London: My Winter’s Tale

London has been more than just an entry and exit point for me during the past five weeks. I landed at Gatwick on the 7th of December and was met at Victoria Station by the lovely Olivia. It can mean so much to see a familiar face at the start of your travels waiting for you and to my dearest friends Olivia and George, you are like my family.

Christmas at Covent GardenThose first few days required little adjustment – within 24 hours I had my Oyster card, a UK number and – most importantly, a home. The next day was a theatre filled day, beginning with a meeting with Tilly Lunken whose pantomime script I was directing that afternoon at the Actors Centre and involved rehearsing and exploring the script. A day spent with theatre makers and the opportunity to watch four different readings in one night – what better way to spend a magical Sunday? And before all that I managed to get to mass at Westminister Cathedral, which was indeed a most excellent way to start my day. And it ended with drinks at the Two Brewers and dinner at Jo Allen’s with Olivia!

The next few days were walking days mostly for me, I wandered through parks and avenues, Buckingham Palace, visited museums including the London museum & the Welcome Collection, the British library (where I spent hours listening to all the medieval audio excerpts) and scrutinize the Magna Carter and of course visit the templar Church which for any lover of medieval history is simply magic.

At Buckingham PalaceI also managed to catch up with my lovely friend Aimee (Stage Manager on Fools from UCLA days) after becoming very well acquainted with most of the theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue aka I got utterly lost; had breakfast in Picadilly with Shaoli (debating colleague from school days) and was introduced to the delights of Oxford Street by Stuart ( a friend of my big sister Talei Smith).

This, what I call in retrospect my first instalment of London, was very much a process of getting acquainted with the many ‘london’s’ that jostle simultaneously within the same space and was thanks to the generosity of my friends (and the fact that I love walking everywhere even in winter) was a very personalized and special experience.

One of my favourite memories is on Saturday night wandering past winter wonderland in Hyde parka and strolling past the Thames. There was no chance of waiting for twilight hours (it gets dark at 4pm) and since it was too cold to sit still a brisk pace was more of a necessity than a luxury – but there was something quite unique about being relatively alone, in a huge city, echoes of children’s laughter floating on the icy waves that people would puff out as they sauntered towards the bright lights, and the swans swimming in that eerily dark and deep water, a chamber of histories and memories; that was very special and one of my first and most distinct recollections.

Beautiful Lake DistrictOn Thursday, after spending a chock-full five whole days in capital city, I flew to Vienna (and you can read all about my travels here) and then nine days later with a day spent in Budapest (read more here) I returned back to London via Heathrow. For anyone who thought I was silly to fly into Gatwick instead of Heathrow, you obviously are not travelling alone with 40kgs worth of stuff. Luckily my supreme organization (and lessons learned in China) meant that whenever I travelled from London I only carried a small suitcase and a bag. Even so, up and down stairs, and travelling on the tube crammed full of people on the Saturday before Christmas was not fun!

Sunday was a day of recover having travelled by train from Budapest to Vienna, train from Vienna Meidling to the airport and then a flight to London all within eight hours. The next day I experienced the wonder of travelling by British Rail from London up to Lancaster (via Nuneaton) and a four hour journey which took six hours but which was nevertheless much better than expected as I got upgraded to first class for free! However, the fun and games really started when it was discovered that some hooligans had vandalised and the signals and the train had to stop for almost an hour (as did all trains heading up north) before we could commence our journey – you can just imagine being trapped on a train on Christmas eve not knowing when it would move again.

CambridgeOnce more, seeing Olivia’s delightful face was never a more welcome sight. And this time she had her two sisters with her who also came to pick me up form the station. Because, fortunate woman that I am, I was lucky enough to spend Christmas with Olivia’s family at the Lakes. Its always hard being away from family at Christmas time but the beauty of having friends who open their homes and hearts to you makes for a very special experience.

We had a grand time and I was so happy to be part of such a wonderful three days. On the 27th December I headed back down to London, once again on a packed train and once again managed to get into first class, so much writing was accomplished! And then for the next week I stayed in Lewisham with the most lovely Tahryn and her family who although I had never met them before (once again lovely friends of Talei) became like family!

My LondonDuring this, my second stint, I managed to cross a few more things off my wish-list which included going to see Julius Caesar at the Donmar with the fabulous Tilly Lunken, visiting the Charles Dickens museum, exploring Greenwich, spending a day in Cambridge, spending a few hours in the National Theatre bookshop and watching a show, catching up with my lovely friend Anshul in Twickenham and spending New Year’s with Tahryn and Chris. And then, barely had the New Year ticked over and I was off once more, and this time to Paris!

So far, I have spent two weeks already in London and I will return on the 23rd for a final six days before heading back to Melbourne. But in the meantime, Europe awaits!