The flight to London was sleepless but I managed to stay relatively alert after my 11:30 a.m. landing. It was amazing that there was such a short queue going through immigration at Heathrow. However, the line was growing behind me and I noticed two agents taking off from their posts (on much deserved breaks, I am sure) leaving only two other agents to handle the onslaught of the next cattle call.
Ben was nowhere to be found after I emerged from the perfume-laden-duty-free-section outside of baggage in Terminal 5, so I proceeded to look for the cabbie he had told me would be holding a sign with my name on it. I didn’t see my name but did see a sign with Ben’s last name. Luckily I stopped and mentioned that this was my cousin’s last name so perhaps there was a mixup. There was. This short delay waiting for Ben allowed me the chance to get a decent cup of cappuccino at Costa and get my bearings while doing some people watching. I noticed a lot of business people starting their week in London.
Ben arrived soon after and after the cab ride into a gray London day, we met up with his mum, Doreen, and all took a brief walk around the grounds of the large hotel and residence complex. I then managed to nap for an hour which was perfect to get that second wind for my flagging sail before dinner.
Ben retrieved me and we were off to Doreen’s and my cousin-in-law Les’ apartment for celebratory champagne toasting ‘The Internet’ for bringing us all together. There was a Spanish restaurant not far, called Goya, where we had tapas and a good amount of wine and laughter. After waiting almost a year for this trip, the Heritage Walk had begun.
Tuesday morning began with three of the four of us meeting up to catch the #24 to Trafalgar Square. I saw the back end of Buckingham Palace this time rather than the front as I had 11 years ago. There were two Coldstream Guards (which my grandfather was also) holding themselves stiff on horses half in and half out of little guard houses on either side of a gate leading onto the palace grounds (I recognized this as the vehicle passageway used after William and Catherine’s wedding last year). Good grief, what a job! And what could be worse than to also have to deal with all the lookie-loos gawking and photographing you while keeping that stiff upper lip. Wonder how long their post shifts are and whether that was part of my grandfather Sam’s job back in the early 20s. I hope his post at the palace was short before he was transferred on to Constantinople.
Trafalgar Square with those four magnificent lions, the fountains, the modern art installation recently instituted for the top of one column showcasing a local artist, this one being the golden child riding a rocking horse, and then a movie crew making a Bollywood film, was a fabulous introduction to the London I had not met before. Less was a magnificent tour guide historian telling me about each building we passed. If only I had a photographic memory. Or, any kind of memory would do, to be honest.
We walked about St. Paul’s where I took outlawed photos feeling slightly guilty, as any former practicing Catholic would feel. I imagine it could have been the Catholic God who pushed me down the front steps of the cathedral in punishment for my dastardly deed. Or, perhaps it was my not watching where I was stepping and missing a step tumbling down whilst breaking my fall on the backs of two unfortunate young woman who were just as surprised as I was. Nothing was broken but “falling for St. Paul” did not help my already achy muscles. And it is an unnerving experience to fall down stairs. While I have fallen over the last couple of years, which I think is caused by these damn “floaters” in my eyes (can I sound more pathetic?), I haven’t actually fallen down stairs since I was about six and in my grandmother’s upstairs flat in San Francisco. I can still remember that tumble.
St. Paul’s cathedral has an interesting past (doesn’t everything?), one of which is surviving the London Blitz during WWII. It supposed to be the third largest cathedral but I think it is quite dwarfed in comparison to both St. Peter’s in Rome and the Sevilla Cathedral in Spain.
After lunch in St. Paul’s, Doreen left us to get to work and Less and I went underground to take the Tube to Canary Wharf. Instead, we we landed in Greenwich to see the schooner, Cutty Sark, ending up buying tickets for the boat back to London. It was sunny and a perfect day to be on the water. Plus, what better way was there to see the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge, not to mention the Globe theatre of Shakespeare fame (made without nails but instead with wooden pegs), the Hard, and other remarkable and unremarkable London sights. I highly recommend taking a boat down the Thames on a clear day.
On our way back, we made a brief stop during rush hour at Spencer and David’s to pick up our respective meals, then went back to our respective rooms to respectively recuperate from an intoxicatingly beautiful London experience.