August 15: Kew Gardens
Did I mention it was sunny today? Blue skies? Sunlight? Sunshine? Light? Blue? Still chilly--I suppose it might have hit 75 by early in the afternoon-- but I was able not to wear the windbreaker most of the day!
I left the hotel a little after nine for the longish walk through Kensington to Earls Court tube station to take the train to Kew. I sort of visited memory lane on the way, finding the hotel I had stayed in as part of a bus tour in 2007. Some of you know already how much I enjoy revisiting places I've been before. I also went into an attractive smallish church called St Mary Abbots with nice grounds and, of course, burials.
The London subway is all called the Tube, but it's not all underground. The train to Kew is surface. You can look out the windows! One of the stops on the way to Kew is Turnham Green, which is pronounced "turnem" in Engspeak, so a Texan can be forgiven for thinking "turnip green". Which would be a funnier name for a stop.
I had thought I would visit the National Archives (in Kew) before going into Kew Gardens because there's a copy of the Magna Carta there and it would be cool to see a second copy--I saw one copy in 2007 on my first trip the the UK at Salisbury Cathedral. (I don't know how many there are!) But the mounted map of sites to see in Kew told me the Archives are closed on Sunday and Monday, so no go. No problem. Kew is great. And I'm old enough to get "senior concession" which knocks the price down a pound. The benefits of being decrepit.
But first I stopped in the Kew Starbucks (I think it's only my second visit to any Starbucks while here--I've had tea at M&S, Costa, Pret-a-Manger, and my hotel room)--because breakfast had already worn off by the time I reached Kew.
My first excursion in the Gardens was to wander through the Palm House (tropical greenhouse) and the Waterlily House, where I got a few decent photos (posted at Facebook). Then I angled off along Pagoda Vista to see, and maybe draw, the pagoda. But my two attempts at drawing it just didn't please me so I deleted them. If you go over to Facebook, however, you can see my tiny video for Pagoda Vista. I ended up doing a drawing based on a picnicking group: two youngish women with so many kids you'd think they were running an orphanage. Two were infants. I don't know if they were twins or if each woman had one. Yikes.
One of the other cool places in Kew is the treetop walkway. Usually there's an elevator, but it was not running today, which may have kept the walkway less crowded. To get to it you had to use the stairs, climbing about 60 yards. The walkway is kind of a lopsided oval from which you look down toward the ground, or over into the trees, many of which are taller than the walkway, or off into the distance. Very nice indeed.
Not too far from the walkway, but at ground level, is an open area with a Henry Moore sculpture of a reclining woman. It's very stylized of course, bronze and exposed to the sky. I sat in the shade a while, resting and drawing a sketch of the sculpture and eating a little package of multigrain Rice Krispies.
There's also a bamboo garden section with a small building in the middle called the Minka House. Bamboo is really interesting, I think. I'd love to have a bit of land for a tiny house and surround it with bamboo to mute the noise and intrusion of the outside world. They warn you, to be sure, that some bamboo varieties are invasive, but to me, that's one of the appealing things. I'd love to see them grow and spread and shield me from the hullabaloo of modern towns.
There are a zillion things to do at Kew Gardens. This was my third visit, and I do different things there. Today for the first time I went inside the Kew Palace, which was, I gather, built as a retreat for King George III and his family, a place for them to go when a spell of madness was upon him. It's large, but not enormous, and the top floor has been left as it was when it fell out of use, so you see bare walls and floors there, quite unlike the rich furnishings on the lower floors. Some of you would be interested in the large doll's (or baby's!) house in one room. The palace also contains a "water closet," added after the palace was built. Yes, it has a toilet but not a sewage system, so the servants had to empty the thing and take care of the "deposits".
The Hive, which I didn't remember from last year at all, is a large metal structure which is connected electronically to the beehives elsewhere on the grounds so that you can hear the sound/humming of the bees at the Hive. Today it was closed for maintenance so we couldn't walk under it, but it was still possible to get close enough to hear the humming apart from the sound of the generator! Earlier I had visited part of an educational field-trip kind of area--The Teepees--where they had a small part of a hive between plexiglass panels and you could see the bees at work and even the queen. The woman told me there were three such small hives which they rotated through the exhibit, and that the bees were taken back to the apiary in the evening. I asked her how far afield bees tend to roam for pollen. She said generally three miles, but as far as seven if necessary. In the case of the Kew bees, they have so many plants to serve them that they don't have to go far at all.
I stayed about three hours all together, then went back into Kew (the town) for lunch--an exciting round of sliced ham, potato chips, and "sparkling" water. And then, time enough to get back on the Tube and back to Earls Court before the rush hour.
The rest of the afternoon was quiet and uninteresting--visiting M&S and looking for a couple of gifts again, browsing a nearby Waterstones and again seeing books I've never heard of but might want to read, sitting in Kensington Gardens and reading a bit and drawing a bit. (Drawings at Flickr.)
It's not sundown yet, and the skies are still blue, though the wind is chilly. Like a very nice day in Dallas in late February or March! And so much better than yesterday!