London and celebrating Shakespeare's birthday

Juneau columnist visits St. James Park, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, enjoys the musical "Billy Elliot"

Posted: Sunday, November 29, 2009

April 23 is Shakespeare's birthday. My husband, Don, and I celebrated the bard's birthday by visiting St. James Park, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and enjoying the musical "Billy Elliot."

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Courtesy Of Don Harris
Courtesy Of Don Harris

We took the underground route to Victoria Station, and as we exited the large station we saw Victoria Palace Theatre and the large marquee for "Billy Elliot." At our request, our friend Alison had purchased the tickets for "Billy Elliot" several months before we left Juneau.

We had lunch at the Duke of York Pub, where we enjoyed our chicken pesto sandwiches. Don had a half pint, and I did not finish my glass of wine. Noon is too early for me to drink wine. The Duke of York Pub is quite plush and popular.

After lunch, we walked through St. James Park and admired the well-groomed lawns, streams, spring flowers in bloom and the ducks and swans swimming in the ponds.

Don's goal was to visit Christies Auction House. We walked in. I expected guards. Instead, at least three to five well-dressed employees were in each of the rooms. We admired the old paintings, antique furniture and accessories. Christies is housed in a large 19th-century building that has many rooms. Don has fond memories of attending an arms auction on one of our first trips to Great Britain in the 1980s.

We also made our way to Buckingham Palace. The flower gardens were spectacular. I admired the wrought iron gates with the gold royal seals. We saw many school groups with their teachers and chaperones. Many of the groups spoke different languages. Just like American students, the students really didn't care about history but were more interested in their friends and enemies. Of course, the Buckingham guards did not move a muscle.

We walked back to the theatre area and made dinner reservations at Bella Italia. In 2006, Alison and I ate at Bella Italia before the theater. I was surprised I was able to find it again. Don and I stopped for afternoon tea at a bakery.

As we walked to Westminster Abbey, we could see its roofs and towers from some distance. We walked into the abbey and sat down and enjoyed Evensong. When we first traveled to Great Britain, we often attended Evensong to relax and to enjoy the male choirs.

Since 1066, when William the Conqueror was crowned, all the kings and queens have been crowned in Westminster Abbey. Queen Elizabeth II's coronation was held in 1953 and was the first coronation to be televised. I clearly remember watching the coronation at the home of my parents' friends. In 1953, few people had a television.

Westminster Abbey is the home of the Poets Corner. Many great poets were honored in the Poets' Corner including Shakespeare, Chaucer and T.S. Eliot. Recently the Poets Corner has run out of room for poets.

Hopefully, Westminster will find more space to honor poets. Many of the saints and clergy are buried in tombs in the abbey. On a sad note, Westminster is trying to raise millions of pounds for repairs and restoration of the abbey.

We walked back to Bella Italia and enjoyed our salad, chicken and merlot. We shared an ice cream dessert.

We arrived at the Victoria Palace Theatre and thoroughly enjoyed the musical, "Billy Elliot." We had good seats on the aisle in row L. For this performance, Billy looked younger than the Billy I saw with Alison several years ago.

Some changes had been made from the first performance. I recognized several of the other actors. Three or four boys take turns as Billy and all the boys sing and dance remarkably well. Each Billy has to work very hard. Billy's friend, the cross-dresser, also dances and sings remarkably well. The boys are great performers.

This performance of Billy Elliot was even better then the first one I attended. The actors earned their applause and standing ovations. Billy received many ovations. This Billy Elliot was outstanding.

We did not get out of the theatre until 10. We crossed the street to Victoria Station. However the Underground subway at Victoria was closed for maintenance. We had to use the Circle/District line to Paddington and then on the Bakerloo to Maida Vale. The trains were full and crowded. The English and the Europeans tend to have late nights.

Alison was up when we returned to the flat. She was watching television and snacking on chips and water. We talked a while and watched the end of a program about one of Paul McCarthy's wives. We finally went to bed around 1:00 a.m. We had a long wonderful day in London.

• Alma Harris is a retired Juneau-Douglas High School English teacher who loves to travel and write.

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