Friday, 6 September 2013

London Culture Explosion!

Last week was was possibly the most wonderful week of my life, and the reason for that was spending four days in my favourite city: London! Em and I had started planning this visit months ago, booking tickets for Ryanair and Les Misérables at Queen's Theatre. I can't possibly describe how over the moon we were at the prospect of not only seeing our favourite musical on stage for the first time, but also of seeing our first West End show. The excitement threatened to turn into stress and anxiety as I waited, waited and never received the confirmation email that I was supposed to get and print out to show at the Queen's Theatre box office. However, as you'll read in my travel diary that follows, everything turned out spectacularly fine.


The Tampere-Pirkkala airport is one of the dingiest, most depressing buildings in the Universe, but being stuck there for a couple of hours was completely worth it considering where we were going. To make our destination even more exciting, Em got a phone call from our hotel before we boarded the plane. We were told that the room we had booked had become somehow unavailable, but in recompense they had arranged us a room in another hotel just around the corner, and we would get the hotel breakfast free of charge.

It didn't take us long to turn into "lost little tourists asking questions" once we arrived at Stansted Airport.  We had a very amusing conversation with the ticket booth man who patiently explained to us that the Stansted Express would take us to Liverpool Street and yes, that was indeed in London.

By the time we were transported to our newly-arranged hotel room, Em and I were already completely in awe about how nice and polite all the people in this country seemed to be. From now on, I will call Finland Grumpyville in my mind. We were a little travel-worn from the plane and the train, but nevertheless we couldn't bear to stay shut up in that beautiful hotel room, when the city was calling us out! Not that we got too wild on our first night. It consisted mainly of wandering around Piccadilly Circus, admiring how pretty the city looked in the dark, and ogling at theatres and their advertisements. We went to admire Queen's Theatre in advance and also Her Majesty's Theatre, which of course is the home of The Phantom of the Opera. 

Something surprising happened too, something which I'm immensely glad about in retrospect. After seeing dozens of those "half price theatre tickets" booths along the streets, Em had the unstoppable urge to make her way into one of them and ask if they had tickets for The Phantom of the Opera this week. The answer was: "Would you like to go tomorrow?" Can you guess what we responded to that?


The first thing I did on Tuesday morning was find out what the situation was with our Les Mis tickets because we were genuinely scared that we wouldn't be let into the theatre at all on Thursday. In the end I only had to make two more phone calls and as both of the personnel I spoke with were extremely helpful and efficient, I had the much-needed ticket confirmation number in no time. We may have had a little hype attack with Em after the ticket business was officially settled.

Now we were completely free to enjoy a shopping spree to London's most celebrated shopping area, Oxford Street. Em found herself a very nice dress to wear to the theatre, but as neither of us are big fans of shopping in the traditional sense, our morning of shopping turned out to be a little tour around the different Waterstones bookshops. I have to admit that going to Waterstones was, right after seeing Les Mis, the thing I had been looking forward to most! We first went to Oxford Street Waterstones, where I made a rather surprising find: there, in the small selection of DVDs, Liza Minnelli was staring right at me from the cover of Cabaret! I couldn't possibly leave her there. Next up was the Waterstones at Piccadilly Circus aka "Book Heaven". It has five floors!! And in one of those five floors there was an entire shelf dedicated to Shakespeare, and I found this:

I haven't had the chance to properly read this book yet, but according to the back cover and the table of contents, it contains articles about challenges in staging Shakespeare plays, such as costumes, props and stage fighting. Just you wait, Royal Shakespeare Company, I'll be joining your ranks in a couple of years...

Between the Waterstones visits, we managed to find a gigantic CD/DVD store (everything in London seems to be at least six times bigger than in Grumpyville) where we went absolutely hyper when a salesperson told us they had a whole shelf for musicals. So there we went, and met the glorious sight of stacks of movie musical DVDs which we would never, ever find in our dear country. Anttila Megastore should be ashamed. I managed to control myself enough to settle to buying just four new movies.

Shopping haul from the morning's excursion:

  • Book: Shakespeare & The Making Of Theatre, edited by Stuart Hampton-Reeves and Bridget Escolme
  • Movie: Cabaret
  • Movie: The King and I
  • Movie: Hairspray
  • Movie: RENT
Once Em and I were satisfied with our shopping, we returned to the hotel to get ready for the evening's ex tempore programme: The Phantom of the Opera! We were slowly starting to realize that we were in fact going to see the show that we had been drooling about for such a long time. We absolutely didn't want to be late at Her Majesty's Theatre, so we gave ourselves plenty of time to get pretty and find our way there, because with two people with almost no sense of orientation on the move, we had to give ourselves time to get lost on the way to the theatre. We didn't get lost, but somehow the hotel's elevator managed to get stuck while we were in it! Was the Phantom stalking us even before we entered his theatre? However, we got out safely and arrived at Her Majesty's Theatre an hour before the show started, which meant there was loads of time to take pictures of the posters outside and do some Phantom gift shopping. I have a thing for bracelets with things dangling from them, so I had to buy the Phantom-themed bracelet they had there (and then find a way to shorten it because apparently they manufacture those things to people with huge wrists). I also bought the programme leaflet with lots of gorgeous pictures in it.

Unfortunately I won't say anything about the performance itself here... because I'll be making separate blog posts for each of the plays we saw in London! That is the only way to do them justice, don't you think? All I will say now is, I will never stop thanking Em for bursting into that half-price ticket booth.


The sun was shining brightly from a dazzlingly blue sky – what a perfect day to go walking along the Thames! Our plan today was to cross south of the river via London Bridge, see if we'd be lucky enough to get return tickets for the matinee performance of Macbeth at Shakespeare's Globe, and then cross the river again to visit St Paul's Cathedral.

We took the underground to the Monument and finally found out what that immensely tall construction was. There was a wonderful surprise in the train as well: three guys scrambled in with their instruments and played Irish jigs!

The entrance to London Bridge is practically next to the Monument, but somehow we managed to make some strange detour before we eventually found ourselves on the Bridge. Walking across the Thames was awesome, especially as we had an excellent view of the famous Tower Bridge as well. Actually, my whole infatuation with London began when I saw a picture of Tower Bridge in a book – why it was a picture of a bridge that had such an impact, don't ask.

Once we were on the south side of the bridge, we began the search for a site that I particularly wanted to see as a musical fan: Nancy's Steps, where Nancy dies in the musical Oliver!. It turned out to be very well hidden for a famous site! We had to ask directions from two people before we found the Steps, where the plaque bearing their name and history had somehow been taken away!

Picture taken by Em
While making our way towards Shakespeare's Globe, we stumbled upon Southwark Cathedral. As we had still hours to pass before the Macbeth return tickets would be sold and Em is a huge cathedral junkie, we popped in for a visit. Southwark Cathedral, it turned out, is the oldest cathedral in London, and has a memorial for William Shakespeare – his grave, of course, is situated in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The Thames looked absolutely beautiful in the sunshine, and the temperature must have been even higher than the 24℃ that the weather forecast promised. So it was really quite comfortable camping outside Shakespeare's Globe in the return ticket queue. I was once again amazed at how popular this theatre is – I already witnessed it during my previous visit to London, but now I got to see how many desperate people there were besides us as the return ticket queue got longer and longer!

It had been our plan from the start to see Macbeth at Shakespeare's Globe, but the tickets were sold out at lightning speed, which left us the option to trust our luck with possible return tickets. I don't know if those people at the end of that huge queue got tickets, but Em and I did! They were much pricier than the standing tickets of ₤5 that we would have wanted, but it didn't matter at all in the end, because we got the best possible seats: in the lower gallery, almost exactly in the center, with a completely unblocked view to the stage! There aren't many seats like that in the Globe. Because it is built exactly like it would have been in Shakespeare's days, from most seats the view is obstructed by pillars. However, this is the spectacular view from our seats (I took the picture before the play started, because taking pictures during performances is of course forbidden)

The sun kept shining, which was nice because the Globe is an open-air theatre so if it rains, the people with yard tickets get wet. However, I did feel sorry for the poor actors (among them Billy Boyd as Banquo!) who had to perform in the sweltering heat with those heavy Renaissance costumes on. Once again there will be a separate post for Macbeth where I will tell you more about it.

I bought this poster from the Globe giftshop:

Our plan to visit St Paul's didn't work out because it closed at 4 p.m. so that would have to wait till the next day.


We left our hotel room later than usual today, because we were going to give up the room so we had to pack and make sure we didn't leave anything lying around. However, we still had one whole day to spend in London. We were going to visit St Paul's Cathedral again (properly) and take a look at the British Museum before the long-awaited Les Misérables in the evening. While we were able to leave our big suitcases at the hotel for the day, we had to take our theatre dresses and everything else we needed for the theatre night (shoes, jewellery, hairspray...) with us on the road.

We went to St Paul's with much better success today. We got inside and saw the famous cathedral in all its magnificence. Every time I see such a massive church, I can't help but marvel how those buildings were put together with none of the technology we have nowadays, and how many decades and how much supplies of all kinds the process must have taken. St Paul's, however, does use modern technology: all of a sudden, there was a voice coming through a loudspeaker, inviting everyone to join in the Lord's Prayer! If I was a practicing Christian, I wouldn't necessarily choose St Paul's Cathedral for my prayers – so many tourists in there, must be impossible to get into a peaceful state of mind. St Paul's has attractions both high and low. We visited both the Whispering Gallery high up in the dome – a climb of 232 steps – and the crypt down below, where the air was so bad I got a terrible headache.

Police horses!

Unfortunately Em and I weren't as lucky with the British Museum as we had been with all other things so far. Everyone goes to the British Museum to see the Egyptian mummies, but we weren't really interested in those. We wanted to explore the rooms of European history, especially the Renaissance and Victorian eras, but those very rooms happened to be closed that day. Well, at least we found fabulous glitter masks from the gift shop, so we can now pay homage to the Masquerade number in The Phantom of the Opera.

After a tasty Italian dinner, we had to find a place to change into our theatre clothes. We ended up invading a Pizza Hut ladies' room, where we might have got a couple of funny looks from people as we liberally sprayed perfume and hairspray all around. We had a nice extra addition to our outfits tonight: Em had sewn us tricolor sashes in honour of Les Amis de l'ABC.  The nice guy at the Queen's Theatre box office didn't even have to ask me which tickets we were collecting. He, the theatre giftshop salesman, and even the man at the cloakroom were very genuine in wishing us a good time at the show, something which a citizen of Grumpyville finds very uplifting. It had been my plan for days to buy this t-shirt from the Les Mis shop:

Once again, my thoughts on our very first, long-awaited experience of stage Les Mis will be posted separately.


There wasn't really anything Culture Explosional about this last day – all we did was transport ourselves with all sorts of vehicles in a dead-tired state.

I think we baffled the hotel personnel just a bit when we returned there to collect our luggage and then asked to use the toilet, going in wearing theatre dresses and getting out wearing jeans and Cosette shirts. Then it was time to say goodbye to that beautiful, comfortable hotel and journey into the night.

We took the underground to Piccadilly Circus once more, only to find out soon after that that all tube stations would close for a couple of hours, meaning we would have to find another way to get to Liverpool Station. Once more we got advice from a helpful stranger and found a bus to take us there. Another closed gate: the station was also closing for the rest of the night! For the past three days, we had been living like London posh people, going to the theatre every night – tonight, we tried out the life of London hobos, camping outside the station gates and devouring McDonald's nourishment. The man who finally opened the gates at 3.40 in the morning was such a welcome sight.

The Stansted Express took us smoothly to Stansted Airport, where we miraculously ended up at the right gate despite our sleep-deprived states and were extremely depressed to hear Finnish being spoken around us once again.


  1. Glad you had a great time in London! Such an amazing city :) x

  2. - It sounds like you had an amazing trip! I'm so happy that you love London so much! : ) I live about an hour and 20 minutes away from there by train (if the high speed rail-line that the government is planning goes through the journey will only be 45 minutes). I go to London as often as I can but that still isn't enough for me! I'd love to live there. And I agree with you about Londoners. They are nice! They have a reputation for being unfriendly in the rest of the country but I've never found that to be the case personally.

    - I love Waterstones! I could spend hours in their bookshops! And you've taken a beautiful photo of Tower Bridge!

    - I still haven't been to the British Museum yet. I really need to go.

    - I'm looking forward to your theatre reviews : ) Would you ever consider going back to London or going to other parts of the UK?

    1. I am most definitely going to return to London many many times, right now I'm actually dreaming of living there! I went to Stratford-upon-Avon to attend a course at the Shakespeare Centre last year, and I would absolutely love to go there again. I can't believe they have three theatres in that tiny little town! Actually, any city or region in England would be great to see in my opinion.

  3. Oh, I live 40 minutes away from Stratford! I go there quite a bit in the summer, it's a lovely town. I bet you had a great time.

    Sorry to burst your bubble but not everywhere in England is worth visiting. Believe it or not we do have our scummy, rough towns! My favourite towns in England are Bath, York and Windermere (which is in the Lake District). I'm sure you'd love those places. And if you ever go back to London I'd strongly recommend going to Camden Market. It's such a cool place. A friend of mine even managed to find a very old copy of 'Dombey and Son' there, like Victorian edition old. I also really, really love Edinburgh. I haven't seen very much of Scotland but that is one absolutely beautiful city. It's far more beautiful than London. So if you ever come back to the UK those are the best places to go in my opinion : )