Whenever someone asks me how London was I have two responses. First, "It was the best trip of my life." Second, "It was life-changing." I have been meaning to write this blog for quite some time now but I couldn't begin to wrap my head fully around what I had just experienced. I am not sure I can really articulate it in a way it deserves, but I am going to try.
Go Learn is a relatively new travel program at the University of Utah. The goal is to combine educational with travel, in order to enrich the travel experience. They were the coordinators of this trip. Two U of U Theatre Department instructors (Tim Slover and Jane England) led the trip. I wasn't sure I would love traveling in such a large group (25 total). I certainly wasn't sure I wanted to go on a trip where the majority of the time was spelled out for you. Turns out I was wrong on both accounts. Visiting a massive city like London for the first time is overwhelming. Tim and Jane made it seamless. They arranged EVERYTHING. And I really do mean everything. I often think about all of the time I have wasted in other cities, trying to plan out my day, navigate the transportation system, find a place to eat, etc. Tim and Jane made it so easy. They booked a beautiful boutique hotel, made reservations at incredible restaurants throughout the 10 days (they could also have called this trip the London Foodie trip), we had tickets for 9 plays - and not just tickets but the best seats! When we had free time they were ready to give us suggestions of what to do. But, the best part of Tim and Jane was having their knowledge of London. Each tourist site was a university mini-lesson. We didn't just walk through Westminster Abbey, we engulfed it. We learned why it was first built, we not only saw the coronation chair but we learned the history of the chair. We even got special behind-the-scenes opportunities (we actually saw Edward the Confessors tomb - which the general public does not see). We went to a Sunday morning church service at the Tower of London. Seriously, in the same chapel that Anne Boleyn is buried! Who does that!?
We walked through the British National Gallery where we didn't just look at art, we would stop at certain pieces and discuss the symbolism/background of those pieces for 10-15 minutes. One of the best parts of the trip was the passion and excitement that Jane and Tim radiated. The first evening we were there, we went on a walking tour. We took the tube and before we walked up the stairs to exit the station Time said, "Humor me. Keep your eyes down. We are going to walk up the subway stairs, turns to the left and gather as a group. Don't look up. Just keep your head down until I say so." We all chuckled but went along. When we finally got to look up - there was Big Ben towering over us in a breathtaking manner.
We spent a day at Oxford, where we had "very high-tea."
We also had a private viewing of one of Shakespeare's first folios. Seriously. Again, who does that!? Every experience was perfectly thought-out, thought provoking and delightful. I found myself just giggling with excitement.
We began each day by about 8 or 9am and wouldn't return to the hotel until nearly midnight. We walked an average of 3-7 miles a day. It was exhausting and exhilarating! Of course, because I was traveling with Anne, we spent the majority of our free time shopping. OMG. Carnaby Street, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street, Portabello Road, Fortnam & Mason, and my favorite Cath Kidston (spirit store). Oh I loved it all.
Now, this was a theatre tour and we did see a TON of plays. Each was wonderful and different. We saw a play called, "A Man of Good Hope" from a South African troupe. We spent all-day Saturday at the National Theatre seeing 3 (yes 3) Chekhov plays. That was an experience, a nearly 8-hour experience but the acting was unreal.While I would likely never choose to sit through 3 Chekhov plays again, it was an experience and I don't regret it one bit!
I saw Sir Patrick Stewart, and Sir Ian McKellen in "No Man's Land" and got their autographs after! Can you believe it? 4th row watching these two giants of acting!
We also had the honor of seeing "The Merchant of Venice" at the Globe Theatre. This may have been my favorite day of the entire trip. There is something just so magical about seeing a Shakespeare play in that theatre. A large portion of the audience stands. The acting was perfection, Jonathan Pryce played Shylock! I just cried over the entire thing.
For me the real highlight of the plays was seeing "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child."
I can't really put into words how remarkable this play was. First, to be thrown back into the world of Harry Potter, something I have missed terribly the last 5+ years, was like coming home. I loved being reunited with my old friends. Yet, the story was fresh and interesting. The effects were really the highlight for me. Polyjuice potion, duels, time-turners, transfiguration! My friend Tasha sat next to me and we kept gasping and clutching at each other through the entire play. We laughed, we sobbed, we awed. It was incredible.
Finally we saw, "Father Comes Home from the Wars", a Civil War era play. Also amazing.
Honestly they were all incredible. So different and wonderful. But again, the thing that really added to the experience were the theater chats that we would have before each play. So when we sit through an existentialist play written by Harold Pinter we can say, "we aren't supposed to understand everything that is happening. Just listen in on their conversation, like you would listening in on the couple at the next table at a restaurant." Plus, after you see this level of art, you want to talk about it after. I didn't think I would love this part of the trip, but I did. I loved every stimulating conversation.
Now I only want to travel with Go Learn! Honestly if I had more expendable income I would go somewhere once a year with them. It was truly a life-changing experience. I've thought a lot about why I felt it was so powerful to me. I think a large part of it was just completely immersing myself in the world of London for 10 days. For the first time in nearly 5-years I was able to let my hair down. I was able to sleep uninterrupted. For 10 days I didn't cook a meal, wash a dish, change a diaper, argue with Millie or hold a fussy Matilda. For 10 days I was swimming in history, art, shopping, food, adult conversations. I was so worried about leaving my girls for such a long time. I thought after 3-4 days that I would miss them painfully. But I didn't! I really feel like I found a lost piece of myself again. I am more than just a wife and mother. I'm passionate and curious. I am wild and unruly.
I often joke with my mom that she would rather replace her carpet, or build a new deck and I would rather travel for that same cost. I feel like travel isn't just a 10-day experience. It shapes you. It changes you. It opens your eyes to other cultures and experiences. I would spend all of my money traveling if I could.
Samuel Johnson said, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life." London is spectacular! I am counting the days to when I can go back, and take my husband and daughters with me. My heart belongs in this city. So rich in history, so vibrant with people. Just lovely.
Til' we meet again.