Toward the end of my senior year in high school, my cousin Lindsey found out that a friend, A, would be traveling to London for two weeks to do some work for the U.S. Navy Reserves. A wanted her daughter to come for a week of the trip, but her daughter was only about 14ish, a bit young for traveling alone internationally. Enter-- Lindsey and me.
It was the opportunity of a lifetime: All we had to do was pay for our airfare and travel with A's daughter and her friend, and we would have a week in London. Who could pass that up?! This was in June of the year 2000, so the price of airfare had not skyrocketed yet; I'm thinking our tickets were around $500-600, round-trip. It was my high school graduation present from my mom...best gift EVER!
From the moment we landed, England lived up to my every dream. I remember just listening to everyone around me, hoping they would keep talking, so I could take in more of those fabulous accents. The man who stamped my passport noted that we were from the States, and he asked if we were visiting on "holiday"...it took me a few seconds to realize that was the British way of saying "vacation".
We stayed in an apartment ("flat"!) in the heart of the city, within walking distance of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. I can't remember much about the apartment, other than the sloping ceilings, claw-foot tub, and the doorman, but it was just perfect. I really need to pull out some pictures to jog my memory, but I think they are in a closet somewhere at my mom's house.
We spent our week in London taking in all the sights and history the city has to offer. The highlights I can remember most clearly are: Buckingham Palace (where we also saw the changing of the guard, which was really cool), the Tower of London (possibly my very favorite spot), Westminster Abbey, Covent Garden (where I bought my first legal beer--at age 18!), Bond Street, and the original Hard Rock Cafe.
For this small-town Alabama girl, just wandering the streets and people-watching was great entertainment. And the Underground...I remember how extremely proud I was that we navigated the Underground without getting lost! I had never been on a subway before, so that was quite the experience in and of itself.
|Tower of London (image credit: http://www.londonpass.com)|
|Westminster Abbey (image credit: http://static.westminster-abbey.org)|
|Buckingham Palace (http://www.wikipedia.org)|
|image credit: www.wikipedia.org|
Other notable memories about London:
-- Many people were just as curious to hear our accents as we were theirs. We kept having to explain that we were from the South, and no, we don't talk exactly like most Americans!
-- A lady in the market called us "love"...it seemed so quintessentially British, and I adored it.
-- Despite the reputation of being cool and rainy, it was actually quite warm the week we were there...and the lack of air conditioning in many areas came as a bit of a shock to us (everyone in the South has central heat and air...it's nearly a fact of life).
-- We southerners also like our drinks cold...and with ice, which proved a little difficult to obtain in London. When we requested ice in our drinks, it was usually only two or three cubes, not the glassful we are accustomed to!
-- The soft drinks looked the same (same labels and packaging), but they definitely had a different taste to them. One of the first things we did when landed in the States was get a "real" American Dr. Pepper. (That was truly the only complaint I remember, food-wise...we enjoyed everything else!)
-- Again, this was my first trip to a truly huge city (except Washington DC, if that counts, but those were school trips, so quite different), but I was surprised to find that I never felt afraid. I know London has its problems, and I probably romanticized it a bit, but the city felt very civilized and safe to me. I did not hesitate to walk a few blocks by myself, which was a pretty big feat for me in a strange city (remember: I had just turned 18).
So, that's the story of my trip of a lifetime. I don't know when I will get the chance to go back, but it's on my life list for sure. I hope to be able to stay a little longer next time and travel outside the city. (Jeremy? Start planning now for our 10th anniversary?) We did get to take the Chunnel train over to Paris for the day, but other than that we stayed in London. (The day in Paris is quite a story in itself, so I'll save it for another time. I wouldn't turn down a trip back to Paris, but there are definitely other places higher on the list!)
Do you share my London love? Where is your dream travel destination? Have you crossed any destinations off your "life list"?
This post was inspired by Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop. Be sure to check out her post for lots of awesome links!