Pembertons at the Palace

Jen has been looking for different things to see and do here in Oxford since arriving. Other than hang out in the library with me.

One of the spots she found early on is Blenheim Palace, and we decided to take a trip to the palace this past Saturday. How funny does that sound? “We took a trip to the palace…”

Blenheim was pretty easy to get to, and not too far away, actually. We caught a bus about a five-minute walk from where we’re living, and about 15 minutes later we were at the Palace.

It’s set in the countryside, just outside of Oxford. A small village has been built up around it. But the Palace itself sits quite a ways off the main road, secluded from traffic and the general bustle of modern life. You really feel like you’re traveling back in time as you enter the main gate.

A young man and woman greeted us after we walked through the front gate. She asked if we had just arrived. I told her we had. She smiled and asked us to step against a green wall so she could take our photo. I should’ve seen that one coming.

Later on, in the gift shop, we were greeted by a wall of photos. Of couples photoshopped in front of Blenheim Palace. And there we were, right in the middle of the sea of tourists. I thought about asking if they could photoshop us somewhere a bit more exciting. Like the moon. Or a pirate ship.

The funny part is that we came here to Blenheim Palace and they had to use Photoshop to take our photo in front of the Palace. They should bring their green screen to Oxford’s city center. Sure they’d be making bank with all the tourists here. “Save yourself a trip to the Palace,” they could say.

After our photoshoot, we turned to see the front of the palace. It was incredible. And enormous. It makes you feel so small. The photos hardly do it justice.

The front of the Palace looks out over a beautiful view of the farmland and countryside, and a large, gravel courtyard provides the barrier between the grassy fields and the palace entryway.

We took a tour inside the Palace after snapping these shots. It was pretty incredible. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take any photos once indoors. So we’ll have to explain it to you. Here’s my take on it (Jen will give hers later)…

A look inside Bleinhem Palace

You step through the front door and the ceiling climbs up and up and up. The ceiling is covered in incredible paintings. And the stone and marble floor beneath your feet stretches throughout the entire palace.

The state rooms are beautiful. Each one unique, except for the fact that all are furnished with a large fireplace in the middle of one wall. The kind of fireplace you could lay down inside, it’s so long. Large, incredibly ornate tapestries hung from several of the walls. So detailed you’d mistake them for paintings. There were ten of these tapestries in all. And they took eight years to make, we were told.

Walking through the state rooms, Jen told me she wanted to live here. I agreed. I remembered that scene from Cool Runnings. The one where one of the Jamaican guys tells the other guys on the bobsled team his dream. How he wants to live in a palace someday. And he holds up the picture of Buckingham Palace, without realizing it was Buckingham Palace. That was Jen and I. Although we realized it was Blenheim Palace.

Marble busts of men sat on columns throughout the halls. Large paintings of Dutches and Dutchesses hung on the walls. Some of them by themselves. Others with their children, together. I wondered how they managed to get the kids to sit still long enough to paint such incredible portraits… The paintings were larger than any I’ve ever seen.

We saw the bedroom where Winston Churchill was born. I touched the large, copper bed frame dressed in white linens. Several framed photos of him as a young boy hung on the wall, as well as a  lock of his hair taken from when he was just five years old. Seemed a little creepy to me. Several rooms were made up as a shrine to Churchill. With pictures of him from his youth. And letters he had written as just a boy. He’s a pretty big deal here in England.

Then there were photos of Churchill’s military days and later as a leader. One photo in particular caught my eye. A photo of him along with Joseph Stalin and Franklin Roosevelt at a dinner event.

They took us into the formal dining room, which was amazing. The entire ceiling was painted of people looking down on the dining room. A large fireplace sat along one wall, and huge columns were in each corner of the room. The table was fully set, complete with china lined with silver and gold.

One large oversized setting sat at the end of the table, which we were told was in tribute to the fact that Gulliver’s Travels had just finished filming there at the Palace. Apparently Jack Black is starring in the lead role. You can see several scenes of the Palace in the movie trailer. Looks pretty funny, and now we’ll have to see it.

We saw the Palace library (the second longest room in England, we were told), which held books from as far back as the 1500’s. We were told it was Churchill’s favorite room in the Palace. The floors were white marble. And the ceiling seemed to climb into the clouds. Large windows provided views of the countryside just beyond the Palace. An enormous organ sat at one end of the room, and it must’ve stretched 50 feet into the air. It was incredible. I could’ve spent years in that library and not felt bad about it for a moment.

I thought about grabbing Jen’s arm and hiding out until after everyone left. Perhaps under one of the beds. And then running around like we owned the place. Getting dressed up in the old royalty attire. I’d wear a long, white, curly-haired wig. Jen would wear one of those dresses that stuck out like an umbrella. With powder on her face and a wig that stretched about three feet beyond the top of her head. We’d sit by the light of the fire and talk in our fake English accents. She’d mention something about what the help had prepared for dinner as she crocheted, and I’d complain about the colonialists as I smoked my pipe and stared off into the flames. It’d be great.

But the Palace had loads of security guards. And tour guides. And even though 90% of them may have been around since the palace was built, I’m fairly confident they would’ve sniffed us out. The last thing I need at this point is a free car ride in handcuffs.

(Okay, now I’m going to have to turn in, so I’m going to let Jen take it from here. Make sure she tells you about the pumpkin pie she baked me…)

Jen’s take on Blenheim Palace

So I have been wanting to go to Blenheim Palace the since first week I arrived. I sort of have a facination with Palaces and Castles and decorations and clothes that are centuries older than me. I’m weird, I know! Needless to say, I’ve been very patiently waiting to go the Palace.

When we arrived and went inside the Palace, it took my breath away. All the paintings on the walls and ceilings, how beautiful everything was decorated, all the history, and how everything done throughout the palace was so detailed and ornnate. I couldn’t help think how plain our houses are these days.

I was upset camera’s weren’t allowed in the Palace. There was so much I wanted to take photos of. The thought crossed my mind of sneaking in a few pictures, but since I have a nice, big camera I knew it would be hard to pull off.

The first thing we did was look at the Winston Churchill exhibt. Winston was born at the palace so that is pretty cool. They have his curls and first baby gown on exhibt. The next thing we did was take an “Untold Story” tour of the palace. Lady Mary, who was the maid to Sara Churchill, gave the virtual tour. A virtual tour, with a Sarah’s projected image telling us about the history as we passed from room to room.

It was interesting to learn about all the history of the Palace. There was a little girl on our tour who had to be about 7 or 8 years old, and she kept looking at the animatronic figures along the tour as they moved. At one point, she tapped Sara Churchill’s shoulder, expecting her to turn around. Of course she didn’t. It was quite funny. Ryan and I both laughed to each other.

We saved the best part of the palace for last: the State rooms. There were amazing! Again, I was thinking how I could sneak out my camera. Knowing nobody would believe what I was seeing.

I told Ryan as we were walking through the rooms that I could live here. I could see myself enjoying the palace life. My favorite room was probably the formal dining room. It was so elegant and well done. Ryan’s favorite room was the library, of course. There were books all over the walls; it was incredible.

By the time we finished touring the inside of the palace, it was dark outside. We were wanting to tour the gardens and the Palace grounds, but that wasn’t going to happen in the dark. Just means we have to go back there, which is fine by me!

(Sorry to interrupt. Ryan here. Looks like Jen didn’t mention the trip home, so I thought I would…)

A small road led us away from the Palace, along the river as the sun went down beyond the hills. It was beautiful. I asked Jen to snap a picture. I told her it felt like we were in a Jane Austen novel. I’ve never read Jane Austen, but that’s what it felt like.

I felt so fortunate to be here, taking all of this in. It was just incredible. It felt like we were in a whole other time and place. It felt like we were being given a look into the world that has birthed all of the classic literature we think of when we think of England. Austen. Shakespeare. The Wind in the Willows.

Like somehow we were being invited to a behind the scenes look, and how it made sense that such ideas would come tumbling out from them. Growing up surrounded by all of this. Growing up with this incredible canvas to work from.

We made our way out, along the narrow road, toward the lights of the village. The skeletal trees reaching up into the night sky made me feel like we were walking through a scene of The Legend of Sleepy Holllow. I half-expected a man on a horse to come rushing at us. With a pumpkin for a head.

We passed through a large, arched stone gate that led us into the village. Walking along the stone sidewalks on our way to the bus, I told Jen I loved it here. The history. The people. The culture. The accents. All of it.

We must’ve just missed our bus when we arrived at the bus stop, as we had about a 25-minute wait. It was quite cold. Our breath swirled in the air as Jen quizzed me on my Greek flash cards. We were relieved to step out of the cold and into the warmth when the bus arrived. Pulling away from the Palace and into the night, leading us back home. I was happy to be heading toward our warm home. And toward dinner.

(Okay, back to Jen. Sorry for the interruption…)

When we got back home I made a pumpkin pie for Ryan, which he has been craving for a while. His grandpa was nice enough to send us all the ingredients we would need for the pie. Thanks Grandpa Bud! We wrapped up the night with Ryan studying, me reading and enjoying a piece of pumpkin pie. It was a mighty fine day!