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Throughout the years, I have always found the British royals intriguing. Going to Kensington Palace during my visit to London, therefore, marks the highlight of my United Kingdom trip. The palace serves as the official royal residence of the British royal family since the 17th century and affords commoners like me a peek into the lives and lifestyles of these monarchs this side of the world.
But my trip to Kensington Palace, much like how the British royal family has hurdled challenges over the years, was not without a little challenge in itself – I and my husband had to do it in a little over an hour. It so happened that, prior to going to Kensington Palace, we were exploring other nearby London attractions on a Saturday, such as the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral. We lost track of time, and it was not until in the afternoon, at around what the British refer to as low tea time (high tea is served around dinner time), when we realized we have not seen Kensington Palace yet. We arrived at Kensington Palace at 4:30 PM, just one and a half hour before it closes up at 6 PM. We had no time to waste and made sure we see the portions that mattered to me the most.
Of royal homes and gardens
The tree-lined grounds that surround Kensington Palace is called the Kensington Gardens, and is actually one among a group of lands called the Royal Parks of London, lands that were originally owned by the monarchy of the UK, used by royal family members for their recreation. The entire Kensington Garden grounds span 111 hectares. It is the western part of the equally popular Hyde Park.
Since we already arrived late in the afternoon, I noticed how travelers were already restricted from exploring the gardens as it darkened. We walked about 200 yards to reach Kensington Palace proper, through another tree-lined part of the Kensington Gardens.
Apart from the greenery, the statue of Queen Victoria right outside the palace proper amazed me. This statue is a landmark travelers just won’t miss. It is a great white statue of the queen wearing her crown and holding up her scepter, right in front of the palace and overlooking the gardens. It was sculpted by the queen’s daughter, Princess Louise, who also used to live in the palace and had a studio there.
At present, the royals who live in Kensington Palace are: Prince Richard and his wife Birgitte, known as the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester; the Prince and Princess Michael of Kent; Zara Phillips, who uses the palace in an unoffi cial basis; Prince Harry; and Prince William and Catherine Middleton, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Princes Richard and Michael of Kent are cousins of Queen Elizabeth II, Zara Phillips is her granddaughter from Princess Anne, while Princes Harry and William are her grandsons from Princess Diana.
Palace of the people’s princess
I’ll have to admit that the biggest reason why I wanted to see Kensington is because of the people’s princess, the late Princess Diana. I even used to collect commemorative stamps of Diana. And even before her death, it’s Diana who has amazed me the most among the British royals because of her public charisma, devotion to charities, and her unparalleled sense of style.
Luckily for me, the exhibit called Fashion Rules was still on, as it’s scheduled to be on for two years after opening in July 4, 2013. This exhibit features 21 gowns and dresses worn by Princess Diana, as well as those of Queen Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret. The gowns, according to the British paper The Guardian, reflects “the haute 1950s wardrobe of the Queen, the 60s and 70s party-girl looks from Princess Margaret and some of Princess Diana’s less-than-subtle 80s outfits.”
I had my fan-girl high when I finally saw a huge photo of Diana in one of the palace’s walls, hoisted up like a mural. I knew it’s the closest I could ever get to seeing the princess up close, and so I was thankful. I may have not been in London to witness how the Kensington Palace gates were decked with flowers from mourners when she died in 1997, but at least I still had a sense of her magnificence as I stood before her portrait.
I was not alone in my fascination over the portions of the palace that paid tribute to Diana. Before me were other travelers of other nationalities who sought to have their photos taken before Diana’s image. Afterwards, I and my husband proceeded to explore other parts of the palace open to the public.
We had all the time in the world, except for tea
Of course, because the palace is the residence of some members of the royal family, a great part of it cannot be open to the public. Nevertheless, certain parts that used to be home to royals before the turn of the century are now accessible to everyone.
These parts are called ‘apartments’, and they are not like our typical concepts of apartments, or in British terms, ‘flats.’ They still exude grandness despite their eerie quality. These parts are The King’s and The Queen’s State Apartments. With the former, we traced the footsteps of visitors of King George I and II. In the latter, the guide or ‘explainer’ told us the tragic story of young Duke William Henry and the end of the Stuart dynasty. There’s also the Red Saloon, where Queen Victoria called her first Privy Council Meeting, hours after she was declared queen. Another magnificent portion is the Luminous Lace, a light exhibition in the middle of the palace, made from 4 kilometers of electroluminescent wire, containing almost 12,000 Swarovski crystals.
I’d say my husband and I were successful in exploring the palace given the time we had, except that it was not possible for us to pass by The Orangery anymore, a café and restaurant famous for its outdoor terrace and great view of the gardens. Should I be able to come back to London, I have to return to this spot to enjoy a soothing cup of tea, just as the royals and the British I admire traditionally have it.