This trip to Europe, like most for me, ended in London, that sprawling, hectic, loud and somewhat grungy place that reminds me more of New York than of any other European city. I’ve been coming here almost annually for more than twenty years, usually in the spring. April and May are less crowded, less expensive and cooler than summertime but I’ve noticed that even these months are more like high season in all these categories than was once the case. Still, every time I arrive in London, whether coming into Gatwick or Heathrow by air or having splurged on the high speed Eurostar train from Paris or Brussels, I feel like I’m finally home. (Notice that I didn’t use the word “home” in the title of this blogpost, just “USA”). I felt this way on my very first visit in 1990 having never set foot in the place before. If only I could afford to live here. Sure, like everywhere else on the planet, the politics are wacko, the rich have far too much power, the environment needs a thorough scrubbing and London is in that group of cities where the cost of living is absurdly high. And yet…
There’s always more to see and do than can be crammed into any visit, of whatever length. London’s the perfect gateway to the rest of Europe and the proliferation of budget airlines hubbed near London is testament to how fast this role is expanding. Just think – traveling to other European destinations on a whim, for a long weekend, with just an overnight bag. I could get used to that!
One obvious reason I finish with London is that I usually fly Virgin Atlantic from the US and their only destination from here is London. Another reason is that I am one of those dinosaurs who must buy books and a trip to Waterstone’s is simply foolish until my last few days. This time, I packed eight books into my checked bag and one in my carry-on having already shipped five or six home. And lest this sound somehow highbrow, I’m not talking about distinguished literature or hard-to-find titles, either. Mostly European murder mysteries. A Croatian language CD and a small volume of Confucius this time and, yes, I can get any of the titles through Amazon or Barnes & Noble, but where’s the fun in that? I did make one concession to luggage and postal weight; I decided not to buy the UK edition of Bring Up the Bodies, Book Two of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy of histories on Thomas Cromwell. Wolf Hall was more than 600 pages and this second volume is of similar thickness. I also try to purchase texts of any plays I see and three of those came home with me – the fourth not yet in print. Then there are souvenir booklets from museums and the like – this time from Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, the Roman antiquities of Pula in Croatia, Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia among others. Even worse, most paperback books are being published in trade format which takes up a lot more space and costs more than the smaller mass-market size. Foof.
Since my hotel was a mere city block from Paddington, I decided the Heathrow Express was the easiest way to get to the airport – no wrestling with the luggage on the Tube or in and out of buses or cabs. Not even any stairs, just a couple of curbs. My flight was after 5 pm, so I checked out a bit early and stowed the bag at Left Luggage at Paddington. (It’s soooo nice to travel in places where paranoia hasn’t yet eliminated this option – left luggage is almost extinct in the US). This meant I only had to deal with my backpack so I finished my shopping, had a snack and said my silent goodbyes to London. For once, it was overcast and spitting drizzle on my last day. It’s so much harder to leave when the sun is out and there are large expanses of blue sky just when I’m heading to Heathrow.
I’d woken with a raw throat and could feel the beginnings of a head cold. Ah well, better the last day of vaca than the first even though it meant spending the first three days back home in bed. Finally started to feel better yesterday, else I’d’ve posted this a bit sooner.
Spring has definitely arrived here while I was away. The spring shrubs and flowering trees seem flashier and fuller, more colorful somehow. Maybe those ridiculously paralyzing snowstorms we had this winter helped the plants. The unprepared garden is threatening to go wild on me but much of that is the strawberry bed spreading out. There’s still time to get things under control over the next few weeks.
There are many more stories and fotos (I know, sp! but I like it) to come. I’ve begun a series of workshops for Photoshop so I can improve the quality of the images I load up with the blogposts. As noted previously, I’ll be reposting and new-posting in the weeks to come, with fotos included. Watch this space.