Hampton Court Palace

Stonehenge is jinxed. To those who don’t know, Stonehenge its a bunch of huge rocks from pre-historic Britain, and no one knows why they’re there. I tried to visit it last week, but had to cancel the trip and lost about 50 pounds. (No, I don’t want to know what that is in Rupees.) So this Sunday, we’d planned to go again. I called up this Magical Tour Company, which offered tours for just 22 pounds, and said, “I want to go to Stonehenge on Sunday.” The guy on the phone took my credit card number and said OK.

Sunday morning, I wake up at 6AM, get ready, and go to Great Portland Street, where the bus is supposed to pick us up. I was with my cousin, Vishnu, and my classmate, Pallavi. The operator says, “Dear me, sorry, there was a mistake, and we had accidentally put you down on YESTERDAY’s tour. Not to worry — there’s place today.” Good.

We get on. The operator says, “Welcome to the tour of Hampton Court Palace and Windsor Castle.” So I walk up to him and say, “Excuse me, aren’t we going to Stonehenge?”

“Oh, I see, so that’s what the confusion is. You see, we go to Stonehenge only on Saturdays. So the guy at the desk must have put you down for yesterday. We were worried when you didn’t turn up…”

“Very nice of you. But I don’t want to go to Hampton whatever, I want to go to Stonehenge. So when’s the next tour? Can I take it?”

“Afraid not, sir.” Classic British accent. “You see, we’d put you down for yesterday, and we’re giving you seats today instead. We had to turn down 20 others yesterday. So if we have extra seats on the next tour, we may be able to accomodate you, but otherwise, it would have to be on the 25th of November.”

Wonderful. So we decide to go to these two places. The journey along the countryside itself was worth it, though. We went past the Thames (pronounced Temz) several times. Lots of boating teams were practising — probably Oxford or Cambridge. Those who read Archer’s “Dougie Mortimer’s Right Arm” in ‘A Quiver Full of Arrows’ would know about the famous Oxford vs Cambridge boat races. Then we went past a place called Richmond Hill, where an apartment typically costs 5 million pounds. Lots of famous people live there apparantly, but I couldn’t recognize a single name.

The best part, however, was the grass. The empty countryside itself was so green that I wonder what grass that is treated would look like. The scenes in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge are no exxageration — the European countryside is really splendid. We also passed some classic English estates — with dogs and geese and all that — and the place where the Magna Carta was signed.

Hampton Court Palace is where Henry VIII lived. He’s the one that had 6 wives, and here’s what happened to them: beheaded, divorced, survived, beheaded, divorced, died. The Palace in itself was beautiful. But even better was the garden behind it. Lovely green, as usual. Had a fountain and a pool. There were geese, swans and ducks all over the place. These animals look extremely well fed. They weren’t the least bit scared of people (though I was fairly apprehensive of touching one). So I happily ended up finishing off a whole role — mostly filled with close-ups of these birds.

The Hampton Court Palace also boasted of a maze. So we went in. It’s just a maze made of bushes, and fairly small. So we went in at 10:55AM. I of course knew that if we kept the opening wall to our right, we’d get back to the starting point. But after all, it’s a small maze. So we explored. It was all fine until about just past 11, so we decided to get back. We turned, and followed what looked like the path we came along. No. Dead end. 11:05AM. OK, other people are lost. So let’s just walk around. Another dead end. Walk a little more. Pallavi’s commenting that the path looks very familiar. So what? Walk on a little more. We ended up in the same place we were about 5 minutes ago. 11:10AM. Turn around, walk on a more promising path. Pallavi again comments that we’ve been here, and it turned out that it was exactly the same spot she’d mentioned earlier. We’d been walking around in circles. Now panic begins to set in. We got to a place that was just one bush away from the entrance, and wanted to scream to be let out. But that would’ve bruised our egos too much. Besides, there were some people who had been with us in the maze who were walking outside. So let’s give it another try. By hit and trial, we kept trying path after path, until we were out at about 11:20AM. Whew!

The crazy part is, the maze was amazingly small from the outside. But inside, it gave ‘labyrinthine’ a whole new meaning.

Then we went to the Royal Tennis Court, where someone was learning something that looked like a cross between tennis and squash. Then to the Royal Kitchen, which at its peak would have empoyed about a 100 people and fed 600. After that, it was on to the Windsor Castle.

The Windsor Castle is the largest inhabited castle. That’s where the Queen stays on weekends (not this one, though). We walked past the roads, which looked exactly as they were in the Georgian times. The grass, as always, was terribly green. We didn’t go inside the castle, though. We chose to eat at a pub and visit the Eton school. Apparantly, that’s where the Royal family sends their children to study, and it’s the poshest school in England — perhaps the world. It was closed to visitors, but I took a snap of some of the boys. Who knows who’s royalty?

A day well spent. But I intend getting to Stonehenge. Someday.