When Vikings and Cartoons mix

Covent Neils Yard 2014I’m not sure why I thought spending Easter Weekend in London was a good idea. It’s crowded at the best of times. When  you add in a holiday, it’s insane. Still, booking my vacation to include the Easter Weekend meant I used two fewer vacation days. Originally we were to be in France, taking the Eurostar to London on the Easter Saturday. Plans changed but we were able to get away for a couple of days and booked the train from Manchester to Euston Station, first class since it wasn’t too dear.

We arrived before noon and traipsed down into bowels of Euston Station where the taxis are, arriving at the hotel in short order. It wasn’t far but I had my large, heavy suitcase and didn’t feel like dragging it around. Luckily, we could get in our room straight away so we could get rid of the bags and sort things out.

We were quite happy with the hotel and the room. It was a Radisson which is well out of our budget normally but the travel agent got it for a pretty good price. The location was really convenient to Euston station and there were two underground stations within a block. We stashed the bags and headed out, walking down Tottenham court Road, intent on lunch.

There was a pub a block from the hotel, the Northumberland Arms and that’s as good as any, we thought. There were a few other likely candidates plus non-pub cafes and sandwich shops along the road as well. The food was pretty good but the portions were smaller and price a bit more expensive. That’s London for you! I have been on a pear cider kick since I had such a nice one in the Sedge Lynn pub the other night in Chorlton. The one they had here wasn’t very good, though, not compared to the other. That brand was Kopparberg and they do apple cider as well. This one was Bulmers which is normally good at least for apple cider but the pear cider hardly had any pear flavour at all. Be warned.

Never mind. The food set us up for the rest of the afternoon. My first order of business was to find a particular shop in Covent Garden to get something a friend had asked me to find. We wandered into the area and did some window shopping along Neil Street which has lots of great, funky shops. We found Neil’s Yard where the desired store was and made my purchase. “Job’s a good’un” as Graham would say.

Neil’s Yard is a little, hidden courtyard. It’s not that easy to find if you didn’t know it was there. I had discovered it years ago by accident while exploring Covent Garden. It’s got some little shops and a café or two and the buildings are brightly painted. There are a few little trees and benches around to sit and people watch. It’s a little oasis of peace in a very busy neighbourhood, away from the crowds. I love Covent Garden but it’s usually elbow to elbow with tourists.

British Museum, Viking ship

British Museum, Viking ship

It’s probably a good time to make our way to the British Museum. We have timed entry tickets for the Viking exhibit at 3:00 and thought as it’s still early we might be of a mind to look around the museum first. When we got there, we decided against that idea. It’s really crowded and our feet were already hurting from the walking so we found a bench to sit and wait.

At 3:00, we went to the exhibit. I don’t know how many they let in for each timed entry but it’s too many. The exhibit was extremely crowded and it was difficult trying to get your turn in front of the glass cases to read and see the items. The first rooms in particular were the worst as they weren’t large. Later on, the rooms opened up some and people spread out as they all took a different length of time to view. The last room was a hall where they had a large skeleton of the remains of a Viking longboat fitted into a metal frame. They brought it over from the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum which we’d visited a few years ago.

We did enjoy the exhibit, though, in spite of the crowds. The artifacts that have been found over the years and preserved are amazing when you think of the centuries they would have been buried until someone discovered them. Precious metals and stones, gilding, carving, everyday items, too.

Our feet were suffering when we were done there. A quick look through the gift shops and we were back out the door, perhaps to start thinking of looking for a place to eat before the theatre, or a coffee shop to have a sit-down, at least. But first, as we walked south away from the museum, up a narrow street (Little Russell Street) that was two or three away and parallel from the street that the British Museum is on I spied a sign for a little museum that I’d heard of. It’s the Cartoon Museum!

Exhibit in the Cartoon Museum, London

Exhibit in the Cartoon Museum, London

I can’t resist small museums like that and I had read about it while planning the trip. It’s a small, private museum and showcases the history of cartoons and comic art back to the 18th century when caricatures first became a popular way to skewer politicians and other well known faces of the day and satirize society. You can read a little more about the history here.

They have some great examples, both reproductions and originals of cartoons right up to modern day ones created digitally. Classic British comic strips are featured in the upstairs gallery and the temporary exhibit that was on while we were there featured the Spitting Image puppets and cartoons from the 1980s. They had a storyboard showing how they were made and other posters with information on the creators and a few memorable examples including Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, with very long ears that, in the old television show, used to wiggle all the time.

The museum appealed also because Graham is an artist and does marvellous caricatures and drawings and he enjoyed getting a closer look at the artwork.

We’re done there after about an hour and we head further back into Covent Garden. We want to find the theatre so we know where it is and then find somewhere to have a pre-theatre meal. Right, there it is down a small street off Shaftsbury Avenue, a longish street that cuts through the West End theatre district. Shaftsbury Avenue and the immediately surrounding streets probably have the highest concentration of theatres in London though the district spreads out for many blocks.

We have tickets to see the historic play, The Mousetrap. That’s based on an Agatha Christie book and has been running in the West End for 62 years, so the neon sign on St. Martin’s theatre says. I wonder how much it costs to change the number every year? It’s a tourist attraction on its own nowadays. We retraced our steps and found a restaurant at the intersection of Shaftsbury and Charing Cross Road called Leon de Bruxelles, a Belgian restaurant. The menu looked good, they had a reasonably priced fixed price menu that had items both of us liked, so in we went.

Nice place, didn’t take much notice of the regular menu item prices so it may have been a bit pricey but not out of the ordinary for that part of London. The fixed price menu was under 20 pounds for three courses, under 15 if you only had two courses. Drinks, of course, are extra. Pear cider time again, and they had pear and apple by the famed Belgian Stella Artois brewery. Not bad, still not as good as Kopparberg but better than Bulmers.

We enjoyed the meal and went back to the theatre to find our seats. The play, a murder mystery, was good fun, a bit overly dramatic in the style of acting but it’s set in the 1950s and is just like watching movies from that era, too, all similar in acting style. The performances were all great and Graham even figured out who the murderer was by the intermission. I hadn’t come to that conclusion but when he said what he thought during the break, it seemed likely. I can’t reveal the culprit’s identity because you are charged at the end to keep the secret so unless you’ve read the book, you won’t find out from me!

We caught the bus back to the hotel, as usual we got off a stop too soon and had to walk the last few blocks. Turns out there’s a bus stop right in front of the hotel! Oh well. It wasn’t cold, it was quiet and there were blessed few people around, unlike most of the day, so we enjoyed the stroll. We picked up some drinks and snacks at the Tesco next to the hotel and relaxed for the rest of the evening.