I’ve never attempted to “do” London in such a short time before - I’m glad that this isn’t my first (and certainty won’t be my last) trip to this amazing city. It makes it so much easier to be content with all that we’re missing out on and all I wish I could see. I haven’t been back to the Tate Britain since the first time I visited ten years ago. I’ve never toured Kensington Palace and we didn’t make the Churchill War Rooms this time (there’s no time to wait in a line to get in if you have so little time to see anything). Even so, I don’t feel panicked or bothered. There’s always another trip. My first time to Europe I thought I would never go back, or at least not for a long time. I’ve since learned that when you are single and gainfully employed and love to travel, then there’s always another trip.
That in mind, I decided long ago that this leg of the trip wasn’t about me - it was about trying to find a way to give my dad and my brother the best trip to this city as I could. I think we’ve been successful.
Yesterday we started off on Portobello Road. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure this was a good idea. It’s a great place to get good and inexpensive gifts and certainly an experience that’s part of being a London tourist, but I am traveling with two men. I was surprised at how much they seemed to like it, given that dad doesn’t like shopping. We didn’t stay long, which suited all of us since the crowds are always so thick that tolerance wears thin, but it was a successful trip and both dad and Jared said it was one of their favorite parts of London, so it wasn’t a terrible idea after all. Phew.
After Portobello we went on a walk through Kensington Gardens, my favorite of all the London parks. Because it is so vast with so much green space, it always feels less crowded than the other parks to me. Plus, there’s that Peter Pan connection I can’t seem to get away from. (Not like I’m trying that hard.) In addition to the pilgrimage to see Peter, we also went by the entrance to Kensington itself (lined with flowers in honor of Diana’s birthday yesterday, which was nice to see), and went by the memorial fountain to Diana. I love that fountain - I love that it was designed and is used for kids to run around and play in. The whole area was full of families stripping their children down to their underwear for an impromptu water party. Everyone was laughing and running around. Kids were turning cartwheels and parents were in the water with their kids. It was delightful and, I think, honored her spirit quite well.
We also went to another London first for me - The Wallace Collection. This museum was a residence that became an art museum because of the vast collection of the owner. Unlike some of those museums I’ve been in before in Europe that feel like a bizarre attic of random junk, this one was pretty stunning. The collection of armor was jaw-dropping. I’ve never seen such beautiful weaponry. Truly. It was beautiful. Usually when I see armor in a museum I kind of nod and walk on, but this was gorgeous. There were also some other well known paintings, including a portrait of a young Victoria and The Swing, what inspired us to come in the first place (Jared studied it in school and wanted to come see it.). Actually, Jared’s been dead useful on this trip when it comes to art. He took an art history in school and has been a fountain of little tidbits on paintings I hadn’t known about before. We wouldn’t have discovered that little gem of a museum without him and I’m glad we did. It’s small but wonderful. I enjoyed our visit there very much.
After that we went for a walk along the Thames and found dinner (well, dinner for me - the boys wanted to save room to go visit Jamie Oliver’s burger joint. These burgers are what they described as “orgasmic”. I have never in my life had a burger that tasted differently than any other burger to me and certainly none that turned me on so. . .you’ll have to take their word for it.)
Our second show was The Lion King, which was just as good as the last time I saw it. There is certainly a benefit to seeing it in a theater where it isn’t touring - the set was particularly impressive in ways that the touring casts I’ve seen before can’t have. I was especially taken this time by the powerful way the lionesses are portrayed. I’d never really considered The Lion King as a particularly feminist story, but the way that the musical enhances the role of the women really touched me this time. My favorite moment in the show was Nala’s Shadowlands. Seeing the lionesses stand together in tragedy was beautiful.
Today we began with a visit to the parks surrounding Buckingham Palace, where we arrived in time to see the Trooping of the Colours. I’ve never seen this before because crowds, but it was fun to see the guards going by. I wouldn’t make a special trip to see it, but I’m glad it happened while we were there. After that we walked back to the National Gallery, always a safe bet. Dad has a lower interest in museums than either Jared or I (I could probably museum hop my way around London and not get too sick of it), but he was a trooper and our visit was short. I was particularly taken by a temporary installation of a piece called The Caged Bird Sings by Chris Ofili. Ofili is a British watercolor painter who worked with some weavers in Edinburgh to create an enormous tapestry inspired by Maya Angelou’s book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The piece is enormous and looks like a painting from a distance. Up close you can see the woven elements. The color is so sharp and breathtaking - I was utterly stunned by the whole thing and thought the visit was worth it just to see it.
The highlight of the day for me was Evensong at Westminster Abbey. I love Evensong service in general, and have never heard it in Westminster. The sermon today was inspired by the upcoming 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis. The speaker discussed that the contents of the thesis were not nearly as important as the act of even daring to speak out in the first place, and transitioned into speaking about the power of music in converting hearts. This is an appropriate topic in an Evensong service (which is mostly music), but there was a wonderful reminder of the ability of congregational singing to effect the spirit in others. I am grateful for music and for the love of singing that I have. (I should also probably take this time to apologize to my neighbors who frequently hear me belting showtunes at all hours of the night when I’m performing. Sorry ‘bout that.)
Our final stop for the day was The Play That Goes Wrong, which was so awesome last year I had to bring my brother and dad back. We all had a great time and it made me anxious to get back and get started on rehearsals of my own. Nothing like seeing good theater to inspire you to put on a good show yourself.
Incidentally, here are some statistics of the trip:
- Miles walked: approximately 150.
- Alpine Slide trips: 4
- Books in my suitcase (not including my journal/script): 10 (HOW?! - I came with 0.)
- Chocolate bars purchased: 21 (Oy.)
- Countries visited: 9
I am ready to go home. As is often the case at the end of a trip, there comes a point where living out of a suitcase and spending so much money gets tiring and you long for your own bed. I miss my cat. I miss regular and reliable cell service. I miss my friends and I’m excited to get my show underway and to get prepared for the school year. All the same, this has been a truly unique and special trip for me. It has been different than many of the other trips I’ve taken, especially since I’ve been visiting places that I’ve been before with people who haven’t been, and it’s given me new insight in how to get joy in the joy of others. Traveling and being single can be inherently selfish experiences, but that slight shift in focus has been good for me. I am grateful to be going home, and grateful to have come. What a gift.