Let’s just say I wasn’t well-traveled as a kid. Vacations were always with relatives on the Texas coast or in San Antonio or in the big ole metropolis known as Bryan/College Station, Texas. It’s hard for me to admit this, but with the exception of a fourth grade trip to Mexico City with my mother and a college road trip to Ardmore, Oklahoma (by myself, to drive over the border so I could say I’d been there) I didn’t leave the state of Texas until I was 30 years old. That’s a whole other story, but lends some insight into why I hadn’t crossed the pond until a few months ago.
Yes, in October 2018 I made my first trip to Europe. I was like the Tasmanian Devil on a pogo stick — I wanted to see all the places all of the time. I wanted to drink from the firehose of European culture, beauty and art but I wanted to be able to savor it. Savor a drink from a firehose. I’ve heard it said that one of the great travel regrets is trying to do and see too much in a short amount of time. I’m not entirely living with that regret, but will definitely try and slow it down next time around.
I started in London because Norwegian Air had a round-trip, nonstop fare from Austin for less than $500. It didn’t hurt that one of my dearest friends lives on the Isle of Wight (off the coast of England) so she met me there and we began our 10-day adventure. Side note: Norwegian wasn’t a bad flight. We got great coach seats thanks to Seat Guru (seatguru.com). Plenty of leg room for my 35” inseam. Their nonstop flights from Austin are only active spring to fall.
Since I’d never been to London my friend Joanna booked us a free two-hour tour with Sandeman’s (a pay-what-you-wish tour that’s available in 19 cities) so I could get the feel of the city. It was a cloudy, somewhat gloomy day. While we were waiting for our tour to start we walked through London’s Covent Garden and came across these Fleur de Villes floral mannequins.
Once the tour commenced we made quick jaunts to Trafalgar Square…
through the Admiralty Arch
past the Athenaeum Club (a members-only club for men and women with “intellectual interests”)
over to Buckingham Palace (no we did not see the changing of the guard. Remember the pogo stick. This is as close as I got.)
and through St. James Park, where the tour ended. Our London tour was so-so, but at least I got to lay eyes on a few iconic landmarks.
By then we were on the doorstep of Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, so we decided to go for it and tackle the abbey even though I felt like I had razor blades in my boots. As it turns out, I do have impeccable travel timing if you mean visiting places when they’re doing a major overhaul on famous architectural structures. Here’s Big Ben and the the Palace of Westminster, covered in scaffolding. I have it on good authority that there’s a clock underneath all that steel.
We actually went to a prayer service in the abbey, which gave us free access to the main part of the church (you have to pay to tour the larger section of burials and memorials.) It didn’t disappoint. There’s something about being surrounded by so much beauty and history that makes dropping in on a service worth it — whether you’re particularly religious or not. Westminster doesn’t allow photographs indoors, but I was able to grab a few shots of the breezeways and the exterior.
After we left Westminster we ate, rested a bit and then Joanna took me to see Kinky Boots, which was partially a ploy to keep me awake and help me acclimate to the jet lag (by the time the show started I’d been up for about 36 hours.) It was absolutely fantastic. No pics allowed of the show and all I had was my iPhone, but here are a couple of commemorative shots.
Next up: Winchester Cathedral and the surprising treasures I encountered on the Isle of Wight.