Hyde Park and Harrods
We began our walk of the day in Hyde Park from Speaker’s Corner to Hyde Park corner, enjoying the morning life as runners passed us by. Some place mid-way we sat down on a park bench to enjoy our breakfast pastry and porridge.
There is something unique about Hyde Park. If you like me have read your share of historical novels from the Regency Period then you will know that Hyde Park was where the English gentlemen and ladies came to walk, be chaperoned or show off their equestrian skills.
Hyde Park was created as a private hunting ground for Henry VIII in 1536. It was Charles I who opened the park to the public in 1637. Almost 30 years later in 1665 it became a camp ground for Londoners attempting to escape the Great Plaque.
The park has gone through two major periods of change which has made it what it is today. In the 18th century, it was Queen Caroline, wife of George II, who formed Kensington Gardens and The Serpentine, which are central features of the park today.
In the 1820s, on commission by George IV, Decimus Burton created a new and glorious entrance at Hyde Park Corner, comprising the present-day Triumphal Screen and the Wellington Arch, which at the time upheld a massive horse statue of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, soldier and Prime Minister. However, the statue was removed after his death as it had generated controversy and ridicule.
Historically, the park is probably best known for housing the Great Exhibition in 1851, celebrating modern industrial technology and design.
Exiting the park we headed towards the infamous Harrods as we had promised my boyfriend’s mother to check out if they still had golden customer toilets. Though checking out two different floors, we never found anything in gold, but instead managed to get lost at the rather odious Egyptian staircase. As a compensation for the non-existing golden toilets, we ended up buying her a handbag, with Harrods written in front.
Returning to Hyde Park we followed the Serpentine to Kensington Gardens and Kensington Palace.
Afternoon Tea at Kensington Palace
Having had our share of pub food for the last couple of days, I decided it was time to introduce my boyfriend to that most quintessential of English customs, Afternoon Tea. While tea drinking reached England with the reign of Charles II and his Portuguese and tea-loving wife, Infanta Catherine de Braganza, the idea of afternoon tea is much younger.
It is thanks to Anna Maria Stanhope, the 7th Duchess of Bedford and lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria that we can enjoy drinking Darjeeling while nipping at little cucumber sandwiches and petite cakes, waving around our pinkie finger. According to most sources, it was she, who in the late 1830s introduced the practice of afternoon tea after feeling peckish around 4 o’clock. There are earlier sources from both France and England mentioning Afternoon Tea, amongst these apparently an unfinished Jane Austen work from 1804. Nonetheless, the Dutchess of Bedford might very likely have institutionalised it and made it more fashionable as a formal social occasion.
But what is Afternoon Tea? It is not as some might claim High Tea, which though it sounds rather posh, is in fact an evening meal consisting of meat and potatoes and enjoyed by all social classes. Rather afternoon tea is Low tea, because it is enjoyed in low seating surroundings – in the sitting rooms or the drawing rooms. When it is called Royale Tea a class of champagne or sherry is enjoyed at the beginning.
Afternoon Tea has various names depending on what is served with the tea, and different places will tell you different things, but from Afternoon to Remember and About Food I could gather that Cream Tea is a simple tea with scones, jam or lemon curd and clotted cream
Light Tea is concentrated on the sweets and as such is not really considered a meal. With a Light Tea you will as always get scones, but these will be accompanied by other sweet treats such as sponge cakes, cupcakes, madeleines and trifles.
Full Tea is the variant which you are normally treated with when stopping in for Afternoon Tea. Full Tea consists of scones and other sweets as wth a Light Tea, but in addition you are served little sandwiches or other savouries. It is often served on a three-tiered tray with the savouries at the bottom, scones on the middle tray and other sweets and deserts on the top.
Today at Kensington Palace Orangery was no different:
English Orangery Afternoon Tea
Egg mayonnaise and cress bridge roll; Coronation chicken wrap;
smoked salmon and cream cheese mini bagel; and cucumber and fresh mint sandwiches
Orange-scented and currant scones served with Cornish clotted cream and English strawberry jam
and an assortment of afternoon tea pastries
Served with a range of loose teas, tisanes or coffee
While the Full Tea we enjoyed was not in any way extraordinary, it was definitely worth every penny due to the beautiful surroundings. The Kensington Palace Orangery is a beautiful 18th-century greenhouse and place of entertainment, which was commissioned by Queen Anne in 1704. It is not difficult to imagine that the beautiful rooms full of natural light have been a place of royal entertainment and enjoyment.
After enjoying our Afternoon Tea, we headed into Notting Hill and though I had been ardent about avoiding Portobello Road, we nonetheless ended up walking it from one end to the other before turning off into Bayswater and walking back to Paddington Station and our hotel.
I am not certain how we survived the final stage of our walk, only that our strides became shorter and shorter. After four days of walking around London, I was however pleased to notice that my boyfriend was finally showing signs of fatigue.
Our long weekend in London seems more like a compact week in regards to all the things we have seen and experienced. I am happy to say that my general impression of London has changed and I am bringing home a long list of wonderful memories and favourite places.