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Victoria would have loved Hawaii's royal palace

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One interesting place not to miss if you're visiting the island of Oahu is the Iolani Palace. It is the only royal palace on United States soil, as people here are fond of saying, a grand example of Victorian-tropical architecture. Its broad, Corinthian-columned fa,cade looks immensely solid, almost indestructible.

And yet the world it was designed to showcase -- a kingly life style along the lines of European royalty -- didn't last long. Thirteen years after the palace was built, the last queen of Hawaii was tried for treason here, in her own throne room.

Afterward, the palace became the capitol building for the new republic of Hawaii. The furnishings were auctioned; the huge carpet in the throne room was sold piece by piece; and termites attacked the great central koa wood staircase. Revolutions, even relatively peaceable ones, are unkind to kingly trappings.

But since 1969, when work began to restore the palace to its original state, millions of dollars have been spent, and today you can take a tour and imagine Iolani Palace in its brief but glorious heyday.

One of the guides -- a group of gray-haired and fiercely protective haole ladies in Mother Hubbard dresses -- will give you a pair of stretchy booties to put over your shoes. She'll then lead you through a door into the royal front hall.

You understand the booties after you enter. The hall, running from the front to the back of the building, has such an amazingly shiny floor that you can actually see a dim reflection of your face in it. The front door has Hawaiian motifs etched in glass and the center of the hall is dominated by a new and gleaming koa wood staircase.

Most interesting are the stately portraits of nine Hawaiian kings and queens that line the walls. But there's not much time to study them. Our guide is going over palace protocol, and has us, in imagination, dressed in silk and jewels, stepping from a carriage aided by a footman, and then sweeping through those etched glass doors into the Blue Room to wait for an audience with King Kalakaua.


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