Wednesday, June 19, 2013

stay off the grass!

Please keep off the grass.

For two kids who live in Arizona year-round, these words might as well appear in a foreign language. Why would anyone keep off the grass? Ever? Grass is to be used year-round. Sometimes it gets too hot and the grass dies. Otherwise, it is fair game. It is there for a reason, and that reason is me.

For places like England and other cold weather environments, of course, grass is not a year-round blessing. The seemingly-interminable winter crawls slowly into spring, during which time grass has to be cared for, treated ever so gently so that, by summer, there are beautiful grass lawns on which to play, lounge, and stroll.

Our destination today, Hampton Court and Palace, has some truly spectacular gardens, in which there are a wide array of plants and flowers, not to mention some pretty lovely lawns. Bordering all of these are gravel paths, and signs instructing visitors to use those paths. If you know Owen, or have gotten to know him at all through this blog, you can imagine where this is heading.

The day began with some earlier wake-ups for the adults so we could go running. Today was a bit warmer in London -- nearly 80 degrees, so we wanted to make sure we got out before the "heat" set in. I took a different path today, going south through Chelsea, over the Thames, into and around Battersea Park. It was a nice run, but I prefer the route I have taken several times to and around Hyde Park.

Following my run, I returned to the flat to finish up on last night's blog entry. Between the lateness of the hour when we got back from our show and the total inadequacy of our internet access (I will write more about this some other time), I decided to wait until this morning to finish the June 18 entry. My apologies for those whose yesterday was ruined . . .

Keri has long been a fan of historical fiction, including many of the recent historical novels that relate to Henry VIII and the Tudor dynasty. I, too, have an interest in this most fascinating period of English history. Today, our mutual interests pushed us to go to Hampton Court Palace, one of only two surviving palaces of those used by that most famous of Tudor monarchs.

The Palace sits about 11 miles southwest of Victoria, on the edge of the Thames' waters. We made our way to Victoria close to 130 and, after waiting for the right train, making one switch, we were at the Palace around 230, very excited for what lay ahead.

King Henry originally built the Palace for Thomas Wolsey, a cardinal and the young king's most reliable and trusted advisor. That is, until Wolsey fell out of favor following his failure on two fronts (1) his inability to convince the pope to grant Henry an annulment from his queen, Catharine of Aragon, and (2) a joining of forces between the French King and Holy Roman Emperor, England's two greatest threats for European supremacy. Like all those who disappointed Henry, Wolsey's fate was not a good one. He was arrested on charges of treason and died while in custody.

Henry claimed the newly built Palace as his own, making it his primary London residence. Henry added on to the Palace, as did King William III, more than 100 years later. Given the passage of time between these two major expansions, the resulting structure is a unique melding of two distinct styles -- tudor and baroque. It is quite an impressive set of buildings and grounds.

And the museum is set up really well, with both adult and family audio tours available. We opted for the latter, taking the audio tour through the kitchen and apartments used by King Henry. The audio tour provided a really great description of what each of the rooms was used for, who worked there, and what their lives might have been like -- not so good for the kitchen workers in case you thought otherwise.

We then toured on our own through two of the Palace sections used by William III and his queen, Mary II (who ruled jointly and are often referred to as William and Mary). King William developed the bedchamber approach to governance. That is, he would limit access to his private quarters to a few trusted advisors and friends, from where many of his decisions were made. The bedchamber structure fell away as Parliament took more and more power, making the monarch the figurehead it is today.

After walking through William and Mary's many rooms, we headed outside to the gardens directly behind the Palace and then over to the Palace maze (a human-sized garden made with hedges grown to serve as walls), for which Owen had been asking since we stepped off the train. The kids took off (together) as soon as we hit the maze and, fortunately, found us several minutes later to guide Keri and me to the middle. It took them a bit longer to find their way out, but they did, which we mostly felt good about. Mostly.

We went back into the Palace and walked through a series of rooms that detailed the early years of Henry's reign, in particular, the Henry/Catherine/Wolsey relationship. As with the other museums we have seen here, they were done so well, telling a great story that was engaging to all four of us.

From there, is was out to the Privy Garden, the aforementioned section with repeated instruction to stay on the gravel. Seconds after reading one sign aloud, Owen was off like a shot. He had seen a rolling hill, a gentle slope with the softest and greenest looking grass his young eyes had ever seen. Truly, there was nothing he could do. Before I could scream his name, he was in a full sprint to the top of that hill. When he got there, he dropped and rolled down, enjoying the feel of crushing every last blade his little body could reach. (There are at least ten photos of Owen on various grassy areas, but this one best captures the enthusiasm with which he disregarded the instruction.)

With the garden behind us, we were ready to return to London. After some child-related difficulties, we settled on a local Asian restaurant. The kids had bento boxes with breaded chicken, noodles and edamame. The adults split some dim sum. All were pleased. Lauren and Owen were particularly excited with their dessert -- a selection of fruit and marshmallow to dip in fondue. For reasons I cannot explain, Owen was quite appreciative of this dessert today, and there was no talk of popsicles. Fickle are the taste buds of a seven-year old boy.

And difficult, too, is it to expect children to stay off the grass. I understand why the rules are in place, but that does not mean I have to like them, either. Roll on, Owen, roll on.

1 comment:

  1. O man I used to love rolling down the grassy hills of Ohio growing up. I don't blame him at all. I hope he even got some grass stains to commemorate the moment!