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Return of the active weekend

It has been a while since we managed to stay active on both Saturday and Sunday of the same weekend. Winter weather is hardly conducive to outings, and you can only go on back-to-back museum trips so much.

But with spring-like weather, hundreds of places that we want to visit beckoned harder. We picked two – one for each day of the weekend – and went there.

Hampton Court Palace turned out to be a magnificent place, well worth a day trip. Comprised of several wings built for different kings and queens, it is not as over-the-top splendid as Versailles or, say, Peterhof. But state apartments are, nonetheless, magnificent, and the audio guide is very well composed and presented, with tons of interesting information.

Some parts of the palace are unique. For instance, I have not seen anything similar to the ornate carved ceiling of Henry VIII’s Apartments’ Great Hall before.

There is also a fascinating tour of Tudor kitchens (further spiced up with smells and sounds approximating the scene). Kids loved it. Costumed guides throughout the palace not only are available to answer questions, but engage in occasional performances of medieval music and such. In the great kitchen hall, a troupe of troubadours occasionally hold a vastly amuzing concert with the help of kitchen utensils.

We toured all wings, albeit only the first couple with the audio guides. The guide is too good, you don’t want to skip anything, but there are so many rooms and so much information associated with them, that the combined narration lasts for over three hours. Kimmy tends to want to move on only when the current chapter is finished. We figured we’d never be able to progress to see the palace grounds if we continued with the guides. Without being held back by the pace of the narration, we were able to see pretty much everything in the palace, as well as spend some leisurely time outside.

The grounds are made up of several sculpted gardens, as well as less formal park. We walked a bit along alleys, by the fountains and the swan pond, and even played some tag with the kids. At some point, we decided to rest on a bench, which Becky took as a cue to try climbing some nearby trees. Successfully, I might add. Kimmy needed some help, but she followed too…

The Palace is also home to the Maze, made famous by Jerome K Jerome. It also figured in one of Perelman’s books, “Занимательная Математика” or something. It is not anything special, in the end. Using the rule of touching a wall on one side continuously, the maze can be traversed to the center and back in less than 10 minutes. Which is probably a good thing. Kimmy was faithfully adhering to the rule, and it would become boring very quickly, if not for the brevity of the exercise.

All in all, the trip to Hampton Court was quite fulfilling.

Sunday started out a bit cooler than Saturday, a little cloudy, but mostly sunny, and we followed through on our plans with a trip to Cambridge.

This university town is a gem in its own right, given the architectural grandeur of several of the colleges that comprise the famous university. We went inside a few of the colleges, notably King’s, with its splendid chapel, and Trinity, Newton’s alma mater. The town is very compact and pleasant in itself. Behind the colleges runs a small river Cam, traversed by dozens of bridges. The opposite bank of the river, called The Backs, is the succession of meadows and wooded alleys, with idyllic, and at the same time imposing, views onto the colleges.

The river is no more than 15 meters across, but it is very busy with boats, steered by using a pole, not unlike what gondoliers do in Venice. You may hire one, or, if you feel up to it, you can get a boat and try punting yourself.

We felt adventurous enough, but the weather stopped cooperating at some point, and we decided against chancing it.

The weather actually behaved weirdly all day. Reminded us of Puerto Rico, with rain coming out of nowhere and then being replaced with sunny skies in the matter of minutes.

It stayed mostly sunny while we were driving up, but by the time we found a parking garage in Cambridge, – not a small feat! – a sinister cloud was quickly approaching, accompanied by strong gusts of wind. While we were debating what to do, the cloud shamelessly dumped hail on us – mind you, not rain or snow, but hail – and moved on within a couple of minutes. Bright blue skies opened up. The wind stayed, though. As we were walking around town for almost four hours, the clouds kept occasionally blocking the sun, but it was out most of the time, providing enough warmth to counteract the wind. But another, no less sinister cloud, moved in at some point. We took it as a cue to go back to the car, and some rain did befall us, but by the time we started driving, the skies were azure again.

We drove around The Backs, found a parking spot by the road, and got out for a bit more walking. This time, no wind or cloud was interfering with our enjoyment… for about half an hour or so. And then a new cloud, radiating utmost menace, appeared on the horizon. We finally decided to put some distance between ourselves and the unpredictable skies, and drove home.

Great weekend, it was!

And by the way, Sunday is the Mother’s Day in English calendar. Hampton Court had a flower exhibition all weekend dedicated to that, and a nice old lady gave Kimmy a small bouquet to give to her mum. To all mothers out there who read my blog – Happy Mother’s Day!