There’s a switch that flips in my brain when I arrive in London. My vocabulary flips, my accent shifts – I trade Canadian English for British English without even thinking about it.
I used to live here, years ago, but I’ve lost the instinctive grasp of the city that once made me a Londoner. I can no longer navigate the tube stations without having to look at the signage, no longer judge travel times with just a glance at the tube map, can’t plan my trip without the map in the first place.
So on Thursday, my first full day in London – and for which I had no real plans – I got off the tube in Covent Garden and spent the day getting reacquainted with some old stomping grounds.
This was outside a restaurant near Leicester Square, and it tickled me enough to take a photo of it – London in a nutshell!
During my wander, I discovered the BFI London Film Festival is on at the moment, so I lingered in Leicester Square flipping through the guide in case there was anything I was desperate to see. In the end, I got elbowed out of the way so the theatre crew could set up barricades and a red carpet for the evening’s premiere of Foxcatcher, starring Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, and Vanessa Redgrave. I decided my hatred of pushy crowds outweighed my need to ogle celebrities, so I headed off.
On my way out of the square, though, I wandered through a small knot of people and cameras and realized I was standing next to John Hurt.
I stopped in to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square to spend some time with Monet and Van Gogh and Seurat (and left with “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George by Stephen Sondheim lodged in my head). The gallery is one of my favourite ways to kill time when I’m in central London, although it was much busier on Thursday than I was expecting. I had assumed that in late October the tourist crowds would have thinned. Silly me.
I love the Thames at dusk. It feels peaceful and timeless and welcoming. My friend Dario had joined me at the gallery and we wandered together across Hungerford Bridge to the south bank, around Waterloo station and over to the Old Vic, where we managed to score tickets for Monday night to see Elektra, starring Kristin Scott Thomas. I’m so excited! (Particularly since the guy at the cheap tickets booth in Leicester Square had told me it was sold out.) I worked on a production of Elektra a few years ago and it was one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had in the theatre. And since I’m heading to Greece in a couple of weeks – with a particular yen to learn as much as I can about Greek theatre while I’m there – it’s even thematically appropriate.
We ate dinner in a lovely Turkish restaurant near the theatre – red lentil soup, hummus and flatbread, kofte and couscous, yum! – then wandered back toward Waterloo along the south bank. I lived in Blackfriars within spitting distance of St. Paul’s for a couple of months while I was with the circus. Between that and reading far too much Connie Willis, I have an enormous fondness for the cathedral, so we wandered out onto a pier to take photos. (That’s the dome of the cathedral poking up above Blackfriars Bridge.)
By that point I was ready to fall over, so we headed home to collapse in front of new episodes of QI.