So, after the craziness of the last few months, i decided i needed a treat and took a long weekend away. I had never been in London except on layover, and it was closer and cheaper than, say, Istanbul or some of the other destinations on my bucket list, so that was where i headed.
First off, let me say that it was not what i expected. Or, rather, the vision in my head, largely painted by J K Rowling and Benny Hill, was not exactly accurate.
First off, there is NOT a tea shop on every corner. In fact, i never was able to have myself a good high tea because there was never a shop around when it was time. In fact, there weren’t many classically British places to eat at all. There were plenty of Indian, Thai, Italian, Spanish, Lebanese, Greek, … With the occasional confetti of fish and chip shops. No glut of pastie purveyors. No banger carts on the street corners. No spotted dicks laid out on paper doilies in glass patisserie windows.
The flipside to the above is that London truly IS an international city. People of all colors, aesthetics, walks of life, and speaking every language known to man. Groups of young adults that resemble a United Nations committee laughing together on the train. Pairs of silver-aged women with more style than any Parisian fashion model, and punk colored hair that would make the Ramones proud, walking in and out of vintage shops. Strikingly regal men with luscious, dark skin and Savile Row suits discussing the engagement of Prince Harry and the potential economic repercussions of Brexit. The variety of humanity contained there is unparalleled. New York may be a melting pot, but it has nothing on the cottage pie that is London.
Of course, all those delightfully international people shoved into one city means that it is never quiet. I mean, we all know a city never sleeps, but London never even takes a breath! For those of us who are a bit hard of hearing, the din becomes like a dull ache. More than once, i found myself pulling up the most boring of meditation tracks on my computer just to gently wean myself off the grinding, metallic discordance. Relief came for real, tho, when i got to visit the white cliffs of Dover. No picture i have ever seen did justice to the expanse and serenity. And brilliance… They really are white. And the total coolness of looking across the bay to France! I do think i could easily have stayed in Dover and done a day trip to the city (Ok, maybe 2 days… there is so much to see!) instead of the other way around. The bliss and beauty that is those cliffs had me easily enamored.
Another thing that i fell in love with on this trip was the history. When home here in Tennessee, i often remark that i miss the oldness, the antique, of my New England heritage. Buildings and monuments that have been there since the beginning of our country. And, indeed, i do still love that. But in London, those buildings and monuments… They tell stories of spirits that were long since dead before my country was even a country. How cool is that? If the walls of Westminster Abbey could talk, imagine the stories they could tell! Imagine the sights and sounds and scents (Pre-Victorian era hygiene must have left some pretty vibrant odors….) All the voices of eras past swirling in the most magnificent pieces of architecture. For people who love history, London is dessert. With fudge sauce and whipped cream.
At the Tower of London, i was more than awed by the Crown Jewels. Mostly because i took it to mean a crown with jewels on it. I had no idea that there were many crowns. And sceptres. And swords. All gilded and encrusted. Heavy velvet robes with ornate detailing. (I admit, i did wonder after seeing all this how uncomfortable it must be to wear something so obviously heavy for hours at a time. Give the queen her crown and a robe and a pair of heels to boot, and i’d imagine she needed a serious massage and a painkiller for the night!) The collection of armor was pretty cool as well. We all know that people come in many different shapes and sizes… But seeing that laid out in metal makes it even more obvious. Big suits, little suits, wide suits, skinny suits… Not to mention the codpieces! (I heard more than one woman discussing the significance of the last bit…) Sarcophagi of bodies found under the tower stairs. Bits of creepiness everywhere you looked inside. And outside, the vision of London Bridge (Which did not, in fact, appear to be falling down.) I saw many other sights as well: Some just because it was expected, others because they spoke to me.
I had a great time spending a day seeking out some things that were iconic to my weedlings’ childhoods. The obvious first stop was Paddington station. I was slightly disappointed that there was no bear. It would be perfect if there were a statue or something. But, alas, not at the moment. So then i was off to the market. A very specific market. One that had me singing in the legendary David Tomlinson’s voice. “Portobello Road, Portobello Road… Street where the riches of ages are stowed.” I didn’t find any riches, per se, but i did find a shop that sold the most kickass Harris tweed tailed waistcoats and capes. (Unfortunately, it required riches to buy one.) And as dorky as it sounds, i also found a stand that had Cox apples. I can attest to the fact that, as epicures have written, it absolutely is the best apple to eat out of hand. Like, ambrosia good. Straight from heaven. Ooooohhhhhh, that apple!…
Anyway, so i got pictures at Portobello Road, and then headed to another Disney destination. This one important because it was the scene of the Sherman brothers’ magnum opus. (Also, coincidentally, the inimitable Jane Darwell’s final film scene.) If you need another hint, i was looking for a tuppence bag of birdseed. Yup, you guessed it… St Paul’s cathedral. And tho it was a little smaller than it looked in the movie, it nearly brought me to tears. Have you ever been some place that made a special part of your heart feel home? Ya. That feeling. That is St Paul’s. I’m not sure if it’s just memories of Mary Poppins, the exquisite perfection of Feed The Birds, or something inherent in the structure itself; but whatever it is, you can’t ignore it. It penetrates.
One final note: There was one thing that became apparent almost immediately that affected not only my vacation, but the way i try to look at life… It literally started on the train ride from Heathrow. All of us packed tight like sardines. People should be getting to meet and talk with all the people around them. Instead, everyone was plugged into their phones and tablets. The train rattled thru most of the city, iconic landmarks in full view, and no one looked up. I promised myself then and there that i wouldn’t see London thru my phone. I would enjoy the moments, not just take pictures. It was hard to explain to people who wondered why i didn’t have more photos from my trip, but i am still glad that i spent more time actually looking and feeling and absorbing than framing the perfect photo. I may never be a big city girl. I may not have enjoyed everything that London is. But i did experience it as thoroughly as i could. And the reminder of how good that feels made it well worth the trip.