Friday, January 10, 2014

London Holiday, 5: Boxing Day, Baker Street and Beyond

The day after Christmas, Boxing Day, my daughter was still feeling under the weather so she stayed at the flat and got caught up on social media while my wife and I went shopping. I had wanted a bow tie for Christmas, and so far we had not found anything that we liked so we thought we would check out the big shopping district, including places like Selfridge's and Harrod's. We did not realize that Boxing Day shopping is the unholy child of Black Friday and Times Square on New Year's Eve. I didn't so much see Selfridge's as I saw thousands of human beings in the approximate shape of Selfridge's. Harrod's was a bit better.  Not only found a tie, but had a great lunch on the foods floor, at the Harrod's Rotisserie. (Roast squab with chestnut dressing, winter vegetables and bread sauce. Delicious. And I now have the right to say, "I had squab for lunch at Harrod's," so there's that.

What we thought Harrod's was going to be like on Boxing Day.

What Harrod's was actually like on Boxing Day.

It was definitely an experience.

Having successfully scored a bow tie, we went back to the flat to find our daughter feeling much better and so we decided to hike over a couple of blocks to 221-b Baker Street, the mythical (and technically, non-existent; 221-b was "inserted" into the street much later) address of one Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson.

Mrs. Hudson's Pie Shoppe was right next door, as was a terrific pub called The Volunteer. We met the owner/chef and had a pretty fantastic meal. The Holmes Museum and gift shop was swarming with tourists and we had read poor reviews of the actual museum, so we did not join the line of hundreds waiting to get in. For me it was enough just to stand there outside one of the most famous addresses in fiction. My wife got Number 4 Privet Drive; I got 221-B Baker Street.

That evening, despite the best efforts of repairs and closures on the Underground, we made our way to Wimbledon to attend a panto. The panto is the holiday tradition that Brits love to hate:  a children's play with lots of audience participation, big stars, double-entendre jokes for the adults, a villain one is expected to actually boo and hiss, and so forth. Check Wikipedia for all the gory details about pantos, but briefly: the tales that have been adapted into pantos are pretty straightforward kid favorites: Jack and Beanstalk, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Dick Whittington and His Cat, And the one we went to see, Aladdin.

Our big star was one of our favorite British comedians, Jo Brand.  She played the Genie of the Ring.  There was a handsome lead, a pretty girl, a goofy sidekick, a famous Shakespearean actor in drag, a singer from a boy band, a famous hip-hop dance troupe, and a lot of happy kids. I had heard about the panto and wanted to experience one for myself, and we were not disappointed. I wish we had this tradition in this country. I think it could really catch on.

The poster advdertising our panto.

Jo Brand, on the right, about to say something snarky to the evil Abenazar.

On Dec. 27th, the city started coming back to life. Apart from some partial closings for repairs, mass transit was back. Unfortunately, it turned out that the one of the city's best pubs AND one of the best fish and chips shops in Marylebone closed down for the entire ten-day holiday period so we would not be able to check them out. So we decided to get out into the city and do some tourist stuff instead. On the 27th we went to Westminster Abbey. The Abbey was a very moving experience. Not only full of history, not only a grand example of a huge gothic cathedral, but emotionally overwhelming. Tombs of kings and queens; the most moving Tomb of the Unknown that I have ever experienced, and of course, Poets' Corner. I managed to hold it together until I got to the grave of Charles Dickens, probably my favorite author of all time. To be standing there, where he was interred, was a more intense emotional experience than I was prepared for.

(Photos are not allowed in the Abbey; this is a stock photo of Dickens' grave from the internet.)

The following day we spent visiting Buckingham Palace and then it was off to the Victoria and Albert Museum, along with a brief trip to the Museum of Natural History next door. 

The gates to the Palace

The Queen Victoria Monument which fronts Buckingham Palace.

The following evening we went to the Royal Opera House to see the National Ballet perform The Nutcracker." Beautiful piece in a beautiful setting.

Which takes us to to the next entry, a side trip to Cardiff in Wales for "Doctor Who: The Experience!"

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