Sunday, February 1, 2009

Castles, curries and flurries

With heavy eyes, I gazed at the English countryside Friday morning after riding a bus about an hour outside of London. Suddenly, through the trees, I caught my first glimpse of a stone tower with turrets and imposing walls: Windsor Castle. My architecture professor refers to it as the "weekend home" of the Queen. The castle stood regal, despite the gray backdrop of clouds and brisk winds.

As I walked into the main entrance hall to the state apartments of the castle, rows of criss-crossed swords and spears lined the walls above my head (one way to get your guest's attention). It's the same entrance dignitaries and foreign heads of state use when visiting. St. George's Hall stretched on and on with a shield for each knight covering the vaulted ceiling. The queen uses the room when she decides to host larger dinner parties -- up to 160 of her closest friends. If I had to choose, I would claim the Crimson Room as my "audience chamber." Overlooking the rolling countryside through tall windows, ornate red and gold furniture decorate the room, making it feel elegant and very ladylike.

After a warm sandwich at a local pub, it was back to London for a night at the theatre. My friends and I saw "Loot," a traditional British farce at an intimate theatre on Kilbourn High Street. Although highly inappropriate, we laughed through all two hours of the performance. Afterward, as part of a benefit for the theater, we enjoyed a curry dinner with the cast and other play-goers. The classic London dish had lots of bite, complementing the undoubtedly British style of comedy for a delightful evening out.

Imagine 35 cyclists in the narrow crooked streets of London. Now, imagine that the cyclists are really 35 Syracuse University students trying to navigate London riding bikes on the "wrong side of the road." I truly thought our Saturday morning bike tour of London was going smoothly until we ran into the Chinese New Year celebrations when we rode into the streets of Chinatown. We turned around and came back through Leicester Square and Covent Garden instead (not necessarily any less chaotic). Numb fingers and ankles aside, it was a great way to see a lot of London. Plus, living to tell the tale made it worthwhile.

Two very warm showers later, my flatmate and I cooked dinner for friends and headed out to see the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House. Although any indoor activity would have been appreciated, the ballet proved exquisite. My favorite was the contemporary piece at the end called " DGV: Danse a grande vitesse." We stopped for gelato in Covent Garden before heading back to the flat. I played it relatively safe with cherry, but pear, pomegranate, tiramisu and green tea nearly got the best of me. Just an excuse to go back...

Sunday proved no reprieve from the cold. One more outdoor tour and sub-freezing temperatures do not mix. My professor led a tour of Albertopolis, a little bit of London right around the corner from Harrods (quite my surprise when I popped up from the tube, looked down the street to recognize the mammoth six-floor shopping mecca). Despite temporarily losing feeling in my fingers again, the tale of Queen Victoria, her husband, Prince Albert and Albert's vision for that little bit of London proved entirely interesting. An added bonus was the picnic my professors packed -- especially the warm coffee. We finished the afternoon with a matinee of Cirque du Soleil at Royal Albert Hall. Gymnasts and contortionists do not even begin to describe the performers. The strength, control and coordination left me wide-eyed more than once.

After a jam-packed weekend, my flatmates and I settled in for a quiet night of homework. But, looking out the window a few hours after dinner presented an interesting scene: at least 1.5 inches of snow covering our little bit of London. Our worst fears confirmed: we brought a snowstorm with us to London!

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