Monday, July 28, 2014

London - 7/27/14

Time adjustments are a a tricky thing.  Just when you think you've got 'em licked, you find yourself lying awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering why you aren't sitting down at the dinner table at 2AM.

Sleep, for whatever reason, decided not to show its pretty head until after sunrise.  Lost the entire freakin' morning, which not how I like to spend my full-contact, pedal-to-the-metal vacations.  But I did eventually drag myself out of bed and into the showers because I had a ticket for Mummenschanz!

Now, for those of you who didn't grow up on children's programming of the 1970s or the Muppet Show, Mummenschanz is an experimental dance troupe that uses props and puppetry in unusual ways.

The theater was barely half full.  Most of it was filled with children.  But as I sat there watching this performance, I heard all the kids around me asking their parents, "Mum?  What is that?  Is that a human?  What is that?  WHAT IS THAT?"  Their little video-game-fed, television-watching minds were being obliterated.  Up was down!  Down was up!  Is there an actual person inside that yellow springy-thingie with... wait... is that a red weather balloon?  And did the performers actually just push it out into the audience?  Are they allowed to do that?  And what is that green sphere with a tongue supposed to be?  Just a sphere?  Doesn't it have to BE something?  Did that giant twenty-five foot balloon person just knock the block off of the other twenty-five foot balloon person?

I came to the conclusion it is good for kids to see weird stuff.

I continued on down to London city, which is a one square mile district built in the exact same spot where the Romans originally built it 2000 years ago.  It is mainly a business district, so most places were closed on a Sunday.  But that was perfect for my tourist tastes!  No people to get in the way and ruin everything!
It started off with a stroll down Fleet Street and the GORGEOUS Royal Courts of Justice.

Isn't it lovely?  Right across the street was the original Twinings Tea Shop, so I stopped in.

Not just something in the grocery aisle!  I continued on down past a column with a big ol' dragon at the top of it...

And the sign for the eyeglasses person...

To make it just in time to hear these lovely gents ring out the hour by whacking the bells with their clubs...

A little further down was Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, the stomping grounds of such luminaries as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens.

Alas, it was closed, but I think I will need to make a pilgrimage to see if any of their muses still haunt the walls.

It was time for me to catch my walking tour of London with... wait for it... London Walks!  

The theme of this evenings' tour would be ghosts.  We started off at The Monument, which memorializes the Great Fire of 1666 that destroyed 90% of the buildings in London.  The number of lives taken because of that fire has increased over the years, though, due to the people flinging themselves off the top of this monument.  It is said there is the ghost of one such person who haunts the square.

We then headed over for a glorious view of the Thames...

...and to hear about the ferryman who haunts the shores.  He faked his death, was laid out for his wake, but decided to come downstairs to tell his servants to stop having such a great time.  They were so startled, they accidentally brained him.  Then they decided to toss his body into the river.  The first written account of his appearance was in 1830 and he's been sighted a bunch of times since.

His daughter built a nunnery, which became the church Shakespeare worshiped at, which later became the lovely church you see in the background here.  The ghost shows up under the bridge in this picture (London Bridge) from time to time, rising out of the water. 

We then continued on passed Lovetts Lane...which used to be "Lovers Lane"... which was where all the prostitutes hung out...

This skull and crossbones do not indicate pirates.  It is a church door and signifies this is where you should drop off all your plague ridden bodies.

If you look closely, you will see that there are some stairs and an elevated courtyard.  It is because they would toss the bodies into these mass graves and needed to raise the floor over them.  The bodies have been removed since then, but the floor height remained so as not to disturb the building's foundations.

We then headed over to an absolutely gorgeous outdoor market


Now, it is said the Lamb Tavern is haunted by a jilted groom. When he passed away, his next of kin went upstairs to clear out the upper floors, and they found his reception from all those years ago still set up (there is a pub somewhere else... that I don't remember... that has the items on display).  It is said that this was the inspiration for Great Expectations.  The ghost is said to be wandering the upper floors at night with a candle, and the shop owners say that regularly they hear footsteps that should not be there and see his light.

Did I capture a ghostly figure in the window?  Or is the night just playing tricks with the mind?

But now off to less haunted haunts... here's the entrance to Diagon Alley from Harry Potter!  Painted black in the movie and sans optometry signs.

And I felt like I should have brought a gift of homage to this site... home of the very first coffee shop in London!  Opened in 1652!

We found out about a bunch more ghosts.  Too many to tell you!  Haunted organs!  Gas mask wearing ladies!  Ghosts caught on CCTV!  You should catch the tour!  It is only £9 and worth every pence!

But the final stop which really hit a lovely place in my heart... So, Charles Dickens based his books in real places in London.  This pub, Simpsons, is the spot where Scrooge had dinner the night before his visit from the ghosts. 

And so, in the words of Tiny Tim, I send you off!  God bless us! Every one!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

London - 7/26/14

This week has been an amazing one.  There is a strict what-happens-at-RADA-stays-at-RADA policy, but sufficient to say, it's been wonderful.  We're getting out of the get-to-know-you stage and into the suck-the-marrow-from-the-Muse's-bones stage and it is delicious.  I suppose my relationship with theater is a bit like long term relationships.  At first everything is rocketships and rainbows.  And then gradually it slides into openly farting and silent dinner dates.  Not that the love isn't there.  Just that someone feels it is okay to leave a dirty dish covered in tuna and beans in the sink.  But occasionally, you get a holiday.  A second honeymoon.  And you remember what it is that made your heart just sing.  I'm realizing that the people I admire most are the other artists here who give themselves whole-heartedly to this thing.  The people unafraid to dive right in.  The folks who study it and nerd out about it and just... love it.  Love is infectious.  It is so enlivening to be around, it is hard to sleep at night.

The sun rose on the Saturday after this first week and I had the whole day before me to spend however I wanted.  I thought at first that I was going to be responsible.  Pick up some groceries.  Head over to Samuel French to pick up a book called Contacts that I wasn't having luck find anywhere.  And I soon discovered nothing I wanted was anywhere.  I completely struck out.  So, my errands being a flop... I had the whole day ahead of me.

It's been a bit tough... In the past, there have been more incredible plays to see than I have had days in my trip.  This time, though, it's the good ol' summertime and everything seems to be for the tourist crowd.  Lots of musicals.  Lots of "spectaculars".  But there was one show I've dying to see: Streetcar Named Desire.  It is beyond sold out, but everyday there is a lottery for a few seats.  So, I decided to throw my hat into the hands of fate (...I'm mixing some metaphors there...) and see if I could score a spot.

I headed down to the Southbank.  It took a lot less time than I thought, so I had some time to stroll.  I headed towards the Thames.

There was Big Ben (don't call it that!) peeking out to say hello.  The day was sunny and warm, with a light breeze.  The crowds were out in droves.  There was some sort of a love festival that involved a lot of people with pink hair and tutus and a food festival with some delicious samples.  I stumbled across the book market.

I had to keep whispering to myself as I picked up first editions of Five Children and It and Asterix and Cleopatra that everything I bought, I had to carry around all day, and then in a few weeks time, haul in my suitecase up and down the Tube steps.  It was brutal display of self-control.  I kept going, enjoying the scenery...

...when I realized that it was probably time to head back for the first lottery round.  Now, I stood there thinking I should walk back, but I looked at my map and it appeared there was an alternate route that would take the same amount of time.  So, I pressed forward.

The thing I've discovered about traveling is that as long as you are open to the experience, there is no such thing as "being lost".  The spirits in the street will guide you exactly where you are supposed to be at exactly the time you are supposed to be there, and will reveal hidden treasures you'd never find if you stuck to your original plan.

I discovered this random little parking lot full of the most amazing shops.

They were filled with shops with handmade goods and some of the most beautiful clothing I've seen.  Was able to give directions to a lost native, which always fills me with a sense of belonging.  I got to the theatre and for whatever reason was told to come back at 5PM for the lottery instead of hanging around for the matinee lottery.  Soooo... I had a decision to make.  I had heard about a place called Borough Market, and according to my map, it seemed like I could get there  pretty easily.  But, again, there was that little voice in my head that said, "Go back to the river."  So I did and decided to pop into the Tate Modern to see what their Jackson Pollack was like.

Really cool gallery and my brain became overloaded way too fast.  While there, though, I realized I didn't have my glasses, which would make watching a show really not fun.  See?  A reason for everything!  Better to discover this fact in a free museum before spending money for a once-in-a-lifetime show.

So, I needed to get back to my room.  I could go back the way I came, but looking at my map, it appeared if I pressed forward, I would come to the next station.  So that's what I did.

And you know what I stumbled upon?  The Borough Market!  Completely not even close to where it looked like it should be on the map.

I turned the corner and there was The Clink.  Yes.  Of "throw them in the clink"!

A nasty looking place to be stuck in.  I kept walking and there were sweet little shops and touristy tours of fake catacombs.  There was a boat that Sir Francis Drake built and from the loud voices inside, I assume some Elizabethan reenactment going on.  But finally I got to the actual market and immediately saw the stand that I was told by my dear friend April Warren I HAD to go to.

I wish I had gotten a bigger picture, but if you look closely at the stand, you can see some yellow stuff dripping from those metal arms.  That yellow stuff is cheese.  That guy took half a wheel of cheese, toasted it under those arms, and then scraped the toasted cheese onto potatoes.

May I just mention how glad I was I hadn't stopped at any of those other food stands or cafes earlier? I sat there next to Queen Elizabeth's old boat and ate me some cheezy potatoes.  I'm already making plans to go back.

Speaking of back, there was the Tube station, I hopped on it, got back to my room, even had a chance to change and freshen up a bit before heading out.  Got to the theater.  Put my name in the lottery.  Stumbled around for the half-hour before the draw.  There was an older woman standing beside me.  Totally looked like she could be someone's mum.  And out of the blue, she proceeded to tell me how the last time she had been at this theater, she was watching Becket stoned on hash brownies and the hallways kept bending so she couldn't find the bar.  You know.  The sorts of conversations you have with strangers.

I didn't win the seats, but you know what?  The travel spirits will always take care of you if you let them.  I was walking along the sidewalk and suddenly realized I was alongside one of the actors from the show, someone I've really admired.  Life goal of breathing the same air as this actor? Achievement unlocked!

I headed back to Leicester Square to see if there were any 1/2 price tickets available.  The people behind me said that Shakespeare in Love was wonderful, so, I grabbed myself a really great seat.  The tourist crowds were bonkers, but with a little time before curtain, I headed over to Waterstones to see if I could grab a book I'd been looking for.  I loved what they did with their children's section.

(Get it? Piccadilly Circus?)

They were sold out (evidently this is a hot commodity), but directed me a block down to Hatchards, who had one copy left.  Hatchards is absolutely lovely.  It was founded in 1797 and consists of winding wooden staircases and carefully curated titles.  And there was the book!  The last copy in London!  And it was mine!  The travel spirits had my back again.

I had to hoof it back to the theater in time for curtain.  I settled into my seat, and the gal beside me pointed out the cast of Da Vinci's Demons (sitting in the front rows) to me.  She said it was her favorite show, that she had just decided to grab tickets to the show on a whim, and now was swooning.  I was delighted to see an actress I had seen in Fortune's Fool last January stepping into the lead role in Shakespeare in Love.  She was an absolute stand-out in Fortune's Fool and maybe it is just the vicarious thrill of seeing someone good succeed, or maybe it was just the hope it inspired, but after all the nonsense you find in American theater, I can't describe how wonderful it is that there are production teams at the biggest theaters in the world who are willing to cast based on talent rather than celebrity.  I hope that audiences open up their pocketbooks to reward that trust.

And that's it!  Just your average Saturday in London.  I wandered back to my room in the cool of the evening, stopping off for a little midnight pizza and some time to reflect on a great day.

Friday, July 25, 2014

London 7/25/14

And so the sun sets on week one...

London - 7/23/14

Out for an evening stroll, just wandering the city in the cool of the night.

Monday, July 21, 2014

London - July 21, 2014

The sleep?  It did not happen so much last night.  I was up till 2AM with the jet lag and awake again at 4AM.  By the time 6AM rolled around, I had E.N.O.U.G.H. of the laying around trying to woo the sandman and decided to get the day started.

Had a continental breakfast at the hotel with some fancy cottage cheese that tastes nothing like what we have in the states.  It's a little thicker.  Less rubbery.  More... cheese-like.  So I had that and some sliced cheese.  And some cucumbers.  And cheese.  And a croissant with preserves.  And some more cheese.  Perhaps one of the reasons I like London so much is that all my memories are flavored either cheese or chocolate.  What's not to be deliriously happy about in the land of Cadbury and cheddar?

By 8AM, I was up and walking the streets of South Kensington.  It reminds me a bit of Brooklyn.  It is lovely, but there is a bit of... shabby lived-in-ness?... to it.  It's not that it's rundown.  It's just if the rest of London is like a tailored suit, South Kensington seems like the hostess an hour before the party, hair in a pony tail, frantically kicking the clothes under the bed while trying to remember not to burn the hors d'oeuvre.  Everyone was running to work.  Literally.  Running.  In high heels.  Texting as they rode their bicycles in suits and ties.  Scurry!  Scurry!  Scurry!

My destination was the Brompton Cemetery.  I had never heard of it before.  It was on my map, so I figured I should go see what it looked like.  The answer is "cool".  It looked like really, really cool.

All of the people rushing off to their jobs used Brompton Cemetery as a short cut, so I was dodging bikes and pedestrians the whole time.  There was something rather poetic about it.  Rushing past the dead as they rushed to get through their life.  I'm sure there is a more eloquent way of putting it, but I've been drinking instant coffee all day.


As I entered the cemetery, there was a raven kissing one of the tombstones.  He flew away before I could get a picture, but there he was, just preening the stone like it was his job to keep things tidy.

The cemetery was founded in 1836 and time had taken its toll.


(great place to hide a body!)

There was a beautiful decay to everything.

That's not to say that everything was left to nature!  In fact, the signs said that a major project was underway to return the cemetery to its former glory.  And how glorious that is!

The front of the cemetery has been used in countless movies.  It seemed very familiar...

And I have no idea who these folks are, but I'd like to shake the hand of whomever it was that told them to go this direction with their marketing.  Sign me up for their services!

This little squirrel amused me.  He just sat there with that nut in his mouth perfectly still, not making a move, not blinking, nothing.  It was like he wanted to try out for the role of fancy new gravemarker.  Got himself into a staring contest with one of the weeping angels or something.  And he was winning.  

Again, I was too slow with the camera, but imagine this lane filled with golden colored leaves falling from the trees.  That's what happened about two seconds before my shutter clicked.  It was like something out of a movie.

I reached the entrance, and looked to see if I could find my favorite raven, but suddenly there was a swoop of the flock as a good fifty of them swept in and landed by the fence.  Someone dropped some breadcrumbs for them, and they each sat there, happy as a clam, with little white pieces in their beaks.

I returned back to my hotel to pick up my Tube ticket and headed out to the Victoria & Albert Museum.  I gotta say, England's rail stations are so pretty...  This was just for their subway!

I arrived at the V&A and it was gorgeous.  Ever square inch was carved.  The galleries went on and on and on.  

I discovered this courtyard for some lunch.

And the sweetest little memorial hidden behind a column to some beloved pet dogs.

There was a bed built for six:

And some beautiful examples of the art nouveau movement, which I just love.

The signage said that the prevailing belief of this movement was that art need serve no other purpose other than to just be lovely.  Lovely, indeed!

I think my favorite thing, though, was something I didn't get a picture of.  They had original paintings by Beatrix Potter.  They are even more beautiful than you can imagine with such a delicate hand.  She painted so tiny and small with such and eye for detail.  That made it worth the trip.

It was time to leave the museum, however, and get back to my dorm room across town.  I had Plans for this evening... which were all foiled.  I've come to the conclusion that on these trips, there will be one night where nothing I do will be successful.  I dutifully walked over to the British Library to purchase a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare from their museum shop... and they didn't have a copy.  I hopped on the Tube to go across the Thames to grab rush seats for a show I really want to see... and it doesn't open until Wednesday.  My second choice for a show is dark on Mondays.  The shop I wanted to go to was not where I thought it was.  

Instead, it turned into a "get it done" night.  I went to the drugstore to buy a travel hairdryer and essentials.  I went to the market and picked up some water and coffee (see: essentials).  I bought a cup to drink my coffee out of.  I found a Complete Works in another bookshop.  You know. Stuff.  That needs to be done.  And, really, I needed to do tonight.  For tomorrow begins Day One of my class and from what I hear, they will be keeping me deliciously running for the next four weeks.