I woke up early Friday morning, before Ann, Anna or Will. So I showered and sat out on the balcony watching the day take shape, waiting for everyone else to wake up. I’m an early riser, and I wake up especially early while vacationing (because I don’t want to miss anything).
Before long, everyone else in the household was awake and Will was brewing coffee and cooking porridge on the stove. After eating Will’s porridge with bananas (an inspired breakfast, by the way), Ann and I were out the door and headed for the Tube for a full day of adventures. Friday’s fun consisted of:
The British Museum: if you go to London, this is a “must-see” – their collection of Greek and Roman treasures will blow your mind. The actual Rosetta Stone is there and it’s amazing.
Trafalgar Square/St. Martin-in-the-Field: We enjoyed a free lunchtime chamber music concert at St. Martin-in-the-Field. With the sunlight streaming through the upper windows, it felt like ascending to heaven. Afterward, we enjoyed lunch in the basement “crypt” at St. Martin’s – tasty food at reasonable prices.
On the way to Westminster Abbey, we happened upon the changing of the horse guard, which was nice because you’re allowed to be a LOT closer than you are for the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and there are (limited) views of #10 Downing Street.
We toured Westminster Abbey, which is equal parts breathtaking and creepy. Because there are a bunch of dead famous English people stuffed into every nook and cranny of the place, you have to be aware of where you’re stepping, lest you walk on one of them (I walked on Rudyard Kipling). Every notable Brit except King Henry VIII and William Shakespeare is buried here.
For me, the highlight of the day was attending the Evensong service at Westminster Abbey. Ann and I were fortunate to be seated in the ancient wooden pews next to the choir, not in the folding chairs down below. The young choir boys with their angelic voices and ruffled collars broke my heart. My Episcopalian roots took over, and it was all I could do to not cry through the service.
Then we were back on the Tube headed back to Anna and Will’s for another delightful evening. After dining on perfectly-cooked American-style steaks, we hung out in front of the fireplace, laughing and sharing stories, then singing and dancing to Pharrell’s “Happy”. Truly, it was a night I’ll never forget.
Saturday was, once again, an early morning. We headed back into London to meet my boss/friend Linda and her daughter Gracelyn for the changing of the guard At Buckingham Palace. Linda and I see each other five days a week at the office. But you never would have known that if you saw us greet each other like long-lost friends on a London sidewalk.
We were fortunate to get a space right behind the fence at Buckingham Palace, or so it seemed at first. After hoards of people came behind us and I was pressed up against the fence, I didn’t quite so fortunate. The most memorable thing about the changing of the guard was that the guard band played a medley of Michael Jackson songs. It was surreal to be serenaded by “Bad” and “Man in the Mirror” and even more surreal to hear the various accents whispering “It’s Michael Jackson!”
Then we went out for a quick lunch to celebrate Linda’s birthday before heading to the place I’d been dreaming about for years – Notting Hill.
Have you seen the movie Notting Hill?
I have – many times.
Something about the combination of the London setting, Hugh Grant, a wonderful story, a fabulous soundtrack (featuring “When You Say Nothing At All” written by renowned Nashville songwriter Don Schlitz) and yes, Julia Roberts, combine to make it the best romantic comedy of all time.
So, trooper that she is, Ann gamely lead us toward Notting Hill. Which wasn’t easy because, due to a signal malfunction on the Tube lines right next to Notting Hill, we had to walk a VERY long time to get there. We walked so far that my toes were swollen and curled under like they are at Mile 10 of a half-marathon. But my sore feet were forgotten once we reached Notting Hill and the famous Portobello Road Market.
Those Notting Hill private gardens? Yep, I saw them. And the Portobello Road Market was larger and more wonderful than I could have imagined. Vendors sold second-hand silver, hipster clothing, and all kinds of exotic foods – from gigantic pans of paella to dozens of varieties of olives. I bought an 1860 map of Tennessee and Kentucky from a delightful gentleman who has a map shop on Portobello Road. Or at least I think I did – Richard has serious doubts about the accompanying certificate of authenticity and suspects I got snookered by the charming Brit.
After meandering around Notting Hill and Portobello Road, Ann and I headed back to Anna and Will’s, where the four of us (accompanied by their English bulldog, Cnut) enjoyed dinner at a cozy French restaurant around the corner from their place.
Another amazing day and another wonderful night pinching myself that all this was really happening.
And, as if this wasn’t enough, it was about to get even more wonderful…