Back in December of 2002 I decided to participate in a winter theater session through a sister college to my university. The catch, while the theater class was through Central Connecticut State University, it was actually a theater class in London. London is an amazing place to visit any time, but it felt very special being there in December/January. I arrived on December 27th after a 7 hour red-eye flight courtesy of British Airways. The flight itself was crowded and I had the misfortune of being in the center seat in the center row in the economy section. Despite the uncomfortableness of flight, it was unmanageable. I was able to get some sleep. I was able to eat the food (it wasn’t terrible, yay!) and I was able to watch some tv/movies.
I do recall customs through London felt like a well oiled machine. I was quickly allowed into the country and got my bags with ease. My group took a charted bus and we spent just over 2 weeks at the Strand Palace Hotel which was conveniently located on The Stand and within close proximity to Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, West End and Trafalgar Square. The closes tube station that I used was the one for Charing Cross. As a New Yorker in London using their tube, I must say that London puts New York to shame in the cleanliness and decor department. The tube station and train itself was very clean and well maintained.
As for my theater class, I had to see 6 (or 8) West End productions and one production by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon (a short train ride away). The play by the RSC that I saw was The Merry Wives of Windsor. While RSC did a great job in terms of acting, that was one of the longest and most boring plays I have ever seen. Please don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of Shakespeare’s work and I have read many of his plays both due to school and on my own accord, however I never liked that particular play and seeing on stage did not to make me change my opinion. Even though that particular play wasn’t for me, I highly recommend if in London to spend a day in Stratford and see a play by the RSC, it is worth the experience. I also toured Shakespeare’s Home, which was also fun and very interesting.
Back to the theater shows. Wow, West End productions were amazing. And I didn’t see the plays that you would expect to see on Broadway in NY, meaning not just musicals. I saw dramas, comedies, plays I never head of. On a whim, while chatting with other theater-goers at the various shows, I took it upon myself to see 3 additional plays. The three that I paid myself to go and see were Art (Drama), The Play What I Wrote (a comedy) and The Reduced Shakespeare Company: All the Works of William Shakespeare Abridged (a comedy). Phenomenal. Amazing. Loved them all.
While in London I found out that all public museums are free to the public. So, of course, I spent just about every day checking out a museum. I went to the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, National Gallery and Tate Modern. The British Museum, V&A Museum and Tate Modern I visited more than once. One museum that I did pay for, and it was worth every penny, was the London Dungeon.
Ok, the London Dungeon deserves it’s own paragraph. This was awesome, but you need to keep an open mind. It’s technically more of a tourist attraction than anything else but it’s very informative about the history of London but with an interesting twist. This museum exhibits the more shady and at times violent history of London. It talks about events like the plague, Jack the Ripper, and other lesser known London historical events. I found it with the money. The actors/tour guides make it a fun and enjoyable experience. Not sure I’d bring my kids till they are tweens ages but I do recall seeing younger children there. I guess it just depends on how your kids react to a hunted house but in this case they tell you honestly that everything happened.
Other things I did in London was I toured the Globe Theater and St. Paul’s Cathedral. I walked across London Bridge and the Millennium Bridge. Also shopping was fun (isn’t it always ladies?). While I mostly window shopped it was well worth it to just look around and take it all in. I’m grateful that I didn’t bring all my credit cards with me on this trip, or I would have done some serious damage. I checked out the world famous Harrods, Oxford Street, Mayfair, Covent Garden, and of course in the tourist trip sections of London. I did look from the streets at Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben, The London Eye (big Ferris Wheel) and Kensington Palace, but I didn’t want to pay for the tours to any of them. This decision was mostly based on the fact that I didn’t want to wait on the lines for each attraction. Oh, and I went to Notting Hill to find the blue door from the movie (BTW, very cute section! Loved the shops!).
Food in London was great, however, I found the further I traveled via the tube from the West End/Tourist trap areas, the better and cheaper the food got. While in the tourist area’s I actually ate a lot of Subway. It was cheap, I could change up what I was eating for lunch every day, and there was an internet cafe attached to it. Back in 2002 Wifi wasn’t “a thing” and I didn’t have a smart phone / iPad / iPod / laptop on hand like I do today. I love technology.
If I could do a London trip now, I would revisit the museums again. They were free and interesting so I’d say it was all worth it. Definitely would see more West End productions. I would like to see a show at The Globe Theater. This time I would like to actually go inside the Parliament, Westminster Abby and Tower Bridge. I would go back to St. Paul’s Cathedral and the London Dungeon again. I would also do a haunted walking tour at night. I didn’t do it back then because the girls in my group said that they would be too scared and I didn’t want to do it alone. I hope to go back to London sometime soon, it’s been 12 years, too long! And I would shop till I dropped!