Thursday, April 9, 2009

My better half in London

As I heaved my suitcase (stuffed with goodies from Italy) up the last step of the six flights to my flat, I heard a tiny yelp from my room. My sister came running down the hall to meet me with a bath towel wrapped around her head and arms outstretched to greet me.

She arrived in London just a few hours before I did that day to spend the week of her spring break with me in lovely London. Since she had hit all the "must-see" tourist spots her first time in the city with her high school choir four years earlier, we enjoyed some of the other quainter bits of the UK capital.

Once she dried her hair and I unpacked the dirty laundry from my suitcase, we hit the streets for Covent Garden and a long-awaited sisterly shopping trip. I took her to my favorite tea shop, the boutique that does not have one article of clothing I don't like and we found a theatre shop that sells pop-up books of theatre scenes, vintage play scripts and puppets. On a small wire magazine rack, we also found books of cut-out paper dolls, including the same ones that had entertained us for hours growing up (a set of a Victorian family dolls). We found a pub not too far away and toasted our first pints out together (the first time we were both legal together).

The next morning, my sister experienced the best weather I have encountered in London since I arrived. So, we took the tube to Greenwich to peruse the Sunday markets and stand on the Prime Meridian. My sister walked right over the line -- I had to stop her, pull her back and point to the gold marker before she realized she missed it. We stopped for traditional outdoor market chow -- one of my favorite things to do in London. She tried a cheese and onion pie, I ate a chicken kebab. Then we went for a scenic stroll through Greenwich Park.

The rest of the week flew by: class by day, seeing the best of London with my sister by night. I had Wednesday afternoon off, so we made a visit to the Houses of Parliament. After a quick queue outside, we walked into the Great Hall and watched some of that afternoon's debates in the House of Commons and then in the House of Lords. The subject was (big surprise) the economy. It was something like watching Congress in Washington, D.C. from the public viewing gallery, but the building felt like a Gothic palace and rather than long rows of desks in both chambers, there were long rows of benches. Really, no desks?

That night we saw a London original, "Phantom of the Opera." From voices to set to story, the show exceeded expectations. The female lead's voice boomed through all of Act II and I sat on the edge of my seat waiting for the phantom to pop out at any moment. We found a late dinner after the show, some wine and enough conversation to be the last ones in the restaurant.

Thursday morning we decided to break out of Central London, so we hopped on a train to Cambridge for the day. The intimate village offered plenty of shops to browse, Gothic-style academic buildings and enough bakeries to ruin a tummy line. Before 12.30, some of the colleges opened the gates of their campuses. So, we strolled the gardens of Christ's College -- beautiful flowers, but we both found it a little odd that walking on the grass was prohibited. After a relaxing cafe lunch, we could not resist the sweet smells and delicate-looking cakes in the bakery next door. We each took the baker's recommendation, a sweet plain scone with raspberry jam and whipped cream. Sinfully delicious!

Back in London Friday, we hit the must-sees: Elgin's marbles and the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, Buckingham Palace and Harrods. Taking advantage of the sun, we took an afternoon stroll through Hyde Park. We reclined London-style and tried out the striped lawn chairs on the grass for a while.

After meeting friends for a pub dinner Friday night, we rested up before some other visitors landed in London....

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