Tourist Info Desk

Welcome to Fernweh, a blog concerning the (mis)adventures of one Fulbrighter during a year spent in Europe teaching English.
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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Leaving London (aka Part V)

My bus journey to Cambridge today is taking me through a greatest-hits tour of London on my way out, which seems appropriate, since I'm leaving now for good; I won't be back for a while, at least not for the rest of the summer. I think we're currently in the City (hypothesis based on the fact that all of the shops are selling suits, ties, and button-up shirts of that curiously ubiquitous shade of periwinkle), having started in Victoria and gone through basically all the interesting landmark parts of London. Hey, there's the Avocado! I don't know what it's actually called, but it's a big dark-greenish building that looks remarkably like...well, you should be able to guess. It also has a distinct resemblance to a 20-storey hand grenade. (UPDATE: this one. I typed into Google: "What is the building in London that looks like an avocado?") Go figure.

Being my usual brilliant and forward-thinking self, I left myself about 35 minutes to make a 20-ish minute Tube journey, which probably would've been fine except for totally unforeseeable delays on not one but TWO different lines that I needed. This culminated in me arriving, sweaty, tired, hungry, and ready to kill with my bare hands the screaming child the next gate over, at 9:37 for a bus that left at 9:30. Grrr.

I got some breakfast (Cornish pasties are God's gift to budget travelers) and tried to focus on puppies and rainbows and Jeremy Clarkson's book and not the ear-shattering, soul-murdering screams of the drooling child who refused to shut up. (I'm a little cross about this.) I'd pre-bought my ticket, which meant I had lost my £7 into the ether and had to buy another ticket, which luckily was not too expensive or I might've cried. I got on the next bus with no problem and settled down to read car reviews on the cloudy two-hour journey.

The excited movements of the Spanish-speaking family behind me made me look up a bit later to find that we were passing by the Houses of Parliament. I said a fond farewell to Big Ben and the Eye and smiled down the gated, policeman-guarded lane down to Number 10, then we were trundling down the north bank of the Thames, past my favorite Sphinx crouched with eternal patience on the bankside and down towards...well, St. Paul's. We passed, literally, within a block of where I had left, hauling my heavy bags in a rush, two hours earlier. Again: Grrr.

St. Paul's is basically in the City (I think), so that brought me to where I started--at the Avocado. We're now heaven-knows-where--still trying to leave London, which, like Tokyo, covers the surface area of basically the whole island--on the way, as I said, to Cambridge.

Now, our dear friend RFS has said that Oxford and Cambridge are both beautiful, historic university towns, but if you have to pick one, go for Cambridge. Consequently, he provides no information whatsoever about Oxford, assuming that you wouldn't dare contradict his advice and go somewhere he hasn't recommended. This continues to pose a problem for me; in August, I may be spending some time in Manchester, Liverpool, and Newcastle, none of which are RFS-approved and so consequently, he hasn't bothered to describe, so I'm going in blind. Unless I want to buy another guidebook. Which I don't.

Anyway, this wasn't a problem in Oxford, because I had lovely, friendly people to give me advice and go around with me, and in Cambridge, I'll have a guidebook. Yay. On a completely unrelated note, it's blowing like mad out there and doing that obnoxious drizzling thing that isn't quite rain and just gets in your eyes. Good thing that the week I spent in London was sunny and beautiful.

Since this is my blog and I can do what I like, I'm going to again put off Oxford and talk about yesterday instead. This is partly because Oxford was wonderful and I want to do it justice, and partly because I know that some of my new friends from Oxford have been reading this blog and I want to make sure I think very carefully about what I say. ;)

I was awakened at 7:30 yesterday morning when every last girl in my dorm room decided that she had to get up right then. For my part, I just lay there and let them bustle about, then hauled myself from my bunk when I had the room to myself. I left the hostel and trundled across the Millennium Bridge to the Globe on the other side and purchased a ticket for the exhibition and tour. As I mentioned, I'd already been the Globe for Henry VIII, which was mostly incomprehensible, but I wanted to hear more about it anyway. For those who don't know (and this is interesting, I least to me), the Globe that stands now is not the original, which burnt down in the early 1600's. A second was built, but was torn down again. Anyway, an American Shakespeare enthusiast, hoping to bring Shakespeare to life for the uninitiated, started a movement to rebuild the Globe, which, after several decades of fund-raising and construction, they did. The new Globe was built using materials and techniques as faithful as possible to those in the 17th century, so the entire thing is made of oak beams and cow hair plaster held together with wooden pegs and topped by a thatched roof.

Anyhow, the tour was great, and as we were sitting in the Globe watching them change the sets, I thought: I don't have anything planned for this afternoon. There's a matinee showing today. Hmmm...

So naturally, on impulse, I went as soon as the tour was over and bought a ticket for the afternoon performance of Henry IV.

This meant, though, that instead of the unlimited amount of time that I'd thought I would have to wander through the Globe exhibition and St. Paul's Cathedral, I actually had about two hours. So I took the exhibition at high speed (pretty books, gorgeous costumes, yay Shakespeare) and booked it back across the bridge to the Cathedral on the other side.

Now, St. Paul's is lovely on the outside: the grand front steps, the towering white stone, the majestic dome topped in gold. Inside, it's just as beautiful. To me, it feels brighter, more open, and more welcoming than Westminster Abbey, and as in many churches, it's cool and quiet with just a murmuring hum of the awed gasps and subdued exclamations of tourists. I joined a 40-minute intro tour and then bolted up the stairs to first the Whispering Gallery and then the Golden Gallery at the top of that impressive dome. Although when I say "bolted", I mean, went as fast as I could, and when I say "as fast as I could", I mean, I was being overtaken quite a bit. Whatever, I made it to the top, where we were herded by impatient attendants around the small gallery and then back down the 520-some-odd stairs to the Cathedral floor. Unfortunately, I had to dash to get in line for Henry IV, so I only had time to walk quickly around the high altar before I had to head off again, although I could happily sit in that awesome place for quite a while.

After the subdued and reverent murmurs of St. Paul's, the din on the streets was positively alarming. I crossed back over the Thames in record time and got a good spot in line for the play, striking up a conversation, meanwhile, with a Shakespeare fan from Edinburgh. (I can't hardly remember how to spell "Edinburgh" now that I've started to pronounce it "Edinbruh" instead of "Edinburg". Please don't ever say "Edinburg".) It was just starting to drizzle when they let us inside, and my new acquaintance and I got a fairly good spot, leaning our elbows on the stage.

After the verbose and largely actionless Henry VIII, Henry IV (Part 1!) was brilliant. It tells the story of Henry IV (don't you love all the obvious names in this post?), but it focuses mostly on his son, the dashing and dissolute Prince Hal, who spends his times in pubs with his ne'er-do-well buddy Falstaff, who is simply hilarious. Henry IV has some really brilliant comedy as well as drama and some kick-ass sword-fighting. I'm very sad that I won't be able to see Part 2.

Of course, partway through the second half, the heavens opened. Now, you know how in every Hollywood romance ever, when it looks like the two leads are destined to be separated forever, one or both of them must trudge dejectedly through the rain? You know how, when it starts raining, it looks less like atmospheric precipitation and more like someone's spraying them with a fire hose, so they're drenched to the bone in about three seconds? I have never believed that this is true to life, and I still don't; it just doesn't rain like that everywhere in the world (although it certainly does in some places), all the time, as Hollywood would have you believe. For heaven's sakes, if they can make giant transforming robots and exploding planets and stuff, how hard can it be to make rain in moderation? Then again, every Hollywood romance ever is set in New York, and having not been there, I can't testify to the relative heaviness of the rainfall.

I can, however, testify to that in London, it's like being in Hollywood. I was partially under cover, and I was still drenched. I barely remembered to pick up my backpack in time before the entire groundling area became a lake. I retreated under an overhang and wondered if I shouldn't just leave, but then suddenly, the rain stopped as quickly as it had come, the sun even came out, and I was back with my elbows on the stage just in time for the epic swordfight.

As soon as the play finished, I was off to Leicester Square. I'd been recommend to see Les Mis while in London, so I headed in that direction to see how the ticket prices looked. However, given that I had already seen three shows in two days, even the cheapest tickets were a little too much for me to be able to justify, so I headed back towards St. Paul's. However, it was still too early to call it a day, so I got some food and walked back out to my perch between the paws of the Sphinx to eat. When the wind got too chilly, I meandered back across the nearest bridge and along the South Bank before returning to the hostel for the day. I had a nice chat with a girl from Japan and gave her my Rick Steves chapter on London, which she probably can't read but may still find somewhat useful. I hope so.

I'm still on the way to Cambridge, but now you're up to speed. After so much typing (I really do make these posts agonizingly long...sorry) I'm just going to stare out the window for a bit. I'll be leaving England tomorrow, so I have to enjoy it while I can.

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