Learning to Love London

Originally posted September 26, 2011.

As I said in my first post, I haven’t been settling into London as well as I thought I would.  Going solo to Bath helped boost my confidence, but I still feel a little out of place and lonely.  But I haven’t let it slow me down.  I’ve been all over the city, going to the places I’ve always wanted to visit.

On Thursday morning I woke up a little later than I expected.  I had planned to get to The Globe Theatre for one of the morning tours, but when I got off the tube around 10:45, I realized that if I didn’t get to the Globe before 11:30, I might not get there in time.  Plus, I realized I had gotten off at the wrong stop, on the wrong side of the river.  I practically ran/fast-walked across the bridge by Enbankment station past Waterloo, past the Tate Modern, past the Millenium Bridge, and all the way down to the Globe Theatre.  It was twice the distance I had walked with Alena and Virginia on my first day in London, at least. Miraculously, I made it there just before 11:30 and literally got the last ticket for that tour.  The tour itself gave me major Shakespeare in Film nostalgia.  I thought about all the plays we studied last semester being performed on that stage and all of my friends that also love Shakespeare.  The theatre is actually really new.  The original Globe burned down after a blank from the canon shot into the thatch roof during an over-zealous production of Henry VIII.  They rebuilt the theatre just a year later, but then the city elders came over a couple decades after that and tore down all the theatres.  To be fair, the theatres were surrounded by whores, gamblers, bear baiting, and drunks back in those days.  Anyways this Globe, the third Globe, was actually completed in the 90s.  They built it as close to the original specifications as possible and even built it the old-fashioned way: by hand, no power tools.  That was impressive.  It would have been so easy to cheat.  I’m hoping I can go back and see a play there at some point. It’s only 5 pounds to be a groundling.  It would be hard to stand for a three hour Shakespeare production, but how cool and authentic of an experience would that be?  Too bad I won’t be here for next season.  In honor of the 2012 Olympics, they are doing all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays.  I’m so jealous of anyone who gets to attend those.


The rest of Wednesday I spent wandering around the Southbank area, trying to plan out my day.  I burned a lot of calories trekking back and forth with my backpack on, filled to the brim with my laptop and other supplies, but it wasn’t the most exciting day.  But after chilling out that night with my London/Rice friends, I developed a new perspective for the next day: enjoy my time traveling and don’t worry so much about getting so much done.  I needed to calm down the overachiever in me. And once I did, wandering around London became a more inspiring and natural experience.

I woke up on Thursday morning and headed straight for Baker Street.  I had to check off one very important activity.  After my first trip to London, I had one big regret: not visiting the Sherlock Holmes Museum.  My family walked down Baker Street after it had closed for the day and it broke my heart that we didn’t have enough time to come back and visit the next day.  I loved reading Sherlock Holmes in middle school and as a complete literary geek, I hated missing this important site.  As it turns out, the museum was even better than I could have imagined.  Besides the substantial gift shop and the tickets, it didn’t even feel like a museum; it felt like the true residence of Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson.  They set every detail out just like in the stories.  Seventeen steps up to the first floor, two wide windows in an otherwise small front study/parlor, and even the plaque on the front door that lists it as the residence of Sherlock Holmes.  Best of all, Sherlock Holmes himself greeted me in the front parlor.  (Yes, I know it was a paid actor, but if you are a true Holmes fan, you don’t refer to him as a character; he’s a real person.  In the museum, they present all the artifacts as his belongings and they even have his obituary framed on one wall.  To the true fan, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was not the creator of Holmes, he was his biographer) Holmes greeted me, told me I could take as many pictures in his house as I wanted (silent squeal of joy), and then asked where I was from.  I shyly responded, “The United States.  Austin, Texas.”  This sent him into a story about visiting Dallas, TX.  I couldn’t quite understand him with his accent, but he said something about getting stuck with a tail, I think.  I laughed anyways.  I took my time slowly strolling through every room.  I proudly signed the guest book (only visitor from the United States or Britain on my page; Sherlock Holmes is apparently more universal than I thought).  I felt so happy with myself that I couldn’t even leave the area for a long time.  Only when my stomach started to rebel did I finally get someone to snap a picture of me standing outside and left in search of lunch.

This smashing success sort of made up for my next trip.  I took the tube down to Russell Square in search of my next literary site, the Charles Dickens House and Museum.  The directions from the station sent me off in the wrong direction.  I walked halfway through the park before I realized I was going the opposite direction.  On the way there I still had to stop and check my directions three times before I found the right street.  All the houses looked similar with their red brick and small doors set back from the street.  It felt like a quiet, old spot and the perfect place for Dickens to sit and write Oliver Twist.  Unfortunately, I could not go inside.  A sign outside said the museum is closed for refurbishment until November.  I would have been angry.  I had spent half an hour just finding the place and I had seen nothing of this refurbishment on the website.  But I somehow still felt proud to have just found the place, to be able to stand outside, and to take a picture of the plaque hanging outside.  In one way, it feels right that I was able to visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum but was blocked from visiting the Dickens one.  It’s like I’m supposed to leave something out of this trip so I’ll have a powerful reason for coming back to London once again, and I like that idea.

The rest of the afternoon was very peaceful.  I returned to the park I had passed earlier, Russell Square, found a sunny spot, and sat down to catch up on my journal entries.  I loved sitting there, not looking at the sites or running in the tube station but just watching the other people snacking, napping, or just walking in the garden.  I felt less like a tourist and more like I belonged.  I didn’t feel alone; I felt like part of the city.  Just sitting there reminded me of how excited I am to be studying in England.  I can’t imagine where I’ll be sitting to write and read in just a few weeks.  A park at Oxford?  Probably the library.  As nice as it is outside now, I know it’ll be too cold for my weak Southern blood in a few weeks.

Just as I was finishing up in the park, Alena’s schedule freed up and we were able to meet up to visit the British Museum.  As we walked through the main gates, I couldn’t help but hum “A Foggy Day in London Town” by Michael Buble.  He mentions the museum in the lyrics and for some reason it just got stuck in my head.  It was silly. The museum itself was enormous.  I could have spent days inside looking at all the galleries.  Alena and I decided to head straight for the Rosetta Stone.  As it turns out, it’s not that exciting.  There was a big crowd surrounding it, but to the untrained observer, it just looks like a big stone with lots of squiggles on it.  Fortunately there were plenty of other artifacts worth visiting.  They have the Assyrian bas-relief sculptures of royal lion hunts, the Elgin marbles from the Parthenon in Athens, loads and loads of Grecian pottery, and a whole gallery dedicated to clocks and watches.  I got really excited when I saw the Assyrian art and the Elgin marbles because we had studied them senior year.  AP Art History may have been almost three years ago, but it still guides my travels.  I tells me where to go in the major museums, it whispers facts and stories about the artwork in my head still, and it makes me go completely ape when I find art that I have studied.

I thought that I would have a calm night because I had to wake up super early the next morning for my train to Paris, but when Alena decided to find another cheap West End show, I couldn’t say no.  As you can probably tell by Priscilla and my visit to The Globe, I can resist theatre about as much as I can resist great literature.  Which means I can’t at all.  We tried for Les Miserables (I would finally understand why my friends all love that show … ), but they didn’t have any discounts.  Alena took us next to the theatre for Jersey Boys.  At first I wasn’t too excited.  I didn’t really want to see a show about an American band and set in America in the center of the UK, but I couldn’t argue with the student discount price.  And when we found our seats, I really couldn’t argue: center of the row, center of the main floor/orchestra, and perfect view of the stage.  They were probably the best seats I have ever had to a show, in the UK and America.  The show itself also dispelled any of my remaining doubts.  It moved at a swift pace, switching sets and scenes faster than I’ve ever seen.  When the first act ended, I was antsy for the intermission to end.  Even though it was based on real events, it didn’t feel like stiff history and I loved how they switched narrators so all four original members of The Four Seasons got to tell their version of events.  Not to mention, the music was stellar.  The guy who played Frankie Valli really did have the voice of an angel.  I really need to get The Four Seasons music now.  And for all you MOBsters, they did sing “Stay,” and I did think of you all back at Rice, gatoring in the stands.

Staying up late that night might have been a mistake as far as my health.  I had a sore throat all of that day and it only got worse as the night went on, but it was worth it.



About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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