My final full day in England I spent in full Shakespeare mode in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Anne Hathaway’s cottage popped up in fields of plants like the quintessential English cottage. The inside resembled most old cottages and cabins with replica old furniture and bare floors, but, in my opinion, English cottages are more interesting than American cabins.
Of course, you can’t go to Stratford-Upon-Avon without seeing Shakespeare’s birthplace. His will was on display inside which is only on display every twenty years in order to preserver it. One of my odd quirks is liking old windows, so I was excited to see a large, beautiful window on display that was actually in the room that Shakespeare was born in. The window was terribly graffitied but otherwise still cool.
Following Shakespeare’s birthplace, I also visited his grave. The walk to the church was lined with greenery and tombstones. The weather was warm enough to be comfortable, but cool enough not to sweat. Overhead grey skies made the greenery greener. I would’ve wandered in the graveyard longer if I’d had time. Inside the church Shakespeare laid beneath the ground among other poets. Upon his plaque read a curse to anyone who moved his bones.
On the way to the train station rain sprinkled down on me. Shakespeare, a ghostly curse, a train ride, and rain: there couldn’t have been a better day to top off the last English day.
One of the first days in London, I did a scavenger hunt at Covent Gardens, but I didn’t get to see much as I was busy running from place to place. So I went back. It’s a touristy place with cute shops and restaurants. There are blue markers everywhere delving out historical facts. Plus, Drury Lane is there. Of course, I bought a chocolate, chocolate chip muffin and ate it on Drury Lane.
One of the strangest ideas to me is paying to use the restroom. I know; it’s not like I’m doing anything with my change, but it’s the principle of the matter. In Covent Gardens, I caved. I put fifty pounds in the turnstile at the entrance to the bathroom. When I told family and friends, they thought the bathrooms that charged would be nicer. They’re not. They’re bathrooms.
That evening I went to the Actor’s Church and saw Much Ado About Nothing. Usually sets are changed by stagehands, but with this performance, the audience got up and moved to other locations where other sets were set-up. It was unique and helpful if you didn’t get a good seat at the first location. Overall, I’d definitely go back to Covent Gardens if I found myself in London again.
As a major Harry Potter fan, going to Platform 9 and 3/4 at King’s Cross Station was vital to my London experience. The platform picture and store set-up was right off of the Tube Station, which was good because I didn’t have my train ticket to get farther in the station. The line was cramped, but I expected nothing less. It took an hour to get a few pictures which I thought was worth it. I’ve waited longer for Harry Potter things. Then I spent a good amount of time in the store wandering through the shelves of Harry Potter gear. Of course I left with something, a Ravenclaw lanyard. I’m not into souvenirs, but it’s not every day that I go to London. Eight years too late I finally made it to the Hogwarts platform.
I know that I already talked about food, but Indian food deserves it’s own blurb. Where I’m from, there are tons of Chinese food places, but very little Indian. Before London I hadn’t even thought to try it. Then I went with some girls to Brick Lane and now I know that I’ve been missing out. I love spicy food, rice, and bread (or pan), so Indian food was perfect. Since coming home, I keep getting cravings for it. Guess I’ll have to learn to cook.
Any Peter Pan fans know about the statue in Kensington Gardens. Peter Pan has always been this magical idea to me. I was one of the kids that didn’t want to grow up, but it was more than that. Neverland is an escape, therefore Kensington Gardens, to me, would be a magical place too. However, I didn’t want to disappoint myself, so I assumed it was a plain park and that I’d just go find the statue because I’m in London so why not. I entered Kensinton Gardens by the Italian gardens portion, and it was stunning. Kensington Gardens was beautiful and peaceful, an oasis in the bustling city. I could see how the gardens inspired the story of Peter Pan, and I wish I could’ve spent more time there.
But my plan was to see the changing of the guard after the gardens. First mistake, going on a weekend. Second mistake, not getting there early enough. The crowds were madness. I saw the fuzzy parts of their hats and some red, but that was it. I’ll need to go back to see it again and to tour Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately when I went the palace was closed to the public.
That evening I did what might’ve been my favorite thing in London, a Jack the Ripper tour. I’m fascinated by serial killers and mysteries, so it was very interesting. I went on the Ripping Yarns Tour for around ten pounds. It was well worth it. I didn’t know a whole lot about Jack the Ripper before I went and I’m not sure what I expected “ripper” to mean, but I certainly found out.
Steampunk clothes, Boho décor, and amazing foods line Camden Market. I spent four hours combing through the shops. I have a thing for cool lamps and hats, and I got to indulge both. The market bustles with people and there’s so much to see. One tented area expanded on endlessly. One shop was cyberpunk with futuristic, hoop skirts and wiring around the clothes like you would see in a science fiction movie.
That evening I went up to the Sky Garden. I’m not a flower fanatic, but the garden was pretty. The wait to get up with a ticket was an hour for a fifteen minute walk around the garden looking out over London. I got a few decent pictures, but I’m not sure that the wait was worth it. Then again, I’m from St. Louis, so I’ve been in the arch a handful of times. I’m not a stranger to a good view.
Grey, bulbous clouds lingered over the stones as my bus arrived at Stonehenge. It was one of the days I had been waiting for, finally seeing the magical stones. Some of the girls I was with turned their noses up. “They’re just rocks.”
Except they aren’t. They’re historical and magical. If I hadn’t been so cold shivering in short sleeves, maybe I would’ve felt more magic. After all, the grass was an Irish green and black crows nestled on top of the stones, cawing ominously. It could’ve been the start of a story about how I found out I was a wizard. In reality, I walked around freezing my butt off, taking pictures of the rocks at every angle. One important note, the number of tourists probably also took away from the magic of it.
A bit away from the stones is a museum which was cool, but I’m only mentioning it because of the Druid. A woman in a white dress, antlers, and a purple sash sat in a corner of the museum talking quietly to visitors. She wielded an antelope staff and helped children connect with spirit animals or something to that extent. As I’ve only been to Stonehenge once, I’m not sure if there’s always a Druid there or if she was even a real Druid. Regardless, Stonehenge was worth seeing, and I’d probably go back during a different season and with warmer clothes.
I revisited Big Ben, the House of Parliament, West Minster Abbey, and the Globe to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But I did have two new experiences. The first was the Cereal Killer Café on Brick Lane. They have cereal cocktails, stacked hot chocolates, and cereal milkshakes. The restaurant is painted in nostalgia with cool cereal boxes, cereal art, and two TVs in the basement playing dated TV shows. It took awhile scanning the menu to decide because I wanted to try everything. I ended up ordering a Poptart milkshake (as shown above). It was pure sugar and definitely worth every calorie.
The second new experience happened when I was crossing the street to get to the Tube station. Other people in my group had seen all kinds of famous actors and actresses running around London, but I hadn’t been so lucky until that day. I was waiting for the light to change so I could walk, when I looked up and saw Andrew Scott, the actor who plays Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock. He made eye contact and continued swerving between cars to avoid being seen. That was my one and only celebrity run-in in London. Actually, it’s my only celebrity run-in ever.
Walking Southbank at dusk was an incredible experience. Street performers drew crowds. The London Eye lit up red. Big Ben’s face glowed. The lights shown off of the Thames, casting a magical shine. It wasn’t until that moment, crossing the bridge to stare up at Big Ben, that I realized this was what I’d been waiting for. This was London.
The night life along Southbank thrived. Restaurants and street vendors served the bustling crowds. There wasn’t one inch of Southbank that didn’t smell like pot. I was worried my clothes would catch the smell the way they do when you sit in a smoky restaurant. Luckily, the smell stayed on the bank.
Walking back from the bank, I crossed on a red as all pedestrians have done at some point. Except, a red double-decker bus was barreling down the street and I almost got hit. London drivers don’t stop when they see pedestrians in the way, they just honk. Welcome to the city.
In my time in London, I did not go on the London Eye because I’ve been in tall things before and sure, the views are good, but I didn’t think it would be worth it. Maybe I’m wrong. If I go to London again, the Eye is on my list along with riding a double-decker because of all the times I saw them, I never thought to ride one.
Why was Big Ben so important to my London experience? It’s iconic. It’s beautiful. Peter Pan flies past it in the movies. It is London. My favorite pictures from London are of Big Ben and seeing it was one of my favorite things on the trip. It was one of those moments where you’re fully aware of where you are. It finally becomes real, and that’s amazing.
I couldn’t go to Bath without seeing the Roman Baths. There was more to the place than I thought there would be. Going to the Roman Baths would be like a spa day. There’s a whole sequence of shifting between rooms that you would do, and it seemed pretty confusing. The hot room would probably be my favorite; I’m a weirdo who loves the heat and humidity.
Seeing pictures and things of the elegant white blocks used in Grecian and Roman architecture, I always assumed they were meant to be white. Apparently, that is not the case. If I met up with the Doctor or found myself a time machine and went back, I would see gaudy, colorful paint decorating those buildings. It kind of makes me wonder if millions of years in the future, the colors on the McDonald’s stores will fade and more developed humans will think that McDonald’s is elegant.
The Roman Baths hold more artifacts than I can possibly mention, but one that stuck out to me was a display of little slips of lead or pewter that had curses written on them. Citizens would write to the gods asking for them to punish a specific person, most often because the person stole from them.
Towards the exit of the Roman Baths is a trickling water stream into a funnel with paper cones beside it and a sign that more or less says “Try the Bath Water”. Of course, I tried it knowing that it would probably taste disgusting, and it did. It tasted metallic, almost like licking water off of a penny. But I don’t regret it. You can’t go to another country and avoid trying things.
As I took a Shakespeare class in London, it made perfect sense to go see a Shakespeare play at the Globe. In high school one of the English classes had made miniature models of the Globe and now I’ve seen a play there. The modern entrance to the building threw me off. I enjoy modern amenities like toilets, but I prefer older architecture. It looks more cultural and stately rather than flashy and sleek. Inside the foyer area was a combination of a mini museum and a gift shop. Shakespeare quotes captivate the heart and they certainly captivated the eye being scrawled across bags and t-shirts. Once the doors to the Globe officially opened, I stood in the yard like a true groundling. The yard was concrete rather than dirt which was nice, though less authentic. By the time the play begun, personal space no longer existed. The only thing that would’ve made the experience more Londony is if it had rained. That said, I’m glad that it didn’t because I didn’t have a rain coat or a poncho and umbrellas aren’t allowed in the Globe.