Towns / Cities Visited: 83
Countries Visited: 20
Steps Taken Today: 22,755
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,726,223
We were finally able to wake up at a somewhat more reasonable time, but still, with a time allocated visit booked we were walking to the train station before long. Purchasing our tickets, and scoffing at just how much it costs to buy a return train ticket for a journey that only takes around half an hour or so (AU$60 for the two of us), we soon found ourselves in the heart of London. Switching to the tube we made our way to the closest station to the morning’s activity; Buckingham Palace. Now I know we have already been to see the exterior when we first arrived in March, but we had made the journey back for the express purpose of visiting the interior, now that it was open for its limited summer season. Standing in line on this unassuming Wednesday, it became clear why it was imperative to pre-book tickets months in advance; the line snaked back an forth on itself tenfold. It was a lucky thing that we have a tendency of arriving at things early just in case.
Eventually we made it to the front of the queue, picked up our tickets, and a souvenir guide; not because we are the kind of people to buy them, but because you are not permitted to take photos inside the palace and we wanted to actually remember what we paid all of that money to come and see. Why they do not permit photography I’m going to assume is for both security reasons, and to ensure a smooth flow of visitors, but it is bothersome nonetheless. By the time we made it to the security check queue, we only had to wait a few minutes before our time slot opened up. With the scans and pat downs out of the way, and audio guides in hand, it was finally time to make our way in.
This palace, for those of you who are unaware, was originally built in 1703 for John Sheffield, the Duke of Buckingham, and was then known as Buckingham House. It wasn’t acquired by the royal family until it was purchased by King George III in 1761 as a residence for his Queen, Charlotte. Furthermore, it didn’t become the official residence of the royal family until 1837, during Queen Victoria’s reign. Thus, in the grander scheme of things, it is a relatively young ancestral home. Despite its grand, but less than elaborate exterior, its hard to deny the fact that it still provides a rather imposing silhouette, but it was into the heart of the beast we were heading today, in in we went.
Now, obviously, I can’t show you any photos of the interior, but believe me when I tell you that it is just as opulent as many other royal residences we have seen across the continent thus far. It is a huge space with sweeping staircases, plush gilded old furniture, massive chandeliers, historic armour and weapons, and an unending array of portraits and other paintings adorning the walls. A fact that is unsurprising, considering the face that it is the home of a family which once headed the largest kingdom in the world. Regardless of its somewhat gaudy appearance, there is an air of elegance to it, and as we wandered through we took our time admiring the collection of art and furniture which spans the centuries. Its lofty vaulted ceilings, and gold covered fixtures and adornments scream wealth and power; its enormous Persian rugs, and countless chandeliers and candelabras call out luxury; and its centuries worth of royal family portraits sing the songs of a dynasty which has outlived many. Here, I’ll add a few photos thanks to the wonders of the internet to give you an idea.
At a number of points, the audioguide, including the introduction, is voiced by Prince Charles, as he explains to you his apparent thanks for visiting his childhood home, and later a description of a number of important artworks, including a room filled with art completed by the students of The Princes School of Traditional Arts; an art school opened by Prince Charles in 2005 as part of The Princes Charity Group. The work in this exhibition is fascinating, not simply because of its beauty, but also because the school itself encourages the creation of art in traditional forms from around the world which are a dying breed. From traditional glass and porcelain work, to textile based arts, the rooms exudes a kind of history, that the palace alone cannot.
Eventually we made our way out into the rear garden of the palace, and the only place you are actually permitted to photograph. Unfortunately the back facade is mainly obscured by scaffolding, and the tents over the café area. The sprawling green at the rear of the castle was not quite what I was expecting, having visited so many other palaces surrounded by magnificently landscaped gardens, but then I guess there is an understated grandeur to being able to have so much bare space filled with nothing but flawless grass cover. A blank canvas for events, I imagine. As you make your way down the path to the exit, you do, however, pass a quiet tree edged lake, before being spat back out onto the footpath. All in all, Buckingham palace was a beautiful place to visit, and it was nice to finally be able to see the home of the monarch who reigns over my home countries, after seeing so many homes of foreign rulers.
The rest of our day was spent rather uneventfully, running life admin errands, like purchasing a sim card, and a few odds an ends for our upcoming six week road trip, and as the sun sank lower in the sky we made our way home. As a gesture of thanks I cooked dinner and chocolate chip cookies for us, as well as Tony and Lisa, and a few hours were spent happily chatting about anything and everything, from our travels thus far, to life as a chef; you see Tony started out as a pastry chef also.
As I reflected on our day, my mind wandered to the British royal family, and royal families in general, and a poignant question sprang to mind. Is the notion of a wealthy hereditary head of state still relevant in today’s day and age? I understand the sentimental aspect, and many people adore the royal families of all monarchical nations the world over, but do they actually serve a necessary function anymore? In centuries past, it made sense to select a wealthy and well educated person to lead your country, when the common man was illiterate, and had no ability to fund a defence force and maintain order. Nowadays though, where royals are more of a figurehead, with little pull on the running of the country, which is now organised and run by elected parliament members, should they still be given pride of place, and the funding that comes with it. Its easy to see them as privileged, high borns who know nothing of the suffering of the poor and unfortunate, but they do, in fact, actually complete an incredible amount of charity work including helping the poor, many of them have served in the armed forces, including the Queen herself, and they do help maintain good international relations worldwide. With that said, you don’t really need to be a crowned royal to be a wealthy philanthropist, and many rich business people and highly paid celebrities do just that without being born into the position to do so. There are, of course, also plenty of upper class people who do very little to help their fellow man despite their fortunate situations, and many lower and middle class people who use what little money they have to provide aid to those who need it. The vast differences between the classes, and the injustice this often causes, is a rant for another day though.
So should Australia, or Great Britain for that matter, become a republic? Where do I stand? To be honest, I don’t know, but it is a question I will continue to ponder, and I shall adjust my position if and when any reasonable suggestions for a functional Australian republic are provided. There are many questions to be answered beforehand. How would we decide on the kind of republic we wish to become? Would it do more harm than good to the economy and stability of these nations? What would become of the royal family if they were to be stripped of their position? That is of course a question for the citizens. The crown may sit in the head of Elizabeth Windsor but in truth, the crown belongs to the people, and it is up to them whether it is removed and set aside in favour of a republic, ruled by those who have been elected, as opposed to opportunistically born.