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I’m pretty sure that I was only drawn to Belgravia because it is in Belgravia Mansions that Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s famous sleuth, is supposed to have his apartment. Sloane Square lies at the southern edge of Belgravia, on the border with Knightsbridge, and thus benefits from the wealthy boroughs that surround it. It features a large park with a statue of Venus in the middle of a fountain, and, although none of the buildings around the Square can claim to have been constructed as historically important residences, they all benefit from the general desire to maintain the area’s aristocratic (or at least moneyed) feel.
- Historical Travel
Wifely duty 101: put your husband on a pedestal!
The Albert Memorial is proof positive that Queen Victoria was a dutiful wife, and knew a thing or two about putting her husband on a pedestal - literally and figuratively! So if you're coming to London on a romantic break or as a fiancee or wife, better temper your Significant Other's expectations up front (unless you happen to be of a similarly dutiful demeanour!)
Unusually for a royal marriage, Albert and Victoria's was a love match (at least on her side) and she worshipped and idolised him. Although he was only Prince Consort (not King), she deferred to him in their private life, and his fascination with the achievements of the Industrial Age was instrumental in popularising technological advances with the hitherto conservative aristocracy.
Victoria was bereft when Albert died unexpectedly in 1861 at the age of 42. Traditionally his death has been ascribed to typhoid, but recent research suggests that it is far more likely that he succumbed to Crohn's disease, which he had suffered from for much of his life. Victoria blamed her playboy son Bertie (the future Edward VII) for precipitating her husband's death as Albert travelled to Cambridge to intervene in his son's affair with the Irish actress Nellie Clifden and developed a fever on his return. This irreparably damaged an already chilly mother-son relationship and Victoria stated that she could never again "look at him without a shudder".
At the time she commented plaintively "Who will call me 'Du' [the familiar form of 'you' in German] now?" and spent the rest of her life in mourning, wearing only black and largely retreating from public life: in fact she was not seen in public for three years after his death, leading to unprecedented criticism of 'The Widow of Windsor'. Interestingly enough, the design and construction of the Albert Memorial was sponsored by public subscription.
You either love or hate the Albert Memorial, as the flamboyant revivalist Gothic architecture, overblown classical marble friezes and statues topped off with an overdose of gilding is not to everyone's taste: true to the spirit of the Victorian age, it symbolises that whilst less may be more, more is even better! Sharp eyed observers will get extra brownie points for noting that the external Gothic structure is inspired by the Eleanor Crosses (the best known of which is located outside Charing Cross station). At the time of writing (January 2011) the memorial had recently been restored to its full overgilded glory, and the sight of Albert's unexpectedly shiny gold face radiating through the gloom of a grey winter day is a little startling.
You used to be able to climb the steps right up to the memorial but access has now been fenced off (due to fear on vandalism?) and this is no longer possible. Sad, as I remember sitting on these steps and watching a partial eclipse with my Byronic - but sadly unsuitable - boyfriend on the evening of my 21st birthday as we were waiting to attend an Al Stewart concert at the Royal Albert Hall over the road. More than half a lifetime later, I returned as a middle aged matron with two kids and a spectacularly wonderful husband in tow - to whom I (sometimes) defer: I think that Albert would have approved!
The much maligned Diana Memorial Fountain
I was intrigued to visit the Diana Memorial Fountain because I had read so much criticism of it in the press. And, having now seen it for myself, I really do think that it's received an unnecessarily harsh reception, as it's actually an interesting and unique monument.
The fountain was designed by an American architect, Kathryn Gustafson, and the official blurb explaining the unusual design is as follows (I never cease from marvelling at the pretentious guff that artistic types come up with, but then that's probably because I'm a uncultured scientist):
"It contains 545 pieces of Cornish granite - each shaped by the latest computer-controlled machinery and pieced together using traditional skills.
"The design aims to reflect Diana's life, water flows from the highest point in two directions as it cascades, swirls and bubbles before meeting in a calm pool at the bottom. The water is constantly being refreshed and is drawn from London's water table.
"The Memorial also symbolises Diana's quality and openness. There are three bridges where you can cross the water and go right to the heart of the fountain. We hope visitors will feel at home when they visit this special place. "
So now you know.
The main criticism of the fountain has been the health and safety 'threat' that it poses, since in the first few months that the fountain was opened in 2004, three people were hospitalised as a result of slip-related injuries. I personally have little patience with this sort of scaremongering: after all, the fountain was specifically designed as a recreational feature in which people can paddle, play (or even sit), and, guess what, with the best preventative measures in the world, wet rock can be slippy!
Overall, I think that it is a tasteful and imaginative tribute, and a lot better than the other memorials that have been mooted (including Mohammed al Fayeh's mawkish altar to Dodi'n'Di in Harrods). My only criticism is that it is visually rather unexciting, especially if there are no people around: however, when it's full of excited kids (and adults) on a hot summer's day, I think that it would be a fun place to be, and I suspect that the lady herself might have approved.
Be enchanted by the fairytale Peter Pan statue!
London is full of fascinating statues, but few as charmingly whimsical as the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens.
The statue is located in Kensington Gardens as this is where the author J.M. Barrie first met the Llewelyn Davies family, whose children inspired the Peter Pan story. Even the statue's site on the western side of Long Water was carefully selected by the author, as it stands on the spot where he imagined Peter Pan first landing after having flown out of the nursery. Apparently Barrie was a little disappointed that the sculptor used a different child as a model for Peter (the author had used Michael Llewelyn Davies as his inspiration for Peter).
For more on the intriguing Barrie and his relationship with this family, I strongly suggest that you watch the wonderful "Finding Neverland" starring the extraordinarily talented Johnny Depp as the author.
To further add to the 'magical' nature of the statue, its construction was never announced and it was never formally unveiled. Instead it was secretely placed in the park and its presence was announced by Barrie in the Times newspaper as a May Day gift!
The statue was modelled in a wildly romantic Art Nouveau style, and the detail is exquisite. An indication of how well loved the statue is comes from the fact that the bronze is burnished, courtesy of generations of appreciative stroking by visitors - it exerts a tactile magnetism and I can almost guarantee that once you get up close and start to examine the intricacies, you woun't be able to resist reaching out to touch it!
The intention of Barrie and the sculptor was that the statue would give "quiet pleasure to nannies and their young charges as they walked passed and played in the Park" - an indication of how times have changed! Still, the statue is a magnet for children - and adults who are not too old to believe in fairies - who will delight in discovering all the fairies and woodland animals that have been incorporated into the statue's base!
If you are visiting Peter Pan with children, then be sure to also visit the Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens, which draws on Peter Pan for its inspiration and features a pirate ship jungle gym.
3rd visit July 2011
Kensington Palace is perhaps best known as the home of late Princess Diana prior to her divorce from Prince Charles, in the years just after she died you could see cards, flowers and stuffed animals adorning the gates but I haven't seen any of that on my last few trips to London. It was also the birthplace and childhood home of Queen Victoria.
The 1st time I visited the highlight of the visit was the dress collections of both the current Queen, Elizabeth II, and also Princess Diana. In April 2011 that was gone. The palace is currently undergoing a major renovation and while that is taking place you can still visit the palace, currently running is the Enchanted Palace that tells the story of seven princesses that lived at Kensington Palace-Queen Mary II, Queen Anne, Queen Caroline, Princess Charlotte, Queen Victoria, Princess Anne and Princess Diana.
You don't see as much of the palace as I did on my 1st visit, parts of it are closed off due to the renovation and while is sounds like it's going to be quite wonderful I'd advise to hold off visiting until the renovation is complete although people visiting with their kids, especially young girls, should enjoy the current displays as much of it is geared towards kids.
There is no photography allowed inside the Palace. The Orangery is also location near the Palace in Kensington Gardens, it's a nice place if you want to enjoy a casual afternoon tea.
We got our admission at 1/2 price by buying our travelcards at a rail station and taking advantage of the 2 for 1 offers
- Castles and Palaces
So Little of Diana Inside the Palace
We went to Kensington Palace, the last home of Princess Diana. Her face is used to advertise visiting the Palace, but there is so little of her inside, and being a fan, I was disappointed about that. When you first enter you see the Royal Dress Collection with ceremonial dress from the 18th century to the present.
The only (very few) private rooms open to the public were from long ago royals - the State Apartments are on the first floor. The rooms were not “original” and really weren’t very nice at all. While we were there, there was a special exhibit of photos of Princess Diana and about 8 of her beautiful gowns. The photos were taken shortly before her death and really were very nice. Check for spectial exhibits during your visit.
Avoid any queues by purchasing your tickets online.
Daily 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Last admission is 5:00 p.m. and they mean it!!! (We had to go back the next day after arriving around 5:05!)
Admission: Adult £12.50, Child (under 16) £6.25.
An audio guide is available for a fee.
Save time for walking and enjoying the 275 acres of gardens around the Palace.
***Update June 2011:
Please note that your Kensington Palace ticket is for Enchanted Palace only - other rooms and past displays such as the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, 'Diana Fashion and Style' and 'The Last Debutantes' are now closed due to the building works.
Kensington Palace is now the Enchanted Palace - a very different and immersive experience which fills the historic State Apartments with modern art and fashion installations plus experimental lighting until early 2012 whilst major building works to transform the palace take place.
Your quest is to find the seven princesses at the heart of Kensington, but you will need to ask questions of our expert Explainers to discover the history of the palace and its former inhabitants...
Please note that all visitor information is correct as of this update.
- Historical Travel
- Castles and Palaces
At the central end of Kensington High Street, just where Kensington Park begins, you will find this royal palace which today is perhaps most famous for having been Princess Diana's home. It is quite fitting that the area is also known for its associations with Peter Pan - a kind of legendary corner of London where fairytales happen. This is however not the only royal to have spent a lot of time here since Queen Victoria grew up here, and it was in fact here she found out that she had become queen when she was 18, and you can still see her bedroom. From the start, the house was Nottingham House and it was bought by William and Mary who wanted a house away from the dirt and noise in London itself (those where the days!)
Please note that only the state apartments are open until late 2012 due to refurbishments.
- Castles and Palaces
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
Get patriotic at the Proms!
I am no great expert on the performing arts, but by far my favourite concert venue in London is the Royal Albert Hall. The Hall is extensively used, and hosts classical and rock concerts, variety shows, circuses and other charity events.
The Albert Hall was opened in 1871 and is an amazing piece of architecture which always makes me thing of a flying saucer that has come to rest on a red brick base (with a liberal garnishing of marble classical friezes). Inside, the venue is surprisingly intimate given that it can accommodate up to 8000 people.
By far the most famous events that the Albert Hall hosts are the Proms (Promenade Concerts) which are a series of daily classical concerts over a two month summer season which have been going for well over 100 years. These attract a broader audience than just the usual classical music aficionados, and are a lovely way to spend a summer evening.
The Last Night of the Proms in September is an institution, whose programme is neatly summarised in this extract from Wikipedia: "The concert is traditionally in a lighter, 'winding-down' vein, featuring popular classics being followed by a series of British patriotic pieces in the second half of the concert. This sequence traditionally begins with Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 (Land of Hope and Glory), and continues with Sir Henry Wood's Fantasia on British Sea Songs, which culminates in Thomas Arne's Rule, Britannia!. The concert concludes with Hubert Parry's Jerusalem (a setting of a poem by William Blake), and the British national anthem." Prommers dress up in patriotic garb - the more ridiculous the better - and wave Union Jacks, and the overall spectacle is quite something to behold.
Understandably tickets to the Last Night are at an absolute premium. The event is televised annually by the BBC (who sponsor the Proms) and to accommodate the overwhelming interest, Proms in the Park concerts started in the mid 1990s. These are now held in Hyde Park (adjacent to the Albert Hall), Dundee (Scotland), Swansea (Wales), Hillsborough Castle, County Down (Northern Ireland) and Salford (Manchester), but check current details on the website, as the out-of-London venues seem to have changed slightly from year to year. Again, quoting from Wikipedia, "Each location has its own live concert, typically playing the countries' respective national anthems, before joining in a live big screen video link up with the Royal Albert Hall for the traditional finale."
Sculpture spotting in Kensington Gardens
Up front, let me declare my prejudice, as I absolutely adore sculpture, and many of the happiest memories I have of cities that I have visited are of their municipal art - my all time favourite being the Vigeland sculpture park in Oslo. And, in terms of statues - especially of famous people - London is really a great place to visit
Why do I like about sculpture? Well, quite simply, it's three dimensional and meant to be tactile (although I can only imagine the alarm systems that would be triggered if you wandered up to stroke the Venus de Milo). Because of this, I find it much more accessible than two dimensional artforms such as painting, and as an added bonus, there is usually not so much pretentious twaddle spouted about it. I also like the fact that each medium - stone, metal, wood lends its own character to the sculpture. But enough of my amateur art appreciation, and back to the subject at hand ...
Kensington Gardens has more than its fair share of statues, monuments and memorials, from the celebrated Albert Memorial and the Peter Pan statue (see my travel tips) and - I believe - a Henry Moore - to less well known attractions such as the Hanning Speke monument, and the newest addition, a stylised ibis just by the Diana Memorial Fountain.
When we visited in December 2010, four sculptures by Anish Kapoor were also on a six month loan and displayed in the Gardens: in all honesty, I can't say that I had ever heard of him before (which probably betrays my ignorance), but I gather that he is a former winner of the Turner Prize for modern art. Usually anything associated with the Turner Prize rings alarm bells as many entries (such as Damien Hirst's pickled sheep and Tracey Emin's unmade bed) have been the subject of public ridicule and notoriety, but Kapoor's work was thankfully much more accessible. In particular my kids were much taken with his 'Turning the World Upside Down' - a huge curved mirror that reflected back an inverted image - and watching passersby of all ages and description stopping to ponder their topsy turvy reflections struck me as being exactly the reaction that public art should invoke. Bravo!
Kensington Palace and Gardens
Our hotel was walking distance to Kensington Palace and Kensington Gardens so this was one of the first places we visited when we came to London. The Kensington Palace was the home of Princess Diana. We walked around the park for a bit very early in the morning and there were already many people here jogging or just hanging around. We also seen some of the fattest birds we have ever seen. Its pretty obvious that they get fed well here. Kensington Gardens covers 260 acres and was originally part of Hyde Park. I was a little confused at first because Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are right next to eachother and it looks like one huge park. I didnt realize there were two. The Gardens were the setting for Kensington Palace where William III and Mary II made their London home. Queen Victoria was born in Kensington Palace and lived there until she became queen in 1837.
When we came there was some construction going on but this place was beautiful.
Kensington Palace used to be the official residence of Princess Diana of Wales. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1689 and has been host to the courts of William III, Mary II, Queen Anne, George I and George II. It was also the residence of Princess Victoria who subsequently became Queen Victoria.
There is now an exhibition of the exquisite evening gowns worn by Princess Diana. Another exhibition displays memorabilia of English court dresses.
- Family Travel
- Castles and Palaces
Churchill Arms Pub
The Churchill Arms Pub is worth visiting even if you aren't a pub goer. It is a great place with a unique and fascinating atmosphere. The interior is chock full of memorabilia, antiques etc., making for an interesting stop to rest your feet after walking around or to meet up with friends. My wife and I stopped here during our last two trips to London and enjoyed each visit. It was crowded both times, but everybody was in a good mood and very pleasant.
From the outside, as you approach the pub, you will notice the beautiful flowers hanging in baskets.
- Arts and Culture
- Beer Tasting
Albert Memorial-Kensington Gardens
The Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens was completed in 1876, 15 years after the death of Queen Victoria's husband (consort) from typhoid fever. They had been married for 21 years when Albert died, Queen Victoria died in 1901, 40 years after Albert's death.
She mourned his death for the rest of her life, wearing black and laying his clothes out for him to wear every day so I suppose it's fitting that she erected such a grand monument to someone she was so devoted to.
As you walk around the monument, seated in the center is Albert, surrounded by his many interests and passions, on the upper level are four groups of figures representing agriculture, commerce, engineering and manufacturing sitting above a Parnassus Frieze with 187 composers, architects, poets, painters, and sculptors. On the lowest level there are four groups of figures around it symbolizing Europe with a bull, America with a buffalo, Africa with a camel and Asia with an elephant. Too bad there wasn't an Antartica with a penguin or an Australia with a kangaroo...
There are tours of the Memorial given at 14:00 and 15:00 every first Sunday of the month from March to December for £4.50, you can get more information on the website below.
Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground
On a recent trip to London, we experienced some unusually warm weather for early March. It was actually quite beautiful since it was so nice and sunny. As a result, my son and I headed over to Kensington Gardens and walked around until we ran into the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground.
We quickly parked our stroller amongst all the others and my son had an absolute blast walking around and inspecting everything. There are plenty of places for the kids to play and benches for parents to sit close by to supervise. There is also a small cafe and public restrooms (with a baby changing table!). We met some really nice locals and their children and felt absolutely at home.
- Budget Travel
- Family Travel
- Hiking and Walking
The Royal Albert Hall
Famous for being the Home of the BBC Proms "Land of Hope and Glory" etc, The Albert Hall was the meeting point for a mini-VT meeting. We had coffee upstairs in the restaurant and it really wasn't very good. I hadn't been here for years.. the last time with school friends to see Gallagher and Lyle - "I wear my heart on my sleeve" Remember that??
In the picture are Sue Stone, Jo104 and Jenniflower.
For oodles of interesting info and historical facts about this building dedicated to Queen Victoria's husband, check the link.
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