A Royal Day Out
When: August 2012
Where: Buckingham Palace State Rooms, The Royal Mews and the Queen's Gallery
Visiting Buckingham Palace was something I'd been looking forward to for a while. Whilst I'm not a monarchist by any stretch of the imagination, the chance to walk around a modern day working palace located right on your doorstop is something too big to turn down. So on an Olympic day of sunshine and showers we began our Royal Day Out. Buckingham Palace is just a short walk from Victoria station and the ticket collection office is easy enough to find, though if coming from the station you have to walk past the other parts of the palace that you will be visiting later on to get your tickets. The whole complex is highly staffed with lots of friendly uniformed guides that somehow remind me of the temporary staff you see during Christmas at Fortnum and Mason. The staff left a good first impression with no queuing required to collect our tickets. On leaving the ticket office we made the short walk to the first stop on our Royal Day Out ticket, The Queen's Gallery.
The Queen's Gallery
Tickets for the gallery are for a specific time, so it makes The Queen's Gallery a good place to start the tour. The current exhibition is Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist on the study of human (and animal) anatomy. Before going up to the gallery proper you have your tickets checked and pass through "airport style security" which is basically no metal objects in pockets and bags and electronics through the x-ray machine. There is also a free cloakroom before entering the main exhibition where staff will stamp your ticket for free re-admission to the gallery for the next 12 months. The main gallery area is upstairs and there is a desk for free multi-lingual audio guides. The first room of the exhibition contains a short video explaining the background behind this exhibition and placing it into historical context as well as how the contents of the exhibition came in to the possession of the Royal Family. The exhibit is a series of anatomical sketches made during da Vinci's life as he hoped to better understand the human body. The exhibition places da Vinci's sketches alongside the beliefs at the time and compares them to what we know today.
During the exhibition we see how da Vinci continually struggles to bridge the gap between his observations and his beliefs, some of the things he observed and documented were not fully reproduced until hundreds of years after his death. Of particular interest are the sketches of the brain, human reproductive systems and the way in which our muscles work. We also see by comparison how da Vinci's sketches were very close to what appears in the anatomy books of today. As we learn, da Vinci never fully completed his work on human anatomy and the sketches from the exhibition are taken from a book made of his collected works and notes on the subject after his death.
In all this was not the most exciting of exhibitions but it was interesting to see how da Vinci battled between his existing beliefs and his discoveries. It is fascinating to think how much more advanced the fields of medicine would be today if someone had continued da Vinci's work after he died and had seen it through to completion. Instead all we can do is marvel at his inquisitive mind and his fantastic drawing and presentation skills which are near unmatched to this day.
The Royal Mews
In some way this middle part of the trip was much like visiting the royal car park. However, being a royal car park you have custom Rolls Royce as well as horses and carriages to contend with rather than the odd motor bike or Ford Mondeo. Again a complementary audio guide is provided to help understand the history of the Mews. The tour starts off by explaining the history of the Mews and how it grew as Buckingham Palace grew and that even today it is a fully working area complete with live in staff, not just a museum for tourists. The tour starts by looking at some of the carriages. There is also a small exhibit on the use of motor cars. Only Bentley or Rolls Royce will do for the Royals, custom made of course to give the best view of the Queen. There is also information on the change in role of the royal chauffeur over the years. We then enter the stable area and learn all about the horses and the training and preparation they go through as well as the Royal Family's love of horses and riding. There is also an interesting riding related gift from US president Obama on display here. As we move through the stables the end point is the magnificent golden carriage which is truly a special sight. On the way out there are a few horses you can take a look at, they appear well trained and oblivious to flash photography. Overall the Royal Mews is an interesting diversion but not something that I would have paid for separately.
The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace and Diamonds Exhibition
The grand finale and for me the real reason for this mini-adventure; to step inside Buckingham Palace and follow in the footsteps of ambassadors, dignitaries, celebrities and possibly some corgis. Once again it's through security and into a small holding area where we get a quick explanation of what to look forward to. Then it's time for the audio guide again and on to the Palace! The tour starts along a corridor that leads out on to the inner courtyard of the palace, the corridor is lined with some more modern pieces of art and the platform overlooking the courtyard contains lots of information on the history of the Palace. After this there is a trip up a magnificent staircase to the upper floors filled with room after room of precious art and antiques, at the end of the series of rooms is the throne room. After that there is a room filled with the masters of art from France, Italy and Holland. It is quite amazing to see such works of art altogether without being in an art gallery or museum. We then go through some more rooms which overlook the gardens and includes many more famous and fascinating pieces of furniture and decoration. There is then an exhibition Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration which was the only part of the day that felt crowded and a little rushed through but again there were some amazing pieces that you may never get to see that close up ever again. After this it was back to the final leg of the tour, down the staircase and into the sculpture gallery before leading out through what looked like a tea room and into the gardens to complete the trip. It is only after it's all over that you can truly take in the size and scale of Buckingham Palace, the tour covers but a quarter of the building and only a brief glimpse of the gardens and yet takes a good few hours with the assistance and information from the audio guide. Each room has a wow factor and it proved a fitting end to our Royal Day Out.
Whilst it was not the cheapest way to spend an afternoon it was certainly worthwhile. It was interesting to catch a piece of living British History and one of the reasons people from across the planet come to London. Whilst I don't think the Royal Mews and Queen's Gallery are worth the individual admission costs, the combined ticket is great value as it is only around £10 more than the state rooms alone and £5 for over an hour of entertainment is pretty good value these days. It's also great that there are complementary audio guides for all three parts of the day out as they really add some depth to various carriages, clocks and other works of art. The other great thing is that you can visit again as many times as you want for the 12 months after your first visit just in case you want to see it all again... and you never know, perhaps we will!Royal Day Out Tickets £31.95
Buckingham Palace , London SW1A 1AA