Friday, April 25, 2008
The alternative has been to post my itinerary online. A few directions for you: Where possible, I've hyperlinked the time of each planned event to an official website. If you want to know more than what I've stated in each time slot, just click on the posted time and explore the website.
You'll notice that I say "we" and "us" a lot. I seem to have a Gollum complex because I'm simply referring to myself singularly. Yep, I'm going alone. It's quite alluring. I get to see what I want, I get to do what I want, I don't have to wait on or hurry for anyone, and if I get kidnapped by terrorists, why then I don't have to worry about it ruining anyone's trip but my own. Just curious--I wonder if I did get kidnapped by terrorists, would they take kindly to my asking for a copy of the ransom photos so that I could scrapbook them later? After all, that would be quite an experience, and you'd want evidence of it to show all your friends back home (assuming you would make it back with your head).
What do I want most to take from this trip? I'm not very good with "quick." I never have been. I like to take my time because if things go by too quickly, I can't think. I can't process. I'm so interested in getting a small taste of how other people live or have lived, and I've planned almost all of my trip around that idea. And on previous trips, I've simply been so overbooked that I never get a chance to really feel or experience. I get too eager to go back to the hotel and sleep. So, this time, I'm drinkin' it in. I really want it to become a part of me, however small.
I'm not too fussed about food, really. There are other priorities for me, and I feel like food is one of the bits of the trip that should largely be spontaneous. I have a few restaurants I would like to hit, and those are mentioned. But I mostly don't have exact times or places planned for meals.
For those of you that stumble upon my blog and have been to London, for heavens sake, tell me if I'm missing anything particularly grand on my itinerary. For everyone else, check back here in the days following my trip for stories, photos, musings, etc.
9:00a The Royal Academy of Music. I’m going to go to school here, you know; it’s just a matter of time. It’s not just because it’s the Royal Academy. I really like the way their harp department is set up. You’ve got one professor (among many) for your personal instruction, then you’ve got separate teachers for orchestral, opera/ballet, and jazz studies. On top of that, they have many big-name professionals that come in to do masterclasses many times a year. If you’re going to learn something in the arts, you might as well have exposure to as many ideas and people as possible. That’s why I want to go here.
So, I’m taking the oppor-tunafish to look over the facilities, walk through the area, look at the international student house, talk to the admissions counselors, etc. There’s really no sense in spending all the time and money to come back for auditions if I just have a really bad feeling about the place. Better to check it out before hand. Let’s hope that they’re kind enough to let me stick my bag in the office while I look around. If not, I’ll pop over to the British Museum; their webpage says I can check oversized bags in the cloakroom for £1.
2:00p I’m ready to check into the Ace Hotel in West Kensington and shed this heavy and awkward bag. Then it’s back out on the street A.S.A.P.
3:00p Handel lived in London for the last twenty or so years of his life. Did you know that? They’ve since restored his house and opened it to the public as a museum. Every so often they even hold concerts in the recital hall. Handel isn’t my top favorite. That place belongs to Bach. My cello teacher used to say, “If you’re a Christian, you read the New Testament. If you’re a musician, you play Bach.” But oh my goodness! Handel is an oh-so-close second. Rock stars just go crazy with their guitar solos. Playing Handel on the harp is just like that, if you can believe it. I move my hands in patterns that are just so different than with anything else I play. He lived in London, and I have to stop by to pay homage. For everyone who doesn’t like classical, the house still holds some interest—Jimi Hendrix lived on the top floor in the 1970s.8:00p Every so often, you hear about such-and-such actor playing in such-and-such play on the West End theatre district (the London equivalent of Broadway). So, I wondered if anything like that would be playing while I was in London. My first choice was to see Vanessa Redgrave playing in The Year of Magical Thinking in the National Theatre. But wouldn’t you know it—they’re sold out until June. It’s a bloody shame. I rather prefer Vanessa Redgrave as an actress. But the next best that I could find is Ralph Fiennes playing in God of Carnage at the Gielgud Theatre. It’s a bit of a stretch for me just to go see a play just because it has a celebrity in it; I would rather go see a play simply because of its story. But this is part of the London flavor that I wanted to sample while over there.
9:00a First few through the gate at the Tower of London. I don’t want to have to fight the huge crowds that could accumulate later in the day, so I’ll jump in on one of the free tours given by the yeoman warders right when I walk in. I'm not sure if they let people just roam freely if they're not on a tour, but I'd like to do that afterward. There's only so much that one can soak in while they're on a half-hour tour, so I'll take the time to revisit some of the places within the compound. Plus, I promised Kaitlin (most willingly) from work that I'd lay a rose for Anne Boleyn.
Very normal people with huge names have been inside these walls on less pleasant terms: Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth I… I’d be stupid not to visit a place so thick with history. Let’s hope the tour group is small enough and that the guide goes slowly enough for me to picture how I might react to spending my last few hours here. That’s a piece of life I want to take with me.
1:30p After eating, we’ll stop by the Museum of London. They’ve collected hundreds of years of history—all about England’s capital city. They even have a simulation of The Great Fire. I’m in London, so I must learn about what it must be like to live in one of the worlds oldest and largest cities through its many faces. I'd like to have this time to sample those little slices of life.5:18p My train leaves for Oxford. I decided not to make a day trip out of Oxford. There’s not really anything there that I want to make a priority out of seeing, except…
7:30p The highlight of my trip! Before I saw this show advertised, I had it in my mind that I was going to save money on the trip and not go to any shows. I can't keep such resolve in the face of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. This is their first live show since 2000. I can't tell you how much I love these ladies. If they weren't married, why then I would marry both of them so that I could always have the pleasure of their company and wit. If you haven't watched British television at all, then you probably don't know who or what I'm talking about. If you find yourself excessively bored with life one day, check out Absolutely Fabulous or any of the French & Saunders specials or The Vicar of Dibley. I can't say that any of you will, but that's okay. Just trust me--they're hilarious. Some of you might recognize Dawn as The Fat Lady on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban or as the voice of Mrs. Beaver on The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. Others might recognize Jennifer from Muppet Treasure Island or as the voice of the Fairy Godmother from Shrek 2. Other than that, they don't cross over much.
Anytime I get tired of anything or everything, I can watch Absolutely Fabulous and somehow, metaphysically, I just feel so good about life. I feel comfortable in my own skin. These ladies have a knack for creating characters and stories and jokes that just fit "me" so incredibly well. I couldn't be more excited that I get to see them.
10:30p Time to catch the train back into town. I have to make sure to sleep on the way back so that I'm not zapped for Stratford-upon-Avon tomorrow.
10:00a Shakespeare's Birthplace, along with the attached Shakespeare Center, opens. My travel guide says: "You can visit the bedroom where Shakespeare was born, the living room, the fully restored Tudor-style kitchen." I'm inclined to insert on the end (knowing the disposition of hard-core Shakespeare scholars and fans): "...the bed that Shakespeare was conceived on, the place where Mary Arden's water broke, the pot that Shakespeare was toilet-trained on..." Shakespeare is revered as a god to some; there's bound to be bronze plaques everywhere, commemorating where he took a piss.
I'll dispense with the negativity. I give the impression that I don't want to see any of this, and I do. Who doesn't love Shakespeare?
11:30a I've had an early day. I'll have myself an early lunch. But get this: to make it quite unique, let's get the meal a-la-carte and rent a boat. Rather than take one of the half-hour cruises on the river Avon, I'll rent a row boat (I have it on good authority that there are at least a few rental places nearby) and paddle to some secluded part of the river where I can eat and think away from the crowds.
1:00p Most everyone is still thinking about lunch, so I'll walk on over to Anne Hathaway's Cottage. This is Anne Hathaway the wife of Shakespeare we're talking about, not the Anne Hathaway that felt like she had to show her boobies in an Ang Lee film (Brokeback Mountain) just to have a serious acting career. Here, Anne lived for her early years until she married Shakespeare at age 25 (he was 18, folks).
3:00p It's a mile walk back to the remains of New Place, Shakespeare's retirement dwelling for the last six years of his life. Some nut tore the place down in the 1700s in order to avoid property taxes and the crowds that showed up at his door to see "Shakespeare's House." Yep, he's now on more than a few dirt lists. It's a good thing he's dead because someone would kill him, no doubt.
4:00p I must end the Stratford trip with a walk over to Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried. Who that spends a day all about Shakespeare can avoid looking at his famous gravestone: "Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare, To digg the dvst encloased heare. Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones, And cvrst be he yt moves my bones." (No, those aren't typos. That's how the bloke wrote it).
5:42p Catch the train back into town. I might get there in time to go by some shop, as all the museums and historical sites will have closed.
Side note: You ever wonder why we can call Shakespeare "The Bard," but nobody else seems to have a similar kind of pop-star name. Why don't we call Jane Austen "The Dame" or Charlotte Bronte "The Wench" or Oscar Wilde "The Queen"?
Thursday, April 24, 2008
10:00a I always hear everyone come back from London and say, "Oh, that British Museum! You could spend a whole day in there!" Why the hell not? "The sun never sets on the British Empire": you can see evidence of this archaic saying in the British Museum. Having had a white-knuckled grip on almost every land of ancient peoples and artifacts at one time or another, they've chipped off a piece here and there and carted it back to the island with them. We can roll our eyes, thinking "how unfair," but we probably owe a lot to them. Look at the Parthenon in its current state. Years of warfare and exposure to the elements/pollution have made the ancient temple an absolute wreck. So, if the British hadn't had the sense or nonsense to remove the friezes and sculptures of deity from it, we'd have so much less than we do now. So no need to complain. They may have been imperialistic culture-thieves at one time, but now we have the marvelous convenience of seeing so much of the world's history in one place.
The British Museum has some 3 or 4 cafes and restaurants located within its walls. You have no reason to leave before the museum closes at 8:30p. I can get there right at 10a, look at exhibits. When I feel peckish (I'm going to London, so now I have license to use those Britishisms without seeming pretentious), I can just go to the eating facility appropriate to my price bracket. When I feel intellectually drained, I can go browse the gift shop until I feel like hitting the exhibits again. I can always leave and see something else in town if I get bored, but it's much harder to add a whole day that I haven't planned for the museum. But I don't think I'll have that problem.
12:00p Madame Tussaud's is always crowded, from what I hear. So, we've put that off for today when the weekend crowds won't make much of a difference. It's just a bunch of wax figures, so I don't think I'll get too perturbed if people get in my way. How weird to stand beside something that looks so much like a real person, but they don't breathe or move. Don't get me wrong--I want to go even though it sounds like I'm complaining. This is the closest that I'll get to seeing the relative height and likeness of most of these celebrities or historical figures. And it's art, for kripes sake. People make people out of wax. That has to be interesting. I wonder if anyone will notice if I leave my teeth marks in Oprah's forehead.
2:30p I wanted most of the afternoon to do this. St. Martin-in-the-Fields has a brass-rubbing center. "What is a brass-rubbing," you ask? I had the same question when I first read about it. It's quite the novel medieval art form. One uses all shades of soft metals and other color pigments to produce a figure (lady, lord, knight, etc.) on heavy paper. It's just unique enough that I've made this a priority on my trip. I love to create, and this is one of those activities that I want to fully experience while I have the opportunity. No hurry. No other place to be. Nothing on the mind but appreciating the originality within myself.
7:30p I'll have finished at the brass-rubbing center at 6p and found a place nearby to eat. I'm still in Trafalgar Square, so I go back to St. Martin-in-the-Fields for an evening concert. I've never heard of the Festive Orchestra of London, but take a look at their program! It's all famous works. You almost never get that lucky with concerts. I have recordings of my favorite concertos, sonatas, etc., but I want to hear that stuff performed live. And nobody does that. It's the music that everyone knows, but in order to be musically diverse and interesting, the orchestras choose something obscure. Now, I get to hear some of my favorites performed live. And I just love them for this: it's a candlelight concert. That's all you need, isn't it?! If they're performing such lovely music, they have to add such a delicious ambiance through candlelight. Great music, candlelight, a beautiful and old church--it's a feast for the senses. I can't wait.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
12:00p The Dickens House Museum opens. Even though Dickens was a man of his time (he had a mistress for years), I consider him a deeply moral and spiritual man. So, we go to look at his London house on Sunday. Apparently his house is filled with literary allusions--windows, objects, rooms that appear in the books he wrote or finished while living in St. Pancras (I want to type "St. Pancreas"). One of my favorite books is A Christmas Carol, and though he didn't write that one here, I have to stop by and look at the life of such a famous and favored author.
3:00p Two hours until the British Library closes--just enough time to catch all the good stuff. They have a line of noteworthy items on display: the Magna Carta (1 of 4 created), a Gutenberg Bible, Jane Austen's writings, Shakespeare's First Folio, and musical manuscripts by Handel. History is all about artifacts, for me. To look over a letter and think about who touched it. To walk around in a house and imagine who's feet walked the halls. So, the perfect activity for this Sunday afternoon: a few hours of quiet contemplation and consideration.
7:30p Where did I hear about them? I can't remember. I think I was just browsing different versions of "I Vow to Thee, My Country" on iTunes one day years ago, and I came across a boys choir called Libera. Now, unlike the usual boys choir, this one is made up of a collection of kiddies from South London that might otherwise be without opportunity. It's not like they're destitute, but they do live in an urban area and could be filling their time with less than legal and productive activities (sounds extremely dramatic and presumptuous of me to talk as though I assume that most of them would be involved in such things if they weren't involved in this choir). Tonight, they're performing at the South Bank Center, and I'm eager to hear them perform live. Check out a little sample of their music.
I have to admit--I really don't know what one is supposed to do at Westminster Abbey. I know that this is one of the places to see, so I've put it on my itinerary. I'll catch one of the tours to get the high points of the Abbey and the museum, and perhaps then I'll be able to recognize more of the significance of the place (other than just the general fact that it seems to be the religious structure that hosts every state ceremony--coronations, funerals, etc.--for the last so many centuries). But for absolutely certain, I want to stand at the foot of Elizabeth I grave in the crypt and melt like butter in my shoes. I love to read about that woman. She grew up without a mother. Her life was threatened many times by those closest to her (half-sister, cousin, lover, etc.). She was so socially obnoxious at times. She was just a normal person, in all respects nothing remarkable. But she became on of the greatest leaders in history because she said it was "her duty." Lovely and fascinating.
1:00p The next tour over at St. Paul's starts at half-past, so I need to make sure I'm there in time to buy my ticket and be in line. Another tour, we ask? I just don't know what one does here either--even less than what I know to do over at Westminster Abbey. I still want to see everything, though. I love visual stimulation, and this cathedral is probably an eyeful. But I also need someone to take me around the place and say, "Okay, this is what you came here to see, whether you knew it or not."
3:30p The tour is over, and I have a little bit of leeway until my evening show. It's a particular point of my trip to feel the city, so I have a few hours to do whatever. It's in those moments where I'm still that I can really drink in an experience. So, slow down, dude. Let's take a moment to let everything sink in.
7:30p I'm one lucky SOB to have gotten a ticket to the opening night of Tosca at the Royal Opera House. I don't know much about this particular opera, but I know I really like the works of Puccini. And I know that this opera is one of my older brother's favorites. Knowing his taste, I had to grab a ticket to one of the performances. If you see him, tell me if he still looks green (with jealousy).
Small world: I watch this BBC comedy called "My Family." The actress who plays the mother in that series is Zoe Wanamaker. Some of you will recognize her as Madame Hooch from the first Harry Potter movie. I was reading up on the history of The Globe Theatre one day, and they say that an American director, Sam Wanamaker, whilst on a trip to London, was so disappointed to see no other sign of the theatre on the South Bank other than a plaque. So, he spearheaded the rebuilding of the theatre. I wondered if there was any relation, and what do you know! Zoe is Sam's daughter. Useless information, but I can't think of The Globe now without thinking of her.
1:00p What a sucker. I'm on the South Bank. I'm so close. I just have to stop by Holywell Music. They're the largest distributor of harps, harp music, and harp accessories in Europe. I'll have been over a week without my instrument, and I have to get a fix somehow. Besides that, they're bound to stock some harps in gold, and I don't get to see those that often. They make you want to curtsy out of respect.
3:00p The Old Operating Theatre. This place was used for medical and surgical demonstrations for centuries. I can't imagine being thrown on a slab and cut open while people watch. I'm the one on the table, I should be able to sell and collect on the tickets. I wonder if it's kosher to have concession at an operating theatre. A resident feels a little munchy while watching brain tumor removal, so he comes back to watch with a slurpie and Cheeto's in hand. It's got to make it more comfortable to be there for hours on end.
So this place has the flair of antiquity and the interest of medicine. I had to put it on my itinerary for that reason.
5:30p I really don't want to go to Dover on Thursday if it's supposed to rain. So, this whole day is designed to swap out with Thursday, if it means avoiding bad weather in Dover. Thus, nothing is permanently scheduled in the evening. I can eat, go to Harrods, walk around Hyde Park, go some place really seedy and teach the discussions (just kidding--I'd be shot), or I can use this evening to go to Soho and get my Union Jack tattoo at Frith Street Tattoo. So, TBA.
11:00a I'll have lunch over at the cafe at Sotheby's auction house on New Bond Street. I could never ever get addicted to the trill of gambling; it's just not a thrill for me. I'd be so sick about the prospect of losing that I wouldn't enjoy myself. Auctions are it for me, though. I have, in the past, gotten addicted to those. That's the perfect thrill of winning. Sotheby's has nothing that I could bid on and win, but I'd love to step in to the showroom after I've eaten and see everything on display--taste the flavor of a real auction house. I'll wish that I had a numbered paddle I could wave in the air like everyone else, though.
1:00p Stroll right on over to Covent Garden. This district has Benjamin Pollock's Toy Shop (a kind of antique toy shop that sells authentic old toys and reproductions of the good and wholesome variety--in other words nothing that needs batteries), The Tea House (stocking all kinds of imported and domestic teas as well as novel tea related paraphernalia), and is right next to Chinatown. We'll take a moment to browse each of them.
3:00p I wish I still new where Megan Hinmon was. I had her two years ago for History of Theatre to 1600 during Spring term and History of Theatre from 1600 during Summer term. I learned so much in that class mostly because she was just a grad student so very fascinated by her subject. Anyway, she'd be proud that I'm going to the Theatre Museum. As much as I picked up in that class and that major, how could I not?
7:30p Okay, I will admit that making a musical out of The Lord of the Rings sounds so stupid. Whose move was that? But you have to click on the link above and check out the spectacle. It looks like something right out of Cirque du Soleil. So, where we may be lacking in mechanics, they make up for it in visuals. That's mostly what I like to see anyway. Why go to London if I'm not going to catch a production that no one anywhere else can afford to fork over the financial backing needed for special effects?
On top of that, this production is being played at Dury Lane. This theatre is the oldest operating theatre in the UK. I wanted to stop by and look at the theatre anyway; now we can kill two birds with one stone.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Okay, I thought about all of the day-trips that I could make from London, just to get a taste of the UK from outside of its capital. It's so hard! You feel like you have to go see everything. I wanted to make the pilgrimage out to Winchester to visit the grave of Jane Austen (kiss the plaque above her grave in the cathedral and think about the marvelous work she's shared). I wanted to go out to Salisbury to see Stonehenge (you know you can't even go in the circle of stones--you have to look at it from a paved and partitioned walk-way?). I wanted to see the historical sights in York (the home of Guy Fawkes--"Remember, Remember the fifth of November..."). In the end, you just can't see everything because then you'll miss everything. So I had to choose.
Just look at the White Cliffs. Can you imagine standing on those mountainous white cliffs capped with lush green, smelling the salty air, feeling the wind on your face, listening to the whistles in the harbor, and imagining every sovereign and dignitary crossing the English Channel being greeted by such a sight? This could be zen, guys. I really want to check it out. Dover won.
10:00a Dover castle opens to the public. 70 acres worth of history here, so there's as much to keep busy with as I might want. Because of its geographical location, Dover has been the most important defensive point on the British mainland; its the closest to France. Most every army invasion, most every VIP, most every immigrant in times of old has come through Dover after crossing The Channel. As such, one of the oldest structures in Britain is a stone lighthouse built by the Romans that now stands at the very center of the castle. The compound has a maze of underground tunnels, some used in medieval times and other created for the World Wars. An old Saxon church is contained within the castle walls. The castle stages battle reenactments daily. There's so much to keep busy with.
At some point during the day when the sun is high, I'll exit the castle temporarily and take a short walk over to the trail head that leads to the White Cliffs. I'll have lunch at the tea shop conveniently located at the top of the White Cliffs, then I'll stroll and meditate as long as I want or as long as I don't want. It's all up to me. The trip is drawing slowly to a close, after all, and I do want to take the time to think about everything. This trip was, is, and has been for me. This is time to use my senses and really let myself have as much of this time and scene as I can.
When that's over--I don't want to force the experience or stay too long and overkill on the experience--I'll head back to the castle and finish seeing the parts of the castle that interest me.
5:00p Everything closes, so I'll head back to the train station and catch the next train headed back into town. I dearly hope I'm not exhausted; I'd like to be able to enjoy the experience of the train ride back to London. It's not everyday you get to do such things.
I'll make it back into town just in time for all the shops to close. Depending on what I feel like, I may turn in early, or I may get brave enough to explore the night life (if it's cooth for someone to do that on their own without seeming like a predator).
12:00p It's no secret. I love my tea. It's the highlight of my day when I can sit down to a pot of Earl Grey. Such a release of tension, such a respite from apathy... I absolutely love tea. So, why not stop off at the Bramah Museum of Tea & Coffee on the South Bank? I can pick up a little FYI about my dearest routine of the day, and I can sample everything in sight in their tea room. The museum will probably be boring, but I wouldn't be satisfied if I didn't at least stop by.
2:30p What a time to have planned a trip to London! Not only is Marisa Robles (one of the world's premier harpists) serving as a visiting professor at the Royal College of Music for the next few years, she's giving a masterclass today. Let me translate this for the rest of you "rock stars" so that I don't get a lot of rolling eyes: you get the chance to sit in on a guitar lesson with Bruce Springsteen. She's harpist royalty. Check out a sample of her recording of Handel's Harp Concerto in B-flat Major.
4:30p Let's fill a few minutes with the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington. I'm not the biggest fan of art and design museums, but as I do remember my time as a costume designer with fondness, I will enjoy their reputedly large collection of period clothing.
7:30p I love period orchestras. I bought a CD of Renee Fleming's not too long ago. On the album, she sang with a period orchestra called The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Everyone plays on period instruments. Their sound has the kind of richness one can only get on gut strings. I just love it--quite thoroughly. Tonight they play a whole program of music that Handel composed while living in London. I am going to die! As much as I love Handel anyway, I'm going to be slapped by the kind of richness in sound produced by the amazing acoustics in the chapel. The custodians can just mop me up afterward.
7:30p I'm in my seat to hear my favorite ensemble: the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. I died when they came to Salt Lake, and I couldn't get tickets. Now, I get to hear them on their home turf, in the chapel of St. Martin-in-the-Field. The perfect end to my fantasy vacation. I think I'll walk home afterward rather than take the tube. I might get killed on the way, but the contemplative walk back is worth the risk of a violent death.