Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The perfect day starts with snow and ends with Shakespeare

Wow! I don't think there is a more exciting way to wake up on a December morning in London that sliding open the curtains on your hotel room and finding out that it is snowing!

And oh my! It snowed and snowed and snowed, really really hard!

For less than five minutes.

And then it stopped and the sun came out.

Huh? That was the fastest snowstorm I have ever seen! I knew London was a busy, busy metropolis, but who even know they were too busy for a full-fledged blizzard?!?

On the plus side, that meant it was cold and crisp but bright and clear when we stepped out of the Copthorne Tara after our fortifying breakfast of Wheetabix and cheese and tea. Off we went to a place in London that I have never been. Can you believe it? That's there's a place in London I've never been too before? Believe it! There's lots of places I haven't discovered yet, and that's one of the great joys of London—that there's a surprise around every corner. So off we went on the Circle Line (in an anti-clockwise direction!) to one of my very favorite Underground Stations of all, the wonderfully Victorian-y Baker Street station. It is so full of rich historical Victorian goodness that you almost expect to find Mister Sherlock Holmes riding up the escalator with Doctor Watson and calmly puffing on his meerschaum pipe. (No smoking on the Underground, Mister Holmes!) And in fact you'll find a lovely statue of Sherlock Holmes just outside the station:

If you turn to the right and walk up Baker Street you will soon come to 221B, and there you'll find the amazing Sherlock Holmes Museum which I highly recommend. But our path was taking us in a different direction today and we turned left to walk down the very busy Marylebone Road and then onto Marylebone High Street, home of some amazing shops! We had a specific destination in mind to start with: Camilla was quite keen on going to the Emma Bridgewater Shop to pick up some of her very favorite (or, as they say over here, favourite) pottery. But oh no! Holiday closures continue in some British stores even on the 27th, and I'm sad to say that the Emma Bridgewater Shop was closed, which was a bit of a disappointment to poor Camilla. But she soon cheered up when we found the very designy and elegant Conran Shop (home of some wonderful gifty items that were beautiful but much too pricey for my poor little change purse—plus, they had a whole lovely china section I was not allowed in because of that whole "bull in..." thing!), an amazing bookstore called Daunt Books, a very nice Oxfam Shop with a huge number of books and records, The Little White Company, where Camilla bought some lovely children's things for Olivia, and then we had a refreshing and relaxing lunch at one of our familiar but favorite places to nosh, Pizza Express. Why, I even got to visit (okay, okay, stand outside) the offices of jus' about my favorite broadcasting company in the whole wide world, BBC London:

Why, if you don't think that the Marylebone High Street is jus' about one of the most wonderful shopping streets ever...well, you're jus' plain wrong, mate!

Visiting seeing the BBC London offices on such a bright blue day put me in a fine mood to stroll to the nearby BBC Broadcasting House on nearby Portland Place, the true home of the BBC and a great grey battleship of a building that can be seen all the way down the wide street to Oxford Circus. I've been here before and highly recommend it: they have an excellent tour of the studios with some fun interactive broadcasting activities you can participate in. Sadly Broadcasting House is closed for renovation (I'll see you again after 2010, Broadcasting House!) and so is the excellent two-level BBC Gift Shop which I was quite looking forward to. There's a much smaller BBC Shop located in nearby Margaret Street, but it's a bit of a disappointment after you have been to the big one. It's still well worth a visit if you're a Beeb fan like I am, but I can't recommend it with my "highest Bully rating" until it moves back into its bigger location. Most of the small shop is taken up with BBC DVDs which are a thing of wonder—if only I could watch them at home on my Region 1 DVD player I would be leaving the shop with an armful of DVDs! I bought a few audio CDs and a BBC pencil, but I was a bit disappointed they did not have more souvenir mechandise with the BBC logo on it. I was ever-so hoping I could buy a small Bully-sized sweater that said "BBC" so that when everyone asked me "What does that stand for, Bully?" I could answer "The British Bull Corporation." Please get right on that, BBC!

We dropped by Leicester Square to see what plays we could get into that night, and hooray! There were tickets available for my favorite Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night. I was so excited I could barely wait! We headed back to the hotel and then had a lovely dinner in the friendly and festive and oh-so-French Café Rouge restaurant just off Kensington High Street. How French was it? It was so delightfully French that I had French onion soup, French fries and French dressing on my little side salad. (Plus: Le Coke.) There was only one disappointment about Café Rouge: that I was not waited on by Amélie. I kinda expected her to be there; it was 'xactly the sort of place she seemed to work at. I wandered around the restaurant and poked my head in the kitchen and looked in the bar to see if she was there, but I couldn't see her anyway. Oh well, maybe it was just her day off!

I always enjoy going to the Royal Shakespeare Company, and this was a bit of a treat because not only was it my favorite play (although I am partial to A Midsummer Night's Dream too!), but because it was the first time I got to go to a RSC play at their new location in the Gielgud Theatre in busy busy Shaftesbury Avenue. It's smack-dab in the middle of the West End theatre district which is quite a difference from all those many times I saw the RSC at the Barbican Centre. It looks like the RSC has abandoned their major space in the Barbican Centre—they had a nice modern theatre there in the 1980s but the Barbican is so far off the beaten path, and there's so little else to do around the area, especially after dark, that this may have been a smart move. I won't miss running for the Barbican Station tueb train after a show, but I will miss the large RSC gift shop at the Barbican, and following the painted yellow line on the pavement around Shakespeare Towers to get to the theatre there. It was like following a treasure map, and the treasure was a great performance!

But you still get that great performance at the Gielgud! Twelfth Night was great fun; it was a semi-modern dress version that put Viola in a new-wave outfit that made her look like Adam Ant. I dunno is that is what Mister Shakespeare intended but that's one of my favorite things about a Shakespeare play: you can be playful and fun with it and dress it up and change its setting but it's still an amazing story with memorable characters and incredible language. If you think you can't understand or won't appreciate Shakespeare, I really must recommend that you see a live play one day. Shakespeare meant his plays to be seen and experienced, not read, so don't cheat yourself out of one of the greatest pleasures of literature by not attending a live performance. Even if you have trouble following the language or the cadence of the actors' lines, you'll soon capture the rhythm of it, and you'll find yourself at the edge of your seat, and laughing along with the funny bits. Also, you can dress up Malvolio like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, which is worth the price of admission all by itself!

This perfect day ends with a chocolate bar from a Tube station vending machine, a lovely treat as we head home to the hotel after a busy and pleasant day. The air is cold and clear. It might snow again tomorrow and make it another magical day—but even if it doesn't, this day is one to remember.

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