I started out my day at Starbucks and putzed around for a while, trying to figure out a game plan for the day. I knew I wanted to end my day with a musical or play. I had seen some ads in the tube for a “witty” and “blisteringly funny” play called Other Desert Cities. I looked on their website and saw that PwC offers discount tickets, at twelve pounds, for people under 25! That sold me, so I bought my ticket online and then headed out.
I took the tube from King’s Cross to Pimlico on the Victoria line and then walked a short distance to the Tate Britain. The museum has British art through the ages and then a large collection of Turner paintings.
I started with the paintings by decade. I really liked a painting I saw of young girls holding paper lanterns. The lanterns were really bright and glowed so realistically. I saw a student replicating one of the hanging paintings. I loved a sculpture of a mother and child embracing, called “The Kiss,” sculpted by Hamo Thornycroft in 1916.
I got a 17 pound aka $30 lunch but it was good: fish and chips, grapes, apple juice, and chocolate cake. I was obsessed with apple juice during my last week after having some really good, fresh squeezed apple juice in Ireland.
I went on a guided tour on Turner and learned about his art. He loved painting Venice. Some of his later paintings weren’t finished and were put in storage. They were discovered years later, and many are now on display. I didn’t love Turner’s paintings, but it was cool to see them and to learn more about them.
We saw one with Turner’s daughters near a river. One was in the sunlight on the bank, and one was crossing the river, almost cast in darkness. This shows that she was growing up and losing her innocence.
I finished looking through the art by decade. Each decade had its own gallery. There were some big sculptures I liked. The art got more odd and contemporary as the years passed – one piece was a bunch of car doors in a circle on the ground and an elephant on the wall above, with the trunk made of car parts and ears made of maps.
There was a cool gallery called “Forgotten Faces” that displayed works that were stars of the collection in the early 20th century. There were some huge sculptures made of colorful wood and duct tape, cardboard, etc. The sculptures were as tall as the ceilings and really juxtaposed with the elegant and classy finishings. I stayed til the museum closed at 6.
I left the Tate and took some pictures of the MI6 building across the river. I walked along the river bank and crossed the Lambeth Bridge so I could get a nice view of Parliament and Big Ben. I walked along the Thames, passing the aquarium and the London Eye. So many people were out enjoying the perfect weather.
I walked along the river all the way until the Hungerford Bridge, then walked down the street and past Waterloo Station to the Old Vic Theatre. I wanted to see Waterloo, since I had read that it was kind of romantic looking, with a lot of clocks. It was pretty, but I got confused when walking past because I somehow was not on street level anymore. After I fixed that problem, I grabbed a free Evening Standard from a guy standing by the escalators so that I’d have something to read while waiting for the play to start.
The play was cool because it was performed in the round, and I was in the 4th row. This means that there were seats and audience members on each side of the stage, so you could see the performers’ facial expressions and body language very well. It was more realistic to watch, since the actors were more free to move instead of just having the fourth wall to act towards. Other Desert Cities took place in Palm Springs and it was about a family getting together for Christmas. Brother and sister come home and there’s tons of family drama with the parents and aunt. Sister had depression and has sold a novel about her childhood with famous parents – Dad was a politician with Reagan (they knew each other from acting together). Older brother committed suicide and the book is about how the sister thinks her parents didn’t help him the way they should’ve. Big reveal: he never committed suicide – the parents helped him escape his criminal charges.The play was good and worth the twelve pounds, but it was very dramatic. Obviously, it’s a play, so I should’ve expected that, but it was definitely more dramatic and stressful than funny. The whole thing kind of felt like a family affair that you were invited to but then turned sour and angry despite the fact that there was a non-family member guest there.
I bought a muffin at Waterloo (saving money after my queenly lunch) and headed back to my hostel. This was the first day of the tube strike, but it didn’t affect me, because it was early enough in the night that the lines were still open.
On Tuesday, I bought caramel waffles and raspberry apple water at Starbucks. I had my eye on the waffles for a while, since Carla loves them and Caroline had one in Amsterdam and proclaimed it “the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.” While delicious, they didn’t hold a candle to mascarpone gelato or Belgian waffles.
I took the tube to Marylebone and took a 9:42 train to Great Missenden. The station was tiny and cute – only two platforms, and almost a Martha’s Vineyard look with blue and white paint. I walked out of the station and down High Street to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre. It opened at ten. It was also perfect timing because it was closed for the previous five days for maintenance. I’m glad I got a chance to go before leaving. I checked out his book, Fantastic Mr. Fox, from my elementary school library when I was in third grade, and I thought it was awesome, and unsuccessfully told my whole class to read it. Wes Anderson made it into a movie a few years ago, and it was one of those rare instances when the movie is as good as the book!
First I walked into the “Boy” Gallery, by passing through chocolate bar doors! There were anecdotes about his childhood. He was called Boy. He was Norwegian, and the correct Norwegian pronunciation of his name is “Roo-arl.” He was a prankster and he loved sweets. He went to a private school and he mentioned candy in many of the letters he wrote to his mother and sisters. Cadbury would send chocolate to the boys at his school. They would taste it and then rate it and write their comments. One of his comments was “too subtle for the common palate,” which I think is hilarious. He put his sister up in a tree and wrapped her in pillows and then shot his pellet gun at her to see how far the bullets would penetrate. He also convinced a different sister to yell “one skin, two skin, three skin, four skin!” out of the window. There was a video clip of the sisters talking about these memories and they were still laughing about them in their 80s. One said that it was disgusting that he shot at her but the other one said “oh, it was great fun!” And the sister who counted up to four skin said not include that anecdote, but she and her sister were laughing quite a bit about it!
Next, I went in the Solo Gallery. There was a thing on the wall where you could measure your height and see which character is the same height as you. I was the same height as a human-sized duck – a little shorter than Miss Honey and Willy Wonka. Roald Dahl was on the height stick as well – he was 6’2”.
Roald Dahl wrote in a writing hut in his backyard. They completely reconstructed the interior in the museum, with all of the original objects. There were a lot of weird things on his table, including the ball joint of his femur, which was removed during hip replacement surgery.His surgeon said it was the biggest hip bone he’d ever seen. He was creative and resourceful in a way that reminded me of my grandfather. To balance his wobbly lamp, he hung a golf ball on a long piece of tape from the neck of the lamp.
Roald Dahl was a pilot in the RAF. He flew a few missions and shot down some enemy planes. He crashed in the desert and would feel pain from the crash for the rest of his life. His helmet was on display – apparently you can still see sweat stains inside. He worked in the US after the crash, trying to give a positive impression of the British military and encouraging America to join the war effort. His first children’s story, The Gremlins, earned him an invitation to the White House from Eleanor Roosevelt. He was mingling with the rich and famous – a good place to launch his writing. While in the US, he met and married Hollywood actress Patricia Neal. They moved to Great Missenden in 1954.
In the story centre, I saw some of the props from Fantastic Mr. Fox. Mr. Fox’s office was modeled after Dahl’s writing hut. The story centre was basically a creative space for kids to explore and make stuff. There was a cute, crazy group of schoolchildren there.
At the gift shop, I bought a postcard of a pig reading and a combined book of Boy (about his childhood) and Going Solo (about his time in Africa). There were Wonka gates outside the courtyard. Warner Brothers offered the original gates from the 2005 movie, but they were too big, so they donated a replica instead.
Another awesome feature of the museum was a pamphlet of Dahl’s “village trail” with a little map that led you to places Roald Dahl wrote about and was inspired by! First, I walked down High Street, turned left on Church Street and then right on Church Lane, and walked up a hill and over the highway to the Church of St. Peter and Paul. Roald Dahl was buried in the cemetery here. There were giant footsteps left by the BFG (his character the Big Friendly Giant). The walk to and from the cemetery was so picturesque. It was the quintessential English countryside. Brick homes, flowers, slightly overrun greenery. It was breathtaking.
On High Street, I saw the butchery where Dahl used to go and Crown House, the inspiration for Sophie’s “norphanage” in The BFG. I also saw the petrol pumps that inspired the description of the garage in Danny the Champion of the World.
I got lunch in a pub called The Cross Keys and wrote out my pig postcard to my grandma. I mailed it at the post office on the village trail map. The office received hundreds of sacks of mail every year from Dahl’s fans all around the world. The postman would deliver up to 4000 letters a week, and they continue to arrive.
Lastly, I went in the library. It caught my eye earlier because of its architecture. It reminded me a bit of a library near my house. The library in Great Missenden was built in 1970 and it’s the library Matilda visits in the book Matilda. I bought a really cute tote bag that says “love your library” for only one pound.
I went in a few cute shops along the street while I passed the time until my 3:19 train back to London. I bought two Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bars. I wanted one for the train ride and there was a deal for two…I saved the second one and ate it a few weeks after returning to the US. So yummy!
The train station was also on the village trail. The station dates from 1892. Dahl wrote a leaflet telling children how they could stay safe on and around railways. The Roald Dahl Museum was so cute and really interesting, and it inspired me to read more of his stories. Now that I’m home, I’ve read Matilda and Boy. I agree with some online commenters who seem smitten with Dahl – Boy is full of interesting anecdotes told in a very charming way.
I got into Marylebone at 4:05 and took the tube to Charing Cross. I wanted to get off at Covent Garden or Leicester Square, but the tube strike threw me off. I went to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square and bought a ticket to see War Horse for 25 pounds. I still had a few hours before the show, so I looked at a temporary gallery at the National Portrait Gallery called The Great War in Portraits. Most chilling were the plain, simple shots of regular people and the before/after shots of men whose faces were ruined by bullets or gas attacks. I left at 5:30 and planned on eating at The Cafe in the Crypt, which is a restaurant in the crypts of St Martin of the Fields. My awesome finance professor at CIMBA recommended it to me. When I got there, about five minutes later, I saw a sign that said that the cafe was taking the last dinner orders at 5:30 so they could close at 6 for a special meeting. And its sister cafe, Cafe in the Courtyard, was also closing early. The one day I go!! On the list for next time!
I got some mediocre pasta at a place called Bella Italia (thinking it was a place I had read about on my map, which was actually Ciao Bella) and then walked to the National Theatre to see War Horse. It was really good. The puppets were incredible, even from my seat in the last row of the theater. As my mom promised, I did cry a few times – including when the baby horse rose up on its legs and then the magnificent, bigger horse ran out.
I wasn’t sure which stations would be closed due to the tube strike (definitely one of the times I’ve wished for a smartphone abroad), so I walked a bit to Tottenham Court Road (which always makes me think of Harry Potter, because it’s where Hermione leads Ron and Harry after they escape from Bill and Fleur’s wedding). I made it back to the hostel and showered and got in bed for my last sleep in Europe – in preparation for a long day of travelling ahead!