My husband and I, along with another couple, arrived sleepy-eyed as the sun and plane peeked through a thin layer of London fog. Was the fog in my mind or the air? Both I realized. The coolness was crisp and a refreshing change from the Florida heat. So was the culture I was desperately craving the past few months.
From the airport we shuffled to the first class part of the train taking us to Victoria Station. From there a quick taxi ride passing historic buildings such as Big Ben, the Parliament and Westminster Abby, all before 9 a.m. My friends at home were still in their dream state of 3 a.m., and so was I.
We checked into the classy centrally located Waldorf Hilton Aldwych to relax for a few hours before beginning our London journey. Well rested and eager we decided on a low key afternoon and started exploring the many pubs and shops in the lively Covent Garden and Piccadilly Circus. Characters, performers and tourists filled the streets as day turned into night. Piccadilly Circus abruptly turned into Soho and a clear line between the circus and China Town was drawn. Chinese lanterns, restaurants and massage parlors lined the streets as the smell of fried pork and rice filled the air. Jet leg and our foreign bed was calling so we headed back towards the pubs of the garden, getting somewhat lost along the way.
The following morning I left my comfortable abode eager to run along the Thames River. Well suited for the weather but not traffic, I faced the busy city. I was reminded to look left and right for traffic, but old habits set in and I glanced in every direction before crossing the street because I wasn’t sure which way to look after awhile. Signs painted on the pavement told me which way to take caution for cars. Look this way, cross the median, look this way, cross again. It was too much work for 7 a.m., so I just went with the flow and I still almost got hit by a bus. I was thankful when I found a straight path along the river to run on, and a historic one even better. Within a few minutes I encountered an Egyptian obelisk over 1500 years old planked by two sphinx. In awe, I had to stop and check it out. So random and unexpected, it was and still is an important part of history. One of the best runs of my life had begun. Soon after I was crossing in front of Big Ben and the Westminster Abby, weaving in and out of traffic. I wanted to stop and explore, but instead I just took in all of the scenery knowing I would be back to take pictures. I crossed over the Thames and ran back on the other side for even more of a picturesque view. Magnificent in all of its glory. I wondered what time it was as I looked at Big Ben and briefly questioned if the time was correct. Damn, I am blonde I realized, knowing that Big Ben is one of the world’s most accurate clocks.
We missed the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace but equally rewarding was the Horse Parade at the guard’s quarters. I was excited to see such a traditional ritual all its glory. It was not something just for the tourists, it was a part of history that has not been lost in today’s society. They were not performing for us, but for the queen and Britain. The preservation of culture that I appreciate so much.
The following few days was spent visiting London’s must-see’s. The Tower of London, originally built in 1066, was one of the most fascinating sites we explored in detail. The husbands were spent as Barbara and I urged them to continue. The red bus, Harrods, then back to the Waldorf for drinks followed by a visit to an ice bar and the newly re-opened and famous Savoy.
Sun, wind and rain was the norm throughout the following day and night. Trafalgar Square, and my favorite the British Museum. I was thrilled to see the Rosetta Stone first hand and equally importantly to me was the colossal winged bull from the Palace of Sargon, an Assyrian statue that I studied in detail as a student. I was a kid in a candy store at the British Museum. Everywhere I turned was a famous artifact. A few hours was not enough, but with husbands in tow it had to be, and it was a great experience. I didn’t get to see every well-known statue and artifact but I decided it was reason enough to visit London again.
I only had one dinner request during our UK vacation, Indian food. We found an authentic upscale Indian restaurant near the hotel for our last dinner in London. Overall the food was better than I had remembered in England, and the Indian place was one to be remembered. The food was excellent, but a bit different from the norm in the states. Fresh. Really fresh. We had to make our own salad at the table with whole veggies and a knife placed in front of us. A whole cucumber, radishes, two large tomatoes, a head of lettuce, a whole lemon and spices for flavoring. We cut everything up and joked about paying so much for making our own salad. The main meal was enough to change my husband’s mind about Indian food. The same with Barbara and D, whom hates Indian fare. That alone was worth the visit to a good Indian restaurant.