If it is Sunday it must be South Bank
Despite the fact that London is 8 hours ahead of Vancouver, I woke up at 7 AM on my first morning here, feeling quite rested. I had decided to have breakfast in the hotel dining room at least for today, and then see what coffee shops were around the area.
At 8 I walked down the stairs to the first floor restaurant. It is staffed by several lovely young women from all over the world. They are all smartly dressed in black pantsuits, are charmingly eager to help and have varying degrees of facillity with the English language. But their smiles help them through any language barriers.
This morning I met three, from Poland, Columbia, and Sicily.
I decided on the continental buffet. There was a very reasonable spread of baked goods, fruit salad, yogurt (including plain no-fat), and cheese and charcuterie. Add orange juice and coffee and its a huge breakfast. The other buffet held cereals of various descriptions.
As a substitute for milk for my coffee, at home I get Dairyland 6% cream - its the only brand I have found with that percentage. Even half and half is more like 10%. But here all they had was what they called "double-cream." Note to self- check at Sainsbury's (the local equivalent of our IGA) when you go to pick up some fresh fruit to keep in the room.
Today was going to be my big adventure - but not to get you all excited. It was big only for me. My previous visits here were in late September and early January and apart from a Hop On Hop Off tour, and a visit to the Globe, I basically stuck to the area around the West End theatre district.
But today I planned to go to the National Theatre on the South Bank of the Thames. And, most exciting for me who has even got lost on the Toronto subway system, I was planning to take the Tube.
The reception folk suggested I get a one day pass as the cheapest option - in retrospect it probably wasn't as things turned out- and I made my way down a fairly quiet Sunday morning Tottenham Court Road to the underground station. I took the Northern line - actually managing to get on the train going in the right direction - and three stations later got off at Waterloo.
From there it was an easy walk past Festival Hall to the National Theatre complex in its stunning location adjacent to the Thames. The Box Office opened at 12 and I had booked on-line from Vancouver. All I had to show was the credit card that I had booked with, and within minutes I had my tickets for the Backstage Tour at 12:30, the Habit of Art at 3 PM, and a voucher for a program. That was when I realized that the London theatre programs are not just cast listings but more like academic guides - and they don't come cheap - this one was around 3 GBP.
Incidentally if it seems that I am giving a lot of information about the cost of things, it is because I think that is really useful comparative travel information and helpful for future trip budgets.
I wandered around the interior for a few minutes and then promptly at 12:30 a delightful, bubbly young lady gathered our group together to start the Backstage Tour. This was a fascinating glimpse into the history and functions of the National Theatre which I will share with you in a separate post, Backstage Tour at the National Theatre in London.
Because it was Sunday our guide cheerfully informed us that we could linger longer in certain places and even would be able to see a few things that otherwise may not be possible during a week day tour.
As it happens the tour indeed took extra time and so I only had about an hour to keep myself occupied before the house doors opened for The Habit of Art in the Lyttleton Theatre.
There is a small self-serve and cafe, the Lyttleton Cafe on the ground floor and the tables and chairs nearby were occupied by patrons happily munching away so I thought I would check out what they offered for lunch. I picked up a sandwich, labelled as crayfish and rocket (arugula). Having grown up in South Africa where crayfish was a common if somewhat expensive menu item I was somewhat sceptical that this would be the real thing, but quel surprise - one bite and I recognised the texture as well as the taste. It was genuine crayfish and the sandwhich was surprisingly good.
The seat I had for The Habit of Art was well located and again I was spared having a very tall person in front of me. That's two in a row - hope my luck holds out for the rest of the plays.
The show runs about 2 and a half hours including a 20 minute intermission and when I came out around 5:30 the sun was shining brightly.
I decided to take a stroll along the embankment and started out walking east.
A warm Sunday afternoon afternoon and as well as the tourists, the weather brought out families by the score for a stroll along the river bank. I walked for abut ten minutes and then turned round to head back to catch the underground.
On my way back I passed the National Theatre and Festival Hall. There was a book and record sale going on and the area was absolutely crowded with families, kids on tricycles and bikes, and skate-boarders going crazy in a sheltered area under Festival Hall with sloped walls off which they could somersault.
I passed Waterloo Bridge and then came to a decision point. Turn left and retrace my steps to the Waterloo Station underground or walk over the Hungerford Bridge and back through the theatre district to my hotel.
The sunshine made the decision a no-brainer and I chose the walk.
Crossing the Thames on the bridge, I passed 3 different groups of buskers. Two were playing marimba-type instruments, one singing in Spanish, and the other in a language I could not recognise. There was a string quartet who, as I passed, were playing Pachelbel's Canon in D Major and had gathered quite a crowd.
I found myself strolling up The Strand and when I came to the Vaudeville and Adelphi Theatres I realized that I had walked too far east.
So I retraced my steps and found a quick route along William IV Street back to Charing Cross Road.
On my way back to Charlotte Street I noticed Hanway Street, where the restaurant Hakkasan is located. When I got back to the hotel the concierge called to make me a reservation. I ended up having a really great meal there but with an interesting twist for a restaurant reviewer. More later.
Without internet access I had no way of contacting my kids by Skype as I usually do when travelling but hey! I realized I now have a cell phone and ten pounds worth of calling time. Had no idea what that translated to in terms of minutes. So I spent the next half hour trying to enter a few contact numbers and figuring out how to unlock the phone. Of course the nice instruction booklet told me everything but what the OK button was. I assumed it was the enter button but no, as I found out much later.
Maybe I could get a job editing companies instruction pamphlets - a sort of "if I can figure out how to use it - ie. like this - then anyone can".
By the time I got it worked out I was really tired so I left messages on cell phones and home phones just to let them know I was here and having fun, and tried to read for a bit before passing out cold and sleeping a solid 8 hours.