Travel Series: London Town

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“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” –Samuel Johnson

London is definitely one of those cities I will visit as many times as I can in my life. From the lively theatre scene in the West End to the cultural significance of Westminster to the grand tradition of afternoon tea, the sights and sounds of this historic city captivated my heart. Being an English major and a lifelong fan of British lit, I was truly inspired.

Like last week’s travel post on Paris, this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide; instead I’ll be sharing specific insights, experiences, and things that I enjoyed. Also, in honor of the Royal Wedding this weekend, I will be sharing our visit to Windsor Castle, which is where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be married.

Theatre

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First of all, it had always been bucket list for me to see a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (pictured above). We saw Much Ado About Nothing and absolutely loved it (for more info on this play, check out my first blog post).

A bit of advice: I studied quite a bit of Shakespeare in college, whereas my husband, who majored in the sciences, hadn’t been exposed to any Shakespeare since high school. So in order to prepare for the play, we read it together before our trip and also watched the Kenneth Branagh film adaptation. Since Elizabethan English is quite different from modern English, I highly recommend doing this, unless you’re a Shakespeare expert or quite familiar with the play you’re going to see.

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We also saw Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre and Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Both musicals are longtime favorites of mine. I admit that I cried at the end of Les Mis, despite that I know the story and songs very well. And though I’d seen Phantom live in the US on four previous occasions, it was an entirely new experience to sit under the famous chandelier when it drops.

We would’ve loved to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as well, and even though we tried to buy tickets months and months in advance, they are so hard to get! However, we did have a magical (pun intended!) Harry Potter experience at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour.

Harry Potter Studio Tour

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Growing up, I was a Harry Potter fanatic (hmmm where was my Hogwarts letter?). When each new installment was published, my parents would drive me at midnight to a nearby bookstore so I could be among the first to read the latest book (I would definitely be a Ravenclaw).

Anyway, visiting the gorgeous sets where the Harry Potter movies were filmed made me feel like I was ten years old again and seeing the movie for the very first time. They truly transport you to the Wizarding World and beautifully illustrate how the costumes, sets, and special effects make the magic come alive. Allow at least three hours here, especially because the line to get into the Great Hall, where the tour begins, can get quite long (even if you purchased tickets in advance like we did).

Pictured below is my husband staring up at the huge, intricate model of Hogwarts, which is what they used to film many of the panoramic shots of the castle.

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If you’re even a moderate fan of the Harry Potter universe, I still think you would enjoy this; if you’re like myself and are a Hermione-level expert of all things Harry Potter, then this is a must.

Westminster

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The area of Westminster includes the famous sites of Buckingham Palace, Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey.

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In addition to watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, we were able to tour inside the State Rooms (no photos allowed inside, unfortunately). From late July through September you can purchase tickets for this tour. I’ve heard that the dates can vary slightly from year-to-year, based on the Queen’s summer travel plans (since it’s available to tour when she’s on holiday elsewhere). For more up-to-date info visit the Royal Collection Trust’s website.

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We purchased our Westminster Abbey tickets in advance and greatly enjoyed visiting this iconic church. When I was in college, Prince William and Kate Middleton were married there, and I remember staying up late to watch the beautiful ceremony and marvel at Kate’s stunning Alexander McQueen gown. I also very much enjoyed “Poet’s Corner,” where many renowned writers, poets, and playwrights have been buried or memorialized (Shakespeare, for example, has a monument there, though he was buried in his hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon).

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The telephone booths in this area are also ideal for photo-ops!

Shopping at Harrods and Afternoon Tea

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Simply put, Harrods is shopping heaven. The exterior particularly dazzles at nighttime and beckons one inside to the opulent grandeur. Their gift shop is also a great spot to bring home souvenirs for yourself and for loved ones.

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My husband and I had afternoon tea at The Georgian, an elegant restaurant inside Harrods. I’ve always been more of a tea drinker than coffee, so this was a special treat for me (also: Pink champagne! Tea sandwiches! Pastries! Yay!). We booked our tea time on their website several days prior so we could get the exact time we wanted.

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Windsor

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This 11th century castle feels like something out of a fairy tale, and is one of the Queen’s official residences. We visited first thing in the morning when it opens and really enjoyed wandering the beautiful grounds and touring the State Apartments.

This Saturday Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be married at Windsor inside St. George’s Chapel. I will definitely be staying up late to watch it on TV, and I can’t wait to see her wedding gown!

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What to Pack

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Red Top: Pleione (similar here and here) Black Ponte Pants: Jolt (similar)  Striped Shirt: H&M (similar)  Lace Top: Rose and Olive (similar here and here)  Trench Coat: Ellen Tracy (similar here and here)  Bag: Longchamp Small Le Pliage Tote  Scarf: Burberry (similarUmbrella: Burberry (same style, but in red)  Sunglasses: Ray-Ban Clubmaster

As I’ve mentioned in my previous travel posts, staying within a neutral color palette is my personal preference for packing versatile outfits. Adding a dash of color helps mix things up (red and maroon tones always look great with black, white, and beige, as illustrated above).

The other way to add interest to an outfit is with textures and prints (lace and stripes are classics). For London, I brought both my Burberry scarf and umbrella, as the iconic print evokes timeless British style. Given their cloudy, damp climate, a water-resistant trench coat is vital.

P.S. Just wanted to mention that I had such a wonderful time viewing the rare books and manuscripts at the British Library Treasures (they have a copy of the Magna Carta, a Gutenberg Bible, Shakespeare’s First Folio, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and many other historical texts). If you’re a bookworm like me, this was a real treat.

I didn’t discuss any of the London museums we’ve visited, but the British Museum and the National Gallery are especially stunning and overwhelming. If you enjoy history, give yourself as much time as you can at the British Museum in particular. It’s MASSIVE. Next time I would really like to spend longer there.

(The photo below was taken just a few blocks from the National Gallery. I couldn’t resist a picture with those beautiful flowers!)

Are you going to be tuning in to the Royal Wedding this weekend? Let me know in the comments! Hope you all have a great week!

Seize the Day, Rain or Shine

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When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be
by John Keats
When I have fears that I may cease to be 
   Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain, 
Before high-piled books, in charactry, 
   Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain; 
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face, 
   Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance, 
And think that I may never live to trace 
   Their shadows with the magic hand of chance; 
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour, 
   That I shall never look upon thee more, 
Never have relish in the faery power 
   Of unreflecting love—then on the shore 
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think 
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

I’ll be honest—I was never much into poetry when I was growing up. I was an avid reader, but I primarily stuck to fiction. But as a freshman in college I was introduced to English Romanticism and the poet John Keats, and I finally understood. Something about his writing resonated—the imagery, the language, his youth and melancholy. He was immensely talented (many critics have compared his lyrical writing quality to that of Shakespeare), but he died at such a young age that he was never fully recognized for his prowess until after his passing.

This sonnet is prophetic in that regard—Keats has not yet contracted the tuberculosis that will eventually claim his life, but he’s nevertheless fearful that he won’t reach his potential in his lifetime. He doesn’t know it when he writes this of course, but we know it now—he’ll never marry his love, and he’ll never see his poems become a success, making his words even more bittersweet.

Yet what moves me most is that palpable fear he expresses of not having enough time. I love that metaphor in line 2: “before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain.” His mind is full of all these thoughts and dreams and ideas, and his pen has yet to extract them.

This fear Keats harbors is an age-old one, for isn’t it something that we all fight against? Time–and not having enough of it.

I wrote in my first post that I’d finally reached a point where the fear of doing nothing outweighed the fear of failure. I kept asking myself, “what are you waiting for?” If you wait for the timing to be perfect–whether it’s launching a website, or starting a new job, or taking that bucket list trip–you might be waiting forever.

Some might read this sonnet in terms of sorrow and tragedy; for me, it inspires the exact opposite. It’s carpe diem in its most eloquent form, and it inspires me to be grateful for each day and to spend it on the people and things that matter to me.

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As spring inches near, I’ll admit that I’m dreaming of sunshine and blue skies… Here in Portland, March still means scattered showers, giant puddles, and temperamental downpours. As a native Oregonian, I’ve learned to embrace the unpredictable climate with timeless and durable rain attire. Some of my favorites I took with me to another cloudy city across the pond: London Town! It’s been exactly 6 months since my husband and I were there, and every time I pull out my Burberry umbrella, I’m transported back.

28340112_unknownCoat: Ellen Tracy (similar here and here)  Boots: Blondo  Purse: Longchamp  Umbrella: Burberry  Book: Norton Anthology of English Literature (Volume D, The Romantic Period)

Few items are classic in the way a beige trench coat is (one day I hope to purchase a Burberry version!), and this Ellen Tracy one is a tried and true fave. I’m obsessed with boots from Blondo—1) they’re always made from waterproof leather, 2) they have a range of fashionable colors and styles, and 3) they are SO comfortable! I can walk miles in any of my Blondo boots with zero pain or problems.

The Longchamp totes are great for everyday but are also amazing for travel (they pack nice and flat in your luggage too). Pictured above is the small Le Pliage shoulder tote, but I also have the large size for travel (it’s often what I bring on the plane). Whether you’re in Portland or London or another rainy location, these totes are especially practical in wet weather because the nylon is so resistant to moisture.

P.S. Before anyone teases me for being an Oregonian and owning an umbrella—something that locals often claim is a faux pas—I will say this: when you trudge miles from your dorm at Barnhart to the opposite corner of the U of O campus or trek 20+ blocks in downtown Portland on work errands, an umbrella is truly a MUST.