Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ben's week in London!

Before I begin, here is a link to a post I wrote for IU about the class trips to Stratford-Upon-Avon and Bath.

My final week in London was fairly different than that of my peers because Ben came out to visit and not only did I get to play tour guide, helping to plan how to make the most of his four days - two of which would be almost completely on his own - but I also got to stay an extra two days longer than most people in the group.

Ben and I talked extensively about what he would like to do and what I thought he shouldn’t miss, but ultimately, it was up to me to guide him since I’ve been to London twice now and he had never been.  In making a schedule I looked at what the group schedule was and planned things for him that were relatively near one another.  I also, of course, based my choices on what I knew his interests were and what he thought was important to see in the short time he was there.  Finally, the Rick Steve’s 2012 London Guide had a helpful 7-day visit layout and good walks.  Here’s what we ended up doing:

Tuesday:  7:30am arrival!  I had a group tour of the Royal Opera House schedule for 2pm which is practically attached to Covent Garden, a great place for street vendors, music, buskers and other various types of street entertainment.  I knew that Ben wanted fish and chips and I thought it would be cool to see St. Paul’s Church, a.k.a. the actor’s church (not to be confused with St. Paul’s Cathedral) which is in the area.  So we headed over to Covent Garden, grabbed fish ‘n’ chips from a place called Rock and Sole and sat in the church courtyard to eat.  The food was very good – though painfully expensive in comparison to the fish ‘n’ chips from Stratford and Oxford.  The church is small with several memorial plaques along the inside walls for various theatre artists and entertainers.

Lunch in St. Paul’s courtyard

When I left for the tour of the Opera House Ben took off on a hop-on hop-off open bus tour of London.  I highly recommend doing something like this in any new city because it helps you get your bearings while showing you the sites.  In Bath a wedding taking place in the Assembly Rooms had everyone attending ride the City Tour Bus between the ceremony and reception - brilliant!  The tour gave Ben a sense of what he wanted to go back to and what he felt satisfied just seeing from the tour (at least for this short trip).

 Lookin' cool.

The ticket was good for 24 hours and he could get off at any of the stops to look around further.  With following along on a map, Ben also started to better understand the layout and scale of the city.  After this tour I was impressed to see him take off on his own in confidence.

After dinner Ben saw Noises Off while our group saw A Long Day’s Journey Into Night.  In his four days in London and my three weeks, Ben saw four shows, and I saw eight.  There are tens of very, very good theatres in London and shows of all types and scale.  Most of which are much less expensive than in the states, and not just for students.  This makes attending the theatre so much more accessible to all age groups and not just the older generations which is so common in the states.  The attitude about theatre seems to be different, too - I mean there are hundreds of shows to see at any given time, so it's understandable that people go out to the theatre more often.

 Ben and I saw two shows together, one of which was War Horse.  It was stunning visually but we both agree that script-wise the movie was better.

On Wednesday Ben finished the bus tour and went to the Tower of London.  Tower of London is great because it has such a vast and interesting history.  The crown jewels are always fun to see, even if I don’t personally find the aesthetic very appealing.  As Americans, we can never fully understand the ideal of royalty and what it means to the English people, but to give you an idea: more English were excited for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee than they are for the Olympics.  The Tower’s history of execution and torture is very interesting.  I found the Beauchamp tower, where the many high-profile prisoners were kept, to be especially fascinating because the interior is covered in 15th -17th century graffiti unlike any graffiti we have today.

 Left: Beauchamp Tower, Right: Graffiti

The sad and the beautiful.

The Scavenger's Daughter.  This was apparently the most effective use of torture; prisoners would confess after only an hour.  Of course, it was the least used.

The Yeomen who give the tours are funny, interesting, and highly informed.  A handful of them alternate to give Jack the Ripper tour each night - the best tour offered, I'm certain.

Thursday was our first full day together without the group.  After moving out of the Nido Spitalfields apartment into our hostel, we made our way to the Spitalfields market.  The market runs every day with people selling different things according to the day.  On Thursday half the market sells vintage and antiques so we mostly walked around enjoying the sights and smells of the market.

“Antique” McDonald’s sign…

I really loved the markets in the Spitalfields area.  Aside from the actual Spitalfields market there is the Sunday UpMarket, which is held on the site of Jack the Ripper’s second murder.  The UpMarket has a lot of great ethnic food on top of crafts, clothing, art, and jewelry vendors.

A Bansky painting located on the exterior of the UpMarket building on the exact location of Jack-the-Ripper's second victim.

The Market was followed by High Tea at the British Museum.  Now there are LOADS of places for tea in London but I chose the British Museum because the restaurant is located in the indoor courtyard area, above the Reading Room and it feels like you are sitting outside surrounded by Roman ruins.  Plus we could kill two birds with one stone and walk through some of the museum before it closed.

Left: Around the bend is the restaurant.

High Tea includes finger sandwiches, pastries and scones with clotted cream – the best spread ever.
That evening after War Horse we wowed some tourists with my clever idea to fit both Ben and me in the picture at Platform 9 ¾.  Seriously, as we were leaving they were retaking their pictures in the same form.  I was a little disappointed that the platform isn't actually located between platforms 9 and 10...

Friday was our favorite day together because we were completely without the group (a few people stayed through Thursday and let’s just say that, though I greatly like the individuals we were with, traversing London in a group larger than four is incredibly arduous) and we had absolutely no obligations aside from tickets to see One Man, Two Guv’nors that night.  I took Ben on a “Bankside Walk” along the south side of the Thames; starting at St. Paul’s Cathedral we crossed the Millennium Bridge to see the Globe and Tate Modern.  The Globe was fantastic.  We took a tour which let us watch about 15 minutes of that day's rehearsal.  The Globe currently has a program called “Globe to Globe” where each of Shakespeare’s plays is performed by theatre troupes from around the world.  The troupes come to London, perform their chosen show twice in their native language, and head home.  Our group saw Coriolanus in Japanese, and the rehearsal Ben and I saw was for Much Ado About Nothing in French.

The Globe with all of the Globe-to-Globe posters along the wall.

From there we visited the Tate Modern briefly...

...grabbed some meat pies for lunch and ate on a bench looking out over the Thames...

...and through Jubilee Park to the London Eye.

I was skeptical at first, but in the end we both really enjoyed the London Eye and if it’s a clear day (and I use “clear” loosely as the day we were there it was overcast but we could still see very far) I highly recommend it.  It’s very touristy but worth it.

Check out that view!

I loved playing with the "miniature" setting on our camera.

It was the perfect day leading up to the show that night, which was a hilarious new play on A Servant of Two Masters.

We left early Saturday on a train to Germany to spend the next week visiting friends in Aachen and Chemnitz.  But that, folks, is for next time.


  1. Oh, man! This all looks like so much fun. If envy's a sin, I've got a lot of repentin' to do.

  2. Lovely! I love the miniature settings on your camera too! How fun!


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