Posts Tagged With: London

Flying Solo

Here I am sitting at the British Airways Galleries Lounge at Heathrow Airport waiting for my flight to my next destination. This was my second time in England and for sure will not be my last. However, when I was here last year, I was with my husband and my cousin. This time, I am doing it all on my own. When I was dining at this Italian place in London, I met these two British ladies, Kim and Pippa, who were cousins. They were quite fascinated by the idea that I was traveling by myself especially after having told them an overview of my travel plans. They asked, “Why isn’t your husband with you? Did he not want to come?”
Well, the truth is, he would have if he could. I explained to them how his employer’s vacation benefits are almost non-existent. Pippa was appalled to hear that he only gets 1 week of vacation per year until his second year and then he gets two weeks. She just couldn’t fathom the idea of not having six weeks of paid holidays. Of course, I am stewing with envy. I only get three weeks a year, and that’s considered good by American standards. I already know of Europe’s generous holidays, but I took the opportunity to talk with people and see their reactions when talking about this matter. Maternity leave also came up because her job right now is to cover someone who is on maternity leave … for a whole year! You get six months paid maternity leave and another six months with half pay. HOLY CRAP! So then I realized that she is a temp and she gets six weeks of vacation! When I told her how in America, maternity leave is unpaid, she just about choked on her tiramisu.

The part about my husband’s lack of vacation hours is just half of the story. The other half really is about me. All my life, I have always known that I really want to see and experience the world. Just be out there. As a child in the Philippines, it was nothing but a dream — a very distant and hazy dream. I did not come from a privileged family. My father was a tailor who had to work day and night to support his family with five children. When I moved to the States, the door opened up, and I knew then that it was all up to me to work on making my dreams come true. So damn cheesy, but it’s the truth.

I have been married to this wonderful man for six years now and we have traveled together since. I have gone on extended weekends with friends to other parts of the States, but nothing crazy far. The idea of traveling by myself kept coming up, and every time I see my vacation hours increase, that idea kept getting louder in my head. Being married for some time, I have grown to be dependent on my husband. He takes such great care of me. But before him, I have always been an independent person. I did things my way. I went off to a university away from home the moment I could. I made things happen to get to where I am now. Having Stuart in my life, I have gotten comfortable with having someone who is always there for me. So I decided to do a solo trip. No husband to carry my stuff, or boss around to ask for directions. It’s all on me now.

Of course, he has worries about me going off to foreign countries on my own, but he also knows that I am travel savvy. I may not be the best with geographical orientation, but he is confident that I will be careful and make the best out of this experience. I just had to make some compromises on which cities I can visit. He told me to stay out of Italy because he definitely wants to go there with me. He understands that I really feel strongly about being out here doing things on my own. He is such patient man, and I am SO lucky to have this guy in my life who accepts the fact that his wife is a wondering wanderer. 🙂

Now here I am, sitting by myself at Heathrow surrounded by people from all over the world speaking in different tongues. I just had a fantastic time with my cousin and her husband in Bedford plus the couple of days in London. I even made it to Windsor Castle. At this point, I am so ready for the next part of my solo adventure. I am quite elated and even really proud of myself for making this happen. My cousin and I agree that we only live once, so here I am living it. I am living my dream of exploring and learning from other people and cultures. It has only been a few days, and I already know that I will not regret doing this. Life is too short to spend it wishing and hoping. The opportunity is here, and I am taking it.

Standing outside Buckingham Palace!

Categories: Europe, Experience, Explore, London, UK | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Enchanted by London

Over Thanksgiving dinner, we got into telling tales of our travels. My husband and I had to recount experiences and share our thoughts on what we liked or disliked about the places we visited. The lady of the house then asked me which of the three destinations (Reykjavik, London, and Paris) I liked the most. This is not the first time I was asked this very question since getting back from the trip, but this time around, I am more aware of how conflicted I feel about each of these places. Conflicted in the sense that each city has its own charm, unique vibe, and history; therefore, I find myself hesitating in answering the question and picking one city over the others. I decided to change the question in my head. If I was given the opportunity to go back to one of these three cities tomorrow, which one would I find myself packing for in a heartbeat? Easy: London.

Then the follow-up question came: why London? Because it is simply a great city to be in.

Buildings along Bank Junction

London has amazing architecture. Old historical buildings are everywhere. The city itself is so old, so someone from the New World would find most of London’s buildings relatively old. I found myself walking around in awe. Buildings like St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Courts of Justice, the Royal Exchange remind me of man’s power to create and build something that can withstand time and nature. We always hear in the news of man’s knack for destruction, but walking along The Strand, I reveled in the reality that we are capable, and have always been capable, of building greatness.,

Among London’s great structures is its vast and fascinating history. Since I was twelve years old, I had been interested in British history. I learned on my own time about the many great people that hailed out of Britain. I became a fan of Shakespeare at an early age. I pretended to be Elizabeth I in many occasions. And yes, I confess, I had a giant crush on Prince William that I even kept the photos of him on People’s Magazine taken during Princess Di’s funeral. I learned about Henry VIII and his six wives. I moved backwards and learned about the Cousins War often sympathizing with the Yorks. I wrote a research paper in college on the two York princes who disappeared in the Tower of London. I have a buttload of books by Philippa Gregory, and you betcha, I watched all 4 seasons of the Tudors. Who cares if some things are historically inaccurate?

Westminster Abbey

With my interest in British history, you can only imagine how incredible it felt walking into Westminster Abbey. It was surreal. Apart from the nave where kings and queens had been crowned, the place is a labyrinth of burial chambers and dedicated chapels. Before leaving for the trip, I was reading a book on Margaret Beaufort (Henry Tudor’s mother), and I got to see her tomb. I found it a little bizarre that Mary I and Elizabeth I were buried pretty much on top of each other. Seriously? They had better times as sisters, but later on, they hated each others’ guts. It’s too bad you’re not allowed to take photos inside, but I can appreciate how it facilitates the flow of visitors especially in some of the smaller chambers with very, very narrow walkways.

The Tower of London was also another historic place I got to explore. It gave me goosebumps to be there. I mean, come on! It’s THE Tower of London! Whoever controlled the Tower controlled London back in the day. People of importance were held prisoners there. Some of them eventually got beheaded right on Tower Green. The Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula is where Anne Boleyn’s remains are buried. The Jewel House is where you find the royal sparklies AKA the Crown Jewels. Henry VIII lived in the White Tower at some point, and now it houses a grand exhibit of armors worn by kings, canons, and other weapons throughout Britain’s history of war and glory.

Standing in the midst of busy Piccadilly

If you’re not a history nut like myself, you can just walk around the city and appreciate it’s diversity. If you find yourself wandering about Piccadilly Circus or Trafalgar Square, you’re more than likely to find a group of street performers – from break dancing or straight up body contorting acts. As I had mentioned in a previous entry, it is very easy to get around the city with it’s awesome tube system and buses, so I only found myself to be limited by time and not so much by distance of the places to see. As foodies, we took advantage of the availability of various cuisines. I still dream about the lamb chops at Shah Tandoori. It was the best lamb I’ve ever had! We also had a great meal out of a hole-in-the-wall Turkish joint in Camden. And let’s not forget the shows! The West End is London’s answer to New York’s Broadway. From popular headliners like Mama Mia, Wicked, Lion King, there’s no reason why you can’t be out and have great night out at the theater. Again, these theaters too are housed in buildings older than New York City itself.

And of course, the people. I found the people to be warm and accommodating. Everyone I interacted with were very nice and polite. The guy who owns the flat we were renting was very helpful. Little shop owners, mobile phone sales people, restaurant servers, and even customs folks were pleasant. There was this guy, who was selling those nail buffing kits (like the ones you see at the mall trying to get your attention as you rush past them hoping they’d just ignore you), who struck up a conversation with me not to sell his wares, but because he thought I’d be an interesting person to talk to. He also knew from a distance that I am a Filipina, which I give him credit for because people often mistake me to be from another Asian country. I chatted with him for a bit and told him about my travels and my plans, and he was genuinely engrossed and curious. In hindsight, it probably doesn’t take much to entertain you if all you do is standing around and flagging people down in hopes that you catch their attention and agree to get their nails done. In any case, the guy was super nice, and I’m sure to have had conversations like it had I not been running around from place to place and took the time to talk to more people.

I could have spent my two weeks in London alone, and I probably would still feel like I needed more time. I suppose I can say that to a lot of the places I have been to, but London has a different hold on me. It just fascinates and excites me with the same wonderment as a kid going into a toy store with wide eyes and dropped jaw. By some twist of fate, if I am given the chance to go back to London, I would be there in a heartbeat.

Categories: Europe, Experience, Explore, London | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

A Wicked Experience in London

There are certain things that I hold off doing no matter how badly I want to get them done. For me, certain experiences have to happen at a certain place and/or at a certain point in time.  And one of those experiences is watching the musical, Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz. The show had been in Seattle a few times already and I kept denying myself the chance to go see it. I had read the book by Gregory Maguire. I had seen the Wizard of Oz a million times. But you ask, why hold off watching the musical?

Well, I told myself years ago that I will only watch Wicked for the very first time in London – even if it would take me another five years of waiting. Guess what? That wait was so worth it! I could have watched it when we were in New York back 2008, but I held true to my promise. Why London? This will probably sound so dumb, but I felt that if the characters spoke with a British accent, that will elevate the whole experience entirely. As it turns out, the show was nothing short of spectacular, and yes, the accents made the difference.

West End production of Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz

Wicked in London's West End

We got to the Apollo Victoria Theatre quite early, and there were already a few people waiting around. Some of them had their faces painted green. The theater itself is also very beautiful with dramatic lighting. There were ushers selling programs for £7; I passed.  Our seats were pretty good even if we were towards the edge but we were only seven rows away from the stage.

Though it has been at least a couple of years since I read the book, I recognized the map of Oz showing the Emerald City smack in the middle of it. There were the gears of the great tick-tock and the giant dragon suspended high above the stage, which were crucial to the beginning of the story.  As soon as the music started, I was transported to a world of magic, vibrant clothing, and fantastic tunes. When Galinda appeared floating on a bubble, I’d already wanted to tell her to tone down the ditzy blonde act. Louise Dearman played the obnoxious, popular, and vain “Good Witch” really well. She was hilarious, but almost to the point of being a loony especially during the Popular act.

Then of course, there’s Elphaba, the Wicked Witch. Her name is actually derived from the author of the Wizard of Oz, Frank L. Baum. We knew her to be the scary hag played by Margaret Hamilton, who cackled evilly and flew on her broom all around Oz. The musical’s Elphaba is a nice girl who, by twist of fate, was born different – with green skin. Even if you have not read the book, you immediately sympathize with her situation. Judging and being blinded by her green cover, her classmates could not see the smart, caring, and funny girl that she truly is. Nikki Davis-Jones proved to be a faultless Elphaba. She is actually the standby for this role normally played by Rachel Tucker, who took the day off. Nikki singing Defying Gravity gave me goose bumps. She’s a vocal powerhouse!

Clive Carter played the Wizard, and Julie Legrand played Madame Morrible; both were fantastic. The character that threw me off a bit was Fiyero played by Mark Evans. He was almost too pretty for the role. And in the book, Fiyero had tribal marks implying that he also has some sort of ethnic background. It’s pretty minor though. I actually quite enjoyed his performance especially in As Long as You’re Mine. It was the most intimate part of the show, and it was well done.

There were significant deviations from the book, but I understood why they had chosen to make those changes granted the time limitation and wanting to meet the audience’s expectations for an enjoyable show versus something very dark and depressing as the book. It is a great story touching on preconceived notions, manipulation, desire for power, desire for acceptance, ambitions, love, and a very unexpected friendship between two witches in college. Strong vocals and solid performances by all the actors garnered the show a standing ovation at the end.

Today is actually Wicked Day 2011 in London, so I thought it timely to write this. They’re eight hours ahead of where I’m at, but hey, it’s the thought that counts. And I do wish I were there to experience this annual event. I heard it’s pretty awesome with appearances by Rachel Tucker and Louise Dearman themselves in previous years.

Lastly, tomorrow is Halloween, so it’s also a good time to talk about witches and wizards. Inspired by this great story and musical, this is why I am dressing up and painting myself green for Halloween!

Halloween Costume as Elphaba

A Wicked Halloween to Everyone!

PS. Gregory Maguire’s last book in the series titled Out of Oz: Final Volume of the Wicked Years is also officially being released on November 1st!

Categories: entertainment, Europe, Experience, London | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

London’s Tube System: Mind the Gap!

Underground Every time I get to a city with a great public transit system, I get slightly depressed thinking how public transport in the Seattle metro is so insufficient.  We have a bus system that is sad with some routes that are reliable enough for commuting, and some that are not so much. The buses themselves (especially the King County Metro buses) could use some major upgrades. We have the Monorail, which is essentially a tourist trap. And we also have the Light Rail that only goes from downtown Seattle to the airport.

Dragging our exhausted selves and luggage, we got on the train from Heathrow that will take us to central London. We figured out that we would need to transfer to the Northern Line that would take us to the neighborhood where our rented apartment is located.

The automated lady announcer came on: “This is a Piccadilly Line service to Cockfosters.” I immediately thought of my friend Alex exclaiming, “That’s what she said!” This thought made me chuckle a bit.

Then I noticed how clean the train is. It wasn’t loud either. The doors automatically closed and opened at every station we stopped. This is noteworthy because the Paris metro ones don’t; you’d have to manually open the doors to get out. The London subway cars are well lit, have seats that are in good condition, and most of all, they’re well ventilated and do not reek of BO.

And then there’s the awesomely convenient Oyster Card. It’s a plastic card with a magnetic chip – not some little paper ticket with a magnetic strip.  Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Paris all spit out flimsy, easy-to-lose tickets. It may not be the case for the local commuters, but visitors would also appreciate having a card that’s not easily ruined or lost. The ticket for the Paris metro is especially small.

Oyster Card and Paris metro pass

An Oyster Card compared to a Paris metro pass

When you buy an Oyster Card, you just put however much money you think you’ll need. When you run out, you just top up using one of those automated machines or at a ticket counter. You just tap your card at the entrance and tap again as you exit and the exact fare will be deducted from it. If you happen to glance at the display just before walking out, you will see your remaining balance.  How’s that for straightforward!

I’ve never felt so safe using the subway. I went out by myself a couple of times and I was not worried about getting mugged or some other crazy thing to happen to me.  The map illustrating the tube lines routes and stops are easy to follow. In no time, I was transferring trains and changing lines like a pro. I have also learned to appreciate the constant reminder to mind the gap. Why, yes, I will definitely mind the gap!

Chicago, Boston, New York City, San Francisco, Manila, and Paris: those are the cities with some sort of railway commuter system that I can compare with London’s tube system.  It’s by no means an extensive list, but I would say it’s enough for a fair comparison. Say what you will about the British and their funny hats and for driving on the left side of the road, but in my book, they totally nailed this whole tube system down. And yes, how I really do wish we had something remotely close to this in Seattle. Based on my personal experiences, London’s Underground is by far the best subway system that I have ever used.

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