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London: Hampton Court
I have a problem. I tend to pass quick judgement on things before I even give them a chance.

 

A perfect example of this is movies. When I was younger, my mom had to force me to watch The Princess Bride. It sounded horribly boring and I remember putting up a big stink about it when it was announced we were watching it for family movie night. But of course I ended up loving it! It happened again with Pirates of the Caribbean. My mom and my friend, Julie, wanted to see it while we were visiting San Diego together so I had no choice but to go with them, but I secretly thought it was super lame that Disney couldn’t think of any better ideas and had to resort to basing movies off their Disneyland rides. Then BAM! It ended up as of my favorite movies of all time.

 

You would think I would have learned by now after a lifetime of this, but no, it happened AGAIN in London when one of the top things on my parents’ sightseeing wish list was to visit Hampton Court. To me it sounded like a huge hassle to waste a full day of our trip to take a train outside of London to see some country home of one of the hundreds of English kings. Why don’t we just stay IN London and see all the cool things there are to do there? Then BAM! It ended up as one of my very favorite things we saw on the entire trip. As usual, my parents were spot on and we all had a blast spending the entire day wandering the halls of this HUGE country palace of King Henry the VIII.

 

 

We learned all about the opulence and extravagance of King Henry the VIII’s court and his wives and the royal culture of the time. I had heard of King Henry the VIII and a few nuggets of information here and there sounded familiar (probably due to my world history classes in high school), but if I was asked a question about him on Jeopardy I would be a lost cause. However, being there and seeing it all in person suddenly made it all so much more fascinating and real! Henry the VIII was a pretty sketchy dude and the story of his life and the lives of his many wives could fill episode after episode of a TV drama (oh wait…it has.) 16th century English history suddenly became soooo much more fascinating.

 

 

Both mine and Chris’ absolute FAVORITE part of the entire palace was the kitchen. His Highness would frequently entertain a court of over 1000 people PLUS servants and therefore his palace had to have the kitchen facilities to accommodate all those hungry people at least twice a day. It was fascinating to see how food was produced on that large of a scale back in the day. I really think food can give you more insight into a time period and culture than almost any other historical artifacts. The kitchens at Hampton Court were huge! Rooms and rooms of food production, giant vats of boiled meat, tables and tables of meat pies and giant fireplaces with huge roasting spits. We saw where they had almost a steady stream of wagons delivering meat and produce day after day and learned all about the ingenious ways they devised to store it all. I can’t even imagine what this place would have looked like in full production!  According to Hampton Court’s website:

The annual provision of meat for the Tudor court stood at 1,240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs and 53 wild boar. This was all washed down with 600,000 gallons of beer.

A Spanish visitor to the Tudor court in 1554 said that the kitchens were ‘veritable hells, such is the stir and bustle in them … there is plenty of beer here, and they drink more than would fill the Valladolid river.’

I left this room craving British meat pies. All I wanted was a steaming hot pastry filled with gravy, vegetables, and meat. It was immensely satisfying that later that night we ate at a pub that happened to serve them.

 

I also stumbled upon my new dream job (believe it or not decorating cakes is not actually my dream job) there at Hampton Court. These guys working in the kitchen dressed in costume were Experimental Food Historians. Basically, they work at Hampton Court researching methods of food production in 16th century England. They create all the pots, pans and tools using old techniques based on the designs of the actual artifacts they found from the time period and then cook food in them to try to figure out how they did it, what it tasted like, and what it means in terms of history. They base their studies off of old records, historical accounts, and paintings to try to figure out what food culture was actual like for the royals and servants at the time. They do a lot of their experiments in costume during opening hours so the tourists can watch them prepare the food and listen to them tell about the history of the kitchens and they roast their preparations on spits in the huge fireplaces like they would have back in Hampton Court’s heyday. Unfortunately, due to British health codes they aren’t allowed to feed the food they cook to the visitors, so at the end of the day they all gather together and have a big feast. Here’s a really good story from the New Yorker about the work of the experimental food historians at Hampton Court. I would SERIOUSLY love this job. I didn’t even know a job like this existed but now that I do I’m seriously looking into it for the future. I don’t plan on decorating cakes forever!

 


Today the food historians were trying to recreate a cockatrice, or a centerpiece dish that involved a pig and a goose being sewn together to create a “mythical” animal. We didn’t get to see the finished and roasted dish, but it sure sounded cool.


The giant roasting spits. 


It might only be interesting to you if you’ve been there (or if you have an interest in Tudor England), but just for reference here is a fascinating fact sheet about the Hampton Court kitchens and here is a cool article about a chocolate kitchen run by Henry the VIII’s chocolatier they recently unearthed. We thought it was all so cool!



Clearly we thought the kitchens were the coolest part, because we didn’t get very many pictures of the rest of the place (except for this room decorated with weapons!) I feel a little bad about it because the rest of the palace was almost just as impressive! We got to see the royal apartments, the chapel, the room where King Henry was married to Catherine Parr, and loads of other rooms all built to house the giant Tudor court. The whole palace was absolutely fascinating and I couldn’t get enough of all the history. I spent a good portion of that evening soaking in the bathtub (it was a whole lot of walking for a pregnant lady!) reading as many articles as I could find on King Henry VIII and the Tudor dynasty on my iPad and shouting facts to Chris (who was outside on the bed trying to relax with the TV and who was a really good sport about it :) ).  The best fact of all? What happened to Henry when he died! Totally grody.




Thanks Mom and Dad for another major win!

NAPLES: Volcanos and Villages

Hiking a volcano?? Yes please! Hiking Vesuvius was the very first thing I planned when we decided I was going to meet up with Chris in Naples. Something about climbing a volcano just seemed super epic. It ended up being not quite as exciting as I had hoped (the “hike” was even less difficult than hiking the Y back in Provo, for those of you who can relate to that. For those of you who can’t…there were full tour busses of senior citizens trekking up it) but the views over the Bay of Naples were spectacular and it was quite awesome (in the real sense of the word) to look down into the still-steaming crater and picture it exploding like it did back in the days of Pompeii.

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Travel Tip: You can get there super easy via the Circumvesuviana train. Just get off at the Pompeii Scavi stop and catch the buses that leave to Vesuvius from right outside the train station. Keep in mind that there are 2 buses: The public bus which is blue and a private company bus which looks all vintagy. Although the private company bus is a bit more convenient (I didn’t know the difference and got on that one), it costs about 5 euro more than the public bus and the driver decided to take us to Herculaneum on the way home instead of going back to Pompeii like it was supposed to.

 

Speaking of Pompeii, after hiking Vesuvius that morning, it was only natural to spend the rest of the day exploring the city it destroyed.

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View of Vesuvius from Pompeii

I L.O.V.E.D Pompeii. It was by far my favorite part of the trip. Probably because I’ve always had a secret parallel life-dream of studying archaeology. The ruins are massive! Way bigger than I ever pictured. It sounds silly, but it didn’t dawn on me that Pompeii was an actual real city until I was way lost and confused in it’s twisted and convoluted streets. It isn’t just a few ruins…it’s a huge metropolitan area that they dug up! And archaeologists haven’t even uncovered the entire thing yet! It was fascinating.

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I was a little bit bummed about the lack of information about various locations within the city though. I ended up going back to rent the audio guide because there are NO signs in the entire place. Even with the map that came with the audio guide I spent the better portion of my 4 hours there completely lost and wandering aimlessly through the streets. I loved it though. Since it was November and the tourist season was over there were very few people there and I was exploring alone for a lot of the time. I tell you, wandering alone in the ruins of ancient city is a hauntingly beautiful and surreal experience. Especially when I found myself in a room with the plaster casts of some of the victims.

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At one point I just sat on a broken pillar in the middle of the central square and looked out at Vesuvius and pictured an ancient Pompeiian doing the exact same thing thousands of years ago. Totally amazing. I wish I could sit in a place like that and watch time as a super fast time lapse of history. 4 hours was definitely not enough time to see enough of the city. I could have easily spent 6-8!  Hopefully I’ll get the chance to go back someday and bring Chris.

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How to get there from Naples:

Couldn’t be easier. Take the Circumvesuviana train for Stazione Centrale towards Sorrento. Get off at Pompei Scavi stop. Bam! You’re there.