on August 11, 2009
This is a review of the state rooms at Buckingham Palace. -Arrival and Admission- When we arrived at the palace we soon discovered that commoners such as ourselves were not admitted through the front of the palace so we followed the signs to the side of the palace. The signposting was quite good and we found the entrance without any problem. In order to get access to the palace you have to queue up to buy tickets, then go back out of that tent and into another to wait to be admitted. This seemed like a lot of hassle but I'm sure they had their reasons (even if they weren't evident to us). Buying the ticket was easy enough but I was not impressed by the woman who sold it to us. I found her to be really rude. When I refused to gift aid my ticket price (I thought you could only gift aid donations anyway), she demanded to know why I wouldn't, stating the reason that her manager would want to know. I explained that there were things I would rather my tax money went on and she replied that it doesn't go to the queen which I was of course quite aware of. I wouldn't have minded this so much if it had been accompanied by a smile or if she had been less aggressive but overall I thought she was extremely rude. We were then pointed in the direction of another tent and asked to sit down and wait for our turn to go into the Palace. After this we had to queue up for airport style security checks and then finally we were in! This is by far the most trouble I've had to go to just to get into an attraction and by this point I wasn't feeling overly enthusiastic. There's something about queuing, waiting around and then queuing again that dampens enthusiasm. -The Audio Guide- The price of admission includes an audio guide. I thought that this was excellent because so often you have to pay extra for the audio guide. It also means that you can wander around the palace at your own pace and control if and when you hear information and how much information you hear. The audio guide is very easy to use and the guide talks you through all of the settings and gives you instructions as you go around the palace. Throughout the tour you have the option of selecting additional information or skipping it if you're not interested. There were a few things that I wasn't interested in and was finding quite boring so I was quite pleased to be able to skip them. The information provided by the audio guide is excellent. I was very interested in the history of the palace and the audio guide gave a good amount of information regarding this without overloading you with facts. At times it was necessary for me to pause the audio guide because it was going too fast for me to be able to take in my surroundings while listening but I guess that's the point of having a pause button. There was one part of the audio guide that I found unintentionally amusing. During the part of the tour that's about the commonwealth the audio guide plays the Queens Commonwealth day message. During this message our unelected head of state discusses the common beliefs that all commonwealth countries have of "freedom, democracy and human rights; development and prosperity." (http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/default.asp?act ion=article&ID=30) I had promised myself that I would put aside any political views that I have so that I could enjoy a day out at the palace and I really did try but when the Queen starts describing the commonwealth as having common beliefs in freedom, democracy and human rights it is difficult to ignore. The commonwealth that includes countries with awful human rights records, all of them headed by the Queen who is of course not elected and most certainly not a symbol of democracy. And her comments about prosperity make me wonder if she really has visited the commonwealth countries. -The Palace- The palace was absolutely beautiful. When we first entered I wasn't overly impressed, it was nice but nothing more than any other historic house I have ever visited but then you go to the actual state rooms and they're just breathtaking. Each room you enter is more lavish and extravagant than the last. The audio guide informed me that some of the rooms were set up so that when the visitor enters the first room they are given a taste of what is to come and then the next room is larger and grander. The point was to impress visitors and it certainly impressed me. I don't think I could pick out a favourite out of all of the state rooms, they were all really interesting and I was far more interested in the history of the palace than the way that the rooms looked. The throne room was probably the most beautiful but I found the history of the drawing room to be much more interesting (the information provided on the throne room was more about the current monarchs and of little interest to me). Throughout the palace there are bits of information provided on boards. I think it would have been better if instead of having the information on the boards they had it on the audio guide because it was difficult to read the information with so many tourists and I found it much more pleasant to be able to look at things while someone was telling me about them rather than reading something and then looking. The only room that I really wasn't interested in was the Picture Gallery. I'm not particularly interested in art and there weren't any pictures in it that I was attracted to so it held no interest for me. For those who are interested in art you have the option on the audio guide to hear more about specific paintings, the numbers for each painting were underneath the painting and you could just tap the number into the guide. -The Exhibition- The exhibition for 2009 was about the Commonwealth and focused specifically on the Queen's visits to commonwealth countries and the gifts that they gave her. I found this exhibition to be mostly boring. A lot of the display seems to be dedicated to dresses that the Queen wore on visits to commonwealth countries. It was interesting to find out that some of the dresses were specifically designed with the country in mind and the symbolism of certain aspects of the dress but there were a lot of dresses on display that weren't mentioned and really you only need a few examples. It seemed more like they were trying to fill the space than anything else. Some of the gifts that the Queen was given were quite interesting too but again only a few of them were mentioned in the guide. It's possible that there was something written about them but it was so crowded that it was impossible to see. For the most part this was pretty dull. I would have been happy just to spend a minute or two looking at her dresses and the gifts but I stayed, listening to the audio guide, in the hope that I would learn something about the commonwealth countries. I didn't. I do know what colours the Queen wore on a visit to India, I do know that she has spent more time visiting other countries than any other monarch and I do know that the commonwealth was originally founded by her father, but I still know very little about the actual commonwealth countries which is unfortunate, but I guess really the display was about the Queen, not the commonwealth so I shouldn't complain, it just wasn't to my taste. -The Garden- Unfortunately you can't leave the palace by the same exit, which resulted in me and my friend getting a little bit lost but eventually finding our way to a tube station. To leave the palace you take quite a long walk through the garden. As you would expect the gardens are lovely and very well maintained. If it wasn't for the sound of sirens in the background it would be entirely possible to believe yourself in the country. It had a very tranquil feel to it and my friend and I enjoyed sitting for a couple of minutes in the garden, enjoying the peace. -Price- I paid £16 for my ticket which was incredibly overpriced for an attraction that only takes around an hour and a half to go around. They do tell you that you can get free entry for a year included in the ticket price but then you realise that Buckingham Palace is only open for 2 months and you would just be seeing the same thing again.
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