Notes from Across the Pond

I’ve been incommunicado to most of the world for the last week or so. As part of a fellowship, I got to spend the last week in London, exploring the city and most importantly, taking in the theatre.

This was not my first trip to the city. As a teacher I’ve had the opportunity to go two other times (both for free) through tour companies. Of course, those times I had  groups of 14-18 year olds and just about every minute of my day planned for me (including meals), so this was a very different experience. I didn’t have to do a frantic head count every time I got on the tube. There was no listening to whining about how much we’d walked and how tired anyone was. I didn’t have to collect and carry anyone else’s passport to keep them from dropping them in O’Hare*. And most importantly, no discussions about why it’s not a good idea to invite people you’ve just met who have knives to group dinners.

It was pretty relaxing with just my husband and me. It was also a bit odd. We had so much time on our hands, that I wasn’t always quite sure what to do. The last three times I’ve been overseas, I’ve had so much of my time scheduled, that it never really occurred to me to think about what I wanted to do. This trip, we only had two activities planned: two shows at the Globe,w hich only took up about 6 hours of the 169 we had there.

We filled a lot of our free time just walking around. Each day we decided what area of the city we wanted to see, jumped on the tube to get to the fringe of that area, and started walking.

Saturday we were pretty tired as we’d been up for close to 24 hours, but our hotel room wasn’t ready for several hours, so we hit my favorite shopping spot, Covent Garden. I bought a bag of treacle toffee and a few little trinkets for friends. We listened to some street musicians, watched several people painted in silver doing some sort of mime show (much to the crowd’s delight) and found some grub. We didn’t do much aside from walk around. I was lucky I could buy our tube tickets. My brain was so hazy and my tongue so tied, I couldn’t form the words for what I wanted to buy!

Sunday we hit Oxford Road, probably the most famous shopping area in the city. There are blocks and blocks of stores. Huge department stores like Selfridges, Marks and Spencer, Debenhams and House of Fraser. Every store had huge display windows with tempting wares. The only problem was that at 9 am, none of the stores were open. The earliest any of them opened their doors was 11:30, and that was for a preview, the tills didn’t open until noon. After walking from one end of the district to the other, it was barely 10 and the only place to while away the time was Starbucks. Now, I’m pretty anti-Starbucks, so we headed back to our room.

We did make it back to look in some of the stores. Selfridges is one of those huge stores that actually has lots of smaller stores in it. Lots of upscale retailers like Tiffany & Co, Louis Vutton and Godiva have small areas in the store set up to hawk their wares. We were drawn to one called Vom Fass. I was drawn in by all the cool looking bottles full of liquid. I think my husband might have been more drawn to the pyramid of whiskey casks against the wall. Vom Fass specializes in speciality liquors, vinegars and oils. The cool thing about them is that they let you sample anything you want. I tried some tasty things, like blood orange vodka and mango lime vodka. My husband tasted some tequila and some whiskey. I also have a real weakness for balsamic vinegar, so I had to try their pomegranite version.oil It was GREAT! Since I liked it so much, the sales associate mixed me up an even better treat, the vinegar mixed with their pistachio oil. FANTASTIC! Before we knew it, we had to have some.

Monday we found the National Science Museum. Now, I’m not usually a big science person, but my husband has a degree in biology, so it was something I knew he’d like. To avoid the crowd, we headed to the top of the museum and decided to work our way down. The first thing we found were “space shuttles” promising virtual reality rides. Since the museum was free, we popped in the two pounds and got on a space roller coaster. Although it could have been really cheesy, it was great fun! simulatorWe spent the rest of the afternoon reading about early medical practices, looking at a cross section of an airplane and playing in the hands on science areas. Each floor had large sections of science discovery. I felt like a little kid again making sound waves vibrate water, building a bridge (which did, as it claimed and held me up) and creating a light video by bending rainbows. Sure, I had to wait sort of patiently while the actual kids ran between the activities, but it was worth it.

That night we also got tickets to see The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare.**

Tuesday found us at the theater again, after a long walk down the Thames from Embankment to just short of Mansion House, at the Globe. On our way we saw a really cool skate park. graffitiAt first my husband was amazed that the cops hadn’t done anything about it. But considering London is the most closely watched city, with CCTV cameras everywhere (including the skate park), he realized this was done for artistic reasons. And it was pretty cool to look at. Tuesday night was also the first night we went looking for a movie theater. Unfortunately, the concierge completely mislead us (yes, we were listening and following his map, but there was no theater). We did find a nice bar during happy hour though, so we settled for people watching and polishing off a few drinks. I had a pear belini. Yum!

I know I still have a few days to cover, but this is already over 1100 words and I’m getting sleepy. Not quite jet lagged, but not back on real time yet either. Tune in tomorrow for more of my trip across the pond.

*Yes, one of my girls dropped hers after security. She had no idea she’d done it. Luckily I looked back to see what was keeping her (she was late for everything on the trip) and saw her drop it. I grabbed it up and kept it until we hit customs to come home.

**I’ll write about the plays themselves in another post.

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