Yesterday, I slept late. I made a nice breakfast and thought I’d go out and do some sketching in a cafe somewhere. On Friday night I’d walked by a tea shop that looked very cute, and was thinking about checking that out. I was going to lay low and enjoy a relaxing day.
It occurred to me that afternoon that I ought to check the Royal Opera House website. They have performances at least once a month, so I just wanted to find out what’s on for February. I poke around for a few minutes and realize that there was actually a performance that night. There was one ticket left, for 45 GPB. I called the box office to find out if there were any student discounts, but there aren’t. I decided to get it anyway. It’s expensive, sure, but how many times will I have the chance to just jet off to London and see a show?
I went to actually purchase the ticket and it turned out I’d waited too long. It had been sold, the performance was sold out. In denial, I hit the refresh button several times hoping it was some kind of glitch.
Then, suddenly, two more tickets were available. For only 10 GBP. Surely this was too good to be true. The ticket was for standing stalls, and came with the disclaimer “Not suitable for persons of short stature.” I considered this for a moment, then bought the ticket.
This was at approximately 3:30 in the afternoon, and the performance was at 7:00. I briefly considered dressing up, but realized I didn’t have time. I strapped on my tall shoes and ran out the door. The show that I had spontaneously decided to see was called Eugene Onegin, which I had never heard of before. But I was excited. I quickly made a sandwich for the train (which I thought was very clever) and ran out the door.
I was at the train station by 4. I was on a train by 4:20, and in London by 5:45. I actually met a really nice girl on the train. She also goes to university in Brighton, but she attends Sussex University. London is home for her, so she was jus headed back for the weekend to see her family. We got along quite well and we live pretty near each other, so we planned to see each other again.
Once in London, she was going in the same direction as I was on the tube. It was as crowded as I’d ever seen it. We couldn’t make it on the first train, and barely made it onto the second. We couldn’t get to anything to hold onto, but it was literally so tightly packed that everyone was held up. Beth, my newfound friend, said that although it was rush hour this was far from typical.
We also both needed to transfer onto the same train, and although she got off first I made it the rest of the way quite alright on my own. At Covent Square, my final stop, I skipped past the elevators to take the stairs. Who knows how long the wait would have been for a lift with those kinds of crowds. I start up a spiral staircase, and continue to walk upwards for what felt like forever. I looked it up later and found that there were exactly 193 steps. It was brutal.
The Royal Opera House website recommends arriving 30 minutes before the performance. I showed up about 40 minutes beforehand. It was quite nice because it gave me time to look around without feeling rushed. I bought a program. It was 7 GBP, almost as much as my ticket (ha!) but well worth it. It’s a wonderful souvenir, and pretty great in its own right. It’s basically a paper back book about the performance. It’s fascinating.
The opera, Eugene Onegin, was loosely based on a Pushkin novel. The program describes the story of how the opera was written, gives historical context, excerpts from the Pushkin story, lots of photos, and a little about the concept of the set design. The set was really incredible, and was very heavily influenced by Richter paintings. It made me think quite a bit about the paintings that I wanted to do this semester.
The other perk of arriving early is that I was one of the first into the actual theatre. I was able walk around a little bit and get some good photos.
I also befriended the usher. I convinced him to take a photo of me, which is technically against the rules. Also, my assigned standing spot was right next to the door where he stood. We chatted about the opera and how sweet his job is. He gets to see the opera, the ballet, and tomorrow he works during the UK version of The Oscars which is hosted there.
I really enjoyed the opera. The music was great. Standing was fine. They have a railing for you to lean on if you want. The second act, the people sitting in front of me pointed out an empty seat next to them for me to take.
After the opera, Marcus (the usher) and I decided to go get a drink and continue our chat. Very responsibly, I checked the train time table so that I wouldn’t end up in another Galway situation. It’s always really exciting to be in London, and even the bars here are incredibly different. They all seem to have chandeliers, old carpets, wood paneling, antique furniture and upstairs lounges. The first place we went to closed at about half 11, so we relocated to a place nearer the train station.
At this point though, we had gotten so busy talking (about opera, movies, my boyfriend, American vs UK universities) that by the time we looked at the clock again, I’d missed my train by nearly 20 minutes.
Marcus lives in London with his family, and they have two spare rooms. His parents are from Peru, but he and his sister were born in London. It seemed like the best thing to do at that point was to stay there for the night and head back to Brighton the next day. The tube had stopped running by that point, so we took a double decker bus as far as we could and walked the rest of the day.
The neighborhood was awesome. It was right by one of London’s largest parks, Hampstead Heath. It reminded me a little of home: the houses weren’t all stuck together. His house itself felt even more like home. It was a very cool layout and very tall. Their kitchen was really modern, but it felt really familiar. His mom is a caterer. They have a kitchenaid mixer, a huge fridge, a dishwasher… All things I haven’t seen since home. Their washing machine wasn’t even in the kitchen! And, perhaps most strangely, they have a parakeet in their kitchen who is identical to Charlie Parker.
Napoleon the parakeet is much friendlier than Charlie P. He actually seems like he really likes people. If you put your thumb up, he nuzzles up against it and fluffs out his little feathers. He’s so cute. He has an odd habit of vomiting when you hold him, which is so strange. It’s not as gross as it sounds. It’s affectionate, the way birds regurgitate food to feed one another. It doesn’t come out gross like people puke, it’s just one or two little whole seeds. But yeah, very weird little bird.
It wasn’t really that late, so we watched a few episodes of a British comedy he’d been telling me about. It’s like a period drama, but very dark and absolutely hysterical. Not appropriate for children. It’s only one season long, and if you can find it I would definitely recommend it. It’s called Hunderby.
Marcus’s uncle was in the guest bedroom so I slept in his sister’s room. She’s actually a painter, and she’s away right now at university. I couldn’t help but notice some awesome books she had laying around, one in particular about Gerhard Richter.
The next morning around 9, Marcus knocked on the door and I got up. We took his very cute dog on a walk around Hampstead Heath, which I had really wanted to see anyway but probably would have never made it all the way out to on my own. It was raining and my heels aren’t the best for wet and mud, but the effect of the weather was gorgeous. It just felt so English! From the top of a hill, you saw an old neighborhood and a church steeple in one direction and the London City Skyline in the other. It was awesome.
We finished the rest of Hunderby. Again, I would highly recommend it. We rode the tube together for a short way, but he was headed to work and I was headed to Victoria. I handled my train transfer on my own this time. I’m slowly learning how to get around.
At Victoria, I learned that Sunday tickets are expensive. Unlike every other day of the week, they don’t go down in price later in the day. There’s also no student discount. So that was a bummer. I’d bought a round trip ticket the day before and didn’t use it, and paid far more than that for my one-way home. I think it was worth it, though. I’m excited to have another contact in London. We made plans for Thursday to go to the Tower of London, The National Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery, and the Tate Modern. It’s ambitious, but I’m excited to give it a shot.
It felt reeeeeally good to finally be back in Brighton, shower, change my clothes and relax. The walk back from the train station was miserable: cold, rainy, and dark. I would have killed for my rainboots. I made it back to Brighton safe and sound once again. Yesterday was not quite the quiet day I had expected, three times over. I guess that’s the really exciting thing about being abroad, though. The hardest part was getting to England. I already took the leap. Everything else is easy after that… I’m here to have adventures.