There’s a place that I have longed to go since I was a young child. Somehow, it seemed a magical world to me, full of wonder and possibility. It was where some truly great minds taught me to love the fantastic and fantasize of escaping a world of sorrow and trouble–minds such as C.S. Lewis, Beatrix Potter, William Shakespeare, and later J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien and Emily Brontë. They inundated my naive mind with dreams of the impossible.
I wondered what enchantment lay upon the land of England, that inspired such beautiful imaginations and oh, such words that could break my heart and cause it to yearn for that elusive something else I could never find here. Perhaps it was an unreasonable thought, a typical grass-being-greener-on-the-other-side scenario, but even as I aged into adulthood, the desire to see that land lay all the more deeply upon me.
And then, finally, finally, the opportunity arose, made exigent by the terrifying thought that the duties, albeit joys of parenthood would soon have us in their clutches, and I could lose the chance for any foreseeable future. In May of last year, just before we went to Taiwan to pick up our son, we took a cruise around the British Isles, and I finally saw the country I have so desperately wished to see since childhood. And although I fashion myself a writer (of a sort), I find myself woefully unequipped to describe both the feelings of wonder that captured me, and the beauty that I witnessed.
Needless to say, my expectations were astronomical. Even so, England, far from falling short, exceeded them all. As soon as we landed and the flight attendant announced, “Welcome to London,” my heart soared with a thrill of utter happiness. Each day only deepened my love, as I traveled, mesmerized, from London, to the Channel Islands, Ireland, Scotland, and back to London.
(As a sad matter of fact, we actually spent very little time in London itself (two half days and almost one full day), a mishap in desperate need of remedy.)
- Royal Albert Hall: As soon as we landed, we hurried off to our afternoon tea reservation and tour at the Royal Albert Hall. My reasons for wanting to visit this venue had Absolutely Nothing to do with the fact that Ramin Karimloo (aka the most amazing singer in the world) performed as the Phantom of the Opera here. We greatly enjoyed the tour, as the guide was informative and interesting. We saw the queen’s private box and perused the royal entrance, learned about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s obsession with each other, and sat in on part of the orchestra rehearsal. I won’t say there wasn’t much internal squealing (and external once we were out of earshot of fellow tourists) over this visit. However, the afternoon tea wasn’t anything to write home about. Skip the tea; take the tour.
- Kensington Gardens: Conveniently across the street from Royal Albert Hall, we wandered around the beautiful grounds for a bit. We hardly saw any of it, due to impending death from travel fatigue and lack of sleep, but we still enjoyed it. The garden has such a lovely, peaceful atmosphere. Right by one of the entrances is the gold statue of Prince Albert that Queen Victoria had made after he died. I’m not convinced I would erect a gold statue of Michael, but I suppose the sentiment is valid.
- Tower of London: I’ll be honest. I wanted to see the Tower of London purely out of a morbid curiosity to see the place where Anne Boleyn was beheaded. Did I go over to stand in that exact spot when we arrived and experience a thrill of excitement? I will neither confirm nor deny. Seriously though, I wouldn’t miss this stop. On a detrimental time limit (did I mention that we only got to spend about two days in London?), I chose this over Westminster Abbey; it was a difficult decision, but I don’t regret it. It’s fascinatingly macabre and full of history. How on earth do human beings concoct so many creative ways to torture and kill other humans? It’s completely bizarre. I love it.
- L’ETO Caffe: On the recommendation of a friend, we tried the honey cake here, and it so completely blew my mind that I spent the rest of our short time in the city trying to find other locations wherever we went. It was also here that I came to the conclusion that the stereotypes of British people being sweet and polite were true (or perhaps this cafe just employs exceedingly lovely people). On the first visit, I wandered in looking quite lost and confused, but the server took the time to explain to me how it worked and then described each cake to me in spite of the busy hour. On the second visit at a different location, the server who rang me up gave me a handful of coins as change. He apologized by holding my hand as he put the change in it and said, “I do apologize for all the coins, darling.” I swear I fell in love for just a split second.
I loved London so much. Can you tell yet?