Londontown

Last weekend we popped into London–really ended up having only one full day there, but there’s a lot you can do in one day! We took the overnight train from Kharkov to Kiev, as usual, then after waiting awhile in Kiev, flew to London and got to our hotel in the late afternoon. We had enough time to wear ourselves out walking around Hounslow, which you might remember as the setting for Bend it Like Beckham. If you haven’t seen it, please go watch it now because it’s delightful and hilarious and touching, and it features The Good Wife‘s amazing Archie Panjabi in an early and wonderfully obnoxious role.

Archie Punjabi tells off her tomboyish younger sister, played by Parminder Nagra. (Ah, sisters.)

Also, Keira Knightley is the sidekick instead of the star, which is refreshing. These gals play football/soccer for the Hounslow Harriers. I kept expecting characters from the movie to pop out of the charming little Hounslow houses as we walked around.

number 26, Hounslow, London.

Almost all the places to eat were Indian food (I’m still off it thanks to The One Night in Bangkok Incident) or not yet open, so we were grateful to find The Windsor Castle, a local pub, open. As soon as we came in and asked for a menu, the bartender started chuckling. Hounslow is a bit off the beaten tourist path, so I figured our accents tickled him. Until we sat down and noticed the series of photographs featuring nude men strategically holding frothy pints of Guinness to hide their nethers… yep, the bartender was laughing because an obviously lost pair of hetero Americans strolled into his “boy bar” for a plate of cod and chips! The food was excellent (mushy peas!), and despite the mirth, the Windsor definitely earns its tagline as “West London’s friendliest and most welcoming gay pub,” as the staff also gave us directions to a nearby theater in Feltham.

cod & chips in Hounslow. #food #london #travel
We then gave our poor feet a rest by watching Men In Black 3. We asked a theater usher where the bathroom was, completely confusing him until Alex remembered to call it the toilet, because we didn’t actually want to use a bathtub. MIB 3 itself was quite fun–nothing earth-shattering, but an enjoyable summer romp.

ceiling shot: waiting in line for MIB3 in London.

The next day, we strolled around central London a bit to mess with our cameras. I’m getting used to using my new Nikon in full-manual mode (surprisingly easy with the D7000), and Alex is trying out a new tripod and testing video capability in his D800. Great timing, since it being the weekend before QEII’s Diamond Jubilee, there was British flag bunting everywhere, but London wasn’t the madhouse it will be this coming weekend. While strolling, we found a dive shop and stopped in to chat about camera housings and light set-ups with the owner, and picked up a great book on underwater photography.

setting up tripod to take video at Piccadilly.

it's sunny at Piccadilly Circus!

We’d seen on BBC that morning that there was a new play of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in Kensington Gardens, so we headed that direction. And by the vague phrase “that direction,” that’s exactly what I mean. The location the theater ticket seller gave us was just “Kensington Gardens,” no indication of where, which gate, and the many people and staff in the park appeared to have no idea what we were asking about. I was grumpy and sore-footed, convinced we were doomed to wander it forever, but Alex eventually found someone knowledgable and we headed off. My feet (and mood) were saved!

tent-top. (Theater 360 tent, Kensington Gardens, London.)

LWW was amazing. It’s similar to the Broadway version of The Lion King in its creative style of costumes and puppetry, particularly to convey animals and nature. Guys with stilts on their feet and hands were trees, and it took three people to create Aslan–one for the front, one for the hind quarters, and one held his face-mask. The visual influence, instead of being African or even classic British fantasy, was more Maori-Scandinavian. This made Narnia feel wilder than I’m used to, which was exciting and rather refreshing, since Lewis didn’t have a safe, generic fantastical realm in mind. Even Aslan isn’t tame or safe, Lewis tells us. This play conveys that quite effectively, and makes the material seem new.

The venue is called Theater 360, because it’s a round stage with seats all around it. The stage rotates, drops trapdoors, the wardrobe rises up from the floor, actors fly on wires, and on the tent dome above you are projected images and animation that compliment the story (the White Stag appears only as a projection on the tent). Occasionally this meant that part of the audience couldn’t see something, but much of the staging was creatively executed to provide good views for all.

some LWW actors performed 1940s songs before the play.

What really tops it off is how fitting the venue is for this particular show. There’s the stage tent, and two smaller tents beside it, floored with decking, provide area for seating and concessions. Before the show, four of the actors dressed in 1940s clothes sang period songs, while we ate popcorn in retro boxes and–of course!–a bag of Turkish delight. It felt like being in a fancy 1940s boardwalk club.

theater production of Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe in Kensington gardens serves retro concessions including Turkish Delight? PERFECT.

After some late photos on High Street, we went back to the hotel and flew back the following morning, followed by a train ride not in the usual Kiev-Kharkov trains (that often take 7+ hours), but in the brand-new high-speed Hyundai train! I think it generally takes about 4 hours–it took 5 because there were technical problems, but still–new seats, power outlets, wifi (though we couldn’t get it to work), and over-zealous hand driers, yeehaw!

Next weekend is a three-day holiday (we didn’t get Memorial Day last weekend, but we get Ukraine’s Orthodox Pentecost this weekend), so we’re taking off for Dubai! It’s a direct flight from Kharkov, so no train–can you believe it’s cheaper and quicker to get to Dubai from here than London? We hope to spend two days scuba diving in nearby Oman, and a third day for site-seeing, the beach, and taking lots of photos at the local spice and textile souqs (markets). The highs are supposed to be anywhere from 99 to 104 F, so it should feel like August does in Texas. Somehow, as I enjoy Kharkov’s sunny but cool and breezy 61 F today, the thought of heat doesn’t make me homesick!

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