Saturday, November 14, 2009

Europe Becomes More Fabulous

My friend, Modern Fabulousity, leaves Monday on a European adventure, with stops in London, Bulgaria and Romania. It's a swift trip—he's in Bulgaria and Romania for just a few days on theater business* and he's got a scant 24 hours in London. I'm selfishly hoping that he won't tucker himself out every day so that he can share with us some highlights of the sights, sounds and smells he encounters in his travels.

In his post announcing the trip, he asked for suggestions of non-touristy things to do and see in London. Being an inveterate coffee overachiever, I ignored the fact that he's only in town for a day and that he's already got tickets for a play (and, based on the website banner alone, ModFab was destined to be at this performance); I spat out a list of theaters and museums that I most want to revisit the next time I'm in London. Fortunately, he's got Fabbers galore there who can give him more appropriate advice on what he can do in less than a day (I imagine that even ModFab would be slightly less Fab—but no less Mod—if he goes 24 hours without sleep after a 7-hour plane ride... however, he might very well surprise me).

So now that I've calmed myself down and cut back to just one cup a day, my mind is clear enough to answer: where would I go in London if I had only one day?

In every city we visit, Catherine and I wind up in a museum (and often in two or three, when we can). London's Tate Modern has a fantastic collection of modern art (our preference) and the repurposed power station that houses it is, by itself, a spectacular experience; however, it's not a short visit: we generally limit ourselves to three hours at a museum—otherwise, we'd never get to see anything else—but this was one of a couple of times we could easily have gone much longer. On our last trip, we loved The Dalí Universe (a much smaller and, obviously, more specific collection) and were able to breeze through The British Library's rare books and manuscripts exhibits and sample a few of the audio recordings by famous Britons in about 90 minutes.

London, like New York, is a theatre-lovers paradise: both times we've visited, we saw a performance every single day. The artists' collective, Shunt, is a current favorite and, coincidentally, they have a piece running now. When we saw their production, Tropicana, they were performing in the vaults of the London Bridge; their latest project, Money, is being presented in a 3-story tobacco warehouse nearby and sounds like it's as awe-inspiring as the show we saw. We've also seen a couple of excellent productions at the ICA on The Mall; based on their website, they appear to be focusing more on music and film than theatre at the moment. While I might go for a concert if I'm only in a town for a day, I doubt I'd make the time for a movie, even one I might not be able to see on a big screen here in the U.S., but I might go for a nightcap at their bar.

In terms of food and drink, I'm afraid I can make better recommendations for Philadelphia than I can for London. I'm not referring to the old saw that English food sucks (I don't personally find it to be true) but to the fact that we visit Philly pretty regularly and have only been to London twice. Our friend, Andrew, and his partner, Pano, took us to a place near their home on Drury Lane that, according to Google maps, is called My Old Dutch but I don't think that's what it was in 2004. Most of the restaurants we've frequented in London have either been pubs or, on our last visit, chain restaurants. However, that was also the trip that we stumbled into the Punch Tavern on Fleet Street, where we were served a hot meal and a tasty pint or two that compensated pretty well for the cold and rainy afternoon outside. A local might certainly know the better kept secrets in the neighborhood but after pushing past one Pizza Express or Pret a Manger after another, it was absolutely perfect for us.

One of the joys of London, or any other large metropolis, is that just walking around the city is entertaining. Not only is it an inexpensive way to take in the sites but it's a great opportunity to see how people go about their daily lives; it's sort of the reverse of what I do in New York as I walk around and watch tourists enjoying my city. I'm not a shopper, so going into stores doesn't much interest me; but I always enjoy looking in windows, seeing what things cost and what makes it into a shop display. The one exception to this rule would be book stores, which I dearly love—especially used books. Unfortunately, the many book sellers that once populated Charing Cross Road have begun disappearing in recent years; still, there are enough specialty and antique stores remaining to make it worth an hour out of the day to wander the few short blocks between Charing Cross station and Leicester Square.

Those are my highlights for a day in London. Given a little more prep time and the proper guide book, I could probably come up with dozens more and better options; these are the ones that occur to me immediately. Perhaps I can convince my more widely-traveled friend, Caroline, to contribute her thoughts on this and other cities.

*I hope, of course, that he'll get to spend more of his time meeting other artists and actually watching performances than listening to panel discussions about theater. I find, invariably, that the person who gets to say the least on a panel is the one whose opinion I find most interesting. And don't get me started on the audience members: I dread the moment when the moderator "opens it up for questions:" this is code for "whoever gets the floor may now force us all to hear why they could have been on this panel, too."

Now you know why I made this a footnote: I can go on and on about why I'm not a fan of theater panel discussions.

1 comment:

Caroline said...

Oh, I'm so behind on my posts! I have two whole trips to write about and about to have a third. Ack!

I can wholeheartedly recommend Liberty of London. My favorite store in the world - and that means something because I can really shop. It's a gorgeous place - lovely wares, tons of fabric (their specialty), all in a beautiful, original Tudor building.

Oh, how I love London. I'm like a stalky ex all over that place.