My first trip to London was in 1988, the year I got pregnant, got married, and dropped out of college. I went to England and Scotland on tour with my college Madrigal Choir and Orchestra - we were a 16 voice choir and a 20+ seat orchestra, performing songs by Vivaldi, Aaron Copeland, Benjamin Britten and Brahms, among others. We traveled north and then swung back around to spend the last 4 days of our trip in London. We stayed in a hotel that was rather fleabaggy, but was a short walk to the Paddington station, and that wonderful tube opens up the whole city for you.
I have a couple of indelible memories from that first trip - I learned how to play poker in London, and I got my first legal buzz in a nightclub somewhere near the Piccadilly Circus station. Our first night in London, we went to see 42nd Street at the Drury Lane Theater. After the show, we were walking by a rowdy pub and saw a dwarf get tossed through a window.
Our last day in London, we had a concert scheduled at the Royal Festival Hall. The weather during our trip had been almost miraculous - 10 days of sunshine as we traveled around England, our only wet day occurred on a day long stopover in Windemere, a rest stop before we pushed through to Fife, Scotland. This last day, the sky was threatening rain all morning. By the time we arrived at the RFH, the sky was done threatening and let loose a torrent. We set up the Orchestra and warmed up our voices. We were all feeling blue that our trip was nearly over, but we put our sadness aside to focus on the music.
The last number we performed at that concert was a rousing gospel song (which I can't quite remember the name of, which is going to drive me nuts). As we sang the words (that are on the tip of my tongue but not quite there yet), the clouds parted, the sun came shining through the rain, and I swear to all the powers of the universe that a rainbow appeared over the Royal Festival Hall.
My second trip to London was quite different. Loki, Sio, Monkey and I went to England during February vacation in 2003, just a few weeks before Bush officially launched the Iraq invasion. We initially were going to tell people we were Canadian, but we didn't, and we ended up having some wonderful conversations with folks we met all over the country about Bush and the war and how many Americans were still sane.
That vacation started in London - we stayed at the County Hall Travel Inn, just across the river from Big Ben and a quick walk to the London Eye. We were only there for an overnight, and then we rented a car and drove all over the place. We went to Stonehenge, Bath, Glastonbury, and after 4 days we made our way back to London to visit with my family. We were going to stay at the County Hall Travel Inn again, but my cousin Eileen and her husband Mick insisted we stay with them.
Although I'm only first generation American, I have a lot of Yankee in my personality, and I am sometimes standoffish around people I don't know well. This was the first time I met Eileen and Mick, and we clicked like we had grown up together. We stayed with them for 4 days, 4 days of Mick's whistlestop tour of *his* London, a city for which his love was boundless and contagious. 4 days of staying up until 2 in the morning laughing and talking and singing. I went to England to visit museums and see the sights, and instead I had the best time of my life sitting with a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits in a kitchen in Winchmore Hill.