Thursday, October 20, 2016

#3 - The London half of my latest vacation

I really like London even though I don't like large cities.  Perhaps it's all the museums or the theaters or the history or just the fact that it is a place where it is perfectly acceptable to be an introvert and not converse with everyone about trivial matters like the weather.  In any case, I have found both new things to try and places that I want to revisit each time that I've gone back, and there are still many things that I'd like to see (can you believe I still haven't seen Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard?!).

Exterior of King's Cross Station

For the majority of my visit, I stayed near King's Cross Station.  This had the advantage of access to multiple Tube lines and also the train that I would catch for the section part of my holiday.  As a side note, the movie versions of Harry Potter used the exterior of St. Pancras station (just across the street) when filming the train station scenes.
Interior of King's Cross Station

One of the things I love about London is its public transportation - particularly the Tube.  The trains go through so often that you usually don't wait for more than a few minutes before you are on your way to the destination.  The lines are color-coded (which even follows through to the colors inside each of the train cars), so they are easy to follow on the map, and the signage is consistent in each station (you always know where to look to see if you are on the correct platform).  I have seen some travel writers compare the Tube stations to ant-hills; however, I've always thought of it as the lair of an ancient dragon ... a wyrm who tunnels below London hissing and belching at each station to "Mind the Gap" as it carries its treasures to and fro.
Marquee for Kinky Boots

Of the things I do on vacation, I love museums; there will be a separate post concerning those I visited.  Theater is another activity that London has in abundance.  On this trip, I saw four shows - two of which are probably on my top 5 in a lifetime list.  One of the interesting things that I noticed on this trip was that there seemed to be many more people going to the West End Shows alone than I have seen before.  This was a welcome change for me; I had some great conversations with people in nearby seats and didn't feel quite so much like the odd single out in a sea of couples.

The first show that I saw was Kinky Boots. I made this choice not so much by the storyline on this one - though it is based on an interesting series of events that did actually happen - what really pulled me to it was that the music was done by Cyndi Lauper.  I hadn't thought about her music in ages, but I was definitely a fan in high school.  Also, it seemed to have the potential for great costumes.  It definitely lived up to my costume expectations ... great boots and over-the-top outfits for Lola and her angels.  The music was interesting - very much plot-driven - there were some songs that sounded like the style I expected and others didn't.  It worked though and was a very fun night out.
Still thrilled that I got the chance to see this

For my second theater adventure, I devoted most of a day to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  Yes, I had tickets that I purchased very early; however, the girl sitting next to me had lucked out and gotten hers in the returns queue earlier in the day.  The girl on the other side of my had gotten hers as part of the Friday 40 deal where the theater is selling 40 tickets from throughout the theater the Friday before.  So, it IS POSSIBLE to see this show despite the media frenzy about how sold out it is.  And, I had an excellent seat - in the stalls, 7 rows back and 4 seats in from the center aisle.  It is more like one show with a very long intermission than the two shows, so I'm glad I took the option to see Part One as an afternoon matinee and Part Two as the evening performance.  This theater is huge - seats over 1,000 - and the stage has some extras (particularly the height over the stage) that you might not find in other places, so I don't expect to see it come to America soon - especially not as a traveling show.  The performance was phenomenal; there was tons of attention paid to little extras like how set pieces were removed from the stage and background sound design.  The sorting hat was very different from both the movies and the picture in my head after I read the books ... and so good that those scenes gave me chills.  This was a performance that I will remember for the rest of my life, and I can't say too much more though since each attendee was admonished after the end of the first part to ...
buttons given out after part one of H.P.&tC.C.

I had chosen the third show just because I liked the title - The Play that Goes Wrong - and I am so glad that I picked it on a whim because it also is probably one of the top 5 plays I've seen in my life.  An amazing coincidence to see two very different spectacular performances two nights in a row.  The premise is a not-so-great theater troupe tries to put on a locked room style mystery show and everything goes wrong.  I was laughing so hard by the end that my face was wet with tears and I could barely see the stage.  Having done some amateur theater, it was even more amusing, and I give huge props to the actors who had some very difficult things to manage - staying on a very slanted surface, picking up phone receivers with their foot, staying limp while being picked up and dropped repeatedly.  Not only did I buy the script (it was being sold at the bar), I also booked tickets for one of the other shows that this company is currently performing for my last show of the trip.
The last theater was on Piccadilly Circus, so I got a night shot when I came out

The Comedy about a Bank Robbery ... all I knew about it going in was that I loved the other show by Mischief Theater.  Well, I was surprised that the bank robbery in question was set in Minneapolis MN in 1958 - not exactly a common historical setting for British theater!  This comedy was also lots of fun and very clever in use of space - I particularly enjoyed the scene where you were looking down on the heads of the people in the office done by attaching all of the furniture to the back wall of the stage.  I will say that American, particularly Minnesota, accents seem to be as hard for British actors to keep consistent as the reverse ... but, a very very fun show to watch.

Gaslight in St. James Park

View between bars of London Eye and Parliment
Of course, I did more than just theater and museums during my time in London.  One of the new things I tried was a walking tour - specifically Old Westminster by Gaslight from the London Walks group.  It was fascinating; I never realized that parts of London (including areas that I've been in after dark) are still lit by old-fashioned gaslights.  There was also a lot of history and some nice photo ops along the way.  Unfortunately, this was my first night, and I was so tired from the flight that I was having trouble holding my camera steady enough to take advantage of the evening views.  Another aspect of London that was - unintentionally - highlighted for me as part of this walk was how safe it was ... many people jogging alone in dimly lit spaces, couples in the park in the dark, school kids heading to events without adults ... all signs that crime is not a big worry in the area we were located.

I always love to wander and find new tiny corners as well - fun shop windows, quirky memorials, etc. are all part of the fun as you travel.
Since I was doing Harry Potter, I also had to visit Platform 9 3/4

A different type of street art - poetry!

A very interesting evergreen - no idea what species

It warms my heart to see a memorial to an average-type person

Large size chessboard in the square outside by hotel by Paddington Station

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