Days 4 and 5: Getting Out of the City

By Sunday, we were ready to get a little further afield from London proper. And there’s no better way to have a break from the capital than to act like royalty yourself and head to an old royal palace. So, Sunday morning, we hoped National Rail and headed out to Hampton Court Palace, once home to Henry VIII after he, shall we say, acquired it from Cardinal Wolsey. I loved, loved, loved HCP, and it was easily one of my favorite places in England. The palace is large, but there is an excellent audio guide that breaks it down into sections for visiting. There were actually four or five separate tours to follow, each giving you a different perspective of a different part of the palace or a different time period. It was great to see how it all melded together. Also, the gardens at HCP are lovely and worth a visit as well. If it had been a bit cooler, I would have spent even more time wandering through the outside. The rose garden smelled incredible and was one of my favorite parts. There is also a maze you can do in the gardens, but we chose not to spend extra time getting lost this trip!

Below are just a few pictures inside and out.

Inner Court in the Georgian Apartment area

Inner Court in the Georgian Apartment area

Taken from the gardens, the facade of the new construction under William and Mary

Taken from the gardens, the facade of the new construction under William and Mary

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one of the garden subsections

one of the garden subsections

The Great Vine, the largest grape vine in the world, was planted in 1769.

The Great Vine, the largest grape vine in the world, was planted in 1769.

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One of the Georgian bedrooms. HCP is home to England's largest collection of royal beds.

One of the Georgian bedrooms. HCP is home to England’s largest collection of royal beds.

Another royal bed chamber, although these were mostly for show. The bedrooms that the monarchs actually slept in weren't very elaborate.

Another royal bed chamber, although these were mostly for show. The bedrooms that the monarchs actually slept in weren’t very elaborate.

Henry VIII's great hall

Henry VIII’s great hall

where Henry VIII married Catherine Parr, his sixth and final wife

where Henry VIII married Catherine Parr, his sixth and final wife

These fireplaces were huge! You (and several of your closest friends) could fit inside. And there were quite a few of these in the kitchen area, demonstrating just how much food was prepared in the kitchens on the daily.

These fireplaces were huge! You (and several of your closest friends) could fit inside. And there were quite a few of these in the kitchen area, demonstrating just how much food was prepared in the kitchens on the daily.

One of the prep rooms in the kitchen. Peacock, delicious! (I guess...)

One of the prep rooms in the kitchen. Peacock, delicious! (I guess…)

Henry VIII's wine cellar. You know I had to have this picture. It smelled amazing in there, by the way!

Henry VIII’s wine cellar. You know I had to have this picture. It smelled amazing in there, by the way!

William and Mary's throne room

William and Mary’s throne room

the main entrance to the castle

the main entrance to the castle

 

The trip to Hampton Court was a full day activity. And really, I could have stayed longer! But after a fun (and exhausting) day, we headed back into London for the night before beginning the actual road trip part of our vacation the following day.

That next day, we were up early to make our way to London City Airport where we picked up our rental car (a Nissan this time, not an awesome Fiat like we had in Ireland). Having the car all loaded up, we worked our way out of the city. I managed to successfully navigate between Garmin, maps, and Google for most of the trip while my wonderful husband did all the driving on the wrong side of the road.

Our first stop out of London, was the city of Dover. Most people seem to only visit Dover as they are making their way to France or just arriving from France. The Husband, however, was interested in seeing the cliffs and secret war tunnels at Dover Castle, so we elected to stay the night and enjoy the city.  Dover is absolutely lovely. It’s a tiny coastal town with plenty of charm. Our hosts at East Lee Guesthouse were wonderful and offered plenty of recommendations on where to eat and what to see. On our way into the city, we stopped at Dover Castle to visit the remains of the medieval castle of Henry II. I really enjoyed climbing the Great Tower and exploring the exhibits describing life for those in twelfth century. We also spent time exploring the medieval tunnels running under the castle complex. Then we took tours down into the wartime tunnels used during World War II when England feared possible invasions from the continent. There was a really interesting exhibit in the tunnels about operation Dynamo and the evacuation of Dunkirk (France), which I didn’t have much knowledge about beforehand. It was very moving to see and hear the recollections of those involved with the operation.

 

the view of Dover from the top of the Great Tower

the view of Dover from the top of the Great Tower

the Great Tower

the Great Tower

 

one of the gates to the central castle

one of the gates to the central castle

After seeing the castle, we walked out onto Prince of Wales Pier, which is insanely long. From there we got some great views of the castle and cliffs, and of fisherman catching that night’s dinner! After hanging out there for a bit it was time for dinner downtown at Blakes of Dover where I did have local fish, although not Dover Sole, which I did strongly consider and slightly regret not getting. I mean, when you’re in Dover, you should eat Dover Sole, right?  The food was good but the restaurant was insanely hot. I will say that I developed a love affair with both banoffee pie and sticky toffee pudding on this trip. At this restaurant, however, I strayed and had an orange chocolate pudding- and it was incredible. I just love English desserts! After dinner, it was time to head back to the B&B for a restful night to get ready for crossing the country the following morning!

The cliffs really are white!

The cliffs really are white!

No, really, they are!

No, really, they are!

Entrance to the harbor, France on the horizon

Entrance to the harbor, France on the horizon

Dover Castle atop the cliffs

Dover Castle atop the cliffs

Day 3: London, west side

After a whirlwind day of sightseeing on Day 2, we were back at it again on Day 3. Because, really, when you’re there you just have to see ALL THE THINGS! We actually slept in a bit and had breakfast at the hotel before heading out on a somewhat drizzly morning to catch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I remember being less than impressed the first time I saw the ceremony, but it’s a must-do for tourists, right? Since the Husband hadn’t seen it, we headed over to the palace. Unfortunately, since it had been raining that morning the guards did not do the full ceremony but rather a very shortened, somewhat lackluster small changing. Personally, I feel like you people live in England and while we didn’t encounter that much rain while we were there, you all certainly seem to talk about getting it all the time. A little wetness shouldn’t prevent this kind of show. Buck up, for crying out loud! But alas, no big elaborate ceremony that morning.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

Red coats, fuzzy hats

Red coats, fuzzy hats

After that rather disappointing non-show, we took a lovely stroll back towards Westminster to tour the abbey. Again, the English being who they are- no photographs allowed inside. However, again great audio guide. This one was narrated by Jeremy Irons and did a nice job of hitting all the highlights in the abbey. I always enjoy seeing elaborately carved tombs and being that so many kings and queens are buried in the abbey, there is no shortage of those! Plus, the coronation seat for the monarchs of Britain is located near the exit. That’s fun to see as well. Below is a picture of the exterior taken the night before.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

With a visit to the church where Kate and Wills said “I do” checked off our list, we headed over to the Parliament area to see the Churchill War Museum, including the underground tunnels used by Winston Churchill and his peeps during WWII. Again, no pictures allowed (you were killing me GB!) but we spent about an hour and a half wandering the tunnels and rooms used to help command the British forces during the air raids.

Once we had finished up there, we decided to call it an early night and head back to the hotel to get everything packed up and ready to set out on the road first thing the next morning.