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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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 14: Visiting the Vatican Museums, Part Two- The Renaissance

Continuing on our journey past the Etruscan wing, we eventually came to the long hallway that houses different galleries of sculpture, tapestries, and maps. Here, we were reunited with the hoards so at times it was slow going and easy to lose site of the great artworks amongst the mass of people. Here are a few shots from our walk.

fertility goddess, obviously

tapestry

the ceiling of the map gallery

maps

From this long hallway of galleries, we then moved into the Raphael rooms, a series of apartments and rooms painted and decorated by Raphael (artist, not turtle) and his students.

celebrating Mary’s Immaculate Conception

from the Constantine room

a little symbolism of the the new religion triumphing over the old

depicting Constantine’s vision of the Christ-symbol during the Battle of the Milvian Bridge

The Disputa where Jesus oversees the discussion regarding the divinity of the Eucharist

The School of Athens- That sad looking fellow near the bottom of the steps is Michelangelo as painted by Raphael.

Winding through the end of the Raphael rooms, you finally come to the one chapel that it seems all of Christendom is trying to see. Enter: the Sistine Chapel. Given the hoards that were amongst us during the whole visit through the museums, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I was not, in fact, squished like a sardine inside the chapel. Sure, there were lots of people, but it was easy to move freely and enjoy the walls and ceilings. It was also markedly cooler in the Sistine, offering welcome respite from the rest of the humid museum. We walked towards the middle of the chapel and stood for a while taking in each of the Old Testament scenes on the ceiling before walking around a bit to pay more attention to the walls. On the front end of the chapel, near the entrance was the scene of the Last Judgment. I believe that wall was my favorite part of the chapel. Michelangelo really managed to capture so much sheer human emotion in that one painting- it’s really is amazing. During our entire visit to the chapel, there were many security guards walking around shushing the crowds and reminding everyone that picture taking is not allowed within the Sistine Chapel.

That said, however…. The Husband is not always the best listener ::ahem:: So… here are a couple of contraband shots of the chapel. **Please don’t tell the Pope on me!!!**

 

God creating the world, God creating Adam, etc, etc

In the center, you will see Adam and Eve partaking of the forbidden fruit and then being shunned from the Garden of Eden.

The Last Judgment

After exiting the Sistine Chapel, we continued on to the Early Christian art wing and then through the Pinacoteca, or painting gallery. We saw some lovely stone work and paintings throughout. Knowing that we needed to wrap it up so we would have time to grab a bite to eat and head over to St. Peter’s, we finished up stopping by and viewing the double-spiral staircase before heading down the cafe for lunch. I grabbed a salad and the Husband got some pizza which wasn’t bad. It was pretty typical museum fare (and pricing), but it was convenient, clean, and quick! After lunch, we exited the museums and started walking towards St. Peter’s. Since our scavi tour of St. Peter’s tomb was beginning soon, we had just enough time to find the gate we needed on the left side of the St. Peter’s square and check with the Swiss guards about where to go.
Stay tuned for the last bit of the day, touring the tomb of St. Peter and the church that was built upon it.