This blog describes a trio trip to England! My oldest friend, Jon Menard, and his wife, Amber LaChapelle, and I are big broadway fans. We're HUGE Hamilton fans. When Ham opened up in the West End, we decided to travel the world to see the show! We had an amazing time and I truly loved crossing the pond with these two wonderful people!
April 14-16, 2018
Cotswolds, Oxford, and Bath
We flew out of Boston on a Virgin Airlines redeye. Tight seating, but good enough to sleep the night! We picked up our rental car at Heathrow and drove to Oxford on our way to the Cotswolds, as we couldn’t check in until later in the afternoon.
We loved the town and seeing the university and churches. We had fish and chips (and minted mushed peas!) at The Chequers, an incredibly old pub that used to showcase wild and exotic animals. The meal was delicious and satisfied 3 tired travelers. We walked around a bit and marveled at the architecture and how green the land was.
We got to The Cotswolds (thanks to Jon and Amber’s brave left-side-of-the-road driving) and marveled at the rolling countryside and farm life everywhere. Our cottage is absolutely stunning- very similar looking to Rosehill Cottage in The Holiday (anyone who knows me knows that I watch that movie no less than 8 times a year). It’s super cozy, and the landlords are very nice. The apartment is called The Honeycomb Cottage (on Air BnB).
On Monday, we started the day with breakfast at “The Lavender Bakehouse.” In honor of my dear British friend Sarah, I had scrambled eggs on toast (her late night snack of choice). We drove through the countryside to Bath, which was a beautiful little town with a LOT of history. We visited the Roman Baths, drank some very mineraly mineral water, had some delicious pizza for lunch, and ended the day on the Pulteney Bridge. Interestingly enough, this bridge is one of 4 in the world to have rows of shops on both sides (one of the others being Florence’s Ponte Vecchio, and the similarities were not lost on me). One of the best examples of Georgian architecture. We also visited the beautiful Bath Abbey, which was absolutely incredible.
We are heading in town to a local pub tonight; looking for hearty food and live music!
April 17, 2018
To London via Stonehenge
We ended our time in The Cotswolds by having one more delish breakfast at The Lavender Bakehouse. Easily could go there every day! Before departing the countryside, we took a short walk on one of the canals in town. So picturesque, full of color, and scarecrows! So. Many. Scarecrows. I looked it up and of course found a ton of info on the area’s connection with them. The ones that we saw were just cool and very clever! Read more about them here: http://www.cotswolds.info/strange-things/scarecrows.shtml
We got in the car and drove a couple of hours to Stonehenge. Definitely worth seeing, but kind of eerie when you got out there. The museum was excellent and I learned a ton. I don’t remember learning much about it growing up, so it was fun!
Here it is, in short:
Prehistoric monument in Wiltshire
Stones were places in a circle formation and have to do with celestial events
Built in several stages, first henge around 5,000 B.C., and the second stage in 2,500 B.C.
Many burial mounds built nearby, not much known about the people buried there but are assumed to have been very important people
Two different types of stone used: larger are the sarsens and others bluestones
Hundreds of people had to be involved in the transportation and building process of each stone
We still don’t know why it existed
After an over 4 hour drive, we made it to our apartment. Something with this traffic feels very close to home! Our place is comfortable and central to the city. We had dinner at Barrio Shoreditch with a friend of the family named Lauren who is from here. It was fabulous to see her and we both have lots of traveling stories to catch up on soon!
Tomorrow begins the metropolitan side of our touring. Looking forward to it!
April 18, 2018
The Bard, The Messiah, The Ferryman
Today the day started with a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Since this trip is happening because of a theater event, this is fitting! The building is absolutely amazing. Not the original one, which was destroyed by fire in the Renaissance, rebuilt, and then torn down. It was rebuilt by Sam Wanamaker in 1997, using as much original material as he could. They didn’t even use modern tools, since they didn’t have those available to them back in the 1600’s. So, the entire wooden and plaster structure is held together by 9,000 hand carved wooden pegs. The thatch roof is also insanely beautiful. Since London banned thatched roofs due to the many fires in the past, they had to get massive permits and abide by many rules set forth by the fire department here. We actually took our tour while they were in rehearsals for As You Like It, so unfortunately no photography was allowed inside the theatre.
We learned SO much from our guide, and I strongly recommend this as a must-see stop in London!
Couple of my favorite tidbits:
1,000 people called “penny stinkers” paid 1 cent to get in and stood on the floor in front of the stage.
Not much staging was ever used, or even props. Dialogue set the scenes.
Going to the theatre was not allowed in Puritan London. So, the theaters were constructed outside the city, across the river. The monarchy loved going to the theatre and often invited the actors to the palace to perform.
The vibe at the Globe was like a rock concert or game; people were loud, drinking, and rowdy.
The fire started because someone thought it was a good idea to use a cannon on stage during Henry VIII in a wooden theatre and thatched roof.
The monarchy would donate their used attire for costumes for the acting company. If you were to wear them on the street, you’d be arrested.
Next: St. Paul’s Cathedral. This was right over the river and so beautiful. Many important ceremonies were had here, such as Prince Charles and Diana’s wedding, jubilee ceremonies, a massive 9/11 prayer service, and Winston Churchill’s funeral. I was a little tearful at the famous steps in front of the cathedral that hosted the “Feed the Birds” scene in Mary Poppins. The church is absolutely gorgeous with an absolute fun whisper chamber in the first level of the rotunda. After 278 steps, everyone can hear each other panting, ever so softly, across the rotunda from each other. Science is neat.
April 19, 2018
Westminster, Buckingham, Hamilton
Today we visited Westminster Abbey. This place was on the top of my list because...graves. I love visiting tombs and because I saw Handel’s house yesterday, I needed to see his resting place. There are 3,000 people buried at the abbey, so it wasn’t easy to find exactly! On my way, I was casually walking down an aisle and realized I was in “Musicians’ Row.” Elgar, Britten, and Purcell, oh my. There is something strange about walking on their stones, but in a way it is a beautiful feeling of connection. You aren’t allowed to take photographs inside the church, but I broke that rule for some of these friends.
After that, we went to the Churchill War Rooms. This is a definite top spot to visit while you’re here. The underground bunker where Churchill and his cabinet received news and took action in WWII. It was insanely cool to be in these spaces. They meticulously preserved all of the rooms. You could see even the tiny details, such as a Hitler doodle on one of the maps in his conference room. It truly felt like we were walking through history the entire time. The map room was so interesting, as well as the communication rooms. I learned that Churchhill did not like loud noises, and that was evident with a few signs around that reminded the men and women to turn off switches and not to whistle. People said that they didn’t enjoy working for him, but they were proud and inspired by their post.
We were very hungry at this point so we decided to stop for afternoon tea at the English Rose tea room. After a lot of finger food, we were stuffed and set out on the rest of the day.
We then split up and I decided to walk over to Buckingham palace. Unfortunately, I learned that we missed quite an event in the morning. Today was the beginning of a two day commonwealth meeting hosted by the royal family at the palace. Earlier in the day, musicians, dancers, the queens Calvary brigade, and a 53 gun salute filled the square at the start of the meeting. This is an annual event that the queen looks forward to hosting. I was lucky enough to see the Calvary brigade come up the mall when I was there. All of the roads were blocked off so we had a fantastic view of everything. They do not host tours of the building unless it is in late summer or early fall (when the royal family is most likely away at their summer homes). The pictures I have are as close as I got to the palace!
Before the show, I was lucky enough to meet one of Sarah‘s best friends here in London named Toral. I feel like I already knew her, and it was so good to meet in person! We sat outside in the beautiful weather and talked about how lucky we are to have such a close knit circle of friends.
Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theater was just fun. It was interesting to see the set and feel suddenly so close to home. The cast interpreted their roles well and we had our few favorites. I loved Lafayette/Jefferson and the unique spin he had on both characters. Also interesting was the blatant blocking of the somewhat romantic and intimate relationship between Hamilton and Laurens. Always peeling back the onion with this show and story!
April 20, 2018: Last Day
I started the day with a tour of Royal Albert Hall. I’m so glad I did, as this was a fantastic and fun tour of such an important musical building. Victoria decided to build this hall to memorialize Albert’s life when he did in 1861. The Hall opened in 1871 and Victoria was reported to be too overcome to speak at the event. It has a famous glass dome on top and seats just under 6,000 people. Our tour guide brought us into the box next to the Royal box. When they were building the hall, they came up with an idea to sell seats and boxes to people. Victoria was the first to buy a box, and then others followed. Apparently, the boxes sold for 100 pounds and the lease lasts for 999 years from 1867...! You cannot purchase a box through RAH now- it is all privatized sales. Apparently, one of the boxes next to the Royal box went for sale recently for £2.5 million. The Queen turns 92 tomorrow (April 21), so someone from the royal family will be occupying the box to represent the family. The tour guide said that she’s doubtful that the queen is coming herself, as they usually close the hall to tours a few days before she is expected to arrive.
The royal family has their own staircase and hospitality room. We were able to visit those areas, which was very cool. They showed us the gilded chairs that are swapped into her box on the evenings that she attends a concert.
The crown above the box distinguished her seats. Victoria chose a box slightly off center because she knew that acoustically, a seat off to the side was better for the ear. Super cool!
Kensington Gardens: I spent much of the afternoon in the gardens seeing a few landmarks that I wanted to catch. Princess Diana’s memorial fountain is beautiful. It’s a ring with running water through it, and they encourage children and families to wade in the fountain. This was to tribute her love of children.
Next was the Peter Pan statue. This was a gift by JM Barrie himself in 1860. It is beautiful and features tons of animals on the base.
I stopped at a beautiful restaurant right behind Handel’s house called Hush. Today was hot, so I gladly took a break and enjoyed a leisurely lunch and one of their speciality gin cocktails. I had to get some liquid courage before heading over to Liberty, where I was sure to drop a ton of cash! And that I did. I then explored Carnaby Street shopping and felt very thankful for being in this city on such a beautiful week.