After a wonderful Christmas break in Belize the previous year, I knew I wanted to embark on a short holiday getaway in 2018 to once again take advantage of 2 consecutive paid days off from work. I was leaning heavily toward heading somewhere in South America, but I was toying with various other destinations including Dublin. Once the musical "Come From Away" announced a short pre-London run in the Irish capital, it was a no brainer for me drop any other ideas and zone in making plans to visit Dublin. I'd never previously visited Ireland and I knew it would be extremely unlikely that I'd ever again have a chance to do so when 2 of my absolute favorite musicals would both be playing.
Once I started looking into logistics, I realized that Dublin airport was closed on Christmas Day. I didn't want to take off past December 25th since practically every other person in my department requests off between Christmas and New Years. I also didn't want to return home a day earlier because that would leave me with a wasted day off with nothing to do. The most obvious solution to me was to leave Dublin on 12/24 and head to London for a whirlwind 24 hours. That probably wouldn't be a viable option for most people since there's so much to see in London but I'm fortunate that I've been there many times so a quick visit would be fine. I'd rather stay longer, of course, but 1 day is better than no days.
I soon learned that airfares to Europe can be ridiculous during the Christmas season. But somehow when economy airfares are skyrocketing, premium economy must have been stagnant. That's the only way I can explain how booking premium was actually cheaper for one of my long haul flights… and only about $50 more expensive for the other one. If I'm going to have to pay a ton of money, I'd rather at least be fancy doing it.
My departure for Dublin was less than 2 weeks after my return from New Zealand. I'd never taken 2 major trips in such proximity but I had no problems with the concept. It certainly minimized the post travel depressions from down under. My only issue was that the short turnaround obviously meant that I would be taking a new trip before I'd have a chance to finish the blog for my previous trip- and likely before I could even start it. I'd previously had a rule with myself to never fall behind on blogs… but I decided that wasn't a reason not to take a Christmas trip. However, as of the current date (June 2019), I am still trying to catch up. My new rule is that I need to complete the blog for a major (1+ week) trip before the next one starts.
Since my trip was focused on entertainment, I decided to leave the DSLR at home and just take photos with my cell phone. Technology has advanced enough that my cell photos are satisfactory, although obviously for any trip where my focus is on scenery I want to use a better camera. I wasn't motivated enough to take any notes during this trip, so these entries were constructed from memory as well as reviewing social media posts.
It should take about 35 minutes to get to the airport from where I live. But on this occasion, the journey took me about a whopping hour and 30 minutes. This was partly due to needing to go through the city at rush hour, but I think there might also have been a traffic issue locally before even getting to the main highway. Fortunately, I left stupid early so I still ended up inside the airport terminal at around 6pm for my 9pm flight.
Having extra pre-flight time at the airport was crucial because Popeye's was offering a holiday season promotion exclusive to Philadelphia airport where you could buy a chicken tenders meal packaged in a box labeled "Emotional support chicken." While the packaging was controversial with certain groups, I thought it was hysterical and so I made it a priority to head two terminals over just so I could get one of these special containers. I was disappointed not to see a single sign alluding to the boxes but I asked the person behind the counter and was excited when he said they were indeed available. I was surprised that you needed to know to ask for the promotion- although the fact that it was only available at a single airport location to begin with was already weird. My chicken meal was in an ordinary box that was placed inside of the specially labeled box which facilitated keeping the latter as a souvenir.
After successfully obtaining one of the quirkiest souvenirs I've ever acquired in my years of travel, I took a leisurely walk back to my gate. En route, I passed a Starbucks which was selling mugs from cities such as DC, NYC and Pittsburgh which struck me as quite bizarre. I also enjoyed seeing a delightfully colorful work of art on the wall by one of the moving sidewalks. Entitled "Plastic Archipelago", it was a collage made by a local artist that consisted of a multitude of small pieces of colored plastics from every day life- things like the cap of a pill bottle or a child's toy.
I was particularly excited to board my flight since I was seated in premium economy. I enjoyed having a little extra comfort and space on the plane, but I can't say that it helped me sleep. The flight was relatively short and, although I got a little shut eye, I was periodically jarred awake by beeping sounds. The upgraded meals didn't do much for me; I was still full from the chicken tenders when dinner was served so I just picked at my veggie lasagna. I didn't even bother with the breakfast.
When glancing at the monitor during the flight, I saw that our altitude was "22,000 pies". Umm… pies?!? It took me a second to realize that the display was in a foreign language. What can I say, I never studied Spanish. Also I didn't exactly expect to see Spanish text on a flight from the US to Dublin.
As usual, I was quite happy to enjoy a basically uneventful flight. I was excited to be on my way to a new-to-me city for a quick theatre break.
When we landed at about 8:40am, I looked out the airplane window eager to catch my first glimpse of Dublin … but it was a grey and overcast morning. I had deja vu from my recent dreary arrival in New Zealand but I felt reassured that the weather had worked out fine on the rest of that trip.
I was immediately charmed by the Christmas decorations at the airport, particularly a snowman holding a violin (with an invisible bow) above the baggage claim carousel. However, I started to get irritated when the bags came out super slowly, in dribs and drabs. Especially since I knew my bag was tagged priority. In my head, I paraphrased a line from "Come From Away" when I wondered "What's the point of tagging bags as priority if no one treats them like an effing priority?" Eventually, I heard an announcement about a delay although I couldn't quite make out the reason. It took nearly an hour of waiting before I was finally reunited with my checked bag.
To get to the center of town, I took the AirLink bus. It was a fairly quick journey although I felt claustrophobic for much of it because the bus was so crowded. Once I reached my stop, I took a moment to get my bearings and then it was a quick walk to my hotel. I tried not to get too distracted by all the enticing new sights around me; there would be time to explore when I was unencumbered by luggage.
I'd chosen my hotel primarily because of its ideal location. Just a short walk from the Abbey Theatre, it was right on the River Liffey near the main O'Connell street. It wasn't too fancy, but it was located in an old building so it had character. Plus, any hotel with purple carpets in its rooms is a good match for me! I was thrilled that I was able to get into my room even though it was only around 10:45am. Having not gotten much sleep on the plane and knowing that this was more of a theatre trip than a sightseeing trip, I decided to take a nap so that I wouldn't have to struggle to stay awake for my show.
Feeling refreshed from some rest and a shower, I finally headed out at around 4pm. My first stop was a nearby donut shop that I'd passed earlier. I'd had no idea prior to this trip that Dublin would have so many amazing donuts on display throughout the town. I chose a donut with chocolate frosting and a vanilla center because it was topped by an adorable Santa Claus t-shirt design. I always go for the cute.
Once I'd had a snack, I couldn't resist heading to the Abbey Theatre to pick up my ticket to that evening's performance to "Come From Away." Seeing another cast perform the show was the main impetus behind my trip so I was so excited to see the theatre all decked out with the familiar blue and gold logo. I'd purchased my tickets the first day they'd gone on sale in July and I couldn't believe how insanely cheap they'd been- I'd be seeing the show twice for a grand total of $60! That's not $60 per ticket- that is $60 total. Granted I took advantage of a small discount for purchasing early… but, even at the regular prices, it was a hell of a value.
Ticket in hand, I walked up O'Connell Street perusing some stores, taking in the various sights along the thoroughfare, and searching for a suitable place for a meal. It was only 4:30 and it was already twilight; how I missed traveling in New Zealand when the sun hadn't set until 9pm! I eventually settled on a nondescript pizza place where I got a solidly mediocre but relatively inexpensive plate of Spaghetti Bolognese. I just wanted comfort food, nothing fancy, so I guess it met my needs. But I could really stand to up my dining game when I travel.
If there is a Disney store in a new city I am visiting, it's sort of a law that I need to find that store ASAP. With that thought in mind, I took a walk across the river and headed to Grafton Street, a pedestrian street that was decked out beautifully for the holiday. I didn't purchase anything at the Disney Store (or at the Lush cosmetics store that I was happy to stumble across) but it made me happy to be there despite the crowds.
I felt that the city did a great job creating a festive atmosphere with lights and projections. I enjoyed coming across several buildings with patterns such as falling snow projected onto them.
A lyric in the musical "Come From Away" asserts that "somewhere in the middle of nowhere... you've found your heart but left a part of you behind". But there's something missing from that lyric... in addition to finding my heart in Gander, I feel like I carry a little of the people I met there in my heart especially whenever I see the show performed. So it has extra meaning for me. When the theatre lobby displayed video of Gander interspersed with rehearsal footage, I even messaged some cell phone pictures to a friend there in order to share my excitement.
The Dublin cast, which later moved to London, was the third company I saw perform this show. I love how all the cast members in the various casts are able to bring their own unique touches to the familiar characters. But perhaps the best thing about seeing the show performed at the Abbey was the ability to view it in a much more intimate venue than the larger theatres in which I'd previously seen it performed. The Abbey Stage had less than 500 seats which meant it was roughly half the audience size of the Schoenfeld on Broadway and a third the size of the Royal Alex in Toronto. (I would later see the show performed in tour venues that had up to about 3000 seats) I also loved how the seats were elevated in such a way that I could see the floor of the stage even when sitting up close.
Before returning to my hotel, I crossed over the Liffey once more to stop in a convenience store I'd spotted earlier. I purchased a couple festively decorated chocolate croissants (one of which I ate the next morning), a coke zero for later, and a bottle of mint flavored water that ended up becoming a staple of mine. I'd picked up the water out of curiosity because the label said "relax" which seemed appropriate for a late night beverage and also because I was mesmerized by the light purple bottle. It was an oddly refreshing and comforting taste. Too bad that brand doesn't seem available outside of Ireland. They also supposedly had a Lavender flavor that I was sadly never able to find- and believe me I looked in every convenience type store I passed; I think it may have been discontinued just before my trip since it is no longer referenced on their site as of this writing.
One big difference between a theatre getaway and a typical vacation is that on the latter, I am content to be a lazy bum and linger in bed as long as possible in the mornings. And so began my first full day in Dublin.
A few days after I'd ordered my theatre tickets back in July 2018, the Abbey Theatre had posted their backstage tour schedule and I'd booked an 11am tour for Saturday. I was interested in the history of the theatre itself but obviously I was most tempted by the opportunity to stand on a "Come From Away" stage; at the time, I had no way of knowing that I'd be fortunate enough to have been offered the chance to go on the Broadway stage in September.
In November, I received a nice personal email explaining that the 11am Saturday backstage tour was cancelled. They offered me the chance to go on a tour at the same time on Friday but by then my flights were immutable and I didn't think there was a sufficient buffer to make it there on time from the airport. (as it turns out, I might have just made it if I'd splurged for a taxi and rushed at my hotel) I politely explained my predicament and also added that I would have flown in a day earlier if I'd known the Friday tour would have been my only option. My disappointment turned to joy as they offered to change that Friday's tour to 1pm, which would allow me a reasonable amount of time for potential delays.
Not long before I was to leave for the airport, I received yet another email from the theatre. This time they informed me that they wouldn't be able to offer the Friday tour after all due to scheduling conflicts. However, they offered me the option to have a private visit to the "Come From Away" stage and set at 11:15am on Saturday. While I would have liked to have taken the standard tour to all the theatre's spaces, I was elated that I'd at least get to have another up close look at the set for my favorite show. I really cannot say enough good things about the staff at the Abbey Theatre for personally working with me to ensure that I had the best experience they could offer. It was also a positive reinforcement to my belief that good things can happen if you treat everyone with kindness and respect; had I reacted poorly to the original cancellation, I doubt they would have made an effort to make accommodations for me.
As of this writing, I have been backstage with 3 different companies of "Come From Away" and each has provided me with unique experiences. On Broadway, my friends and I were able to hold and kiss a cod- not the actual one in the show, but one they have on hand for visitors. On tour, the auditorium was oddly dark but I was able to chat with one of the swings about her experiences with the show. And in Dublin, I was able to get close to more props than I'd seen in any other location. I was impressed with the level of detail evident in the fact that there were stuffed animals in the carriers used for the dog and cat Bonnie cares for; these never face the audience so I'd always assumed they were empty. They also had cute tags on them from "Bongo Air" with the pet's name and info. I also got a kick of being able to pick up the Rogers TV microphone used in the show by the character of Janice.
As in other venues, there was a Newfoundland flag proudly displayed in the wings. This one was signed by cast members from the other 3 companies of the show. Also this was the first time I got to see the offstage booth used by the percussion; I later got to see a similar area in Pittsburgh. I marveled at many cool items including as the disposable camera, Grey Goose, the ugly stick, and the dish of cod au gratin- which has looked slightly in each venue I've seen. It's such a treat for me to be on the stage where this special show is performed, and I'm always so amazed it's happening that I can barely form words.
After spending about 15 minutes on the stage, I got to see the bar upstairs which was lined with portraits of people who were notable in the theatre's history. It was all interesting but honestly not as big of a thrill for me as being on the "Come From Away" stage. Once again, I need to state how very grateful I am to the staff at the Abbey Theatre for their efforts in making the tour happen for me.
Given the amazingly inexpensive ticket prices, I was very tempted to see the matinee. But I fought hard against that urge since this afternoon would be the largest block of time I'd have available to see something of the city and it was a pretty nice day out. The weather was in the mid to upper 40's (Fahrenheit) for most of my stay and it felt quite pleasant in my winter coat.
The first place I headed was the Bord Gais Energy Theater because I wanted to be sure I knew my way and how long it would take to get there the next day. It probably wasn't the best use of my time but I was almost as excited about seeing "Les Mis" as I was about "Come From Away" so I enjoyed getting a look at the theater. And it was a nice walk.
From there, I had an idea of visiting Trinity College and possibly seeing the Book of Kells exhibition. I hadn't done much, if any, research into the city sites but the college is centrally located and it seemed to be a highly rated site. The library's long room looked particularly impressive and the attraction seemed ideal for a nerd like myself. Unfortunately, when I got to the campus, I saw a sign posted saying that the tours were already shut down for the Christmas holidays. If I'd had a deeper interest, I would have done more research in advance and possibly headed there the previous day, which was the last day they'd been given before the holiday break. But it was all good, since I wasn't overly into the idea of doing anything much. The small campus was pleasant enough to see.
I was getting very hungry when I happened upon a small store advertising such treasures as gelato, crepes and waffles. And it was like seeing a mirage from the desert. They had nutella crepes on the menu so of course that is what I ordered. I loved their sign on the sidewalk which stated "Life is short eat dessert first!" Noble words to be sure.
I took a quick whirl around the grounds of nearby Dublin Castle. I guess I wasn't much interested in going inside. Or maybe I just needed some rest. In any case, I decided to head back to my room for a bit rather than exploring more than the surface of this attraction.
For dinner, I was excited to find a quiet Japanese place that was a little off the beaten path. I'd actually been planning to try somewhere else I'd seen in my online research of the area, but I got diverted when I stumbled upon this restaurant on the way. Chicken ramen was the perfect meal especially considering that my stomach had been acting up a bit. (although not enough for me to have given up the sweets that tempted me!)
I'd originally purchased my evening tickets with the idea that I'd be in the very front row, but then the theatre added another row in front of mine. But it wasn't a big deal. I was just glad to have one more chance to see this company of "Come From Away." Live theatre is magic because you never know what will happen. In this instance, because it was the last performance prior to Christmas, the whole cast came back out to cheer on the band during the post-curtain call "Screech Out" musical sequence. They were all wearing cute headgear like Santa hats or reindeer ears. I think one of the instrumental soloists also snuck in a Christmas melody. It was a perfect, joyful finale to my Dublin "Come From Away" experience.
Before going back to the hotel, I stopped to get some snacks, although I surely didn't eat them all right away. In addition to another ridiculous donut (appropriately called "Amazing Chocolate"), I got small bags of Smokey Bacon potato chips and Limited edition crunchy caramel M&M's.
I had another glorious morning of sleeping in and being a total lazy bum. For breakfast, I ate the donut I'd bought the previous night. At around noon, I decided to venture out toward the theatre where I'd be seeing "Les Miserables". I figured I'd pick up lunch somewhere around there… even though I didn't specifically recall seeing many restaurants in the vicinity.
The walk was pleasant although it was drizzling. I took a slightly different route from the previous day, this time waiting to cross the river until I was closer to the theater. This allowed me to pass by The Famine Memorial which was one of the sculptures that I'd hoped to see. During my very brief time in the city, I also came across the Molly Malone and James Joyce sculptures.
Fortunately, I was able to find a quirky little cafe along the square in front the theatre. It was basically empty when I arrived 2 hours before curtain- but it definitely filled up later. I gave into my cravings and decided on the margarita pizza which totally hit the spot.
In addition to having an unusual name, the Board Gais Energy Theater (which is named for an Irish utility company) had a fascinating modern facade whose design featured an unusual use of angles. The interior auditorium was much more conventional with its rows of red chairs. As soon as I entered the lobby, I saw a sign with the day's cast list and was elated that Killian Donnelly would indeed be performing the lead role of Jean Valjean. I'd never previously seen the Irish actor but I'd heard great things about his performances in London and New York and I was very excited to be seeing him in his home country.
I was a little disappointed in the merchandise that was available. I guess it makes sense that they didn't have any special Dublin merchandise since this was just one stop on what was generally a UK tour but it would have been nice if they'd had something. Even "Come From Away" was selling a magnet that said "Dublin."
To my surprise, what I thought had been a 5th row seat turned out to be in the 3rd row instead. The show itself was great, even though I definitely prefer the original 1980's staging to the more recent direction. I thought I noticed some improvements in the staging since I'd seen the Broadway version but that had been several years earlier so it was hard to tell. Regardless of anything, I will always get emotional when I see "Les Mis" because it is so closely tied to many poignant memories over the years since the first time I saw it when I was in high school. The finale in particular reminds me of how my dad has passed away suddenly when I was seeing the show in Berlin in 2004 (I'd also seen an even more interesting production in Prague on the same trip).
Killian Donnelly was an amazing Valjean, and the rest of the cast was all strong as well. I was hoping that at the curtain call, the cast would do something festive for the holiday similar to what the "Come From Away" cast had done the previous evening. While not as flashy, I think Killian wished everyone a Merry Christmas in Irish. I mean, obviously I can't say for sure since I don't know the language… but it seems logical.
On the walk back toward the hotel, I noticed that the Samuel Beckett Bridge had a delightful little light show for the holiday so I stood and watched it for a few minutes. I also passed the Custom House which had its own projected decorations. Again, I marveled at how well the city had done at dressing itself up for the holiday season.
After doing some shopping, I was determined to have dinner at a proper pub. Due to my anxiety, I didn't want to go to any of the more obvious touristy places which would have surely been crowded. I spotted a potential venue on a side street and googled it to verify that it wasn't absolutely horrid. So I went inside… and almost turned around and walked out because I wasn't sure if I should seat myself or what. But it all worked out, and I dined on a plate of Fish and Chips that was quite good although not as amazing as the meal I'd had in St John's Newfoundland. And I ordered a small, half pint glass of Guinness. You really can't go to Ireland without at least sampling their signature brew, even if you aren't a beer drinker.
I walked around a little bit after dinner, but I had a really early flight the next morning so I didn't want to stay out too late. Of course, I stopped at a convenience store to pick up one last bottle of mint flavored water.
I really enjoyed my time in Dublin and wish I'd been able to spend more time there… as well as visiting some of the other parts of the country, which seem fabulous. But I was a bit travel weary going there so soon after New Zealand and I'm happy I was at least able to take a quick visit. It's a very walkable and pleasant city, full of arts and culture that I could only touch upon.
I had to get up at a ridiculous time in the morning because I had a 7:10am flight to London. I'd chosen that time so as to maximize the time I'd have in the city (and minimize the chances of a delay impacting my matinee plans) but it was hard to get up. I'd booked a cab with my hotel because buses only starting running at 4:45am or so and I didn't think that would get me to the airport with enough time. I'm notorious for wanting to get to airports super early- especially because I've had to run to the gate a couple due to circumstances beyond my control and it wasn't fun.
I ended up having a really long time to wait at the airport since I arrived there at 4:45 but I was ok with that, even though I was tired. Somewhere past security, I found a packaged bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese which was the perfect breakfast. I'm sure I tried to nap on the short 1.5 hour flight because I was really tired and had a long day ahead.
I'd booked an onsite airport hotel because the London public transit would be closed on Christmas and so I'd have a hell of an expensive time trying to get back to the airport the next morning if I'd stayed in central London. But even if the tube had been available, I realize in retrospect that staying by the airport for a one night stay before an early flight would definitely have been the right move.
I was glad that the hotel was able to check me into a room, although I chuckled to myself when the front desk clerk suggested that I would be glad to take some time to rest after my early flight. Who has time to rest in a hotel when they have a mere 23 hours in London and there are so many places to see?!?! But getting into a room right away and unpacking a bit was certainly a better option than waiting to get one much later at night when all I'd want to do would be to collapse into bed.
It was really easy to walk back to the airport to take the tube into the city. I bought an off peak 1 day transport pass so I'd be able to take as many tube rides as I needed. I discovered later that the pay as you go oyster travel card would have been a very tiny bit cheaper but only because there is a one day price cap on those cards. The difference was probably less than $1 since I'd made sure not to start my travel until after 9:30am when the off peak pricing took effect for the 1 day pass. So it wasn't a big deal.
I got off the tube at Piccadilly Circus and excitedly walked over to Carnaby Street to see how it was decorated in honor of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. I knew that the display would look better at night but I wasn't sure if I'd have a chance to go there after my show. But more importantly, I wanted to check out the Queen pop up store which closed early. That store was a real treat since it showcased some really unique items including some of Freddie Mercury's costumes. I would have been game to try one of the special beers that was on sale but I knew I couldn't carry it around all day. After wandering around the little store to take in all the memorabilia on display, I settled on buying a black T-shirt commemorating the pop up shop… although I was tempted by a purple Bohemian Rhapsody one.
The light display was wicked cool, with phrases from the iconic song "Bohemian Rhapsody" strewn overhead in bright colors. At the center of the street, there was a sparkly British flag emblazoned with the word "Carnaby" and decorated with a crown overhead. I was so glad that a friend of mine had posted pictures from the street recently as otherwise I might not have known about it, and it was so fun to see in person.
I was getting a little hungry so I decided to stop at a cupcake shop nearby that I'd enjoyed on a previous trip. Once I saw that they had cookie dough cheesecake squares for sale, I nixed the idea of having a cupcake this time. The treats were delicious, and so adorable topped with sprarkles and colored smarties.
Christmas Eve is probably the worst day of the year to casually pop into a toy store, but I always like to peek into Hamleys so I braved the insanity. I was rewarded with some great Harry Potter displays including Lego versions of Harry and Hargid. I also stopped into the flagship Lush Cosmetics store on Oxford Street. I didn't make any purchases but it was fun to walk around the stores.
When stopping in a convenience store, I was excited to see bottles of Diet Dr Pepper available for purchase. I definitely needed some caffeine and that's my favorite soda brand. I got in line to pay and casually handed the cashier some £1 coins that I had left from a previous trip in 2015.... only to be told that they were no longer legal tender. OK, cool… I put back the coins and handed him a £10 bill that was also left from that trip. I was shocked to find out that it, too, was obsolete. What the hell, UK!??! This wasn't even the first time I had tried paying for something in London only to be told that my tender was no longer valid. I can't recall possessing obsolete currency in any other country, with the obvious exception of ones where their money had been replaced by the Euro. Oh sure, the guy at the store told me I could go to a bank and exchange my currency for the newer values… but who had time for that… if I could even find a place open on Christmas Eve day! I just paid with my credit card and hoped I wouldn't find myself in need of cash during my stay- although I could always try to find an ATM if cash was the only option somewhere.
I walked by the Phoenix Theater in hopes that it would already be decorated for its next tenant, "Come From Away". But alas, its current tenant, "Chicago" was still wrapping up performances. I wandered around the theater district, Leicester Square, and Chinatown fondly recalling many of my past trips. London had been my first solo International destination and I've been there many times since then. The city holds a lot of great memories. Much like NYC, I can enjoy just roaming around my favorite areas.
Eventually, I took the tube to Victoria Station to be near the theatre for my matinee. On some days, I might have walked there… but it felt a little far on a day when I hadn't gotten much rest. Besides, I had an unlimited travel card. I found a nearby Pret A Manger where I got a Ham, Cheese and Mustard Toastie for lunch. For some reason, I seem to have better luck enjoying the offerings at this chain in the UK compared to the US.
And then I got in line outside the Victoria Palace theatre to catch the matinee of "Hamilton." Talking to others in line, I discovered that I was not the only person to realize it was much easier and less expensive to score tickets to the London production than to Broadway or the shorter US tour stops. I don't know who is buying the $849 top price tickets from the Broadway box office… but I could never justify that price. I even figured out that if I timed things out right, I could fly to London and buy a decent stalls level ticket to Hamilton… and still have money left for cheap food and lodging. The top prices on Broadway are not a good value… especially now that the original cast is long gone. But apparently someone is paying those prices.
To combat scalpers, the London production uses a paperless ticketing system. What this means is that instead of a ticket, you need to show your confirmation email, credit card, and identification such as a passport in order to enter the theatre. Once they verify your credentials, they print out a small slip of paper with your seat location. I found the process to be very efficient- although an obvious down side is that it does not allow for anyone to buy tickets as a present for another party unless they also attend.
Some people have asked me about the contrast between seeing the show in the winning and losing countries of the American Revolution. I really didn't pick up much of a different vibe- but that was possibly because I was far from the only American in the audience during a holiday season matinee. I was really glad to be able to see "Hamilton" again for the first time in several years since it's a strong show that I was surprised lived up to the hype. (note that my opinion is based on seeing it for the first time when it was only hyped within theatre circles and before it became a huge pop culture juggernaut)
After the show, I took a quick trip to King's Cross station to see Track 9 3/4, famous from the Harry Potter books. Because, ummm, I could. There was too long of a line to get another souvenir photo taken and I didn't buy anything in the little souvenir store (which was crazy crowded). But I was so glad to get a glimpse of such an iconic sight once more, and I enjoyed perusing the merchandise for sale.
Then I headed back to Carnaby Street so I could see the Bohemian Rhapsody light display in the dark. As I expected, it was even more spectacular when lit up against the night sky. I played with the professional mode on my phone's camera to get my photos to come out better in the dim light. The street was really crowded as stores were closing and employees and patrons alike were either enjoying a night out in London or making their way home. There seemed to be a sense of festivity in the air, since soon most everyone would be celebrating the biggest holiday of the year with their friends and loved ones. Except me. I was alone, taking in as much as possible on my last glorious night abroad before returning home.
I hadn't figured out a plan for dinner and I was skeptical that I'd be able to find a place to eat on a holiday evening other than fast food. But my feet took me to a familiar Italian chain in the theatre distinct and fortunately they were able to accommodate me.
I could think of nothing more suitable to order than my staple, Spaghetti Bolognese. But I also wanted a cocktail to celebrate the holiday and I chose a Bellini Rossini which was described as "prosecco, strawberry puree and lime" It appealed to me because the red of the strawberry and the green of the lime were of course Christmas colors. When the drink came out, it looked very red and there was no visible trace of green- but I knew it was there symbolically. I was struggling taking a selfie with my beverage when the people at the table next to me kindly offered to take my photo. Christmas spirit, y'all- it's real.
While I wasn't exactly hungry for dessert, there was no way to resist the "Cookie Dough Al Forno" which was described as "Warm chocolate chip cookie dough filled with a melting chocolate middle, served with vanilla gelato and caramel sauce." I had to hunt down a waiter just to get a dessert menu… and it was really more of a cookie than cookie dough… but wow, it was fabulous! It reminded me a little of the skillet cookie I'd enjoyed in Rotorua, New Zealand. Since it was Christmas Eve, I tipped very generously despite receiving questionable service.
By the time I was finished eating, it was around 8:30pm. By then I was really tired. And while there are certainly more places in the area I could have explored, I was ready to get back to the hotel. So I went to the nearest Piccadilly Line tube stop (probably Leicester Square) and waited for what is supposed to be about a 50 minute ride. All was going smoothly until we reached the Hounslow East station. I was just a few stops and about 15 minutes from the Terminal 5 underground stop, which was my destination.
At this point, the train stopped and the power went off. The door was open which let in a chill. Eventually there was a barely audible announcement that due to an incident on the tracks, it was highly suggested that we get off the train. Everyone was disembarking so I did as well. I expected that someone at the station would direct us to an alternate method of transit. But there was no one around.
Most people seemed to be calling ubers but not me. No, I was determined. This was now my personal episode of the Amazing Race and I had to make it to my destination without spending anything beyond the transit pass in which I'd already invested. It might not have been the most expedient option, but I love a travel challenge. So I tried to get my bearings which was obviously not easy to do in the dark. I located a bus station, but when I found someone to ask, they directed me a different bus stop. There might have been safety in numbers but, as I mentioned, it seemed like most people just called uber or hitched taxi rides. I definitely felt more than a little sketchy wandering around who-knows-where on Christmas Eve in the dark when few places were open but I eventually found my way onto a bus that made a million stops on its way to Heathrow. Victory was mine! I climbed the stairs to sit on the top level of the double decker bus so I could make the most out of the situation and enjoy the view.
I was relieved when the bus finally stopped at the stop for Heathrow terminals 1 to 3 but I still had to get to terminal 5. So I followed the signs for "free train transfer" and I think I got some weird looks using the train after 10pm when there were very few passengers. Yes, it felt a little creepy. But once the train arrived, I was happy to get on… and it made me smile to see that its seats were purple. Finally, I made it to terminal 5 and the unexpected adventure ended with a happy ending. Just know that if you ever run into a jam when traveling, I'm probably a great person to have around. I have mad travel instincts, an ability to stay calm when things don't go as expected, and the heart of an adventurer. It doesn't hurt that I've always had excellent problem solving skills.
When I finally got back to my hotel room, over an hour later than I'd expected, I was absolutely ready to collapse from fatigue! It had been a wonderfully full day even though I'd retained a relaxed pace and hadn't really done a lot. I'm always glad to have the opportunity to steal some time in London, one of my favorite cities in the world.
My flight was at 7:35 am so I was glad that I was staying at a hotel attached to the airport where I could just stumble out of bed and walk to the check in area. I saved more than just transit time because, as exemplified the previous evening, you always need to add buffer time for delays when you’re staying further than walking distance from where you need to be.
Even so, I arrived at the airport really early. I'm pretty sure I was able to get someone to my seat on the first flight so that I had a window seat that wasn't completely in the back. It was really empty at the airport when I first arrived and I laughed at the site of a completely vacant Harry Potter shop at 5:30am. I really needn't have fought the crowds at the King's Cross shop the previous night since this shop had mostly the same items, but I was still glad I'd gone.
I struggled finding something appetizing for breakfast so early before finally settling on a small container of porridge at Pret A Manger. That stuff was so good! Especially for someone who has a sensitive stomach in the morning. I also did some quick shopping in one of the generic airport shops where I was excited to find small bags of Cadbury mini creme eggs. I also purchased a box of Kinder chocolates… and a Hello Kitty beanie baby dressed as a Royal Guard because it was too cute to resist. I have very little willpower on early mornings at the end of trips.
Because of both price and timing, I was connecting in Madrid. This was one of very few times in recent years where I've transferred in a city I've never previously visited without taking at least an extended layover. But I didn't want to lengthen my trip so sacrifices had to be made.
I didn't take any notes so I am hoping the fact that I don't remember much about my first flight or the transfer process means that everything went smoothly. But it's entirely possible that I wasn't awake enough for anything to register. I feel like the flight attendants on my first flight were very much in the Christmas spirit, right down to wearing light up decorations. I can't believe I didn't take any notes since I vaguely recall that one of the flight attendants might have been a little extra on the Christmas cheer over the PA system during the flight but I can't cite any specific examples.
I had a short 2 hour layover in Madrid. The airport wasn't particularly interesting, although I was amused at the "Merry Christmas" signs in various languages. It's so on brand for me to take a photo of a Japanese "Merry Christmas" sign in an airport in Spain on my way home from the UK.
The final leg of my trip home was in premium economy which was as nice as the outbound trip to Dublin. This time, I think I ate more of the meal which was chicken with orzo pasta. We landed well before the 3:45 scheduled time, and since there was no rush hour traffic because of the holiday, my drive home was much easier and quicker than my drive to the airport had been.
It was a quick little trip, but well worth it- especially because this getaway gave me something to be happy about during the holiday season. Sometimes it's nice to forego tourist attractions and just have fun wandering around and seeing shows. Dublin was a fantastic city and I hope I'll get a chance to return in the not-too-distant future. And I'm sure I'll get back to London again before too long.