London Day 4

Last night I was given the all clear to take Dana out for an evening. Sure we had spent time sightseeing outside of her classes, but tonight we would take a swing to see what London's nightlife was actually like.

I woke up bright and early, a few minutes after 10am. By 11 I managed to hit the streets and rode the Tube down to Leicester Square to buy tickets for a show that evening. You can purchase tickets at box offices and online ticketmasters, but in Leicester Square are a number of businesses that sell last-minute discount seats that aren't half bad. For a given show, the sales clerk will list the prices for each seating area and then try to find you the best seat in a section. We had heard good word about Avenue Q, a musical... well, about lewd puppets. The disclaimer carefully removes them from Henson's guild of wholesome characters. Here is a streetside ad:

Now, before any snap judgments, I'd just like to point out that this same play won the Tony Award on Broadway last year. In any matter, the show was sold out for that night, although I could've bought tickets for next night. We had a list of backup shows just in case, and there were seats for Les Miserables and Billy Elliott. At the time the French were still making progress in the World Cup, so I had seen enough sad French plays. So Billy Elliott it was. I had never heard of it, but Dana said it was a story of a dancing boy that did well in movie theaters a few years ago. Although the two lesser sections had discounted ticket prices, I opted for the best seats the clerk could muster. 3rd row, grand mezzanine. Not too shabby as I was to find out later.

With tickets for an evening and theatre outing, I obviously needed flowers as well. I asked a few people if there was a florist nearby, but most had no clue. What kind of theatre district employees were these? I queried a man tending his bakery. He wasn't happy that I wasn't buying anything and somewhat facetiously said that the Queen had some roses. Shrugging, I decided to give it a shot, and made my way through the streets back to Buckingham Palace. This time I managed to forget my camera in the room, so my 3rd time at the palace (first in passing for lunch, second distracted with the mews...the MEWS!) again went without proof. Digging nearby the front of the palace, I was able to find bouquets of roses from the royal gardens. With things being metric, they were sold in tens rather than dozens, but I wasn't going to complain. Instead I dodged through hoards of tourists down my way into the Tube to head back.

It was about 1pm. The Piccadilly Line was closed headed east. I couldn't get back. I had walked my way back to the Piccadilly Circus. Supposedly there was some problem with the line and although the westbound line ran with no problems. Check the map. I could take the Metropolitan line up to Oxford Circus and then the Victoria Line back. I ran to change tube stations, and just missed a train. It would be another 5 minutes until the next one came. Another 5 minute ride to get off. These 5 minutes were beginning to add up.

Finally I got off at the King's Cross / St Pancras stop. I had Twenty minutes to spare and plenty of time. I would drop off the roses in Dana's room and then meet here down at our regular meeting place on the corner of Russell Square. She'd be none the wiser. We had planned a big lunch outing with her law friends at a vegetarian Indian buffet, and I didn't want to spoil the mass lunch with roses. I left the King's Cross / St. Pancras stop and began to head towards her dorm. Now, I did not frequent this exit, and only once before had gotten off of this station with Dana. I knew how to get to her place from the Russell Square, but not this one, as I soon found out. I followed my nose along the station and down a sidestreet. This didn't look right. I backtracked, and tried another. With each guess, another five minutes passed by. Finally, I gave up. I couldn't find the way to her place fast enough, and didn't want to be late for lunch. I ran back into the station and hopped the Piccadilly line westward (still running) the half mile to Russell Square. A few minutes before 2pm and I bolted out of the station for her dorm.

However, class had already let out. As I ran down the sidewalk, I recognized most of Dana's friends herded together headed towards the restaurant. They were quite concerned at first: reminding me that Dana was back the opposite direction waiting for me. I explained the flowers, and mildly threatened anyone who would expose the truth during lunch. I sped on my way.

I made it back to Russell Square a few minutes "late" and Dana and I made our way to the restaurant where the others were already waiting. With now controlled breath, we sat near the wall with our party taking up most of the small room in the back. We all exchanged secret winks, nods, and smiles while Dana found her seat. Before we headed to the buffet for our first round, some of her friends were still glancing mischievously to me and back to Dana. Oh dramatic irony.

The food wasn't bad. I really like Indian food but some of the vegetarian dishes began to taste a tad bland after a while. The curries were a shade weak and without some chicken or lamb to drive the flavor, I managed to subdue myself with chickpeas and vegetable curries. It was good to hear everyone's stories though, including more good reviews of Avenue Q and some other plays people had seen the night before. Our turn was yet tonight.

Rebecca mentioned that she wanted to see the British Library this afternoon, so Dana and I agreed to go as well along with another lawmate Stephanie. The British Library wasn't a tourism landmark Barry had visited, so I questioned it qualities as a legitimate thing to see in London.

The library was right next to the St Pancras station I parted but an hour ago, so I made sure to note how we actually got there from the restaurant should I ever need to get back again. The building was massive. I wasn't entirely sure what we were going to do at this library until we found the "Treasures of the British Library" museum. No cameras were allowed inside, but by the donations container sitting just left of the door, I figured that this was in fact a tourism highlight:

The treasures were treasures indeed. Inside the dimly lit room were glass cases encasing priceless original works. Shakespeare as he wrote it. An original Alice in Wonderland. They even had an exhibit of scratching that later evolved into Beatle's hits. A copy of the Magna Carte occupied a separate room altogether. Some of these works were hundreds of years old. They also featured original scores by famous composers in the 18th century as well as maps of the world as it was being discovered several hundreds of years ago. The exhibit even featured the Gutenberg bibles from the 1400's. These were the first books to use Gutenberg's "modern" method for mass production. In the same cases were handwritten portions of even earlier copies of scripture.

The most impressive though was the Codex Sinaiticus: one of the earliest copies of the New Testament dating back to 350 AD. Even looking through the glass, you could tell how fragile and revered this book was. At first I figured it was written in Latin, and was quite put off not being able to read any of it (knowing some Latin). I decided it was old Latin. No it was not old Latin but in fact handwritten Greek. Some of the old English was just as painful to read, so I had already begun to appreciate the books for the antiquity avoiding an exercise in immersion.

The rest of the group were taking a much deeper look at each piece, so I ventured downstairs into a separate collection on the history and impact of newspaper print. Included here were magnified clippings from world wars, sporting records, and financial hardships. The paper as a whole held the news, but the headline alone drove the story. We had spent a few hours in the library unexpectedly, and it was now time to head back to prepare for the evening.

With my makeup in place, we rode the Tube down to the Victoria station where Billy Elliot was showing at the Victoria Palace theatre. First, however, was dinner. I had ran out of time to find a restaurant near the theatre, so we were both relieve, and intrigued, to find a Pizza Express one block away.

Pizza Express is phenomenon in pizza. Definitely a few clicks above a California Pizza Kitchen or the like, the Pizza Express is a dining experience unto itself. First of all, the pies are uncut. This is a silverware affair often tied with classy wines and delicate appetizers. We had arrived just before the dinner rush, and occupied a table in the back near the kitchen. The room smelled of flavored olive oils with doused peppers and garlic. One bottle of red wine, two bottles of sparkling water, and 90 minutes of stellar dinner. I had the Pollo ad Astra, as similar to CPK's Jamaican Jerk pizza as I could find. It turned out to be pretty awesome. Dana's Quattro Formaggi looked as tasty as four cheeses could possibly taste. To my left sat three older women enjoying a night out on the town, all dressed in black middle-aged formalwear. Overhearing their conversations was mildly easy, as the English wasn't overly crude in form. The dinner, with the show on the way, was just what we needed to take a break from the nonstop fun so far. Given the chance, this was the one thing for the entire trip that I would do over: not to change anything different, just to have seconds of an evening I won't forget.

The last drops of wine were spent and we headed over to the theater. We made our way up to the second mezzanine and our seats lay near the far right. Originally, I was skeptical of second tier being first rate seats, but they turned out to be fantastic. The tickets however, promised only two seats, and I guess legroom cost extra. We tried to crowd our knees into the gaps of the seats in front of us and were somewhat comfortable for the first half. Once the play began, I realized that the seats had their advantage: we were able to see depth to the stage without being overhead. Sure we didn't get any Billy spit on us, but it proved to be an excellent view. On went the play and out came the lead Billy Elliott. This Billy was pretty good, and pretty Asian as well. Not that this was a bad thing: his dancing was quite impressive and his acting wasn't half bad. It just made for an interesting family reunion when white coal miner father, white rebel brother, and white post-mortem mother entered the plot. But as people, as roles, it was a very tight crew. One scene even featured a musical number for Margaret Thatcher, a UK Prime Minister. Costumed dress, puppets, and even a daunting 20 foot marionette of Ms. Thatcher peaked the first-half performance.


When Dana finally managed to find the front of the women's line, they began to dim the lights for the second half. We found our seats with seconds to spare before the music chimed. The music, I was glad to discover, was written by Elton John. The second half was fairly predictable in its triumphs and tear-jerking moments. Neither Dana nor I shed a tear for the record.

The theatre became unbearably hot during the second half so the cool air outside was a welcomed relief. We walked a couple blocks to find somewhere to pass the rest of the evening. We visited a couple dessert places, but finally crashed at rather modern bar with a glass of red wine for each of us. It was nice just to sit and be idle in hiding at Leicester Square.

We took the Tube back to Russell Square when we finally ran out of Thursday.