My mom and dad arrived in London last Friday at 7:21 AM, according to the "arrivals" screen at Gatwick Airport, where I met them. I had gotten on the tube when it opened at 6 AM, then taken a train to the airport, where I took another train to the north terminal, where I anxiously leaned on the railing that divided off the arrivals section. I stared and stared and stared at the door down the corridor, watching endless streams of people with huge suitcases, strange hats, and wearied expressions stride quickly toward the crowd of awaiting people. I tapped my foot, sighed, chewed my lip to pass the time. Then I started to think about what it would be like to see them, playing it out in my head, and I teared up about a million times. I wanted so desperately to see them--they are home to me.
After hours of waiting--but it was really only 30 minutes--I saw Dad round the corner, followed by Mom, both lugging their suitcases and looking expectantly for me. I gasped really loud and threw my hands up over my mouth, scaring the kid standing next to me a bit. We hugged and kissed, and I might have cried a bit. And then our adventure in London began.
The first day, we didn't do much. Mom was all geared up to go, but Dad and I both knew that jet-lag is the ultimate power in that situation. Once we had gotten to Victoria Station and then all through the tube to their hotel, then walked the long distance back past Regent's Park to the college, they both were looking a bit pale. I suggested we have lunch in the Brasserie. Halfway through lunch, I saw them both fade. Mom's stomach was upset, and Dad looked like he could fall face-flat in his sandwich. So I walked them back to Baker Street, got them on the tube, and they took a nap for a few hours. Later, we met for dinner at my favorite Greek restaurant here, and walked around a smallish park afterwards. Both they and I were completely wiped, so we called it a night.
The second day, Saturday, was a marathon. I had mapped out where exactly I wanted to take them, and here' s my list: Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Borough Market, The Globe Theatre, the London Eye (at their request), Waterloo, and a show ("Wicked" was the preference). We ended up taking a very long but interesting tour of the Tower of London, and I was actually very pleased with being able to go inside again. The crown jewels are... sigh. Anyway, we walked across the Thames on Tower Bridge and took lots of pictures, and walked along the Thames for a bit until we came to Borough Market. It was Saturday, so it was crowded, but it was still amazing. I found some amazing Gala apples and spiced olives. I wish we could have gone when it was less crowded, though. It can get completely overwhelming.
We walked down to the Globe, which is so cool even if you get to just see the outside. I'm planning to see a show there when the season opens in late April--I can't wait to be a groundling at "Romeo and Juliet"! Anyway, we walked on a bit until we got to the Millennium/Wobbly bridge, crossed it, and visited St. Paul's Cathedral. Then, we were all famished, so we gave up going around to the Eye and Waterloo. I'm glad I talked them out of the Eye: it's completely over-priced and not worth it at all. Or that's what I think.
After dinner, we went to the Apollo Victoria to see if we could get discount, last-minute tickets for "Wicked"... no such luck. They had two restricted-view tickets, and we didn't take them. We decided to see if we could quickly run over to Piccadilly to see if "Les Mis" had any left, but by the time we got there, the doors had already opened, and tickets were no longer on sale. I felt pretty bad, but Mom and Dad were content to walk around for a bit. We found Trafalgar Square, which I'd completely forgotten to include on my list. They liked just wandering, taking pictures, wondering who the statues were (I was useless when it came to answering their questions), and talking with me. I was thirsty, so we found, of all things, a Pizza Hut (where you can get free refills!), and ordered dessert. It was nice just sitting there, relaxing, talking, doing nothing really. And then we called it a day.
On Sunday (which was Palm Sunday), we went to the service at Westminster Abbey. It was incredibly crowded. I can't imagine what it will be like on Easter this Sunday. They gave us palm crosses, and, in a long procession, we circled the entire abbey before taking our seats. It was a nice service, but we ended up standing for-ev-er while the choir sang, not read, Mark's account of Jesus' crucifixion. It was interminably long, though stunningly beautiful. I love the choir at Westminster.
After the service, we skipped across the road to a small cafe in a Methodist church (go figure), and then started to walk toward Buckingham Palace. I knew it wouldn't be crowded on a Sunday afternoon, and it wasn't. The sky was pretty gray and overcast, but the palace actually looked lovely still. They took pictures, exclaimed several times of how surreal it all was, and we walked on through Green Park, stopping at a bench to just take things in. It seemed that everyone had gotten bored with the palace and had wandered into the park--tons of people were playing football, eating lunch, reading, talking, relaxing on the grass. It was lovely, though a bit too chilly for me.
Since Mom and Dad had already seen the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben that morning before the church service, and we'd seen St. Paul's the day before, my list of things to do on Sunday was dwindling. I decided to take us to Covent Garden Market, one of my favorite places in London (granted, I haven't been to Camden Market, Portobello Market, or Spittlefield's yet). Just as I had hoped, the place was alive with street performers and tons of onlookers. My favorite group of performers is this string quintet/sextet (depending on how many people they've got that day) that play in one of the courtyards down below the main market level. The sound just reverberates off of the courtyard walls and up into the upper floors--and they're flippin' GOOD! They play this amazing classical music, usually fast-paced and therefore appropriate for the venue, which is teeming with activity. If you walk down the stairs of the courtyard, near where they're set up, one of them will detach from the group and come play right up next to you in your face until you give them money. They're all extremely animated, jumping up and down, stomping their feet, dancing and twirling around while playing exquisite classical pieces on their violins/violas/cellos/(and a flutist, but she's not usually there). One day I'll buy one of their CDs and make them really happy. HA!
We then made our way over to Piccadilly again to possibly meet Julia and her mom after they saw a show. We ate dinner at this awesome oriental place, and then, when it was starting to get good and dark, I took Mom and Dad to the main circle (the "circus" part, I guess) of Piccadilly. It's like Times Square--the lights are dazzling and colorful, there are tons of people and cars, and the main focus is this fountain that splashes in the centre. Mom and Dad loved it, and I was elated, because that's another one of my favorite spots in London, especially (well, really, only) at night. It's where a lot of the shows are, so all those signs and posters are lit up. Gah, I love Piccadilly by dark.
We ended up sitting on the fountain to wait for the show to end so that I could call Julia. We talked forever about random things, or maybe it was just me talking... I have conveniently forgotten. HA! When it got too chilly even for Dad, we ducked into a nearby Starbucks for something hot and talked for even longer. I finally was able to call Julia, but it turned out that we weren't able to meet after all. Oh well. It was great, though, because I went back with Mom and Dad to their hotel, and ended up staying until past 11 PM just talking. It was really wonderful to be able to have those unrestrained, comfortable conversations with people that I loved, trusted, and knew me. I regard them both now as some of my best friends.
On Monday, I only saw them briefly before they left to fly to Paris. I'm not sure what they did or where they went before they caught a bus to the airport, because I haven't talked to them since. Tomorrow, I fly out to Edinburgh to meet them for the weekend. I am incredibly excited, not only to see Edinburgh, but to spend Easter with my parents in the land of our ancestors. I can't wait to hear what Mom thinks of Scotland...
So, until I return...