the history.
By the time my tour was over I realized I didn’t really have time to get back to the hotel before heading to evensong at Westminster Abbey. Jeans and sneakers would have to do for the rest of the day! I found a bus heading in the direction of Westminster Abbey and got off at the nearest stop. People were already lining up at 4:10 for the 5 PM service! I’ve been to evensong at several churches in London, and Westminster Abbey is always my favorite. There’s just something about sitting in the quire (a big reason for getting there early; it fills up quickly and once the quire is filled, everyone else sits off to the sides) and knowing how many major events have taken place in that same space. This was the first time I was able to hear the full choir sing for the service. The service opened with everyone singing “God Save the Queen” in honor of the Queen’s birthday.
I intended to find a pub between Westminster Abbey and St. Martin-in-the-Fields church for dinner, but everywhere I looked, the pubs were overflowing with the after-work crowds (you can drink in the streets within a set area around the pubs). I ended up eating in the Café in the Crypt at St. Martin’s, and it was actually a decent meal. The café is actually housed in the church’s crypt and features cafeteria-style home-cooked meals. Tonight’s meal was garlic and mustard pork chops with sides. The special included the meal, dessert (apple crumble – yum!), and wine/beer/cider. I was happy to try a dry South African cider – Savanna – and it was quite good. I was actually at St. Martin-in-the-Fields to see the evening concert tonight. St. Martin-in-the-Fields is known for hosting a variety of candlelight classical music concerts, one almost every night of the week. Tonight’s was performed by the Belmont Ensemble of London and the English Chamber Choir and featured the National Anthem, Rule Britannia, and Vivaldi’s Gloria, among others. It was a night for beautiful music!