Sunday, June 15, 2014

Birthday Weekend in London Town

On Wednesday, April 2nd, after a lovely photography class, I packed my bag for the long weekend and made my way to the Vienna International Airport. I was on my way to London, England to celebrate my 21st birthday! I flew EasyJet to Heathrow. I was a little nervous to be flying the discount airline because there are many rules, and they try to charge you extra for anything and everything. Luckily, I made it in plenty on time and my bag was the perfect size. Phew! The flight was a breeze, and Emielia and I arrived around 10:30pm. I figured that I had plenty of time to get to Regent's College, where I was staying with another Webster student studying abroad in London. Although, after getting through customs, taking the commuter train to the London Bridge tube station, and taking a very long time to buy my Oyster card, I ended up catching the last train to Baker Street. The campus was a short walk from the station, and I learned it is on one of the darkest streets in London. That being said, I felt very safe.

The next morning, I grabbed a coffee and a pastry in the tube station and took the underground to the British Library. I loved the tube. It was clean, efficient, and going very far underground on very steep escalators was kind of fun.

I only visited the first floor of the British Library because that place is huge and I could have spent all day there. The Treasures of the British Library Gallery was phenomenal! Some of what I saw were the original sheet music for Handel's Messiah, Laurence Olivier's script for Macbeth, and original Beatles lyrics scribbled on a napkin.

Outside of the British Library
After the British Library, I ventured over to the Tate Modern because it was free, so why not? I got my fix of Picasso, Giacometti, and more. It was a pleasure to walk through the winding galleries. I enjoyed the architecture and the setup of the museum more so than I did the actual art. I was exposed to a lot of classical art while in Europe, and I began to appreciate the masters much more than many present-day artists.

Free art at the Tate Modern
Jannis Kounellis - Untitled, 1979
Picasso - Weeping Woman, 1937
A sculpture by Giacometti
Playing with reflections in 'The Bigger Picture'
I had a lot of fun people watching through the mirror 
The view from the Tate Modern
After the Tate Modern, I took the underground to Westminster Station and saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the London Eye. I also made a couple of friends while I was waiting at a crosswalk. They ended up being two boys from the south (Alabama, I think) and they were traveling around the UK and Europe. We talked for a while and I ended up snapping a couple of pictures of them.

Big Ben
Reflection at a red light 
Munich in London?
The Big Ben again 
Details on the bridge
The London Eye
No rubbish, eh?
Westminster Abbey
The new friends I made while waiting for the light to change 
This is one of my favorite pictures from all of my study abroad photos!
That night, I had chicken curry for dinner and then headed to the West End to see War Horse. Wow. That show was incredible. The puppets came to life! At one point, a character has to end a horse's life and stabs it in the neck. I actually started crying because you could see the life drain out of this character, even though it was just a puppet. Obviously War Horse takes place during war, and the Germans spoke German and the French spoke French. That was a huge credit to the wonderful acting. A German solider gave a lengthy monologue in German, and though I could actually pick up a word or two here and there, his expressions, body language, and speech patterns communicated the context of his monologue extremely clearly. War Horse is a must-see wherever it is playing around the world. It is a magnificent production filled with joy, sadness, amazing puppetry, historic links, and phenomenal spectacle. After the show, Emielia and I met up with Wyatt and another Webster Study Abroad London student and we went to O'Neill's, an Irish pub in Chinatown. That was how I rang in my 21st birthday.

Upon my birthday morning, I picked up a cup of coffee and a pastry, hopped on the tube, and got off around South Bank to go visit the Globe Theatre. The visit to the Globe was a lot of fun. Our tour guide was the most adorable older British woman who knew everything there was to know about the theatre. We had the pleasure of watching a sword demonstration in the lobby and a short onstage rehearsal of Julius Caesar with two American actors, in addition to a nice walk-through of the space.

Shakespeare's Globe
The stage at the Globe
Look at that detail!
The galleries
View of the stage from the galleries
Delicious burritos from Wahaka (a food truck in the middle of South Bank) followed the Globe tour. Emiela, Wyatt, and their friend ran off to go do the Harry Potter Studio tour and I was left on my own to explore. Being on my own in a new city was one of my favorite things about traveling! I didn't have to abide to anyone's agenda except my own. I chose to walk along South Bank for the afternoon. I purchased a ticket to tour the National Theatre in the early evening, and inbetween I searched for textures, admired cute couples, and enjoyed the artsy environment that is South Bank.

No busking, sir!
Love in London Town
Details at South Bank
Gabriel's Wharf
This couple was too cute!
This man reminds me of the old man from Up
Oxo Tower Wharf is made up of a bunch of artsy stores on South Bank. Lots of amazing textures and colors everywhere. 

The Queen's Walk
The tour of the National Theater was a treat. It was a small group of myself, a father and daughter, and the tour guide. We visited each of the performance spaces, a few of the shops, and one of the rehearsal halls. I learned a lot about UK theatre and the company. I was so impressed, that I sent my resume to HR after the tour. Maybe one day I'll be working at the NT in London! I decided to stay at the National Theatre that evening, and I picked up a £12 student ticket to Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey in the Lyttelton Theatre. It was an enjoyable play set in 1950's post-war Salford about a riveting mother-daughter relationship. I sat next to a British TV and film actor with whom I had a great intermission conversation with. Unfortunately, I forgot to grab his name. After the play, I took the underground home. There were signal problems occurring at the stations, so I ended my 21st birthday stuck many miles underground trying to ignore the teenage couple making out across the aisle from me. Overall, it was a wonderful birthday filled with theatre in a foreign city - the best kind of birthday.

On Saturday, Emielia and I took an early-morning train from London to Liverpool. Little did we know, the biggest horse race of the year was happening in Liverpool that day. So, the train was filled with buzzed businessmen and ladies in their finest hats. Emielia is Beatles-obsessed, so we spent the day seeing as much as we could related to them. The museum called The Beatles Story was actually pretty cool, and being in a another part of England was interesting. Liverpool was a different world than London. When we arrived back in London late that evening, we ate Chipotle and crashed in our beds.

Sunday was my final full day in London. I visited the British Museum in the morning. That place was enormous! I walked around for a while and saw an exhibit on German artists called "Germany Divided - Baselitz and his generation". It focused on six key post-war artists who redefined art in Germany on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The artists were Baselitz, L├╝pertz, Palermo, Penck, Polke, and Richter. The drawings, paintings, and prints were interesting, and provided great insight on the artists' view of divided Germany. 

On my way to my next stop, the National Gallery, I was approached by two American girls with a plate of brownies. They were two students at NYU London who needed participants for a psychological study. I took a brownie hoping it wasn't laced with something and helped them out. The study was based on the Asch Experiment and it was a fun little side trip.

The National Gallery was lovely. I saw Van Gogh's Sunflowers (for free! I could've paid 15 euros in Amsterdam to see them ... but I saw them for free in London!), Degas, Seurat, Renoir, Monet, Manet, Picasso, and Klimt. I could have spent all day admiring the beautiful paintings. In addition to Art Nouveau, French Impressionism became my second favorite style. It's just so pretty! London was such a gift with all of the free museums.

The outside of the National Gallery
I took the bus back to South Bank after the museum for dinner. I had a solo meal at Wagamama and had the most delicious chicken curry. Following that, I went over to Soho and sat in a cafe and wrote a few letters to friends. The next morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn to get to Heathrow to fly back to Vienna. My trip to London was incredibly memorable, and I hope to visit again in the next few years.

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