“Sorry, but I don’t think you and the new Olympic swimsuits would be a good fit.”
“Sorry, but I doubt that you can compete in the marathon at your age.”
Okay, so I’m won’t be on the U.S. team during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. No big deal. I can get near gold another way: Become the British monarch for a day. I’ve done it before; I can do it again.
A Royal Day Out
On my first trip to London, Her Royal Highness cut her vacation short by two days, thwarting my scheme to visit the palace during her absence. Perhaps those fickle Scottish trout stopped biting or she tired of eating haggis every morning and longed for a “full English breakfast.”
So before leaving home on my last trip, I booked a “Royal Day Out” tour of the Queen’s London digs.
I’ll take the Rolls-Royce, please
I began my day on the palace grounds with a self-guided tour of the Royal Mews—a “parking garage” for the royal family’s automobiles, carriages and horses. I would have taken one of the Queen’s Rolls-Royces for a quick spin around Hyde Park, but she hadn’t left the keys in the ignition.
The royal “monster house”
After an hour poking around in the Mews, I picked up a free audio guide and followed in the footsteps of four million visitors from around the world who have taken the Buckingham Palace tour.
In 1825, King George IV began converting what had merely been “Buckingham House” into a live-in palatial museum for his art treasures. When George died five years later, the Prime Minister fired the architect, John Nash, for “going over budget.” But renovation of the palace continued under Queen Victoria later British monarchs.
Today the interior of Buckingham Palace is like Versailles near Paris: Lots of fancy furniture, big crystal chandeliers, red carpets, gilt doodads, and other high-end artsy-craftsy stuff scattered all about.
However, what makes Buckingham Palace different is that living “royals” occupy this 775-room, 240-bedroom, “working castle.”
(Derry Moore Photo, Courtesy of The Royal Collection)
The palace tour is limited to the State Rooms where the Queen greets and feeds V.I.P.s, confers titles on rock musicians and soccer players, conducts high-level meetings with heads of state, and carries out her “photo op” duties.
Alas, the Queen’s own apartments are not open to public view, so you don’t get to check out what’s in her dresser drawers or try on her signature hats in front of a large Mirror-Mirror-On-The-Wall to see if you are the fairest one of all.
Antiques road show
After polishing off a disgustingly decadent post-lunch dessert at the palace’s Garden Café, I headed to my final stop: The Queen’s Gallery where part of the vast and priceless “Royal Collection” of art not currently tarting up the nine royal residences is on display.
After the hubbub of the State Rooms tour, the Gallery was a quiet sanctuary, filled not only with paintings bigger than the side of most American tract homes, but other nifty brick-a-brac as well.
One of my favorite items was a large mantle clock with painted wallpaper-like sides offset by gold trim. When that fancy clock struck 4 p.m. it was time for my “Royal Day Out” to come to an end with a refreshing walk through St. James and Green Parks.
A short “Tube” ride took me back to my hotel where I sat bemoaning the fact that I had been born with a plastic spoon in my mouth rather than one made of sterling silver and gold.
If you go
Tours of Buckingham Palace and Parliament during the Summer Opening can be booked on arrival in London, but purchasing tickets on-line in advance will guarantee you a spot. Estimated ticket prices in U.S. dollars and will vary with currency exchange rates.
Buckingham Palace tours run July 23 through October 3, 2011.
State Rooms Tour (self-guided only) $16-$29, family (2 adults, 3 children under 17) $75.
The State Rooms and Highlights Garden Tour $25-42, family (2 adults, 3 children under 17) $111.
A Royal Day Out (The State Rooms, Royal Mews, and The Queen’s Gallery; self-guided) $29-$51, families (2 adults, 3 children under 17) $133.
Exclusive guided tour of State Rooms only (selected dates in April, August, September): $106.
(TOMORROW: Taking Over the British Parliament)
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