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European travel journal – Day 4: West End, British Library, Covent Market and a show!

The chiming church bells heard from my room, which I originally thought would be annoying, are quite handy for telling the time. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. It’s five o’clock! So this is how people managed before watches. I climbed down from my bunk without stepping on my bunkmates, who are two lively girls from Amsterdam that I met yesterday when putting away my things. They invited me out with them yesterday evening, but I turned them down because I am not a clubber and never will be. It was nice having the offer though, and in some parallel dimension PastaQueen is blogging about her crazy night out on the town with two Dutch girls.

Instead, I grabbed some grub in the hostel kitchen where the oatmeal was surprisingly delicious. I was expecting it to be crap, but it was a figgy, raisin-y bowl of goodness. Last night I heard two men in the hostel common room talking about how prices go up the closer you get to the river. This point was proven when it started to drizzle as I left the building and discovered that the umbrellas near St. Pail’s cost 16 pounds and the ones near Leicester Square were only 6 pounds. I spent 0 pounds because I brought my hat. That’s why I call it a smart hat.

I slowly circled in on the TKTS booth in Leicester Square solely to see more of the city and not because I was lost. The booth starts selling half-priced tickets to West End shows at 10am, so I appeared at 8:50am expecting a line of hardcore theatre fiends camped on the sidewalk, but instead was presented with this.

Theatre booth

Nada. No one. They didn’t even have the list of shows available up on the board yet. This shocked me, probably because I’ve seen the line in Times Square for half-priced New York theatre tickets. Since I had an hour to kill, I explored the neighborhood, strolling through Picadilly Circus where there is a fountain and a huge LED billboard, down to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, and back to where I began. And still, at 9:20am there were only 3 people hanging around the booth, including me. I got in line behind another man, who then left, making me the first person in line!

I am the head of the line!

Ok, it was a rather short line, but I was the head of it.

I had been hoping to get tickets to We Will Rock You, a musical featuring the music of Queen, but no tickets were available. Instead I purchased tickets for Spring Awakening because it had won lots of awards and because I liked the way the guy struck a pose on the subway poster ad.

I climbed down into the Underground again and was whisked off to St. Pancras station so I could visit the British Library. In one little room they have the Magna Carter, some of DaVinici notebooks, musical scores by Hayden and Mendelssohn, The Gutenberg Bible, and lyrics written by the Beatles. As I was looking at Ravel’s score for Bolero, I overheard a man next to me talking expertly about the history of the piece and all the gossipy details about the composer. I shadowed them down the rest of the music section and learned that Hayden was a good business man and Mendelssohn was kinda homey and didn’t like to perform in public. I think it was Mendelssohn. This was a library after all and I couldn’t hear all of the soft speech he was giving. I don’t know why I didn’t just go up to them and say, “Hey, can I tag along?” but it didn’t occur to me at the time. I’m probably spelling Mendelssohn wrong too, and someone will no doubt snootily correct me in the comments, but I don’t have enough wi-fi minutes to look it up and check. I’m also typing on a cramped keyboard where I accidentally hit the wrong buttons and keep zooming out of my document to 33% by doing something unknown to the touchpad.

My feet were starting to hurt and my stomach was starting to grumble, so I stopped into a pub across the street and ordered a coffee and a tuna and sweetcorn jacket even though I didn’t know what a jacket was. They could have served me tuna and corn on a windbreaker and I would have thought it was a local custom. Instead I learned a jacket is a potato scored into four pieces and opened slightly with the garnish on top. I was also subjected to the most awful cover of Bob Segar’s “We’ve Got Tonight” while eating it. It may in fact be the worst cover of any song I’ve ever heard.

A tuna and sweetcorn jacket

I fled the pub and took the tube to Covent Market, which was AWESOME. I didn’t have this on my original itinerary, but I’m glad I dropped in. Covent Market is a collection of outdoor shops contained under the same roof. They are organized in 4 or 5 rows, with some of the rows being more posh than others. (Oh look, I said “posh.” I am becoming British already.)

Camden market

Some vendors have roll-away stalls, and all around there are street performers juggling and singing. There is just about something for everyone, including sweet, delicious cupcakes.

Cupcakes, mmmm

I finished a delectable double-chocolate cupcake with a marshmallow bunny topper on the way back to Leicester Square to meet Courtney, author of The Weight Loss Diaries and a quite fun, friendly and generous gal. She showed me around Chinatown where they have skinned ducks in the window, and she reminded me to get a shot standing in a red British phone booth.

Hello? Anybody there? Why does this stall smell like piss?

Then we strolled down Bond Street, which has lots of posh shops. (Posh! I did it again!) Then we were walking down Oxford Street and ducked into Selfridges department store to descend into their dungeon of delicious goods. Oh. My. God. Department stores in London have food halls in the basement. This one was a grocery store, bakery, deli, and butcher rolled into one. I wanted to eat my way out of there, stuffing cupcakes and sushi in my face, but I restrained myself since I was still full, which is the only reason I didn’t go to the hot chocolate bar.

Bunny cupcakes!

Courtney had an appointment, so we parted ways and I headed toward the Marble Arch at Hyde Park, intending to jump on the tube station there. However, since I was all the way out there, I decided to pop into Hyde Park for a bit. A map on a sign near the corner drew a circle radius around part of the park, stating that everything within it was only a maximum 5 minute walk away.

Let me warn you, the map is a LIE.

The Princess Diana Memorial is just across from the lake. I’ll jaunt over since it’s just 5 minutes. And this is how I found myself wondering around the somewhat unremarkable, cold, and endless fields of Hyde Park, walking and walking and walking and thinking, “Isn’t there supposed to be a fucking lake around here somewhere?” Eventually I happened upon a house, which I believe was the groundskeeper’s building. And onward I walked, my feet aching. Eventually I found a big rock from Norway.

This rock is from Norway

Finally, finally, FINALLY, I crossed a bridge over the lake and found the Princess Diana Memorial, which would have to have been flowing chocolate to be worth the trek. It was not flowing chocolate. Then I trekked onward, farther and farther, seeking a tube station where I could rest my feet. I have never in my life been so grateful to see a subway entrance as I was that afternoon in front of Knightsbridge station.

Then I was back at the hostel, checking e-mail, writing blogs, and then off again to see Spring Awakening where I learned that not only do London theatres let people drink wine and eat popcorn during show, but they also sell Haagen-Daas ice cream during intermission.

I know. Let’s all get a flat there and move in together.

I was at the Novello Theatre which is laid out rather oddly. If you enter on the ground floor of the building and go straight ahead into the first doors you see, you’ll find yourself on the second balcony. To get to the “stalls” or the orchestra floor as we Americans call it, you had to go down three flights of stairs. Then I tried exiting through another door during intermission and found myself in an entirely different stairwell. An usher then pointed me through a tiny door I had to duck my head to enter, which led down a short, narrow passage to another door which opened into the lobby. I felt like Alice in Wonderland walking through secret passages.

The show was pretty good, but it didn’t resonate with me on an emotional level. I don’t feel an urge to go out and buy the soundtrack like I have with other shows. I was in the fourth row center, which was so close I could see all the spittle flying out of the actors mouths as they sang. There was a lot of spittle. I might have needed an umbrella after all. There was also…partial nudity. I saw nipple! It made me uncomfortable.

After the show I walked halfway across the Waterloo Bridge as Courtney had recommended. The city was lit up from the London Eye Ferris Wheel to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. This is London and those buildings are real and I am here. Then I hopped a bus back to the hostel, which was far more direct than the tube route I’d taken earlier. I rode on the top and zoomed through the streets because London was mine.

Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away
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31 Comments

A Canadian Reader • May 14, 2009 at 5:03 pm

I am really enjoying following your European adventure. You write beautifully.

Now, I’ll be all posh and snooty and tell you that it’s MENDELSSOHN (Felix). I studied music for many years, it’s just something that I know.

I love your blog.

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Ane • May 14, 2009 at 5:06 pm

You didn’t go to Camden did you? You should have! It’s not posh, but awesome! Love this post, it really makes me loooong for London. The thing about London is; you can always go back, there’s always more to see and do. :) Hope Paris don’t dissapoint. It’s got a TOTALLY different vibe.

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Minze • May 14, 2009 at 5:22 pm

Oh crap, someone beat me to the Mendelssohn. There’s one thing I can add though: it’s actually Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. Felix added the Bartholdy to make his name appear more mainstream. Apparently he got into a lot of trouble about that with his Dad.

Hah. I couldn’t miss this opportunity to be an obnoxious show-off. It just does the heart good.

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Nina • May 14, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Don’t forget to go to Piccadilly Circus to check out all the awesome clothes! That’s where I bought my boots.

They were the only reason I went to London.

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victoria • May 14, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Wow! You’re having a great trip! Good for you! It’really exciting to read about it. Thank you for the frequent updates.

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Lirpa • May 14, 2009 at 6:07 pm

I am loving your travel blog! Keep em coming! I think i laughed my ass off. Love the pics too, they really add a lot to it!

You would be great as a travel blogger full time. Ever thought about doing that full time?

That is my dream job, and hubby’s too. If someone would pay us to travel around the world and write about it, we would be in heaven.

Hope you’re enjoying every minute of it!

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metro15 • May 14, 2009 at 6:19 pm

Awww, great travel accounts. You are making me so London sick, I can’t wait for my next visit! And I’m glad you fit Covent Garden in, it has always been one of my favourite places. :)

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jennywenny • May 14, 2009 at 6:43 pm

So cute! Glad you’re still having fun!

I did love living there, but I’m still much happier here in San Diego!

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scone • May 14, 2009 at 6:56 pm

If you see a blue police box, making a wheezy noise, don’t ask questions, just get in. You won’t regret it. ;)

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Dee • May 14, 2009 at 7:46 pm

This goes without saying (book out and all) but you are a really amazing writer! I am really enjoying your travel blogging, and it’s making me want to go buy a ticket to somewhere. keep having fun!

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Alix • May 14, 2009 at 10:09 pm

I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy SPRING AWAKENING – it’s the first show in years for which I actually did go purchase the cast album. What’s funny, though, is that one observation I had with the New York cast was that Jonathan Groff spit more than I had ever seen anyone spit onstage – it’s hilarious that you had the same experience with the London cast. Maybe it’s not the actor after all!

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Merry • May 14, 2009 at 10:44 pm

What Dee said.

You really do have a talent for travel writing. I could vicariously feel the emotion when you wrote “London is mine.”

Forget that weight loss stuff, a new career is opening up for you. You can travel to distant lands, eat the native food and ogle the native men, write up your experiences, and voila (that’s French ;) you’ve got a whole new series of books that people will love to read!

P.S. You had me semi-convinced that there was a composer that I’d never heard of before, who was named Mendelhossen. I was impressed with your musical education :)

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ChrissyS • May 14, 2009 at 11:45 pm

‘K, Jennette, PLEASE don’t come home!! I am enjoying your vacay tooo much!

well, continue to enjoy. I wish ‘we’ had more than 1 wk.

cheerio.

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Loup • May 15, 2009 at 2:17 am

PQ – Glad you liked Covent Garden and Chinatown. Please do not miss Harrods at Knightsbridge. Its infact just over the Knightsbridge station. The food courts there are to die for and its the ‘poshest’ place.

Camden market is good if you like the flower child generation :). One other lovely place to go to is Teddington Lock (or for that matter any lock on the Thames too, Camden has one.)

Don’t forget to go to a ‘curry house’ which is what Indian restaurants are called. Very highly recommended. Chicken Tikka Masala is the national dish.

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vivi • May 15, 2009 at 3:05 am

Hey, they already corrected the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, well, I will correct the Haydn. No e. It is not Hayden. Joseph Haydn was an austrian composer, very important. He was friends with Mozart and Beethoven. ;)

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vivi • May 15, 2009 at 3:12 am

oh, I forgot in the previous comment. About nipples. I Europe we don’t really care much. Magazine cover nipples(*) are not airbrushed and Janet Jackson’s nipple in the superbowl is totally fine :) We found it funny.

(*) If next time you walk past a newsagent you look at the part where they have magazine for men (probably together with the rest, mixed with the crosswords magazines and the cosmopolitan-lime magazines and children comic books) you’ll see what I am talking about.

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SusieH • May 15, 2009 at 3:18 am

I am loving reading about your stay in London – we have been here in the UK for the last 3 years for DH’s work, and I LOVE being able to take the train into London to see wonderful stuff. Covent Garden rocks, ice cream at intermission rocks, and the British Library is a true jewel. Isn’t it amazing to see documents like that, that you thought you’d only ever read about?

Jacket potato with cheese and butter is a favorite of my son’s now. We like to decorate our baked potato with Mr. PotatoHead pieces first, and then remove them and slice open the potato for fillings.

Guess you can’t do that in a cafe :)

So glad you are loving London.

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K • May 15, 2009 at 5:52 am

I’m really enjoying reading all of your travel adventures (as is everyone else, clearly). Covent Garden does look great! I’ve been to London several times and not been there… maybe next time.

We are thinking of going down to see a musical – based on your review, I think it won’t be “Spring Awakening”. We saw it as a student play when we were at Oxford, and I agree that the story didn’t really convince. I’d put it down to the translation (it was originally in German).

Don’t they have ice cream in the inverval in American theatres?… That’s just wrong!

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RG • May 15, 2009 at 7:32 am

Not every performance venue will have ice cream at the intermission but it’s not that unusual. Very few will let you bring wine and popcorn to the theater. I never quite got used to “interval”, even when I learned that it’s not my parent’s mangling of intermission.

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Johanna • May 15, 2009 at 7:52 am

I think you need to stay here with us! London will do, but I suspect your experiences from Paris will be even more interesting. Think about it: great food, pastries and cakes to die for, fashion and beautiful surroundings, an abundance of dogs everywhere, you learning French…

Being completely self-serving now…

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Laura • May 15, 2009 at 8:55 am

It sounds like you’re having a great time! I was just in London a few weeks ago, and I swear- EVERYTHING was “just a 5 min walk,” usually to the left of where I was. Maybe they just walk faster, maybe they’re all bad at guessing. Thanks for the nice reminder!

Have fun!

Don’t forget the holiest of London attractions: Platform 9 3/4.

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debby • May 15, 2009 at 9:37 am

PQ I am loving your travel diaries, esp. that they are done in real time. I mean, I appreciate that you are taking time out of your travel to amuse us! Thanks so much!

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sue • May 15, 2009 at 10:07 am

So glad you’re having such a fabulous time; I had to cancel a trip to London a few years ago (and lose my “Cream” reunion tickets…still bitter…) and I’ve still not rescheduled.

Thanks for the virtual tour!

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Jess • May 15, 2009 at 10:17 am

Oh I wish you had gotten to see We Will Rock You. I saw it when I went to London 4 years ago and it was absolutely amazing. If you ever travel up to Canada I do believe a friend of mine saw it in Quebec.

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Marla K • May 15, 2009 at 10:47 am

“….because London was mine.” Loved that line and the sentiment. Reminds me of when I was younger, single and Traveling Europe. The absolute thrill of exhilaration of new adventures and accomplishment that I was truly doing it and soaking in every moment. GOOD GOOD GOOD for you Jeanette! Look forward to peeking in on the rest of your time there.

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Allison • May 15, 2009 at 1:47 pm

I forgot you were travelling til I got here, but I have a story for you about a woman’s headache that lasted 42 years: http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/afp/090515/health/china_health_bullet_offbeat

Also, to add to the snooty comments, it’s the Magna Carta and Selfridge’s. If you’re interested in feeling like you’re in London after you’ve left, I highly recommend Bridget Jones’ Diary if you haven’t already read it. Brit culture to the core. :)

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Yet Another Jenny • May 15, 2009 at 2:29 pm

PastaQueen Rocks London!!! I too am loving these entries, and wish you’d gotten to see the Queen musical. I was curious so I went & skimmed the synopsis of Spring Awakening (good ol’ Wikipedia) and…dang. I’m both curious and freaked.

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Cali369 • May 15, 2009 at 2:59 pm

That view from Waterloo bridge at night always brings a lump to my throat – you’re right in the middle of London but can also see it laid out like a distant vista. So glad you got to see that, kudos to Courtney for suggesting it

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Cari • May 15, 2009 at 5:29 pm

That is a great day. I stayed by the British Library when I was in London, and it was a wonderful part of town. I’m sorry you didn’t like Spring Awakening–I just saw it a few months ago and loved it!

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Tasha • May 16, 2009 at 10:54 pm

I shopped at that Octopus shop this pictured (Covent Garden)Feb . I bought a blue top. The red phone booth unfortunately reminds me of being all frustrated, in Leicester sq, trying to work out how to cancel my credit cards while Hari Krishnas sang outside the booth.

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Charles • July 12, 2010 at 9:03 pm

I know this post is very late, but I just happened upon your website when I did a search for root canal, strangely enough.

I experienced the same spittle thing when I went to Ireland some years ago and went to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. I went with our guided tour group. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to wait for college recess, and everyone in my group was over 60 except me.

Anyway, they were performing The Plough and the Stars, and it seemed the whole cast was spitting all over the place. It was such a weird experience. Years have gone by and this is the first time anyone has mentioned having the same experience I did. A couple of times, the spit was so copious that it earned a collective ejaculation of “eeww!” from the audience.

I saw Ron Howard at intermission, but he left. He was talking with Barbara Babcock. She was very nice, I sw her and got her autograph.

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog JenFul.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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