Across the busy street, we observe paparazzi stationed at entrance/exit points like bees surrounding a hive. Further up the lush green grounds, there is a long queue of global media personnel, electronic equipment, vans and transmission dishes, protected from the weather by a large, white tent-like tops. The media brandish microphones and cameras, and have already staked out Kensington Palace for a week, hoping to capture footage of visiting royals.
Charlotte was born yesterday.
Staying in the
Milestone Hotel , we are strategically located and in a far more lush boutique environment than that of the paparazzi. The Milestone was voted the "Number One" hotel in the UK and won the 2014 Trip Advisor Traveler's Choice award.
Stopping briefly for a compulsory picture at the "Golden Gates," we make our way towards the rear of the
palace , near the Queen Victoria statue and the "Round Pond." The huge building, rather ordinary on the outside, has housed royalty since 1689, and who knows? Maybe my spouse and I will catch a glimpse of Prince William and Kate as the front section of the palace is their official residence.
We take the tour through the King's and the Queen's State Apartments, the former, sumptuously restored rooms, once backdrop to the glittering court of George II and Queen Caroline. Here, British VIPs gathered to discuss everything from fashion to philosophy.
We climb the dazzling King's Grand Staircase painted by William Kent. Courtiers arrived at the palace looking and smelling their best. Women in fine silk dresses wore makeup and perfumes containing musk, jasmine and lavender. As guests climbed the staircase, the scent of beeswax candles drifted from the glass lanterns.
We marvel at the stunning Cupola Room where famous musicians including composer George Frederic Handel, the Italian sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Strada del Po and the celebrated castrato, Farinelli, entertained the royals and their guests.
We walk through small intimate rooms created for Mary II by her husband William III with whom she was joint monarch in the 17th century.
Outside, after a quick look at the ornate palace gardens, we are off to shop along Kensington where we discover a Whole Foods store. Back at the Milestone, we check with Nik at the front desk and Joshua, the concierge from Yorkshire, to make sure that we have not missed anything royal. Alas, no sign of any members except in the newspapers and on TV. After freshening up in our "Safari Room," we dine at Cheneston's inside the hotel.
London is a massive city to explore with myriad sights for tourists to visit. You really need a full week or more to do it justice. Fortunately, the tube, rail and bus system is incredibly efficient.
At Heathrow, we purchase an
Oyster card , a form of electronic ticketing used on public transport, and we use it throughout our visit. A £5 deposit and anything left on the card is reimbursed at the airport.
We walk though crowded
Covent Garden , enjoying urbane buskers who play classical music, saunter over to nearby
Leicester Square where they sell theatre tickets at reduced prices, and we take in a new drama,
"Oppenheimer," at the Vaudeville Theatre, performed by the talented
Royal Shakespeare Company . There are so may theatres here that one might attend a different play every day for several months, and The Mousetrap is in its 63rd year! I overhear the gentleman beside me talking about Shaw with his friend, and discover he is a business professor at McMaster University who lives in Dundas, Ontario. A small world indeed.
For lunch one day, we take the tube to the Embankment station besides the Thames and climb aboard the Hispaniola, a restaurant ship that sways with the swells from passing craft. Their sea trout is delicious as is the tomato soup.
The Hispaniola is quite close to
Cleopatra's Needle , a genuine ancient Egyptian obelisk, but the name is a misnomer, as there is no connection with Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt. It was already over a thousand years old in her lifetime. Apparently the two sphinxes on either side are placed facing in the wrong direction towards the obelisk as opposed to looking outward, and are simply left that way.
For supper during our five-day stay, we try a few British pubs such as "the Globe," and the meals are always quite tasty, but one has to be careful because a pound here equals $1.90 CDN which makes it virtually a 2 to 1 scenario. You are always paying twice as much as at home. To save considerable cash on accommodations, for a few days we locate farther out in the 'burbs at a Holiday Inn Express located very close to a tube station. It's quiet, clean and there's a bountiful breakfast included.
As for Prince William, Kate, wee Charlotte and the rest of the royal gang, perhaps another time!
William and Kate: Inside their Apartment 1A Kensington Palace
The Ultimate London travel guide for 2015
Mike Keenan writes for Postmedia Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune, Niagara Falls Review and Seniors Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.