Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Day Fifty

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Once again soaring at 30,000 feet, this time soaring over barren, rocky terrain on the last leg of our thirty-six hour journey home, I find myself growing reflective and pensive over the land I have left. I have a terrible memory, which was the inciting purpose of creating this blog—therefore I could remember every important detail of my seven, yes SEVEN weeks in Europe. Reading through some of my earlier entries, I am remind of all the events, both good and bad, that have transpired over these fifty days.

I can’t wait to go home, I really can’t, and when the disturbingly appropriate Michael Bublé song came on in the Dublin airport as we were eating breakfast, I got a little teary eyed. I’ve missed my family, my friends, my phone with free texting, clean showers, my bed, my car, my hair straightener, my laundry machine, and not having to mentally tell myself that everything I’m buying is really twice as expensive as it says it is.

I’ve also got the biggest craving for In and Out in the world.

I’ve also spent more time than I particularly care to say waiting for or being on planes, trains, and buses.

But I feel a bit like Dorothy returning from Oz and…almost think I’ll miss being abroad more.

I’ll miss the River Liffey, and the way it rains all the fucking time in Ireland. I’ll miss my feet aching every day when I woke up because I’d walked so much the day before .I’ll miss the Galway Arts Festival, Macnas, and Propellar. I’ll miss the walk into town on a cool and sunny day. I’ll miss Shop Street, the delicious crepes, McDonagh’s, and the Spudhouse. I’ll miss Taffes, the King’s Head, the Crane, Monroe’s, the Roisin Dubh, and late night Supermac’s. I’ll miss Cadburry chocolate spread, early morning Tim Tams, and watching iCarly with two other 21 year olds and considering it an acceptable way to pass the time. I’ll miss hurling, and trying to take shots of whiskey while people are screaming “THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID!”. I’ll miss Smythwick’s, Carlsberg, Killarney, Galway Hooker, and not once getting carded. I’ll miss hating on the tin whistle, getting up early to read a play, and frantically trying to write my essays. I’ll miss the Projects, the salmon building, and every single one of the USAC kids. I’ll miss Lorcan the tour guide, Steve the tour guide, and Dave the Beefeater. I’ll miss Quigs and Caoilfhionn and hell, even Angus too. I’ll miss the magical feeling of Galway and the beautiful countryside around it.

But oh Guinness, I think I’ll miss you most of all.

I don’t know how many times I turned to Abbie during our travels and incredulously exclaimed, “Who are we? Who does this?” because I could honestly not believe that I was doing some of the things I was. Who gets to find pubs with colorful locals (“I’ve been there!”) in Dublin? Who gets to see plays at the Abbey Theatre? Who gets to walk along the Galway Bay where the Claddagh was originally forged? To visit Coole Park, the home of Lady Gregory? To go to Connemara and see the famine road? To do makeup for a parade of over 200 people? To PARTICIPATE in said parade as a performer? To get to hang out with a touring theatre company, watch a tech run, and be accepted like we’d been with them for years? To watch a hurling championship in Tipperary? To watch bands perform live music? To see the van Gogh, up close and personal, that I once tried to recreate for a class? To go to the top of the Eiffel Tower on a full moon and look down on the streets of Paris? To stroll along the canals and take in the culture of Amsterdam’s red light district? To see Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart perform a Beckett play and get the latter’s autograph? To take the Eucharist at Westminster Abbey? To see the Globe? The National Theatre? The Houses of Parliament? Buckingham Palace? The Tower of London? To walk the streets Jack the Ripper once walked? To try and break through the barrier of Platform 9 ¾?

Certainly not me, the girl from FarmTown, CA who all her life only dreamt of these places or watched them in movies. But none of this would have been possible without the help of a lot of people. I’d like to thank USAC and all the people in the Study Abroad office at CSU Chico for being on top of their game and knowing what they’re talking about. Quigs and Caoilfhionn for being a never-ending source of guidance, comfort, and advice. The Department of Theatre Arts at CSU Chico who generously provided me with scholarships that are literally what made this possible—I’ve got a lot I’m bring back. I want to thank Amanda and Adanna for letting us crash on their couches/floor/beds—you’ve got an open invitation anytime you’re back in the states. To all the USAC kids—I love you, each and every one of you and I miss you all terribly. There’s a spot in Chico waiting for you if that Vegas reunion doesn’t happen. I want to thank my family for being supportive, especially my mom who took the panicked phone call from Amsterdam in stride when I, crying, told her I had run out of money (oops).

And finally, to my long-suffering travelling companion, Abbie. I know we had our highs and our lows. I know times were sometimes tense. And sometimes the craic was fecking amazing. But this trip honestly wouldn’t have been the same without you. You truly made the difference and I thank you for putting up with my insanity and crazy ideas for seven whole weeks. Lesser friends couldn’t have pulled it off. Love ya.

And now, I’d like to leave you with the traditional Irish toast: SLÁINTE!

Next stop: The return to my regularly scheduled life.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Day Forty-Nine

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Okay, yes, I admit that I am a complete and total geek. Go ahead and judge me and laugh at me when you want, but when I began this blog, I made a promise to myself to be honest and forthright, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. After waking up and packing up all our luggage for our journey back to Dublin later that afternoon, we discovered we had ample time before we had to be at Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guards. So we decided to get on the tube and take a train.

To Platform 9 ¾.

Yes, dear readers, you may now commence with the judging. But upon our arrival in London, I told Abbie that I would require a photograph with the embedded luggage trolley on a wall in King’s Cross that bore the famous name in homage to the Harry Potter series. Abbie, begrudgingly, acquiesced. Our first attempt had happened the night before, during the break between our Tower of London and Jack the Ripper escapades. But I was unable to locate the location of the installation (for those of you who think to comment about how I might try looking three-quarters of the way between platforms 9 and 10, I kindly ask you to shove it and look it up on Wikepedia.)

Which is what I did, and found a distinctive wall pattern that I believed might help me find the location. Sheer pride prevented me from asking an official and having to undergo the judgmental stare. When we arrived at the station Tuesday morning, I began my brisk walk down Platform 9, looking for any signs of it. And I found it, hidden in a crossover between Platforms 4 and 9. After I took my series of pictures, Abbie even got into the fun and allowed me to take one of her as well.

After our success at proving ourselves to be way too nerdy for our own good, we headed down to Buckingham Palace. Admittedly, we were both a little cranky that morning due to wanting to be home and the stress of our travels/lack of sleep. We had a minor spat in the park next to the palace and both agreed we were being passive aggressive jerks and we should just hug it out and stop being stupid.

So we found the palace (really, it’s not hard what with it being big and all) and managed to get somewhat decent places for the changing of the guard. Our view inside of the gates where the actual ceremony took place was restricted, but we had a clear view to see them march in front of us. I admit that I’m completely ignorant about the procedures or who was participating, but first marched in guards dressed in more traditional military uniforms. Following them were the guards (whose name I used to know once upon a time) that everyone thinks of. You know—red coat, biiiiig fuzzy black hat? I got really, really excited. Then came guards on horseback. They played music as they marched, and after some sort of ceremony, each of the bands played some music for the crowd.

The first band that played were the traditional military guards. One would expect, from these soldiers inside of Buckingham Palace, maybe something like a little Handel? Gilbert and Sullivan? Maybe even a rousing rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’?

Oh no, dear friends.

It took me approximately ten seconds to place the song. Turning to Abbie, incredulous look on my face, I asked (probably a bit too loudly), “Are they playing…ABBA?!”

Yes. Yes, they were. The chorus of Dancing Queen filtered out over the masses gathered to watch the ceremony as Abbie and I looked on in a mixture of horror and disbelief. ABBA?! But…but…THEY’RE NOT EVEN BRITISH! Why not a nice Beatles medley? Or hell…even the Spice Girls! At least THEY’RE British! And then…worst of all…the crowd began to sing along.

I wasn’t sure what dimension or twilight zone I had just apparated to, but for the Queen’s Guard to be playing an ABBA medley inside the gates of Buckingham Palace and for the crowd to be singing along…it had to be somewhere very dark and very scary.

Fortunately, the Fuzzy Hats (as they shall now be called) saved the day with their rather jazz band-like approach. I admit I’m a huge fan of their drummer, who was really getting into it. At least…as much as those guys can get into anything. Despite the lingering horror of having ABBA songs stuck in our heads, we stayed and watched them process out (I have the whole thing on video if you’re interested.)

From there, we went to Piccadilly Circus to do some last minute tourist shopping.

And from there, we went to the Baker Street exit, coming up on street level and making our way to one of the most famous addresses in the world: 221B Baker St.—home of the Great Detective.

Yes, you may judge us more for wanting to visit the Sherlock Holmes museum, but it was rather cheap and actually quite interesting. They had the entire space done up to reflect the canon, the living room and the detective’s bedroom resplendent in Victorian fashion. I immediately noted the pipe, the deerstalker cap, the magnifying glass, and the violin. I also found something missing: a syringe.

The upper floors, while dressed in Victorian fashion as well, held more artifacts and drawings than anything. The top floor had wax dummies representing some of the more intriguing stories. I was highly amused by one family who, in complete seriousness, was asking the costumed employee “How long did he live here?” and “Didn’t he move on to Scotland?” I resisted the urge to tell them that Sherlock Holmes is, in fact, a fictional character. But after Santa and the Easter Bunny, I suppose one can only take so much.

We then returned to Adanna’s apartment for the last time, grabbing our things and making our way to Victoria Station where we caught the Gatwick Express to the airport. The flight itself was uneventful, but it was the arrival that was worth noting. Just as we reclaimed our left bag from Left Luggage and were heading back into the departures terminal to begin the dreaded Twelve Hour Layover of Doom, we heard a loud shriek and found ourselves being nearly tackled to the floor in a bear hug.

Once the adrenaline had worn off, we found it was Brittney, one of the USAC kids, arriving with her mom in Dublin. We were very excited to see each other, and after a quick conversation realized we were on the same flight to Chicago the next morning. They bid us adieu on their way to hoteled comfort, whilst we found a spot in the terminal, settled down, and tried to catch some sleep on the hard, freezing ground floor. If only we could just Floo home…

Next stop: Home

Day Forty-Eight

Monday, August 10th, 2009

After our brief respite of sleeping in the previous day, Abbie and I were once again woken up by my ever-pleasant phone alarm. Adanna was already “on set” for the day (yeah, she’s kind of awesome and ridiculous as the same time) so we were once again left up to our own devices. Fortunately, we had a full day planned out for us. We left the house around nine in the morning and took the tube down to Waterloo station, grabbing breakfast at a Café Nero Express (have you figred out yet that we took a liking to this place?) and walking the few blocks to the National Theatre.

That’s right. We were going on a backstage tour. Now, before you go and get your knickers in a twist (as the British are wont to say) about how we managed to finagle that knowing absolutely no one involved with the theatre, let me put you at ease by saying that the tour is open to the public and goes quite a few times per day. So, though we’d like to think we are, we’re really not that special.

If there was any doubt that our guide, Gemma, was enthusiastic about theatre, that would have easily been put at ease by her overly expressive gesticulations as she talked about how sets and fly systems worked. Yeah, some of the information she gave us was pretty basic stuff, but there were a few interesting tidbits (like that the Olivier fly system is comprised of a series of hooks instead of the tradition baton method…I’m as stumped as you are, don’t worry.)

But we got to go sit in the house for each of the theatres: The impressive Greek amphitheatre-esque Olivier, the more traditional proscenium, and the small black box (I’ve forgotten their names because they weren’t famous actors…and I’m on an airplane right now else I’d look them up. So sue me.) Each visit to the house was followed by a visit to the backstage areas, which are literally separated from the stages by “shutters” (large doors that slide back or roll up). We got to see the sets of some of the plays in rep (there’s usually at least two in rep per theatre) and then went further into the bowels of the building to see the massive scenic construction and design workspaces. Pete and Dave, eat your heart out.

Afterwards, Abbie bombarded the guide with questions about designers and their relationship with the National Theatre itself and apprenticeships and I was beginning to think I’d never be able to get her on a plane out of London. After a quick breeze through the bookshop, we walked back to the Underground and took the train to Tower Hill: Home to the Tower of London.

I’ve seen a few gory and spooky documentaries about the Tower on the travel or history channel, but I admit I was one of those people who thought the Tower was a singular building. It’s not. Which I was quick to learn upon exiting the subway and seeing the impressive fortress looming before us. The Tower is guarded by an outside wall, and inside there are many more towers, houses, and other buildings (including the famous White Tower). In all, there are 20 towers in the Tower of London.

Be bought our tickets and queued up for the next guided tour by one of the Beefeaters (or Yeoman)—you know, the guys in the red with gold lining tunic-y thing with the squishy black hat? The uniform’s changed a bit, but the same basic principle. Being the dumb American I am, I assumed the guides were some people with a brief knowledge of history hired out by the British Tourist Board or something.

Oh how wrong I was.

As Dave, our awesome guide, told us somewhat into the tour, becoming a guide to the Tower of London is actually really hard. To begin with, one must achieve the rank of Sergeant Major (and please forgive me because I know I’ve butchered the rank horribly—again, no internet on airplanes) in the Royal Forces, something that requires at least 20-22 years of service. In addition, one must conduct themselves in good conduct for the first 18 years of service. That means no mark on your record. Not doing anything wrong or making any mistakes. For eighteen years. Some of the perks? Dave and his fellow Beefeaters live there. Yes, they and their family LIVE at the Tower of London (as evidenced by the “medieval car park” he pointed out upon first entering the main gate).

The tour was mostly of some of the courtyard’s highlights: Traitor’s Gate where high profile prisoners could be brought in directly from the river, Bloody Tower where young Prince Edward (I think it was Edward) and his younger brother mysteriously disappeared under the “care” of their uncle who would soon become Richard III (their bodies were later found in a small coffin sealed inside a wall), and the green where the private executions of the likes of Anne Boleyn and Jane Grey took place.

Now on our own, Abbie and I explored a few of the towers, seeing graffiti carved into the stone by some of the prisoners, a rather disappointing exhibition on torture devices, a surprisingly large exhibition on King Henry VIII’s armor, and last, but most certainly not least…the Crown Jewels.

I freely admit that I pretty much have no interest in jewelry. My class ring from high school and my Claddagh ring have proven to be the only pieces I will repeatedly and frequently wear. I can’t tell the difference between real jewels and costume pieces—they all look the same to me. But when we got on that little moving walkway to glide past the casing for the Crown Jewels, and I saw the giant Star of Africa inside the scepter…I knew that it was much more important and beautiful than a silly piece of costume jewelry.

After finishing the Tower and cruising the gift shop, we realized we had about two hours until our Jack the Ripper walking tour (don’t judge, you know it’s awesome) left from the same station we were already at. But, to pass the time, we decided to make a fruitless journey to King’s Cross. But more on that tomorrow.

Arriving back at Tower Hill, we easily found the leaders of the tour right outside the station. I admit I had kind of been looking forward to it since finding the information online. I was also really excited to have Donald as our guide, since he is widely acclaimed as the present best authority on Jack the Ripper. The tour itself was largely uneventful. Most of the area of London where the murders occurred has obviously changed dramatically since the late Victorian years, leaving little ambiance to set the mood (and no, there were no guys in dark cloaks with fake knives jumping out at us either). But Donald took us to each location where the murdered victims had been found and described, sparing no detail, the conditions.

Though non-eventful, it was definitely informative, and as we moved deeper into the East End, we were able to get a little bit of a feeling of the ambiance with all the brown bricked former lodging houses surrounding us. After the tour concluded, Abbie and I both bought his book and had him sign it (it’s a pretty interesting read too). We then headed back to the apartment where Adanna had not yet returned from her glamorous life on set, and decided that since we once more needed to get up early in the morning, we’d best head to bed.

Day Forty-Seven

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

Originally, Adanna had planned to take us around the city today, showing us all the tourist spots. But she was lucky enough to get called in to an interview and thus was otherwise occupied. Abbie and I didn’t mind though. We planned to take the tube down to London Bridge, then walk up the embankment past The Globe, the National Theatre, and eventually meet up with the London Eye and Houses of Parliament. Sounds like a simple enough plan, right?

Currently, a lot of the Tube is undergoing construction and most of that construction takes place on the weekends. The line that would have taken us directly there was only going halfway that day, something we didn’t realize until we were forced to get off. Okay, we said, we’ll take another line up to King’s Cross, get on a different line, and go straight down. Apparently, the line we picked didn’t stop at King’s Cross that particular day. So we had to switch lines at the next station, go back to King’s Cross, and eventually got down to London Bridge.

By that time we had spent easily an hour and a half underground and when we emerged, I was disoriented and didn’t have any of it on my map. Needless to say, I was a little cranky that morning. But we found London Bridge (which is really not that impressive…the original one is in Arizona) and eventually found a Café Nero where we got breakfast (because food makes everything better). After breakfast, we finally found the route we were supposed to take and came upon The Globe. And guess who was standing outside?

The Italians.

That’s right. Remember the Italian kids who swarmed Corrib Village and blocked every entrance and stairway? I recognized their blue backpacks immediately and turned to Abbie in horror, which she quickly returned. Luckily, it seemed they had just gotten done with whatever they were doing and moved on, leaving the space free and clear of people who would back up into you whilst you’re holding a cup of hot coffee.

Since there was a matinee on that day, I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to take the tour of the actual Globe and thought we would only be able to go see foundations of the nearby Rose Theatre. Turned out…we could do both. So we did. The Rose tour was leaving just as we bought tickets, so we tailed along at the end of the group as our guide took us a few blocks from the Globe to a very modern looking office building. In the 1980s, when the office was being built, the builders uncovered the foundations of the Rose—what currently is the only surviving example of an Elizabethan theatre in the world.

There was fierce controversy over the fate of the remains. The builders wanted to build, and theatre, art, and history lovers (and celebrities) were willing to throw themselves into a bulldozer to prevent the remains from being destroyed. Eventually, a compromise was made: The builders would be allowed to put an additional three stories on top of the building if they build a sort of “basement” to house the Rose. And that’s exactly what it was. Our tour guide unlocked a door on street level and led us through a small room to a platform in a completely pitch dark room. Once there, he flipped on some red rope light that outline the shape of the foundations (the foundations are actually kept underwater to prevent remaining clay pipes from crumbling).

Though we couldn’t see much, it was still pretty amazing to be standing next to a sight where people would come to see plays over 400 years ago. Next, he led us a few more blocks down and showed us where the original location of The Globe was (it’s their best calculation based on the position of the Rose). The building currently over the site is itself a historical landmark and so there can be no excavation. But, he said, he doubted there would be anything there after all this time.

After the brief tour, Abbie and I killed the hour and a half till our tour of the theatre by looking at the exhibition that featured details on the history of the original Globe, authentic costume making processes, musical instruments, voice recordings of notable actors delivering Shakespeare, and the reconstruction of the new Globe (yay Sam Wanamaker!) By that time, our tour was ready to depart.

As we entered the Globe, taking seats on the second tier, we were able to watch the stage crew changing over the set from “Helen” a new play, to Romeo and Juliet. The theatre was beautiful and even though it is a reproduction, the details are just as ornate and perfect as they would have been in the original and it was amazing to think of what it would have been like to have heard Hamlet’s speech or seen the balcony scene or watch Lady Macbeth rub the blood off her hands for the very first time.

After the tour, we headed to the shop where we went a little bit all-out on souvenirs. Don’t worry, I refrained from buying the disturbingly cute “plague rat”…though I did buy a friend for Wagner! After shopping, we got an ice cream cone and ate it on Millennium Bridge (as seen on Harry Potter 6) before walking the short distance to the National Theatre and taking pictures with the Laurence Olivier statue outside. By that time, we were pretty much wiped, so we headed back to Adanna’s house.

After eating dinner, we decided to be proper young adults and go out on the town for some drinks. We took a bus over to Camden town to a bark along a canal where we only stayed for one or two drinks (they were out of pretty much everything on tap) and then moved to another bar with a nice beer garden. It was there where we saw the largest spider I’ve ever seen in my life. It was easily bigger than my palm and crawled out almost right next to me, causing me to shriek and hastily move my chair away (Abbie was freaking out too, don’t let her fool you). Some nice gents from the table over trapped it in a beer glass and tossed it outside the garden, saving the day.

By that time we were all feeling the drink a little so on the way home we stopped for Chinese food (and discovered their interestingly shaped eggrolls) and hungrily ate it before going to bed, feeling quite content with ourselves.

Day Forty-Six

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

Even though it had been decided that we were sleeping in, I still found myself waking up every once in awhile in the morning, as if afraid I had missed something deathly important or exciting. But we all finally woke up around ten in the morning, dragging ourselves out of bed and generally being lazy. Adanna cooked us up a “proper English breakfast” and refused our offers to help, saying…almost threateningly, “Everybody gets one.” And it was really, really good. A little bit later, after Abbie and I were ready, Adanna’s friend Lamia (I think that’s how you spell her name…don’t quote me on it) came over.

We were going to be going up to the Portobello Market that day and checking it out. Apparently it’s rather well-known, but neither Abbie nor I had ever heard of it before. It took another half hour for Adanna to finish getting ready, which is astonishing for the amount of clothing she usually wears (she herself admitted this). After that it was a bit of a walk to get to the market. After experiencing a gray, slightly damp day previous, it was nice to see the sun again. But that also meant it was rather warm outside…though nothing compared to mid-August California temperatures.

The market featured, among fruit and vegetables, clothes, sunglasses, handbags, and pretty much anything else you could think of. We stopped in a cute souvenir shop along the way and Adanna purchased a gift for her mortal enemy—the one we call James Dugan. We all bought a pair of sunglasses (they all went with cool aviator specs…I just bought a basic pair to replace my stolen sunglasses until I can get my hands on some Target ones. Mmm, Target).

After the market, we walked up to a local bar and grabbed a pint. There was a beer on tap called Früli that claimed to be a strawberry beer. I was intrigued and so was Lamia, so we both ordered it. And oh, was it good. It really did taste like strawberries more than beer. I don’t know if I’d want to drink it all the time since it was a little sweet, but it would definitely be a treat. After our pints, Lamia bid us goodbye and Adanna continued to lead us up the hill to see the Royal Court Theatre (home of Sarah Kane, etc.). At one point we got on a double decker bus. At one point we passed Harrod’s. We were all quickly losing energy and succumbing to the heat by now that by the time we reached the theatre, all we had energy to do was take a few pictures and wait in their downstairs bar while Adanna used the bathroom.

We caught a bus to go back up near Portobello, though walking may have been faster in the rush hour traffic. I fell asleep, and Abbie had to nudge me to wake up when we got off. We stopped for “proper fish and chips” in the words of Adanna, and even though she had never been to the place before, it was supposed to be really good. On the way, we met her hair dresser (random) and got our food to go, getting on another bus to take us home.

I am not afraid to admit that we completely vegged that evening, watching Southpark and Family guy while we mindlessly ate our food (it was good) and lying in front of the TV until late in the night. None of us could even summon up the energy to turn on a light when it got dark until we finally got up to go to bed.

Day Forty-Five

Friday, August 7th, 2009

Months ago when I was in the beginning planning stages of this trip, one of the first things I looked up were shows that were going to be playing in London while we were there. The next day, I think I burst into the green room, nearly tackled Abbie to the floor, and told her in one breathless sentence “Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod, they’re doing Waiting for Godot and guess who’s going to be in it?! PATRICK STEWART AND SIR IAN MCKELLAN!!!!!!” Abbie, though excited, didn’t share my slightly manic reaction to that particular nugget of information.

Initially, we were going to be touring Europe BEFORE starting our session in Ireland, thus allowing us to see the play, then closing sometime in July. However, after whining about wanting to spend my birthday in Chico (totally worth it by the way) we changed it to after Ireland, thus crushing the hope of ever seeing these two gods of acting perform live.

That is, until a few weeks ago when I discovered, as I had secretly been hoping all along, that the production had been extended and would be playing the first two days we were in London. “It’s happening,” I would say emphatically every time the subject of the play was brought up. We were going to get tickets. I was going to see these two men perform a Beckett play. Failure was not an option.

That was why, on a day when we had particularly nothing to do, after waking up early for the past week, after long days of travel, my alarm went off at 7 a.m. The show was sold out, naturally, but every day the theatre would release a certain number of tickets that they had held back. I hustled Abbie out of bed, quickly got dressed, and made sure we were on the Underground within a half hour. By the time we navigated our way from Piccadilly Circus, it was 8:15 (the box office opened at 10) and there was already at least 15 people queued up. I heard a rumor that there was only 10 tickets to go around, but tried to not let my spirits get dashed.

Abbie went to Café Nero (a better version of Starbucks) and got us breakfast while I held our place in line. The giant poster of the play hung over the theatre and seemed to taunt me mercilessly. The only consolation was that, unlike I had thought, there was still one more performance before the closing night, so we would have a second chance if our efforts failed that morning. And if so, I would be there at six in the morning the next day.

The box office opened and I felt my pulse racing as the line slowly stumbled into the foyer and everyone in front of me got tickets. Surely, I thought, there was no way we were going to manage this. It was finally our turn, and we went up to the teller, asking him if there were any more tickets for that night and not really wanting to know the answer.

“Yes,” he said. “In fact, we’ve still got the best seats in the house.”

Under pain of death, I will never admit how many Pounds I put down in that booth that day, but even now, it was still worth it. We got our tickets, I tucked it safely into my wallet, and feeling elated at a successful mission, we decided to head down further into central London. When we emerged from the tube station, we merely had to turn around to be confronted with the hulking image that was Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Even though we were literally right next to the famous clock, Abbie and I both agreed that it seemed a little…less impressive and imposing as we had been expecting. To be sure, it was large and mighty and beautiful…but just not as much as we had been picture our whole lives.

We later decided that this was yet another case of Disney corrupting the minds of young children…in the scene where they are flying off to Neverland in Peter Pan, the children fly around Big Ben. And in that scene, Big Ben looks MASSIVE. Yet another Disney falsehood. But, putting aside all that, we crossed the River Thames in order to better photograph the clock and the Houses of Parliament. After walking the length of the building, we crossed back over and decided to head up to Westminster Abbey.

I’ve wanted to go there my entire life (okay, let’s face it, I’ve just wanted to go to London my entire life), and I admit The Da Vinci Code may have influenced me just a tiny, tiny bit. We bought our admission tickets and picked up our complimentary audio tour before really taking stock of the church. Let me be clear: Westminster Abbey, is not your average church. To begin with, it is CRAMMED FULL of marble statues, tombs, and decorations. There was even a little corner near the exit where it looked like they had just shoved all the large statues they couldn’t fit.

In addition to being crammed with of statues, it is also crammed full of history. Elizabeth I is buried there, along with Mary whom she had beheaded (they’re buried next to each other), a couple of the King Henry’s are there. Dukes, Duchesses, Lords, Ladies, Kings Queens, Handel, Charles Dickens organists, and the odd commoner all lie at rest in Westminster Abbey amongst plaques honoring Shakespeare, Laurence Olivier, Louis Carroll, Jane Austen, and the Bronte sisters. This is also the place where Elizabeth II—and every monarch before her—was given their crown. In King Henry’s Chapel, underneath the stunning lace-like ceiling, the Knights of the Order of Bath hold their meetings. Pausing halfway through our tour, Abbey and I took the Eucharist because…if you’re going to go to church and take communion, it might as well be in Westminster Abbey.

We literally spent nearly five hours in the church and I still feel like I didn’t fully appreciate it enough. But eventually, we called it quits and headed back to Adanna’s flat to rest and get changed for the performance tonight. Adanna, being the responsible person that she is, has a job and was therefore only really able to take us around for one day, just in case you were wondering. Her mum was there when we got back and made us a delicious dinner (really, they were all too sweet to us) before we headed back down to Piccadilly for the play.

And we really did have some of the best seats in the house—middle orchestra, slightly off to the right. The set was barren and slightly industrial looking, with a naked tree providing the only color on the stage. From the first moments when Sir Ian crawled out from behind a piece of set, I was absolutely spellbound. I may have a bit of an unhealthy fascination with Sir Ian (Sir Ian, Sir Ian, Action: WIZARD! THOU SHALT NOT PASS!), but that wasn’t why I couldn’t tear my eyes away from him onstage. He and Patrick Stewart both were breathtaking performers, but even Patrick Stewart had his moments where he looked a bit stiff—whereas even just standing staring out into the audience with his hands in his pockets, Sir Ian was awe-inspiring.

This, of course, strengthened my desire to get them to sign my poster after the play had ended. I nearly ran to the stage door, and much to my dismay, even though Abbie and I were some of the first people there, Sir Ian (dressed in his highly festive pajamas) was already halfway out the door and running to the awaiting van. Had I been a lesser person, I would have run tearing after him, begging for an autograph. But I had far too much respect for the man to belittle myself so, or even take a picture of his dramatic flee to add to my collection of Those Who Got Away (JAMES EARL JONES).

So, I was forced to accept the fact that it was just not meant to be, but at least I had gotten to see him. It was about another twenty minutes before the next actor emerged—Mr. Patrick Stewart. He was very personable and readily greeted and signed the programs and posters of everyone. I was stunned at what a low-key affair this was. Everyone was sort of mulling around, murmuring congratulations or best wishes. Had this been Broadway, there would have been barricades set up and people would be mobbing each other just to try and take a picture. I got the signatures of the other two actors, both of whom were equally as talented, just not fortunate enough to have the star-power name.

After all the excitement died down, we headed back to the tube and home to Adanna’s, where it was decided we would, mercifully, be sleeping in the next day.

Day Forty-Four

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

The day started out bright and early as Abbie and I woke up from our second night in the hostel. All things considering, it had actually been a very restful night of sleep. Even though it was only 8 a.m., most of the other people in the room had already left, leaving us plenty of space to repack our things for the move to London. Once packed and dressed, we headed down to the complimentary breakfast (still no sign of a toaster) and then went out on the town since we didn’t need to leave until around 1:30.

Though still early, it was already beginning to get hot and I was regretting once again the pair of shorts I had left behind in our suitcase in Dublin. Abbie’s goal for the morning was to procure a certain liquid of which type is only legally purchaseable in certain places, so we searched around for a store in which one buys such liquid. The supermarket, unsurprisingly, yielded no results, though she did buy batteries for her camera and they directed us to a nearby off-license.

While walking to the store, we discovered Dam Square (there may or may not be an extra A in there—I’m not really sure) which held a vast monument relating to something to do with Amsterdam, I’m sure. Interestingly, there was a calliope nearby that was playing music and oddly making the area feel sort of like Dutch Disneyland.

After finding said shop and procuring said liquid for a friend who should be eternally grateful (seriously, Abbie bought stuff for EVERYONE. I’m selfish and bought things for me. Love you all, but I am kind of #1 in my world). We still had a couple hours until we had to leave, so we mused about the canals for a bit before deciding to buy another hour of internet from the hostel.

At around 12:45, we grabbed our stuff and made the trek toward the metro. We actually had to buy a ticket this time, fair enough since we had ridden it the past two times for free. We arrived at Centraal Station (yes, there are supposed to be two ‘a’s) and had about a half hour until our train, so sat around on the platform until it came. I quite enjoy taking the train and was excited that we were finally able to take one during out journey. The cabin was cool and comfortable and the ride to Eindhoven seemed to take no time at all.

Once off the train at the station, it was once again hot and sticky and we quickly made our way down just in time to grab a bus to the airport. The Eindhoven airport may, honestly, be the smallest airport I’ve ever seen in my life. Literally, you are able to walk up to it. I admit, I slightly misjudged our travel time and we ended up having almost three hours to wait since Ryanair didn’t check in until an hour and a half before the flight. But we got through the wait somehow and boarded our plane to London Stanstead.

The flight was short and relatively uneventful. England was cold and cloudy when we landed, and even though it wasn’t any later than 8 p.m., it was already getting dark. Our bags were first off the carousel (seems we’re fortunate with that) and since most of the passengers were from the EU, we avoided a long line at passport control. I sailed through with relative ease, even though I put down the Holiday Inn as the address where I was staying (so sue me, I didn’t know Adanna’s address.) Abbie managed to get a stricter agent who gave her the third degree, wanting to know exactly which Holiday Inn she was staying at and to see her travel itinerary. When she whined that her friend who had all the information was already through, he let her go. We have since agreed that she is apparently the shadiest white girl alive.

We didn’t have to wait too long for the train from Stanstead into Liverpool Station, but by the time it came, it was already dark and raining. From Liverpool, we somehow managed to figure out how to buy an Underground ticket and made the two changes to get to Kilburn Park near where Adanna lives. By now, it was pouring, and when she came to meet us she was already soaked. I admit, after a long day of travel, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to have to roll my suitcase through the rain and puddles as we walked the ten minute walk to her house, but it wasn’t exactly like I had any other options. After arriving at her flat we set our things down, properly greeted one another and then went to bed in preparation for another early morning the next day.