A Final Night in London

“Every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.”
Charles Dickens

So it was my last day in Bath…technically my last in England actually. I had a little bit of time before my train so I decided to head out to see one last thing before I left. That being the place that is so me I cannot even possibly express it…

The fashion museum.

Friends of mine might laugh since they know I’m not usually overly invested in clothes. However, this was a highly rated museum in Bath, and since I had some time to kill I figured it couldn’t hurt to check out what the place had to offer.

So I headed over at ten thirty to go in.

It’s a little pricey, but once you get in you at least get a free audioguide that walks you through over a hundred articles of clothing! The audioguide gives you 100 different summaries of the various pieces of clothing, starting from the sixteen hundreds up until the modern era. Anything not covered has signs.

 

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However, my favorite part of the museum was the section where you could try on some costumes of your own! I admit I’m a sucker for things like this.

I tried putting one on myself but was stopped by a sweet museum worker who offered to tie me up so the dress would look right and then even took some photos of me, even though he clearly had no idea how to work an iphone.

After deleting the 120 extra photos he’d taken due to holding the button, I was left with a few cute options of me in the dress, feeling very Jane Austen.

Speaking of Austen, for any lovers of this classic writer, there is a museum in town about her. However, I am not a super fan by any means, and I’d also heard that it’s more tourist trap than anything. However, I’ll still throw a mention out for any readers looking to plan a trip to Bath.

Once I was done at the fashion museum I headed back to my hostel to pick up my bags before heading to the train station.

I took a train to London. It was less than 20 pounds and faster than a bus would have been (about an hour and a half) so a good deal in my opinion. Again, you can find a variety of options if you’re looking.

I arrived in Paddington Station where I took the tube over to King’s Cross.

As a bit of Harry Potter fan I stopped over at Platform 9 and ¾ just to see it. The last time I’d been in King’s Cross I was only nine…which means the “platform” hadn’t been built yet.

Sadly the line to do a photo and the price (10 pounds for one) was what kept me from going ahead and getting myself a Potterhead souvenir.

I glanced around before heading down to my hostel.

I’d decided to stay at Clink78. It had good reviews, was close to St. Pancras and King’s Cross (making for easy tube access and even easier train access for my morning train), and as a Dickens fan I was delighted to learn it had been a courthouse where he had worked at one point.

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All in all I’d give the place a pretty good rating. It had nice facilities, a fun location, was very safe, and clean for the most part. Needed more chargers in the rooms, but in an old building that’s understandable. Nonetheless great character for a hostel and a decent location!

I didn’t have much time so I had one thing I knew I wanted to hit up before I left London.

Many of you might list the typical London tourist attractions. Honestly, I considered doing the V & A, but it was a bit too far from my hostel for the time limit I had. And I’ve seen most of the other major monuments.

So that left something a bit more exotic. Something perfect for a little English nerd like myself.

The Charles Dickens museum.

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I fell in love with Dickens when I was fifteen and read A Tale of Two Cities. Well actually, that’s foolish because I know the first time I read A Tale of Two Cities I quickly realized how challenging Dickens could be. I mean…the first “paragraph” is actually a single sentence. So, you quickly learn that Dickens can be a bit wordy and a bit hard to work through at times. But nonetheless I find his stories wonderful and his characters entertaining and his prose delightful.

So if I was looking for something near my hostel, that I hadn’t done before, that I thought might be quick and easy the Dickens museum was just that.

It’s set in one of his old houses over on Doughty Street. There the staff have set up the rooms with largely original furnishings and a pamphlet that walks you through the rooms explaining the items that are displayed and talking about Dickens life. I learned a lot that I hadn’t known before, about his ten children, his separation with his wife, his sister in law’s death, his father’s time in debtors prison. He was a very interesting man and led a life that in many ways makes sense when you read his stories.

 

I was notably impressed to learn that he’d championed for writer’s rights in trying to establish copyright. Very interesting that, especially from a writer’s perspective.

After spending maybe an hour tops at the museum, (it is quite small) I headed back to my hostel to shower and change. After all, I had a very special engagement.

I had tickets to the theatre.

Yes, again this is a section where I stress that while I could write on budget travel, these aren’t really your posts. I was quite splurgy this trip, and this was no exception.

Now, at a time that’s not really busy, especially on a week night, especially for a less popular production, it is possible that you could try to wait to get discounted tickets the night of. My family did this for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when I was a child, and then again for Mary Poppins when I was fourteen. However, on a Friday night during spring vacation I knew that the best possible plan to get the tickets I wanted was to book in advance, and likely have to suffer staring at my credit card bill with a bit of dread later in the month (use credit responsibly readers… I promise I have enough in my bank account to cover it).

So, I’d searched all over London to try to get a ticket to a Shakespeare production. Sadly the only one I could find was the one playing at the Globe, which was sold out for the night I wanted. Otherwise, the city appeared to be Shakespeare free for the month of April. Anything I might have wanted to see was either ending before I arrived or starting after I left. So I had to abandon the thought of seeing more of my favorite play write and turned to musicals instead.

Which is how I ended up with a ticket to Les Mis.

Not very British of course, but nonetheless I figured it would be spectacular to see on stage and it is one of my favorites. Plus the tickets while not cheap were at least for an “unblocked” seat unlike some of the other plays I surveyed the tickets for.

So yes, I showered and dressed up a bit (not compulsory for the theatre today mind you but something I still enjoy) and headed off to King’s Cross where I caught a train down to Leicester Square.

Now, I knew the area would probably be busy. Friday night, in a theatre district… well that was just asking for trouble.

As a lone person usually I don’t have too much trouble finding a table somewhere, especially when I’m not being picky, so I wasn’t too worried.

However, arriving around six (later than I had anticipated) I found that every single restaurant I passed looked incredibly full.

In a bit of a desperate state I wandered a few streets until I saw a place that listed takeaway. It sounded like it might be a quick option, and if nothing else I figured maybe I could take food with me and eat at the square or something.

I glanced in and noticed it had a few tables open.

First mistake.

I walked in and asked to be seated. As I was hungry and running out of time, I decided to ignore warning signs about the place.

For any wanting to be warned off of a restaurant here is my advice. Firstly, never go into a place that is mostly empty when everywhere else is full. Secondly, never go to La Roche in London. It’s terrible.

Well I ordered fish and chips and a lemonade (described as fresh squeezed). I figured even if it wasn’t good at least it would be filling, and the prices certainly weren’t abhorrent.

As I sat there the rest of the tables filled up, likely with other theatre people looking to find a quick bite to eat.

My lemonade came. It had a layer of foam on the top.

Now… as someone who makes lemonade in the summer I have some idea what it’s supposed to look and taste like. Seeing foam on the top of a non-carbonated beverage is disturbing to say the least. There was a swirl of green inside, and I realized they’d put mint into the beverage.

Now mint isn’t really a problem in lemonade. It can be quite refreshing actually. But these were tiny little bits of mint that hadn’t been advertised and were impossible to avoid giving the drink a weird texture. On top of that the drink was seriously watered down, just kind of a hint of lemony pulp floating in water with no sugar.

I didn’t finish my drink. A rarity for someone like me who usually isn’t overly picky.

Well again, I bit my lip and decided to deal with it.

However, about twenty minutes later there was still no sign of my food. I was willing to be patient, but I did need to make sure I didn’t miss my show.

And then to my shock the couple who had sat down and ordered after me were served their meal.

A sinking feeling started in my stomach, and I suddenly was worried that the waitress hadn’t heard my order.

I called her over and clarified and she said she had heard it, and I motioned to the couple and explained that I was confused then why they had been served before me even though I’d arrived first. (to clarify they had fish and chips as well…which made no sense).

Thankfully the waitress was somewhat helpful and went and asked the chef. But still it was quite frustrating, especially when I was in a rush.

Tasteless fish and really oily bland fries appeared for me which I wolfed down. I was definitely not pleased and left a rather nasty review on tripadvisor.

Notes to others- give yourself time to find a meal before going to the theatre, or eat in another neighborhood, or make reservations, or just never go into a restaurant that looks deserted.

Well, in spite of all that disappointment I managed to head off to the theatre, my excitement coming back as I got closer.

I retrieved my tickets and headed up up up to the final level in the last row (besides the standing room only one behind it). So yes, nothing fancy, but still a seat and one where I could see a majority of the stage.

After taking a few photos of the theatre I settled into my seat. As the curtains came up I was launched into the performance of Les Mis I could have only dreamed about.

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I could rant about the performance for hours, but I won’t. I’ll simply say that it had a rotating stage which was used very cleverly to produce a sense of time passing and to show other things happening in other places. Showing Valjean walking into the world to try to find a job and people passing him by, or having the barricade turned around so you could see the other side and watch as Gavroche died trying to pickpocket some of the men (oh…spoilers…sorry). Very cleverly done. The barricades were brilliant because they took a set that had already been built for the café ABC and tipped it over, still making it useable and functional due to how it had been built. And then the acting and singing were lovely as well of course. But again, you don’t need a lengthy rant.

After the performance finished up I took the tube back over to King’s Cross. The area was still pretty lively even at 10 in the evening. So I noted that Five Guys Burger and Fries was open! Now, I love Five Guys food and haven’t had it since I left the US. I also was still kind of hungry after the abysmal meal and thought it might be nice to get something to eat. So I picked up a cherry shake (like a proper firm ice cream shake…not the watery nonsense that the continent calls shakes) and then headed back to my hostel.

I drank the shake sitting in the old courtroom that had been renovated into a social area. Really cool to see! I peeked in at the other places, especially the “jail cells” that are apparently now rooms?!?

Afterwards it was up to bed for the night.

I’ll leave my account of the adventures here with a short tag below about the journey home. I don’t think that’s really exciting enough to merit it’s own post but I will mention it so you know what happened and get another traveler warning.

I set out pretty early to catch my train home. I dumped my remaining pound coins into a homeless man’s cup (because they were no use to me anymore anyways) and grabbed some coffee.

Now I travel on trains on continental Europe all the time, but I didn’t really know a lot about taking them between England and the rest of Europe. So I went and looked at the screen that was supposed to list my train platform, assuming I would need to wait for that as I usually did.

DO NOT make my mistake. If you are traveling between England and the rest of Europe, go to the check in area of St. Pancras before your gate is even posted. As long as your train is listed on the screens there you can go through the security process.

Not as strict as the airport, but you still have to run things through the scanners and go through the metal detectors and then of course hand over your passport for inspection.

I just was annoyed because I’d bought coffee not thinking about this issue of having to go through security so suddenly I had to chug it before tossing it in the garbage, and I couldn’t find a garbage can anywhere! It’s likely a security measure or something, but it still seems ridiculous to me that in a public area with food vendors they don’t have waste bins.

I got in line and went through but was concerned because my train was leaving shortly.

I was lucky and managed to not miss my train. I think I freaked some of the train staff out because I ran up to the platform and demanded to know which carriage I was in. However, I did make it and climbed into my seat.

Sadly the train I was on didn’t have wifi or chargers (as opposed to the really cheap one I’d taken from Bath to London).

Well I sat back and relaxed for an hour and a half and then before I knew it I was in Lille, stepping out into the station and heading off to catch a train back to Armentieres.

Traveling to these places was wonderful, and I’m so glad I had the chance to. I will say they didn’t soften the ache I have for home still. Sure, English, tap water, and American chains are all lovely things that I miss. But there is more familiarity still in the place I’ve lived most of my life.

Being able to travel is truly remarkable. It gives you new perspectives on yourself, on the world, on others. But I do appreciate how great it can be to get home after a long time away and simply appreciate it all the more.

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