This post was originally published in the Terrace Standard, November 27, 2013 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.” At the time of writing, I’d been home from my London trip a mere two weeks . . . now it’s been close to a month. The sentiments remain true, however. Enjoy!
The first surprise came before I left Canadian airspace. I used to think I didn’t like flying. It turns out I only dislike flying in small, cramped, bumpy, cold, loud planes. I adore lounging in huge, lush planes, with movies and blankets and flight attendants who bring wine. I’ve since been informed that it’s not usual, at all, to get three seats to yourself on an overseas flight, and I admit close seatmates wouldn’t have been cool, but hey, I didn’t have seatmates, so there!
Heathrow is a huge airport—and I was a little shocked by how serious the customs guy took my entry into the country. Maybe I was a little too wide-eyed and smiley, thus suspicious.
In no particular order, some of my first impressions: the train station, all those platforms, like something directly out of Harry Potter, and the tube! And people! So many, many, many people. Everywhere! The incredible age of buildings and homes. All the beautiful brick (house after house after house is brick): so lovely. A touch of disappointment at the accents—softer, less pronounced than I expected. (Later, when I travelled to Lancashire, I got my fix—some wonderful voices and words there! And speaking of accents, I apparently have a strong one and was frequently asked to repeat myself. Ha, who knew?)
My friend and I (so much thanks to her for all the fun we had) visited every place on my itinerary, except for Stratford-upon-Avon, due to car issues (who knew cars in the UK can be just as temperamental as their Canadian cousins?), and I can’t pick favourites.
I was incredibly moved by Westminster Abbey (People have been worshipping and seeking God there for nearly 1000 years!), and equally as much by St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Tower of London was every bit as fascinating as I thought it would be, though much, much bigger, with many more towers and crooks and crannies than I was expecting. The graffiti etched into the stone, some of it dating back to the 1500s was, is . . . mind-blowing. Very sad some of it, and thought-provoking—and amazing that all those images and messages, pleas and testaments of beliefs and conviction, carved by hand, still survive today.
The dominant emotion of my trip? A sort of surreal joy, akin to surprise. I was constantly awed by the generations of stories attached to places, by the age and the ornate detail of the historic buildings, and by the juxtaposition of the ancient with the ultra modern. It’s one thing to know intellectually that something exists—and quite another to visit it yourself . . . to walk over the vaults of interred kings and queens and other folk . . . to see segments of roman walls . . . to view actual, original paintings by Monet . . . Mind blowing.
As much fun as I had in London, it felt like a place to visit. I had no daydreams about living there—which was why a touch of wistfulness when I visited Oxford after touring Stonehenge (Stonehenge! Such a crazy, mysterious place!) startled me. I love the life my husband and kids and I have built and wouldn’t change it, but we all have those roads not taken in our past that sometimes, when thinking back, give us pause and make us wonder what if . . . I would have loved to read English at Oxford.
Another slightly strange moment of familiarity or kinship hit when I arrived in Adlington in Lancashire to meet extended family. I swear my grandpa chose to settle in Smithers, on Kidd Rd, because the landscape was so like that of his childhood’s—though with Cottonwood trees, not Beech. I had a bizarre sense of coming home. The Chorley/Rivington/Adlington area fit my imagination’s vision of “English countryside” perfectly—lovely, green and rolling, and covered with sheep!
It may sound cheesy, but it was a dream trip—though when I left, I was definitely ready to be home with my honey in our wildly beautiful, sparsely populated corner of the woods.
And do I already have future gallivants planned? Yes, I just might . . .