When I was in Europe in June, Haley and I visited four cities: London, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Paris. "Which was your favorite?" people asked me once I got home, and even though I loved and adored Amsterdam, I'm not sure I could have loved and adored anywhere else more than London.
In fact, when I arrived in London, just as we walked off the plane, before I had actually seen any part of London save a white cement hall in the Heathrow Airport, I started crying. Haley was all sorts of embarrassed and requested that I just please chill.
But I couldn't.
Because for this English Geek, London is a sort of mecca. Don't get me wrong: the pull of London (or even England in general) has absolutely nothing to do with the royal family. I don't care a whit how many babies Kate has or what dress she wore three hours after giving birth. I'm not obsessed with British royalty in the least. (Although we did walk to Buckingham Palace. When in London...)
No, for me, the pull of London has everything to do with history and books.
I hail from a line of people who lived in London (sure...during the 17th and 18th centuries, but still).
I am fascinated by British history, especially the ancient, pre-Roman part and the stories of the wives of Henry VIII.
How many novels set in London have I read?
How many poets and writers who have influenced me (as a writer and a reader and a human being) have lived in London?
Arriving in London felt to me nearly as magical as arriving in Narnia or Middle Earth might. A place I have imagined and wanted to see but wasn't sure how to get to. Well, OK, London is a little less magical than a made-up place, but look: C. S. Lewis and Tolkien both were British.
Loving London (and England) is part, for me, of being a lover of books and literature and so is fairly inherent part of my identity.
(The statues in the courtyard outside Buckingham Palace.)
When Haley and I came out of the Underground at St. Pancras station (which is right across from Kings Cross Station where, you know, platform 9 3/4 is) it was pouring. And I had forgotten my umbrella! So I was pulling my suitcase and carrying my bag and holding my cell phone so I could follow the Google Maps directions (I could not have managed this trip without Google Maps!) and getting soaked. So at the second shop I saw that had umbrellas (the first one had some for £50), I tucked into and bought one.
Looking back a month later, the memories of my first foray into London are so sharp. The rain, and trying to find a way to balance everything, and how odd it felt to look right-left-right before we crossed a road. The undeniably British feel of the buildings. The bubbling up of excitement: I was in London.
After we found our hotel—we stayed at the Swinton Hotel, which felt dowdy and comfortable in a British way, like the sort of place the Fossil sisters would stay—we headed round the corner to a tiny...I don't think it was a pub, but it wasn't a restaurant. A cafe? It was called Nivens, and they made us breakfast, and I still was pinching myself (and Haley was still telling me to chill!)
(Walking by the Thames. I sort of have A Thing for Walking by European Rivers.)
That was the beginning of our London adventure. Here's a list of the things we managed to cram into our two days:
The British Museum
The National Gallery
Walk through Trafalgar Square
Walk down Charing Cross Road (because books)
Buy a used copy of something from a book store on Charing Cross Road
Visit Liberty of London and buy some fabric
Sightsee: The London Eye, Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London (These were places we walked past but didn't have time to go inside of)
Eat: Fish & chips (Haley had both, I just had the chips)
The British Library (quite possibly my favorite place in London)
St. Paul's Cathedral (Although, alas, we got there after it was closing, so I only got to do a quick walk through)
Shop at the Top Shop (Haley spotted this and wanted to stop, I'm definitely not cool enough to know this is a Thing)
Find the original place where the Globe Theater used to be (one bit of the circle can be seen in a parking lot between two apartment buildings
Visit the rebuilt Globe Theater
Cross as many bridges as possible (we did Tower, Southwark, Millennium, Westminster, and Golden Jubilee)
The list of things we didn't do is fairly long, obviously; I am saddest about not being able to tour St. Paul's or enter the Tate Modern. We got a late start on our second day—we got up and ate breakfast, but when we got back to our room we all crashed—and I didn't time things quite right (I should have left Haley shopping at the Top Shop while I went into St. Paul's because churches weren't her thing). But I think we fit in almost everything we could in the time we had.
(I will write more detailed posts about several of my London experiences.)
(The Tower Bridge in the background.)
Two days in London was definitely not enough for this English Geek. It was just enough to give me a taste and to let me know that I need to plan another trip, my fabled one: a grand tour of the British Isles, with hiking and museuming and architecture gazing and castle exploring and maybe even driving on the left side of the road.
(Outside of the Globe Theater.)