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Two and a half weeks of High-ish to Low-ish London Culture, March 2024

Two and a half weeks of High-ish to Low-ish London Culture, March 2024

Old Apr 20th, 2024, 09:25 AM
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Two and a half weeks of High-ish to Low-ish London Culture, March 2024

Yes, we were just there in September, but my daughter Hannah and I had a hankering for London. She can’t get enough tango dancing here in St. Louis, hoped to see friends from her school and work time there, and I have never gotten enough London. I bought tickets for LETTERS LIVE at the Royal Albert Hall for March 6 as soon as I saw them on sale a few months in advance, and we made the rest happen. We left Bob, husband and father, home. Not really his thing.

This time we didn’t stay at the Celtic, got instead a flat on Gate St., just behind Holborn Station with a lift, so we could hang out together comfortably. It overlooked a Redemption coffeehouse and the Ship Tavern. Around the corner from good bus routes and an easy walk to Covent Garden and the British Museum.

Hannah wanted to keep her evenings as open as possible for dancing, and we didn’t firm up the dates until a few weeks in advance, so I mostly looked for matinee theatre tickets. We hoped for quality British productions, not American/Hollywood rehashes, not too pricey, in a range between silly and serious, and we mostly succeeded very well. No need to see movie or TV stars.

I’ll mini-review these in a bit, but we saw productions of:

LETTERS LIVE (well, okay, movie and TV persons, but just in short bursts)

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG

THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA

A MIRROR

ALMEIDA THEATRE YOUNG COMPANIES’ PRODUCTION

GUYS AND DOLLS (happily bent British-only-Please rule above)

No operas or ballet. Remaining ROH tickets were wrong evenings and/or far too expensive or Wagner. ENO was one we had seen too recently.

One comedy club night.
One Westminster Abbey Evensong.
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Old Apr 20th, 2024, 09:28 AM
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I also had hoped to spend a couple of solo days in Bakewell, to visit Haddon Hall again and have another crack at Bakewell Pudding, which my other daughter and I had foolishly delayed until takeaway on the train back to London, 2009. Making seconds impossible. I ended up staying in Greater London the entire time.

Prepared with Pret subscription, Airalo e-sim, walking shoes, almost enough warm clothes.

My first mistake was having gotten a second Airalo e-sim, instead of topping up my old one. I thought I was good to go on wi-fi, when really I had just reconnected to LHR and Holborn Pret. Note to future self: write the front door and lockbox codes on paper, instead of relying on internet in the rain with rolling bag. Redemption came through with their wifi, but it took a couple of days to have Airalo sort me out after various frustrations.
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Old Apr 20th, 2024, 10:21 AM
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I like your show list (didn't know Letters Live was running again). Don't know if I can get back to London in time to see The Hills . . . unless they extend the run. The location of the flat is terrific.
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Old Apr 20th, 2024, 12:23 PM
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Ooh! Following along! Sounds like a lovely, long vacation, and your theater list looks interesting. I hope your daughter got in lots of tango dancing. Love the music and watching the dancers. I've taken a class, but am hopelessly uncoordinated. What a lovely talent to have.

Also, interested in the Pret Subscription. How did that work for you? Did you use your rental's UK phone number and address? Seems they allow portable cups/bottles but did you happen to see patrons actually use them? I love that starbucks adds 25 points to every sale as I use a thermos, but in Chicago, I rarely see people take advantage of that perk.

Looking forward to your trip report!
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Old Apr 20th, 2024, 01:30 PM
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Along for the ride, itís been way too long since we went to London, not since 2017/18. Hoping to get there next year. Please share details of your apartment, sounds ideal.
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Old Apr 21st, 2024, 08:14 AM
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Originally Posted by ChgoGal

Also, interested in the Pret Subscription. How did that work for you? Did you use your rental's UK phone number and address? Seems they allow portable cups/bottles but did you happen to see patrons actually use them?
Thank you, Chgo. I use my own US phone number for Pret. Did I put the London apartment postal code, though? I can't remember. When my brother was with me in September for two UK weeks, he did something foreign that blocked him from the subscription. Starting when we were there, they require using the QR code directly from your app to cut down on abuse.

I did see people handing baristas their own refill containers a few times. Should do more, of course, but I never did.

There were two Prets near the flat. One just around the alley, and one a block away on Holborn. That one was our local, with its tall ceilings and high windows, almost never crowded, and with that prompt friendly strong latte first thing. Delicious soups, good salads.

Hi, Janis. I follow Letters Live on Instagram, saw that they had one at I think the BAM in NY earlier this month, so getting out and about. The Albert Hall one sold out quickly.

Last edited by stokebailey; Apr 21st, 2024 at 08:31 AM.
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Old Apr 21st, 2024, 08:30 AM
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Originally Posted by geetika
Please share details of your apartment, sounds ideal.
Geetika, you could do a lot worse than our 6 Gate, St Flat 2. One flat per floor, and I think there are law offices upstairs. Customer response was exceptional from Tas at Whitehall Realty. Basic, clean, with Ikea sleeper couch that Hannah said was just fine. Disadvantage in only bathroom access through bedroom. It would have been too noisy for my husband, but I soon got used to street sounds, that swishing alert when trucks back up early to unload kegs. The Ship Tavern crowd spills onto the sidewalk even on wet chilly evenings, and echoes in the canyon of buildings. Good urban sounds.
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Old Apr 21st, 2024, 02:42 PM
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Tucked away down an alley. Welcoming atmosphere.


The flower stall at Holborn tube stop. First we got freesias, then daffodils, ended with yellow tulips.

Just off Kingsway, then right at the end to our flat.

Our Holborn Pret.
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Old Apr 21st, 2024, 03:50 PM
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I've been in the Ship probably a dozen or more times. It is immediately around the corner from Sir John Soane's Museum (one of my faves) and a good friend's law chambers is just just up the way from there. What a great place to be your 'local'.
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Old Apr 24th, 2024, 08:03 AM
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Yes, Janis!

LETTERS LIVE: Their having quickly sold out the massive Royal Albert Hall pretty much speaks for itself, but I'll speak about it some more.

It was the day after we arrived in London, and I had by now figured out that my Airalo e-sim was not working. I shot off a series of increasingly frustrated messages to their customer service that afternoon, without reply. Hannah was out with friends, so we had planned to meet at our seats using e-tickets.

It's an easy bus ride from Holborn, and I left plenty of time. When I got to the door, though, I was told that the organizers had "faffed around" and changed the time, now to start 30 min later. An email had been sent with new tickets, but I couldn't think of a way to WhatsApp Hannah. Of course the Hall had open wi-fi, but I was too muddle-headed to think of it. All turned out well. I found reply Airalo messages the next day, got it easily figured out. An e-sim makes life so much easier there, and I still had change from my $5 card when we returned.

The effortlessly charming Benedict Cumberbatch is a constant in these productions, with proceeds to different charities and volunteer unannounced celebrity readers. Cumberbatch's letters this time were all serious, beautifully read. I love his goofy side, but his reading of Navalny's Jan 2024 letter from prison was so moving. UK MP Angela Rayner read a short funny one, then Damien Lewis, Harriet Walter, Louise Brearly, Louisa Harland from Derry Girls. Sara Pascoe read a hilarious letter to an American televangelist asking for clarifications about punishments for Old Testament laws. "I would like to sell my daughter for slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what would be a fair price for her?"

We have better view of the readers on YouTube, but it was so fun for both of us to be there.

Except: we had seats in the choir, just across from the massive organ pipes, to the left of and behind the readers. As someone who from my earliest grade school years has not loved organ music, imagine my dismay when a young woman sat down at the keyboard. Her piece ended with a painfully loud cacophony. Apparently it was very well done, but I declined to applaud. If there's any chance a performance at Royal Albert Hall will include an organ piece, do not get seats in the choir.
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Old Apr 24th, 2024, 01:24 PM
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The view from our seats. It filled up slowly, then all at once.

National Portrait mix of old and new ideas of who's important.

God save him.

The stairs to our flat are steep and narrow. I mostly went the elderly lady route. Not Hannah.
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