Art, Culture, and Trains…oh my!

July 5, 2011 at 3:51 pm 2 comments

Friday, Day 8 in London, just might have been my favourite! I knew that I had some fun things planned, but the day had some delightful surprises in store for me.

First on the day’s agenda was a trip to Covent Garden to visit the London Transport Museum. I had skipped Covent Garden in 2007 and was dreading the visit on this trip, because I’d heard that it’s overpriced and full of tourists. So I planned to arrive before noon, so that I could beat the crowds. I had stopped for a Caffe Nero frappé (best frappés ever!) on the way and was still drinking it, so I decided to have a walk around the market before going into the museum. What no one failed to tell me is that yeah, it’s overpriced, but it’s also filled with classical music and a general feeling of being cultured, and these are things that I enjoy. So when I arrived at Covent Garden, someone was singing arias on the lower level, and I spotted a fresh frozen yogurt shop next to her. Yes and yes. Two points for Covent Garden!

Covent Garden 1

Covent Garden 2

But the real reason for my trip was the London Transport Museum!

London Transport Museum

What you need to know about me to fully understand this entry is that I love trains. I really love trains. I especially love rapid transit trains, like subways and Chicago’s El. I love the maps, I love riding them, I love figuring out the best way to get from one stop to another, and then transferring lines…I just love it all. So a whole museum dedicated to London’s Transport system, which I find to be a pretty excellent system? Sign me up! I didn’t even care that I had to pay 10 pounds, and 10 pounds is almost $20. I knew it would be worth it!

Old Metropolitan Railway
I loved the old train cars and buses in the museums, and that you could go inside them! This is from the Metropolitan Railway, the first underground train line in the whole world! London’s Underground system was created because there were so many “main line” train stations, none of which were in Central London. As train traffic increased, so did surface street congestion, because everyone had to get downtown from the train stations. So an underground line was conceived to link the outer rim of train stations to the central part of the city. Before it was a unified system, each line had separate tickets. The Metropolitan line still exists, but it has been modified and does not run on exactly the same route as it did when it opened in 1863. I think I read that none of the stations are original any longer, but some stations on the Metropolitan, District, and Circle date back to the 1880s. Many of the stations on those lines are kind of sunken a level below street level, but are open air stations, because before 1905, steam engines ran on the underground lines and it was gross and dirty. OK, sorry for taking over this entry with nerdy facts about the London Underground. If you want to know more, you’ll have to check out the museum for yourself! (Or ask to borrow my book.)

After a couple of hours in the museum (and the gift shop), I went back over to the market, because I definitely had to have some of that froyo for lunch! With my plain (they call it “natural”) froyo topped with strawberries, banana, kiwi, and dark chocolate, I had a seat while a strings+flute quintet called Fandango delighted the crowd.

They were great! I gave them a pound, which was about all I could spare.

I wanted to hit the National Gallery next, so I walked through the Leicester Square/West End area on my way to Trafalgar Square. I’d been thinking about seeing a musical, but couldn’t find any great deals when I looked at the last-minute ticket options online, so I’d just about given up. Well, much better deals were available at the ticket sellers around Leicester Square! I saw one that advertised tickets to Chicago for 19 pounds. I walked around for about 10 minutes, thought it over, and decided to go for it. It was a show that I had never seen, but had always wanted to, and had missed when it came through Chicago recently. While seeing Chicago in Chicago would have been classic, I knew that London would be a great show. Buying my ticket was super easy and painless, and within 5 minutes, I was off to the National Gallery, giddy with excitement over seeing my first West End show.

The National Gallery is a fabulous museum, and it’s fairly overwhelming. I love the colours in religious Renaissance paintings, so I wandered through that wing for a while. Most of the rooms in that section have red walls, which make the paintings seem even more vivid. I really like that the National Gallery has coloured walls. It makes me appreciate the beautiful space as well as the art itself. Of course I ended up in the Impressionist area next. The Impressionists will always be my favourite—too many memories of visiting the Art Institute’s collection as a little girl with my mom for me to really love any era of art more. For me, the highlights in the National Gallery are Monet’s classic Japanese Bridge painting and Van Gogh’s Cypress Trees in the Wheat Field.

Outside, I took a few moments to take in Trafalgar Square, my favourite of London’s public spaces. This year, it features the London 2012 countdown clock! And just like I did in Vancouver in 2008, I took a photo of the Paralympic side…

Trafalgar Square
432 days to the Paralympics!

After the National Gallery, I was having such a great day and still had time to spare, so I went inside the National Portrait Gallery for the first time. I’d imagined it to be a lot of stiff portraits of royalty, and it does have a lot of those, but the captions made it really interesting for me. I was surprised by and really loved the 20th century collection, as well as the new photography acquisitions. And again, the museum really uses the space well.

With all of that museum-ing, I had definitely worked up another appetite, so I went back to Covent Garden, where I’d spotted a cupcake bakery called Ella’s.

Ella’s served up a pretty good Nutella cupcake, but again, the cake was a bit dry. I think the British just make their cakes a bit more dry than Americans do. And yes, that’s a stylized portrait of the queen and a rotary phone on the wall behind the cupcake. Thumbs up for the cute setting at Ella’s!

I had to go back to my hotel room to change and get ready for the theatre, but I didn’t take too long to get ready, so I went back to Covent Garden. This is the third trip in one day, if you’re keeping track, folks. But you see, I had one more extremely important stop to make:

My friends, Jules and Christina, and I love macarons. I was a little hesitant at first, but I just didn’t have one with amazing filling the first time that I tried them. Don’t worry, I got on board with the macarons very quickly. The three of us love getting a variety of flavours and then splitting them, so we get to taste all of them, while we discuss the merits of each one. Ladurée is a Parisian café known for macarons, which I was thrilled to find at Covent Garden! They only had about eight flavours (I was expecting more, I admit), so I chose three: orange blossom, café, and green apple. They were all amazing, but the green apple was the one that really blew me away! It was so flavourful and fruity, and as with all three of them, the cookie was just the perfect crispiness on the outside and soft inside. Americans may do cake better, but you can’t get macarons quite like these in the States, so Europe definitely wins the macarons round!

Unfortunately, the string of beautiful weather was broken when the skies opened up, right after Ladurée. I didn’t go anywhere in London without my umbrella, and I had my raincoat too, but I still wasn’t thrilled about slodging through puddles in my sandals. Ah well. I dried out at Costa Coffee, where the baristas made me a fantastic skim latte in a tall glass, and then it was off to the theatre!

Chicago was playing at the Cambridge Theatre, which as far as theatres go, might be the least attractive one I’ve ever visited. It just felt old and run-down, and I thought it was weird that the entrance to the balcony (upper circle) was completely separate. I had to go outside and around the corner to get to my seat. I guess it’s because I’m a peasant! But I wasn’t there to critique the building, of course, and all was forgotten once the show started.

I didn’t know much about the stage production of it, but I’ve seen the movie quite a few times. Most of the songs are the same, as is the plot, but the major difference is that the orchestra is on stage and there’s not much of a set other than the orchestra. I really liked the feel of it, and the big production numbers were great! I loved the portrayal of Roxie especially. The girl that played Velma had a fantastic voice, but when Velma and Roxie danced together at the end, it was easy to see that Velma wasn’t keeping up with all of the steps. Oups! I also found the portrayal of Mama Morton strange, just because I think Queen Latifah absolutely owned that role in the movie…so I think anyone else after seeing her would feel weird. But overall, I had such a good time and was so glad that I decided to splurge (a little) and see the show. Wish I could have seen more, of course, and glad that I picked such a great show, and not the Phantom sequel.

Yes, there’s a Phantom sequel. Phantom has been playing in London since 1986, making it the second-longest-running musical in the West End. Love Never Dies, the sequel, will close in August after about 18 months. *gong*


Entry filed under: England, Europe, London, Photos, United Kingdom.

Day Out in Greenwich A Stroll through South Kensington and Knightsbridge

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Classy in Paris, feat. Macarons « Mel's Travels  |  February 21, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    […] and I are quite familiar with the Paris Métro and we read French well, and as mentioned before, I really love transit systems, but the redesigned Étoile station managed to confuse us so much that we got on the RER instead of […]

  • 2. A Perfect Last Day in London « Mel's Travels  |  November 5, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    […] latte and some writing time, I meandered through Covent Garden, where I’d previously enjoyed an amazing day of music, cupcakes, and frozen yogurt, but I had a different froyo goal this […]


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