Because Lesli and I flew from two different locations to meet in London, our take on everything was from very different perspectives. For example, this was her first trip out of the U.S., so she was thrown off by driving on the “wrong” side of the road and by our Heathrow Shuttle driver’s creative weaving through traffic at top speed. I flew from Colombo, Sri Lanka, where we drive on the same side of the road as they do in England, and far more creatively! So the poor girl had her every comparison sprinkled with the further comparison of my experience as an American expat. Ah well, that’s why I am more than just the average tour guide!
Our first order of business, after getting to our lovely hotel, The Hesperia London Victoria, was to find dinner. The St. George’s Pub at the end of the block was so packed that people were standing outside to enjoy their pints, so we found ourselves something that seemed authentic inside a nearby shopping center. I had fish and chips, of course. The next morning’s breakfast was not so authentic…we skipped the £13 English breakfast of eggs, ham and baked beans offered by the hotel for scones and a hot beverage at the nearby, familiar and much beloved Starbucks! (We don’t have them in Colombo.) Then onto the hop on-hop off bus, The Original Tour.
Our first stop was the only place I really insisted on seeing – The Sherlock Holmes museum! I’ve been in a Victorian era state of mind lately (perhaps since moving to Sri Lanka in 2000 actually, where it seems some are keeping the era of British rule alive).
At the same stop was Madame Tussaud’s, where I’d never been and had no intention of going. Lesli wanted to compare it to the one in L.A., so we went, and I had A BALL!
LONDON LESSON #1 – Sometimes it’s the stuff you didn’t plan that turns out to be the most fun.
Then it was back on the bus to see the sights of London town. One of Lesli’s priorities for London was to see a palace, so we did Buckingham Palace one day and Kensington Palace the next. Unfortunately, the tours inside Buckingham didn’t start until later in the summer. Kensington Palace offered tours, but not merely of the palace rooms. While they are refurbishing it, they’ve created an art installation called The Enchanted Palace that was AMAZING. It was such a highlight that I’m going to delve into it in a separate post.
After shopping in the Buckingham souvenir shop, we walked back to our hotel near Victoria Station, and happened to notice that the musical Wicked was playing nearby. Lesli and I saw Wicked together in L.A. … twice… and LOVED it. I was quite obsessed by it, actually. But we had tickets for the ballet that night – another of Lesli’s requests for the trip. The Northern Ballet was performing Cleopatra at Sadler’s Wells across town. My lovely cousin, Nazra, was meeting us at our hotel with a print out of exactly how to take the Tube to the theater, how long it would take, and where to walk from the station. Once we were all dolled up and ready, Nazra showed us the way.
We found our place on the train and then heard an announcement, but couldn’t understand a word. People started leaving the train, so we asked someone. Apparently, the Victoria Line was closed until further notice. Gasp! Back up from The Underground we rushed, trying desperately to hail a cab (and apparently not very politely—we got told off!) until we realized there was no way we’d make it in time. That’s when we found ourselves standing in front of the Victoria Apollo Theatre, staring at the sign for Wicked. We took it as a sign from the great and powerful Oz, and in we went.
Having the soundtrack from the original Broadway cast committed to heart and memory, we were absolutely delighted with the performance. Not just because of the British accents of the characters, either. The young woman playing Elphaba, who we later learned was Rachel Tucker, held up to Idina Menzel and then added her own magic. We were so thrilled by the performance! If you want a taste, check out this clip on YouTube: http://youtu.be/XQAsv6ZnGFo
Afterward, we lingered, trying to find just the right souvenirs to represent our London Wicked experience. We were there so long that the staff began turning off lights and locking doors. Oops! They ushered us out, and as we started toward our hotel, we noticed a small crowd gathered. And just as we walked by, out popped the star of the show fromt he stage door, Rachel Tucker! Lesli told her how impressed we were with her, even compared to the two previous people we’d seen in the role (Lesli knew their names) and then we got her autograph on Lesli’s souvenir poster, and we took a photo with her! See?
LONDON LESSON #2 – When plans go wrong, sometimes the alternative turns out to be WAY better than the original plan!
The next day, we were off to see Westminster Abbey before meeting Nazra for tea at The Orangery at Kensington Palace. The weather was great, so we enjoyed the walk from our hotel, then took the Tube– successfully this time—to Kensington Park, where we strolled until we found Nazra. She joined us on the tour of the palace too, until it was time to part ways. Then to the Tube again to meet my husband’s cousin, Jani, and his lovely wife Angela (and their adorable little Isabel!) to experience Portobello Market.
Turns out we were too late for the market. So after the obligatory tourist photo, Angela was only too happy to help Lesli cross another thing off her list – Harrod’s. I’m glad to have seen it, but honestly found it a bit overwhelming. Lesli, however, had found a palace she could fully appreciate, and thankfully, a willing and able tour guide in Angela. I was quite happy to check out the décor with Jani and Isabel in the stroller.
Angela knew of a lovely little pub nearby where we could have a dinner of Bangers and Mash and some cider, and then helped us find our way back to our hotel, where we had to pack for an early airport pickup for our flight to Paris!
In the next posts about Paris and Rome — be sure to check back discover how we took photos when they weren’t allowed! Muah ah ah!