Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The last days of London

A royal tea party

As I crossed the street and walked through Black Lion Gate into Hyde Park, I walked into a postcard. The sun lit every leaf and blade of grass a bright green. Mothers pushed kids in strollers and dozens of owners walked their dogs. The lilacs, tulips and petunias had finally all come out, filling the park with pockets of lush purple, red, yellow, white and orange.

Faced with very few days left, a friend and I decided to spend our last Friday afternoon in London at Kensington Palace for a tour and afternoon tea. We lucked out with picture perfect weather -- 60s, sunny and breezy. Despite the mountains of work piled up in our flats, we both agreed it was the perfect use of the day.

The red brick palace was extravagant, but livable compared to the more ostentatious Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace. The first floor highlighted the tour by showcasing Princess Diana's dress collection. One of my favorites was a form-fitting pale blue beaded evening gown, soft, but sophisticated.

We stopped for refreshment after our tour -- traditional afternoon tea at The Orangery, just next-door to Kensington Palace. At a patio table, we each sipped cups of Darjeeling, "the champagne of teas," and nibbled on an apricot tart and a fruit scone with jam and clotted cream. I felt a million miles away from e-mails, due dates and review sessions.

On the British Seashore

With a mechanical jerk, my carousel horse lurched forward in sync with a familiar march playing in the background. Behind me, my friends made faces as I snapped a picture. In front of me a rocky beach and the blue waters of the Atlantic stretched across the horizon.

My friends and I spent the better part of Saturday in Brighton, a seaside town with a bit of history and a lot of character. The resort town "came into fashion" in the late 1700s when King George IV (then the Prince Regent) began spending time at the waterfront for his health. The first stop of our day was the Royal Pavilion, George's opulent and eclectic weekend home (a.k.a. palace), which is open to tourists today.

We spent the rest of the afternoon along the beach, findin
g the occasional shop, carousel and ice cream cone.

At the Globe...

Sunday allowed us the unique opportunity to see Shakespeare as it was intended to be seen -- on the stage. Some friends and I ordered tickets to see "Romeo and Juliet" at London's Globe Theater, a recreation of the original Globe Theater where Shakespeare's plays were performed in the 1600s. Despite high school frustrations with Shakespeare's old English, I laughed out loud at the poet's jokes when I saw them live in front of me.

Our student budgets afforded us the standing seats on the floor in front of the stage. The Shakespearian-era theater is round -- a horseshoe shape ring of seats with a rectangular stage to close off the circle. Unlike the covered box seats, our area was completely open-air without a roof. We were all thankful for clear skies and mild temperatures.

British clockwork...

I rolled over and pulled my sheets over my head. With a start, I realized I was awake (and not because my alarm was ringing). I grabbed my phone off the nightstand and saw that I had slept straight through the first alarm I had set. So much for trying to finish my term papers before I had to run errands...

It was the day before the day before I left London -- my last day in London I would not spending packing my life of four months into two suitcases and two carry-ons. The day was scheduled to be jam-packed.

I just made it to my appointment in Covent Garden to get my hair cut. Then I jotted around the market to pick up a few last minute souvenirs and packing supplies. Thank goodness for the sun, which kept my energy up and my freshly cut hair dry. I dropped off my photo collage book to be bound; I had arranged my Italy pictures into a book for my final project for my photography class. I went home to finish up the final edits on my term papers and rushed over to school to print them and turn them in.

I had some time to relax in the afternoon over a cup of tea at the cafe in the park at the end of my block with my London relatives. The warm spring breeze, brightly-colored tulips and dozens of people playing in the park reminded me how much I was going to miss London.

I had just enough time to change clothes and walk back to Covent Garden to meet up with friends for a pre-theater drink. We had tickets to see "Billy Elliot,"
an original London musical about a boy who wants to dance. A classical ballet duet with grown-up Billy and 12-year-old Billy highlighted the show in the second half.

Oh, London!

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