I’ve always found it difficult to achieve a good balance between experiencing and documenting all the crazy and wonderful things in my life, and I’m well-aware of the massive backlog I’ve acquired over the last few months of work and life explosions. But right now, the PhD thesis has been submitted, the university semester is over, the final essays have been marked and returned, the Shakespeare conferences and talks and film introductions have been given, the contents of my Belfast life have been donated or stored safely at a good friend’s, the house has been successfully vacated, the 30 or so insect bites along my legs and ankles (my souvenir from Paris two weeks ago) have healed reasonably well, and I am here in London with my trusty carry-on, ready to embark on five (!!) weeks of work-free, deadline-free, and laptop-free adventures. (Okay, maybe not entirely work-free, since I’ll probably do a bit of novelling and other writing, but these are super funfunfun things!)
So I thought I might take this opportunity to document the next five weeks of Samantha’s Humble Tour (as opposed to the traditional Grand Tour). A good chunk of it will be what I’ve called my “English Dream Trip”, and, since I’ve decided not to rent a car, I’ll be spending a lot of time on trains. The “English Dream Trip” attempts to cover as many of the places I’ve always wanted to go but never managed. When I first accepted the PhD scholarship at Queen’s University Belfast, I had every intention of going on trips to other parts of the UK and beyond every fortnight or month–and it never happened, because I developed an unprecedented case of workaholism for both the PhD and Tea For Three Studios, and I was also committed to sing in a cathedral choir every Sunday.
But no more! The English Dream Trip is indeed happening (even if I’m planning it as I go), and I will indeed document it and share the uber shinies with my iPhone-only photos! I also thought I’d share the cost of everything, since it might be helpful for anyone else preparing their own English (or perhaps Scottish or Welsh or Northern Irish) Dream Trips, and because I want to show that a lot of these trips are rather affordable (accommodation notwithstanding–I had some horrible hostel experiences a few years back, and am thus disinclined to share my sleeping quarters with strangers). Also, to put some prices into context, I have several perks as a “student” and have acquired a Railcard, which gives me 1/3 off a range of trains–I’ll try to put the normal prices were applicable.
The first day of this epic trip started at 5am this morning, when I rolled out of bed, brushed my teeth, put in my “eyeballs” (contact lenses), and did the final checks of my rolly polly carry-on. Admittedly, I left my room at my friend’s house in a bit of disarray (sorry, Hannah–I’ll bake more when I’m back!), and I was ready for the taxi at 5:25am. A trip to Belfast International Airport (£21.20), a Ryanair flight to Gatwick (£9.95), and a train from Gatwick to Blackfriars (£10.30) later, and I arrived at my friend’s flat just short of 10am.
I promptly plonked down, chugged down some tea, and went into recovery mode, because one thing has become increasingly obvious during my journey: I had been too optimistic/stupid about the weather while packing, and didn’t have a single piece of proper “winter” (by Aussie standards) wear! Fortunately, I had packed some tights for my dress and skirt (oh, the optimism!), so I wore a pair underneath my jeans, and was instantly toastier. I then put on all my socially acceptable top layers, which ended with some weird double cardigan combos, and finished off my quirky look with my sole thin scarf wrapped around four times and tied into a teeny knot.
I suspect I’ll be sporting the same look for the next few days/weeks, because I refuse to buy any clothes since I’ve just donated/thrown away a whole bunch during my move last week. Please please please let it not go under 15 Celsius often during the days…
Having done the best I could to insulate myself, I hopped outside and onto the tube in the direction of Bond Street for lunch. I topped up £5, and, for convenience, will be counting top-ups instead of actual trip costs. Lunch was at Zoilo, a delicious Argentinian tapas restaurant with a two-course set menu with wine for £11.95. I met (for the first time), chatted, and dined with a previously unknown relative, who is super awesome and lovely, and with whom I had quite a lot in common. The food and service were also wonderful, and the flavours simply outstanding. After sparkling water and tips were accounted for (most restaurants in London include a service charge of 12.5%), lunch came down to £15.
I had no plans for the rest of the day, but since I was near Baker Street and I’d never swung by 221B, I thought today was as good as any.
And since I was near Regent’s Park, I went for a wee walk.
And since I was near Primrose Hill, I went for a wee climb.
And since I passed a bookshop on my way to Chalk Lane station, I had to go in.
Yup, I love spontaneity.
Speaking of which, when I arrived back at my friend’s, it was around 5:30pm, and I decidedly didn’t get a £15 lottery ticket for Kenneth Branagh’s new Romeo and Juliet at the Garrick Theatre. After considering other options and making a quick phone call, I decided to go with the English National Opera’s Madame Butterfly, which had student standby tickets available tonight.
Within the 20-minute walk to the London Coliseum, I passed the Australian High Commission/Embassy, and had to snap a shot.
Student standbys for the ENO operate on availability, and yield a 50% discount for all seats. I nabbed a £10 ticket for the balcony/gods area, which, while having a full view of the stage, was just rather far away. Since I’m used to squinting and kinda wanted to avoid getting riled up about the visual part of the opera’s kazillion issues, having really far seats at such a price worked out for the best.
With some time left for dinner, I grabbed some spicy edamame (soy beans) and pork gyoza (dumplings) at Murakami, a Japanese fusion restaurant nearby. Since going to Puccini’s Italian depiction of Japan sung in English threw any notion of “authenticity” out the window, I was very much in the mood for some interesting fusion food. Dinner totalled a little under £12, and the amount of food was just right for me.
The opera itself would take a much longer post than what’s supposed to be a daily summary, but I can’t go without mentioning its stunning visuals. The costumes, colours, lighting, and staging were a feast for the eyes. I chocked up a little in some bits, but overall, I won’t be seeking out the opera in the future. What can I say–I’m a Mozart gal. My everyday bag depicts Mozart’s operas, and I bore it proudly amongst the Puccini fans.
I walked back, got home at around 11pm, showered and got ready for bed, and it’s now 12:30am. All in all, I’ve had a fantastic first day of my English Dream Trip and Samantha’s Humble Tour–though I might need a lie-in tomorrow.
Accommodation: Free (yay awesome friends!)
Walked: 20,572 steps; 14.67km