Have you ever had to cancel a trip at the last minute? Natural disasters and political protests happen in spite of the best advance planning. Changing gears is difficult, not only because of the time and money committed, but because anticipation and preparation have built up an emotional investment in the project especially if you’ve gone through the stress and suspense of getting the time off work.
Staying home is not necessarily the best option. It may take over a year to synchronize vacations again and by then life itself may bring changes that make the journey impossible. At my age I don’t expect a lot of second chances. But I have plenty of experience with things not working according to plan.
Last week I was looking forward to a trip to Paris and Strasbourg. I was excited about visiting friends and sharing the Christmas market experience with my son and granddaughter. Personally, I saw the trip as a positive way to remember my husband, who adored Christmas, by turning his December 12th birthday from a time of sadness to a time of joy. We were due to leave on Monday, December 9. Then on Thursday, December 5, France erupted with demonstrations and strikes protesting Macron’s newly announced pension reforms.
Friday morning texts flew between the three of us who planned to go. I decided to look for options so as not to lose the week off that my traveling companions had worked so hard to get. Our travel agent found us a good price on a flight and hotel in London and worked on getting at least some refunds for our original trip. The money we would have spent eating and sightseeing along the way would be the same in any case. The only advance planning I had time to do was to buy tickets to see Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” (long on my list) and check out walking tours on line.
Instead of plans, we had opinions. No museums. No bus tours. Lots of exploring outdoors on foot. We shared interests in history and literature and we loved to take pictures. We wanted to see Oxford and visit a school friend of mine in Stratford-upon-Avon. We needed to adapt our wanderings to the short cold daylight hours and the changeable weather. My granddaughter had never been to London, my son had been once ten years ago, and me, well let’s just say it wasn’t the first time, but the marvel is seeing everything fresh through their eyes.
We checked into the Holiday Inn at Regent’s park upon arrival and, after a rest, went to see the Christmas markets at Trafalgar Square made more festive by carolers. We found it easy to navigate the city using the phone’s GPS and phrases like, “pubs near me.” We enjoyed a classic English dinner at the Princess of Wales, including steak and ale pie, game pie, and fish and chips. For dessert we shared plum pudding and toffee pudding with vanilla sauce. Fortunately we planned to do a lot of walking.
Wednesday we started at St. Paul’s Cathedral, took a walking tour of Shakespeare’s and Dickens’s London and, later, enjoying “The Mousetrap” at St. Martin’s, a delightfully old-fashioned theater. Thursday dawned rainy and cold. It was Election Day and we found the taxi drivers were quite ready to talk about it. We headed for Westminster Abbey where a tour was just starting. There were only four other people on the tour, so we asked plenty of questions and got a close view of everything. As it happened the King of Malaysia was visiting that day with royal escort, but we just kept out of their way. A pause was announced at noon to join in prayer for everyone involved in the election.
Herrod’s was undergoing renovations, so my favorite departments, books, toys and food courts, were disappointingly cramped and crowded. We had a good lunch at the Caffe Concerto across the street. That night we had fun seeing the musical production of “Mary Poppins.”
After two days in town, we took two days out of town, traveling by train from Marylebone Station. It took about an hour to get to Oxford. We walked to the visitor’s center at Christ Church College to get tickets and then straight to the dining hall, known for Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, and of course Harry Potter. We happened to arrive at Christ Church Cathedral just as a tour was starting (again with only a few other people!) so we could get a briefing on the history, architecture, and stained glass windows. A stop at the Alice Shop and lunch at the Eagle and Child were a must, and then back to the train station. As we disembarked back at Marylebone Station, the Salvation Army Band launched into “The First Noel” to enhance the Christmas spirit. We had dinner downtown at the Cole Hole which was agreeably decked in mistletoe and holly.
Stratford was a little over two hours by train. Mary met us and took us to the Giggling Squid for delicious Thai food. After touring Shakespeare’s birthplace and having tea at the Royal Shakespeare Company, we shopped through the brightly-decorated town and met Mary at the Black Swan, known locally as the “Dirty Duck,” and referred to as the “Mucky Mallard” in the detective series Shakespeare and Hathaway.
With Sunday granting us sunshine for our last day in London, we headed for the Tower of London, and the Beefeater Tour, which somehow I never tire of. After checking out the Crown Jewels we stopped at the café for coffee and Victorian sponge cake (for Liz) and a scone with jam and clotted cream (for me). I rested there while Liz and John explored the ramparts and towers. We then walked to the pedestrian bridge, crossed to the south bank and eventually found a restaurant that had room to give us lunch.
Later we returned to the south bank for the City Hall Christmas markets. It was beautiful to see the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London under a nearly full moon. I bought hot candied almonds, remembering how Chuck used to get them for me at the Christmas market in Wolfenbuettel on his way to meet me at the library after a day of research.
Just before closing we had dinner at a French Brasserie and I had Chuck’s favorite: steak frites.
We had six wonderful days of wandering around.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Such is the nature of travel.
Stay flexible and keep your passport current!