One thing that comes out of juggling two careers, three children and thirty years worth of volunteer church activity is the ability to do some advance strategic planning. We put a considerable amount of thought into the details of our England visit and it paid off at every turn. As I was arriving from Canada twelve hours earlier than Steve arrived from Malaysia, I had the time to take the train across town from Gatwick to Stansted, picking up a decent road atlas on the way. That map turned out to be a livesaver on many occasions as we wound our way from Cambridge to Newcastle, and then south again to Kent. Given that we would once again be going our separate ways at the end of this vacation, we booked the last three days for ourselves in London.

After doing some research and some Google map study, we booked a hotel in Croydon, a non-descript little suburb with excellent train connections to Victoria which runs about every four minutes and gets you into the city in about fifteen minutes. We had two full days to wander around London, taking in the sights and sounds. Steve was burning to see the paintings in the National Gallery located in Trafalgar Square, but we took our time wandering from Victoria Station, past Buckingham Palace and down along St. James’ Park to Westminister Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. Then we strolled down the embankment and stopped for tea at an upscale hotel called the Carpathia just to bathe in the ambience of the lobby. Then we crossed Trafalgar Square and spent a very enjoyable four hours soaking in the glorious art of the last four hundred years.

London is quite an amazing city with endless beautiful old buildings each with great historical significance. Every little street or alleyway has something new to explore and new and old sculptures abound. We caught a double decker to Hyde Park but must confess that we were both a little disappointed by the state of the park. Apparently the motif-de-jour in parks these days is ‘environmentally-appropriate,’ which seems to mean just let the weeds and algae take over. What was very nice was the new memorial fountain to Princess Diana, which not only blends nicely into the environment, but is aesthetically pleasing as well. We left the park by crossing into Kensington, ending up where we started back at Victoria Station. A brief and speedy train ride got us back to the hotel.

The next day we headed to the Tower of London and worked our way back from the East End, with St. Paul’s as our destination, taking our time to explore the endless little cul-de-sacs that lace the old city. We stopped for lunch at the site of London’s oldest pub, half-hidden down a narrow side street before hiking on. St Paul’s Cathedral was completed in 1710 and is the first cathedral built in England after the Protestant Reformation. It has been the site of many celebrations like Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, Charles and Diana’s wedding and Queen Elizabeth’s 80th birthday. It is a magnificant structure and we were fortunate to be there in time to to enjoy the sound of an orchestra and choir rehearsing for an evening performance. From the Whispering Gallery high above the cathedral floor the sound was angelic.

After St Paul’s we took another double-decker to the market area. Covent Garden Market and the old Leadenhall Market are bustling with wonderful shops, stalls and restaurants. Again our timing was good as we arrived to watch a Chaplin clone mime his way through a hilarious routine that included some young participants clearly learning the tricks of the street performance art. Another bus ride took us all the way to Victoria where we sat and lingered over the coffee and crowds before heading back to Croyden
I took the train to Gatwick the following morning, while Steve drove the car back to Stansted for his evening flight. It was an odd holiday in a way, arriving as we did from separate countries only to go our separate ways again at the end, but it seemed to work for us, and with our schedules it was the only way we could see our way through to spending some time together. At any rate, and we ended up having a wonderful time in England, seeing the sights and visiting with family, some of whom I hadn’t ever seen. They were were also wonderful and I hope I won’t have to wait another sixteen years before my next visit!