Week 1: Wednesday (Colchester, Peterborough, Ely, Grantham goodness)

Living with and having to put up with myself on a daily basis, necessity dictates I find a way to tolerate my bouts of spontaneity and/or insanity, thereby establishing a new baseline for “normal” behaviour. Today, however, I seriously questioned my levels of crazy.

It all began in Colchester with seemingly innocuous plans for brunch. Since my train wasn’t till 1:23pm, I had plenty of time to wander about the town and grab a bite or two. After yesterday’s ugh-ness with the hotel, I found this morning’s staff much more amiable, and they had been happy to keep my suitcase. It was yet another sunny and summery day (quite an anomaly here in the UK!), and by the time I left my hotel at 10:30, it was already quite hot at around 23 Celsius.

I’d decided on eating at the Three Wise Monkeys, which had some pretty good reviews and wasn’t too pricey. It was rather quiet when I arrived, which meant I had my choice of seating—I opted for the super comfy couches, which enveloped me in its full glory as I sank into it. When/if I ever end my loltastic and nomadic life, I’d like a pair of those for my library.

Just look at them!

Just look at them!

Given I wanted a filling brunch, I ordered a Monkey’s Breakfast (£8.50), which is essentially an English fry-up. I also had a glass of orange juice (£1.50–I think this was for half price), and though I don’t usually drink juices, I found my first sip extraordinarily refreshing.

I was especially fond of the eggs on muffins--I've not had that in a while!

I was especially fond of the eggs on muffins–I’ve not had that in a while!

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Week 1: Monday (Dover)

Almost five years ago, as I was on a plane from Sydney (via Shanghai) approaching the United Kingdom, I kept whispering to myself: “You are approaching Albion. Albion, Albion, Albion.” This was before I started my MA at Durham University, before I could even imagine doing a PhD in Shakespeare, but it was long after I had become an Anglophile, whose romantic and fangirly heart secretly called the island of Great Britain by its first known name, Albion. This is very likely a reference to the White Cliffs of Dover, which, since that day five years ago on a plane, I’ve always wanted to visit, but never got around to.

But since this is my English Dream Trip, my first stop was, naturally, Dover: the White Cliffs of Albion, the same cliffs of Edgar’s hopeful imagination in King Lear, the beach of Matthew Arnold’s Romantic rendition. Five years later, with a Shakespearean PhD almost in hand (touch wood), I entered this Kentish town for the first time. To most of the (English/British/Irish) people I’ve told about my trip, Dover is just a transit stop for ferries across the Channel, but to me, it symbolised the realisation of my dreams, some of which have gone far beyond what I thought possible.

My morning started in London, and given it was my last day, I had breakfast with my friend and host at the Prufrock Cafe. I got granola (£4.50), my friend got muesli and some coffee, and we chatted for a fair while.

Muesli (top) and granola (bottom).

Muesli (top) and granola (bottom).

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Week 1: Sunday (London, brunch, cinema, picnic, Munchkins game)

I woke up sneezing, courtesy of the hayfever I seemed to have picked up last year in Belfast (I never had any problem with Sydney’s pollen!), but was otherwise in high spirits because I’ve noticed a correlation between hayfever-induced sneezing and sunshine. And lo, when I left my friend’s at around 11:30am, it was indeed beautifully warm outside, and I only had to wear three layers on top instead of four.

And I got to wear my sunglasses–happy days!

Costy and I met up at noon for brunch at Le Pain Quotidien in Covent Garden, which, while super lovely, had the extreme disadvantage (to me) of boasting an extensive menu of deliciousness. Naturally, the paradox of choice kicked in, and I was actually paralysed and couldn’t order for myself… Thankfully (or not?), I love and eat everything, so I asked the server to choose for me, and was super happy when he picked the mushrooms on toast. I also went for a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, bringing brunch to a today of £12.65.

Lots of mushrooms!

Lots of mushrooms!

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The Humble Tour — Week 1: Saturday (London)

One of the reasons I was determined to be in London this weekend is so I could hang out with the one and only Costy, a super epic friend and fellow fangirl. Since we were meeting in the afternoon, I lounged around again this morning, helped myself to more of my friend’s food, helped with a bit of cleaning (gotta earn my keep!), did some admin, called my parents in Ausland, and ate some of the food I got last night for today’s lunch (£3).

Since Costy and I both enjoy shiny things, we had arranged to go to the Jamie Lloyd Company’s rendition of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (£28), with Kit Harrington (of Game of Throne‘s Jon Snow fame) in the title role. I found the production very, very bizarre, especially since it was somewhat billed as Marlowe–while it does contain chunks from “Marlowe’s” play (keeping in mind the Renaissance Doctor Faustus exists in two separate versions), it also uses new scenes written by Colin Teevan. While I’m all for adaptations and “updated” productions, this one was so far from the “original Marlowe” that I would’ve much preferred it being a Faustus spin-off entirely rather than attempting to squeeze in Marlowe’s (blank) verse. Nonetheless, Kit Harrington does spend a lot of time shirtless, which is not an unpleasant sight.

Yes, I was wearing a rather geeky shirt. :D

Yes, I was wearing a rather geeky shirt. :D

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The Humble Tour — Week 1: Friday (London)

After yesterday’s super insanity, I wanted to take it easy today. Spent the morning and most of the afternoon lounging around, raiding my friend’s fridge and cupboards, catching up on a bit of television (BBC’s “Shakespearean” Upstart Crow had me in stitches), planning more of my itinerary, booking more train tickets, and so on. In fact, I didn’t leave my friend’s cosy flat until around 4:30pm, and that was only because I wanted to catch the 5pm Choral Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Yeah, I’m a confused agnostic…

Whenever I’m sitting in on a service (as opposed to singing in one), I’m always struck by how the acoustics tend to go all over the place, and anyone beyond the quire can only hear consonants and very little of the actual words. St. Paul’s, with its massive dome, is notorious for eating up any kind of enunciation. There were also some particularly dodgy notes sung (especially in the Ayleward Responses, which I’ve known well from both Durham and Belfast), but overall, it was a lovely experience in its familiarity.

I might even go so far to say I felt “cleansed” afterward. Confused agnostic, at your service.

St. Paul's Cathedral.

St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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Samantha’s Humble Tour and the English Dream Trip — Week One: Thursday

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.

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