I am married to an amazing man. Who also happens to be a pilot. Which brings along with it, occasionally, some pretty terrific perks, like being able to hop on a flight last minute for a weekend jaunt to London.
Now, that actually doesn’t happen as often as I might like. I have two teenaged children who are in school, and even though that school is a homeschool hybrid and technically we should be able to still go when we want to go, the reality is that it just doesn’t work out like that. First of all, our daughter is currently in an anti-travel rebellion phase of life, brought on by a trip to Nice (yes, the one in France. Such a punishment. Though it was actually customs in New York that kind of did her in, which frankly, I can understand). But mostly, it’s just the day to day life with teens- the activities, the homework, the fact that they really would rather be with their friends than with Mom even if Mom is on the Mediterranean- that keeps me from being a complete jetsetter.
Oh yes- and also, they spend all my money.
But occasionally, occasionally, the stars align, and my husband gets a fabulous trip and I get to go with him on the fabulous trip, like the time both kids were at camp for the week and I got to go to Romania! Or there was the incredible Thanksgiving that we spent as a family in Brussels, Belgium, eating French fries and smoked salmon instead of turkey. Or this past fall, when my dad was willing to pop out for a few days from Texas to stay with my kids while I flew to London. I am so glad that he did, because that trip was exactly what my rather beat-up soul needed.
I flew out a day before my husband, much like my daughter and I did last spring when we went to St. Martin, to give myself a little more time there. What it also gave me, though, was 24 hours completely, wonderfully, delightfully, on my own in London. Oh, the joy!
In a move that is completely out of character for me, I slept on the plane going over. This was a brilliant choice, as it allowed me to arrive in country not completely exhausted and bleary-eyed, which is my usual modus operandi as I tend to stay half awake or fully awake on flights, always, just in case I am needed for, what, an emergency of some sort? But this time, I left the possible emergencies to the paid flight crew and actually slept, which probably contributed to the feeling I had of things being just magical that first day in London: take the train into the city from the airport? Yes please! I love trains! I’m too early to check into my hotel room but could sit and have tea and scones while waiting for it to be ready? Yes please! I love tea and scones! Room still not ready? Oh, there’s a lovely old church down the street to wander through instead! I love old churches!
And so went my day. I was at last able to check into my room and shower and change, and then immediately I was back out into the city, with no idea really what I was going to do but equipped with good walking shoes and a map. I was staying in Kensington, near Hyde Park, and as I made my way down past Hyde Park, I came across one of those double-decker tourist buses sitting alongside the street. In a snap decision, I decided to spend the money to pay for a 24 hour ticket on the bus, and I have to say, it was money very well spent. I hopped on, and shortly thereafter the bus began to make its way around the city, complete with a well-informed tour guide giving historical tidbits and facts about what we were seeing. Using the map that they had given me, I made notes about what I wanted to return to see later, but mostly, I just rode that bus.
It was one of those gorgeously perfect fall days, particularly rare in England, where it was even what you could call warm, with golden rays of sunshine pouring down on the city. I rode along upstairs, with the wind in my hair, enjoying the tales I was regaled with about the various buildings and destinations around the city. Now, I’ve been to London several times before this trip. The first time was actually with my own mother, when I was 16 years old, and she bravely took me along with a group of teenagers from the high school where she taught French and English. I’ve also been there on business trips, and then a few years ago I accompanied my daughter on a trip with a group from a homeschool hybrid she was attending at the time (big mistake: this group of yahoos was only happy when they were at Starbucks. Not kidding). But this time, London was my own, to do whatever I wanted to do. And so, I happily rode my bus, for hours, taking in every single detail that I possibly could.
Jet lag happens, however, and so as we finally looped around Hyde Park and into Kensington, I was feeling it. And so off I hopped, back where I started, and went straight into a lovely little pub where I treated myself to a savory pie filled with chicken and a half pint of cider. I started my day in London with tea and scones, and ended it with pie and cider in a pub, a fact which made me happier than perhaps is reasonable.
After a good night’s rest, I was back down at my trusty bus stop, ready for more. I hopped on, but this time, I didn’t just ride along listening to stories. No, I put those stories to good use! Using the map I had made notes on, I judiciously hopped off when something intrigued me, which initially meant Harrod’s Department store. I’m not sure why I wanted to see this place, but I’d never been in before and it sounded like something interesting. Turns out, it wasn’t, not really. Just a store, and a very, very pricey one at that, and so huge that I have no idea where on earth one could get the high tea I’ve always heard about. But, trip to Harrod’s while in London: check. Now get me out…
Back on my handy tourist bus, this time to St. Bride’s Church, a place that I had noted on my map as something I’d want to check out. Located right down the street from St. Paul’s Cathedral, it’s a smaller place, tucked in behind some buildings, that is (according to the tour guide) the church that the wedding cake as we think of it today was modeled upon. But more interestingly to me, it is also a place where, if you go down underneath the church itself, you can see several layers of the history of London, intact, back to a road from the Roman days. This is the bit that I was after, and I wasn’t disappointed. And after visiting St. Bride’s, my tourist bus and I parted ways and I walked the city. In the rain, in the cold, I walked, with only the briefest of stops for tea.
And then, many, many miles on my feet later, my husband, who had flown in earlier in the day and was resting back at the hotel, was awake and ready to join me. We met up on the steps of St. Paul’s, and then we walked some more. Our destination was SoHo, with a mission of finding the Doc Marten’s store and taking a picture of ourselves there for our 17 year old daughter. Of course, this placed us in SoHo, which is serendipitous indeed. I really wanted to eat at one of Ottolenghi’s restaurants, but alas, the one near the Doc Martens store was the high end one, and my husband and I were simply too tired by this point, me having walked approximately 100 miles around the city, him having flown a plane across the ocean, to really enjoy a drawn out, fine dining experience. Instead, we ended up at Mother Mash, a place that serves classic English food and is absolutely delicious, as well as filling and cozy, which were much needed elements because the previous day’s golden autumnal warmth had given way to more typical London weather: chilly, gray, and wet.
As we flew home the next day, him in the cockpit and me in the very, very back of the plane, I concluded that I managed to hit all the most important elements of visiting London for 24 hours: Tea and scones, cider and pie in a pub, sausages and mashed potatoes, a church with Roman ruins in the creepy basement, saw Parliament and Buckingham Palace, walked till my legs ached. And I’ve concluded that I love London and could come here a thousand times and not get enough of it. Hopefully I’ll get more than 24 hours next time I visit, but for such a short trip, I’d say it was pretty perfect.
And I’m up for even the shortest of adventures if they involve places like London! But next time I’m here, there will be a stop at Ottolenghi. No matter what.