London Journalby Kathi and Wayne Jacobs
Note: This is our very first trip to Europe together. We're traveling with a group of 30 people who worked through a travel agent for cheaper airfares and hotel accommodations, but once in London, we all go our separate ways for the week.
Day 1 - Sunday - March 1, 1998 - Home to Charlotte to Atlanta to London:
Around 1 PM, Kathi and I leave to drive to Charlotte to begin our long journey to London. The afternoon is warm (around 60 degrees) and the sky is a beautiful blue. Arriving in Charlotte around 3 PM, we drive down Billy Graham Boulevard, looking for a nice restaurant in which to have an early supper, but without any luck. After driving 2 miles we end up parking the car in a long term lot, checking in at the airport and eating an early dinner at a typical airport restaurant. Around 4 PM, others in our group begin to arrive and we spend the next two hours talking, comparing notes, and getting excited about our trip.
7:00 PM and our plane leaves Charlotte for Atlanta. After a short flight during which the stewardess hardly has time to serve snacks, we land at Hartsfield Airport at twilight and we find ourselves back in a terminal with a couple of hours to kill before our next flight leaves.
Delta flight 10, to London's Gatwick airport, leaves Atlanta around 10 PM and we're settled in for a seven hour flight. Unable to reserve a window seat after repeated attempts, I have a center aisle seat and Kathi is seated beside me. I've already taken a Dramamine to prevent any possible motion sickness and after dinner, we both take a sleeping pill to help us get some rest during the long flight ahead. The plane has TV monitors mounted in the ceiling and when the TVs are not showing a movie, they show a computer graphic plotting the plane's path, location, ground speed, altitude, and outside temperature. It's really very interesting to follow the route the plane is taking: up the east coast of the United States, over Montreal, New Brunswick, Labrador, then across the Atlantic, over Greenland, Iceland, and then to the UK. Unable to sleep comfortably in the cramped seats, Kathi and I are both fitful. Luckily, because of our direction of flight, our "night" is shortened by five hours. Morning comes, we awaken and are served breakfast and Kathi and I grow more excited as the plane prepares to land at Gatwick.
Day 2 - Monday - March 2, 1998 - London
We arrive at Gatwick 20 minutes early at 10:25 AM, after a sleepless night on the plane. We had interior seats and felt very crowded but it is an easy move from the plane through Customs. The sky is overcast and the temperature is 50 degrees F.
Gatwick is located approximately 28 miles south of the center of London, but it will take a little over one hour for our coach to get us to the hotel. On the way, as we pass through picturesque countryside, towns, and villages, our hotel representative gives us an informative talk about British life, money and practical tips on our visit in London.
We arrive at our hotel, the Millennium - Gloucester and check in, eager to see London. We're pleased with the location of the hotel and the staff appears professional and accommodating.
After Kathi and I check in and get some traveler's checks cashed at the front desk, we walk around the Gloucester Road area to acquaint ourselves with the shops near the hotel. We made a phone call to relatives in Virginia using our A.T.&T. Calling Card, a surprisingly simple process that resulted in a clear, loud conversation. We then located the Tube Station, the Gloucester Road Underground, which was only 300 feet from our hotel entrance and couldn't have been more convenient.
Fortunately, we find there are a variety of restaurants and shops located around the Tube Station. We also discovered Harts, a small grocer with an excellent selection of sweets, pastries, cheeses, soft drinks, and milk -- a perfect source of supplies for late night snacks which we would utilize on several occasions during our week in London.
A cold, driving rain is unable to confine us indoors on our first afternoon in London. After checking out Harts, the grocer, we found a convenient branch of Boots, the Chemist (a pharmacy chain with branches all over London). Interestingly, a large amount of counter space is devoted to "Cod Liver Oil," which must play a larger role in British lives than Americans. One obvious difference between British and American retail transactions: there is no tax added to your purchases. The tax (V.A.T.-- a whopping 17 1/2 per cent) is already included in each price sticker, and consequently, the price you see on the tag is the total price you pay.
Walking a short distance up Cromwell Road, we pass Stanhope Mews, Queen's Gate Mews and the Baden Powell House, (founder of the Boy Scouts) then on to the Natural History Museum. Founded in 1881 and designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the splendid, detailed architecture is reminiscent of a cathedral. Wayne and I find of special interest the following: The Power Within (experiencing an earthquake); the Bird Gallery (especially the stuffed dodo birds, the ostriches, and the hummingbird display); and the semispherical effect created by only 20 regularly sized TV monitors and mirrors (whose edges were precisely cut and measured to intersect at the center of the sphere's great circle) -- really amazing and quite spectacular!
Tonight we have an early supper at Seasons Grill (near our hotel) of traditional fish and chips (cod and french fries). Stopping at Harts, I purchase a late night snack for both of us: luscious chocolate cream-filled doughnuts and cold milk. Back in our room after a wonderful day filled with glorious sights.
Day 3 - Tuesday - March 3, 1998 - London
We sleep in until 7:30 AM, then down to the hotel's dining room where we have a leisurely breakfast of fresh fruit, croissants and other breads with butter, jams and jellies, yogurt, cheese, orange juice, coffee, and of course - hot tea. The lobby, restaurants, and lounges are quite nice, and our room is very spacious. The bathroom is wonderful - a huge porcelain tub and fantastic shower with good pressure!
After breakfast, I stop by the Concierge's desk and requests tickets for Wednesday afternoon's performance of "Miss Saigon." We then walk 3 minutes to the Gloucester Road Tube Station and purchase a One Day Travel Card (unlimited underground travel within zones 1 and 2, from 9:30 am until midnight for £3.50), then by Tube to King's Cross Train Station. There we arrange for and purchase our train tickets on the Flying Scotsman for Thursday's trip to Edinburgh. Our helpful ticket agent offers a special discount rate if we're willing to leave at 6:15 AM and we accept! We end up paying about one third of what we expected to pay for round trip tickets. We've very excited about our day excursion to Scotland. Then, on to Russell Square (where we naturally have to enter the Russell Hotel) - where we were originally booked to stay when we paid our deposit in December - the Russell is really elegant! Oh well, we're satisfied with the Millennium. We have 24 hour-a-day Concierge services, a very friendly staff, and pleasant amenities.
The main outing of our day today is the astounding British Museum. Founded in 1753, it is the oldest museum in the world. It is built upon the physician Sir Hans Sloane's rich collection of artifacts from around the world. His treasures were added to by 18th and 19th century travelers and explorers. Of course, with only a day to explore ourselves, we had to select carefully what we wanted to see. Fortunately, our interests center around the Ancient World, so we spent all of our time in the Egyptian, Roman, and Greek collections. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to see the Rosetta Stone (which, when discovered and translated by Champollion made it possible for hieroglyphic translation to begin early in the 19th century); the Elgin Marbles (when Kathi was in Greece at the Parthenon on the Athens Acropolis, she saw only replicas; finally the real thing!); and some beautiful Greco-Roman jewelry and vases. I was impressed by the exhibits from Pompeii and ancient Egypt. I did a vast amount of still and video photography, so I'm sure we'll have some wonderful memories on film.
When the museum closed at 5:00 PM, we went to several book shops and then on to Covent Garden. On the way, we had a nice dinner at a tiny Italian restaurant, La Quercia D'oro (recommended by a couple from Boston whom we met in the British). We browsed a little in Covent Garden's central market (designed by the 17th century architect Inigo Jones), listened to music played by a string trio, and Kathi purchased some Portmeirion china before we took the Tube home. Stopping by the Concierge's desk, we picked up the theatre tickets for tomorrow's matinee of "Miss Saigon" - 7th row of the Orchestra (or as the British refer to them, the "stalls").
Back in the room, I tape a smorgasbord of British TV while Kathi writes some cards to mail tomorrow.
Day 4 - Wednesday - March 4, 1998 - London
Another fine breakfast in the hotel dining room followed by the short walk to the Gloucester Tube Station and a ride on the Piccadilly (blue) line together until Kathi got off at Knightsbridge while I go on to Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, and Charing Cross Road. Kathi spent 3 hours wandering about in Harrod's, perhaps the most famous department store in the world. She reports that the fine jewelry was exquisite; the famous food halls brimming with fresh meats, fish, cheeses, pastries, chocolates, teas, etc. - ah, the visual and olfactory aesthetics of it all. The store is decorated throughout in an elaborate Egyptian motif, and the escalators which serve 4 of the 5 floors are as elegant as an Egyptian palace. Kathi did a lot of window shopping, and purchased some note paper and stationery, and a pair of dress socks for me. She saw several gift items which she wants to go back to buy for friends. Her last stop before leaving the store was the food halls to buy Godiva chocolate and some cheese pate'.
After returning to the Gloucester area, Kathi went by Hart's for a large French baguette (which she took back to our room, where she and I later picnicked).
After Kathi left the Tube at Knightsbridge for her excursion to Harrod's, I continued on to Piccadilly Circus, certainly one of the most photographed locations in London. A statue of Eros tops a fountain in the center of the circus. The neon signs of Piccadilly Circus are famous and easily recognizable but the circus itself is smaller than I expected: a typical trick of the wide angle lenses which were used to photograph it and produce the pictures with which I am so familiar.
From there I walked to Trafalgar Square. On the way, I entered the Scottish Tourist Bureau, where I picked up several brochures relating to our day trip tomorrow to Edinburgh. From Trafalgar Square you can see St. Martin-in-the-Fields (a church that Kathi wants to visit later), the Lord Nelson monument, and Admiralty Arch, which is the ceremonial passageway to the Mall and Buckingham Palace. Normally, traffic may only use the two side arches, as the central arch is gated and opened only for royal processions, but road work has necessitated a temporary change.
A quick walk past St. Martin-in-the-Fields, where brass rubbings are permitted, and through Leicester Square, where we've been told discount theatre tickets may be purchased. Curious about the possibility of purchasing tickets at a lesser rate, I checked but they did not have tickets to any of the bigger shows or musicals.
Finally I arrived at Charing Cross Road, the mecca for booklovers everywhere, and the setting of the wonderful book and movie, "84 Charing Cross Road." Sadly, the book store located at 84 Charing Cross Road is no more but I still would like to find its original location. But before I get to No. 84, I discover Cecil Court, an absolutely charming little alleyway lined with antiquarian book and print shops. I stopped in several shops and examined their stock of old books and prints. I found a beautiful 1945 print from "Winnie the Pooh" which was hand colored. It would make a perfect gift for my youngest daughter.
Next, I wandered into "Pleasures of Past Times," a quaint little shop devoted to books, prints, and posters relating to the theatre. Within minutes I was engrossed in conversation with the shop owner, Mr. David Drummond, a former actor on the London stage. When I asked if he had any books on Vivien Leigh (a favorite of Kathi's), he began to describe his meeting with Vivien and Sir Lawrence Olivier in 1957. Mr. Drummond had just completed acting in the final performance at the St. James Theatre, which was slated for demolition and Miss Leigh and Olivier, after being introduced to the cast members, got into quite a row over whether or not the St. James Theatre should be saved. Vivien, by the way, later led the protest parade down Charing Cross Road! After I left Mr. Drummond, I visited the National Portrait Gallery - the restroom, that is (public restrooms are very difficult to find in London) - and walked the length of Charing Cross Road to locate the site of the book shop in "84." Then on to Soho, which is very much like New York's Greenwich Village, and next through Covent Garden to locate our theatre for this afternoon's performance. Back on the Tube and a quick return to the hotel to meet Kathi and a hasty lunch.
At 2:00 PM, all dressed up and delighted to see the sun shine, we took the Tube to Covent Garden and walked the few blocks to the West End (the London Theatre district), arriving in plenty of time for the 3:00 PM performance of "Miss Saigon." Although I was very familiar with the songs and story of this famous musical, Kathi was not and I was trusting that Kathi would find this musical as meaningful as I knew it to be.
After the performance Kathi would write in her journal; "'Miss Saigon' is a very moving and dramatic musical about Chris, an American GI attached to the Embassy, and Kim, a young Vietnamese girl. They fall in love and share a passionate, but brief, romance before he is helicoptered out at the fall of Saigon."
"Three years later, Kim is working in a bar for "the Engineer" in Bangkok with her son by Chris: Tam, a "Bui-Doi" ("Child of Dust"). A friend of Chris' from Vietnam days, John, learns that Kim is alive, so he, Chris, and his new wife, Ellen, go to Thailand to meet Kim and the child. Of course, Kim is still very much in love with Chris (who did not know he was a father until just prior to leaving for Bangkok). When Kim learns that he has married an American girl, she begs that Chris take Tam back to the States and raise him as an American."
"In the final scene (in front of Chris, Ellen, John, Tam, and the Engineer), she shoots herself and dies in Chris' arms. The music is really wonderful (especially "The Last Night of the World" and "The American Dream"). Wayne and I both loved it."
The performance was held in the Theatre Royal Drury Lane: the oldest theatre in the world in continuous use for live performances, organized and founded in 1663. It is a lovely theatre and we had wonderful seats adjacent to a pleasant young woman visiting from Australia.
Leaving the theatre, Kathi and I stroll around the nearby streets, stopping to enter a small dress boutique which has a very large and friendly dog in residence. The West End of London is composed of theatres, restaurants, and interesting shops of every description from cheap and gaudy to very exclusive. We did not realize at the time that our stroll had taken us within a block of the Waldorf Hotel where we would attend the Tea Dance on Saturday.
From the West End it's a short walk to Covent Garden where Kathi and I take the opportunity to visit an interesting upstairs nautical shop and I purchase a boatswain's whistle and key chain for my daughter's bookbag. Another musical group is performing on the lower level and we pause to listen to the strains of Pachelbel "Canon" for a few minutes and walking on, pass a "blue man" doing "performance art" on the street. Stopping in a few more shops, I enter a poster shop and Kathi visits a boutique. We have to pass through a throng of people in order to get to the Covent Garden Tube Station and back to Gloucester Road and a stop at Hart's for our usual late-night snacks. We go to bed early for tomorrow's big trip to Edinburgh.
Day 5 - Thursday, March 5, 1998 - London to Edinburgh and back
Up at 4:30 AM! The television in our room has a "Wake Up Call" feature (which Kathi discovered) which is very convenient. At the requested time, the TV turns itself on and plays one of its radio channels. Every 15 seconds the volume is increased until a button on the remote control is pressed. Kathi and I go downstairs to the Concierge's Desk and request a taxi. Problem: After making several calls, the Concierge tells us that taxi drivers don't want a long trip to King's Cross Train Station because they can't earn any money for the trip back this early in the morning, whereas a trip to one of the airports usually earns them fares in both directions. Plan 2: The Concierge could hire a private car for us -- will this be O.K.? Kathi is disappointed, she did so want to ride in one of the Austin taxis but we have no other choice. Fifteen minutes later a car arrives and we're off to King's Cross Station.
Our driver is very courteous and talkative but each time he makes a turn, I intuitively feel that he's turning down the wrong side of the street. We ride through Hyde Park but it's 5:30 AM and the park is empty of everything except pigeons. After a 10 minute ride through a pre-dawn London, we reach King's Cross Station and easily find our train -- all ready for our trip to Edinburgh. A few minutes later we're settled in to our reserved seats by a wide window and impatient to begin the trip. We busy ourselves stowing our gear and reading until the train leaves the station promptly at 6:15 AM.
It's still dark as our train leaves London but soon the sky begins to lighten and, as the sun rises to a beautiful, clear day, Kathi and I have breakfast on the train. Our first stop, after about 20 minutes of travel, is Stevenage; then Peterborough, Grantham, Newark, and Retford. At the next stop, Doncaster, a 35 year old businessman takes the seat next to me and in a few moments we've begun what will turn out to be a long and very interesting conversation.
Our new friend's name is Adrian. He's an executive with a company that publishes business magazines throughout the UK, and he's on his way to Edinburgh today on business. During the next two hours, Adrian describes for Kathi and me some pronounced differences between life and business in the UK versus the U.S. He appears to be quite successful and our conversation is constantly interrupted by his cellular telephone ringing. Adrian has a wife and two small daughters, ages 5 and 3.
As the train speeds northward through green gently-rolling hills, we discuss many things: travel in the U.S. and abroad (he vacations in Florida yearly, has heard of Myrtle Beach but never visited); business and how it differs in the two countries; schools; the theatre; and children. He and his wife honeymooned in Kenya - on Safari! He shared with us that he was a welder in the coal mines for seven years before becoming an executive in his present business, but Kathi and I failed to ask how he was able to make the transition -- a really amazing conversation.
The train is now traveling at approximately 80 mph and the countryside we are passing through is picturesque. Every village, no matter how small, has a stone church with a towering spire. Passing many canals with boats tied up along the banks, I'm reminded that I've always wanted to take a canal trip through England, Scotland or Ireland. Once in a while we pass a country estate -- a substantial home surrounded by hundreds of acres of land.
The last 30 minutes of our trip follows the seacoast and we have a nice vista of the sea. Then into Scotland and the city of Edinburgh and Waverly Station, arriving around 11:00 AM. We leave the train station and go up an imposing set of stone steps and into downtown Edinburgh on Princes Street.
We quickly find the Guide Friday bus tours -- - a tour of the city and its historic sights which allows one to get off at any stop and get back on the next tour bus. Our first tour guide has such a thick Scottish brogue that it is quite difficult to understand him at first, but after a while, we get used to it. Eventually the tour bus reaches Edinburgh Castle, built on Castle Rock overlooking the city. We disembark there for a tour of the Castle and its buildings. Through the Gatehouse with its two statues of the Scottish king, Robert the Bruce, and Sir William Wallace (subject of the movie, "Braveheart") guarding either side and then up the hill through the Portcullis Gate and into the open courtyard where the wind blows unceasingly.
It is so very cold and windy and within a few minutes it begins to snow – big, wet flakes. Luckily for us, the snow stops after 20 minutes and the sun comes out. Kathi and I enter the Scottish National War Memorial, and its solemn grandeur makes it a tremendously inspiring experience for us both. Then we go into the palace itself, and the room in which Mary Queen of Scots, in 1566, gave birth to the future King James I of England (who would be credited with the first English translation of the Bible -- the "King James Version").
Our final stop in the castle is to be very special indeed, seeing the "Honours of Scotland" which include the Crown made for King James V in 1540; the Sword presented to King James IV by Pope Julius II in 1507; Sceptre presented to King James IV in 1494 by Pope Alexander VI; and the Stone of Scone ("Stone of Destiny") stolen from Scotland in 1296. For hundreds of years before that, the kings of Scotland had been crowned on the stone and every English king and queen since 1296 has been coronated with the Stone of Scone resting beneath them. The Stone of Scone has just recently been returned to Scotland after an absence of over 700 years, with the understanding that it will return to London for all future coronations.
Leaving the castle and before hopping back on the tour bus, we pause for a view of the surrounding city; in the distance, we can see the Firth of Forth and an unfinished copy of the Parthenon. Edinburgh is often dubbed "The Athens of the North" because of its cultural heritage and architecture. The city is home to no less than three national art collections!
The street that runs down the mountain from the castle to Holyroodhouse, the Queen's official residence in Scotland, is known as the "Royal Mile." Stopping to look around, we talk to a guard at the gate of Holyroodhouse we learn some interesting facts about Queen Elizabeth. Later, we are amused at an older gentleman staggering down the hill and a few moments later, staggering back up the hill with equal difficulty. Well, it is bitterly cold and we assume he had been "warming" himself internally.
In the gift shop outside the gates of Holyroodhouse, Kathi purchases a watercolour print done by HRH The Prince of Wales. Back on the tour bus, our guide tells of two men, William Burke and William Hare, who in the early 1800's ran a thriving grave-robbing business to supply the anatomist, Dr. Robert Knox, with bodies on which to practice surgery. Later, when supply couldn't keep up with the demand, the men began to kill vagrants. One of the two men was eventually captured and hanged for his crimes; the other was later caught by a mob, blinded, and died in prison.
Our last tour guide, a wonderful gentleman in his mid-70's named John, gives us some interesting Scottish trivia. He points out an exclusive private school attended by Tony Blair, the current British Prime Minister -- and by Sean Connery, who as a boy delivered milk there! On George Street, he points out a large statue of George VI, in a very short kilt. Since he was a very corpulent man and (by tradition) when kneeling, a man's kilt had to be level with his knees, his was embarrassingly short when he stood. So, being a modest man, he wore pink tights under his kilt!
Having about 30 minutes to spare, once back at the Waverly Bridge in downtown Edinburgh, we decide to do some shopping in Jenner's Department Store on Princes Street. I purchased some gifts that my daughter had specifically requested. We also looked at some little Gund bears wearing little red sweaters for my youngest daughter but opted to wait until back in London and bring her a Paddington bear from Paddington Station instead.
Back on the train at 4:00 PM for our trip back to London. We'll get into King's Cross Station around 8:30 PM and then take a short tube ride back to our hotel. Back in London, we have a late night snack and then to bed. This has really been an incredible day - 900 miles by rail!
Day 6 - Friday, March 6, 1998 - London
We're just back from breakfast. All of our wait persons in the restaurant have been most courteous and friendly. In the lobby, we ran into a number of people from our travel group and everyone seems to be having a great time.
We're mapping out our day by sections of the city and Tube stations. We will try to see as much as we can before winding up at Harrod's in Knightsbridge to shop late this afternoon. Leaving the hotel, we get back on the Underground. Riding the Tube has been a real pleasure this week!
Our first stop is at Westminster Bridge over the Thames, just under Big Ben (he was chiming 10:00 AM as we arrived). From there, we walk past the Houses of Parliament where we watch through the fence as cars entering are examined for bombs hidden underneath. There is a window in the driveway where lights and, we assume, a camera can look upward and examine the underside of cars arriving.
From there, we pass a statue of Winston Churchill and then on to Westminster Abbey, the site of English coronations for the past 1200 years. (Yesterday, in Edinburgh, we saw the Stone of Scone, and today we saw the Coronation Throne under which the Stone rested for the past 700 years and will once again be placed when Elizabeth's successor is crowned.) We saw the Royal Chapels and the burial place of Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots; also, the tombs of David Livingstone (missionary and Stanley's fellow traveler in Africa), Oliver Cromwell (whose body only lay buried in the Abbey for 3 years due to intense hatred of the former PM -- Why only 3 years? You don't want to know!). There were plaques of remembrance for (among others) Winston Churchill, T.S. Eliot, Henry Purcell and Sir Isaac Newton.
Over three thousand people are actually buried in the floor of the Abbey. The flying buttresses, the Rose Window, the standards of King Henry's Knights, and the spot where Princess Diana was eulogized 6 months earlier were very moving. In Westminster Abbey's Gift Shop, Wayne purchased a framed print of the Abbey, a pop-up book of London for Sarah, and an old London newspaper from 1945.
From Westminster Abbey, we went to Charing Cross Road and the famous parish church, St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Known for its excellence in music, we had the very good fortune to hear the last portion of their Lunchtime Concert, featuring the woodwind quintet, Quintessence, performing Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin." It was just lovely, and a beautiful setting for a concert.
Next, on to Cecil Court, an enchanting little alley filled with antiquarian book stores. We stopped by Mr. Drummond's shop which, unfortunately, was closed. Wayne left him a note and we went across the way to purchase the "Winnie the Pooh" print for his daughter. Afterwards, we used our Travel Card and rode upstairs in one of the traditional red double-decker buses. Then, a short trip to the British Museum Gift Shop for presents: a book on the Rosetta Stone, a tee shirt with the Rosetta Stone on it, an Egyptian mummy pencil box, and a replica of a Viking brooch.
Back to our hotel, by way of the Tube, we deposit our packages, since Harrod's allows no parcels to be brought into their store, and then on to a shopping expedition to the famous store. Kathi gives me an abbreviated tour of the store, its famous (and fabulous) Egyptian motif escalator tower, the food court, and their Toy Kingdom. One indication of the expensive prices charged by Harrod's: yesterday, while in Edinburgh, I purchased 3 Star Wars figurines for my daughter in Jenner's Department Store. The price for each of the figurines was £4.95. At Harrod's, the very same figurine is marked £7.95 -- almost double in price! Still, I did purchase several gifts for Kathi and me.
Back to the Gloucester Road area for a quick supper at Burger King and then off for some further exploring on the Tube. We stopped at Paddington Station but, the Paddington Bear stall was closed -- we'll try again tomorrow. Then to Baker Street to find 221-B, the "home" of the famous sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. Sadly, 221-B is no more. A bank presently occupies the site but a little further down the street Mrs. Hudson, Holmes' housekeeper, still maintains a small restaurant.
Walking down Euston Street, we pass Madame Tussaud's famous Wax Museum. We enter a lonely, dark section of sidewalk and we feel uneasy for the first and only time in London. We quickly turn around and return to the tube station. Other than this one experience, the city feels very safe: at least in Zones 1 and 2 where we are staying. Back to the hotel around 10:00 PM. Tomorrow is our last full day in London -- I can't believe the trip is almost over.
Day 7 - Saturday, March 7, 1998 - London
Up and down to breakfast in our hotel dining room, then on the Tube to St. Paul's Cathedral, the second largest cathedral in the world and the site of Diana's 1981 wedding to Prince Charles. It is indeed a lovely church, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The coffered ceilings near the High Altar are breathtaking, as are the mosaics by Sir William Richmond over the High Altar, depicting Christ in His Majesty with angels on either side. Too bad we did not have time to go up into the Whispering Galleries, which is something I would like to do on our next trip. Later, in the crypt, we saw the tombs of Wren, Lord Nelson, and Florence Nightingale. The crypt, surprisingly, is very warm and inviting. The British do an admirable job of honoring US soldiers who died fighting for Britain, as witnessed by the American Chapel and the Roll of Honour (dedicated in 1958 by then- Vice-President Richard Nixon).
From St. Paul's, it's on to Paddington Station to purchase bears! I bought a Paddington Bear for my youngest daughter. Kathi got a little Paddington brooch for her red blazer.
Our next stop is the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington, only one tube stop from Gloucester Road. We had such a short time there, but it was a magnificent few hours. Kathi and I struck off in different directions, agreeing to meet up again at 1:30 PM. I enjoyed the Cast Courts where there were displayed actual plaster casts of famous works of art from all over Europe including Michaelangelo's David. Near the cloakroom, I also saw memorabilia from the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition (the first World's Fair).
Kathi was enchanted by the 6th floor exhibit of Auguste Rodin; he donated virtually all of his sculptures to the V & A in 1914, three years before his death. She especially liked the larger-than-life (green cast) bronze of John the Baptist, his feet in a position to begin walking, and the life-size bronze of the nude with upstretched arms. In addition to Rodin, she saw the Raphael Cartoons (meaning "drawings on paper"). Her favorites were "Miraculous draught of fishes" and "Paul preaching at Athens."
The last stop we made before leaving the Museum was the gilt bronze "Moses from the Fugger Altarpiece," by Hubert Gerhard (1581-84) - Wow! The Moses is actually rather small (perhaps 1 ft by 1.5 ft.) but commands a great respect due to its powerful artistic statement.
Kathi's big buy at the Gift Shop was a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle of Rossetti's "The Daydream" (pre-Raphaelite, painted in 1880, inspired by a love poem by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri). The colors are rich forest green -- she can't wait to put it together! Then back to the hotel to change clothes.
And finally -- one of Kathi's London highlights -- she and I dressed up and attended the Saturday Tea Dance at the Waldorf on Aldwych Circle. This dance, complete with its own 4-piece orchestra, has been a tradition since 1908. Held in the luxurious Palm Court, ringed by a circular terrace adorned with miniature white lights in the wrought-iron works, we had a lovely table adjacent to the marble dance floor. The room is opulent, with mirrored French doors around the perimeter; red waistcoated waiters serving the guests on Waldorf-emblazoned fine bone china amidst yard upon yard of heavily-starched crisp white linen cloths draped to the floor, fresh violets on the table, and heavy silver.
Our tea began with Ceylon Bop and Orange Pekoe and the most delicious finger sandwiches, trimmed to perfection; fancy chicken salad, smoked salmon and watercress, cucumber, and 2-3 other varieties containing tomato and roast beef. We enjoyed watching two older British couples do the tango and the ChaCha.
We danced a few slow songs before our scones were served; light and sweet-tasting, a little like shortbread and some with raisins. These were accompanied by strawberry and black current preserves, butter, and a wonderful cream cheese to die for.
After another appropriate interval, we were served from the pastry selections. This included chocolate truffles, fruit tarts, cheesecake miniatures, and tiramisu. As the dance came to an end, the floor filled with an assortment of couples: young; old; British; other nationalities; a mother with her beautifully dressed little girl; well-bred, and pearl-bedecked women dancing together (this is universally accepted in the UK.). We danced a rousing rendition of "In The Mood," and a good time was had by all. It was a lovely way to conclude a European holiday together.
Kathi and I walked around the Gloucester Road area one last time before leaving London tomorrow.
Day 8 - March 8, 1998 - London to Atlanta to Charlotte to home
We're up earlier than usual this morning due to our early flight home. The hotel dining room even opens a little earlier than normal to accommodate our group's early deadline. And, as usual, our breakfast is delicious, our table is beautiful with 2 crisp starched white table cloths. One of the many elegant touches that make this week of breakfasts so memorable is the assortment of miniature glass jars of jellies, jams and marmalades always available on a white plate. Kathi, being the world traveler that she is, always has tea with her breakfast, while I opt for coffee. Usually we have croissants with butter or cream cheese and jam, strawberry danishes, and fresh orange juice.
Kathi and I packed last night and our bags are full to almost the bursting point with our purchases, gifts, and my numerous travel brochures and souvenirs. After a quick stop at the front desk, Kathi and I officially check out of the hotel and we board our waiting motor coach for the ride to Gatwick. Problem: One lady in our group has misplaced her plane tickets, so the rest of the group waits and waits and waits while she searches through her baggage and eventually goes back to search her hotel room, all to no avail -- no plane tickets! Eventually members of our group begin to grumble, suggesting that we leave her behind, but she finally gets on the coach even though she has not found her plane tickets. Finally, almost thirty minutes late, we leave Gloucester Road for Gatwick Airport. After about 5 minutes of travel, the lady in question laughingly announces, "Oh, I found my tickets -- they were right here in my purse all along!" Not surprisingly, the rest of our group didn't laugh along with her.
Our motor coach takes us through the London suburbs, passing over the Thames River for one last time, and finally on to a major motorway, passing through beautiful green farm land. Everyone in our group is quiet -- reflecting on their memories of their week in London. Arriving at the airport, we go through a lengthy security interview with many questions such as, "Did anyone ask you to deliver a package for them?" and "While in London, did you send any electronic equipment out for repairs?" and "Did anyone else pack your bags for you?" Of course, Kathi and I could confidently answer "No" to all these questions and there were no problems getting through security.
We're seated aboard the Delta flight at Gatwick, waiting for the remaining passengers to be boarded. Fortunately, we have a window and an aisle seat going home (thanks to my efforts to fix our travel agent's "arrangements" for us): much better than the inside seats we had coming over. We're right over the wing; seats 43A and B. We'll take a 25 mg sleeping pill just before lunch is served, and maybe we can at least catnap on the way home.
This flight is more comfortable than the one a week ago. We both manage to get some sleep, in between lunch, then sandwiches, and later, snacks. During the flight three movies are shown on the plane. Looking out the plane's window as we reach Canada, I am fascinated by the ice and snow below. About the time we reach the United States, cloud cover obscures my view.
We circle the Atlanta airport for one hour due to thunderstorms in the area. Even though the last hour of the flight is quite turbulent (in fact, three passengers actually get sick on the plane!) and we have to descend through a thick layer of clouds, our actual landing is almost textbook perfect. Out of the plane, we retrieve our luggage and make our way through Customs -- a very long process -- and .... surprise! All flights to Charlotte and Greensboro (and many other southeastern cities) are canceled due to the thunderstorms covering most of the South. What to do? Delta will put us up overnight and maybe get us to Charlotte tomorrow morning sometime -- no promises. That's not acceptable for Kathi and me. Although we've enjoyed our trip immensely, we're both anxious to get home. So, conferring with another couple from our group, Norm and Nina from Greensboro, we decide to rent a car, drive to Charlotte, pick up our respective cars and then finish our journey home tonight.
So, after getting a refund from Delta for the unused tickets to Charlotte, we manage to rent the last car available at the Atlanta Airport, load our luggage (in the rain), and set off for Charlotte, a mere 4 to 5 hours away. Arriving at Charlotte around midnight, we say "goodbye" to Norm and Nina, get our car out of long term parking, and drive the remaining 90 minutes back home, getting in around 1:20 am Monday morning.
A less than perfect ending to our first trip to Europe, but there will be more.
Copyright 1998 by Wayne Jacobs - All Rights Reserved
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