Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Great London Adventure, Part 1

How exactly does one begin a post after a ten day vacation and hiatus?

Yeah, that seems about right :D

Indeed, I have returned from London not dead, not whisked away by time lords (alas), and back in the arctic, brutal Minnesotan cold which can only have been brought on by the wrath of Frost Giants, making me wish that I had actually stayed in England like my friend and travel companion Tyler was joking I would. But I am back, only with intents to return for a longer term stay - if not a mostly permanent one - along with stories to regale you all with. So let's begin, shall we?

Day 1: Tyler, a friend of mine from high school who agreed to go with me on this trip despite knowing that I would do all of these things, and I boarded the plane, took airport selfies, and managed to actually sleep on the eight hour flight to London - a remarkable first for me, as I've never slept on a plane before. We landed in the UK around noon and took the Underground into the city, where we were met by our wonderful, amazing, and gracious host, Anna. After a tour of Anna's flat, a bit of a rest, then a tour of the city and sushi, we collapsed into our beds in the spare room, tired but very happy. However, somehow Tyler decided that we were at risk of being attacked by window demons, a concern that would continue for the next several nights.

Tyler and I on the plane! (Photo courtesy of Tyler Davis)

Day 2: Tyler and I got up early to go to Highgate Cemetery, a historical graveyard known for its famous occupants such as Karl Marx, Douglas Adams, and Christina Georgiana Rossetti and for its Victorian architecture. I'd wanted to visit it ever since I read the Audrey Niffenegger novel Her Fearful Symmetry, which involves two girls from Chicago moving to the aunt's flat right next to the cemetery. I was expecting peacefulness, a macabre sort of beauty, and an overwhelming feeling of history and human stories. I was not disappointed.


Tyler at Highgate

Karl Marx's grave

Later we went to Camden market with Anna, a fantastic area of shops and food stalls, for lunch and for tea. I had Pakistani food for the first time ever (it was MARVELOUS) and a tea called Chili Chili Bang Bang (also marvelous). Then Tyler and I were off to Primrose Hill, Regents Park, and down to Oxford Street - which seemed to be the busiest street in all of London on a Saturday night - to take the bus back to Archway in order to grab take-away pizza from Highgate Hill from Pizza Express, a chain I recalled loving when I'd visited in high school. For future reference, I still love it :D

The view from Primrose Hill

Day 3: A fantastic friend of Anna's named Harriet came to visit and the four of us trekked into a very muddy Hamstead Heath for a lovely (if messy and adventuresome) walk through the lovely sunny Sunday. We got lunch at the top of Highgate Hill at a restaurant called Café Rouge. Afterwards, we stopped at a bookshop and I managed to find a copy of C. S. Forester's first Horatio Hornblower book, a copy of which I'd been hoping to find on the trip. We got some treats at a bakery (there are so many bakeries in London, compared to the absolute dearth of them in the Midwest USA!) and went back to Anna's for tea. A kind, clever friend of Anna's and Harriet's named Alex, planned to meet us at a pub that specialized in different kinds of beer and cider, so we ventured over there and conversed and drank outside on their back patio. To warm up, we went back to Anna's, watched some TV, and got the best Indian take-away that I have ever had in my life.

Hampstead Heath

The view from Highgate Hill

Harriet, Anna, and Tyler at Cafe Rouge.

Day 4: Because we apparently were living some magical, fantasy life where serendipity ruled and good fortune reigned supreme, Alex, who had recently finished a Ph.D. in history, gave us a tour of the Assyrian and parts of the Egyptian and Greek/Roman collections of the British Museum. We grabbed lunch near the museum at a restaurant that specialized in a Japanese pancake called okonomiyaki, which was cooked on a griddle right at our table and tasted savory and magical. Tyler and I went back to the British Museum so I could have another look at the Greek and Roman collections, as well as strive to find artifacts that had anything to do with Henry V (failed, but did see artifacts related to Richard III and a sculpture of his head. Which seems fitting as they just found his body last year). 

The British Museum
Later, we ambled over to the National Gallery for a look at the paintings there, including finding my favorite painting of the execution of Lady Jane Grey, which I'd seen at the Minneapolis Institute of Art when it was briefly exhibited here. I have a strange fascination for Lady Grey, and I can't quite express why. We grabbed a quick dinner at Costa, a coffee shop chain, and stumbled across a movie premiere for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit in Leicester Square where, when glancing out at the red carpet, I was fairly certain I saw Chris Pine standing before the panel of photographers. I'll never know for certain but it certainly kind of looked like him from the side. 

Day 5: Theatre day. Tyler and I got up to grab our Coriolanus tickets from the Donmar box office in Covent Garden and to get coffee from Monmouth Coffee just down the street. I ate a brioche, one of the most delicious pastries I have ever consumed, and tried very hard to keep my wits about me while gazing at the tickets in my hand. We explored the shops in Covent Garden afterwards and I judged Tyler while he ate McDonalds in Leicester Square. 

(Photo courtesy of Tyler Davis)
Then we ambled over to Harrods to see all the magnificent expensive things we couldn't afford and we both dreamed of being able to buy the Andy Warhol artwork for sale in their art department. We returned home to primp for the theatre, then headed out for dinner before hand at a restaurant called Food For Thought which I had seen recommended by Tom Hiddleston himself in an interview he did about working at Donmar. I would just like to say that that if your favorite actor ever recommends food in an interview, try it because this was one of the most exquisite meal I have ever had in my life. Between the mix of salads, the vegetable masala and the lentil dish we got along with a fantastic dessert of fruit crumble with lots of whipped cream, I was in heaven. And all of around £20! Not the mention that the restaurant offers only vegetarian options and has the best peppermint tea that I can remember having in recent history. 


And the show... oh God the show. My thoughts on Coriolanus are going in a blog post all on its own - because I have a lot of thoughts on it. Afterwards, Tyler and I attempted to stage door, which resulted in me getting very nervous and feeling very silly in the rain and all of us finding out that Mr. Hiddleston wouldn't be coming out that night. Slightly disappointed, slightly relieved, I left and Tyler and I grabbed a drink at Freud's bar, a place which was advertized very differently on their website than what it was in actuality. Regardless, I grabbed a drink with the same name as me - A Gina, a cocktail concocted out of Hendrick's gin, mint, cucumber, lime and tonic. Which, by the way, if I were to make a drink named after myself, is likely exactly how I'd make it (though this one was pretty weak on the gin). 

And so that's the first five days - five more to go! I shall continue on with those amazing final days in the next post, along with a post all about Coriolanus. :D

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