My friend Sue Woolmans, a royal author from the United Kingdom, is an avid traveller and palace visitor, with friends or with her husband. She has joint me at visits to Windsor Castle, Penshurst Place and Hever Castle, as well as on a tour through the Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen, Denmark last summer. Together with Greg King in 2013 she wrote the marvelous book “The Assassination of the Archduke“, about the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo in June 1914, which was the start of World War I. With Greg King, Coryne Hall and Penny Wilson she also wrote “Imperial Crimea: Estates, Enchantment and the Last of the Romanovs“. In 2010 “25 Chapters of My Life : The Memoirs of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna” was published, written by Paul Kulikovsky and Sue Woolmans, with a translation by Karen Roth-Nicholls. All three books should still be available if you’re interested. She answered my questions with a lot of humor.
Which British palace/castle should you really have seen?
Windsor Castle. There is centuries of history here – built originally in the 11th century but still in much use today – for Coronation events this year for example. Something for everyone too – for children, there’s Queen Mary’s Dolls House – designed in 1924 to showcase British craftsmanship and raise money for charity. St George’s chapel houses the graves of our beloved Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh. And once you have toured, sat in the cafe in the crypt for a rest, you can walk through the Great Park. Also, it is open all year round.
Worldwide, what do you think is the most beautiful royal palace/castle?
Oh dear, and now I have to talk about a palace that is currently out of bounds for most of u- – the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo outside St Petersburg. Vibrant blue and gold – it shines in the sunshine in summer and contrasts perfectly with the white snow in winter. And that is just the outside. Inside, there is room after room of paintings, and china, and history from the 18th century onwards – and a shimmering ballroom of gilding and glass – that must look incredible in candlelight. Beautiful grounds, full of outbuildings that often have exhibits in them. And I recommend a horse drawn carriage ride around the park to see all the smaller buildings dotted around like the bathhouses.
What do you enjoy most when you visit a palace/castle?
Immersing myself in another time and place – away from the worries of the world – a tour around a palace takes me out of myself. So I enjoy it all – portraits, photos, porcelain, costumes, wandering the gardens – everything. Just learning all there is to know.
What do you dislike most?
Rain when the gardens of a palace look like a lovely place to visit. And visiting a palace in Eastern Europe on a national holiday – because they get so very crowded – though it is nice to see so many people interested in their history, it’s an absolute battle to buy a ticket.
What is the funniest and/or craziest thing you have ever experienced?
It has to be on a tour I took back in the last century, not long after the fall of Communism in Russia. The tour was called “The Romanovs in St Petersburg” and was run by royal history author, Charlotte Zeepvat. We were in a park outside Peterhof, looking for the Cottage Palace. We found some ruins, very overgrown with weeds, waist high, which we proceeded to wade through, being bitten by mosquitos as we went. And then, we climbed over what appeared to be a series of rocks, but was actually an outside wall of the Cottage Palace. We got on top of these rocks, just to catch a glimpse of what had been the entrance to the Cottage Palace but was then a ruined porch. It has since been beautifully renovated. But on the day, my husband was heard to remark, “normal wives lie on beaches on holiday”!
For your holidays or a day out, have you ever been inspired by the royals?
All the time. I try to fit in something royal for most holidays. My poor husband was fooled into going to Vienna for our honeymoon and found himself on tours of the Hofburg, Schönbrunn, and the Belvedere!!!
What’s still on your wish list?
Corfu to see the Achilleion.
Malta to see where the Russian refugee camp once was, after the 1917 Revolution – and the house, Villa Guardamangia, where Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh lived when he was in the Navy.
Madeira – as my husband puts it, “to weep at Karl’s grave” (Emperor Karl II, the last ruler of Austria).